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Monday, Jul 13, 2009, 3:36 pm

GOP Identity Crisis Continues With Election of Controversial YRNF Chairwoman

By Lindsay Eanet
Audra Shay, a 38-year-old Army veteran from Louisiana, was elected to the Young Republicans National Federation’s highest office at its convention in Indianapolis this past weekend, despite allegations of racial insensitivity stemming from a row that occurred, of all places, on Facebook.

It began when Shay updated her Facebook status expressing disapproval of WalMart’s support for Obama’s healthcare plan. Her friend, Eric Piker, wrote this as part of his response: “…. obama is the new terrorist … muslim is on there side … need to take this country back from all these mad coons … and illegal’s.”

Shay commented below Piker's response: “You tell em Eric! lol”

Further down in the thread, Young Republicans Committeewoman Cassie Wallender and D.C. Young Republicans Chairman Sean L. Conner both proceed to denounce the use of the racially insensitive language (an image of the thread can be found here).

In a statement several days later, Shay claimed the incident to be a misunderstanding and that she was responding to Piker’s first comment about the policy, according to an Indianapolis Star report. But instead of distancing herself by “de-friending” Piker, Shay de-friended Wallender and Conner, the YRNF officers who denounced Piker’s racist comments.

This was not the first incident of Shay being charged with racial insensitivity. The Daily Beast unearthed another incriminating thread, where, in response to an image of an effigy of Sarah Palin being hung as a Halloween decoration in Hollywood, Shay responds:

“What no ‘Obama in a noose? Come on now, its just freedome of speech, no one in Atlanta would take that wrong! Lol.”

Among those to speak out against Shay prior to the election were Young Republicans Committeewoman Cassie Wallender, who not only denounced Piker and Shay’s remarks in the thread itself but in a letter posted on HipHopRepublican.com and Lenny McAllister, one of the nation’s leading African-American conservative activists, who denounces Shay’s actions in a series of prepared statements on his website:

“At a time when the Republican Party needs to hold onto its conservative principles but also better reflect the melting pot of America, Ms. Shay’s comments serve to work against that end goal, thus disqualifying her as the best possible candidate to lead the YRNF starting in 2009.”

Another vocal opponent of Shay has been Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John and Cindy McCain, who tried to discourage fellow YRs from voting for Shay in an op-ed piece for the Daily Beast. Like McAllister, in addition to pointing out the allegations of racism, McCain focuses on the larger implications of having a YRNF national chairwoman who is out of touch with the demographics the GOP is trying to recruit (in McAllister’s case, people of color; in McCain’s case, young people):

What exactly do the Young Republicans expect to achieve by electing a 38-year-old woman who thinks racial epithets are acceptable? Also, did I mention that she’s 38? And she’s going to be the leader of an organization with the word “young” in the title? Is it so implausible that people in their 20s (or even early 30s) could join the Republican Party—or have we just completely given up on their vote? Are we expecting “young” people in the Republican Party to soon be entering their 40s?

Shay won the election by a vote of 470 votes to opponent Rachel Hoff’s 415, according to Gary Coats at TheConservativist.com. According to the report in the Indianapolis Star, supporters cited the incident as “political mudslinging” and some, such as YRNF member Torion Brown, even accused opponents of playing the “race card.”

In the wake of the election, a Facebook group titled “Audra Shay is not my chairwoman!” was formed, although membership in the group is small. However, there has yet to be any publicly available activity on Facebook in support of Shay.

The Shay case is one of many in a long line of examples of the growing fragmentation within the Republican Party and what many politicos are calling an identity crisis.

In the wake of the November election and the addition of Senator Al Franken (D.-Minn.) to make the Dems officially filibuster-proof, more and more GOP members are seeking to distance themselves from old tactics and promote a party built on inclusion and diversity, as opposed to the long-standing image of the GOP as "the party of old white men."

What complicates the party identity even more is when the next generation of leaders, the Young Republicans, choose someone who alienates influential black conservatives like McAllister, who might provide some semblance of a multiculturalism in the GOP.

Lindsay Eanet is an In These Times editorial intern and a journalism student at the University of Missouri.

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