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Lott-Like Incident For Calif. GOP

A candidate for the chairmanship of the California Republican Party circulated an article suggesting the nation would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War, a published report said Saturday.

The Contra Costa Times reported that Bill Back, the current vice chairman of the state GOP, sent the article to party members in 1999 as part of an e-mail newsletter. It was written by Bill Lind of the Center for Cultural Conservatism, a wing of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.

"Given how bad things have gotten in the old USA, it's not hard to believe that history might have taken a better turn," Lind wrote.

"The real damage to race relations in the South came not from slavery, but from Reconstruction, which would not have occurred if the South had won."

Back told the Times he did not agree with the views expressed in the article, saying he found them "incorrect and incomplete." He said the newsletter published different views he didn't always agree with and said he regretted sending the article.

"It was never my intent to hurt or offend people. It was to communicate and get people to think or discuss issues," he said.

The flap comes just weeks after U.S. Senator Trent Lott was forced to step down from his GOP leadership post after commenting the nation wouldn't have had so many problems if Strom Thurmond had triumphed in his 1940s pro-segregation run for president.

The Times said word of the newsletter angered Shannon Reeves, the state's Republican Party secretary and the only black member of its executive committee. Reeves rejected the defense that Back was simply trying to generate discussion.

"There's no room for bigotry in the Republican Party and I don't think there's a lot of room in the Republican Party for people who distribute bigoted information," Reeves said. "I wonder, does the African-American community have any value to the leadership of the party when leaders send out something like this, not considering at all this would be offensive?"

In a description on its Web site, the self-described politically and culturally conservative Free Congress Foundation says its focus is the "Culture War."

It's yet another step backward in trying to portray the GOP as a moderate and open party," John Pitney Jr., government professor at Claremont McKenna College told the newspaper. "It provides Democrats with an automatic talking point any time they want to refer to the state Republican Party. This just hands ammunition to the Democrats."

Back is a key conservative Bush ally who helped the president's political operatives revamp party rules during the past two years, the Times explains. The effort, spearheaded by Gerald Parsky, the president's point person in California, aimed to professionalize the state party so that a handful of hard-core conservatives would not continue to dominate the leadership, the Times says.

Back, 67, a retired mathematician from Yuba County, is competing against the more moderate Silicon Valley attorney Duf Sundheim for the party chairmanship. State party delegates will make their selection at their convention next month in Sacramento. Parsky told the Times he and the White House would not endorse either of the candidates.