Leja’s Inability To Stem Republican-On-Republican Violence Threatening Her Tenure

San Bernadino County Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Jan Leja  has been unable to stem the deepening and increasingly hostile Republican-on-Republican violence that has broken out in the odd-year election cycle in the contest for three positions on the West Valley Water Board.
That struggle between former Republican brethren is threatening to create a wider rift in the party that could overset the regional control and advantages the GOP has heretofore enjoyed.
The West Valley Water District, which is headquartered in Rialto and serves roughly 66,000 residents living in portions of Rialto, Fontana, the unincorporated San Bernadino County community of Bloomington and a small sliver of northern Riverside County, while comprising just a little over one half of one percent of San Benardino County’s overall population, stands as an important symbol of the Republican primacy in San Bernardino County, one of the last bastions of Republicanism in the Golden State. The West Valley Water District is considered to be an intensified microcosm of San Bernardino County as a whole. Though the 28.8 percent, or 288,353 of San Bernardino County’s 1,002,804 voters registered as Republicans are significantly outnumbered by the 39.6 percent or 397,346 of the county’s voters who are registered as members of the Democratic Party, the GOP dominates politics in the county, with four of the five current members of the board of supervisors being Republicans, and Republicans outnumbering Democrats on sixteen of the county’s 24 city or town councils. Within the confines of the West Valley Water District’s geographic jurisdiction, Democrats outnumber Republicans by an even greater ratio than they do at the county level, with 19,307 or 48.5 percent of the district’s 39,829 voters affiliated with the Democratic Party and 7,704 total registered Republicans for 19.3 percent. Nevertheless, four of the district’s governing board members  – Dr. Michael Taylor, Dr. Cliff Young, Kyle Crowther and Greg Young, who is no blood relation to Cliff Young – are Republicans. Don Olinger is the board’s only Democrat.
By working cohesively, cultivating donors, stockpiling cash in their individual and collective political war chests, apportioning their resources wisely and investing that money into races where they can be competitive, phone-banking, preparing months or even years in advance so they can engage in vigorous electioneering with signs, mailers, television, radio and TV ads in the crucial weeks just ahead of every election, and by working to ensure that Republicans make it to the polls or cast mail ballots, the Republicans have outhustled and outperformed the more numerous but less coordinated, less efficient and far more fragmented Democrats virtually every election cycle.
Two years ago, in the 2017 election when Cliff Young was reelected, Taylor was elected and Crowther was elected to a two-year term to replace a recently resigned board member, all four of the board’s Republicans had worked together. A key element of that effort had been Greg Young, himself a longtime member of the Republican Central Committee, ensuring that the party came through to assist its candidates in the West Valley District.
Differences now divide the West Valley Board, with Taylor and Crowther aligned on one side and Young in league with Young on the other. Greg Young and Crowther are up for reelection, as is Olinger. Both sides of the Republican split appear to be locked in mortal political combat with one another.
Whereas in years past, elections in the West Valley Water District were held at-large, this year for the first time board members are being elected within the geographical division of the district in which they reside by those also living in that section of the district.
As of last week, Taylor had provided the Democrat Olinger with $14,110.28 toward his campaign for reelection. As of this week, he had increased that amount to $16,500.48.  While it was mildly disturbing for many Republican purists to see Taylor involving himself in the promotion of a Democrat, that was mitigated by the consideration that Olinger’s only opponent in the race, Channing Hawkins, is another Democrat.
Of far more import to those concerned about the Republicans’ political fortunes going forward is Taylor’s efforts on behalf of Angel Ramirez, who relocated to Bloomington from Fontana to run against Greg Young in this year’s election. Previously, Taylor had supported Ramirez with money from his campaign fund used to defray the cost of mailers supporting Ramirez and attacking Greg Young. In the last week, Taylor came across with another $1,038 to support Ramirez against Greg Young. Crowther has likewise come out in favor of Ramirez, endorsing him over Greg Young.
In addition, three other Republicans upon whom Greg Young was counting for endorsements have gone the other way in supporting Ramirez. These include Robert Rego, who was formerly the chairman of the Republican Central Committee and who is now serving as both Olinger’s and Ramirez’s campaign treasurer; Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez; and former Republican Central Committee Executive Director Jeremiah Brosowske.
Traditionally, the Republican Party in San Bernardino County has endorsed incumbent Republicans when they seek reelection. Thus, it was widely presumed that the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, of which Greg Young is a member, would endorse Greg Young in his reelection effort this year. Forces within and without the central committee, however, militated against Greg Young, and managed to give Ramirez the endorsement. Those taking part in the effort included Armendarez, Rego, Taylor, Brosowske, Crowther and Phil Cothran, Sr., the father of Phil Cothran, Jr., a member of the Fontana City Council.
Accompanying that move was another successful effort to swing the central committee’s endorsement in the 2020 Fifth District Supervisorial race to Armendarez.
At present, the only Democrat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is Josie Gonzales, who has held that position since 2004 and who is obliged by term limits to leave that office next year. She has endorsed her chief of staff, Dan Flores, another Democrat, in next year’s election. Despite the consideration that the Democrats hold an overwhelming registration advantage in the Fifth District – with 89,954 or 49.5 percent of the district’s 181,809 voters identifying as Democrats and 33,241 or 18.3 percent affiliated with the Republican Party – the Republicans yet had designs on the seat now held by Gonzalez. Using their far greater electioneering resources and firepower, many members of the Party of Lincoln believed Flores’ vulnerabilities could be exploited to overcome his dual advantages of greater Democratic registration numbers in the Fifth District and the $262,000 he has already salted away into his campaign war chest.
The Republican standard bearer previously selected for the task of standing in against Flores was Dr. Cliff Young. In 2004, Young had served a short appointed stint as Fifth District county supervisor following the forced resignation of Jerry Eaves, a Democrat, after Eaves had been convicted on political corruption charges. Cliff Young and Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren stand out as the two leading Republican African-American officeholders in San Bernardino County. In Fontana, just as in the West Valley Water District, the Democrats hold an overwhelming voter registration advantage over the Republicans, with 43,528 or 48.1 percent of its 90,431 voters registered as Democrats and 16,388 or 18.1 percent affiliated with the Republican Party. Nevertheless, four of Fontana’s five councilmembers – Mayor Warren, Councilman John Roberts, Councilman Phil Cothran, Jr. and Councilman Jesse Armendarez – are Republicans. And up until very recently, all four were in lock-sync with one another politically, comprising Mayor Warren’s ruling council coalition.
That coalition – and the wider Republican unity within the county – are now threatened by the contretemps between the four Republicans in the West Valley Water District and the divergence in alignment it has triggered in neighboring Fontana. Warren, in addition to being in league with Roberts, Armendarez and Cothran, was also networking with Crowther, Cliff Young, Greg Young and a coterie of other Republicans throughout the region. Cliff Young and Greg Young supported her in her mayoral elections and she endorsed and supported them in their respective elective efforts at West Valley. She had signed on in the movement to promote Cliff Young in the upcoming race for Fifth District county supervisor. The move by Armendarez to outmaneuver Cliff Young for the party endorsement and the accompanying ploy in awarding the party endorsement to Ramirez over Greg Young, together with the militating of Taylor and Crowther against Greg Young, has sown dissension within the coalition Warren formerly headed in Fontana.
Were the breakup of Warren’s Republican coalition to fully manifest, it would leave Fontana, which already has registration numbers heavily in favor of the Democrats, ripe for a shift into the blue that might touch off further erosion of the Republican control of San Bernardino County.
Simultaneously, Rego and Brosowske – the San Bernardino County Central Committee’s former chairman and former executive director, respectively – cutting Greg Young off at the pass in favor of the 23-year-old upstart and political neophyte Ramirez is spooking several of the deep-pocketed donors the party has come to rely upon, who are questioning why Greg Young’s loyalty to the party has been rewarded with the party endorsement of his rival.
Exacerbating the situation are reports that Brosowske, who managed to wangle an appointment to a vacancy on the Hesperia City Council last year and then gain election to the council in his own right last November only to be removed by his council colleagues last month over accusations pertaining to whether he had ever actually established and maintained residency in Hesperia, is on the verge of provoking a full-blown scandal over the current electioneering in the West Valley Water District. Last May, Brosowske was hired as the West Valley Water District’s assistant general manager, a position providing him with over a quarter of a million dollars annually in combined salary and benefits. There was criticism leveled toward the district at the time based upon the consideration that the 28-year-old Brosowske had no training, experience, certification or expertise with regard to municipal water district functions, and accompanying charges that his was a political appointment. A video taken at the water district’s headquarters at 855 West Baseline Avenue in Rialto sometime within the last couple of weeks purportedly shows him engaged in partisan electioneering activity on behalf of either or both Olinger and Ramirez.
It is illegal for public employees to use governmental facilities or assets to engage in political activity.
The report with regard to Brosowske represents double jeopardy for Leja in her capacity as the chairman of the Republican Central Committee. Similar reports are dogging the party with regard to Third District San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, who was appointed last year to the position she holds and for which she must seek reelection next year in order to retain it beyond December 2020. She has hired onto her staff three Republican political operatives – Dillon Lesovsky, Matt Knox and Suzette Swallow – who are reportedly working on Rowe’s 2020 election campaign as well as those for Congressman Paul Cook, who is leaving the House of Representatives to seek election to the board of supervisors in the First District, and Jay Obernolte, the 33rd District assemblyman who is running to replace Cook as the 8th District congressman. All are Republicans.
For Leja, her success as county party chairwoman hinges upon the party’s ability to maintain its political primacy in San Bernardino County. Nevertheless, if those involved in the party effort to stay ahead of their Democratic rivals engage in illegal electioneering from public offices, that issue could redound to the Republicans’ detriment if the Democrats seize upon that as a campaign issue.
-Mark Gutglueck

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