Week of drama over Lincoln Club's Fresno County DA debate ends with Egan agreeing to attend

Posted by John Ellis on February 5, 2014 

A Lincoln Club debate between Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan and challenger Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp is set for April 10 at Pardini's Catering and Banquets in Fresno.

But only after a political drama that played out for most of this week.

The Lincoln Club is the go-to place for Republican politicians. Both Egan and Smittcamp are Republicans, although the DA's office is nonpartisan.

On Monday, Lincoln Club Chairman Michael Der Manouel fired off a letter to Egan, noting "there will be a chair at the forum with your name on it, regardless of your attendance."

Later, Der Manouel said, "I don't have a response from her."

Dave Gilliard, Egan's campaign consultant, said Egan would attend "as long as (an) agreement about (a) moderator can be worked out."

Gilliard said Lincoln Club Political Director Tal Cloud, who usually moderates the forums, has a sister who is married to Tim Orman, Smittcamp's campaign consultant.

It was, Gilliard said, a clear conflict of interest. He later added that other Lincoln Club board members had conflicts, too. Among them, Der Manouel, who did business with Smittcamp's father-in-law, businessman Bob Smittcamp.

Gilliard wanted an outside moderator.

Der Manouel's response: The Lincoln Club will decide the forum's ground rules.

"Nobody is going to dictate anything about the forum -- nobody," he said. "The campaigns are not going to dictate anything. They are either going to show up or not. That's it."

He said the only goal of the forums is to make sure they are challenging for candidates. Attendance is mandatory for any candidate seeking the group's endorsement. In the past, questions have often been tough and the debate lively.

After reading Der Manouel's comments in Political Notebook, Gilliard said Egan would not participate in the Lincoln Club's form.

"This little debate is going to be a one-candidate affair," he said.

There are bizarre twists to the drama: Egan's husband Richard is a Lincoln Club board member. And Cloud endorsed Egan and has backed her since her initial run for the office in 2002.

As the back-and-forth wore on this week, Cloud said he was still endorsing Egan, but his patience was wearing thin over the debate debate. If Egan skipped the candidate forum, he said, he would withdraw his endorsement and remain neutral in the race.

A resolution was reached Friday when Cloud and Egan spoke personally.

Egan, Cloud said, agreed to attend the candidate forum, and would not put any conditions on her attendance -- such as approving a moderator.

"The debate is on," Cloud said. "No conditions."

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