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May 8, 2014

Stanislaus Republican committee member let go over Facebook post

A Republican committee member who posted on Facebook a Modesto Bee article about turmoil within the group was shown the door this week. Rachel Jones had served as an alternate to elected committee member John Freeman since January 2013.

A Republican committee member who posted on Facebook a Modesto Bee article about turmoil within the group was shown the door this week.

Rachel Jones said she was “kind of in shock” because, while party leaders had revised bylaws to make it easier to remove agitators from the Stanislaus Republican Central Committee, “I just feel I wasn’t causing trouble. Mostly I sit in the back, nursing my baby, and I listen. I never stood up and said anything.”

Jones, 29, of Modesto had served as an alternate to elected committee member John Freeman since January 2013. She said she shared an April 15 Bee story about another member facing discipline with “a limited group” of Facebook friends, including Freeman, because “I thought it would be relevant to people interested in politics.”

Freeman telephoned her shortly before Monday’s committee meeting to let her know he would replace her that evening, she said.

“She advanced a narrative in social media which I adamantly disagree with and believe is false,” Freeman said in an email response to a Bee telephone message seeking comment. “This led me to lose confidence that my alternate would represent my own positions during meetings in which I’m not able to attend.”

A committee majority in September revised bylaws to quiet disruptive members, including swift punishment for supporting candidates of other parties or helping inspectors investigate the committee. Also, people can be kicked off for no reason if two-thirds of members agree, and elected members may remove their alternates without stating a cause.

At the time, committee Chairman Jim DeMartini, who also is an elected county supervisor, had issued a warning to rabble-rousers to get in line or face dismissal.

Many thought committee member Marty Miknus would provide a test case when she received notice to appear at a disciplinary hearing after The Bee printed her letter to the editor in March. She had noted that U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, took a $10,000 donation from a Southern California casino-owning Indian tribe six weeks after he helped sponsor legislation on the tribe’s behalf. The notice also suggested she was involved in a probe by state campaign ethics enforcers, which led two weeks ago to fines of $40,000 against Sen. Tom Berryhill, his brother Bill, and the Republican central committees of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

The Berryhill prosecution was among the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s “most significant cases,” a spokesman said, while the brothers’ attorney said they might fight the decision with a lawsuit. None had been filed in Sacramento Superior Court as of Wednesday afternoon.

When she demanded details of disciplinary charges against her, Miknus’ hearing was rescheduled for Monday . She shared with The Bee her story, which Jones posted along with words to the effect of “here’s what’s been going on with the local central committee,” she said.

Jones, who also goes by her maiden name, Trevett, previously was involved with a Bay Area central committee and was happy to move to an area with several Republican representatives in state and national government.

Jones said she did not side with or against Miknus on the Denham issue, but felt “it was within my rights to share (The Bee’s story) in a private setting.” She never felt on the bubble because DeMartini had publicly said the bylaws were revised to deal with “those who were dissenters, who didn’t have good intentions and who needed to change their ways. Of all people on the committee, nobody could describe me that way,” she said.

“She was a model member,” agreed Mylinda Mason, a longtime party insider now serving as an alternate. Jones “was in there for the right reason. She did everything she was asked and they said, ‘That’s not good enough; we’re not comfortable having you here,’ ” Mason said.

Ken Larkin of Modesto learned at Monday’s meeting that he had been removed from the committee in April. He had been away on vacation and no one had notified him since, he said, so he was present when Jones was ousted. He described the process with words such as “discourteous” and “vicious.”

“To my way of thinking, it was a rather ugly situation,” Larkin said Wednesday. “I was troubled that nobody seemed to have any interest in thanking her for her service. It seemed pretty hostile to me and I found myself wondering whether I wanted to associate with that group.”

Larkin says he didn’t rock the boat and thinks his dismissal was a matter of procedure. He had been an alternate to an elected member who lost her seat when she moved out of the district, and her replacement chose another alternate. Failing to notify Larkin speaks to “selectively limited communications,” he said.

“It was real clear that alternates are supposed to mind their place,” Larkin said. “There seems to be a tightening on willingness to have a discussion. Last summer, I saw the way that leadership was being really ugly to some members who wanted information or to ask questions. There is a war going on there; they’re locking arms, and anyone who isn’t clearly on their side – they’d just as soon keep it as private and secret as possible.”

As for Jones, “from everything I know about her, she seems to be extremely honorable, level-headed and deliberative in her thinking,” Larkin said. “They lost a good one.”

Jones said she did not fight her removal, telling the committee she respected Freeman’s decision despite feeling she had done nothing wrong. “The climate of the central committee must be pretty bad if something so simple was cause for removal,” she said. “I’m not the one they have an issue with. If I was removed, just imagine (what could happen to) the other people.”

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