He’s gay and she’s an immigrant — together, they hope to change the face of local GOP politics
Costa Mesans Hengameh Abraham and Ben Chapman are at the center of a local effort to rejuvenate the GOP’s image as they hit the streets and enlist younger, minority voters to engage with conservative causes through Greater Costa Mesa Republicans.
Formed in January, the group extends membership to residents from neighboring cities, as well as millennials, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community with similar political values. Chapman and Abraham are its co-founders and two of seven executive board members.
A gay, Latino businessman who graduated from Orange Coast College in 2014, Chapman said it’s time for conservatives to collaborate, become more inclusive and get ahead of a changing demographic.
“We have to work together, because we no longer have a stronghold,” said Chapman, 34. “We have to collaborate, as the Democrats have been doing for years.”
An Iranian immigrant who came to the United States at the age of 15, Abraham co-owns with her husband Costa Mesa’s House of Medicine, a local holistic health and nutrition business. She wants people to understand conservatives are more diverse than given credit for.
“The Republican Party is not an anti-science party — we just believe government has no business telling us what to do with our medical freedom,” said Abraham, 34. “We are not anti-immigrant. We just want to have our own businesses, and we want to be left alone.”
The two, who ran for City Council seats in November but did not win the vote, aim to mobilize voters who may not fit the usual conservative stereotypes but still believe in the overarching principals of smaller government, fiscal responsibility and supporting business and commerce.
GCMR’s main goals are raising money and campaigning for conservative political candidates and, more broadly, educating residents about what’s happening in their community.
“We are very issue driven,” said Abraham, who is planning a mayoral run in 2022. “It’s not just about wanting a Republican to sit in office. We want also want to make sure issues in the city, the county and the state are being addressed.”
Just a few months in, members have made several appearances in and around Costa Mesa. They’ve rallied outside City Hall to protest civic issues, including a proposal to install LED billboards at the Triangle Square shopping center, and passed out treat bags to in-person voters during a March 9 special election.
GCMR members were present when county school officials discussed mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for school children and spoke out at a recent county supervisor’s discussion about “vaccine passports,” digital records of COVID-19 vaccines officials said would be voluntary.
Board members teamed up again Thursday to participate in Costa Mesa walking audit, part of a broader initiative to develop a pedestrian master plan to ensure safer streets.
“I’d rather have 15 dues-paying members go out there and work, canvass and make calls for candidates than have 100 dues-paying members doing nothing,” Chapman said.
The group will host an April 29 in-person kickoff event in Costa Mesa that will feature former Orange County Supervisor and newly elected U.S. Rep Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach) and Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County.
Chapman said the modest $15 ticket price is intentional.
“We don’t want to be out of touch with our residents, especially when so many have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “That’s what separates us from other organizations.”
Local conservatives may already be card-carrying members of larger groups, such as the California Republican Assembly, which has a local chapter in Costa Mesa.
Chapman revamped the dormant CMRA in 2019, but he and Abraham stepped down from the board when they ran for office, in accordance with chapter bylaws.
We’re not the old establishment. We are very diverse — and we’re hungry for change.
Hengameh Abraham, co-founder Greater Costa Mesa Republicans
Aligning with the previously formed Greater Irvine Republicans — and assisting the formation of similar groups in Yorba Linda and Orange that can collaborate on candidates and causes across city lines and into larger voting districts — GCMR members want to help the party take a decisive step forward.
“I respect everything CMRA does as an organization, but Henny and I wanted to bring something fresh and something new to politics in Costa Mesa,” Chapman said. “We wanted a fresh perspective, a fresh energy.”
Randall Avila, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County, on Thursday welcomed the new organization and its mission.
“We know their intent is not to cancel any clubs in the city but to grow the movement and add some new foot soldiers there,” Avila said, acknowledging a shift in county politics in recent years.
“I think we understand the demographic changes need to be matched,” he continued. “This is an opportunity for us to pull to the front individuals like Ben and Hengameh.”
Abraham said she’s eager to grow conservative roots into fresh ground.
“We’re not the old establishment,” she said of an executive board comprising mostly millennials. “We are very diverse — and we’re hungry for change.”
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