Barbara Alby 1946 – 2012
Gary North wrote in 1983 that Christians are not ready to lead.
The second point is: American Christians have not thought about these matters for well over a century-not since the era immediately preceding the Civil War. They are not ready to lead. They are not ready to “throw out the humanists” and replace them in every area of life, from the police force to the physics laboratory.
At this point in the first Reagan term, North’s words were thought by most to be non-sense. Clearly Conservatives were in political ascendancy and we believed that we had a real opportunity to return our nation to its Christian roots and away from the Liberal folly of the 1960’s & 70’s. We were on the verge of overturning Roe v Wade; fixing the Supreme Court; abolishing the Dept of Energy and Education; defunding the NEA; and building the economy. The “Pax Americana” was laid-out as “a shining city on a hill” for the entire world to emulate.
Looking back over the last 30 years, it is clear that North was right and we were wrong. I would like to take a few minutes to talk about what failed and why. I won’t address every issue but I want to zero in on some aspects of why Evangelicals have failed in the political arena. The California Republican Assembly would be a great case study for a poly sci or theology doctoral candidate’s dissertation. What follows below is a thumbnail sketch for some areas of examination.
After Ronald Reagan left office, it was clear to many Conservatives that George Bush was not their best choice as a successor. Conservatives hoped for an alternative to Bush; some favored Jack Kemp while others supported Pat Robertson. Robertson’s base was mostly Evangelical, Dispensational, Pre-millennial Protestants. Robertson was able to mobilize much the same demographic group that was the base of Falwell’s Moral Majority.
Religious/Political movements like Robertson (and later Gary Bower) often established campaign organizations that later morphed into other political movements once the campaign was concluded. One such group in California that was left from the Robertson campaign included Barbara Alby.
Alby had been head of a group in the 1980’s called “Women’s Lobby.” Alby used this group to educate and energize women from evangelical churches and get them involved in state and local politics. Women’s Lobby was targeted at issues like abortion and education.
Thru the Robertson campaign and her experiences with Women’s Lobby, Alby saw firsthand the defects in the political process and the weakness of the Republican Party. She and likeminded individuals decided that they needed to capture the Republican Party of California. Their chosen vehicle to reshape Republican policy in California was thru the California Republican Assembly.
In 1988 (or 1987), Alby engineered a hostile takeover of the Sacramento-Sierra Republican Assembly. When this happened there were five active CRA chapters in Sacramento County; American River, Capital, Cosumnes, River City, and Sacramento-Sierra. (Sac-Sierra RA eventually became the Sacramento Republican Assembly.)
SSRA had a requirement that members must join 30 days before the December organizational meeting in order to be allowed to vote. Alby showed-up at the final SRA meeting prior to the election of officers with several hundred membership applications and dues checks in hand.
Just imagine how this looked to the existing membership of SSRA. They have been doing their work for local candidates and at the last minute some stranger shows-up with several hundred applications and dues from people that have never attended a single meeting. Most of these new members had never been involved in the Party prior to giving Alby a check. At the election, they ousted the existing leadership and elected their own slate of officers.
This hostile take-over was appealed and upheld by the State Board. This resulted in the existing members leaving en mass and forming the Republicans of River City. Joining with others booted out of CRA by other evangelical takeovers elsewhere in California, the California Congress of Republicans was formed in 1989.
Once Evangelicals took over CRA, they began consolidating power and setting their sights on taking over as many county central committees as possible. Controlling central committees was a vital step in taking over the California Republican Party. Once Alby & company controlled the CRP, they exited CRA and set it adrift. Alby went from nothing to control of the CRP and her own seat in the California Assembly in a decade. Her first slate of CRA approved candidates for CRP officers was elected in 1991.
Due to the way that Alby & company operated, they insured that anyone perceived to be a threat to their power was eliminated from the organizations that they controlled. Their tactics could be characterized as “scorched earth” power politics. Alby used evangelical terms and beliefs to portray her struggle as good versus evil. Most of her followers believed they were claiming these political institutions for God and his Kingdom. Those that were driven from CRA and later CRP were evil and needed to accept the Alby agenda or leave. The result of such thinking is not spreading the Gospel or displaying God’s Love but simply a justification for an “ends justifies the means” type of power politics.
Lest you think I exaggerate this claim, let me share a summary of a telephone conversation that I had with Greg Hardcastle. Hardcastle was Alby’s right-hand man and was not only President of her CRA chapter but later served as Statewide President of CRA from 1993-95. Some context is necessary before I can get to the substance of his phone call.
If you recall earlier, I had mentioned that Sacramento County had five CRA chapters when Alby first got involved with CRA in the late 1980’s. By the time of my involvement with CRA in 1989, Barbara’s chapter—Sacramento-Sierra Republican Assembly—had a membership approaching 700 members. American River and Capital stopped meeting by the early 1990’s. During the same period, River City and Cosumnes, surrenders their CRA charters. Alby’s chapter was the only active Republican Assembly in Sacramento County and the largest in the State.
In 1991, Alby took the dormant charters for American River & Capital Republican Assemblies and funneled people from her club and Operation Rescue into these paper clubs. These clubs were allies of Barbara and intended to give her superior numbers of delegates at conventions. John Stoos was President of the Capital RA. Jim Uli was President of American River. Jim’s wife was Treasurer. I was Secretary and Donna Worley was Vice-President. American River began meeting and had a regular attendance that was about 50 people a meeting. The attendance was close to the numbers that Alby was drawing but American River had one tenth the membership.
Later that year, a vacancy occurred in the 5th Assembly District when Tim Leslie moved from the Assembly to the Senate. This district was in the Roseville Area and included portions of Sacramento County. A young man named Mark Baughman entered the race. Baughman had been working for John Doolittle. He was able to receive the endorsement of every sitting Republican in the State Legislature. Alby had been rumored to be interested in running but when asked by Legislative members, she had denied any interest. A week before the end of the filing period, Alby finally jumped into the race. Governor Pete Wilson then recruited B.T. Collins to counter Alby. Collins filed the necessary paperwork after the deadline and had to get a favorable judge to let him on the ballot. CRA and Wilson hated each other and Wilson had his chance for some payback to Alby.
So the set-up was this, a special election in a Republican district with two Conservatives and one moderate (Liberal) on the ballot. As a newcomer, Alby needed the CRA endorsement to breakout beyond the evangelical community and make herself legitimate in the eyes of rank and file Republicans.
Candidate endorsement in CRA is via a special endorsing convention. In this case each club in the district was allowed two delegates. Candidates need a 2/3 vote to be endorsed. In her mind, Alby thought this was a slam-dunk; at least until they did a headcount. As it turned out, Baughman had support in Placer County and Alby in Sacramento. The swing chapter was American River. Two officers in American River wanted Baughman and the other two were solidly for Alby. The two of us that supported Baughman, favored a split decision with one vote for each which would result in no endorsement. The Alby forces would not stand for this.
Mark had declared early and had asked for my support. David Knowles was an Assemblyman that I knew and respected. He supported Mark because he was a good family man, a conservative and unlike Barbara he could get along with others that believed differently than he did. I agreed with David’s opinion.
A few days before this endorsing convention, Greg Hardcastle called me. The conversation lasted 45 minutes. He started off asking me why I was supporting Mark and not Barbara. Hardcastle then brought-up the fact that Baughman was LDS (a Mormon) and then he went on to tell me that it was God’s will that Barbara win this election. Baughman was not a Christian and thus did not deserve my support. Furthermore, he told me that if I did not support Barbara that upon his authority as an ordained minister in the Assembly of God denomination that I could not consider myself a Christian. I was deceived and my soul was in peril. I needed to reflect upon my life and relationship with God and get right with Him. Barbara was God’s candidate. Who was I to disobey God? Once it was established that I would not change my endorsement and was thus in danger of Hell, the call ended.
I have never been as verbally abused by anyone as I was during that phone call. I held my ground but was miserable for the experience. Not even Barbara herself could name one issue that she could foresee where she and Baughman would vote differently. Mark simply went to the wrong church.
The day of the endorsing convention, all four officers of American River met at the endorsing convention. Jim Uli had been persuaded by Barbara’s forces to make his wife the other delegate to the endorsing convention. You need to understand that when Jim was made President of American River by Barbara that he knew nothing about politics. He lived in Sacramento and didn’t even know the Mayor’s name let alone anything about the Assembly or Senate. Donna was the brains and backbone of the club and was responsible for the growth of the club. Jim was nothing more than the master of ceremonies at our meetings. For Jim to assert that he had the right to make this decision unilaterally was nothing short of mutiny. If anyone deserved to be a delegate it was Donna.
Wayne Johnson and John Stoos were overseeing the endorsing convention. Both were elders in the same church and were very politically connected. They were very big Alby supporters. Donna and I appealed to them in an effort to get Jim to change his mind. Stoos and Johnson said it was the President’s choice and we had no right to interfere. We had no one to appeal to.
Hardcastle, Johnson and Stoos had played political hardball with our little CRA chapter and then forgot we ever existed. Donna and I left the meeting and Barbara had her endorsement; Baughman subsequently dropped-out of the race. Alby lost the race against Collins but was eventually elected to the seat after Collins died in office two years later. Shortly after this event, American River RA ceased to exist and its territory was taken over by Sac-Sierra. I left CRA for several years before getting involved in the Yolo County Chapter. (The demise of Yolo County RA is documented elsewhere on this blog site.)
My point in telling this story is that Alby brought an “ends justify the means” philosophy to CRA. Power politics, paper clubs, elimination of potential rivals, manipulation of Bylaws, and litmus tests for purity have been the hallmarks of CRA since Alby joined in the late 1980’s. The disciples that she brought with her have emulated her example.
CRA has a history of vastly overstating their numbers. In its heyday CRA claimed to have over 100,000 members. Jon Fleischman was CRA president from 1995-97. Recently on his website Flash Report, he claimed during his term as President that CRA membership was 20,000. This is history revisionism and utter nonsense. I have friends that served on the CRA Publications Committee during this time and their numbers were that CRA had a paid membership of 4K with a newsletter circulation of 5K.
As best as I can determine, when Alby got involved the membership was likely around 7,000. When she had consolidated her control of CRP and kicked CRA to the curb in the mid 1990’s, paid membership in CRA was 3,500 to 4,000. Currently, statewide membership is less than 2,000 dues paying members.
Barbara Alby’s club, Sacramento-Sierra Republican Assembly, went from a peak of 700 members in the early 1990’s to less than 15 a decade later.
Lest you think that is a fluke, look at the CRP (California Republican Party). When Alby first got control of the CRP, the Party controlled the Assembly, had a sizable representation in the Senate and Republicans held several statewide offices. Virtually every chairman of the Party since 2000 has been the endorsed CRA candidate. (Prior to this time CRP had a tradition that the Vice-Chair would succeed the Chair & many of these VP contests were difficult fights for CRA forces.) Since Alby left the Assembly and Republican Politics in 1998, the CRP has imploded. By the time of her death in 2012, Democrats controlled every statewide constitutional office, the governorship and has super majorities in the Assembly and Senate.
Every political organization that Alby ran diminished soon after she released her grip on it. Women’s Lobby is defunct, CRA is irrelevant and CRP has faded away to insignificance. Because of the paradigm of good versus evil, Alby could not build coalitions and agree to disagree with occasional allies. Alby’s legacy is to dismantle not build.
Because she bayoneted the “farm team,” no leaders were mentored to grow the organizations that she was involved in. Power and control were the levers to advance her causes. Her “scorched earth” policies created dysfunctional institutions and tended to attract equally dysfunctional people in leadership. If Alby had trained leaders to manage the institutions with which she was involved and grow them in a healthy way, she would have been celebrated as the Republican Margaret Thatcher. Instead, we as Evangelical Christians are worse off than before we hitched our political wagons to Alby and her fellow travelers.
This brings us to the current situation in CRA. Celeste Greig, Steve Frank, Bill Cardoza and a few others are the last relics of the Alby revolution. This generation must pass away before CRA will have a chance to heal and regroup. My concern is that Steve Frank would rather go out in a blaze of glory yelling “Allah Akbar” than hand what is left over to a new generation of leaders.
Gary North has been vindicated and I feel poorer knowing that he was right.
“American Christians … are not ready to lead”—Tactics of Christian Resistance 1983