Robert Morrow is gone, but peace has not returned to the Travis County GOP

Good day Austin:

(Rodolfo Gonzalez)

One might have thought that with the closing of the elevator door on the chairmanship of Robert Morrow, the Travis County Republican Party would have returned to an Edenic state of bliss.

One would be wrong.

Instead, the party is facing what right now looks like a three-person race for chairman pitting James Dickey, who preceded Morrow and was defeated by him in the March primary, David Duncan, executive vice chairman of the party and acting chairman with Morrow’s departure, and Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin political consultant, who is offering “a fresh start” for the party.

By way of background as to how we got to this point, here is my story Saturday.

Robert Morrow’s short, weird and nationally famous tenure as Travis County Republican Party chairman is over.

Unsurprisingly, the end was accompanied by a farcical moment as Morrow tried to crash Friday morning’s press conference by party officials who were eager to announce that he was out as chairman, only to be thrown out of the room.

As he was being escorted away, Morrow said he agreed that his recently launched write-in candidacy for president had, under state election law, disqualified him from continuing to serve as county party chairman.

“Their interpretation of election law is correct,” Morrow, in the colorful jester cap he’s often worn since becoming chairman at the end of June, called out in answer to a reporter’s question.

Morrow was elected chairman during the March 1 state primary, generating national headlines because of his unorthodox views on almost everything, which he tweeted with unabashed enthusiasm. It lasted scarcely two months, but Morrow’s leadership seemed an eternity for party officials who found him a perpetual embarrassment and who had been looking for some way, any way, to remove him from office.

Morrow handed officials what they wanted when he filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office a week ago to be certified as a write-in candidate for president.

Under state election law, a party chairman cannot run for public office unless it’s for another party position, and so, as soon as Morrow filed his declaration of candidacy, he was out.

David Duncan, executive vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, will serve as acting chairman until the county party’s executive committee, made up of precinct chairmen, meet to elect a permanent successor, probably on Sept. 20.

David Duncan and Robert Morrow. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez.

(David Duncan and Robert Morrow. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez.)

Hand to mouth

At the press conference, Duncan said he hasn’t yet decided whether to seek election as the chairman, but he had by then already cast aspersions on a potential rival for that position — James Dickey, the man Morrow unseated as chairman in the primary election.

“Our previous chairman left us with no money, no ability to pay staff, and we had no planned fundraiser,” Duncan said. “There are still unanswered questions about where the money was spent, but having no money, we were left with no money for a proper audit.”

Dickey, who wasn’t present, was caught off guard by Duncan’s statements.

The Travis County GOP has always been a hand-to-mouth operation, and, Dickey said, Morrow’s election had made fundraising nearly impossible. Of the meager resources at its disposal, Dickey said, “the executive committee publicly voted to donate the majority of party funds to local candidates in May.”

“David has not raised any concerns about this to me, either privately in those meetings, or in the eight weeks since he’s taken office,” said Dickey, who added that if he were persuaded that he could best do the job of chairman, “I would be willing to put my hat in the ring.”

The tent closes

If the immediate future for Travis County Republicans is a contest to replace Morrow, it promises to be less flamboyantly newsworthy than what preceded it.

Morrow offered an unusual combination of attributes. He is smart, independently wealthy, imposing in stature and willing and able to stand his ground.

He also is well-known to political reporters across the country for his steady stream of negative research on and assertions about Lyndon B. Johnson, Rick Perry, the Bush family, Bill and Hillary Clinton and, most recently, Donald Trump.

He is the co-author, with longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, of the 2015 book, “The Clintons’ War on Women,” about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s alleged treatment of the women in Bill’s life. Morrow made news by protesting Trump’s recent Austin visit with a large red sign proclaiming, “Trump is a child rapist,” referring to an anonymous lawsuit filed in New York.

Asked about his legacy as chairman, Morrow said it would be that he was a truth teller, whether the truth was about Hillary Clinton or Trump.

Asked about his presidential platform, Morrow said what he always says.

“Well, I want to promote boobyliciousness every day,” Morrow said. “I want to start having bikini contests on the South Lawn of the White House. On the Fourth of July, I want to have a wet T-shirt contest. I think this is a way to bring America together and de-escalate political tensions.”

At the close of the party’s press ;conference,spokesman Andy Hogue noted that the party had struggled mightily to keep its “tent” big enough to function as a respectable party even as Morrow did “his thing.”

“Now we are glad that he is stepping outside of our big tent,” Hogue said.

Travis County GOP members, including Chair James Dickey, right, stand and recite the pledge of allegiance Tuesday night June 7, 2016. The local party is set to officially approve a plan they have been designing to limit the fallout from Robert Morrow's election as party chairman, including numerous bylaw changes and a new entity to hold the cash and social media accounts during Morrow's rule. RALPH BARRERA

(Travis County GOP members, including Chair James Dickey, right, stand and recite the pledge of allegiance Tuesday night June 7, 2016. The local party is set to officially approve a plan they have been designing to limit the fallout from Robert Morrow’s election as party chairman, including numerous bylaw changes and a new entity to hold the cash and social media accounts during Morrow’s rule.
photo by RALPH BARRERA)

Duncan’s comments at the Friday press conference were only the opening salvo between Dickey and Duncan.

I was provided with a copy of an email that Dickey sent to Duncan – and copied to 16 other leaders of the county party –  Monday morning. (I did not receive it from Dickey, Duncan or Steinhauser.)

When I called Dickey, he said did not intend for the email to be public because it would hurt the party in much the same way that he thought Duncan’s public comments hurt the party.

“I chose to address it privately for exactly that reason,” Dickey said.

Oh well. Here is Dickey’s message to Duncan

I have always kept the interest of the Party at the forefront. For that reason alone I have refrained from responding to your slander of Friday morning in the same national news forum you chose to use to deliver it.

Instead I am addressing it directly to you, with only a copy to those most directly affected:

– the officers and staff who served so faithfully before, during and after my tenure,

 – the members of the steering committee, and

– the SREC members in whose territory Travis county plays the most significant role.

Your choice to make unfounded slanderous statements publicly:

  1. Utterly wasted the largest PR gift the TCRP has ever been given. Your actions literally changed the headlines from “Celebration for all Republicans” to “Drama at the TCRP”.
  1. Revealed your dereliction of your duty. If you had concerns about an expenditure, then as EVC you had a duty to get the details as soon as you became aware of it. Yet, as recent as Thursday evening you asked me nothing about any transaction. 

 TJ did ask me for only a general description on exactly one expense item. The one which, according to people present, you have publicly, fraudulently described as “James spending almost $600 on a Corpus hotel for Spring Break.”

 When he asked me in June “about a Corpus hotel bill” I gladly provided verification that the Party covered the cost of a night’s hotel for one of the several quarterly TRCCA meetings I attended. I added that Rosemary could verify my presence at the meeting since she was also there. TJ replied that over $500 for that seemed extravagant, and I agreed. That was the end of the conversation.

With far less energy than you apparently devoted to spreading false information about the party’s expenses, and with zero negative fallout to the party, you could have obtained the facts.

Since you chose not to do so for whatever reason, I did it for you today. It was so easy to do that it’s tragic you’ve never bothered. Here are the steps required:

  1. Call the hotel and ask for a receipt for James Dickey for any stay at the hotel in the past few months. 

In less than a minute the hotel desk found that I had not stayed there since the TRCCA meeting in August of 2015 and emailed me the detailed receipt, attached below, for a total of $210.95

  1. Ask the Party Treasurer to confirm the payee name on the March expense showing from the Holiday Inn. Within minutes he was able to confirm that the payee was the Holiday Inn Austin and NOT the Holiday Inn Bayside.
  1. Search email for reference to the name “Holiday Inn Austin”. Within seconds find the email (on which many of you were copied) planning the SD14 Convention Committee meetings. The first two nights of those committee meetings were indeed held at the Holiday Inn Austin, and the bill was for the cost for the meeting space.

There is zero reason that you could not have taken those steps at any time in the 8 weeks since you were elected.

There was zero need for an expensive audit – or the funding for the same – to address this “concern”.

 There is zero justification for the way you handled your “concern” about this.

 Yet, the party faces real fallout as a result of your choice.

As for the specific comments that distracted so much from what would have been the celebration of Robert’s departure: “…left the party with no office, almost no money… and we had no planned fundraiser…”

     1. No office.

First, that was no surprise, as the minutes reflect that the Executive Committee had months of advance warning about that. Everyone knew that the Texas Federation of Republican Women terminated our lease so they would not have to be in close proximity to Robert. Implying that was in some way my fault was disingenuous at best.  

 Second, those paying attention during 2015 know that when the party faced a lease increase to $3k/month at our prior location, we saved over $20,000 by going without an office for 7 months. During those same 7 months, we planned and executed the highest grossing fundraiser in 15 years. So no office is no problem – unless you let it be.

  1. “Almost no funds”.

 Less than $3,000, but with no long-term liabilities and less than $200/month in monthly recurring expenses that are cancellable at any time, resulting from public discussions and votes by the EC, and reflected in the minutes of the meetings in April, May and June.

 Presenting it now as part of “problems over the last two years” indicates that you either were being disingenuous or had not paid attention during the meetings prior to running for EVC in June.

  1. “No planned fundraiser”.

In 2014 my team put on a fundraiser in less than 6 weeks that grossed over $65,000. You knew the party needed funds and have been in office for 8 weeks. How many meetings have you held with donors? How many meetings have you held with precinct chairs to plan a fundraiser? How many donors have you called for donations? How many times have you reached out to me to ask for help fundraising?

Our past several fundraisers have all been in August/September. Yet you have done nothing during your time. Instead, you present it to the press as a nefarious action on my part that I did not plan this August’s fundraiser between March 2 and the end of my term in early June, even though I would not be in office when it would be held. Plus, at the same time I was required to:

– manage the SD conventions,

– manage the runoff election,

– manage the press fallout from the election, and

– ensure the bylaws and party structure were modified so the damage Morrow could do was minimized.

Most troubling to me is that you did not bring up any of this in the many conversations we had while:

– I endorsed you and spoke on your behalf at the state convention,

– I endorsed you for your run for Executive Vice Chair,

– We were together in Cleveland for several days for the national convention, or even when

– We spoke on the phone Thursday evening less than 15 hours before the press conference.

For the party’s sake I will do as I did post the election and minimize harmful drama in the press.

You chose to make this a national public issue, though, and you need to figure out how to fix it on an equal level. Even though you have not at all responded to either of my emails from Friday I hope to hear your thoughts today on the above and your plan to fix the damage you did to the party and to correct your slander of me.

James Dickey

 Dickey said that if this is the kind of abuse he is going to be subjected to for offering his leadership, “I’d have to have a hole in my head” to seek to reclaim the chairmanship.

That said, he may have that hole in his head because he’s still thinking about it.

I called Duncan Monday night to ask if he had a response to Dickey’s email, and he sent me the email he had sent to Dickey, and the other interested parties,  in reply

(Jay Janner)

(photo by Jay Janner)

Here is Duncan’s email to Dickey:

James,

  1. Nothing I said at the press conference was untrue. I was not the first to raise concerns. Since the presser, others have said that they too had concerns.
  2. You and you alone are responsible for the condition of the party at the end of your tenure. You cannot blame it on unkind fate as if your failure to defeat someone as nutty as Morrow was an unavoidable act of nature.
  3. I’m sorry that you had problems after your defeat. But I have had my own difficulties picking up the pieces of the mess you left, without the actual position of “Chairman” or having a “team” already in place when I took office. Not to mention the fact that no one wanted to give money to the party as long as Morrow was the chairman.
  4. The night before the presser, when you called me already looking for support to run for Chairman, I advised you not to run. But you were so hungry to regain your old office you ignored my advice – and my warning that some people had concerns. I felt then that I could no longer continue sweeping the matter under the rug.
  5. If you are in an embarrassing position, it is of your own making. If you continue to press the matter I have no doubt that more criticism will come out. Not from me, but from others. If you want to have a future, drop this, and work on whatever your next goals may be.
  6. Before I am accused of personal motive, my hope was that several qualified candidates would come forward. I did not decide to run until yesterday – mostly after seeing your continued intransigence.
  7. Thursday night I tried to be gentle. Now I am being blunt. Drop out now before you, yes you, damage the party further.

David T Duncan Jr
Executive Vice Chairman
and Acting Chairman
Travis County Republican Party

Duncan said he didn’t want to elaborate beyond his email, except to say, “I hope I don’t hear anything further from him on this.”

And the vote for chairman will be Sept. 20 at the Crown Plaza Austin.

Enter Brendan Steinhauser, who after his own few days of deliberation about whether to seek the chairmanship, on Wednesday morning sent out an email declaring that, yes, indeed, that is what he is going to do.

Here it is:

Dear fellow Republican,

I am running for Chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. Due to the recent vacancy, there will be an election held on Tuesday, September 20. As a member of the Travis County Executive Committee, you will have the opportunity to vote in this election. I humbly ask for your support.

I am seeking this position because I know that I can bring stability, financial support, and a strategic vision to the Travis County Republican Party. We’ve recently undergone a turbulent time and now we need steady and thoughtful leadership to repair the damage.

I have been a conservative Republican activist and professional since 2000, getting my start in politics at the University of Texas in College Republicans and Young Conservatives of Texas. After graduation, I spent seven years as the Director of Federal and State Campaigns for FreedomWorks, led by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

During those seven years I worked with thousands of Republican grassroots activists to help elect conservative candidates such as senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee. I trained local leaders in more than 40 states on grassroots activism and campaign tactics. And, in 2009 I was the lead organizer of the September 12th Taxpayer March on Washington, bringing half a million people to D.C. to rally for limited government. I have made the fight for conservatism the foundation of my career.

In 2012 my wife Randan and I moved home to Texas and started a small business focused on helping candidates and non-profits with marketing and communications. I served as Senator John Cornyn’s Campaign Manager in 2014 and made it a priority to support county parties and help elect down ballot Republicans. I now serve as Congressman Michael McCaul’s political ad

I have experience managing millions of dollars in political budgets, developing strategic campaign plans, and raising money. I also currently serve as a Republican media commentator, both locally and nationally. And I have a passion for recruiting new people into the party – especially young people, Hispanics, and other nontraditional Republicans.

My goals for this position include raising significant funds for the party, increasing public awareness of the party through positive earned media, building the party through precinct chair recruitment, working to elect Republican candidates in Travis County, and providing a fresh start for the Travis County GOP.

I hope that you will attend the September 20th meeting and consider voting for me as your next chairman. I am available to talk more with you in person or on the phone in the days ahead. Please call me if you have questions or ideas about how we can move forward together.

Sincerely,

Brendan Steinhauser
Precinct 316 Chairman

Meanwhile …

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