Merced County Times Newspaper
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Rebekah Jenkins, president of the Merced County Republican Assembly, addresses a large audience packed inside the Italo American Lodge during a recent GOP candidate forum.

New Merced County Republican Assembly is helping to mobilize support

Group offers opportunity for like-minded people to gather


There are several private citizens who show up at the Merced City Council meetings on a regular basis, and one of them is Rick Wendling.

The mayor knows him by name.

Some people in the audience sigh when he gets up to talk. Others listen intently.

And it’s no surprise when Wendling starts to talk critically about recent issues such as mask mandates, government-imposed business shutdowns, or how the workings of corporate lobbyists at the state and federal level can affect local affairs and everyday people.

Wendling is obviously a concerned resident, but he’s also a member of a new grassroots organization — the Merced County Republican Assembly (MCRA). The growing group is making itself known in the community this election year by mobilizing support for candidates, organizing campaign forums and encouraging members to get out into their local communities and advocate for GOP goals, including a strong constitutional government.

“We encourage all of our members to be involved in their community, and that includes going to City Council meetings,” says Rebekah Jenkins, the MCRA president. “There are a lot of decisions and things getting passed that people are not even aware of until it’s too late. And not just that. We want to be a support for our City Councils. We want to be able to help them as well. And how are we suppose to help them if we are not at the meetings?”

The Assembly just formed in mid-February with the help of Jenkins, J.A. Thomas, the group’s vice president; and Gene Johnson, a member of MCRA board of directors. It’s a charter associated with the statewide and national Republican Assembly.

“We haven’t really had a unified, conservative Republican voice for our area,” Thomas says. “And a lot of us have been just wanting for something to take place here. We had heard of the CRA as a whole. Gene had heard of it, and brought it to a group of us as a whole, and we all said we should start this. It’s really a grassroots effort that will help people get elected. We want to be effective in our area.”

Johnson adds: “A lot of people now are realizing, ‘Hey we need to get people elected. How can we get involved, and how can we make our area better?’”

Another attraction the MCRA is experiencing is the idea that like-minded people enjoy the fellowship and are encouraged to engage in plans of action.

“I travel around a lot in Merced County,” says Thomas, “and there are people of all walks of life, and they don’t know where to go to meet with other people of like-mind. … Merced County is a very broad region. We are working with groups from the Merced area to the West Side.”

Says Jenkins, “We want to work with every Republican group, the local Central Committee, the Women’s Federated … There are a lot of people who want to help change our area.”

Jenkins is a 30-year-old Atwater native and a local nurse. She says she loves her hometown and the entire region.

“It’s worth fighting for,” she says. “It’s worth bringing back conservative values and electing people who will represent us.”

The fledgling MCRA’s first big success was a sold-out dinner and forum for more than a dozen candidates vying for statewide positions held at the Merced Elks Lodge.

The room was filled with inquisitive questions, nodding and shaking heads, and real concerns.

“We all know of the business atmosphere in California,” Thomas says about the renewed enthusiasm within the Republican base. “Those who continue to donate to a Democratic super-majority controlled state here in California — What is it getting them? Our family members are fleeing. Our friends are leaving. Small and large businesses are leaving. California is driving businesses away, and I think people are really beginning to see that.”

Thomas is a 42-year-old Merced resident and a Fresno State grad who returned to his hometown to make a difference. He serves as a principal of a private school in the area. Johnson, a longtime Atwater resident and GOP supporter, is retired.

Johnson said the MCRA is also about reversing a trend over time. Republicans, conservatives and moderates in the region have seen a steady stream of local leaders supporting well-funded Democrats but who otherwise would vote Republican.

“That’s one of the reasons we started the MCRA,” he said.

Says Jenkins, “Over the last two years for sure, people have learned that you need to be bold with what you believe, and why you believe it. We’ve lost a lot over the last two years. Our communities could have done better if we had supported small businesses. A lot of people lost jobs and whole businesses with the never-ending shutdowns and emergency orders.”

Thomas says the MCRA’s short-term goals include getting more people on the ground to help walk and do polling for candidates. Long-term goals including building and solidifying relationships with local leaders.

He points out: “So often it’s the small minority that is loud that seems to get the attention, but there are a lot of people in the background that are going to work everyday and still hope that their leaders make decisions that are positive for them.”

If you would like to learn more about the Merced County Republican Assembly, and would like to get involved, please email:  [email protected]



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