More than two dozen conservatives in Irvine, California, have joined ranks to form a new local faction of the Republican Party.
About 30 charter members met virtually on Feb. 22 to set up the new activist group—called the Irvine Republican Assembly (IRA)—after becoming disenchanted with some stances taken by their former group, the Greater Irvine Republicans (GIR).
“It’s just time to restructure, to make sure the local Republican group is aligned with the state party,” former Irvine Mayor Christina Shea told The Epoch Times. “I think it’s really good that we’re starting this new group. A lot of people are very excited about it.”
The IRA hopes to create a positive atmosphere “with accountability, transparency, and really just basic Republican principles,” she said, comparing the group to “a wide-open tent” that welcomes new members and fresh ideas, while avoiding closed-mindedness and political infighting.
The new group split away from the GIR following disagreements over access to the group’s social media accounts and its support of local candidates—including the Republican Party of Orange County’s (OCGOP) endorsement of Irvine City Councilman Mike Carroll last November, when he was embroiled in a controversy over spending on campaign mailers.
Shea, who was elected president of the IRA, said she hopes the group will help local Republicans find their way back to more optimistic “Reagan values.”
“I want to be very open to all ideas,” she said. “So I think that is going to make people feel a little bit more comfortable—that they’re going to be able to see a participatory organization really focused on Irvine.”
According to its bylaws, the IRA’s objectives include campaigning for the election of Republican candidates for public offices and striving for the appointment of Republicans to positions in Irvine. They also include participating in the development of party platforms “while advancing the conservative principles” of the California Republican Assembly (CRA).
Shea said she reached out last week to Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, to let him know the new group would be formed. Whitaker welcomed the new group to the GOP’s ranks.
“We always appreciate Republicans wanting to form local clubs to combat job killing and crime increasing policies of CA Democrats,” Whitaker told The Epoch Times via email.
“We would encourage them to play a contributing role in electing Republicans—locally, State, and at the Federal level. We also encourage them to work hand in hand with locally elected Republicans and other established clubs in the area such as the Greater Irvine Republicans and the Irvine Republicans Women Federated.”
Shea said the group simply wants to offer an alternative for Republicans who may see things differently than the status quo, while fostering a spirit of unity with the other conservative groups in Irvine, including the GIR.
“They’ve done a good job bringing Republicans together in Irvine,” she said.
Born of Frustration
Mike Gasca, a co-founder of the IRA, told The Epoch Times he approached Shea with the idea of starting the splinter group after a rift widened within the GIR and the OCGOP over transparency and the way candidates are endorsed.
“We were born of frustration,” said Gasca.
He said the divide became problematic last fall, when the OCGOP endorsed Carroll after he had been accused of misusing more than $70,000 in public funds to send out campaign mailers. Carroll denied the allegations, and presented a letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) stating it had rejected to investigate the complaint.
Nevertheless, Shea rescinded her endorsement of Carroll, and has since accused him of siding too often with Democrats on council votes. The OCGOP stood by its endorsement of Carroll, who went on to win an elected seat on the council.
Gasca said some former GIR members were blocked from posting comments in the organization’s private Facebook group that challenged the party’s endorsements. “I was removed entirely from the group, so I couldn’t even view or access the information on their website,” he said.
Because the GIR lists one of the benefits of membership as the ability to participate in the social media groups, he demanded a refund. “They did refund me my $100 so that they could, I guess, justify their ability to remove me from not only commenting, but just any preview whatsoever of what was going on,” he said.
Gasca said many people have been treated the same way when they don’t support the group’s preferred candidates—and that county Republicans have taken former President Ronald Reagan’s famous saying, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” too literally.
The former president used the principle—known as his 11th Commandment—to limit damaging comments and character assassination during his re-election campaign, Gasca said. “But when we’re talking policy and a record of votes, we have a responsibility to ensure that our Republicans are voting consistent with the principles of the party—otherwise, we shouldn’t be endorsing them.”
He noted that county Republicans broke the commandment in a recent press release when they “openly bashed” Kevin Muldoon and Michael Vo, two candidates in next month’s special election for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, in an attempt to support their preferred candidate, former State Sen. John Moorlach.
“I think that the overarching issue is they don’t like you to challenge their candidates, and they shield that behind the 11th Commandment as a way of saying why they block and censor certain people from being able to speak about those things,” he said.
Carroll and John Park, GIR’s founder and chairman, did not respond to requests for comment by The Epoch Times prior to publication.
Once the paperwork has been filed, the IRA will be established as a local arm of the CRA. Shea said all board members must be residents of Irvine to be recognized by the parent group, unlike the GIR.
“Anyone can join the IRA, but to serve on the board one must be from Irvine, according to CRA bylaws,” Shea said.
The IRA elected Shea as president, Richard Denzer as vice president, Steve Greenberg as treasurer, Deepak Shearman as secretary, and Scott Peotter as Parliamentarian.
Park, the GIR chairman, responded to The Epoch Times on Feb. 24.
“We’re always encouraged by any Republican activism. If this new group helps us keep Republican seats and win-back Republican seats, I want to support them anyway I can,” Park said via email. “They’re all good people I know personally, and we sincerely wish them the best and much success.”