Irvine City Council members Steven Choi, left, Beth Krom, Sukhee Kang, Larry Agran and Christina Shea. (Photo by: Violeta Vacqueiro)

Friday, October 8, 2010 | Two Orange County Republican Central Committee members are accusing the local GOP’s top political brass of allowing a rift in the party to undermine a Republican victory in this year’s Irvine City Council election.

After simmering since the beginning of the year, anger and resentment among members of a vocal minority on the central committee has now bubbled over, with committee members Allan Bartlett and Tim Whitacre calling out Chairman Scott Baugh and other leaders for killing an endorsement of fellow committee member and Irvine council candidate Lynn Schott.

The rift is significant on a variety of levels, but especially so in Irvine, where Republicans are in danger of losing a seat being vacated by Republican Christina Shea and handing the Democrats a 4-1 supermajority on council.

There are three seats up for grabs in November, including the mayor’s seat. City Council incumbent Larry Agran has formed a slate with city Community Services Commission Chairwoman Shiva Farivar. The local GOP has not put together a competing slate — and with just weeks to go before Election Day, local attorney Jeff Lalloway seems the only Republican with a legitimate shot at winning a seat.

Bartlett and Whitacre say Schott would be in a far better position had she received a party endorsement, which she didn’t get, they say, because Baugh and local GOP Treasurer Mark Bucher are angry over questions raised about how they’ve handled the party’s finances.

Baugh and other party leaders deny the characterizations of Bartlett and Whitacre and say Schott didn’t get the endorsement simply because she didn’t work hard enough for it.

Regardless, the controversy shows how a growing faction of activists with Tea Party ties are ruffling the feathers of the party’s old guard.

Bartlett and Whitacre say the rift dates to the Central Committee’s January meeting at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

Baugh was giving a tone-setting speech for the local party that, among other things, stated the party’s new policy to deny endorsements of of any candidate who accepts public employees union money.

Meanwhile, frustration about the top Republican leadership was boiling in another room at the hotel.

About 40 or 50 people involved with various Tea Party offshoots, as well as a few central committee members, were gathered in the room and demanding an accounting review of the party’s books, which haven’t been reviewed in six years, a violation of the party’s bylaws, Bartlett said.

The dissidents went so far as to hang posters on the wall that mocked top Republican leaders, including Baugh and Congressman John Campbell.

Bartlett and Whitacre said Bucher was so offended by the dissenting activity that, months later, he and Baugh orchestrated a counter-whip campaign — essentially a round of calls to committee members with orders to vote against a Schott endorsement.

The vote came up in September, and Schott did not win a two-thirds majority of the full body — she lost by one vote.

The result, Bartlett and Whitacre contend, is that the Republican leaders undermined a chance at a Republican City Council election victory in Irvine.

“The only conclusion one can come to — if they’re not endorsing two City Council candidates — is that they’re helping Larry Agran,” Bartlett said.

Schott said she also suspects that Baugh and other Republican brass spent three or four days calling other central committee members to quash her endorsement. Schott said she believes they were upset over her calling for a review of the party books.

“It does seem to be quite personal, doesn’t it?” Schott asked. She added, “When there are two seats open and two Republicans running, both should receive the endorsement.”

The party procedure for endorsements is this: The endorsement subcommittee votes on a list of potential endorsements who are then voted on by the full membership. Schott made it to the initial list, and the only endorsement subcommittee member to vote against her was Bucher, the Baugh-appointed chairman of the committee, Whitacre said.

Republican pollster and influential committee member Adam Probolsky said when the endorsement list came to a full body vote, Baugh pulled Schott’s name, along with a handful of others, because he saw there were people lining up to speak about her endorsement. Probolsky said he doesn’t recall what the speakers had to say.

When the final vote on Schott was tallied up, it was 31-16, with Baugh, Bucher and other executive sub-committee members voting against her.

Baugh denies any personal spat with Schott because of calls to review the party’s books or the activity at the room next door to where he was giving his January speech, saying he “did not go in that room and was not aware of what was going on in that room.”

He did, however, acknowledge that the books had not been reviewed in six years and that party bylaws do indeed call for a review every two years. But he said that a review has been commissioned, and he expects it to be finished by next month.

Baugh says that he was personally reluctant to endorse Schott because she hadn’t met with him one-on-one. He said when they did meet, Francis Agave, a friend of Schott’s disliked by some in the party, was with her.

And Probolsky contends that Schott simply hadn’t done the series of phone calls and legwork necessary to convince other committee members to vote for her endorsement.

“If you don’t do that, you will fail,” Probolsky said.

Baugh also said he hadn’t heard of Schott putting in the necessary work. “There are many people who seek the endorsement, go out and count the votes and make phone calls to seek the votes. I’m not aware that Lynn [Schott] did that,” Baugh said.

As for the alleged counter-whip campaign, Baugh denied that as well but said it was possible that other committee members were calling around to have Schott’s endorsement killed — he just didn’t have anything to do with it or know about it.

Baugh said he has since had the chance to meet Schott one-on-one and is warming up to the idea of endorsing her.

Bucher, meanwhile, admits to having made phone calls to committee members, but characterized those calls as discussions about Schott’s behavior.

“I called some people, talked to some people. If they were offended, they may have called some people,” Bucher said. “It was their own passion on the issue, just like I’m passionate about the issue.”

Bucher said he was disgusted by what went on in the hotel room that day and it played a large role in his decision not to vote for her endorsement.

“There were posters of Scott [Baugh] with accusations of dishonesty and self-dealing. … It was very, very offensive,” Bucher said. He added, “They tried to deny that the posters I saw with my own two eyes didn’t exist.”

Bucher said he blames Schott for the incident because the room, he said, was registered in her name.

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