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State Republican convention opens with discord over "top-two" primary

March 18, 2011 |  6:26 pm

In an illustration of the challenges that lie ahead for the California Republican Party, tempers flared during one of the first committee meetings at the party convention Friday afternoon over a proposal by outgoing party Chairman Ron Nehring to alter the party’s rules to deal with the new “top-two” voting system approved last year.

Competing proposals to address Proposition 14 have quickly become one of the hottest topics at this weekend's gathering in Sacramento. At stake is the party’s ability to maintain its influence within the new system, which replaces the traditional party primaries with one contest in which candidates of all party affiliations compete against one another. (The top two winners compete in a runoff, regardless of their affiliation.)
Nehring and a group of conservatives are pushing a proposal that would allow local delegates to endorse a candidate before the primary. But there is considerable dissension in the ranks over the mechanics of that proposal –- with some expressing concerns that it would allow a small group of the party's most conservative members to control the endorsement process. Several prominent party leaders openly challenged Nehring during a Friday afternoon meeting of the rules committee.
As Nehring stood at a podium before committee members, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee said he was “deeply disturbed."

“We are suppressing the debate on what could be the future of our party,” Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said, before accusing Nehring of filling the rules committee with “hand-picked appointments to ensure that he would get the desired result in this vote today.”

After acidly noting that the party “lost every seat that could have been in play” under Nehring’s watch in the November elections at a time when Republicans made gains in other parts of the country, Blakeslee said it was “unacceptable” that Nehring was “now trying to tell us how to conduct ourselves after he is long gone and stacking the committee to produce that result.”
“It is not Republican, and I suggest he continue without me,” Blakeslee said before picking up his bag and storming out, followed by Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga). (The senators later returned to the meeting.)
Nehring said he welcomed the debate on how the party should address Proposition 14, which he said had “many unintended consequences that we are just starting to see now.”
“We’re not really as far apart as it might seem at first blush and I think as the weekend goes on -- we’ll get closer and closer,” Nehring said during a news conference after the outburst in the rules committee. “What’s important is that we have a system that preserves and exercises our right to nominate candidates for public office and maximizes our opportunities for victory.”

The rules committee plans to meet again Friday evening.

-- Maeve Reston in Sacramento


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