A California Republican Party leader has released a letter assailing the party's only African American board member for "whining" about "how awful it is to be a black Republican."

The letter, distributed to Republican activists throughout the state, was written in response to board member Shannon Reeves's recent critique of the party's relationship with African Americans.

"Black Republicans are expected to provide window dressing and cover to prove that this is not a racist party," Reeves said Jan. 7 in a letter distributed within the party.

"I, for one, am getting bored with that kind of garbage," board member Randy Ridgel responded to Reeves. "Get over it, Bucko. You don't know squat about hardship. . . . I personally don't give a damn about your color . . . so stop parading it around."

Ridgel's letter was distributed by party vice chairman Bill Back, who told the Los Angeles Times that he sent it in response to requests from members.

The exchange comes on the heels of another recent, racially charged imbroglio. Earlier this month, Back -- who is running for the state GOP chairmanship -- apologized for distributing literature suggesting the nation would have been better off had the Confederacy won the Civil War. In his letter, Ridgel also defended that literature. Reeves has called on Back to drop his race for the party chairmanship.

Reeves first wrote in response to the Back controversy, he said in an interview Friday. He also called Ridgel's response "bigoted" and predicted that the exchange would only worsen the party's relationship with minorities.

Utah Porn, From Brake to Break

The budget shortfalls plaguing so many state governments have brought every kind of sacrifice, it seems. But only Utah has had to give up a porn czar.

The state recently announced that it will eliminate its Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman -- a k a the porn czar -- whose job is to help residents combat smut. The decision is expected to save the state, which faces a large budget gap, about $150,000 annually.

The office, believed to be unique, drew widespread media coverage (and some snickers) when Utah's legislature created it two years ago. Since then, lawyer Paula Houston -- technically, the porn czarina -- and her part-time assistants have drafted anti-smut legislation, prosecuted a handful of cases and responded to the public's questions about blue materials. The office is to close March 31.

Changing Asbestos Suits

A group of insurers, manufacturers and trial lawyers plans a multimillion-dollar campaign to persuade lawmakers to change the rules in asbestos lawsuits. The Asbestos Alliance, an effort by the American Insurance Association (AIA) and the National Association of Manufacturers, wants patients who are ill from asbestos to have priority over those exposed to it but not yet sick.

"These folks feel like they're not getting a fair shake out of the justice system, because there are all these healthy people clogging the courts," said Gary Karr, an AIA spokesman. The campaign will include lobbying, grass-roots organizing and possibly advertising, he said.

Last week, Travelers Property Casualty Corp. set aside $3 billion to cover the potential costs of asbestos-related lawsuits.

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed

to this report.