A little over a week ago, I made the drive over to San Antonio to take part in the 2018 Texas Republican Party (RPT) state convention. I was an alternate delegate from my Houston-area precinct, but this wasn’t the first time I have been a delegate to the RPT state convention. Still, I thought the event was worth writing about, if for no other reason than to share my evolving view of state conventions.
Much has been written about the RPT state convention already, including this piece in the Texas Tribune in which Ross Ramsey scolds both the Republican and Democratic parties for even bothering to hold conventions in the first place. I have to admit that Mr. Ramsey has good points to make. The state conventions are not where actual laws are passed, ergo they are not of significant consequence. Nor are they where candidates for offices are actually nominated and voted upon (outside of certain offices within the parties). Looking upon things this way, it’s easy to conclude that state conventions are a waste of time, money, and energy. I myself used to think of state conventions this way.
So, what caused me to change my mind and start going to them? One reason, as Mr. Ramsey himself points out in his article, is to network and meet some fellow hot heads. You exchange news and ideas. You never quite know when some of these folks may come to help or rescue you when you need them. Another is that some friends of mine and I have been pushing my ideas on bond election reform, and want to get them out to a wider audience.
Yet another reason to hold these conventions is to get an idea of where the diehards stand on various issues. These conventions offer a window into the collective minds of the coalitions that make up both the Republican and Democratic parties, and that does matter. For instance, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the Texas GOP grassroots espoused decriminalization of marijuana possession. Both Forbes and Reason ran stories covering the drama that unfolded over marijuana. Another was how the final party platform came out on gays. While plenty of sites were busy breathlessly telling the world how Republicans were waiting as always to condemn gays to eternal damnation, the Log Cabin Republicans were working with Texas Values, compromising to soften the platform language on gays, if just a little. The battle over the subject of gay people was one that the Dallas Morning News was shrewd enough to cover and publish. As it was, a Dallas Morning News reporter came to our Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) booth to speak to me about issues that were important to us like reforming civil asset forfeiture in Texas.
On the RPT chairman’s race
One issue of consequence is that delegates to the RPT state convention do elect the party’s chairman. This year, the race was between the incumbent James Dickey, owner of an insurance firm, and Cindy Asche, a career nurse and hospital administrator. I did not have a particular preference for either candidate, as I did not view either of them as being nearly as strong of a state chairman as Steve Munisteri, who raised millions of dollars for the RPT statewide.
However, the race did pique my interest after a social media recording of Ms. Asche specifically questioning whether the members of my RLC group were really Republicans made the rounds Was it true that the RLC was taking over the mighty Republican Party of Texas? I had a hearty, if rueful, laugh over that one, considering that the RLC has a mailing list membership of a few thousand members across this vast state of ours. We were able to muster 30 or so members to attend the state convention as delegates (out some 8,000 total who attended), not to mention that we have perennial trouble scrambling to put together enough money to rent a booth at the RPT state convention every two years. Yeah, I’d have to say that the verdict is clear. With numbers like these, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas is well on its way to exercising total domination and control over the RPT!
As it was, Ms. Asche went down in a 70-30 or so defeat in her bid to become RPT state chairman. However, Ms. Asche did not go down without a fight. Indeed, she had a terrible meltdown in front of the gathered delegates during her convention speech, which unfortunately for her has been recorded for all posterity.
But do the state conventions matter?
I have tried to argue here that state conventions for both R’s and D’s do matter. I would have to say that after having attended a few state conventions, where they matter the most is in terms of what economists call signalling. For instance, at every RPT state convention I have attended, abortion abolitionists have come out in force to press their case to either severely limit abortion or get rid of the practice entirely. In that sense, there isn’t much of a difference between what goes on at the RPT state convention and what goes on in the Texas Legislature. At every Texas legislative session within recent memory, abortion has been an extremely hot topic, and is perennially put at or near the top of the legislative agenda. Likewise, topics like the hotly contested high speed rail plan had both proponents and opponents field booths at the RPT state convention. In contrast, it does seem that interest groups who do not have a prominent place at the RPT state convention also do not get much of a hearing for their causes at the legislature. One must not overlook the benefits of meeting other activists and the networking the conventions afford to the grassroots as well.
So, for all that, I would say to keep the conventions coming!