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Pullen builds a national name

Randy Pullen likes Arizona more than he likes Washington, D.C. But for about a week every month, Pullen heads to Washington to spend time at the Republican National Committee, where the Arizona GOP chief serves as national treasurer.
His tenure — all four months of it — has been wrought by controversy, but sources say he is working with all sides of an often-splintered national committee, and Pullen has won early plaudits for a plan to assist state parties with their public disclosure filings.
But for now, Pullen’s job is to make sure the books are in order at an organization that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two years.
“The treasurer’s responsibility is very significant because of the myriad campaign finance laws we’re subject to,” said Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party. “So far, there’s no news coming out of the treasurer’s office, and no news is good news.”
Pullen’s background as an accountant has helped. “He’s somebody who understands the process,” said Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who ran for RNC chairman in January.
Pullen downplayed his role: “It’s reviewing a lot of reports and signing off on them, going through check registers and making sure everything balances out,” he said of his job.
Still, Pullen is widely viewed within the committee as part of a growing number of reform-minded members. Those members have not been shy about challenging well-established old bulls who have run the committee for decades, a scenario that often breeds discontent.
But Pullen has found himself in a public scuffle with another set of reformers in his first months on the job. The committee’s new chairman, Michael Steele, has clashed with Pullen in a series of e-mails, many of which became public and bred ill will.
The flap began once Steele fired the committee’s long-time finance guru in March. Disturbed, several old bulls realized a key resolution regarding financial transparency had been left out of party rules adopted at the 2008 convention. Republicans, unlike Democrats, can only change their party rules at the quadrennial convention.
So Pullen and the well-established members — including New Jersey national committeeman David Norcross, Massachusetts national committeeman Ron Kauffman and Idaho national committeeman Blake Hall — proposed a new set of financial rules, which Steele and his team interpreted as an effort to rein in Steele’s authority.
Steele accused the rebels of attempting to undermine him, and e-mails filled with accusations hit the front page of The Washington Times. A series of meetings held behind closed doors led to a compromise, and most involved in the discussions say the matter was overblown.
“This whole flap we’ve had over putting in checks and balances has been way overblown,” Pullen said May 20, noting he and Steele talk and e-mail each other on a regular basis.
Anuzis, a close Steele ally who was made aware of the negotiations, said the matter will be settled at this summer’s RNC meeting in San Diego.
“Everyone’s talking about coming up with a good governance resolution and there’s an agreement on how to work it out,” Anuzis said. “I suspect that at the summer meeting, as planned, it will be worked out.”
Aside from his duties as Republicans’ top financial watchdog, Pullen used a special meeting of the RNC this week in Washington to plot strategy with the National Republican Congressional Committee, the body tasked with electing Republicans to the House of Representatives.
“We have three districts, two of which are Republican districts that are held by Democrats, one of which is a slightly Democrat district that is held by a Democrat, but it’s a very conservative district,” Pullen said, referring to Arizona seats held by Democrat Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, Harry Mitchell and Ann Kirkpatrick, all of whom will be Republican targets in 2010.
“We have some opportunities, I think, in Arizona.”
Giffords has drawn an early challenger, while Mitchell will face the winner of what is so far a two-way primary. Arizona Republicans hope to woo State Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who flirted with a bid in 2008, to run against Kirkpatrick.
“I hope he does (run). I think he’ll be a great candidate,” Pullen said of Konopnicki. “I think he held off last time because he realized it was just a really tough environment for Republicans in 2008.”
Pullen said he had spoken with Konopnicki several times, and that he expects a formal decision within four or five weeks.
In the governor’s race, Pullen said he expected Gov. Jan Brewer to declare her intention to run for a full term, and said an impending primary between Attorney General Terry Goddard, businessman Jim Pederson and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon could help Brewer face a battered and bruised Democrat in the general election.
“I’m very anxious for there to be a Democrat primary in Arizona,” he said.
Electoral gains in Arizona could help Pullen’s reputation on the national scene. Candidates for chairman of the RNC who ran in January made their electoral success a major part of their platforms.
But while some RNC treasurers have gone on to chair the national party, Pullen says he is not interested in serving atop the RNC.
“It’s not in my plans, quite frankly,” Pullen said. “I’d never want to live in Washington, D.C. … I’m quite happy where I live.”
Reid Wilson is a staff writer for The Hill in Washington D.C. who also contributes to the Arizona Capitol Times.

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