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Miss America Organization strikes back at rebellious states

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacted, in Sept. 2017, after being named Miss America during the Miss America 2018 pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. The Miss America Organization is striking back against state pageant groups who revolted against the national leadership in the run-up to this year’s competition.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. >> The other heel has dropped at the Miss America Organization, which had endured a revolt by dozens of states this summer against the national leadership of the pageant headed by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson.

The crowning of the latest Miss America took place last month with the pageant’s national leadership largely silent on the calls for their resignation from many states.

But now the national organization is undertaking a purge of rebellious state officials, terminating the licenses of four states, threatening about 15 with probation — and thanking others whose officials stood by the national leadership in the first Miss America pageant without a swimsuit competition.

States whose licenses are terminated must replace current leaders. They can request an appeal hearing from Miss America’s executive committee.

The Miss America Organization would not say how it decided which states to terminate and which to threaten with probation, issuing a statement to The Associated Press that read, in its entirety, “The process regarding Miss America state licensees is confidential.”

State officials say their dissatisfaction stemmed not from the elimination of swimsuits, but by the way Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper ran the organization since taking over in January.

Georgia and West Virginia are among states that were notified in recent days that their state licenses are being terminated, Paul Perkins, a lawyer representing both states, told The Associated Press. And a Pennsylvania state pageant official, Chet Welch, confirmed his state has gotten a termination notice as well.

One other state also has been terminated, according to state officials and a former national board member, but its officials did not respond to messages seeking comment today.

Other states have been asked to explain — in writing — why they acted as they did in the run-up to the pageant.

“They are upset, but now they are scared, too,” said Jennifer Vaden Barth, a former national board member and a former Miss North Carolina. “This just validates why people are upset and why they felt the need to speak out in the first place.”

A state organization that has its license terminated can no longer claim to be affiliated with the Miss America Organization and must, among other things, turn over bank accounts with scholarship money to the national organization.

Vaden Barth formed a GoFundMe account called the Miss America Organization Leadership Change Fund that has raised over $22,000 to help states defend themselves and advocate for new leadership at the top.

When this year’s pageant was held last month, 46 of the 51 state pageant organizations (the District of Columbia is included) had called on the two to resign, along with 23 former Miss Americas.

It followed the release of a remarkable letter from the outgoing Miss America, Cara Mund, in which she said she had been marginalized and bullied by top pageant leaders. An investigation commissioned by the Miss America Organization found no evidence to back up that claim, but investigators did not interview Mund for the report, which was issued the day after the most recent pageant was held.

Carlson, who was Miss America 1989, and Hopper depict the opposition as a “noisy minority” resistant to change, particularly one as large as the elimination of the pageant’s swimsuit competition.

But many state officials say their opposition is rooted in a lack of transparency and communication from national leaders, and does not involve the swimsuit decision.

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