Politics & Government

Maldonado cancels appearance at North County Tea Party gathering

Abel Maldonado answers questions during a "Meet the Candidates" forum put on by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in 2012.
Abel Maldonado answers questions during a "Meet the Candidates" forum put on by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in 2012. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

They may not be steeping in anger, but Abel Maldonado has clearly teed off the Tea Party.

The Republican congressional candidate backed out of a scheduled appearance before the North County Tea Party on Monday evening, thwarting the expectations of some 50 people gathered at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Richard Kibler. “That’s the reason we came.”

Organizer and North County Tea Party officer Lydia Thompson went farther when she announced the would-be congressman’s non-appearance.

She said the failure to appear would cost Maldonado her vote.

Thompson encouraged others to follow their own consciences, but said if Tea Party members vote for Maldonado as a default position to his opponent, Democrat incumbent Lois Capps, “we blew it. We lose all credibility.”

“It doesn’t appear that he has any interest in what we have to say,” Thompson told the audience. “I’m going to leave (the ballot) blank. I’m not going to do anything else for (Maldonado). As far as I’m concerned it’s over and done with.”

Thompson said the organization has not invited Capps to speak “due to her extreme liberal ideology.”

Maldonado’s communications director, Kurt Bardella, said Maldonado had to cancel because of a family conflict.

Capps and Maldonado are vying to represent the newly drawn 24th Congressional District, which incorporates Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and a slice of Ventura County.

In an email response to questions from The Tribune, Thompson delineated the considerable pains she had gone through to make sure the candidate showed up.

She made the initial appointment with Maldonado’s communications director, then, “due to the history of ‘no shows,’ we wanted to make sure no one would double-book an engagement. Therefore, followed up with an email of confirmation to the campaign field director, finance director and communications director,” Thompson wrote.

On Thursday afternoon, the campaign told her that Maldonado had a family emergency, and withdrew.

Thompson said renting the venue could cost as much as $400. The group did not waste the evening, however — they heard presentations about the state propositions on the November ballot.

In her note to The Tribune, Thompson wrote that Maldonado could still come and speak and take and answer questions.

Her reference to a “a history of no-shows” alludes to Maldonado’s canceling other invitations. Some speakers Monday said he had backed out of as many as 10, although Thompson was unable to verify any of them.

However, Republican activist Joan Brown of San Luis Obispo, a member of the California Republican Women’s Club board of directors, said, “He did the same thing to every other single Republican women’s club.”

Bardella told The Tribune that, to his knowledge, Maldonado has had to cancel three campaign engagements, including the one Monday night. One of the others was to attend the funeral of San Luis Obispo County Public Information Officer Rob Bryn.

The third was a debate earlier this year between self-professed Tea Party candidate Chris Mitchum and Maldonado. Maldonado felt “they were going to say disparaging things” about each other, according to Bardella, and that would have violated the famed “11th commandment” of former President Ronald Reagan: “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The Tea Party-Maldonado dustup has a larger context. In the June primary election, one of Maldonado’s opponents was Mitchum, who portrayed himself as the Tea Party candidate, and is widely believed to have secured the votes of most Tea Party members. After Mitchum, the son of the late actor Robert Mitchum, lost to Maldonado, he pointedly did not endorse him.

The Tea Party itself is controversial, locally and nationally. While many of those who belong hold mainstream views such as a disdain for taxes and overregulation, some of its more vocal backers take positions widely viewed as extreme, such as the belief that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen — a stance known as the “birther” movement.