“I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” –Will Rogers
Beginning in the 1960s, San Bernardino County began to drift ever further rightward politically. Locals backed Ronald Reagan religiously when he ran for governor in 1966 and for reelection in 1970. San Bernardino County was at the forefront of resistance to Jerry Brown during his first two terms in office as governor. By 1980, when California was Reagan Country, San Bernardino County was at its epicenter. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans dominated San Bernardino County. Even as California began to trend toward liberalism statewide, San Bernardino County remained staunchly GOP territory, and after the turn of the millennium, it remained one of the Republican bastions in the state, even as California as a whole was leaning ever more toward the Democrats, as Jerry Brown made his second coming, first as state attorney general and then as governor.
In 2010, however, the number of registered Democrats in San Bernardino County surpassed the number of registered Republicans and the Democrats have held a growing plurality among registered voters ever since. But that watershed event did not send San Bernardino County Republicans into a panic. One of the political realities nationwide and in California is that as a group, Republicans turn out to vote in substantially higher numbers than do Democrats. Statistics vary, but in any given year in any given election, Republicans show up to vote anywhere from seven percent to 13 percent more frequently than Democrats. Thus, even after the Democrats pulled out in front of Republicans in terms of the party identification of registered voters in San Bernardino County, the majority of office holders at the city, county, state and federal level tended to be Republicans. Only in the area of the county’s Fifth Supervisorial District covering most of San Bernardino, Colton, Rialto, more than half of Fontana, Bloomington and Muscoy, did the Democrats enjoy a significant toehold. And even then, at the level of the councils in San Bernardino and Fontana, the Republicans are in ascendancy.
When Chris Robles, a professional political operative active in Democratic politics in Los Angeles County, moved to Chino Hills and acceded onto the Democratic Central Committee in 2012, there was confidence that he would use his expertise to undo the Republican political lock on San Bernardino County. In 2012 he was elected president of the central committee and has retained that position since. Yet under his guidance, the party has continued to flounder. One minor change in the Democrats’ favor came in 2012 when Democrat James Ramos, who had been the chairman of the San Manuel Indian Tribe, used his wealth to defeat incumbent Third District County Supervisor Neil Derry. But Ramos’ victory was a red herring, as Ramos was promoted not by Democrats but by one faction of warring Republicans in the Third District. Upon election, Ramos appointed Phil Paule, who had been the district director for Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa for eight years and was himself a Republican candidate for the State Assembly. Ramos has remained essentially estranged from Democrats throughout his tenure as supervisor, using his wealth to support, for the most part, Republican candidates.
Despite Democrats currently having a registration advantage over Republicans in San Bernardino County approaching a 4-to-3 margin – 360,898 registered voters or 40.2% to 285,015 registered voters or 31.8% among a total of 897,193 voters overall – three of the five members of the board of supervisors are Republicans; two of the county’s five congress members are Republicans, with two of the Democratic congress members having districts in which those portions outside San Bernardino County are heavily Democratic; three of the county’s four state senators are Republicans; five of the county’s eight members of the California Assembly are Republicans; and 17 of the county’s 24 cities have city councils composed of a majority of Republicans. Where the Democrats hold state or federal office in San Bernardino County they hold a commanding registration advantage. In those electoral jurisdictions where the Democrats have close to parity with the Republicans or hold a lead that is substantial but less than entirely overwhelming, they have consistently lost to Republicans. Such is the case in the 40th Assembly District where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 91,615 or 40.4 percent to 76,234 or 33.7 percent, and a Republican, Marc Steinorth, holds office. In San Bernardino County’s Fourth Supervisorial District, where the registration numbers are lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats 71,859 or 43.1 percent to 47,128 or 28.3 percent, a Republican, Curt Hagman is in office, even despite the fact that his opponent in the 2014 election was a then-incumbent Democratic U.S. Congresswoman, Gloria Negrete-McLeod.
In May, a contingent of Democrats initiated an effort to remove Robles as central committee chairman. At the May 25 meeting of the Democratic Central Committee, an overwhelming number of advocates of his removal showed up to support those elected and ex-officio members of the committee intent on removing him. That ran into difficulty, however, when Robles used his control of the proceedings to refuse to recognize the call for a vote of no confidence. He then surrendered chairmanship of the proceedings to one of the members of the executive board, Mark Westwood. Westwood is one of the four members of the executive board closely affiliated with Robles. Westwood twice ruled further calls for votes of no confidence against Robles that were seconded to be out of order.
This week, those intent on Robles’ removal came armed with documentation that in his capacity as a professional campaign consultant he has worked for a Republican candidate running against an endorsed Democrat in San Bernardino County. That evidentiary documentation included a letter from Chris Masami Myers, the executive director of the California Republican Party informing him that there had been a petition to have him removed as chairman and seeking his response to the charges laid out in the petition for removal no later than 5 p.m. on July 14.
Seeming to anticipate that a renewed call for his immediate removal would be made last night, Robles had moved to ensure that he would have the maximum number of supporters present to support him in the event that he was forced to allow such a vote to occur.
From the outset, Robles found himself under fire and unable to direct the proceedings to even the vaguest semblance of order.
He was not able to get the collective to allow a vote on considering the agenda for the night’s proceedings, as he was besieged with calls to amend the agenda with the question of his removal.
One member came with a prepared statement which she read: “In accordance with Roberts Rules of Order Section 41 on page 373, I move to amend the agenda to have officer removal be immediately after the approval of the agenda.” The motion was seconded. Robles at first refused to allow such a vote to take place, but after several attempts as per Robert’s Rules, he relented. That vote went in his favor, 29 to 24.
He then endeavored to complete the finalization of the evening’s agenda so it could be set and the evening’s discussion on those issues initiated. He was again beset with numerous points of order, another motion and second to have him removed as a member, which Robles said was out of order, and then other calls for adjustments to the agenda, some of which were granted, including a discussion of offering assistance to the lone Democrat on the city council in Upland, Janice Elliott, who is under siege by her Republican colleagues and one to end the evening’s proceedings by 9 p.m..
At 7:46 p.m. a vote to close further debate on the contents of the agenda was called, but Robles did not like the outcome, so they counted again. It did not pass by the necessary 2/3 vote.
Robles’ efforts to carry on with the meeting were further interrupted by an accusation that he was no longer chair because he had refused to respond to a certified letter with the grounds for his removal. Robles engaged in some back and forth over whether he could be considered to have actually been served with the petition, though he conceded he had received it and had responded to it “out of an abundance of caution.” To this there were points of order stating that no response had been received. Robles responded, telling the group the letter was inconsistent with the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee bylaws because it did not come from the executive committee. Robles also said he was not about to allow a “kangaroo court” when he had not been given the opportunity to respond.
Robles then moved the meeting to approval of the minutes of the Executive Committee meetings. Laurie Stalnaker, the committee’s finance director, stated that she had been consistently rebuffed in her efforts over the last several weeks to obtain minutes of previous meetings so she can reconcile expenditures made out of the committee’s bank account with their authorizations., She then engaged with Robles in an extended exchange in which Robles refused to grant her requests for a redetermination of the action tabled at the Executive Committee meeting to consider the certified letter and removal of Chris Robles. Over this issue the meeting erupted into chaos and at 8:27 p.m., Robles abruptly adjourned the meeting and called in the county sheriff. Four law enforcement officers arrived to herd the group out of the room. None of the remaining items on the agenda were discussed.
While Robles yet retains his supporters on the Democratic Central Committee, including ones who maintain he is being hamstrung in his effort by obstructionists, there is a growing contingent of party members who believe the party’s effectiveness in San Bernardino County has been compromised by his commitment to his own professional for profit electioneering efforts, some of which clash with party goals. Some have suggested that Robles was planted in San Bernardino County by the Republicans, an assertion he scoffed at. Others believe that his reaction to criticism is a manifestation of his nervousness about financing irregularities that Stalnaker’s audit might touch on.
Following his anticipated response to a separate action, the petition for his removal as county chair that is due July 14, a showdown between Robles loyalists and those intent on his removal appears inevitable. –Mark Gutglueck