In another sign of a deeply divided state Republican Party, an executive search firm has been hired to find a new administrator.

The previous executive director, Jon Fleishman, left his post when the two-year term of his boss, former state party chairman John McGraw, expired.

In years past, a new state party chairman would come in and name a new executive director as part of his or her new team. Turning to a search firm was almost unheard of; besides, there were always plenty of qualified candidates seeking out the position on their own.

GOP officials say they're using Korn/Ferry International, a Century City-based executive search, in order to find a high-level manager capable of running the organization on more than an interim basis.

"The way it's been, when a new chairman comes in every two years, the top staff positions also change and everything has to start from scratch," said Rob Stutzman, spokesman for the California Republican Party. "The board felt they needed more consistency in the management so that they could focus on improving the end results: namely getting more Republicans into elected office."

Others have a different take. They see the turn to a search firm as a means to help unify a party deeply divided between moderates and conservatives.

It's no secret the party is on the ropes in California, having lost the governor's mansion and both houses of the state Legislature. Ever since last November's election sealed further Republican losses, California Republicans have been dubbed an "endangered species."

The two factions fought it out this past winter for the state party chairmanship, with Shawn Steel leading the conservative wing and former Assemblyman Brooks Firestone the moderate wing. Steel won by a narrow margin.

"The search firm is being used as a tool to heal the split between the moderates and conservatives," said local political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, who was once himself political director of the state Republican Party.

"The feeling was that if Shawn (Steel) has appointed an executive director unilaterally, it would have upset the moderates. This way, he can point to the process and say it was objective," he said.

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