Barbara Alby died earlier this month. Most people do not know who she was but her imprint was large upon California politics. She was an activist for pro-life and family values, a radio talk show host before Rush Limbaugh was a household name, and a member of the California Assembly. Her biggest claim to fame was authoring legislation known as “Megan’s Law”.
However, it can be argued that she and her cohorts that took over the California Republican Assembly and later the California Republican Party in the early 1990s are largely responsible for the demise of the State Republican Party and the fact that Democrats won a 2/3 majority in the last election before her death.
I was with her in those early days of the 1990s and was an eye witness to much that in retrospect I think was done improperly. Before offering my analysis I wish to say that I have been involved to varying degrees in “grassroots politics” for several decades. I have a degree in Government from California State University in Sacramento. I worked in and around the Capitol during my college years. Willie Brown was speaker when I had my first experience under “The Dome” working for then Senator John Doolittle. I also worked for the Sacramento Union when Joseph Farah was trying to make it into a conservative alternative to the Sacramento Bee. In short, I was at ground zero when Barbara and her army of evangelical Christians were taking over. I was one of them and viewed myself as a loyal soldier to the cause.
Barbara—like most Christians—viewed the world in very black and white terms. Much of Christianity views the world in such categories and usually rightly so. We are saved, those outside the church are “the Lost”. We believe in Heaven and Hell; Good and Evil; right and wrong. However, when you bring such a view into the political arena this worldview can become a pretext for “scorched earth tactics”. Unlike the Christian belief of loving the Hell out of someone, in the political world vilification is easier than persuasion and gets faster results.
I think this is what happened with Barbara and her followers. In CRA and later in the CRP, we found it easier the run people out than we did to persuade them that our views and values were better because they rested on the Truth of Christianity and better reflected Western values. It was easier to play Power politics in the same way we perceived that our opponents did.
The results over time were catastrophic. The California Republican Assembly went from a statewide membership of tens of thousands to less than 2,400 today. The CRA lost most of its membership; many soured on politics and went home. Some fought the Conservative/Christian CRA and lost; some that remained active in the political world formed the California Congress of Republicans in the 1990s while in a more recent battle, Karen England and her gang tried to form the Conservative Republicans of California. Both have smaller memberships than CRA and all are struggling to maintain their existence.
Most people that Barbara brought into the political world behaved in similar fashion to her example and experienced similar results. Besides vanquishing her enemies, she also vanquished the “farm team”. Democrats groom their underlings for succession while Republicans engage them in mortal combat. As a result, when Barbara and her team jumped to the California Republican Party, no one left in CRA was able to maintain the momentum and energy Barbara brought to the organization.
CRA has been hemorrhaging members and influence ever since. Her once formidable Sacramento-Sierra Republican Assembly chapter went from a peak of 700 members under her leadership to less than 20 in ten years. Currently they are doing well if they maintain 25 members. Alby quit the CRA many years ago but many assumed she was with still part of the organization.
In like manner, the California Republican Party was captured by Barbara Alby and company. Alby controlled not only the CRA but many county central committees and then took control of the CRP. They owned the California GOP for a number of years.
The CRA’s chief Republican opponent during this period was liberal Republican Pete Wilson. Much of the disagreement with Wilson was on social policy. Wilson was not only pro-abortion but was an advocate for more government funding and constitutional protections for abortion rights. Wilson also would appoint Democrats over equally qualified Republicans to posts in State government. All of this just riled-up Conservatives in the Party. While all this was happening, Wilson very publicly called the conservatives in his party “Fucking Irrelevant.” Conservatives called Wilson, “Diane Feinstein in drag.”
A few years after capturing the California GOP, Alby began running for State Assembly. Once she was elected, her grip on the CRP was released as she went on to other things. A succession of chairmen took the reins of the GOP that pretended to be card carrying CRA members until they were elected and then they took off the sheep’s clothing and ran things as the RINOs that they were. In later years, Alby ran unsuccessfully for both Congress and the Board of Equalization.
The differences between the CRP factions still remain to this day; although the CRA has in fact become irrelevant as Wilson looked-for the irony is that Wilson is equally irrelevant. Wilson’s camp was making a good living off of the political process before Alby and company came along and upset the proverbial applecart. After a while, most evangelical conservatives left and the liberal Republicans re-took their place as GOP leaders.
My complaint with this whole process is not just with the tone and tactics employed by Evangelicals (including myself) but something harder to quantify. Namely, how does the fact that I am a Christian affect how I should treat others in politics or other “secular” areas?
What I am advocating is that we as Christians need a different paradigm to bring to the public square. When we copy what others are doing then we have ceded the moral high ground and lowered ourselves to engaging in the same political games everyone else utilizes. When Christians embrace the power religion of the State then they have compromised their biblical values and the authority of Scripture.
I will offer one recent example to illustrate my point, numerous similar ones would not be hard to find.
A few years ago, a group of conservatives in Sacramento County that were part of Barbara’s old CRA chapter, got together and decided to take over the Sacramento County Republican Central Committee (again). They even created a political action committee for the purpose called “Support the Platform” (STP). STP solicited CRA members for contributions. A friend and I gave generously to the cause. That year, many of the slate were elected; enough that the coalition that we made was able to take control of the Central Committee. Once in office, the woman that we elected as chair started going her own way. She refused any suggestions to offer one or two board positions to folks from “the other side”. Only her most trusted friends or folks that would do her bidding were given any responsibility. Before long she was tripling the SCRP dues—she had refused to pay any amount of dues when she was in the minority on the committee since she argued that forcing elected officials to pay dues was illegal—and after a time she decreed that only dues paying members would be allowed to vote. She and her faction adopted San Diego style bylaws which removed all power from the membership and vested it in the governing board and did a bunch of other things to enhance her power.
In just over two years, she turned an elected body into a member’s only club that did things her way or else. The Republicans of Sacramento County that actually voted for these folks were never notified or invited to any meetings. They were purposely not given any opportunity to interact with the representatives that they had elected. All actions of this body are conducted in secret. In fact new faces were not welcomed except by invitation and they were not allowed to be part of the group unless they were willing to pay $100 in annual dues. While this farce was happening, the STP PAC ran candidates against my friend and I even thought we had contributed a substantial amount of money for the PAC in previous cycle—about ¼ of their total expenditures. That was our reward for challenging this march to tyranny.
I could go on but I have chronicled their exploits in other parts of my blog. The point is that once elected, the chair not only ran things in an even more authoritarian way than any previous leader in living memory but she took more power than her predecessors with barely a murmur of dissent. Those in her camp that were willing to call her out were steamrolled, pushed aside and ignored. (If this reminds you of President Obama’s attitude toward the constraints of the Constitution then you are starting to see my point.)
Clearly Christians in the public square have yet to figure-out that their faith should cause them to act differently. It is too easy for them to adopt the tactics of “the world” and follow the example of pagans and humanists. R.J. Rushdoony was a frequent teacher at the Central Committee chair’s old church and would roll over in his grave if he knew about such behavior. She was taught better than that; however, maybe that is why she now attends a different church.
Sadly, I doubt anyone will learn from examining Barbara’s record. I think the short comings of her generation of evangelical Christians set the stage for situation in which we find ourselves now. It appears that the Tea Party movement is following the same failed trajectory that Barbara and other evangelicals have blazed in the past. Truly “there is nothing new under the sun”. Where Barbara walked was much fire and heat but Light was a much rarer commodity.
I had hoped to have lunch with Barbara one day and talk with her about my feelings; but that will never happen now and in the life to come it won’t matter. Someday I will see her again and by then both of us will know exactly what parts we were given during our time on earth.
One final note, I am still waiting for apologies from Barbara’s lieutenants Johnson, Stoos and especially Hardcastle but it’s been over twenty years since I have seen or spoken to any of them. I’m sure they just scraped me off the bottom of their shoes and went on to their next political objective. Gentlemen I proudly bear the scares you left but I have not forgotten the tactics deployed against me. I vowed not to be silent when I see them deployed against others.