Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The chair-elect of Bexar County's Republican Party is facing mounting pressure to resign in light of recent revelations that her husband pleaded guilty to "indecent liberties with a child" charges in a military court in 1999.
Cynthia Brehm, elected in a primary runoff on May 22, is being asked to resign from the post she is set to hold atop the local GOP when the Texas Republican Party holds its state convention in San Antonio on June 11.
In a statement Saturday, the party's nominee for Bexar County district attorney, Tylden Shaeffer, urged Brehm to step aside and issued a plea to all local Republican candidates to join him in that call.
“I am extremely troubled by the revelations that her husband pleaded guilty to a sex crime involving her minor child and that she failed to acknowledge this with Republican voters," Shaeffer said. "On the contrary, she portrayed herself as a proud wife and touted her husband’s support. She needs to resign immediately. Republicans can’t allow their message of law and order, economic opportunity and honest, ethical leadership to be sidelined by a party chair embroiled in scandal."
Brehm's husband – Lt. Col. Norman Brehm, a retired member of the U.S. Army – pleaded guilty in 1999 to indecent liberties with a child. The incoming GOP chair told the San Antonio Express-News her husband flashed her then-14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
But he was never convicted on that charge. Norman Brehm's case wasn’t forwarded to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals until 2006. The court in 2009 dismissed the charge on the grounds of a statute-of-limitations defense, according to military court records.
In an Tuesday email to the Rivard Report, Brehm said Shaeffer's and others' calls for her to step down as a result of the revelation amounted to "victim shaming and harassing a woman for having [to] overcome difficulties in her marriage and working to remain true to her marriage vows as her faith dictates to her."
"If anything, the commitment, grace, and integrity with which I have overcome my personal struggles to become an effective leader in both my life and the party are reasons to believe these concerns are unfounded," she wrote. "If nothing else, I have demonstrated that I don’t walk away just because it would be easy, but rather, I am willing to take on any challenge that comes before me and fight for the greater good of the individual and the common good."
Local Republican Party activist Patty Gibbons resigned as a consultant for Brehm's campaign following the candidate's "bad judgment" to bring on new people to advise her on her campaign. Gibbons said other GOP candidates and prominent members of the party have joined the chorus calling for Brehm's resignation.
Gibbons, who represents District 9 on the City's Zoning Commission and serves as a GOP precinct chair, said she was in tears for two days after learning about the incident involving Brehm's husband.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I was shocked. You feel betrayed having been in her camp and never knowing this. These things hurt a lot of people all the way around."
Gibbons also said Brehm has relied too much on other people to speak for her, not listened to concerns among members of the party, and distanced herself from local GOP leadership.
"I just think if you were delegated the person of the party to bring us together you can't alienate yourself from other members of the party, and she seems to be doing a lot of that," Gibbons said.
Robert Stovall, who chaired the Bexar County GOP from 2012-2017, said seeking Brehm's resignation is "necessary for the sake of the party."
"The right thing to do would be for her to step down and allow someone else to run the party," he said.
Stovall expressed disappointment with the current Bexar County Republican Party administration under chair Mark Dorazio. Stovall resigned last year to run for U.S. Congress.
"I'm not happy with the way I left things and the way things are turning out because the wrong people are in control of our county party, and that’s even spilling over to the state party," he said. "It's just unfortunate, but these cycles do happen. Things break, and the rest of us are going to be left to put things back together."
Stovall criticized the administration's decision, brought on by what he called the "far-[right] faction" of the party, to censure outgoing State Speaker of the House and San Antonian Joe Straus.
He said the local GOP leadership did not provide enough opportunities by way of political forums for the public to learn about the candidates – Brehm defeated her primary challenger, Jo Ann Ponce Gonzalez, in this month's runoff by a nearly 40-percentage-point margin.
Various groups involved in the Bexar County GOP, however, did hold candidate forums, according to the county party's online calendar, including one held at the Bexar County Republican Party's headquarters. In all, 14 forums relating to the GOP chair race were held, County GOP representatives said.
Dorazio declined to comment on the calls for the chair-elect to step down.
The controversy surrounding Brehm's election is just the latest disruption to the local party's existential crisis, said Jim Lunz, who helped found the county's Republican Party in 1959. Lunz said this primary season was the worst election he has seen in his 60 years of involvement in the party.
"I think it’s in shambles," Lunz said, referring to the state of the county GOP. "I have a great deal of sympathy for the candidates we have nominated who’ve got to run on the ballot in the November elections."
He said installing a new party leader prior to the 2018 Texas State Republican Convention in June is paramount.
But Gibbons said the Bexar County Republican Party's executive committee won't convene until early July.
"It’s kind of messy," Gibbons said. "We are all still trying to grapple with this. … Maybe the state convention, as we are meeting each other face to face, will help us listen and talk to one another."