Invitation to Clinton Raises Hint of Mutiny Among GOP Donors
Two of Orange County’s most prominent Republican business leaders, threatening a mutiny against President Bush, have announced that they will host a breakfast Friday for Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
The two are Western Digital Corp. Chairman Roger W. Johnson and developer Kathryn G. Thompson. Thompson is a member of Bush’s prestigious “Team 100,” a group of contributors who gave at least $100,000 to the 1988 Republican campaign.
Johnson also is a big contributor to Bush, as are other top executives who are expected to attend, organizers said.
The move is seen as yet another sign of the dissatisfaction--among Democrats and Republicans nationwide--with Bush over the lagging economy. That dissatisfaction has hit, it seems, even in California’s strongest Republican county.
In an unusual break with their party’s incumbent, the two sent an invitation titled “Looking for a Leader--Identifying Alternatives” to several dozen local business leaders. The invitation expressed concern about the economy and suggested that improvements “will require a different kind of political leadership--different from what we see in Washington today.”
“Maybe it will come from a reawakening of the current leadership--maybe it will have to come from new leadership,” the letter said. ". . . We have talked extensively with (Clinton) and believe he would provide just such an alternative.”
Spokesmen for Clinton’s campaign called the event one of the most significant so far for the Arkansas governor because it demonstrates that the appeal of Clinton’s message--especially on the economy--crosses partisan lines, they said.
“This is a major item to demonstrate the reach of Bill Clinton,” said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s California finance director. “He has impressed not only hard-nosed Democrats from New Hampshire to the South and to Montana but also moderate business Republicans in California.”
Some county Republican leaders and Bush supporters warned that the Clinton breakfast should not be oversold as a major threat to the President’s campaign in Orange County. They acknowledged that there is concern about the economy, especially among business leaders, but they expected most would still support the President.
“I very much doubt that when this governor walks out of here he will be the Pied Piper taking away the Bush base in Orange County,” said one Republican Bush supporter. “I think you have to take into account that these businesses are suffering and these people want to send a message--and they will.”
Clinton’s staff said it expected to receive money from guests at the breakfast but a spokesman for Johnson said the event is not a fund-raiser. Robert Blair, vice president for corporate communications at Western Digital, also said the breakfast does not represent an endorsement of Clinton by either Johnson or Thompson.
“It is just to hear ideas,” he said. “Roger (Johnson) represents a feeling that alternatives need to be explored.”
Johnson’s firm, Western Digital, makes components for personal computers and had $986.2 million in sales for the year ending June 30, 1991. The company has been struggling and has lost $172 million in the last five quarters.
Kantor said he expected 25 to 30 people to attend the breakfast, almost all Republicans. Orange County Democratic Chairman Howard Adler and former state Democratic Chairman Richard O’Neill--both prominent developers--were also invited.
In a bit of irony, while Republicans are honoring Clinton in Orange County on Friday, Bush will be nearby--in the Inland Empire--for a lunch and factory tour.
The breakfast gathering stems from a “very blunt” meeting with the President in Los Angeles last September in which several major contributors, including some Orange County business leaders, warned Bush that he was not doing enough to improve the economy.
After that Sept. 19 meeting, Johnson told reporters: “I have told some senior Administration people, including Cabinet members, that I just wish there was a good Democrat out there for me to support. They laugh and say I can’t be serious, " he added. “I say, just watch me.”
After reading Johnson’s comments in the media, Clinton’s campaign contacted the electronics executive and started a series of correspondence about economic and growth issues that led to Friday’s breakfast.