Last night's Harris County Republican Party Executive Committee meeting was... interesting. As I wrote on HTPS this week, there were rumors of several resolutions being offered, and those were the talk of the meeting. There's no way to know what motivated people, but attendance was the highest I can recall, both among precinct chairs, candidates, and visitors.
One highlight of unity before getting into the conflict: the Local Government Committee's report contained a resolution opposing the Houston Feeding Ordinance, which passed the committee unanimously, and which was adopted by the executive committee with their report. So HCRP's MEMBERSHIP is on record as opposing the attempt to control efforts to feed the homeless in Houston. The Local Government committee deserves props for making this issue part of their report, and the membership should be pleased to know that the resolution will be brought before Houston City Council today. A lot of the time resolutions passed in these meetings don't appear to matter much, but this one does; it carries official weight of the party in opposing a bad ordinance. That's all to the good. Kudos, people; well done.
And what of the other resolutions?
Randy Kubosh offered the resolution to ask for a monthly financial accounting, which was ruled out of order, since it would involve a bylaws change. Changes to the bylaws require some notice ahead of the meeting, and thus this resolution truly was out of order. Bylaws changes are proposed through the Rules Committee, which operates with a natural (and understandable) reluctance to propose a lot of changes to the bylaws. That said, a member who wanted to increase reporting, or make changes to the accountability requirements would have to navigate Rules committee meetings, hope that the committee approved the changes, wait for the Rules committee to notify the membership of a proposed change with proper notice, and then wait for the meeting at which there was enough of a quorum in order to vote on a change to the bylaws.
It's a little maddening, sure. A lot depends on the members of the Rules committee, and whether they judge the change to be acceptable. But making bylaws difficult to amend is purposeful - it ensures deliberation before changing rules or procedures that are already in place
- so members have proper notice of structural changes to their organization
- so that everyone knows ahead of time what is being proposed
- so membership has time to digest the effect of the proposed change
Still, proposing some financial accountability on the floor of the Executive Committee meeting is one way to begin building support, but the members calling for this kind of accountability next need to begin drafting changes to bylaws and circulating them among the membership. If the Rules committee sees a very large and passionate portion of the membership supporting this move, they will have a difficult time ignoring it. Petitions from the precinct chairs, anyone?
In response to the news that the party would be charging candidates to speak at the upcoming April 21st convention, Ed Hubbard and other activists in the county challenged "the way we've always done things" and called for the leadership to request donations from those in attendance instead. Ed went so far as to start a pledge drive to prove that the grassroots would indeed step up to the challenge and pay for the event. A resolution to that effect was offered last night as well. Most opponents felt that charging candidates from between $500 and $5,000 to speak was certainly a practice that should be stopped.
The short story is that, though there was no way to mandate that the party charge individuals an admission fee, the final amended resolution threw the issue back to the Advisory Committee (made up of the county's Senate District chairs) and scrapped the candidate fees. Though Chairman Woodfill complained about it to the Chronicle, Hubbard's thinking here is sound:
- since the candidate-funding model began, there has been an influx of new precinct chairs
- those new chairs and activists are still learning how the party operates
- many have been brought to the party through tea party and grassroots efforts
- many have ties to low-budget, grassroots candidates who would be at a disadvantage using the candidate-funding model
All that is important, because the arguments last night from those who wanted to keep the model were along these lines:
- we've done it for a long time now, what's new?
- this is a political stunt
- candidates ASKED for this back in the '90s
- candidates benefit most, why not have them pay?
- tea parties charge candidates, why not the party?
You already know what I think of "We've always done it" thinking. And as for a political stunt? Is there any time that this resolution could be offered when leadership or its cronies would NOT say that? Any hint of criticism of the leadership seems to bring out the same sad cast of characters, blustering and arguing that "the critics never do anything to help" and similar arguments. As one who has seen over the past several years how very MANY of these critics of the party leadership have given their time and effort to work with and for the party, I'm disgusted with those old lines.
If candidates indeed asked for this model back in the '90s, it would seem even then that forces in the party were hoping to keep low-budget (read: not backed by big money) candidates from reaching that audience. No need to have an opportunity to critically assess EACH candidate, just the ones who can afford it. Sure candidates, benefit, but so do the attendees, and shutting some out for not having a fat checkbook effectively favors candidates in an election, and should stop.
And the tea party charge? Tea parties have charged for tables and booths, just as any other exhibitors would do. What they have not been known to do is charge candidates to become part of a speaker roster. If anything, tea party has given candidates more exposure, for less money, than any political party so ill-funded has been able to do.
This resolution was debated furiously; at one time opponents of the resolution attempted to table it into irrelevance, which the body refused to do. It finally passed, and we will know soon what model will take its place.
Before the resolution to rebuke Gary Polland for his support of Mayor Parker in his Texas Conservative Review could be offered, a hasty motion to adjourn (well after normal meeting adjournment times, to be fair) was made, seconded, and passed. It's no wonder EC members were weary after the prior measures, and were ready to go home. It seems that resolution will have to be brought up in a future meeting; however timing was important on this item. Polland's endorsements will be going out during this primary season, and the EC lost an opportunity to let him, and primary voters who receive his newsletter, know that he has lost credibility in Harris County.
We'll see what happens at convention, in the primary, and at the next EC meeting. Change is slow, people, but sometimes it does come.