Above: David Eppihimer, chairman of the Pima County GOP.
A longstanding minority member of the Pima County GOP has resigned, charging that she was forced out by the “racist” and “sexist” words and actions of party Chairman David Eppiheimer.
Kuuleme T. Stephens, a member of the Pima GOP Executive Committee and the Minority Outreach Committee, fired off her resignation in a February 22 email, citing Eppihimer’s antipathy to women and people of color, as well as his anger control issues.
“I can not in good conscience remain on an Executive Committee where the Chairman runs the GOP as a one man GOP, continually oversteps his authority, does not consult with his committee members before taking drastic actions that affect us all as a whole, is not transparent and withholds information from the Executive Committee, and seems to have issues with minority women and control issues as well,” she said in the email.
A Black conservative, Stephens joined the executive committee in 2014 and had major disagreements with Eppihimer starting when he was elected chair four years ago.
Stephens, a Navy veteran, was also chair of the Pima County Fair committee. She asked to be on the social media and IT committee and the Bylaws Committee, but she says Eppihimer blocked her.
She explained in a 6,600-word blog post that she was “forced to resign due to a hostile work environment,” adding “I knew for a fact that Chairman Eppihimer had Women, Race, and Control Issues. I knew that it affected me and my ability to work with him, and many others have stated the same and chose to try to work around him and his issues even though it is hard.”
“Eppiheimer in his actions and in his words show he is a racist,” Stephens said. “Eppiheimer in his actions and in his words show he is a sexist,” Stephens said in an interview.
She confronted Eppihimer in a Jan. 9, 2019 conference call, which she recorded, where he said, “I think I am color blind and sex blind, but other people don’t.” He apologized to Stephens saying “I will do better. I’ve spent 38 years working with or managing women without complaint.”
Eppihimer yells and bangs table
Stephens said in an interview that at meetings Eppihimer gets visibly angry, gets red in the face, snaps at executive committee members, yells at them, and bangs the table with his hands.
In the blog post, she writes that last fall “two women were censured by the Executive Committee without full knowledge of what Chairman Eppihimer was doing, and both women chose to resign their positions.” In the interview, she identified them as Debe Campos-Fleenor, who is Hispanic, and J. Demara. Stephens said that both Campos-Fleenor and Demara discussed filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against Eppiheimer, but decided not to because it would reflect badly on the Republican party.
In the Jan. 9 phone call, Eppihimer said he was under stress because of a challenge mounted by Ray Ihle against him for the chairman position in December. His slate included Karen Shutte of LD9, running for 2nd Vice Chair.
When the votes were counted, Ihle and slate members Dean Anderson, LD-14, was elected Member-at-Large, and Alex Dely LD-10 was elected as Treasurer. Eppiheimer said on the Jan. 9 phone call that is was “very stressful” to have them on the executive committee. Anderson has since resigned.
Regarding the Jan. 9 call with Eppihimer, Stephens wrote, “The meeting to me was very ineffective. All I received was excuses from Chairman Eppihimer for his behavior.”
Juneteenth Festival debacle
Stephens continued on the executive committee and proposed to have the Pima GOP sponsor the city’s Juneteenth Festival on June 16 at the Tucson Convention Center. It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the country. The executive committee voted to approve the sponsorship.
But on Feb. 17, Stephens was notified by GOP consultant Ana Henderson about a false report that Juneteenth President Valerie Stanley had said that, “white people are not welcome at Juneteenth” when she spoke at the 2019 Drum Major Awards. Stanley denied making the remark.
Acting on his own, Eppihimer canceled the sponsorship in a Feb. 17 email to Clarence Boykins, who organized the Drum Major Awards. Eppihimer said in the email, “I must tell you that I was appalled at the racism displayed by award winner Valerie Stanley. To say that white people are not welcome at Juneteenth this day and age is mind boggling. The Pima GOP participated in Juneteenth last year and had planned to do so again this year. I assure you we will not after President Stanley’s remarks.”
The email was sent without any discussion with Minority Outreach Chairman Ophelia Parker or with Stephens, both of whom were unwillingly included on the email. Stephens immediately organized an emergency executive committee meeting, and after delaying, Eppihimer reluctantly showed up.
The Feb. 17 meeting at Pima County Republican Headquarters included Ophelia Parker, First Vice Chairman Chris King, Eppihimer and Stephens. A recording of the meeting shows that Stephens told Eppihimer angrily that he overstepped his bounds. “You do not run the whole entire GOP, there is a committee here especially when it comes to race, and this has everything to do with race relations,” Stephens said. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“You opened the door for us to be called tokens, Aunt Jemimas and every nasty thing with everyone in the minority community,” Stephens said.
Eppihimer offered repeatedly offered to resign as Chairman. However, Eppihimer reneged and did not resign.
Boykins sent a furious email to Eppihimer, saying, “I did not find her comments racist. Ms. Stanley is of the belief African Americans should be responsible for planning African American Celebrations without the need for outside assistance from Whites or any other group.” He added, “The point is a Black Organization can be inclusive in their planning without the guidance of non-black individuals. No one confirmed that she said, ‘white people are not welcome at Juneteenth.’”
After the call, Eppihimer sent a humiliated email to Clarence Boykins on Feb. 18: “Please accept my retraction for my earlier email regarding the Juneteenth celebration. I had emailed in haste and without full authority of the County Executive Committee. Furthermore, I had not consulted with the Outreach Committee Chairwoman, Ophelia S. Parker. She and Kuuleme Stephens will be the focal points for future events. Please accept my apology and good faith wishes for future cooperation and collaboration.”
A few days later Stephens resigned from the Pima GOP executive committee.
“Many people had asked me not to resign. Even the Juneteenth Board Members encouraged me not to. They said that they needed people like me to be on the Committee to fight for what is right, as I was trying to do here. My response to them is I am limited by Chairmen Eppihimer in what I am able to do which makes me ineffective as a board member,” Stephens wrote.
“How much more is the Pima County Executive Committee willing to put up with before they actually do something??? How many more people have to be forced to resign??? How many more bad events have to occur??? Does the Pima County GOP really want a lawsuit against them before they do something about these issues???” she writes.