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O.C. GOP takes a risk in supporting recall target Scott Peotter

Now that the recall effort to remove Newport Beach Councilman Scott Peotter is underway, each camp is lining up supporters.

Squarely in Peotter’s camp is the Orange County Republican Party, whose Central Committee voted Monday night to unanimously oppose the recall.

Earlier in the day, several folks copied letters to me that they sent to O.C. Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker, asking the committee not to support Peotter.

One of those was former Newport council candidate Fred Ameri, who among others, signed a letter stating that “thousands of Iranian (Persian) American Republicans in Orange County” find Peotter “unacceptable.”

The letter recapped the issue in 2016 when “Council Member Peotter's brother, Bruce, went to court in order to force council candidate Fred Ameri to run under his given first name “Farouk.” This action was quickly rejected by the courts, as Ameri was well known as Fred for decades.

“Scott Peotter,” the letter stated, “failed to denounce this effort,” which Ameri said had racial overtones.

The correspondence included a photo of the campaign signs that popped up around town in Farsi, which the Persian group says Peotter also failed to “denounce.”

“The party should not interject itself in these local issues to defend an indefensible elected official ...” the letter urged.

I reached out to Julian Babbitt, executive director for the Republican Party of Orange County, on Monday morning to ask if the Central Committee would be considering Peotter’s past controversies before making a decision at the meeting that night.

I never heard back. Not even when I called the next day.

Former Newport council candidate Phil Greer, who is in favor of the recall, attended the meeting.

He confirmed that the Central Committee voted to support Peotter and oppose the recall. He said no one spoke for or against the issue before the vote, and only committee members were allowed to speak.

Of Ameri, Greer said, “Fred was there and wanted to speak, but they wouldn’t let him.”

So much for the concept of free speech. Ironically, the next day a Peotter supporter, Newport Democrat Bob Rush, sent out an email blast titled, “Save Free Speech in Newport,” touting Whitaker’s official statement.

“The OCGOP stands firmly with Councilman Scott Peotter in opposition to the proposed recall,” the statement read. “Scott has a right to his opinions and the First Amendment. This recall is simply an attempt to overturn the 2014 elections that Scott won on a platform of reduced spending, debt reduction and shrinking the size of Newport’s city government.”

I guess free speech is relative with these guys.

If you thought the Museum House controversy was strange, this Peotter recall has the elements to surpass that tenfold.

Of course, on the pro-recall side, there aren’t as many colorful characters. Former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer, Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank, Citizens of the Year John and Elizabeth Stahr, Mary Roosevelt, Lloyd “Bud” Rasner, a former city Aviation Committee member, and Linda Rasner, a member of the Corona del Mar Residents Assn., are among those who want to oust Peotter.

As time goes on, we’ll see more folks line up on each side of this recall, but timing is everything in politics, as is risk vs. reward.

Is the timing right for the Republican Party to show support for Peotter and risk ostracizing moderate Republicans in Newport?

The public’s contribution to the defeat of the Museum House project is a major factor influencing Newport’s current political climate. The fact that ordinary citizens took back control of the issue of high-density development is powering an uptick in community involvement. I believe this is what’s fueling the fire of recall now.

Can the Republican Party risk ignoring this?

And symbolically, the recall sends a message that remaining tone deaf to voters’ voices could be a slippery slope to political oblivion.

I’m seeing a new awakening of civic pride in Newport among ordinary folks.

Couple that with the fact that there are deep pockets here who’ve shown they’ll spend what it takes, roll up their sleeves and engage their neighbors, all to steady their city’s governmental ship, should send shivers down the spines of politicians with their own agendas in play.

A power shift is in the wind.

Voters did it successfully in the last election cycle in Costa Mesa; Newport could be next.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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