Tuesday night Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Chairman Steve Munisteri addressed a packed room at the SOSA center as the program speaker for United Republicans of Harris County general meeting. His presentation dwelled mostly on the state of the state party and plans going forth as elections in 2014 and 2016 are on the horizon.
I'll get the obvious out of the way first. Munisteri is to be commended for his aggressive approach to bringing the state party back from a very troubling financial state and is certainly to be applauded for his claim that for the last eleven months, RPT has maintained at least $1M in the bank after expenses. Then he said that this month will probably bring that number down a bit but still good. Under his guidance, $14M has been raised over the last three years.
Now for the other stuff. Exploring the story line of Battleground Texas, Munisteri explained that Texas has been a competitive state for Democrats all along but that the party structure has been so disorganized that the need for an outside group to come in arose. It is true that since 1994 Republicans have dominated statewide races. However, using the total number of elected offices of 5,200 in the state, until 2008 Republicans didn't overturn the majority of offices. And it is a fact that from 2000 to 2008 GOP trend lines were going down with a significant decline in the base. From 2006-2008 the state was already on the verge of turning back to Democratic control. Texas hasn't been a solidly Republican state for seven years.
The reason Munisteri decided to run for state party chairman instead of enjoying retirement was due to time spent in Iowa in 2008 and watching the Obama juggernaut up close. He came back to Houston to hear local leaders continuing on with their happy talk that Texas and Harris County is solidly red territory speaking to a group of young Republicans and knew he had to work on the narrative.
Munisteri spoke about the basics of campaigning and winning elections. He spoke about being out in communities to reach out to any and all potential voters. "The party can't just pass resolutions" but must be out int he neighborhoods.
Frankly, lots of his talk was nothing new as far as process goes. He spoke about the need for precinct chairs and for precinct organization. "We can't afford to be sleeping" but must knock on doors as Battleground Texas workers are doing now. We can't simply wait for just before elections to identify voters and ask for votes.
He spoke of the problem of winning elections - the relaxation that happens. Coasting on past success is a victory killer. Harris County is the only major urban county to go either way. He was laying the groundwork for lowering expectations as we go to 2016, if you ask me. He said he would much rather be a candidate in 2014 than in 2016. This is something the local party is continuing to deny - that past victories will continue on without real reform in strategy.
On the state level, Munisteri spoke of increased money coming from the RNC and grants that will allow him to increase paid staff and open offices - Victory Centers - around the state. These offices will be remain open, not just before an election. Emphasis will be placed on the offices opening in areas of highest need.
RPT will rent some of the Harris County Republican Party's space on Richmond Avenue as headquarters for Harris County. Is this the best idea? I'm a bit hesitant about it as in the past it seems local party leadership and state leadership have experienced friction. Will local leadership take credit for state successes out of that office at a time when local leadership needs to be replaced by new, effective leadership?
What bothered me was the poo-pooing of the money raised by Battleground Texas. While Munisteri acknowledged that the $1.1M Battleground Texas raised is not anything to be minimized, he noted that a couple of very big donors brought in the bulk of that number. So? Money is money and that is all they need to buy the necessities in an election. The small donations indicate John Doe support and Battleground Texas has that, too. At this time he then spoke about the party's Grassroots Donor program, by the way, and forms were given out for those who are not already signed up for the program - $8.25 monthly donation to the RPT guarantees you to be free of calls and mailings asking for money.
What bothered me about a question asked about women voters was the lack of any real ideas or actions that will be taken to address our loss of that demographic. The polls have been taken and Hillary Clinton beats all GOP potential candidates in 2016 in Texas if she runs for president. Yes, even Ted Cruz. It bothered me that there is some real denial going on and manifested itself by women in the room unable to realize that there will be Republican women who will vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 because she is a woman. Do you not remember the Republicans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because they wanted to be a part of supporting the first black president? It will happen again with a woman candidate.
Remember - women are 56%-57% of voters. Munisteri downplays it a bit at 53% but it is still a majority. There was no talk of reaching out to women and speaking to them on issues of importance to them and their families other than to note that Hillary Clinton didn't do so well against Obama. That is not true, either. Remember that the Democrats had to maneuver around their Super Delegate process to knock her out of the process.
Munisteri appears to be relying heavily on the newly hired paid staff to be on the ground. That is fine but it can't be an either/or action - we still need on the ground activists and voters working as strongly as ever before. Munisteri failed to deliver a clarion call to the audience to be motivated, active, work like crazy to get the results we'll need in 2014 and beyond. That was a missed opportunity. Many Republican voters need a message of motivation, not just comforting messages that everything will be alright.
I am concerned by talk that the Democrats are superior at social media (they have been) but that eventually social media will peak and no longer be so effective for them and they will have to get back to door to door, neighborhood work. The fact is that Democrats are doing both - hand in hand - and that is why they win big elections. That is what Battleground Texas is all about. They were able to come into Texas and use the data available to begin their operations.
Munisteri would do well to tout groups like True the Vote and King Street Patriots to reference winning grassroots activities. There is a new group in the Spring area - Spring Tea Party - who has grown so quickly that they now are searching for larger meeting spaces to accommodate the crowds. At the last meeting - keep in mind this is a brand new group - the crowd was over 300 on a week night at a restaurant. That group's leader was in attendance last night.
Let me end this with mention of the crowd at the meeting last night. It was a good crowd, especially for a Tuesday night at the end of July. Estimates are in the 125-150 range. It was easily the most diverse group I have seen at a basic Republican club meeting in some time. There were many young people there and women, really the whole spectrum of the Republican voting scale. I spoke to libertarians, tea party members, old school GOP, elected officials and lots of candidates, and everyone in between. I especially like the number of young activists there. The public is welcome to all general meetings. We will make you feel welcome. You are wanted and needed to join the group. Come have a cup of coffee and a cookie and listen to an important speaker. There is work to be done.
Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of United Republicans of Harris County.