Trump loyalty an issue in Dickey-Figueroa contest for Texas GOP chairmanship

Candidates to become chairman of the Texas Republican Party James Dickey, the current chair of the Travis County Republican Party, and Rick Figueroa, a Houston-area businessman, recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of a meeting of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee at the Sirloin Stockade in Round Rock June 1. 06/01/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Good day Austin:

The 62 members of the Texas State Republican Executive, meeting at Austin’s Wyndham Garden Hotel, will choose a new Republican State Party Chairman Saturday to replace Tom Mechler of Amarillo who resigned two weeks ago because, when you get right down to it, he would rather spend time with my 6 children, 16 grandchildren, and my beautiful wife Becky, than the 62 members of the SREC who are so divided down the middle in all matters Mechler that Amy Clark, the party’s vice chairman and top ranking figure with Mechler’s resignation, might have to break a tie vote to determine his successor.

There are two candidates – Rick Figueroa of Brenham and James Dickey of Austin, the chair of the Travis County Republican Party. (A third candidate, Robert Morrow, tweeted he was running but that’s it so far, and he will not be a factor in the race. See my recent First Reading: Robert Morrow throws his jester’s hat in the ring for Texas GOP chair on an ‘Impeach Trump’ platform;)

On the face of it, Figueroa ought to have he edge.

He is the favored choice of Mechler, who named him ten months ago as co-chair of the Republican Party of Texas’ New Leaders on the Rise Committee, and in recent months has been crisscrossing the state with Figueroa on the Republican Party of Texas Hispanic Engagement Listening Tour.

Figueroa is also in good with President Trump, serving on his Texans for Trump leadership team and on his National Hispanic Advisory  committee and now President Trump’s National Coalition of Hispanic Leaders.

And, maybe it’s me, but wouldn’t the Texas Republican Party benefit from the headlines that it had selected its first Hispanic chairman?

Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dickey also comes with a couple, three strikes against him.

  1. He managed to lose the chairmanship of the Travis County Republican Party in the March 2016 primary to the aforementioned Robert Morrow, no mean feat and one that made the Travis County Republican Party an object of intense and sustained national ridicule.
  2. While he says he was never a “Never-Trumper” he was part of a movement to “free the delegates” to stop Trump, until Trump became the nominee, when Dickey climbed on board the Trump train, but for those punching tickets, that was a mite late.
  3. Trump won 27 percent of the vote in Travis County.

Normally, three strikes and you’re out. But in this case, I’m giving the slight edge to Dickey.

Why?

  1. He is a far more familiar figure to the members of the SREC, somebody who knows them, who they know, who knows the rules and seems more likely to follow their lead than lead them where he wants to go, and won’t get too big for his britches. He’s paid his dues.
  2. He is not Mechler’s choice.
  3. While naming an Hispanic chair might seem, symbolically and practically, a good thing to do, this is the Republican Party, which rejects anything that smacks to them of pandering, and are particularly disinclined to choose someone for the symbolic value if that’s the reason they are picking him.

Here is a summary of the argument against Dickey from Travis County Republican Bill Crocker, a former Texas national committeeman and former RNC general counsel, in an endorsement letter he wrote this week for Figueroa.

When his county chairman’s seat came up for election in 2016, Dickey spent very limited time and money in the first reporting period campaigning to defend his turf. And in doing so, lost his seat to a conspiracy theorist who made Texas an international laughingstock. When Dickey had the opportunity to make amends for this stinging loss and be a unifier at the 2016 National Convention, he instead chose to attempt to subvert the will of Republican voters all across the nation by being a leader in the “Never Trump” and “Free the Delegates” movement. At the same time, Rick was working to unite the bitterly divided factions of our party. In fact, during one particularly heated moment in our Texas caucus, I am told that a Cruz delegate and Trump delegate were on the verge of a physical fight. Rick approached this altercation to talk with both of them, and by the end of it the three of them were praying together. The mark of true leadership is the ability to lead and find peace in even the most difficult of situations.

Mr. Dickey also has a spotty record of raising funds for the Travis County Republican Party. When he lost his seat to Robert Morrow, the Travis County Republican Party was in rough financial shape. The most important job of the Chairman is to raise funds. During election years, the RPT will need to raise a minimum of 2-3 million dollars, just to ensure we maintain our current seats. A person who struggled to keep money in the bank is not a person with the capability of raising that level of funds.

Finally, Dickey does not have a strong record of success in his current position. In addition to his inability to maintain his own seat, Dickey has failed to hold on to the precious few Republican seats in Travis County. In fact, from my research, of the 56 partisan elected seats in Travis County today, only 2 are held by Republicans. Friends, we cannot let Texas begin to look like Travis County.

Most of these issues were addressed last night at the last in a series of public forums across the state on the choice of chairman.

Last night’s well-attended event was at the Sirloin Stockade in Round Rock.  I sat with the indomitable Amy Hedtke, who, while I recently wrote a First Reading all about her – Some like it hot: How Amy Hedtke went from Scout mom to anarchist Republican and James O’Keefe heroine – I was meeting in person for the first time.

Hedtke was live streaming the event on Facebook, as she has each of the forums for the chair candidates

I’ve posted it here, with the small caution that it includes a little of Hedtke’s anarchist/Republican/pro-Dickey color commentary.

Michael McCloskey, an SREC member from Cedar Park, who has not declared his preference in the chair’s race, moderated and did a good job of asking some pretty pointed questions.

Some background:

Dickey was one of four Texas delegates to send a July 9 letter to their fellow Texas delegates asking them to support an effort to Free the Delegates, which was associated with an effort to deny Trump the nomination.

From: freethedelegates@usa.com <freethedelegates@usa.com> Sent: Saturday, July 9, 2016 10:13 PM
Subject: National Convention – URGENT

Dear xxxx:

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Cleveland in just a couple of weeks, but the situation with our presumptive nominee has become so dire that we felt we must reach out to you in advance.

You’ve seen the news stories, the polls, the video clips, and the embarrassing tweets. It’s now clear that Donald Trump does not share our conservative values and will lose to Hillary Clinton in a landslide that will debilitate the Republican Party for a generation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We, the delegates to the national convention, have the authority and the duty to give voters a real choice in November. Delegates in Texas and across the nation are banding together to assert the right of every delegate to cast his or her vote according to conscience and to have that vote accurately recorded by the convention secretary.

This grassroots delegate movement is gaining ground fast in Texas. Please see this article from the Houston Chronicle. It’s growing nationwide as well. The Wall Street Journal reports a whip count of 890 delegates for Trump, 680 anti-Trump, and 900 “in play.”

We already have a confirmed majority of delegates in Bexar County, and we believe a majority throughout Texas as well. We’re writing to ask if you’ll join our efforts at the convention to affirm the rights of delegates.

We have a plan, and with your support, we’ll have the votes. We will be asking those who share our goals to join us in communicating to members of the Convention Rules Committee and to other party leadership that Texas stands strong for the rights of every delegate to vote his or her conscience. And we will ask each of you to vote for who you truly believe should represent our party and our conservative values as our nominee for president.

Finally, we ask for your prayers. We realize we are fighting an uphill battle against the establishment and those who seem to be blind to the disaster ahead and who do not realize that a pretense of unity will not save our nation or our party. Please join us in praying as our forefathers did for God’s favor, intervention, and protection.

If you will stand with us in Cleveland, please call or write back and let us know ASAP we can count on your vote. We look forward to meeting you in person at the convention!

Respectfully,

WES BRUMIT, Longview, Northeast Texas Lead

JAMES DICKEY, Travis County, Central Texas Lead
GRANT MOODY, Bexar County, South Texas Lead

SONDRA ZIEGLER, Lubbock County, West Texas Lead

PS: We are well aware of the potential for strong-arm tactics by the Trump campaign and the well- publicized bullying and violence of Trump partisans. If you choose to support this effort, we will not release your name to the media without your permission.

McCloskey asked Dickey about all this last night.

Dickey:

The bottom line is I’ve never been so glad to be wrong in my life. President Trump has turned out great.

I have gladly gone on TV to defend him, numerous times, in Austin, on numerous channels, where I’ve stood up for his appointment of Neil Gorsuch, where I said that in the first hundred days – you can check out the clips, they’re all on-line – where I said the first hundred days, that everything where he had control, his appointments, his executive orders, that he has really upheld conservative principles and I’m very glad.

Dickey also said that, by the time he got to the convention, he thought freeing the delegates would actually  help Trump.

Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dickey:

By the time I got to the convention, I wanted whoever our nominee was to have the boost that they would have from a completely voluntary, non top-down vote, and I was completely convinced  by then that, given the primary results, completely unbound, the delegates would vote  for Trump because who would want to go home and face the wrath of voters.

When he reclaimed the chairmanship of the Travis Country Republican Party, he defeated Austin political consultant Brendan Steinhauser (who was nominated by Crocker) after answering affirmatively that he would be voting for Trump for president, an answer that Steinhauser said he could not give.

From my Sept. 21 story when he was elected chairman

But, when it came Dickey’s turn to answer the question, he said that, while Trump was not his original candidate and while he had been an advocate at the Republican National Convention for the right of delegates to vote their conscience, he was never a “never Trump” person and felt a party chairman really had to support the whole ticket from top to bottom.

Dickey said that while Trump was “not my guy” before he became the nominee, neither was Mitt Romney, John McCain or Bob Dole in years past.

“I’ve had decades of `not my guy’ and I still go out there and work for my nominee,” Dickey said to applause.

Dickey also said that Trump’s ability to enlarge the electorate by bringing new voters to the polls offered an opportunity for outnumbered Travis County Republicans against what he described, in Clinton, as the weakest Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis.

It was that unusually high turnout in the March primary that spelled doom for Dickey and victory for Morrow, a man whose provocative persona and fringe politics would have alienated an electorate that knew more about him but may have been drawn to him by his common name and his being listed first on the ballot.

Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And here from an email Dickey sent out this week replying to these concerns.

The truth is:

  • I supported Ted Cruz for President and make no apologies for doing so, as I think Ted Cruz is a solid conservative,
  • As part of my support for Senator Cruz, I ran to become a National Delegate and carry the vote of Texas Republicans to Cleveland,
  • Our Party does not have a nominee until the National Convention votes,
    Once the Convention did vote and President Trump was the nominee, I supported him wholeheartedly and still do, and
    I went on television to defend him as nominee and since then as President many times in the most liberal area of the state–Travis County. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=IHIOW4-U5M0

Even more proof exists from my election as Travis County Chair last year, when I was asked directly whether I would support President Trump, then our nominee, in the general election:

http://www.mystatesman.com/ news/state–regional-govt– politics/james-dickey- reclaims-leadership-the- travis-county-republican- party/GWyO9UtC6NJwVpzdVGOFPO/

 Here’s a recap of how that very public statement of mine went:

 “Dickey… said that, while Trump was not his original candidate and while he had been an advocate at the Republican National Convention for the right of delegates to vote their conscience, he was never a ‘never Trump’ person and felt a party chairman really had to support the whole ticket from top to bottom.”

This is the advantage of always trying to do what is right and not changing based on political winds–the record shows the truth.

The fact that I supported a different candidate in the primary yet wholeheartedly supported the nominee in the general shows you what kind of Chair I will be–one that brings all factions of the Party together and vigorously supports our Republican nominees up and down the ballot.

 The fact that I fought for delegates to have their right to vote also shows you what kind of Chair I will be–one that will fight for the voices of those I represent, whether that’s the voices of the delegates at a Convention or the voices of our grassroots Republicans in the Legislature.

Given an opportunity to come back on Dickey on all this, Figueroa was instead conciliatory. He talked about breaking up a fight between Trump and Cruz supporters in the Texas delegation in Cleveland, telling them they were better than that, and getting them praying together.

McCloskey then asked Figueroa, who was a member of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Committee, during the campaign,  about some criticism he had made of Trump’s Phoenix immigration speech last August, a speech that led some members of the advisory committee – but not Figueroa – to resign in protest.

From my Sept. 1 story:

Rick Figueroa, a finance executive and Republican activist from Brenham, tweeted, “I am very disappointed in Mr. Trump’s immigration speech,” expressing his regret that Trump had ignored the “wise counsel” being offered by his Hispanic supporters.

“It was a leadership mistake. It was a political mistake. It was a moral mistake,” Figueroa tweeted.

But Figueroa wrote, “With all his flaws, Mr. Trump is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton.”

Figueroa delivered a rip-roaring warmup speech for Trump at the Austin rally, recounting his meeting with Trump as part of the advisory council.

“He said, ‘Tell me your heart,’ and he listened,” Figueroa told the rally at the Travis County Exposition Center.

“He’s a leader. A leader listens. Don’t believe the media. He listens. He cares,” Figueroa said at the rally. “You know what I told him? `What the hell do we have to lose?’”

It seems a bit of a stretch for Dickey to somehow portray himself as more loyal to Trump than Figueroa.

Figueroa was playing a high-profile role for Trump and, while he did criticize Trump, he stuck with him, and, as he noted Thursday, he was just at the White House as part of Trump’s National Council of Hispanic Leaders.

In a post endorsing Dickey, Matt Mackowiak, the Austin political consultant who serves as executive vice chairman of the Travis County Repubilcan Party, went even further:

I do not personally know Rick Figueroa, which is saying something as I have been working in Texas politics for 15 years, have helped elect three of our Texas members of Congress, and have personally traveled to all 21 media markets in our state and have worked on races in our top four largest media markets over that time.

Rick Figueroa appears to be a good man, with a large family, who has had professional success. He appears to be a strong Christian. These are all laudable things.

No matter who is elected Chairman, Tom’s successor will need support from all of us.

But on June 3, the SREC has a choice to make.

Candidly, several things about Rick Figueroa concern me.

First, it is not clear to me that he understands the many roles of Chairman. Perhaps most importantly, the Chairman must support the platform and advocate for it.

His many statements about immigration raise questions about whether he can put aside his personal views and effectively and actively promote the platform of our party, and especially the key immigration planks.

His strong criticism of our-then nominee Donald Trump’s immigration speech last September showed a fundamental disagreement with the Republican Party of Texas’s fundamental core position on this top policy issue.

He said in his tweet, according to the Austin American Statesman, “I am very disappointed in Mr. Trump’s immigration speech,” expressing his regret that Trump had ignored the “wise counsel” being offered by his Hispanic supporters. “It was a leadership mistake. It was a political mistake. It was a moral mistake.”

That was just 9 months ago. His view, which sounded more like John McCain or Lindsey Graham, was diametrically opposed to our Party. Is this what a potential Chairman Figueroa will try to do to our platform? How will each SREC member explain that to their district Republicans?

Like Dickey, for Mackowiak to seriously question Figueroa’s loyalty to Trump seems strange.

From a First Reading the week after the election, when Mackowiak was elected vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party: A week after (now deleted) tweet to Trump to `Go F*** himself,’ Matt Mackowiak wins Travis County GOP post

Matt Mackowiak was elected vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party Tuesday night, precisely one week since he tweeted at Donald Trump, “Go f**k yourself. You just conceded the most winnable election in 50 years against the least popular Dem nom ever.”

And that,”the lede of your NYT obituary will be that you are a loser, losing the most unlosable election in modern American history.”

And that, “You win particular credit for running the most inept, unserious presidential campaign in a century. Staffed by clowns, wasting money.”

And that, “Your natural instinct will be to lash out at everyone. You own this defeat. It’s yours. You earned it. No one else. Process that.”

It was all part of an epic tweet storm – which he deleted and apologized for, but the content of which was preserved by Fortune – from the Austin political consultant and regular contributor to the Statesman opinion pages as the polls were about to close in Texas last Tuesday.

Mackowiak had just pored over exit polls showing that Trump was going down to an ignominious defeat nationally. Then there were the early vote totals for Travis County that suggested that Trump was dragging down with him local Republican candidates, like Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, candidates on whose behalf Mackowiak had toiled.

But, as the night wore on, and it became apparent that Trump was headed not to a humiliating demise but to perhaps the most stunningly surprising electoral triumph in American political history, those tweets curdled.

I don’t know any more about this, but clearly, Figueroa is about continuing Mechler’s leadership – harvesting the seeds Mechler planted, he said last night – and Dickey is about a new regime.

From Mackowiak’s post:

After 5+ sterling years under the tireless work and dedication of Chairman Steve Munisteri, RPT was at its strongest position in a very long time. It boasted of experienced staff, adequate savings, and made important investments that led to crucial election victories.

While many people have worked hard, the simple and objective fact is that RPT has taken several steps backwards since Munisteri left as chairman.

The result has been decades of lost experience from staff who have left, financial uncertainty, and a divided State Republican Leadership Committee (SREC), with several divisive 31–31 tie votes that the Chairman has had to break, a rare occurrence.

(I didn’t like the lighting last night, and switched to my iPhone noir setting because it looked less bad.)

Afterward, I noted to Figueroa that I thought he had pulled his punches a couple of times during the night, not attacking when he could have.

Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“You noticed that,” he said. “It was intentional.”

Figueroa said he’d like to win, but if he doesn’t, it will be OK. He has a great life for which he is very grateful.

 

 

 

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