Republican leaders in Stanislaus County will consider punishing one of their own for airing dirty laundry, publicly questioning U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham’s integrity and harming the local GOP fundraising effort.
Marty Miknus, who was elected to the local Republican central committee in 2012, says she’s guilty only of trying to strengthen the party by returning to conservative values.
“When they exact the heaviest penalty,” she said, referring to an official threat to kick her off, “for exercising freedom of speech, you’ve got to stand up for liberty.”
Miknus, 62, of Modesto was not among party members quoted in Modesto Bee articles in August and September about a state investigation into the central committee’s finances and the committee’s adoption of bylaws making it easier to censure malcontents. She did write a letter to the editor of The Bee, published in early March, questioning Denham’s involvement in federal legislation that would help a Southern California Indian tribe annex 1,400 acres to its reservation for housing.
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians bought the land in Santa Barbara County, known as Camp 4, from late actor and winemaker Fess Parker in 2010 and applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for special jurisdiction. But a local citizens group, a majority of county supervisors and the area’s representative in Congress oppose the idea because the transfer would remove the land from property tax rolls and make it no longer subject to the usual scrutiny applied for development projects.
So, seven congressmen from elsewhere, including Denham, in October introduced House Resolution 3313, which would move the land from county control to federal trust. Six weeks later, the Indian group sent Denham’s campaign fund a $10,000 donation.
Appalled, Miknus sent an email to Denham, R-Turlock, accusing him of being on the take, and approached her central committee members with a letter she had drafted and wanted them to sign and send to Denham. It asked that he return the $10,000; she also wanted the local committee to return $4,635 it had received from the same tribe in early January.
“We do not want our congressman to have the appearance he can be bought,” the draft letter reads.
In an interview Tuesday, Miknus said, “You’d think people would go, ‘Wow – (Denham’s action) is not right.’ Instead, they looked at me like, ‘What’s the problem?’ ”
She was urged to write her own note to Denham, she said, so she did – with a copy sent to the editor of The Bee.
Two weeks later, she received a letter from committee Chairman Jim DeMartini, who also is an elected county supervisor, informing her that a disciplinary hearing was to be held Monday. “The charges are that you made false and misleading accusations against Congressman Denham and the central committee,” he wrote, adding that her attempts to “vilify the Republican Party” had hurt the committee’s ability to draw money.
Miknus was amused a fews days later to receive a separate letter, also signed by DeMartini, thanking her for her “generous contribution” for having purchased a sponsorship table at the committee’s 2014 Lincoln Day Dinner.
The disciplinary alert additionally stated that Miknus “on several occasions” had lodged “unfounded, harmful insinuations” against party leaders, including “money laundering and filing false reports.” It is not known whether that referred to Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, and his brother, former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill; they are scheduled Thursday to appeal an administrative law judge’s recommendation that they and central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties be fined $40,000 for money laundering and filing false reports stemming from 2008 elections.
Miknus fired off a reply demanding details, including “dates, times, locations and who is making the complaint … so I can assemble a suitable defense.” She received a note from DeMartini, dated Thursday, saying Monday’s disciplinary hearing would be postponed because the committee’s executive board “needs additional time to clarify specific charges and dates as you requested.”
On Tuesday, DeMartini noted that the Indian legislation sponsored by Denham prohibits the 1,400 acres in question from being used for gambling; the tribe is expanding its existing casino about two miles away. He also noted that Miknus could be in trouble with the central committee for talking with The Bee for this story.
Denham’s chief of staff and press secretary, Jason Larrabee and Jordan Langdon, respectively, on Tuesday said their boss was spending time with family on his children’s spring break from school and was unavailable, and said they are not authorized to speak on his behalf. Soon after the legislation was introduced in October, Langdon was quoted in The Santa Barbara Independent newspaper as noting that Denham had been a longtime supporter of many American Indian issues throughout the country.
“This bill is a product of lengthy consultation between the community, the tribe and Congress,” Langdon was quoted as saying. “It will ensure that tribe members have access to tools for self-reliance, including food, housing, education and clean water.”
Sam Cohen, the tribe’s government and legal specialist, said the tribe has contributed to Denham for many years, including when he was a state legislator. “He’s just a strong supporter of Native American sovereignty,” Cohen said.
Web-based Opensecrets.org lists gambling interests as Denham’s third most reliable donation source in the 2013-14 fundraising cycle, behind farming and political action committees.
The tribe has been generous with dozens of politicians, including others representing the Valley. For example, the group donated $7,000 to Tom Berryhill and $6,000 to Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, over the past couple of years, and gave $1,500 to Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, last month.
Miknus suspects the tribe reached out to congressmen from other areas because they aren’t accountable to voters in Santa Barbara County. She questioned how people here would like it if an out-of-town politician were to sponsor a bill interfering with land-use decisions in Wood Colony, west of Modesto.
Miknus, a laboratory technologist at Turlock’s Emanuel Medical Center, said she ran for election to the central committee because she “wanted to make a difference” and has no intention of turning against the party she loves.
“The central committee could do so much good,” she said, “but it’s oppressive and tyrannical in there. If you ask questions, you’re in trouble. They want you to sit down and shut up.
“People need to know what’s going on so they can clean house and set things in order. If it demands that I be the firebrand, well, somebody has to take the arrows.”