Ashton: Demo, GOP committees attracting lots of attention

Christi Falke's fears about Washington's overspending led her to pay much closer attention to the politicians in her own back yard.

The Turlock woman joined the tea party movement last year to stand up with like-minded residents who wanted to draw attention to what they saw as fiscal irresponsibility from the nation's leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Now she's a regular at the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee, a body that recruits, grooms and funds candidates for city council to Congress. Falke even considered running for one of the committee's officer posts in the June election, though she changed her mind when she saw that local GOP leaders had similar values to hers.

"We've got some tremendous problems with economics, and we've lost a conservative voice in the Republican Party," she said. "OK, then we have to get involved at the central committee level and start there."

For different reasons, Stanislaus County's Republican and Democratic central committees each are drawing more attention than usual from party activists and outsiders.

Each committee was on course last week to field contested elections in the June primary as Friday's filing deadline neared. Republicans will have one for the first time in four years.

Democrats just missed having a contest when former party leader Sandra Lucas opted against running for a seat, which left five candidates running for five seats in one district.

Voters choose their party leaders from districts that match up with seats on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. People in each supervisor's district can elect three to five leaders on the central committees.

Don't worry if you forget that you have that right in a primary election. Representatives from both parties couldn't remember an election year when they both had contested races for seats on their central committees.

On the right, Republican Central Committee Vice Chairwoman Joan Clendenin says her party has reached out to involve more people in the past couple of years. It brings in GOP leaders from around the state for monthly talks.

"I think there's a lot of interest in this election, period," she said. "Any time the economy's in the tank you have people interested."

Her party has a boost from outsiders like Falke, but also from new faces who walk a little closer to the Republican establishment.

Modesto Planning Commissioner Chris Tyler fits that mold. He was a project manager for a developer until the recession left him more time to practice politics.

Tyler's working for Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella's Senate campaign, and he's running for a seat on the Republican Central Committee to spot more local government candidates.

He said he was surprised that there wasn't an heir apparent when Republican Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto announced in November that he wouldn't seek re-election. Assemblyman Tom Berryhill of Modesto moved a few miles to get in Cogdill's district, and appears to be the GOP favorite for the seat.

"There was nobody in the wings," Tyler said. "The ability to ID candidates and create a strong farm team for Republicans is part of the responsibility of the Central Committee."

On the left, the county's Democrats have a mix of old and new faces running for seats on their Central Committee.

Chairman Michael Burtch last week was expecting an election that he said would be "good for the party." He couldn't remember a contested race for a seat on his central committee.

Like Tyler, Burtch wants to recruit successful candidates at the local level.

The party did not identify a challenger early to run against Republican Bill Berryhill for the 26th Assembly District, a seat with a voter registration that could be friendly to Democrats.

It also missed an opportunity to land an up-and-coming Democrat on the Modesto City Council in November. Republican Dave Geer beat Democrat Al Nava to take a council district with demographics that seemingly would work against Geer. Nava had pulled papers to run for a seat on the central committee this spring, but didn't submit them in time to get on the June ballot.

Lucas was ready to get involved again on the central committee but chose not to when she saw a solid group of people ready to put their time into the party, she said.

"I just couldn't do it knowing that other people really have the time, and they really are worker bees," she said.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.