State GOP Censures Its Chief

Times Staff Writer

The California Republican Party rebuked its own chairman Tuesday in an unusual move that spotlights internal dissension and stirs the budget fight building at the Capitol.

The party’s 20-member board of directors voted unanimously to censure Chairman Shawn Steel. The vote came one day after Steel threatened in a speech to the Sacramento Press Club to seek the recall of any Republican legislator who voted to raise taxes to help close the state’s vast budget gap.

In his speech, Steel also blamed big business for failing to support Republican candidates, called for an elimination of some corporate tax breaks and criticized Gerald Parsky, the White House’s top political advisor in California, for a poor Republican showing at the polls last month. Republicans won no statewide elected offices in the November election. They are badly outnumbered in the Legislature.

Steel’s pledge to oust any Republican lawmaker who endorsed tax hikes was denounced by Assembly Speaker Herb J. Wesson Jr. (D-Culver City), who insisted that a projected shortfall of more than $21 billion by the end of the 2003-04 fiscal year must be closed with both spending cuts and increased revenue.


“I’m appalled by Mr. Steel’s comments,” said Wesson. “Here we are facing the most difficult crisis, fiscal crisis, that this state has experienced in modern time and we would have this individual resort to political thuggery and threaten to recall individuals for doing their job.”

The board that voted to verbally reprimand Steel includes Parsky and the Legislature’s minority leaders, Assemblyman Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) and Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga). They asked that he not articulate his personal opinions as party positions.

“Cox and Brulte have been very clear that they oppose taxes,” said party spokesman Rob Stutzman. “But the chairman made an electoral threat against members of their caucuses, which is essentially their threat to make or not to make. That would be the rub.”

Steel said he will not seek reelection as chairman at a party convention in February. He dismissed the rebuke as a “power move by Parsky and Brulte.”

“They’re attempting to censure the authorized spokesman of the party and it will not work,” Steel said. “What we need is to have vigorous and honest debate.”

In his speech, Steel said, “If a Republican member who votes against their caucus and votes for a tax increase, this party -- and I will personally lead it -- will start an effort to recall that person and he or she will be out of office in 180 days.”

Brulte issued a statement saying, “Mr. Steel’s comments notwithstanding, Senate Republicans have been saying for many months that raising taxes on California consumers who are driving the state’s economic recovery, or on California businesses who are trying to create more jobs for California workers, would only serve to stifle economic growth and job creation.”