Politics 2004Week of December 20

Party Time

No sooner did the ink dry on most November 3 newspapers than changes began within the Republican Party. In several key states, party chairmen were turning in their resignations and maneuvering started that has now led to pitched battles for their jobs. In Arizona and New York, the opposite occurred and chairmen hopefuls appeared to nail down the party succession with ease.

How or even whether so many changes in state GOP leadership will affect the 2008 nomination race–which seems to be already under way–is unclear. For now, here are some of the significant changes in GOP chairmanships:

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Falling on Alabama?

The resignation of State Republican Chairman Marty Connors came after a tenure that can best be dubbed multi-faceted. True, the party under Connors gained the governorship and increased its ranks in legislative seats, But, with its newfound political riches, the Alabama GOP also developed sharp divisions: when Republican Gov. Bob Riley said he needed to raise taxes to end his state’s budget shortfall, Connors broke with him and denounced the Riley plan. For his break, Connors was honored by state anti-tax groups and from national conservatives, who gave the Alabamian their “Ronald Reagan Award” for defying the governor at the 2003 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Interestingly, the strong favorite to succeed Connors as chairman at the GOP State Executive Committee meeting February 12 is someone who is close to Riley: Twinkle Andress, deputy chief of staff to the governor and former executive director of the state GOP. Despite her closeness to the controversial Riley, the vivacious, attractive Andress is not perceived as hostile to conservatives and attempts to recruit a candidate against her have so far come up empty. For awhile Last week, it appeared as though the 38-year-old, just-married Andress would face a challenge from Executive Committee member Jerry Latham, a close ally of former State Chairman and longtime Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar, But Latham then announced he would not run.

“Salmon Night” in Arizona

After serving two terms during which the cash-drained Arizona GOP coffers were replenished and the party operated in the black, State Chairman Bob Fannin recently announced he would relinquish the party helm in January. The son of the late Gov. (1958-64) and Sen. (1964-76) Paul Fannin–easily the most revered Republican in the Grand Canyon State after Barry Goldwater–Phoenix lawyer Bob walked a political tightrope between the increasingly conservative grass-roots activists in the party and supporters of Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.). When McCain (for whose 2000 presidential campaign Fannin was a vigorous fund-raiser) voted against the President’s tax cut package in ’01, the state chairman told me he was “very disappointed” in his old friend, but would not call on McCain to leave the party.

All signs point to former Rep. (1994-2000) and ’02 gubernatorial nominee Matt Salmon as Fannin’s successor when the state executive committee meets in January. A stalwart conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) and true-believer in term limits who followed his own three-term pledge, the 44-year-old Salmon lost a close race for governor against Democrat Janet Napolitano following a particularly mean-spirited campaign.

Rocky Rocks, Saul Stands Firm, and A New Face “Trotts” Along?

With Michigan State Republican Chairman Betsy DeVos stepping down, the stage is set for a major battle royal at the February 5 state GOP convention. For weeks, the front-runner for the chairmanship had been former State Rep. and ’02 U.S. Senate nominee Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski. Fondly thought of by many party leaders for accepting a hopeless nomination against four-term Democratic Sen. Carl Levin two years ago, U.S. Army Reserve officer Raczkowski had the strong endorsement of State Atty. Gen. Mike Cox, GOP National Committeeman Chuck Yob, nine congressional district chairmen and more than 30 county chairmen.

But last week, under intense fire from the Detroit News for not filing timely Federal Election Commission reports while a Senate candidate (and on duty overseas in Somalia), Rackowski rocked his supporters by withdrawing from the race. All political eyes then came to rest on his lone opponent Saul Anuzis, well-known to conservatives as a key Michigan operative for Jack Kemp in the 1988 presidential race and longtime right-hand man to former Lt. Gov. and ’02 gubernatorial nominee Dick Posthumus. Anuzis had the backing of Secretary of State Terri Lynn Lamb, the Water Wonderland GOP’s other statewide elected official, and of former Republican National Committeewoman Ronna Romney. He was also supported by Jane Abraham (wife of outgoing Secretary of Energy Spence Abraham), and eight members of the Michigan U.S. House delegation.

Given Anuzis’s position as the only candidate in the race and his credentials among conservatives, he appeared to be the big favorite among the 2000-plus delegates who will convene in Grand Rapids in February. But not long after Raczkowski left the race, a new candidate, multi-millionaire lawyer David Trott, jumped in. The head of a 600-lawyer firm in Bingham Farms, the 36-year-old Trott has not been a visible figure at party conventions and other functions. But this year he contributed more than $200,000 of his own money to GOP candidates nationwide and raised another $500,000. “And he passed my four-question test with flying colors,” said Yob, who joined with Cox in endorsing Trott, “He’s pro-life, pro-gun, against gay marriage and affirmative action.”

King George’s Court

After 12 years as governor of New York, George Pataki has put his imprimatur on the Empire State GOP like no one since Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s and ’70’s. At the recent state party convention in Albany, Pataki and friends moved their close ally, and State Party Chairman Sandy Treadwell, over to the position of Republican national committeeman, replacing Joseph Mondello. Free of day-to-day administrative responsibility, Treadwell is now expected to use his national business, social and political contacts to begin organizing Pataki’s anticipated bid for the Republican presidential nomination in ’08.

The new state chairman is another fierce Pataki loyalist, Monroe County GOP Chairman Stephen Minarik. Upon his election by the GOP state committee, Minarik stunned party activists by dismissing the men considered Pataki’s two closest political advisers, strategist Kieran Mahoney and veteran pollster Arthur Finkelstein.

“As you now, we are currently reviewing all of our contracts at the New York Republican State Committee, and we will no longer be using your services.” Minarik wrote both operatives in a letter that makes Donald Trump’s celebrated firings appear endearin.

There are several theories why Pataki would go along with the termination of the two professionals most responsible for his first election as governor over Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo. Some argue that Mahoney and Finkelstein were both closely associated with controversial former Sen. (1980-98) Al D’Amato (R.-N.Y.), whose support was pivotal to Pataki’s nomination for governor in ’94 but whom the governor has tried to distance himself from in recent years. In what appears to many to be a more far-fetched explanation, others say hat although both have a history of working for conservatives, Mahoney–son of the late Conservative Party co-founder Daniel P. Mahoney–and Finkelstein have lately been increasingly tied up with moderate GOPers, which could hurt Pataki with conservative delegates around the dcountry. Mahoney has managed the campaigns of several moderate-to-liberal GOP candidates in New York, notably defeated ’04 Senate nominee Howard Mills. Finkelstein,who was paid more than $76,000 by Pataki’s campaign committee and $34,000 by the state GOP this year, has himself told reporters that it would be very difficult for a moderate such as Pataki to be nominated for President since the GOP has moved significantly to the right.

Lee for Lee

Ronald Reagan used to say that “there are second acts in life,” and certainly one who demonstrated this most recently was former Rep. (1978-82) Gary Lee (R.-N.Y.). A U.S. Army MP during the Korean War and head of alumni affairs at Cornell University, Lee succeeded fellow conservative (and “Draft Goldwater” campaign manager) F. Clifton White as GOP chairman of Tompkins County (N.Y.) . In 1970, Lee made news as the first GOP county chairman to support Conservative Party U.S. Senate nominee James Buckley over liberal appointed Sen. (1968-70) Charles Goodell (R.-NY), who had been appointed to office by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. This prompted Rockefeller to call Lee at home with some harsh words.

Lee later went on be county supervise, state assemblyman from 1972-78 (where he frequently clashed with Gov. Rockefeller), and U.S. representative from 1978-82. What observers predicted would be a brilliant career in Congress for Lee was ended in ’82, when Democratic-sculpted redistricting forced him and fellow conservative GOP Rep. (1980-88) George Wortley to run in the same district. Wortley won a bitter contest by fewer than 400 votes. After several years as an executive with IC Industries, Lee retired to Fort Myers, Fla.

Last week, at age 71, Gary Lee returned to the political scene when he was overwhelming elected GOP chairman of Florida’s Lee County. Actually, “returned” is not correct. Ever since he settled in the Sunshine State, the former New Yorker has helped recruit candidates for local office, walked precincts and stuffed envelopes for candidates, and helped other conservatives–notably just-elected Rep. Connie Mack, IV–meet potential supporters. As State Rep. Jeff Kotkamp once told me, “It says a lot about Gary when you realize the offices he’s held and you see him today licking envelopes for candidates like me at midnight.”