Chairman's Update: May 2011 / SREC Report
The month of May was a sprint to the finish at the Texas Legislature as well as at the RPT. The focus of my time and that of the RPT staff was on ensuring that the RPT priority legislative items were passed. Our priority items going into the legislative session, as determined by a poll of SREC and County Chairs, was the passage of a sonogram bill, strong voter id bill, sanctuary city legislation, redistricting, not raising taxes and significantly reducing spending. We also added to our legislative agenda as a result of a unanimous vote of the SREC, a bill which would move the March primary to April. I am happy to report that the two highest priority bills - the sonogram bill and the Voter ID bill - both passed during regular session. The House passed the sanctuary city bill and a budget which: significantly reduced spending by 8.1%, did not raise taxes or fees and did not raid the Rainy Day Fund for the next biennium.
In addition to our priority items, the House also passed these significant pieces of legislation which benefit Texas and are consistent with the Republican Party platform.
Our Republican state senators were prepared to pass the budget but were blocked from doing so by Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who engaged in a "filibuster". Since the Republican Party has a majority in both the Senate and the House, her tactics were mere theater and in the end, the tactic backfired on the Democratic Party. The reason her tactic backfired, is her filibuster necessitated our Governor calling a special session to complete the work that she obstructed. However, in the special session, the Senate only requires a majority vote to pass legislation as opposed to the two-thirds during the regular session. Therefore, her actions necessitating a special session allow us to re-introduce the sanctuary cities bill and address Congressional redistricting with better chances of both being enacted because now we do not need Democratic votes. The following is a rundown on key bills that have been added to the Special Session agenda.
As of the time of the writing of this report, the budget bill has been passed out of both chambers but because of differences between the two chambers, the bill will be sent to conference committee.
I am hopeful that at the end of the day, we will end up passing all the legislative priority items of the Republican Party of Texas with the exception of the April Primary bill.
In addition to spending time at the Legislature, I had the opportunity to make some trips around the state during May. During the first week of May, I traveled to the Conroe area to speak in front of the North Shore Republican Women's Club and later in the week, traveled to Washington DC to meet with national conservative leaders. I spent a majority of the second week of May in the Midland/Odessa area. I was the featured guest at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Texas held at the Midland Country Club which was sponsored by former Midland Mayor Ernie Angelo, Dick Saulsbury, Jose Cuevas, Jr., and Cadell Liedtke. The event was very successful, raising approximately $35,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
The following morning, I spoke at a breakfast of conservative business leaders in Odessa, hosted by Dick Saulsbury at the Odessa Country Club. Later in the trip I was the speaker at the Midland Republican Women's Club luncheon. Towards the end of the month, I had a meeting with our Hispanic Republican caucus members. Following that, I traveled to Dallas to speak to the Preston Women's Republican Club. During that same week, Executive Director Jesse Lewis and I traveled to Atlanta to meet with a company that specializes in event promotion to investigate their qualifications to coordinate our state convention in 2012. The last few days of May were spent preparing for the SREC meeting (please see the SREC report below which will also give you an update on the party's financial and organizational condition as of the end of May.)
Both the staff and I have now turned our attention to the special session, and with your help we will finish passing our legislative priorities and make the Democrats rue the day that their obstructionist tactics resulted in a special session.
The second quarterly meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee was held on Saturday June 4th. Committee meetings of the SREC were held the day before. The convention committee, headed by Hal Talton met to go over additional ideas for the convention. SREC member Janet Jackson has been working on ways to increase the pizzazz at the convention including multiple events such as a fundraising dinner, an event at the water park, and possibly a music concert. There has also been discussion of preliminary topics to cover during breakout sessions of the convention. Breakout sessions will be a new feature which will enable the RPT to utilize some of the convention time to provide training, education and legislative updates to convention goers. SREC member Neal Katz has been working on space issues, and reported that although the space is tight at the Fort Worth Convention Center, we can make the existing sites work. The volunteerism committee, headed up by Leslie Recine, moved forward with plans for a function honoring the Volunteers of the Year to be held on September 30th in Austin. A new Grassroots Club committee headed by SREC member James Barnes met to discuss ways to increase participation in the Grassroots Club. The Resolutions committee did not have a quorum on Friday, so no official business could be undertaken. The Organizational committee head by Amy Clark, and the Rules Committee headed by Dan Pickens, met as well.
The Saturday SREC meeting was kicked off with a voluntary prayer service led by RPT Chaplain Rex Johnson. The formal meeting kicked off with our new tradition of singing the National Anthem, led this meeting by SREC member Josh Flynn.
Chairman Munisteri used the time allotted to him to provide his Chairman's report to give an overview on the state of the party since the meeting marked the approximate halfway point through his term. He provided a general overview of the party's finances and left the specifics to be presented by the audit committee later in the session. He informed the SREC that the RPT continues to pay off all of its invoices to zero at the end of every month; however, because of FEC and accounting regulations, it is possible that there will be some months where there is a small amount of debt showing at the end of the month, even though all invoices will have been paid for the reason that invoices received after the month has ended, but carrying dates from the prior month, have to be listed as debt for the month that the invoices are dated.
The Chairman reported that as of May 31st, all invoices were paid to zero and the total cash on hand exceeded $800,000 which is more than the party had on hand at the start of the year. He cautioned that because it is difficult to raise money during the summer months, he expected that the cash balances will fall by several hundred thousand over the course of the summer but it remained his goal to end the summer with at least half a million cash on hand and no debt.
With regard to the overall health of the party, the Chairman reported that basic services are now being provided without any financial difficulty. He did note that in order for the party to expand its services or to provide additional services such as opposition research, field work, registering voters, etc., the party needs to raise funds at a higher level. He noted that the addition of a new finance director Keri Mason, was in part responsible for the healthy cash balances and was freeing up some additional time for him to administer the party and be available for appearances. He also reported that the addition of Beth Cubriel to the staff has allowed for us to renew our training programs.
The Chairman reported that our Communications Director Chris Elam has been analyzing and updating our databases. This project revealed that some 11,000 contributors over the last several years had not been added to the email lists, which has now been accomplished. In addition, Chris determined that only approximately 30% of past convention delegates and alternates have been updated to our email lists and he now has this number up to approximately 70%. Moreover, Chris and Beth have begun a project to update our databases with the names and contact information of all precinct chairs across the state. The Chairman reported that to date, approximately 2000 new precinct chairs have been added to the list.
The Chairman wrapped up his remarks by asking for input on whether or not to hold the straw poll. He released the results of the straw poll survey which indicated that D/FW would be the preference if a straw poll was held, but expressed reservations about the feasibility.
Vice-Chair Melinda Fredricks provided an inspirational message on aspects of leadership, and urged Republicans to continue a positive outlook into the next election cycle. As an illustrative point, she spoke about how it ended up being a blessing in disguise that Voter ID did not pass the Texas Legislature in 2009, as a stronger version emerged from the 2011 Legislative Session. She talked about the remarkably successful session Republicans had in 2011, although not a perfect one, and urged other SREC members to focus on all of the positive successes that emerged from the session when speaking in their districts.
Treasurer Tom Mechler and Assistant Treasurer Tom Washington provided detailed financial reports for the last quarter including an accounting of all expenses and distributions. They reported that the RPT continues to be in excellent financial health.
RNC National Committeewoman Borah Van Dormolen provided an update on the state chairman's conference held in Dallas last month and also outlined her activities that she has planned for the summer. Committeeman Bill Crocker provided his analysis of the RNC's rules as they relate to the Presidential Primary and the RPT's delegate selection process. He recommended that the party continue its efforts to push for an April primary date.
An audit committee report was presented by Marian Stanko, filling in for Audit Chairman Steve Findley who was attending his daughter's wedding. The report was prepared by an outside, independent accounting firm chosen by the audit committee. The results of the audit showed that the party's financial condition had improved significantly from the previous year. The previous year's audit had shown the RPT with a negative net worth - in contrast, the current audit revealed that the party had no significant liabilities at the end of the year and a healthy cash balance. The audit also revealed no significant irregularities or problems with the bookkeeping of the party. The Chairman advocates making the audit report public but current bylaws prohibit this. However, it is anticipated that a proposal will be made at the next meeting to allow him to do so.
The theme of this SREC meeting was an update on the current session of the Legislature. Speaker of the House Joe Straus came and provided an overview of the regular session and an update on the special session. He then answered any questions that the SREC had. His speech was followed by a legislative panel consisting of Representative Jim Keffer, Representative Dan Flynn and Representative Todd Hunter. Each representative provided their assessment of the Legislature, and answered each and every question posed to them by SREC members.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson keynoted the SREC lunch and indicated that he planned to announce his candidacy for Lt. Governor in the near future. The Auxiliaries all provided reports during lunchtime, highlighted by a report from the Texas Young Republican Federation on their recent service project in Hidalgo County in the Valley, where TYRF members from 7 clubs across Texas worked to clear street curbs and drains to reduce flood risk in preparation for hurricane season. Also at this meeting, the SREC voted to approve GOPisForMe as an official RPT auxiliary. GOPisForMe has already been partnering with RPT in events during the past few months going back into the 2010 election cycle and is committed to "building the Republican Party through Hispanic inclusion." After the auxiliaries made their reports, Representative David Simpson stopped by to address the SREC regarding his bill pertaining to TSA pat-downs.
A resolution was adopted by the SREC supporting Rep. Simpson's efforts. There was also a resolution passed to re-urge the April Primary date. A discussion was held on the straw poll, and it was moved by SREC member Josh Flynn to ask the staff to undertake a study of the issue and provide a report on the feasibility of the straw poll. An update on this issue was released yesterday, announcing that the RPT has decided not to hold a straw poll in 2011.
Solicitor General Ted Cruz also stopped by to address the SREC and he provided an update on his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Staff reports were then provided by Chris Elam, Jesse Lewis and Beth Cubriel. Chris Elam went over the new website and gave a detailed rundown of the new layout and functionality. Beth Cubriel gave an update on the Campaign Management School which was held in Austin this week. Finally, Jesse Lewis provided a status report on key bills at the legislature.
The next meeting of the SREC will be September 30 and October 1.