The overriding priority for the month of April was to help organize and coordinate the selection of delegates and alternates at County & District Conventions across Texas. Never before in modern Texas Republican Party history, have precinct conventions and district conventions had to be held without the benefit of a primary occurring first. This situation was the result of the redistricting lawsuits which caused our Primary to be moved later on the calendar to May 29th. Since our State Convention is June 7-9, it was impossible, because of time constraints, to have precinct conventions on the day of the Primary Election.
This created a monumental task of selecting delegates through an entirely new and untried process. As reported in prior updates, the SREC acted swiftly to unanimously adopt a new set of rules that allowed local counties to either hold precinct conventions and then district conventions, or move directly to district conventions – and our county chairs adapted to these these new rules with great leadership. Different counties adopted different systems – the majority of counties abandoned the precinct conventions entirely. Other counties had precinct conventions the morning of their district conventions at the same location. Other counties had precinct conventions prior to their district conventions in multiple locations. To complicate things further, due to scheduling conflicts, some conventions had to be held on April 14th while others were held on April 21st. We are very grateful to the County and Senate District Chairs for making all of this happen.
This presented a unique challenge to the Republican Party of Texas – to find ways to get the word out to Republican Party activists in 254 counties as to which process their locale was using, where their conventions were being held, the date of their convention, and how to participate. There was great fear that we would have an extremely low turnout, which would result in the State Convention having very poor attendance. This in turn, could hurt the party's efforts in the fall and cause the State Convention to lose a substantial amount of money.
Consequently, the staff and I focused our time and attention to disseminating information to the County Chairs and working with the County Chairs to devise ways to increase turnout. I am very proud of the effort that our small staff undertook to assist local leaders. First, I would like to thank our Assistant General Counsel and SREC Committeeman Eric Opiela for the countless hours and time that he put in with his legal advice and institutional knowledge to help us anticipate and address potential problems. Beth Cubriel, our Organization Director, put together numerous memorandums and updates to County Chairs to walk them through the process. She also set up multiple statewide leadership telephone conferences at which myself and other staff members briefed local party officials and answered their questions. Chris Elam, our Communications Director, prepared regular email blasts providing important updates as to the convention process. He also created a new website specific to the convention process, originated all graphic design for our advertising, and coordinated the direct mail pieces that were mailed around the state. Jesse Lewis, our Executive Director, along with Travis Griffin, our Political Director, executed a Get Out The Delegate turnout program much like a Get Out The Vote effort in a political campaign. The State Party paid for multiple robo-calls around the state, which totaled approximately 200,000 calls. The direct mail campaign featured a full-sized post card that sent district convention notifications to tens of thousands of past convention delegates from the 2006, 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles.
The end result was that our county parties were able to hold their district conventions and select delegates and alternates to the State Convention. There were a few bumps and glitches in various parts of the state, but in the end, the conventions were successfully completed, resolutions were submitted and delegates selected. As of the time of the writing of this email – 11,545 delegate and alternate names have been submitted to the State Party. We are still missing delegate lists from 9 districts which could push the total as high as 11,884. The 2010 district convention process resulted in the selection of 11,848 delegates and alternates. Thus, the Republican Party, working together, was able to generate roughly the same number of participants for the upcoming State Convention as we did in 2010 – all without a primary and the normal precinct convention process. I believe this is a significant accomplishment under very trying circumstances and am very proud of our County Chairs, Senatorial District Chairs, staff and volunteers – all who were able to pull this off under very difficult circumstances.
We are now focused on preparing for the State Convention. This presents another unique challenge as two years ago, there were 11 weeks between the district conventions and the State Convention and this year, due to the redistricting lawsuits – there is only 6 weeks. Obviously, this is putting a great deal of stress on the staff at the State Headquarters as well as our County Chairs but we are committed to pulling it all together in time. We already have a tentative schedule of events and have been pleased to announce that our Friday night Gala Banquet will feature Senator Rick Santorum and that our keynote address on Saturday will feature Congressman Paul Ryan.
We are also finalizing the schedule for a unique concept at the convention – that being Breakout Sessions on various topics. This is something new at RPT conventions, after I received feedback from delegates that they wanted a change from the long parade of speakers at the convention. As a result, we came up with the idea to replace a good number of the speaking spots with a break in the convention during which delegates can choose to attend one of several breakout sessions occurring at the same time. These breakout sessions will let you choose between hearing from elected officials on current topics, attending training sessions beneficial for activists, volunteers, instruction on parliamentary procedure, etc. There will be two different times for breakout sessions on the agenda, so there will be opportunity for delegates to attend two different sessions. The sessions will be in relatively small rooms, so seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. However, we will make sure that at least two of the breakout sessions are in the full arena, so that everybody can attend at least one breakout session. The idea behind this is to cut down on the boredom of multiple speeches, while at the same time, providing more entertaining and useful information. Our hope is that this will give the delegates a unique experience of combining sessions similar to a CPAC-type conference with the functionality of a political convention.
We also invited Senator Rand Paul to the Friday night Gala to be the co-keynote with Senator Rick Santorum – his staff was optimistic that he might be able to attend, but we just got word that he has an invite to the Western CPAC conference so he is unable to attend. We have extended an invitation to another key national leader and are hopeful that we can tie that down shortly.
Some people have inquired as to why the Gala has been priced at $200 a ticket, as opposed to $100 or less. The reason is several-fold. First, in the past the Party generated a significant surcharge on every hotel night. I felt this was unfair on three counts. First, it caused out-of-towners to pay a disproportionately higher portion for the convention, despite the fact that they were incurring more costs than local attendees. Second, it made the hotel rates in some cases, higher than what a delegate could obtain on their own through hotel websites. Third, I just thought it was unfair to tack on this charge without people knowing this. As a result, we decided not to have a surcharge on hotel rooms. However, this surcharge was a major funding source for the convention so we had to make it up somehow. We decided that the only viable option was to increase revenues from the Gala to offset this loss. It was also my thought that the Gala was optional, whereas obtaining a hotel for most out-of-towners, is not. Thus, by switching revenue generation from hotels to the Gala, we allow those on a budget to decrease their mandatory expenses by increasing the cost of the optional Gala which a delegate does not need to attend in order to participate in official Party activities. Moreover, this year we wanted to hold the Gala as a seated dinner with a set menu, as opposed to a bar-b-q or picnic. I hope everyone will understand that the primary purpose of the Gala is for fundraising to offset the costs of the State Convention and that this is why we are having to charge a significant amount for it. The State Convention will cost between $800,000 and $850,000 to host, and revenues from registration fees at best will be in the half-million range, and probably will be significantly lower as not all delegates who are selected actually attend the convention. Thus, a fundraiser is necessary to prevent the Convention from losing a substantial amount of money.
Chris Elam has created a convention website at convention.texasgop.org which provides all the information you should need on the Convention. Because our initial hotels sold out, we have recently added some hotel contracts to the convention website so that there are still plenty of rooms in Fort Worth at which you can stay. If you want to avoid being in or creating long lines at registration – please register in advance. You can register on the convention website and also purchase tickets to the Gala Banquet and Prayer Rally. There also will be a special, separate event for members of the Grassroots Club. If you are not a member of the Grassroots Club, you will not be able to attend this special convention event. To join the Grassroots Club, go to www.GrassrootsClub.com.
In addition to the state and district convention planning, I had a packed schedule in April with traveling around the state and attending events. On April 3rd we had our monthly tele-townhall with party leaders from around the state. The next day, I traveled to Dallas for a fundraising event at which Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was honored for her service to the Republican Party of Texas. Former Senator Phil Gramm was the keynote and there were over 100 people in attendance and the Party was able to raise a significant amount of money at the event. I traveled from Dallas to Abilene to speak at the Taylor County Republican Club and there was a great turnout. The following week, I spoke at the Northwest Forest Republican Women's Club luncheon and then attended a Harris County Senatorial District Meeting in Cypress. I then traveled back to Austin and from there, to Robert Lee, TX where I participated in an event announcing the switch of seven Democratic elected officials to the Republican Party.
The following week, I spoke at the Alamo City Republican Women's Club and the following day traveled all the way up to Pampa, TX to speak to the Pampa Republican Women's Club luncheon. I had never been to Pampa before, so I was anxious to see what it looked like. I flew into Amarillo so I had an opportunity to see a lot of country that I have never seen before. It was very pretty, and quite windy! We got great coverage in the local press and I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the crowd. The following day I traveled to Canyon Lake to speak to the Canyon Lake Republican Women's Club, and then drove that same day to Navarro County to be the featured speaker at their annual county party Bar-B-Q. Navarro County GOP Chairman Frank Steed has done a wonderful job leading the Party in that county and he turned out a couple of hundred attendees for his event. I then traveled on to Harris County where on Saturday, April 21st, I attended my own Senatorial District 17 in Harris County, as well as having an opportunity to speak to the luncheon of Senatorial District caucuses in Harris County.
The next week I went to Mansfield and spoke to the Reagan Legacy Republican Women's Club where I also saw SREC member Leslie Recine and Jim Borchert. Also in attendance was our Executive Director Jesse Lewis' cousin Shanda Perkins, who is also the Volunteer Coordinator for our State Convention with our Page program. I was asked to speak on my experiences in volunteering with the 1976 and 1980 Ronald Reagan Presidential campaigns since their club is named for our 40th President. The following day I was back in Austin and appeared as a guest on my old friend Kevin Price's radio show. Kevin is a radio talk show host in the Houston area who I met during the 1980 Reagan campaign, and he is still promoting conservatism 30 years later. Later that day I had an opportunity to attend the center-right coalition meeting and finished the day by meeting with leadership from the Young Conservatives of Texas. I ended up the week back in Houston to attend the funeral of Tim Belton's son, George. I served on the SREC in the 1980's with Carol Belton, who is George's grandfather and Tim's father. Carol and his wife Jerry have a long history of Republican Party activism and likewise, their son Tim has been a Republican stalwart in Harris County politics. Tim delivered an amazing eulogy for his son to an overflow crowd of several thousand at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. That evening, I met with Tea Party leadership from around the Houston metroplex.
On the financial front, we ended April in solid shape. After paying all of our bills, we still had around $700,000 in usable cash plus about $40,000 still in our convention fund, about $50,0000 in our Victory account, and around $175,000 in our Primary account. The cash from all of our accounts totaled right at one million dollars. As has been customary now for 17 consecutive months, we paid all our bills to zero at the end of the month. The delay of the district conventions had the potential of severely impacting our cash flow since we would have to put out several hundred thousand in advance payments for the State Convention, while at the same time, our revenue from registrations would be delayed a month by the court-imposed delay on the district and county conventions. However, so far our fundraising has allowed us to avoid significant cash flow problems. I do expect a several hundred thousand drain from our cash reserves for the convention expenses, but hopefully some of this expense will be offset by advance delegate registration fees.
Our Party has faced multiple unique challenges over the last six months: redistricting lawsuits, three different primary dates, a new process to select delegates and alternates, reduced timelines, etc. But collectively, our Party has come together to meet each and every one of these challenges. I have never been prouder of our volunteers and our staff as I was last month getting through the District and County Conventions. Hopefully we can all come together again in June in the same spirit in order to unite behind the common goal of replacing the current Obama administration. I urge all of you who are delegates and alternates to register for the convention and make your plans now for what will be the kickoff to our fall campaign.
I hope to see you in June in Fort Worth.
Steve Munisteri, Chairman, Republican Party of Texas