Chairman's Update: March 2011
There is an old saying that March comes in like a lion but goes out like a lamb - but in the case of the Republican Party of Texas, March came in like a lion but went out like a herd of roaring elephants! The first week of March was spent organizing our annual Republican Party of Texas dinner, which we had to put together on relatively short notice. I am glad that we decided to go ahead with it as it was a huge success, raising $198,400. All but one of our statewide office holders were in attendance along with seven State Senators and 60 State Representatives (please see our previous report for a full recap). The end of the month was focused on preparing for our first quarterly SREC meeting (please see full SREC Recap below). In between, the Party focused on its legislative agenda and during the month of March we saw both the House and the Senate pass our key legislative priority of voter ID legislation. The Party submitted written testimony on behalf of the bill, sent out legislative updates to the grassroots, and encouraged our base to contact their legislators and make their voice heard on the issue. Also in March, the House passed its version of the sonogram bill, which was another legislative priority for the RPT.
March was also busy because the RPT faced the deadline of March 31st to come to terms with the Fort Worth Convention Bureau and Fort Worth hotels on exact contract language for the 2012 and 2014 state conventions, which the SREC had awarded to Fort Worth in 2005. The convention committee headed up by Hal Talton, had its work cut out for it as there were numerous contracts to review, issues regarding space to resolve, facilities issues and rates to negotiate - all which had to be accomplished by the end of the month. Hal tasked Tom Washington, our RPT assistant treasurer, with reviewing and negotiating with the hotels and making recommendations. Tom and Executive Director Jesse Lewis traveled to Fort Worth to discuss the convention-related issues with representatives of the hotels and the convention bureau. Tom Washington has spent countless hours overseeing this project, for which I am very grateful, as he saved me valuable time, allowing me to focus on the fundraiser, legislation, and preparations for the SREC meeting. He did an excellent job! SREC member Neal Katz also spent many hours determining the Party's space needs and deciding how to configure the convention center so as to accommodate an increased number of delegates and alternates. When the Convention was awarded there were approximately 6,000 delegates and 6,000 alternates - but in 2012, there will be 9,000 delegate spots and 9,000 alternate spots, so it presents quite a challenge to fit everyone in. Neal came up with practical solutions to accommodate the larger number of expected attendees. SREC member Becky Berger volunteered time to investigate different companies who could stage and manage the production of the convention. With their help, we were able to present all these issues to the SREC and the Officials Committee, who approved convention contracts for 2012 and 2014 for Fort Worth. (please see the more detailed report on the Convention below).
As usual, in between our major projects I took time to hit the road to connect with our grassroots activists. During the week of March 1st, I spoke to the Llano Republican Club, attended the TFRW Boots & Belles Gala at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, and spoke the next day at the TFRW convention luncheon before approximately 900 Republican women. I also attended the Associated Republicans of Texas Independence Day Dinner on March 4th, which featured Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. I am told that I am the first RPT state chairman to regularly attend ART events. I feel we have established a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between the two organizations. The following day I traveled to Giddings to be the featured speaker at their Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner.
The following week I spoke to a TFRW club at Dave & Buster's in Austin, conducted a statewide telephone conference with state party leaders in conjunction with Senator John Cornyn, traveled to Fort Bend County to speak to the West Fort Bend Republican Women's Club, and then went on to Houston to attend an event for Senator Cornyn. Also that week, I made several trips to the Capitol to visit with Republican leadership, and I had the opportunity to visit with, among others, State Senator Dan Patrick, State Senator Robert Duncan, State Representative Aaron Peña, and Representative Allan Ritter, as well as the staffs of the Speaker and Lt. Governor. Comptroller Susan Combs also came by that week. She has made a practice of checking in with the Party on a regular basis and continues to provide thoughtful advice for our continued success. That Saturday I traveled north to Wichita County and keynoted the Wichita GOP Lincoln-Reagan BBQ at the invitation of county chairman Tom McCorkill. After the BBQ, I attended a meeting of Wichita Falls leaders arranged by State Senator Craig Estes that evening.
The week after was spent mainly at the Capitol in preparation for the upcoming SREC meetings. I had the opportunity while at the Capitol to observe National Committeewoman Borah Van Dormolen be honored on the House floor by the Texas House of Representatives for her service to veteran's groups. That week I also attended the Harris County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner as a guest of Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill. It was a successful evening as they had a large and enthusiastic crowd. I had a chance to meet and listen to their featured speaker, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. It was the first time that I had seen him live and I must say that I was very impressed.
The following week was devoted to preparing not only for the SREC meeting that weekend but also for our SREC Day on Thursday, March 24th. However, I was also able to work in my attendance at a statewide conference of Latino Republican leaders.
At the end of the week I joined numerous SREC members at our SREC Day. This event was spearheaded by SREC members Jason Moore and Russ Duerstine, and it was a great success (please see full SREC report below). Likewise, we had a series of productive SREC committee meetings the following day, Friday and another productive full SREC meeting on Saturday. I am very pleased that the SREC continues to maintain a cooperative spirit and that any disagreements have been resolved amicably. I believe the SREC has demonstrated through its first three meetings under my chairmanship that they have the ability to unite behind the common goal of taking back our country and winning the White House next year (please see SREC report below for full details).
During the final week of March I met with members of the Houston Pachyderm Club, of which I am a member. The Honorable Martha Wong, a former State Representative and my good friend, organized a legislative day at the Capitol for the group and stopped by our headquarters for a tour and visit. I spent the last day of March doing something a little different - I was invited by Sam Houston University to participate in its "Let's Talk" fundraising dinner, which consisted of having people from different backgrounds, organizations, and walks of life lead table discussions.
Organizationally, our new Organizational Director Beth Cubriel got her feet wet putting on her first SREC meeting and has hit the ground running - updating our organizational lists and compiling new ones. She is also beginning to work on plans to organize campaign schools. Our Communications Director Chris Elam has been working on a completely new website format, which will feature a much easier navigational format, true event calendars, news components, and a clean, updated look for our Party's online presence. Keri Mason, our new Finance Director, has initiated a project to update the Party's databases so as to merge all of our lists into a centralized format that will allow our staff to more quickly access and update our internal database. Already she and Chris have added an additional 11,000 names and e-mail addresses to our database, and we expect to be adding many thousands shortly. Keri has also been working to develop an overall fundraising program for the Party, which includes a multi-tiered donor approach, more prescribed benefits for donors, and increased communication with our donor network. Austen Bailey, our youth director, has worked with high school students at several campuses in the Houston area to establish a new Teenage Republican statewide organization. So far he has been in contact with students or new members at half a dozen high schools. Travis Griffin, our political director, has been preparing regular updates on our priority legislation as it moves through the Legislature. He is also in constant communication with Republican office holders regarding the Party's position on legislation, and he does a great job keeping me and our party leaders fully informed about our key legislation.
On the financial front, we continue to pay all of our bills, owing zero at the end of every month, and to maintain significant cash balances (please see full report of finances in SREC report below).
The next two months are critical for our Party as the 82nd legislative session winds down. Tough choices will need to be made regarding the state budget, and our legislative priority items will be coming up for final votes after committee conferences. I feel it is crucial for our Party's success in next year's elections that we end the legislative session as strongly as we began. It is imperative that the Party pass all of our legislative priority items - voter ID, the sonogram bill, reduced spending, no raising of taxes and an end to sanctuary cities. I plan to devote the majority of my time and the Party's resources to these efforts, and I am confident that we will succeed!
SREC Day at the Capitol
SREC members Jason Moore and Russ Duerstine organized a very successful SREC Day at the Capitol. Its purpose was multifold - to establish good relations between elected officials and party leadership, to advise elected officials as to the Party's platform, to push our priority items (voter ID and the sonogram bill), to receive updates from elected officials, and to determine how the Party can support our officeholders.
The day started off at RPT headquarters at a breakfast hosted by Representative Larry Taylor. The group then went to the Capitol and had its first visit of the day with State Senator Dan Patrick. The SREC members then fanned out across the building to talk to their individual representatives. After that, a luncheon was arranged by State Senator Robert Duncan, who spoke to the group about judicial legislation. The SREC members then had a fruitful discussion with Speaker Joe Straus, who assured the SREC that he was moving forward with the Party's conservative agenda and answered any and all questions the group posed to him. The group also had a meeting with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who was particularly generous with his time, devoting close to two hours to discussing issues with our members. After meeting with Governor Dewhurst, the group met with State Senator Kel Seliger, who provided an update on redistricting. The SREC members in attendance were Tom Mechler, Mary Holmsley, Candy Noble, Don Zimmerman, John Cook, Becky Berger, David Thackston, James Barnes, Bonnie Lugo, Valoree Swanson, Leslie Recine, Jean McIver, Tom Washington, Russ Duerstine, Jason Moore, Rena Peden, Jane Cansino, Johnnie B. Rogers, Amy Clark, Eric Opiela, Angie King, Montie Watkins
SREC First Quarterly Meeting
The SREC meeting kicked off with a prayer breakfast led by our new Chaplain Rex Johnson. Reverend Johnson is the Pastor at Austin's Christian Life Church. He was appointed for the 2011 calendar year by Chairman Munisteri to replace outgoing Chaplain Bob Long. Following the prayer meeting, breakfast was sponsored by Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who provided breakfast tacos and coffee for the committee. Mayor Leppert was in attendance at our meeting and made himself available to speak with members about his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The first order of the day was the Chairman's Report. Chairman Munisteri announced that the theme of the meeting would be a discussion of the 2012-2014 Convention site and proposed contracts. Prior to discussing the Convention, Chairman Munisteri outlined the general financial condition of the Party. He noted that all bills continue to be paid on a current basis and all debt is brought to zero every month. He first reviewed the Party's financial condition as of the last meeting, at which time there was $750,000 cash on hand in all accounts. As was previously predicted at the December meeting, the Party's cash balance decreased over the holiday season but never fell below $600,000. The previous goal was to keep the Party's balance above $500,000 at the end of the year, so this goal was met. Munisteri also reported that due to the very successful annual dinner the Party's total bank accounts swelled to approximately $909,000, with no debt at the time of the March meeting. Of the $909,000, approximately $49,000 of the funds are in accounts where the money is reserved for specific purposes and $100,000 is in the Party's "Rainy Day Fund." The Chairman also reported that the Grassroots Club had approximately doubled in size from the last meeting from a little over 200 members to a little over 400, and that total Internet contributions now approximate $100,000 a year, which represents about 8% of the money needed for our base budget. These numbers represent a significant grassroots contribution to meeting the Party's annual budget, but at the same time this number needs to rise significantly in order for the Party not to be dependent on large donors. The Chairman also cautioned that it will be impossible to maintain the current rate of fundraising success and that he believes we will probably have to draw down several hundred thousand dollars of cash during the summer months because of the difficulty of raising money during the vacation period. He stated that it was his goal to come out of the summer with at least $500,000 cash on hand and no debt. As a result of the anticipated downturn in fundraising over the summer, he cautioned against spending too much of the existing cash and stated his preference that the Party be conservative in its budgeting.
Vice-Chairman Melinda Fredricks gave an inspiring talk designed to help our SREC stay mindful of their leadership role in our state. To that end she recommended several books to the committee including the books Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud and Grant by Jean Edward Smith. The Vice-Chairman also spoke about the importance of having heroes to look to as leaders - her own favorite hero is Sam Houston, who did so many great things for Texas and this country, despite being a man with deep flaws. She concluded her remarks by encouraging SREC members to seek out ways to inspire others in this next quarter, and to hold regular Senatorial District meetings back home.
The next two hours were primarily taken up with a report from the Convention Committee; it included presentations by various vendors and representatives of the Fort Worth Convention Bureau and a video presentation by the Omni Hotel. Tom Washington went over the contracts. In an effort to ensure total transparency, the Chairman had instructed that copies of all convention contracts be given to all SREC members prior to the Officials Committee's voting on the contracts several days later. Tom Washington recommended approval of the contracts subject to some minor terms being re-negotiated.
Neal Katz presented a slide show that not only outlined the Party's space needs but also suggested a configuration for the setup and meeting space at the Convention Center. He indicated that we could accommodate approximately 12,500 of the delegates and alternates in the main hall, but that if the number is in excess of that, some alternates will need to be seated in overflow rooms. However, aside from that issue, it was his belief that we could make Fort Worth work - although it might be tight. Janet Jackson of SD 24 also made a presentation about the different ideas for "pizazz" and excitement that the committee will work on and bring to the 2012 state convention.
Comptroller Susan Combs came and addressed the SREC and spoke first about her commitment to help the RPT get ahead of the 2012 elections by working to find money to support activities for the party's efforts next year. She began by talking about this current biennium's budget and how its problems are being solved. She told us about the communication that existed between her office, Governor Perry's and Lt. Governor Dewhurst's offices and how they worked together to minimize the need to use "Rainy Day" funds to make up the budget shortfall. In her remarks she also addressed the need for the Legislature to prepare for the 2013 budget discussions now and to start reviewing tax policy, specifically the business tax, which has underperformed. At lunch all of the auxiliaries gave their reports, and Attorney General Greg Abbott spoke to the group about Obamacare and Texas's challenge to its implementation. General Abbott talked about how his office is working to take the preliminary steps in this fight in order to get the case to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. The goal is to have this occur during the Supreme Court's next term - with hopefully a ruling by June 2012. He is working with some of the best advocates in the country in order to put together the strongest team possible to argue this case. General Abbott feels very confident about our position on this issue and our chances before the court. He also spoke about our state's fight with the EPA and the lawsuits Texas has filed challenging the overreaching regulations that agency has handed down. He pointed out that over the past decade Texas was No. #1 in the country in reducing ozone - more than any other state. These changes were made while creating new jobs and without federal mandates. Finally, he addressed our border security needs and the efforts Texas is making to secure our border and to find real solutions to the problem - namely, boots on the ground and improved technology. After his speech the Chairman presented Attorney General Abbott with his Chairman's Circle Award for having pledged $25,000 to the Party, of which $15,000 has already been received.
Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams spoke and thanked the SREC for the opportunity to have worked during his 12-year tenure as Railroad Chairman with so many great Republican leaders in the room. He reminisced about being General Counsel to the Party in 1995-1999, the RPT platform chairman in 1998, and the convention chairman in 2000. He was very warmly received.
In the afternoon, National Committeewoman Borah Van Dormolen presented her report, noting that she had had the opportunity to testify before the Senate State Affairs Committee on the MOVE Act, which makes sure that our military and their spouses and voting-age children have an opportunity to participate in our elections. Borah spoke strongly in support of moving the Texas primary election back to the first Tuesday in April in order to help fulfill our duty to our troops. She then announced that the RNC State Chairman's meeting will be held in Dallas on May 17-18 and that she is working to make that meeting a memorable one for the RNC members. Borah also spoke of the great effort that Texas volunteers put forth in helping to make phone calls on behalf of a Republican state senate candidate in Louisiana, and how the work by Texans made the difference for this candidate's victory! National Committeeman Bill Crocker normally would have also given his report; however, since he was appointed General Counsel of the Republican National Committee and had to attend an Executive Committee meeting in Washington, DC, he could not be present. It should be noted that upon his return, he provided a full briefing to Borah Van Dormolen and Chairman Munisteri.
Several resolutions were presented to the SREC - a resolution that would move the primary election date from March to April was unanimously approved. The primary date needs to be moved in order for the state to comply with the federal MOVE Act as well as with RNC rules. A resolution in support of a process to remove a county chairman was defeated, although there was significant support on both sides of the issue. Likewise, a resolution urging the Legislature to allow state parties to decide if they would have a male/female requirement for Chair and Vice Chair was defeated. A resolution by David Bellow relative to posting the platform with more notice before a vote was passed. Also passed were two resolutions urging the State Senate to confirm Governor Perry's nominations of Gail Lowe for SBOE and John Bradley for the Forensic Science Commission. A resolution honoring Chaplain Bob Long for his service to the SREC passed, and he received a beautiful award for his service. Also, awards were handed out to past CRC Chairman Steve Findley for his service leading that committee, and to our past Organizational Director, Jenny Sykes, honoring her six years of service at the RPT.
The next meeting of the SREC is scheduled for June 2011.
Fort Worth Selected as 2012 Convention site
As a follow-up to the decision of the Officials Committee, the RPT announces that the 2012 Republican Party of Texas State Convention will be held on June 7-9, 2012, at the Fort Worth Convention Center, with the adjacent Omni Hotel serving as the main convention hotel. Further details and announcements will be upcoming!