Birth of the SRA as told by Barbara Alby

Birth of the SRA as told by Barbara Alby....Published in Human Events May 18, 1991


Inside Washington

Conservatives Battle to Capture California GOP

by Joseph Farah


One day three and a half years ago. Theda Oates Plimpton was invited to attend a meeting of the River City Republican Assembly, the Sacramento Chapter of the California Republican Assembly.  When she got there, Mrs. Plimpton discovered that her name had already been entered into membership in the organization and her dues already paid by a man she did not know.

As a new member, Plimpton, a supporter of Pat Robertson in that presidential campaign year sponsored her friend, Mrs. Barbara Alby, another conservative activist who favored Jack Kemp.

The next day, Alby told a politically astute colleague about the meeting.

"You have just joined the the most liberal influential Republican organization in the state of California," she was told.

And from that humble and inauspicious beginning in 1987, the conservative takeover of the California Republican Assembly--and indeed the machinery for the statewide Republican Party apparatus--was launched.

Today, the CRA--which helped Barry Goldwater win the Republican party presidential election in 1964 and helped launch Ronald Reagan's successful 1966 bid for the governorship--is back as a solidly conservative and powerful statewide group.  It is actively opposing the so-called "new conservatism" of Gov. Pete Wilson, newly appointed U.S. Sen. John Seymour and Rep. Tom Campbell, who aspires to fill the seat held by retiring Sen. Alan Cranston.

In the recent convention in Sacramento, the CRA condemned Wilson's plan to bridge the state's $12.6-billion budget deficit by raising $7 billion through new taxes and fees.

Guest speaker Pat Robertson received a standing ovation from delegates when he pledged a conservative challenge to Wilson if he signs a homosexual rights bill (AB 101) that would amend the state Equal Employment and Housing Act to extend anti-discrimination language to include sexual orientation.

      "I have this word for Gov. Pete Wilson." said Robertson.  "If you increase taxes and turn the streets of this state over to the radical homosexuals, this will be the last term you serve as governor."

The 58th annual convention of the largest grassroots GOP organization on the West Coast was the biggest ever.  Besides Robertson, Lt Col. Oliver North and Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft were the headliners.  Nearly 500 delegates and activists attended.

The convention represented an emotional denouement for CRA Vice President Barbara Alby, who went on from that meeting in 1987 to orchestrate a sometimes hostile takeover of the River City chapter and ultimately, the entire statewide organization.

Barbara Alby

"Today we in the CRA are the only thing that is standing in the way of Pete Wilson's attempt to move the California Republican Party to the left," says Alby who also heads a pro-life, pro family organization called Women's Lobby.

How Alby wrested control of the CRA, which has been steered for years by Rep. Bill Thomas and his liberal and moderate GOP forces, is a study in effective grass-roots organizing.

Alby teamed up with activist Greg Hardcastle, another Robertson operative, to bring into the River City chapter as many new members as possible.  In the final four days before the Dec. 31, 1987, deadline for determining the next years's delegation size, the pair signed up 200 people as members.

While the size of the Chapter swelled from 200 to 400, the old members --threated with a coup-- suddenly decided that some new dues-paying members could no longer vote.   They could be seen but not heard.

The meetings were wild.  Robert's Rules of Order went out the window.  The police were even called into a meeting when one side charged the other with inciting a riot.  Barbara Alby recalls getting hit in the face with a microphone.

Finally, a panel from the CRA's state board mediated the dispute.  It recommended that leadership be put to a vote.  Faced with the certain prospect of being outnumbered by Alby and Hardcastle troops, the old guard at the River City Republican Assembly agreed to quit and form their own group.

Having taken control of the most important CRA unit, winning over the statewide organization came next.  Alby went on to be elected vice president of the CRA and Hardcastle was chosen as the new president of the River City chapter.

Last year's CRA convention refused to endorse Republican nominee Wilson for governor because he refused to take a "no -new-tax pledge" and back down from his "pro-choice" sdoes this (approves a new increase and signs AB 101), his stand on abortion.

But many conservatives--even some staunch pro-life, pro-family activists-- say they held their noses and voted for Wilson in his gubernatorial race with Dianne Feinstein last fall because of the reapportionment issue.  The governor has veto power over any redistricting plan proposed by the Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature.

"I can guarantee you that post-reapportionment there is no reason for pragmatism, " says Alby. "If Wilson does this (approves a new increase and signs AB 101), his days are numbered as the governor."

In last fall's elections, the CRA forces helped conservative Republican David Knowles defeat Sacramento-area liberal Democratic Assemblyman Norm Waters.  Waters ' defeat represented the first time Democratic Assembly Leader Willie Brown has lost an incumbent seat since taking power 10 years ago.

In the recent state Republican party convention in Sacramento, a CRA-backed slate of candidates won nine of 11 top offices.  But Wilson's operatives claim they're not concerned because the CRA has become a "single-issue organization" more interested in stopping abortion than anything else.

"Our opponents always accuse us of being a single-issue group," explains Alby.  "what they don't realize is the pro-life position is the anchor that influences a whole world outlook that moves the entire conservative Republican agenda forward."

The new CRA activists have won some major battles, but the war is far from over. 

It has not gone unnoticed, for instance, that Karen Morgan, the president of the old River City Republican Assembly, now serves as legislative aide to Gov. Wilson.  And insiders say the governor, with long-term aspirations for the White House, plans to fight for control of the state party apparatus, which is increasingly coming under control of the conservative, pro-life, pro-family CRA faction.

Perhaps the biggest test of strength for the conservative wing of the California Republican party will come next year when two U.S. senatorial seats will be filled.

Rep. Bill Dannemeyer, who addressed the CRA convention, is expected to get broad support from conservative, pro-family, pro-life activists in his bid to deny the Republican party nomination to appointed incumbent Sen. Seymour.  Indeed, the CRA delegates formally approved a resolution that "encourages" Dannemeyer to challenge Seymour.

Television commentator Bruce Herschensohn and Rep. Bob Dornan, both of whom also addressed the gathering, are conservative candidates considering bids for the seat currently occupied by Cranston.

"The conservative line-up ...was unprecedented on the West Coast," said Alby.  "We are taking leadership, organizing grass-roots and marching forward.  California pro-life conservatives understand the only place 'success' comes before 'work' is the dictionary."



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