A Bevy Of Former Top Tier Republicans Forced Out Of County GOP Over Democratic Endorsements

As the current crop of political hopefuls progresses further into the 2024 election cycle in San Bernardino County, a trend that has manifested with the leadership of the region’s GOP leadership is being met by a countertrend among Republicans who are pressing for greater party loyalty and ideological purity.
Some of those who were considered to be the local party’s prime movers and members of its command echelon have been winged in the demand for reform.
The difficulty that has led to this crisis consists of efforts by several leading lights among the Republicans, ones who have previously or still hold some of the most powerful political positions in the region, violating both the 11th and 12th  Commandments.
The 11th Commandment states, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow or sister Republican.”
The 12th Commandment holds, “Thou shalt not promote a Democrat in lieu of a Republican.”
In years past, Curt Hagman, Robert Rego and Acquanetta Warren were pillars of the local Republican Party. Hagman, the one-time mayor of Chino Hills, went on to hold a position in the California Assembly for six years. As his time in the state legislature was heading toward elapsing in 2014, in 2013 he convinced the other members of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee to elect him to replace Rego, then the Republican Central Committee chairman. Rego’s claim to fame was that in his capacity as party chairman he had done yeoman’s work in fattening the party electioneering war chest to be able to keep the Republican Party in control of the county. Hagman prevailed upon his fellow party members to put him into county party leadership role as a dual-headed approach to reinventing the California Republican Party, as he was running in tandem with former Assemblyman/State Senator and Republican legislative leader Jim Brulte, who was then seeking the state party chairmanship. Hagman, who had to step over Rego to claim the county party chairmanship, smoothed things over with Rego by arranging to make him the central committee’s finance chairman and chief parliamentary officer. Hagman at that point was intent on using his control of the county party to perpetuate his political career, as he was being termed out of the Assembly that year and was vying for Fourth District county supervisors against an incumbent Democrat Congresswoman, Gloria Negrete McLeod.
In the 2014 race for supervisor, Hagman, a state legislator assisted by his then-chief of staff, Mike Spence, was able to adroitly use the county Republican Party support network to outmaneuver the less politically savvy federal legislator, McLeod, doing so against the odds, as the Democrats since 2009 have throughout San Bernardino County with the exception of only a couple of pockets opened up a wider and wider registration advantage over Republicans. Hagman parlayed his control of the Republican Central Committee into a concentration of party money to promote himself and attack McLeod, in doing so engineering for himself a victory in the 2014 election. Four years later, in 2018, and eight years later, in 2022, he was reelected Fourth District San Bernardino County supervisor.
In Fontana, registration overwhelmingly favors Democrats. At present, of its 113,626 total voters, 55,410 or 48.8 percent are registered Democrats, while 24,340 or 21.4 percent are registered Republicans. The city’s registered voters who have no declared party affiliation, in fact, outnumber registered Republicans, as they account for 25,065 of the city’s electorate, or 22.1 percent. The remaining 7.7 percent of the city’s voters affiliate with the American Independent, Peace & Freedom, Libertarian, Green or other more obscure parties. Despite their overwhelming numerical disadvantage ot Democrats in Fontana, Republican have dominated the city for more than two-and-a-half decades. Acquanetta Warren, who was appointed to the council in 2002, elected in her own right in 2004 and then reelected to the council seat she held in 2008, made her first run for mayor in 2010, succeeding. She was reelected thrice thereafter, in 2014, 2018 and 2022. As mayor, she has consistently led a ruling coalition on the council consisting of Republicans. She has done that by using money supplied to her by both the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and deep-pocketed Republican and building industry donors to either keep existing Republicans on the council or to install into office Republicans essentially of her choosing. John Roberts, a former firefighter, was elected to a two-year term on the city council in 1992 and has been reelected eight times since. With Warren, he has formed the core of the Republican embodiment of the council for over two decades. In 2014, real estate professional Jesse Armendarez, who had previously used a good deal of his wealth to back Warren and her associates, was elected to the Fontana School Board with Warren’s backing. In 2016, again with Warren and the local Republican network giving him key support, Armendarez was elected to the Fontana City Council. For four years, he voted in lockstep with her and Roberts. In 2018, Phil Cothran Jr., the son of another major donor to the party, Phil Cothran Sr., ran successfully for the Fontana City Council. In 2020, Armendarez forewent running for reelection to the city council, instead seeking election as San Bernardino County Fifth District supervisor. Warren, immediately, began casting about for a Republican replacement for Armendarez. She settled on Pete Garcia, whom she had promoted as a successful candidate for the school board in 2020. Again, with the Republican political machine’s backing, Garcia had been elected to the city council in 2020. While Armendarez had fallen short in his 2020 bid for Fifth District supervisor, two years later, after the county supervisorial district boundaries had been redrawn, putting him into the county’s Second District, he ran for supervisor there, that time successfully.
Hagman, an alpha male, and Warren, an alpha female, used their strong personalities to take on leadership roles not just in the Republican Party but in the jurisdictions where they were elected, propelling their own careers forward. Rego, an accountant by trade who is comfortable with figures and handling money, used his skill and position as party chairman and party finance chairman/treasurer to beef up the local party’s finances and give it what it needed to outdistance the Democrats in all order of local races.
Indeed, the Republican Party has been in ascendancy in San Bernardino County since 1966, the year Ronald Reagan first became governor of California, and two years after Harry Sheppard, a fourteen-term New Deal Democrat Congressman who had represented San Bernardino County from January 1937 until January 1965, imploded in financial scandal. Sheppard was succeeded by a replacement Democrat, Kennth Dyal, but Dyal was chased from office by Republican Jerry Pettis in 1966.
Since that time, San Bernardino County has remained, more or less, under the control of the Republican Party. For 43 of those years, the Republicans maintained their command based primarily on their greater numbers in the county overall, with exceptions here and there in the largely blue-collar Central Valley cities of Fontana, Rialto and San Bernardino, particularly while the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana was a major employer in the Inland Empire. In 2009, the number of Democrats in San Bernardino County eclipsed the number of Republicans. Nevertheless, San Bernardino County remained and yet is one of the last bastions of Republicanism in the Golden State, which is dominated by the Democrats overall, as they have supermajorities in both of the state’s legislative houses and monopolize virtually every other office in Sacramento, from lieutenant governor to attorney general to secretary of state to controller to state superintendent of schools to insurance commissioner.
With only a few exceptions, generally involving those areas in the county where Democrats lopsidedly outnumber Republicans or where the districts in question straddle both San Bernardino County and other counties where the Democrats have the upper hand, members of the state legislature or Congress who represent San Bernardino County are Republicans.
This is a testimony to two San Bernardino County realities, one being the general dysfunction of the local Democratic Party, which in only a handful of cases is able to hitch up all of its horses to the same side of the wagon to have them pull in unison, and the other being the sheer resolve and efficiency of local Republicans who have demonstrated on a consistent basis the ability to plan, organize, direct and control a coherent overall political strategy that involves energetic fundraising and the well-coordinated and effective application of money and electioneering talent in running campaigns. Over the entirety of San Bernardino County and its 1,180,288 registered voters, registered Democrats convincingly outnumber registered Republicans 478,586 or 40.5 percent to 348,500 or 29.5 percent. Still, engaged Republicans outhustle engaged Democrats and do a far better job of convincing their less active party colleagues to get out and vote than do their Democrat rivals. Of the five positions on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, four are held by Republicans. On the 22 city and two town councils among the 24 incorporated municipalities in San Bernardino County, 17 have more Republican members than Democrats.
Despite all of that, there is now and has been for some time general alarm within the local Republican Party that party members, indeed ones generally considered to be party stalwarts, are losing their resolve and, for a variety of reasons, are allowing their party principles to be compromised.
A serious indication of this slippage is Republican office holders and/or party leaders siding with Democrats over Republicans in local races endorsing Democrats rather than Republicans, engaging in fundraising efforts for Democrats running against Republicans and not only accepting the endorsements of Democrats for themselves but openly soliciting those endorsements and engaging in actions or votes antithetical to Republican Party positions to get those endorsements.
In September, a cross section of San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee members, led by Mike Cargile, who was the GOP standard bearer in the effort to unseat Democrat Norma Torres in the 35th District in 2022 and is again running against her this year, took issue with Hagman and Warren, along with Roberts, Garcia and Armendarez endorsing Torres and Democrats in other selective races. Those endorsements included ones provided by Hagman, Warren, Roberts and Garcia of Torres’ son, Robert Torres, who is vying this year for State Assembly in the 53rd District. A Republican, Nick Wilson, is seeking election in the 53rd District. Wilson, like Cargile, has been endorsed by both the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and the California Republican Central Committee.
The Republican Central Committee’s bylaws prohibit a member of the central committee from endorsing a candidate other than one endorsed by the central committee as a whole. Most pointedly, the bylaws make clear, members of the Republican Central Committee cannot endorse a Democrat and retain their membership in the central committee.
Initially in September, Cargile made a motion to bounce Hagman, Warren, Roberts, Garcia and Armendarez off of the central committee. The central committee parliamentarian, Ben Lopez, pointed out that Hagman, Warren, Roberts, Garcia and Armendarez are no longer dues-paying or active members of the central committee and that as such, they were already no longer participating in the central committee meetings. While that may have been true, at that very September 14 meeting, Hagman had been in attendance and had been the featured speaker. Cargile and the others, however, accepted Lopez’s representation at face value, and Cargile withdrew his motion, based upon the assurances provided that Hagman, Warren, Roberts, Garcia and Armendarez were indeed no longer members of the central committee and would not be taking part in any further party functions as members of the central committee.
When Hagman had been questioned at that meeing over his endorsements of Torres and her son, he had responded by saying that Torres had endorsed him in his 2022 reelection bid for supervisor and that he had simply returned the favor.
“She stood up and endorsed me over Connie Leyva,” Hagman said, referring to the Democrat who had run against him in 2022. 
“When I was mayor [of Chino Hills between 2006 and 2008], she [Norma Torres] was mayor of Pomona,” he noted, saying he got along with her well at that time. More recently, he said, she had carried legislation that was of benefit to San Bernardino County and as such was a valuable resource at the federal level for local government.
Last year, when Robert Torres jumped into the 53rd District Assembly race, he endorsed him, too, Hagman said.
That was meant as no offense to Wilson, Hagman said. “So, before I even knew he [Wilson] was running, I endorsed him [Robert Torres].”
When pressed, Hagman said he would not rescind those endorsements.
“Sorry, Nick,” Hagman said.
The endorsements are multidimensional. One issue is that there is an appearance, at the very least, that the endorsements extend from more than just a few Republicans. Warren is the head of “Team Fontana,” the coalition that includes Roberts, Phil Cothran Jr, Garcia and, as emeritus members, both Armendarez and Cothran’s father, Phil Cothran Sr. In 2021, Phil Cothran Sr, who for more than a decade has been a major donor to Acquanetta Warren and Republican causes in general, was selected chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. He remains in that position. His son, while a member of Team Fontana, avoided personally endorsing Norma Torres and Robert Torres, though “Team Fontana” is backing the mother/son set of candidates. Phil Cothran Sr has not personally endorsed either of the Democrats himself. Still, he has avoided taking any action, as local party chairman or otherwise, in renouncing the endorsements of Democrats by his close associates or “Team Fontana,” which technically but not officially includes his son and, by extension, himself.
What some see in this are self-inflicted wounds, yet ones which extend further to damage the party. Warren, for example, is or at least was, arguably or actually, San Bernardino County’s leading African American Republican politician/officeholder. That she is now being ostracized from her party is creating fertile ground for the Democrats who have been unable to effectively erode the Republican hold on power throughout the county, with what promises to be a vulnerable spot to crush the GOP’s armor.
Hagman had already compromised himself as a firm and fast Republican when he signed on with the public employee unions representing the county’s rank and file. The traditional dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats held that Republicans were the party of corporate America, entrepreneurs and those seeking to hold the line on the expense of government, while the Democrats are the party of labor and unions. By blurring the distinction between the two parties, Hagman is running the risk that what distinguishes one from the other will be lost and that in an atmosphere in which Democrats have numeric superiority, those Republicans who have faithfully turned out to support party principles will no longer have a reason to do so, and the field will be lost to the Democrats.
Already, Warren and Hagman, who just a few years ago were seen as those who embodied Republican ideals firm and fast, are being seen as sell-outs, RINOs, Republicans In Name Only, cheap politicians who retained their offices and prospered politically personally, but at what cost to party principles and Republican values?
Things are getting worse for the Republicans.
Henry Nickel, a Republican who was Fifth Ward councilman in San Bernardino from 2013 until he was turned out of office in 2020 when students, young progressives and older Democrats coalesced to back Democrat Ben Reynoso, is seeking to unseat Reynoso in this year’s Fifth Ward race. He picked up the San Bernardino Republican Central Committee endorsement. It has now been learned that Michelle Sabino, who represents the Third District on the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and is an active operative with the Inland Empire Business Alliance Political Action Committee is now involved in supporting Kimberly Knaus, who is one of the candidates in the San Bernardino Fifth Ward race. Knaus is a Democrat.
In her role with the Inland Empire Business Alliance and its political action committee, Sabino is active in determining which candidates for local office the organization is going to support, securing money for those candidates and then either conveying it to them directly or using it to run independent expenditure activity to support their candidacies,
The Inland Empire Business Alliance Political Action Committee does not exclusively back Democrats. It is, for example, supporting Ovi Popescu and Rhodes “Dusty” Rigsby, both Republicans, in their electoral efforts for the Loma Linda City Council.  
Still, the Inland Empire Business Alliance is supporting a handful Democrats. One of those is Democrats is Knaus.
The research Sabino does for the Inland Empire Business Alliance in determining which candidates it should support includes interviewing the candidates. Despite the consideration that both Sabino and Nickel are members of the Republican Central Committee and that they have been attending monthly meetings of that organization together for the last two years, Sabino did not arrange an interview with Nickel.
“I would have been more than willing to be considered by the Inland Empire Business Alliance for an endorsement and any support it would offer to my campaign,” Nickel told the Sentinel. He said he was disappointed that Sabino did not reach out to him.
Nickel added, “It also appears Council Candidate Kim Knaus’ funds are being used to pay for the services of San Bernardino County GOP Treasurer and former Chairman Robert Rego’s company, Parkview Business Services, as Knaus’ campaign treasurer.  San Bernardino County GOP bylaws are clear that members of the central committee are subject to removal if advocating for the election of candidates opposing SBCGOP-endorsed candidates.  If members of the SBCGOP are in fact advocating for any of my opponents in the 5th Ward City Council race, they are subject to removal from the San Bernardino County Central Committee.”
Cargile said that it was “completely unacceptable for members of the central committee to be supporting Democrats. Today’s Democratic Party represents human trafficking, fentanyl poisoning, child trafficking, out-of-control bureaucracies, inadequate support of our police agencies, the destruction of the American economy and the loss of jobs. If you support Democrats, you are embracing those values and your constituents need to know that. You see several of these Republicans, who are Republicans in name only, such as Acquanetta Warren and Curt Hagman and [Ontario City Councilman] Alan Wapner and [Ontario Mayor] Paul Leon, who are accepting trinkets from politicians like Norma Torres. They are destroying their cities for a couple of dollars. They are doing this for personal gain. When you endorse a candidate, you do not endorse a person so much as as you endorse their ideology. When these Republicans endorse Democrats and their values, they are signing on to accept the things that are destroying our cities, our county our state and our country. They should not be allowed to remain as members of the central committee and we should do everything we can to let their constituents know what they are doing.

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