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Harmeet Dhillon

CA GOP Board Retreat – Part II

[Publisher’s Note: Last weekend, just two weeks after the California Republican Party’s organizational convention, new CRP Chairman Jim Brulte brought together his Board of Directors for a retreat in the Inland Empire.  We asked CRP Vice Chairman Harmeet Dhillon if she would share with FR readers some of what took place.  Dhillon has penned a two-part column, the first of which appeared on the FlashReport yesterday and can be read here.  Part two appears below…  Flash]

CRP Board Retreat: PART II
By Harmeet Dhillon, Vice Chairman, California Republican Party 

GROW Elect's Ruben Barrales speaks to the Board

Following a pleasant lunch, our sessions resumed with a presentation by the dynamic Ruben Barrales, newly-named CEO of Grow Elect, a PAC dedicated to electing Latino Republicans to Grow Elect. Ruben was introduced by veteran political consultant Duane Dichiara, who helped seed fund and launch Grow Elect. Duane told us about his current initiative, founding a Grow Elect for the Asian Pacific Islander communities. Ruben shared some of Grow Elect’s many successes in the recent election cycles, describing its fundraising, training, and candidate support efforts. Again, the audience felt very positive about the party’s focus on reaching Latino communities after hearing from Ruben, himself formerly a county supervisor in the early 1990s in San Mateo County.

RNC Committeeman Shawn Steel

Ruben passed the baton to Shawn Steel, who gave a brief presentation on winning Asian voters, in his inimitable fired-up style. Shawn told us a positive story about how Canada’s conservative party had gone from being on the ropes to dominating at the polls in part through a concerted strategy of embracing minorities, running minority candidates, and having a presence at community functions throughout the country. His success story echoed what we heard at the recent CRP convention about how the Texas Republican Party staged a renaissance after being beleaguered 20 years ago to today dominating the state, deploying a successful campaign of running Latino and African American candidates in minority-rich districts. Shawn summarized his suggestions in his unique way: “Less BS, and eat more spicy food!”

Tom Ross of Meridian Pacific gave us a presentation next, focusing on Republican voter registration efforts in the recent election cycle. Tom pointed out the hard reality that our party had no online voter registration push in the final weeks of the 2012 elections, at which time Democrats registered hundreds of thousands of voters online. Given the slim margins by which several of our candidates lost in 2012, those votes might have tipped the balance. Only 19% of the online registrations in 2012 were Republicans – but of those, a very high percentage turned out to vote, auguring well for future Republican online registration prospects. Tom fielded questions about how the state party and volunteer organizations might be able to harness online techniques to register voters, such as by using web-based customized “wrappers” or apps to capture a voter’s basic contact information before directing the voter to the Secretary of State’s website to complete the registration. Ross also expressed skepticism that the Secretary of State would be able to handle same-day registration by the 2014 general election, given its current state of technology.

Following a short break, board and guest participants next heard former Board member and Audit Committee chairman Luis Buhler report on “Best Practices of ann Audit,” a relevant topic as our Chairman had announced at the first board meeting that  the board, consistent with best management practices, the board would be conducting a complete audit of the last term’s financial operations, down to the level of comparing board minutes against expenditures to verify that expenditures had been authorized, and also auditing mail vendors to ensure that their postal receipts matched up with the amount of mail for which the party was charged. Buhler, who is a CFO by profession, walked us through the process of selecting an auditor, described the results of the last full audit, and made suggestions on how to approach the coming audit. He valiantly strove to make the material interesting, and those board members who appeared alert and asked the most questions during the presentation (plus one member who departed the meeting early) were rewarded by being appointed to the Audit Committee.

Keith Carlson, President of the CA Republican Lawyers Association

The penultimate presentation of the day on the California Republican Lawyers Association was given by the dynamic duo of Steve Baric (new Budget Committee Chairman and most recent state party Vice Chairman) and Keith Carlson, who presently heads the CRLA. The two described the group’s efforts in ballot integrity drills in recent elections, and touched on pro bono litigation and pre-litigation negotiation work for the party. Chairman Brulte mentioned that he would like to get more Republican lawyers involved in pro bono work for conservative causes and specifically for the party, freeing our outside General Counsel, Chuck Bell (who attended the weekend meeting and who sits on the board in a nonvoting capacity) to focus on election law matters consistent with his three decades of expertise in those areas. Baric and Carlson fielded questions from the audience, backed up by fellow CRLA board member Adam Abrahms (also Vice Chairman for Los Angeles region) and Shawn Steel, our National Committeeman who founded the group. Chairman of the County Chairman’s Association, Mark Pruner, also a lawyer, offered to help identify names of interested attorneys for the reinvigorated group, which will soon be re-launching its website.

Our final presentation of the day was from outgoing party Executive Director, Brent Lowder, who provided us with a wealth of detail on internal party operations and campaign finance issues in “Everything You Wanted to Know about the CRP Finances, But Were Afraid to Ask.” The eye-opening presentation on the intricacies and vagaries of campaign finance rules, mechanics of direct mail fundraising, day-to-day cash flow operations of the party, and related topics spurred many questions and comments from the audience, many of whom were brand new board members. But even the veterans on the board commended Brent and the Chairman for sharing so much detail of the party’s operations that heretofore had remained shrouded in mystery.

By dinnertime, after receiving a huge amount of information in less than 24 hours, the group, again joined by several spouses and a handful of guests, was ready for a break from political presentations. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel and many repaired thereafter to the lounge for more discussion and socializing. There we ran into a face from Shawn Steel’s presentation on rising stars in the party, Ling-Ling Chang, the Mayor of Diamond Bar and a 2014 Assembly candidate. Ms. Chang, a bright favorite of CRP regulars, worked the room and received some endorsements and lots of encouragement.

Our day started bright and early again Sunday morning with another 7:30 breakfast, followed by an 8:30 board meeting. Congressman Ed Royce, representing the Congressional delegation, joined the Sunday session, together with Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, who had been present throughout the weekend. The open session of the meeting included a presentation by former CRP Chairman Mike Schroeder on the CRP’s Burbank headquarters, which are in need of renovations and some repurposing to make it more functional. He presented a detailed report from a commercial real estate perspective undertaken by David Miller of Los Angeles County. The office has in the past been shared with the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, an arrangement that was approved for the immediate future by the board. The Board discussed various options for financing the renovations and managing its upkeep, with members from the Los Angeles area agreeing to help keep the board informed on the topic.

The Board then recessed into closed session to discuss various financial and legal matters. While I cannot comment on the substance of the presentations, newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Bryant presented a very detailed report on the party’s current finances (high level conclusion: we are in debt and working hard on eliminating it from various angles, including successful fundraising that the Chairman has already accomplished), while General Counsel Chuck Bell reported on some legal issues carried over from the past term and some new legal issues that require the Board’s attention. These discussions took most of the morning. The board meeting concluded a little after noon with the group setting a next, all-day board meeting on Saturday,April 20 in Los Angeles, and confirming various tasks and deliverables assigned to board members.

As the meeting broke up, board members left in groups, some for the airport and others by car, all agreeing that while there was a great deal of work ahead to fulfill our fiduciary obligations and our shared desire to register and elect more Republicans in the coming term, we are hopeful that with new management, new energy and a renewed commitment to winning, we will attack the challenges with vigor and optimism. We all felt that we made some great relationships over the weekend and understood some of our colleagues better after sharing several meals in an intimate setting. Armed with information, we are ready to tackle our many challenges as the largest Republican state party operation in the nation.