On Wednesday, February 29th, an extraordinary emergency meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee was convened in Austin, TX. The purpose of the meeting was to consider adopting new rules in accordance with the San Antonio three-judge federal panel's instructions to propose a new way to pick delegates to the State Convention so as to allow for a May 29th or June 26th statewide primary date. As we previously reported, both the state Republican and Democratic parties reported to the Court that it would be impossible to comply with the current procedure for selecting delegates to state conventions and also to hold state conventions the first weekend of June. Both parties also told the Court that it was impossible to move the state conventions because of the necessity of lining up convention facilities and hotel rooms well in advance of the convention date.
Click here to see a list of rules changes passed by the SREC
The biggest problem facing both parties is the fact that precinct conventions (according to the Election Code) are to be held within five days of the primary election. Previous to yesterday's meeting, virtually all precinct conventions were held on the day of the primary election utilizing existing voter locations to hold caucuses. Since a primary needs to be held a couple of months before a state convention in order to have enough time to hold precinct conventions, county/district conventions and to allow for the process of credentialing, the scheduling of a May 29th primary made it impossible to hold precinct conventions at the same time as the primary. Consequently (and as reported previously), the State Republican Executive Committee, County Chairmen, and the RPT Officials Committee received input from Republican activists statewide and formulated a new plan to pick delegates.
The original plans were to move directly to county/district conventions without precinct conventions at all. This is the solution that the Texas Democratic Party has come up with and is the preferred solution for the majority of Republican county parties with whom we have consulted. However, since the Tarrant County and Travis County Republican Parties requested that an option be given to hold precinct conventions, the rules were modified to allow county party executive committees the option of attempting to hold precinct conventions in a manner to be determined by their executive committee. The original requirement was a 2/3 vote of the executive committee to approve this action, however, since Tarrant County GOP leadership wished to hold precinct conventions and have at least the option of holding them within their precinct as opposed to having all precincts at one location, as an accommodation to Tarrant County – the proposal was modified to reduce the requirement of 2/3 of the executive committee to 1/2. In the absence of executive committee action, county parties will proceed immediately to a county/district convention. Tarrant County leadership had requested that in the absence of executive committee action, that the default position be to move immediately to precinct conventions. However, since they were the only county out of 254 that requested this, the proposal was not changed. Nevertheless, Tarrant County does have the option (as do other counties) under the proposed rule of scheduling precinct conventions as they see fit.
During Wednesday's emergency SREC meeting, the Chair recognized RPT Assistant General Counsel and Senate District 21 Committeeman Eric Opiela for the purpose of making a motion to adopt the proposed rules. After a second, the Chair then had Mr. Opiela, Rules Committee Chairman Dan Pickens and Rules Committee member Clint Moore and Republican National Committeeman Bill Crocker (all of whom had given input into the new rules), come to the podium and answer every question that was asked by SREC members concerning the implications of the new rules. Once the questions were answered, the Chair then opened the floor to debate on the new rules. This led to the introduction of a half-dozen amendments to the rules. A few were housekeeping amendments dealing with clarifications and typographical errors, however, there were several significant amendments that were proposed. Consequently, the Chair allowed roughly a 30 minute recess so that all the proposed amendments could be copied, distributed to and reviewed by the SREC members. Amendments were also posted on four digital projectors in the meeting room so that every SREC member could be fully aware of what they were voting on.
The first significant amendment to be debated was one proposed by SREC member Tom Washington, and presented by SREC member Jason Moore. This amendment unbound the delegates to the RNC National Convention after the first ballot. This amendment passed overwhelmingly. This will make Texas a much bigger player on the national stage in the event that there is a brokered convention in Tampa, FL this August, as we have the second largest delegation with 155 delegates and all of the delegates will be up for grabs on the second ballot.
There was also an amendment to the proposed rules that transferred the responsibility of assigning delegates' first-ballot votes to specific Presidential candidates based on the percentage of the statewide vote total, from the State Chairman to the Nominations Committee at the State Convention. This rules change was made as a result of Tarrant County Republican activist Bill Eastland pointing out that an argument could be made that delegates could not be bound unless there is action by the State Convention or the SREC.
An amendment was put forth by SREC member David Bellow to modify the manner in which we pick National Convention delegates to increase the delegate allocation to a Presidential candidate who does the best in particular Congressional districts. This amendment was voted down not because it was without merit, but because there was concern that since the Party had just obtained Department of Justice approval to change to a proportional system, that the Party may not get approval from the DOJ of its rules switching back. Additionally, some SREC members such as Don Zimmerman of Travis County reported that their constituents preferred a proportional system over a winner take all. Also, it was pointed out that Party rules would then not be in compliance with Republican National Committee rules in 2016 if we have a March Primary that year. The proposed rules as adopted, keep in effect the previously enacted, strictly proportional delegate allocation system.
There also was an amendment to remove the option of holding precinct conventions from counties and to require only county/district conventions. This amendment failed.
Once the debate on individual amendments had concluded, which took roughly three hours, the question was called to vote up or down on the proposed rules. The proposed rules, as amended, were passed unanimously.
Chairman Steve Munisteri stated after the meeting, "I applaud the State Republican Executive Committee for the countless hours they have spent obtaining feedback from party activists and party leadership, and for thoroughly reviewing all possible options during the last two weeks. I am especially appreciative of the professional and civil tone of the debate concerning the rules, and for the unified and unanimous action of the SREC. These rules are by no means perfect. But they are in the opinion of myself and the SREC, the best of many bad alternatives. That is why I think it is very important that our Party be unified in moving forward to meet the unprecedented challenge our Party faces of preparing for the largest State Convention ever, in the shortest period of time, with a completely new set of untried rules. I would like to give a special 'Thank You' to Assistant General Counsel Eric Opiela, Rules Committee Chairman Dan Pickens, Rules Committeeman Clint Moore and National Committeeman Bill Crocker who all put in overtime drafting very complicated and lengthy rules on an expedited basis."