SACRAMENTO — In GOP-rich Placer County, the Placer County Republican Central Committee chairman views himself as a brand manager of sorts.
"We need to protect our brand," said Tom Hudson. "We need to stand for something."
Hudson, 42, takes pride in unmasking and ousting people he says are liberals posing as Republicans.
With the elected committee's backing, Hudson has drafted candidates to run against sitting GOP officeholders he views as not conservative enough, orchestrated a controversial endorsement during the primary for the 4th Congressional District seat, and played a role in the decision by two Placer County officeholders to drop their Republican Party membership.
"When you have Republicans that are supporting higher taxes and more fees and more salary for themselves … you have to say, 'What issues do they agree with us on?' " said Hudson.
In recent weeks, a quiet skirmish became much more visible in the county with the second-highest percentage of card-carrying Republicans in the state when two elected leaders – county Supervisor Jim Holmes and Rocklin City Councilman Peter Hill – left the party and reregistered as "decline to state."
Both men said the questioning of their party credentials contributed to their decisions.
Mike Holmes, the supervisor's brother and a member of the central committee, said that under Hudson, the committee has veered too far from its core mission of registering voters and supporting GOP candidates. He has asked Hudson to step down.
"The chairman and some of his close associates have established themselves as the arbiters of who is and who is not a Republican," Mike Holmes wrote in a letter to fellow members. He cited declining Placer County GOP membership, a recent state campaign finance investigation, and a desire for the committee to be more inclusive as reasons Hudson should step down.
"We need new leadership and strongly suggest you resign as Chair," Holmes wrote. His call is expected to be taken up in January.
Not surprisingly, the chairman sees things differently. Hudson pointed out that party membership is down everywhere, and that the campaign finance investigation did not result in a fine.
"There is really a hidden agenda going on," said Hudson, who thinks the Holmes brothers are setting him up as the villainous foil so Jim Holmes can run as an independent against U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock.
He said the majority of Placer County Republicans support his approach.
Hudson, who started as a party volunteer as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, has been vocal locally and statewide in the ongoing ideological debate within the party.
In 2008, when former Gov. Pete Wilson and other GOP leaders announced plans to court moderates with a better chance of winning statewide office, Hudson was one of the early voices of opposition.
More recently he has questioned the party credentials of former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman as she mounts a campaign to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – another one of Hudson's targets.
State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, said Hudson – who is one of eight regional vice chairs – has made a substantial contribution to the party. But Cox said he might have handled things differently.
Jon Green, an elected member of Placer's central committee and chairman of the Republican Congress of Placer County, said he'd like to see the committee be more reflective of the community.
Rocklin councilman Hill said Hudson's approach is not a winning one.
"If you asked the people on the central committee, most of them would say he is doing a great job," Hill said. "They are smoking out the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). I don't think that is a winning strategy. If you want to be a perfect minority, you are always going to be a minority."
Bill Leonard, Hudson's boss at the State Board of Equalization, said Hudson "would rather lose on principle than win on compromise."
Hudson is a driven, prototypical policy wonk and activist, Leonard said. "He doesn't back down from confrontation."
Some members of the central committee describe him as an intellectual bully, squelching opposition with parliamentary tactics or by using his background as a lawyer and former legislative staffer to outmaneuver adversaries.
"I would not want to be in a position of debating him on any issue," said Doug Elmets, a local political consultant who is not on the committee. "It would be exhausting. And no matter how right you think you are, he would declare victory."
Elmets said Hudson should be careful not to let his passion get in the way.
"Sometimes those who are the most passionate lose their objectivity and ultimately become more controversial than constructive," he said.