|2008 Harris County Election Review|
By: Jared Woodfill
Chairman, Harris County Republican Party
Dear Harris County Republicans,
Going into the November election cycle, the pundits had written our political obituary, predicting a Democratic sweep in Harris County. A prediction that did not become a reality. However, it was a challenging year for Republicans across the nation and in Harris County. Yet, despite the Obama wave, we were able to retain all statewide offices, three of the six non judicial countywide races, including the top post in county government - county judge, as well as the district attorney's office, and the tax assessor-collector. We held seven appellate/district court benches, but, unfortunately, we lost some very talented Republican judges. We had some setbacks, but if we learn from the process, a setback is just a set up for a comeback. We must now ask ourselves, "What lessons did we learn from the 2008 election cycle, and what do we need to do to be successful in 2010?"
Organized and Energized
In order for a local party to be successful, two things must occur; the party's base of core voters must be organized and energized. The organization comes from the party and the respective campaigns working together to register voters and get them out to vote. This is the blocking and tackling of politics. The energy, however, comes from our elected officials and the policies they pursue in their respective positions. Both elements are necessary for success at the ballot box.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard some people comment on the HCRP’s efforts during the last election cycle. Some of the information was grossly inaccurate. As many recall, we began writing our 2008 campaign plan the day after the 2006 election. The plan had a voter registration and get out the vote (“GOTV”) program that was more aggressive and proactive than any election program the HCRP has ever employed. The voter registration, voter identification and GOTV programs included the following: Adopt a Pct. program (grassroots effort focused on education, ID and GOTV at the Pct. level. Hundreds of precincts were adopted.); Over 30,000 Voter Registration mailers sent to Harris County new movers; Over 100,000 live and automated calls to new movers list; 75,000 Voter Registration door hangers distributed; Victory/HCRP program to distribute over 100,000 applications to vote by mail to Republicans 65 and older; Made chase calls to the 100,000 file urging voters to send in application to vote by mail; Four Victory Centers were opened (phone banks as well as sign/literature distribution centers); Managed $1.6 million Joint Judicial campaign (TV, Radio, direct mail including two Spanish only mail pieces, phones, Early and Election Day coverage at the polls)(See below); 100,000 Support our Judges door hangers distributed; organized and distributed literature at 20 early voting locations; distributed over 10,000 McCain/Palin yard signs; Placed Make History, Vote Republican Palin billboards; Significant automated calling including calls to Independents, Republicans, Spanish and Asian language phoning; Over 100 e-blast to voters; Distributed 150,000 Vote Republican door hangers through multiple organized block walks. The GOTV effort began after the voter registration deadline, continued through early voting and culminated in a final push during the last seventy-two hours and through election day.
In 2008, over 1000 Harris County Republicans participated in our grass roots efforts, working phone banks at our four Victory Centers, participating in our get out the vote walks, stuffing envelops and doing all the important tasks that are necessary for victory. Our four Victory Centers were located on the Northwest, South, West and East sides of Harris County. Our south side headquarters was instrumental in sending Pete Olson to Congress from Congressional District 22. A special thanks to Lillian Norman Keeney for all her hard work. Lillian began running the southside headquarters in early July. As a result of her efforts and all the volunteers in the southside office, we turned out a record number of Republican voters in the Harris County portion of Congressional District 22.
Over the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to work with numerous Texas Victory Campaigns (“Victory”). For those not familiar with the program, Victory is the statewide effort to elect Republicans. This year’s Victory Chairman, Roger Williams, was amazing. From a fund raising perspective, Victory was able to raise more money than any Victory effort I have seen. Additionally, Chairman Williams was tireless in his efforts, stumping around the state for our ticket. Each of us owes Chairman Roger Williams a great debt of gratitude for his hard work.
The Republican Party of Texas was very helpful in implementing our plan in Harris County. Specifically, Chairman Benkiser and ED, Eric Opeala, played an integral part in our efforts.
Organization is only one part of the victory formula. You can organize all day long, but if your base is not energized, victory will not follow. The question is: How do you energize the Republican base? The answer is simple: stick to the principles that got you elected! Don't forget the conservative Republican values of limited government, lower taxes, strong national defense, sanctity of life and pro family policies.
Unfortunately, some recent policies have not energized our base. Out of control governmental spending, i.e., earmarks, new taxes, a failure to pass photo identification, inability to pass appraisal caps, and ethical lapses have left some of the base of our party less than enthusiastic. If we are going to be successful in 2010, Republicans must energize the base by getting back to those principles that brought us to the majority. It's not too late. The 2009 legislative session must include priorities that ignite a grass roots Republican wildfire that will burn all the way into the 2010 election cycle.
We must control spending, eliminate unnecessary taxes, pass photo identification, pass meaningful ethics reform, and be good stewards of the environment. This is just a partial list, but the point is that our elected officials must have their finger on the pulse of the base, the same base that is willing to roll up their sleeves on a hot, humid Houston summer and walk the blocks of their neighborhoods in an effort to register voters and promote Republican candidates.
We need to remember the lessons of the past. Going into the 2003 legislative session, Texas faced a budget shortfall, and there was pressure being placed on Republicans to create a state income tax. Republicans rejected the liberal mindset and balanced the budget without raising taxes and, instead, cut spending. They were pilloried in the press. However, their bold commitment to conservative principles energized the Republican base and resulted in a historic victory in 2004 with Republicans sweeping Harris County. In fact, it was the first time in the history of Harris County that there were more straight ticket Republican votes than Democratic votes in a presidential election. The 2009 Republican legislators must adopt this same conservative mindset if we expect to be successful in 2010.
We must grow our base. How do we do that? First, we stick to the principles described above. Second, we must attract new voters. We must grow in communities that have not traditionally voted Republican. This means reaching out to the fastest growing minority community in the country, Hispanics. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Dorothy Olmos, for the first time in Harris County, we have a permanent Republican headquarters on the Eastside of town. This office will provide services to the Hispanic community. Next month this office will feature a series of seminars that assist individuals who want to start small businesses. The courses will take place at the office and be taught by successful business people. Throughout the year the Republican Party will become more involved in the Hispanic community, partnering with Hispanic leaders and organizations like the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA) in an effort to grow our party. Additionally, we will continue our partnership with J.R. Harris Elementary School and other institutions of learning, working to provide educational opportunities for our future leaders.
Hispanic values are Republican values and Republican values are Hispanic values. However, for too long, we have failed to communicate our winning message to the Hispanic community. As a party, we must embrace the Hispanic community. I am convinced that people don't care what you have to say until they know you care. Investing our time and energy to provide opportunity to this community will demonstrate that we do care. We must be a part of the Hispanic community if we expect to be the majority party in the future. We must elect conservative Hispanic leaders who will take our Republican values into the community and defeat the Democrat machine that perpetuates the lie that Republicans are only for the rich.
Neither can we give up on securing votes in the African-American community. We must work with our friends in the Texas Federation of Black Republicans and other organizations that represent the African-American community. We must recruit precinct chairs in areas that are predominantly African-American. The precinct chair serves as the building block for the Republican infrastructure within the precinct. We must establish this infrastructure in all communities. We will continue to aggressively pursue filling these positions. We have made some progress in this area, but we have more work to do.
Finally, in an effort to continue growing and organizing our grass-roots base, we are hiring a full time grass-roots coordinator. This person will assist in organizing and training our grass-roots leaders. Additionally, we will begin a series of retraining programs in an effort to further organize the precincts. This includes appointing a vice-chair and other lieutenants to assist the elected precinct chair. This will help deepen the Republican infrastructure in the precinct. Among other things, the precinct leaders will be asked to host coffees and participate in a voter identification/contact program that begins in early 2009.
Ethics in Government
In late 2007, we were faced with a district attorney who violated the trust the people had placed in him. Facing an impending January 3rd filing deadline, we decided to act and act quickly, calling on the DA to resign. The DA stepped down, paving the way for a new nominee, Judge Pat Lykos. As most know, Judge Lykos went on to win in November and will take the helm at the District Attorney's Office in January.
Unfortunately, some Republican office holders like former congressman Duke Cunningham have made the news for all the wrong reasons. The constant news stories continued to tarnish the Republican brand in Harris County. What has become abundantly clear is that legislative changes that will permit ethics reform at all levels is needed. Judge Ed Emmett created an advisory panel that has proposed ethics reform that must be dealt with during the next legislative session. Your HCRP created a committee led by Mike Riddle and Robert Talton that has also proposed legislative changes. We will work with Judge Emmett and our state legislators to make sure that these changes are made during the next legislative session. Until those changes are made, a good rule to follow is to avoid any conduct that has the look of impropriety, regardless of whether it may technically be legal. We must reestablish the trust the people of Harris County have placed in us.
Joint Judicial Campaign
Our 2008 joint judicial campaign was the largest and most organized in the history of the Harris County Republican Party. Thanks to the tireless effort of our Executive Director, Jeff Yates, the program had a $1.6 million dollar budget, consisting of an $815,000 television budget and 1.6 million pieces of mail (10 individual mail pieces, two of which focused on the Hispanic community). In a year when the Republican brand was struggling in Harris County and across the country, it was necessary to rebuild the brand by focusing on the accomplishments of our Republican judges. Polling indicated that independent voters were receptive to our tough on crime reduction and frivolous lawsuits messages. The mail and television campaign began a month before the election and all campaign ads were vetted and approved by a committee of Republican judges. The judicial results were not what we had hoped for, but in a year when the Obama wave was sweeping the county and the rest of the country, five Harris County Republican judges were reelected and four out of five Republican appellate judges were reelected. But for the joint judicial campaign, I do not believe this would have happened. In fact, in Harris County our local Republican judges on average ran two percentage points ahead of Senator McCain and all statewide candidates. I want to thank our judges and Jeff Yates for all the effort they put into this program.
Harris County Victories
In an election cycle where Republicans lost several House seats nationwide, the Harris County Republican Delegation grew. Specifically, Congressman elect Pete Olson took CD 22 back from the Democrats, receiving 56% of the vote in Harris County. In an aggressive challenge by Democrats to take CD 7, the Democrat candidate spent millions only to be defeated 56% to 42% by Congressman John Culberson. Congressman Michael McCaul was also able to beat back a tough challenger with 68% of the vote in Harris County. State Senator Mike Jackson was reelected with 59% of the vote in Harris County and Ken Legler was able to recapture the seat formerly held by state Representative Robert Talton. These are just a few examples of successful Republican campaigns in Harris County.
We still have one race pending. Republican Joan Huffman is in a runoff with liberal Democrat Chris Bell. Joan needs our help. I encourage every Republican in Harris County to contact us or the Joan Huffman campaign. Early voting begins December 8th and runs through December 12th. Election Day is December 16th. Please do everything you can to make sure Joan is successful.
Every party needs money to operate. This election cycle your local party raised and spent well over $2 million. This is the most money the Harris County Republican Party has ever raised for an election cycle. I would like to offer a special thanks to our Vice Chairman, Madeline Collier, and our Political Director, Marc Cowart, for all the effort they expended in raising dollars for our party. I also want to thank our Treasurer, Larry Hicks, for volunteering his time and keeping all our books and filings in order. We are blessed to have each of you.
Establishing a Contract with Texas
In 1994, the Republican Party outlined a clear document called the "Contract with America." The contract embraced the Republican vision for the country and the next Congress. Republican congressional candidates around the country campaigned on a pledge to pass the contract. The platform paved the way for a national Republican landslide. The clear and concise vision resulted in Republican victories around the country, including Harris County. That landslide was later termed the "Republican Revolution." Fourteen years later, it is time to dust off the principles behind the contract and enter into a new pact with the people of Texas. It is time for a revival of the Republican Revolution. It is time for a "Contract with Texas."
We need to identify clear goals and legislative priorities for the next legislative session, a pact Republicans agree to keep with the people who elected them. This "Contract with Texas" should include the following items:
1. Eliminating the "Blocker Bill": The "Blocker Bill" is a rule in the state Senate that allows the minority to thwart the will of the majority. Specifically, it requires a super-majority of 2/3 to move legislation to a vote on the Senate floor. Surprisingly, the 2/3 majority is calculated through a secret card/slip that is not available to the public. If the bill overcomes the 2/3 hurdle, it will make it to the floor and be subject to a simple majority vote to pass out of the Senate. The "Blocker Bill" has resulted in the death of many good pieces of conservative legislation, including, photo identification. This rule must go if our Republican majority expects to pass conservative legislation. The minority must not dictate the agenda. If we the Republican majority allow this to happen, we could be on a quick path to the minority.
2. Eliminating the Gross Margins or "Business Tax": In 2007, The Harris County Republican Party passed a resolution opposing the business tax. Many Republican legislators in Harris County stood with us. Unfortunately, the legislation passed. We must continue our efforts to eliminate this tax. Remember, this tax is levied regardless of whether the entity makes a profit.
3. Appraisal Reform: In Harris County, Republican legislators have led this effort. The push for change began in Harris County when the KSEV radio station and the HCRP teamed up and took busses full of Republicans to Austin to testify regarding a reduction of the appraisal cap from 10% to 5% or lower. Sen. Dan Patrick and other Harris County legislators including Dwayne Bohac, Debbie Riddle and others have championed this reform and will continue to lead the way. Additionally, Gov. Perry is supportive of appraisal reform. We must get behind their efforts. Unfortunately, some Republicans from other parts of the state have not been as enthusiastic about our efforts. This must change.
4. Informed Consent Legislation "Sonogram Bill": Last session, Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Frank Corte filed legislation designed assure women are better informed regarding the decision to have an abortion. The legislation required doctors performing abortions to give the patient an ultrasound of the child and provide an explanation regarding the child's current state of development prior to performing the abortion. The legislation included a provision that stated that the patient is not required to view the ultrasound against her will or in the case of medical emergencies. The legislation ensured that women electing to have the procedure are fully informed about the consequences of the procedure. I am not aware of any other medical procedure where the patient is denied relevant medical information. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass. We must make sure the legislation become law. Gov. Perry, Lieutenant Gov. Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick have worked to pass some good conservative legislation involving abortion, i.e., parental notification, parental consent, etc.. However, there is additional legislation that needs to be passed, including the informed consent legislation.
5. Reduce State Spending: No further explanation necessary.
6. Photo Identification: One person one vote. We must protect the integrity of the voting booth. Photo identification is required to drive a car, get on an airplane, write a check, etc. There is absolutely no good reason not to have one when you go to vote. In 2007, the photo identification legislation passed the Texas House but died in the Texas Senate. Specifically, the eleven member Democratic minority used the "Blocker Bill" to thwart the will of the majority. Democrats argue that the bill would prevent the elderly from voting because they don’t have photo identification. What they don’t tell you is that the voter photo ID bill provided free photo identification to individuals who could not afford it and had a provision for alternative forms of identification, including copies of bank statements and utility bills. Hopefully, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming a voter identification law in Indiana will inspire our legislators to pass the voter photo identification law.
Though this list does not include every important piece of legislation that will be dealt with in 2009; it is a good start. Let’s get moving!
As a party, we cannot live on past victories; however, we should never forget those principles that brought us to the majority, limited government, lower taxes, faith based values, respect for human life. After suffering some losses, there will be Republicans who say we need to compromise on these principles, surrender some of our values. They will argue that we need to loosen our stance on abortion, unloosen the purse strings on government spending, invite government back into areas where it has no business being. This is the path to the permanent minority. My friend George Strake said it best when he told me that politics is not the art of compromise, it is sticking to your principles and getting 50% of the people to agree with you. Stick to your principles. Greater days are yet to come and greater things are still to be done. Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't surrender. Victory is ours if we do not grow faint in well doing.
Thank you for all you do for the Harris County Republican Party. I look forward to working with you towards victory.
Chairman, Harris County Republican Party
Harris County Republican Party
3311 Richmond, Suite 218
Houston, TX 77098
713-838-7900 - FAX 713-838-7901