With our Primary date of May 29th set (and our fingers crossed), the State Party focused its efforts in March on assisting county parties in preparing for their upcoming precinct and/or county & district conventions. Normally at this time of year, the Party would almost be exclusively focused on preparing for our State Convention. This preparation is a monumental task in and of itself – as in 2012, we will be among the largest (if not the largest) political convention in the United States with 18,000 delegate/alternate positions available. The State Convention will also be a day longer this year than in 2010, for the reason that a day will be devoted to national delegate selection and other national party business. However, we can't have a successful State Convention unless we have a good turnout for our local County & District conventions. So in light of court action which required us to hold our conventions separate from the Primary this year, we made the strategic decision to focus time and resources on the early stages of the delegate selection process prior to turning our full attention to the State Convention.
To assist County Chairmen – Beth Cubriel, our Organizational Director, has spent much of her time drafting and circulating numerous memos to County Chairs to help in planning the process. The County Chairs have received many communications which outline the options they have as to how to select delegates to the State Convention, as well as other helpful items such as sample agendas, scripts, oaths, etc., for use at the local conventions. The State Party also held several statewide teleconferences to further explain options and procedures as well as to answer questions. In addition, Assistant General Counsel Eric Opiela was very generous with his time, answering legal questions which were posed from local county leaders.
The first phase of the process was for counties which elected to hold precinct conventions to successfully complete them. Multiple counties requested assistance from the State Party in helping to inform local activists as to the process and location of their precinct conventions. The State Party funded approximately 150,000 robo-calls and mailed thousands of postcards along with email blasts to local Republicans in counties which requested assistance. As best as we can tell, the counties that held precinct conventions were able to do so without significant problems. The Party is now focusing on assisting counties in getting ready for their County & District Conventions. The Party again has funded robo-calls to tens of thousands of past delegates and alternates to prior State Conventions, as well as sending postcards. The Party will continue robo-calls during the month of April as well as using our extensive email lists to inform people that they can go to our State Party's convention webpage to learn the location, time and details of their local conventions.
Once we get through the district conventions (hopefully without major problems) we will then be back on track to hold the State Convention as we would in any normal convention year. The major exception to this plan is that we will have one month less to prepare for the State Convention since delegates will be picked at the end of April instead of the end of March. In addition, the State Convention is one week earlier in the calendar this year. The net result is that the State Party has roughly five weeks less time to prepare delegate / alternate lists, distribute convention information through email, and to make sure that all final arrangements are taken care of. I have been told by staff that even in a normal convention year it is usually very hectic, stressful, and time-constrained so this year's challenge of five weeks less is going to be daunting. We hope to have a State Convention registration website up and running by no later than April 23rd – please stay tuned for further announcements as to the launch date. We would request you register as soon as possible once the site is launched if you are selected as a State Convention delegate or alternate. Delegate and alternate lists for candidates probably will not be available until mid to late May. Hotels will release their blocks to individual delegates next week. We advise that you book your hotel room as soon as possible as these will be first-come, first-served.
The Convention committee, chaired by Hal Talton and Vice Chair Becky Berger, along with Jane Burch, Angie Flores, David Halvorson, Janet Jackson, Neal Katz, Angie King, Jan Koehne, Bonnie Lugo, Jean McIver, Rena Peden, Montie Watkins, Tom Washington and Rebecca Williamson – have been hard at work completing plans. They already have a tentative schedule and some of the speaker invitations have already gone out. We are awaiting word on acceptance or rejections from speakers prior to making any announcements. The Convention this year will feature less speeches from elected officials, and those time slots will be replaced with breakout sessions regarding multiple topics. Delegates will have an opportunity to attend sessions that will focus on training, education, and interactive events with elected officials and key speakers from around the state. More information will be available on these in upcoming weeks leading into the convention – stay tuned for updates.
In addition to focusing on the delegate selection process, I was able to perform my regular duties including traveling around the state to speak to grassroots GOP clubs. During the first week of March, I traveled to Tomball to speak to the Pachyderm Club. I also traveled to Houston to attend a Harris County GOP Leadership Council meeting featuring Congressman Pete Olson before I left for Corpus Christi to speak at a grassroots caucus in Corpus Christi, organized by SREC member Angie Flores. The following week, Victory Chair Ed Emmett was in Austin and both myself and the staff had a chance to sit down with him and work on additional Victory plans. Judge Emmett has already raised some initial funds for Victory so as to allow the committee to become operational. He, along with the staff, have also developed a preliminary Get-Out-the-Vote campaign for the summer and fall. During that week, I also had the opportunity to participate in two statewide teleconferences with county Republican leadership. At the end of that week, I traveled to Robertson County to speak to the local Republican Party there. From Robertson County, I traveled back to Houston to be the featured speaker at the Texas Asian Republican Club. At that meeting, the new officers of that organization were inducted, and I had the privilege of swearing them in. I was invited to do so by former State Representative Martha Wong. The next day I traveled to Dallas County to attend their annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner. County Chair Wade Emmert did an outstanding job at putting together an event that was attended by hundreds and which featured Governor Bobby Jindal as the keynote speaker.
The following week started off with my traveling to Anderson County to speak to Republicans there, and then a trip back to Austin. While in Austin I had the opportunity to attend a summit of leaders of various statewide Republican groups to discuss our respective plans for the upcoming elections. All of us together worked on a preliminary list of targeted races in the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congress. We also had a large press conference at RPT headquarters to announce that State Representative J.M. Lozano was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Texas GOP. Several statewide elected officials were in attendance at the press event, which was filled to capacity with local Republicans, television cameras and reporters. The following week, I was invited over to speak with Attorney General Greg Abbott to discuss with him the current status of the Republican Party of Texas and our future plans. General Abbott generously agreed to renew his membership in the Chairman's Circle, and surprised me with a $25,000 check to the State Party, which was greatly appreciated. Everyone should thank General Abbott for his support of the Party. I also had a chance later that day to visit with former State Chairman Tom Pauken. Since I have been Chairman, I have had the opportunity to visit with former State Chairmen George Strake, Tom Pauken, Tina Benkiser, Ray Hutchison, Ray Barnhart and Fred Meyer. I find their advice and perspectives very helpful – former Chairman Pauken has been particularly generous with his time.
Later in that week, we had a court hearing in one of numerous lawsuits that the Party has been involved in over election issues. That case was later dismissed. I have been involved in at least seven lawsuits that I can remember while serving as State Chairman, and fortunately we are now down to just two suits – one redistricting suit in Travis County and we are still a party to the State Senate redistricting suit in Bexar County. The legal bills last month alone were $40,000 – this, despite the fact that we have had the help of three volunteer lawyers, not counting myself and the three lawyers that charge us have done so at a reduced basis. After the hearing was concluded, I traveled to Houston and spoke to the Cherry Tree Republican Club. At the end of the week, I met with Tea Party leaders, met with our new RPT Finance Chairman, keynoted the Tarrant County Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner, and then drove a few miles over to attend the Young Conservatives of Texas convention.
The Tarrant County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner had several hundred people in attendance – new County Chairman Jennifer Hall did an excellent job organizing the event and I felt honored for her to ask me to be their keynote of such a large and important county. I spoke regarding the little publicized fact that the size of spending in the United States on the state, local and national level consumes a larger percentage of the U.S. gross domestic product than countries that we consider to be European-style socialist countries, and/or much more liberal countries such as Germany, Norway, Canada, and even Venezuela. I also went over statistics showing that the size of government has grown dramatically in the U.S. in recent years, including over 400% increase in U.S. spending adjusted for inflation, just since I've been in middle school. More disturbingly, we have seen approximately a 25% increase in federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy, just since Obama has been in office.
The Young Conservatives of Texas event was particularly enjoyable for me since I was the founding Chairman of that group. I was delighted to observe the group is active and healthy. Congressman Jeb Hensarling, as a YCT original member (and as a personal favor to me) delivered the lunch keynote for the event. He too spoke about the growth of government. Comptroller Susan Combs (whose Chief of Staff David White is a former YCT State Chairman, as is his wife Liz White, who also works for Senator Estes) gave a fired-up speech on conservatism in state government. RPT staffers Cassie Daniel and Nick Carona (who are also YCT members) attended the event and represented the Party along with myself. It is very encouraging to know that there is a fine group of young conservative leaders coming up in the ranks. This bodes well for our future.
During the last week of March I had an opportunity to visit with longtime party activists and former RPT Chaplain Bob Long and his wife Sue. We also had our annual RPT Austin fundraiser that Tuesday. Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst headlined the event which was attended by over 40 Republican State Legislators and Comptroller Susan Combs. The event grossed $115,000 and netted the Party over $100,000, so it was a great success. The following day I attended the monthly meeting of the center-right coalition and then spent the rest of the week preparing for the SREC meetings which were the last two days of the month.
The SREC meeting was the last regular quarterly meeting for several of our SREC members who are either term-limited or who have chosen not to seek re-election. I would like to publicly thank them for their service and not only express my appreciation for their hard work, but for the assistance and support they have provided me during these last two years of my chairmanship. For more information on the meeting – please see the SREC report for a full recap on the weekend.
On the financial front, we are actually doing better than I projected we would do when I gave my report at the December SREC meeting. I expected a couple of hundred thousand dollar drop in our cash reserves from around the $700,000 level to the $500,000 level as a result of substantial legal fees from redistricting, competition with numerous campaigns, and increased expenses to promote the Senatorial and precinct conventions. Fortunately, after all bills and payroll were paid, we had a preliminary estimate of $644,000 available funds from all accounts, inclusive of our Rainy Day fund at the end of March. This is after we paid over $100,000 in up-front convention fees related to the State Convention. The reason we did so well is that we had contributions from several very generous private donors, as well as Comptroller Susan Combs, Governor Dewhurst, General Abbott, State Representative Jim Keffer, State Representative Byron Cook, and State Representative Dan Branch – who all joined or renewed their Chairman's Circle membership. We also had a number of State Representatives make smaller, but significant contributions. In addition, our house file donations to both our direct mail and telemarketing met or exceeded our projections during the first quarter. As a result, we ended March with the cash balance previously noted, but more importantly – with zero liabilities for the 17th consecutive month.
Despite our being in a strong financial position at the end of March, there will be several major financial concerns over the next quarter. The primary concern will be that the State Convention requires several hundred thousand in expenditures up front. This will significantly reduce our cash balances. The cash drain will be exacerbated by approximately a one month delay in the normal cash flow for the State Convention. This is a result of the district conventions being held in late April rather than in late March as a result of the court redistricting lawsuits. This will delay the payment of registrations one month. In addition, we have no fundraisers planned between now and the State Convention in order to focus our full attention there, so we anticipate an additional six-figure drawdown of our cash reserves for normal operations. As long as the State Convention at least pays for itself, we will get the money back that we put up for the State Convention which will hopefully allow us to come out of Fort Worth with all our bills paid and several hundred thousand in cash reserves. We will then be faced with another financial challenge of getting ready for the National Convention, so the summer months will be a lean time. I am optimistic however, that going into the fall, the Victory Committee will be able to fund our election operations and we would expect a cyclical pickup in contributions at that time. If the State Convention makes some money as hoped, we will be in even better shape.
I added up the mileage on my cars that I have driven for Republican events since I started running for Chairman in December of 2009. By my calculations, I have driven approximately 80,000 miles visiting Republican clubs and groups around the state. This has been one of the best parts of the job – to have the opportunity to meet so many new people, in so many different cities, and to have the opportunity to stay in touch with the grassroots. I have never been prouder of our Party than over the last few months when everyone has come together to overcome the tremendous obstacles placed in front of us by the court system. We had to completely adopt a new set of rules and implement a never-before-tried process under tight time constraints. The process has gone as smoothly as we could have hoped to date and I attribute this to the cooperative, unified spirit that our Republican leaders and grassroots activists around the state have demonstrated. There are literally thousands of volunteers working hard on behalf of the Republican Party and what we believe in. Among these are some of the finest people I have met in my life.
On behalf of the Republican Party of Texas, I would like to thank all of you who have devoted countless hours and efforts during this difficult Spring to overcome the unprecedented situation the Party has been placed in. I am hopeful that by completing the process successfully and having a tremendous State Convention – that we can demonstrate that this is the Party's finest hour and set ourselves up for a victorious Fall campaign. Together, with the same unified spirit, we will work to put America back in the right direction.
Steve Munisteri, Chairman, Republican Party of Texas