GOP Central Committee Grills Anaheim Councilwoman

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An ongoing political battle among Republican members of the Anaheim City Council has spilled over into the Orange County Republican Central Committee, with at least one prominent GOP leader saying the problem threatens party focus on a its effort to break the Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature.

The ire of Republican leaders is focused squarely on Anaheim Councilwoman Lucille Kring, who is challenging Mayor Tom Tait in this year’s mayoral election despite Tait’s “good standing” in the party.

The outrage became public at Monday’s central committee meeting, with party regulars making clear their anger at Kring not only for taking on Tait but also because she has sided with Anaheim’s political establishment on corporate subsidies that they say she promised to oppose.

“Frustration might be a kind word,” longtime party insider Jon Fleischman said of the confrontation. “I think there’s very little stomach on the central committee for Republican-on-Republican battles, especially when she’s got a safe seat of her own,” he said, referring to Kring’s council term, which doesn’t end until 2016.

Kring’s candidacy has forced a three-way battle among her, Tait and Democratic challenger Lorri Galloway, a former Anaheim councilwoman. There is fear among some in the party that Kring and Tait will split Anaheim’s Republican voters, thereby handing a victory to Galloway.

It was also clear that some central committee members — particularly those seen as ideological hard-liners who have bucked the party establishment in recent years — blame Kring and Councilwoman Kris Murray for heavy Republican infighting on the Anaheim council.They said Tait has voted against corporate welfare for politically connected businesses and stood up for conservative principles.

During the central committee meeting, Deborah Pauly, committee member and Villa Park councilwoman, noted that Kring and Murray voted with Democratic Councilman Jordan Brandman for massive subsidies.

At one point, party Chairman Scott Baugh asked Kring multiple times whether she campaigned for council on the promise that she would support a ballot measure, proposed by Tait, that would require citywide votes on future room tax subsidies for hotel developers.

“It was never in my literature,” Kring replied.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait … whether you put it in writing or not, did you campaign on it? Yes or no?” Baugh asked.

Said Kring: “I told a few people I would do it. That was not a big issue. The big issue for me was public safety.”

Kring went on to acknowledge that she made that promise specifically to Tait.

When the council vote for Tait’s ballot measure came up, it died for lack of a second, as Kring sat silent with the council majority.

According to Fleischman, Kring’s decision to break her promise struck a nerve with the committee. Kring received a party endorsement of her council campaign at least in part because she backed Tait on the ballot measure, Fleischman said.

Kring’s decision to run for mayor could have statewide implications for the party, according to Fleischman. He said the party will almost certainly raise money for Tait if he asks for it, steering resources away from a vital statewide battle to win a Republican seat in the state Legislature that could undo the current Democratic supermajority.

“This is what happens when Republicans run against Republicans. It’s the Democrats who win,” Fleischman said.

Pauly noted at the meeting that the party’s platform is to ensure a fair playing field for businesses and free market competition.

She pointed out that the rift among Republicans on the Anaheim council began with a controversial $158-million tax subsidy for the developer of two four-star hotels. Yet instead of standing by Tait, the Republican council members broke away.

“The thing that concerns me the most about this … it appears that is the point where a huge rift is created amongst the Republican majority that should be governing on Republican principles,” Pauly said at the meeting.

Murray and Kring attended the meeting in an attempt to rebut arguments Tait had laid out before the committee last November.

According to several who attended the November meeting, Tait was well received and articulated sensible arguments against the current Angel Stadium lease negotiations framework, which as a starting point grants Angels baseball owner Arte Moreno 155 acres for $1 per year to develop and use as a revenue source to finance up to $150 million in stadium improvements. 

In contrast, Pauly said that Kring and Murray’s presentations were “ramblings” designed to sell the committee on huge giveaways of public resources.

Committee member Brenda McCune, who blogged about the presentation on OCPolitical, essentially agreed with Pauly’s assessment.

“Neither one of them appeared to believe in what they were selling,” McCune wrote. “They were well-prepared, rehearsed, polished and articulate and said what they came to say, but it was weak and unconvincing to say the least.”

Kring said she changed her position on the subsidy because it evolved into a “dramatically” better deal for taxpayers.

Essentially, the developer went from receiving 80 percent of the hotels’ room tax revenue over 15 years to 70 percent over 20 years. Ten percent of the remaining tax revenue would go to the city, with the other 20 percent dedicated to resort district expansion bonds.

Pauly and committee member Allan Bartlett said they weren’t satisfied with Kring’s responses.

“To make a promise and then to find it politically expedient to renege on your promises, just because they can make you queen?” Pauly said in an interview Wednesday. “It looks bad on all Republicans, and it gives the entire party a black eye. And I personally am sick of it.”

Said Bartlett: “She basically lied, Lucille did, about the hotel tax. … When we vetted her for the endorsement, she promised that she wouldn’t support that.”

As Voice of OC documented in an article last year, Kring changed her position on several issues— including civilian oversight of police, district elections and the $158-million subsidy — after businessmen and others interested in her changing those positions contributed thousands of dollars to help Kring pay off personal campaign debt.

The committee will likely be deciding on an endorsement for the Anaheim mayoral race in the summer, and if Monday night’s episode is any indication, Tait looks to be the favorite. 

“What happened to Councilwoman Kring at the central committee meeting probably foreshadows more to come,” said Fleischman.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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