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Building unity: Republican Party of SLO County elects new leadership, turns focus to protecting local power

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Riding a wave of election victories, the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County voted an odd couple into its top two leadership roles on Jan. 13, continuing an effort to unify a diverse member base ranging from traditional establishment Republicans to hardline Tea Party activists.

Tom Bordonaro, SLO County’s assessor since 2002 and a former state assemblyman, was selected as the party chairman while Randall Jordan, a prominent leader of the California Tea Party movement, was elected as vice chairman. Both positions have four-year terms.

The Republican Party of SLO County, which has about one thousand active participants, is organized into an executive committee and a group of elected delegates balanced across the five county supervisor districts. Twenty-one delegates cast votes for Bordonaro as chair; he was the only person nominated.

“Tom [Bordonaro] is the right person to lead us forward,” Jordan Cunningham, the newly elected 35th District State Assembly member, told a roomful of delegates in the SLO city library prior to the vote. “He has a plan, and he’s going to execute it. He knows elections from soup to nuts.”

Bordonaro previously chaired the Republican Party of SLO County from 2000 to 2003 and 2005 to 2010 and was a state Assembly member between 1994 and 1998. He did not attend the Jan. 13 election meeting for medical reasons.

Jordan, who was elected vice chair, is the leader of the Tea Party California Caucus, which was invited to the California Republican Convention for the first time in 2013. Mary, his wife, is also politically active, serving as a California Republican delegate supporting President-elect Donald Trump. Jordan owns Palomar Homes, a construction company in Paso Robles.

In an impassioned speech prior to the delegates’ vote, Jordan promised to be a stubborn and strong conservative voice in the party representing property rights and smaller govornment. He said he’d discourage Bordonaro from compromising on conservative principles even in times “when it’s convenient, when it makes sense, or when it will fill our pockets.”

“I’m an activist,” Jordan told the room. “I was a deplorable before the word deplorable was ever known. … We keep crossing the line [to the left]. I don’t pick and choose. I’m conservative, period.”

Bordonaro and Jordan took the leadership positions from Al Fonzi and Norman Thompson, a similar duo of establishment chair and Tea Party-aligned vice chair. Unifying the leaders—and the bases they represent—will continue to be one of the party’s challenges going forward. Fonzi told New Times that the party has about 50 “really engaged members” who are still working to find common ground. He said, “there’s not that much of a bridge yet” between some locals.

“We’re a diverse group,” Fonzi said. “Having Randall Jordan and Tom Bordonaro working together, they’ll be able to reach a consensus on issues.”

Jordan, too, emphasized the importance of rousing party members and voters who feel “fed up” with status quo Republicans. Jordan cited Hillary Clinton’s 49 percent of SLO County votes to Trump’s 41 percent as evidence that the local party has a long way to go.

“The Republican Party has left a lot of us,” Jordan said. “A lot of you in this room have thought about changing to either an independent or decline to state [because] we don’t stand for anything anymore. We need to build this party back. There’s no reason for this county to lose the Republican vote.”

State Assemblyman Cunningham stayed on a more positive message about the party’s progress, especially in SLO County, where three hardline Republicans have been voted onto the Board of Supervisors since 2012.

“The Board of Supervisors has completely swung in our favor,” Cunningham said.

John Peschong, chair of the local Republican Party between 2010 and 2016, is the most recently elected conservative supervisor, joining supervisors Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold—whose campaigns he managed. On Jan. 10, that conservative majority put Peschong in the chairman seat, deviating from traditional procedure to rotate the chair position objectively by district number. The board bypassed liberal Supervisor Adam Hill, who was due for the chairmanship.

“John Peschong has consolidated in his index finger the chairmanship and the ability to steer our county with Lynn [Compton] and Debbie [Arnold],” Cunningham said.

Cunningham warned members that Democrats will make a strong run for Compton’s supervisorial seat and Cunningham’s state Assembly seat in 2018. He indicated that preserving those positions will be the party’s focus for the next two years.

“We’re preparing this year for 2018,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle royale, and we need to be registering voters yesterday to make sure we keep our advantage.” 

Staff Writer Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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