“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
I was reminded of the irony of that old saying when I realized that I had not written a post for Big Jolly Politics in over two months—I believe that is the longest I have kept my keyboard silent since I started posting columns on this site in 2010. In the meantime while Baseball season is in full swing, our general GOP primary has ended; our Republican senate district and state conventions have come and gone; Mitt Romney clinched the number of national delegates needed to win the GOP presidential nomination; and we suddenly lost Ken Legler—a dear man who had served the Pasadena area well in the legislature. I know you are probably thinking, “but, Ed, we still have serious run-off campaigns and contested precinct-chair races to decide on July 31st.” True enough. But for me, we are mercifully one step closer to a point when we can unite and focus on identifying and mobilizing Republican voters for the fall election.
As all of these events unfolded from early April through last weekend, I kept my mouth as shut as I possibly could, because I realized that my posts in late March and early April about the state of the local party already had stirred-up a hornet’s nest, and I did not want to unintentionally impact any race by speaking anymore about the subject. In fact, when I briefly made some comments about the involvement and credibility of a third-party in one of the local primary races, I quickly realized that anything I might say could be misconstrued, so I just chose to remain silent for the duration of the primary. But even my silence wasn’t enough, as the pay-for-play issue became the topic of new mailers and some campaign ads.
Now, however, I have some observations and comments to make (in no specific order of importance), and I apologize at the outset for the length of this post—but a lot has happened, and I’ve got a lot I want to say.
Demanding that the HCRP fund the joint facility for the Senate District Conventions through donations worked.
The preliminary report that the HCRP Finance Committee received in late April showed that the party received $10,000-$15,000 more in contributions than it incurred in costs to provide the facility. This figure does not include the more than $7,000 pledged on this website.
When we asked for pledges, I set three criteria for turning the pledged funds over to the party. Two of those criteria were met when the Executive Committee of the HCRP rescinded the decision to impose a “speaker’s tax” on the candidates; and when the party disclosed the estimated costs for the facility. Because I did not limit the pledges we solicited to cover only a shortfall, if and when the third criteria is met—when the party provides the final figures of the exact costs incurred—I will ask those who made their pledges to pay them as contributions to the party, even though the party is already in the black for the conventions (However, I did limit the solicitation of underwriters to covering a shortfall, and I already have released those persons from their commitments). I certainly will fulfill my pledge once I am able to verify the actual costs. I believe the party should not be punished, but should be rewarded for responding to the grassroots in the way they did—as soon as the third criteria is met.
The Hotze slate mailer dominated this primary election in countywide races.
Although I am not through reviewing the numbers from this primary election (and I will have more to say when I do), a preliminary cursory review of the contested countywide races shows that the absentee vote provided the decisive margin for either outright victory, or to make the run-off, in almost every race. The endorsements on the slate mailer sent by Dr. Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County attached to an absentee-ballot request form seem to correspond almost perfectly to those who won those contested countywide races, or who made the run-offs (this level of correlation does not hold true for races in smaller districts, or that cover multiple counties—the impact of specific campaign issues, other slate mailers, and other outside influences, appear to have impacted those races more than Dr. Hotze).
For those of you who care about the outcome of the run-off elections on July 31st, please realize that similar mailers will soon start arriving in the mailboxes of the over-65 voters in our primaries, as will the run-off editions of other slate mailers.
Remember, that as important as Dr. Hotze’s slate mailer appears to have been in this primary, all of the mailers will have out-sized importance in the lower turnout of a run-off election. And we have more mailers this year. Besides Dr. Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County, Terry Lowry’s LinkLetter, and Gary Polland’s Texas Conservative Review, you will see other slates in the mail and on the Internet. These slates include new mailers from the ladies of the new Texas Conservative View, and from the Houston Realty Business Coalition. Although the endorsed candidates identified on these mailers were not solicited (either before after they are endorsed) to pay for advertising or to cover the cost of postage, I have heard that not every candidate was interviewed, or even invited to interview, with these groups before the endorsements were made. In fact, I am aware of only one group that attempts to interview every candidate before making an endorsement—United Republicans. I hope this will change in the future.
So, every mailer you receive is flawed to some extent—either by direct or indirect pay-for-play, by an appearance of an incomplete vetting process, or simply by the point of view of the person or organization making the endorsement. Please make sure that your friends and neighbors who receive these mailers understand what they really are, who is really behind them (and their point of view), who is really paying for them, and then evaluate them accordingly.
The Grassroots do matter—especially in rural communities.
My guess is that if David Dewhurst (and all of the prospective statewide candidates in 2014 who are counting on him to leave Texas for Washington at the end of this year) didn’t awake on the morning of May 30th realizing this fact, they certainly didn’t leave the State Convention in Fort Worth without a dose of this reality. You can’t expect to just ignore local debates, forums and rallies with the grassroots and pay for TV and radio to win this election—the new activism won’t reward that type of campaigning. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, the message over the last two weeks should be very clear to you by now: you have some old-fashioned face-to-face work to do if you want to be our next Senator. If you stay with your current campaign plan, your wallet will be a lot lighter, but Ted Cruz will be our next Senator—and he will have earned it.
Additionally, as my friends here in Southeast Harris County were reminded on May 29th, rural voters vote, usually in numbers equal to or greater than their percentage of the population of a district; and urban/suburban voters often do not turnout in the same type of percentages. If you live in a hybrid district, like the new CD 36, you better campaign hard in every nook and cranny of the district for every vote. Rural activists expect to see you, to meet you, and to get to know you. If you don’t campaign at that level, but your opponents do (and if they also saturate the mailboxes with mail that builds their name identification to garner some of the urban/suburban vote), you will probably lose—especially in a 12-person race.
Let me end this segment with an observation about our “grassroots” activists based on what I observed this past weekend at the State Convention. Their appears to be a schism that is opening and deepening between those long-time local activists who built the modern Republican Party precinct by precinct, who manned the phone banks and walked the blocks, and who weathered all of the earlier internal battles to see it become the majority party in this state; and those new activists who feel the whole apparatus of the party has let them down and needs to be replaced. Both of these groups are part of the “grassroots” of this party, but each group eyes the other with some level of suspicion. This schism also is exacerbated by a generational divide that is developing.
What I want you all to remember is that we are blessed to live in the most politically conservative state in the union. To call a fellow Republican in this state a liberal or a socialist is simply stupid. Your fellow grassroots activists in Texas, no matter how long they have worked for the party, are not the people who caused the mess we face. Instead, it was primarily Republicans from other areas of the country together with a few of the elected officials we sent to Washington, who failed us. Moreover, it will take more than talking with a new toughness to change the political culture in Washington and Austin—it will take a lot of that old “elbow grease” that the long-time activists used to build this party to fix this country’s problems.
So, as we move forward, it is time for the long-time activists to open their arms to invite and embrace the new enthusiasm and commitment of the new activists, and to mentor them to build and grow this party. Meanwhile, it is time for the new activists to listen to the long-time activists and trust them; to realize that you don’t know as much as you think you do about politics; to accept the mentoring that the long-time activists can provide; and to roll-up your sleeves, and not just talk tough, but engage in the long, thankless volunteer hours and work that will be needed to fix this country and our communities.
Negative campaigning works to create interest in a race, but the results are unpredictable.
My goodness there was a lot of negative campaigning in this primary. If you believe the advertisements,
- we have a Lt. Governor who is afraid of his own shadow and would expand Obamacare and all manner of taxes if given the chance, while his opponent in the Senate race is a Red Chinese agent supported by the Washington establishment;
- according to our candidates for district attorney, we were faced with the stark choice between a naïve, but mean incompetent who would tolerate a drunk driver at every stop light, and an over-zealous crime buster who would incarcerate every Houstonian below the age of 25 (and being Texans, we of course chose the latter);
- in one state senate race, literally millions of dollars were spent by outside groups to convince the voters that the two leading candidates were demons who would destroy life along the Gulf Coast as we know it, when the real issue was a legitimate discussion over the future effect of new rules governing windstorm insurance coverage and claims;
- in one Congressional race, one candidate made the run-off with signs asking voters to “re-elect” him when he had never held that office and not held elective office for more than a decade, and by sending a mailer that looked like a newspaper with a headline claiming one of his main opponents was a liberal who had dropped out of the race;
- depending on which mailer or website you believed, Texans for Lawsuit Reform had saved Texas and the American way of life, or it was a loose conspiracy of rich home builders devoted to deprive Texans of their God-given right to sue those men for faulty home construction; and
- across many local and statewide races, we were told that various candidates that we have come to know and trust over the years were actually deeply corrupt individuals, either in their personal, their professional, or their public lives.
- And these were friends and allies talking about other friends and allies, for whom we are supposed to unite and support in the fall.
- Now add into this mix, a loquacious state senator
- who told people he would stay neutral in races, only to then appear in radio advertisements on the station he owns making endorsements in those same races; and
- who couldn’t help himself but to seek attention by elevating little-known cocktail-party gossip among the Austin political class into a statewide email feud that played out over the Internet for days,
and is it any wonder that our local party is so dysfunctional on so many levels? … and I’m not even addressing some of the stories I’ve heard from other counties in the area.
But this year, some of the negative advertising in some of the races didn’t work. In at least one local race for the Texas House, a challenger self-financed over $500,000 to pay for a very negative advertising campaign against a universally well-respected incumbent. The negative advertisements and websites not only specifically referenced and denigrated the incumbent, but also other private individuals, private businesses, and at least one local governmental agency. Thankfully, the tactic backfired with the voters, and the challenger ended-up receiving less than 40% of the vote. Let’s hope this result sends a message to others to reign-in the urge to resort to this type of self-destructive behavior.
Life is short, so participate as if you won’t have a second chance to make a difference.
Just when we thought nothing else could be as weird and painful as this extended primary season, we learned on June 1st of the passing of Representative Ken Legler. I can’t even begin to explain how sad this news was. I got to know Ken when we were both running in the Republican primary of 2008, and we remained in close contact ever since. Ken had a smile and a positive attitude that was disarming in this day and time, and he was a true political ally when you most needed him. Although Ken was not running for re-election because of re-districting, he remained active and many of us believed we would see him again in another race soon.
This episode is another reminder that the life we’ve been given is too short to ever waste on the petty things that we often focus on in politics. Ken is a reminder to me that we have work to do—with our families, our communities, and our country—and that we have to participate in that work to the fullest extent possible, and try to help accomplish today what we can accomplish, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
Courage, coupled with good timing, can make a real difference.
I think Jerry Patterson gets the political courage award for this season for his public stand in favor of the new immigration plank in the 2012 Texas GOP platform. Had he not come forward on the floor of the convention with a very clear argument in favor of the new plank, I don’t think it would have passed. As for the merits of the new plank, I think it is a step in the right direction, but is still a work in progress. The biggest issue left to be resolved by this new “Texas Solution” is how those who came here illegally can participate in any new worker visa program—will they have to go home first and get in line, or can they apply while still here? The answer to that question will determine whether this new plank offers a fresh new approach that Republicans can accept, or whether it will be perceived as a new form of unacceptable amnesty.
But, for now, Jerry Patterson deserves credit for spending his political capital on this effort.
We have a lot of work to do in the future to improve the party and the local primary, but for now it will soon be time to unite.
What I take from all that has transpired over the last two months is that we have a lot of work to do. First, we have to shift out of primary gear and into general election gear as quickly as possible. This means that we have to stop dwelling on and re-opening wounds that were created by this primary, and let them heal—and that goes for all of the outside interest groups as well as the candidates. Don’t gloat, and don’t continue to bash those who lost—shake hands and let’s get on with the hard work of winning in November.
Second, we need to find ways to work together through our different clubs and organizations, to help the Victory 2012 effort to identify and mobilize conservative voters this fall, as well as to supplement the resources of a local party that still suffers from poor finances, management and organization.
Third, when the dust settles in November, we have a lot of work to do to address the dysfunction in our party and its primaries before we are inundated with the multitude of candidates that will be involved in the statewide and local races of 2014.
For myself, I plan to focus on two things after November: creating a level playing field for our primaries in Harris County in the future; and helping to find a comprehensive answer to the structural and financial problems facing our educational system in our communities and across this state. Until then, the focus must be on uniting and mobilizing for victory this fall.