Unanswered questions lie in wake of Leslie Cornejo’s dismissal as chairwoman of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee — most specifically, the question of why she was dismissed.
Cristina Martin, 2nd vice chair of the committee, said this week that the members who voted to remove Cornejo from the seat she’s occupied for more than four years agreed after the vote not to reveal reasons for Cornejo’s dismissal to the media.
Martin, in Vice Chair David Tennessen’s absence, presided last week over the special closed-session meeting where members voted to remove Cornejo. Martin declined to reveal the specific problems committee members had with Cornejo, but said they were numerous and varied.
“I can state that this is not a right wing versus moderate issue,” said Martin, who is running for the 35th Assembly District Seat against Democratic incumbent Pedro Nava in November. “There was not an ideological reason to remove her.”
Cornejo, on the other hand, isn’t quite so convinced.
Cornejo, who believes her dismissal was largely based on her decision to support then-sole Republican congressional candidate Michael Tenenbaum before incumbent Rep. Elton Gallegly entered the November race, said there are fundamental ideological differences between her political style and that of committee members, differences that eventually prompted what she calls a “coup.”
“I think probably what happened is a fallout from the primary election,” she said. “That whole situation paralyzed our county.” After Gallegly entered the race, Cornejo said, she didn’t campaign for Tenenbaum, but she also did not rescind her endorsement. “We had a candidate. We may as well have supported the candidate who could run. Then Elton came back in … but Tenenbaum had the right to run and to be endorsed by the committee.”
Cornejo went on to say that she “never thought it was a bad thing to have competitive races.”
“I have actually said that I think this is a fight between people and principle versus money and power,” said Cornejo, who added that she strived for balance in the committee by attempting to place women in positions of power and taking pains to approach potential Republicans from varying religious backgrounds and demographics. She said she is saddened by the lack of local political competition — caused primarily by structuring of “safe” districts that tend to make shoe-ins of incumbents.
Another question in the wake of Cornejo’s dismissal involves the logistics of Martin’s voting rights as both a committee member and an ex-officio, or a person running for a state office. The committee’s bylaw committee, chaired by Clark Johnson, will ultimately determine Martin’s voting rights.
Martin was present at the special meeting during which Cornejo was ousted. Though she abstained from voting to keep or dismiss Cornejo, she, as a committee member, was present to create a quorum, or the number of members required to take action on any given item. Had Martin not been present, Cornejo said, there would have been no quorum — and no vote.
“Some people are questioning the legality of my being able to sit in that (committee) position to begin with,” Martin said.
Cornejo and a handful of members, ostensibly supporters of Cornejo, did not attend the meeting. Cornejo said she didn’t attend specifically to avoid creating the quorum needed for the vote. The meeting was called by members Mike Osborn, Diane Alexander, John Absmeier, Sandy Patrizio and Don Yates.
Osborn, who has run against Cornejo for her former seat three times and lost — and who, according to Cornejo, still hopes to be elected to the position — declined to comment on Cornejo’s removal.
Clark Johnson — husband of Shelley Johnson, Gallegly’s campaign manager — said he plans to meet with a California Republican Party attorney next week to determine Martin’s voting rights.
Johnson also said that the decision to remove Cornejo is not a reflection of his wife’s relationship to Gallegly. “The vote and the position on Leslie Cornejo had nothing to do with Elton Gallegly,” he said. “I’ve been on a lot of committees. Ideally, you wouldn’t do that (remove the chair), but it does happen.”
Similar actions were nearly taken in the past, when Jackie Rodgers and Brian Fox served as committee members, said Johnson, who explained that Rodgers resigned before she could be ousted and that Fox’s term expired before he could be removed. “It’s politics,” Johnson said. “What can you say?”
Cornejo, who announced plans to not run for re-election when her term expires in December, said she will continue to support the committee — for now. The committee is scheduled to meet on Aug. 23, when it may elect an interim chairperson to fill Cornejo’s spot until December.
“I still believe in the principles of the party,” she said, “but there will be fewer Christmas cards going out this year.