Our statewide's were re-elected on what was otherwise a dismal night for Texas Republicans. Good news is we also picked up one congressional seat. We beat Nick Lampson and elected Pete Olson and we held service in every other congressional race. John Cornyn was successfully re-elected to the U.S. Senate and remaining standing from the Harris County tidal wave of Democratic votes were County Judge Ed Emmett, Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, and District Attorney-Elect Pat Lykos. All were successful because they were candidates/officeholders that the voters recognized as people they knew and could trust. Most candidates running essentially as anonymous Republican candidates were not successful.
Worst Defeat For Texas GOP In 44 Years,
How Did It Happen?
The last time Democrats won in Harris County and Dallas County (Texas' two largest) was in 1964 when LBJ smashed Barry Goldwater and now it has happened again.
But the defeat suffered this year is far more extensive and devastating. The GOP is now on the ropes in two key Texas counties and the state is essentially one bad cycle away from Democratic ascendancy and control.
So how did this happen? The answer is simple and complicated. First, nationally, Republicans suffered back to back train wrecks. In 2006, because of government incompetence re: Katrina, mounting debts, mismanagement, war atrophy, and this was before the surge. Of course, the scandal with Congressman Foley's page broke late in the election cycle. This year, it's the economic collapse as Americans watched their retirement savings deplete and the banking system teeter on the brink and most importantly, we had abandonment of many conservative principles by our elected GOP'ers. Added to this is Bush fatigue and Obama excitement.
But Texas has been a GOP dominated state and all that was not enough to do us in. Governor Perry and the GOP controlled legislature passed an unpopular gross receipts tax and have failed, despite promises, to control runaway property taxes. State mismanagement has also raised its head with scandals at the Texas Youth Commission, Child Protective Services and the Texas Department of Transportation, all under GOP management. This has reinforced the idea that GOP officeholders talk one way when they campaign and another when they govern.
Taking the story locally to Harris County, the GOP had advance knowledge the Democrats would be aggressive this cycle. They will have spent approximately $2.5 million for joint judicial/individual judicial campaigns and there had been talk of significant independent expenditures. Despite these efforts the GOP tanked, losing almost every countywide race except three stars: Emmett, Bettencourt, and Lykos and four judges with opponents with bad names in a historic defeat. One bit of good news is the GOP winning 5 out of 6 races on the 1st & 14th Courts of Appeals, which was due to Republican strength in other counties, which offset the deficit in Harris County.
The Harris County GOP under Chairman Jared Woodfill failed because it had the wrong message or no message. It failed because it tried to sell a discredited brand, it had no war room to counter the media and Democratic echo chambers about real or imagined GOP scandals and it failed to tell the rest of the story about the success of Harris County government under GOP rule (yes, there was a story to be told).
As for the local judiciary, the campaign was subcontracted out to political consultant/lobbyist Allen Blakemore by Chairman Jared Woodfill (Blakemore's reign of error is detailed in another article), which is unfortunate since one of the most capable political operatives around, Jeff Yates, was serving as Executive Director of the Harris County GOP and knew what to do, but was never given a chance.
The joint judicial campaign was an expensive failure primarily because it was selling a brand, "Republican Judges", to a dissatisfied electorate that was not buying. What is unfortunate and TCR can now report there was another plan presented last year to Chairman Woodfill and rejected (probably on Blakemore's instructions).
This plan would have presented the highly qualified and experienced GOP judges in a way to encourage voters to split their ticket or to vote straight GOP down ballot. So what was the plan? Bold and simple.
- Put a face on the judiciary and countywide GOP officeholders and tell the story of individual judges and candidates and how they are making a difference.
- Define the opposition. Do you know what that $1.5 million campaign had nothing about? The number of under-qualified Democrats on the ballot. We could have made them the face of the Democratic ticket. We also should have done that on the weaker countywide Democrats, which by the way was only seen in the last week to ten days in the Sheriff's race.
- Set up a war room team to rapidly respond to Democratic media attacks and to tell "the rest of the story."
- Ensure key officeholders have television training, so we would not have been "trapped" like a deer in headlights in interview after interview as we were.
- Redeveloping the strong precinct chair system and empowering them with resources and matching public officials to precincts as a team-up approach for getting out the vote.
- Finally, create a Compact with Harris County, five things the GOP and its candidates promise to do to make our county a better place if elected.
That, TCR readers, was the alternative plan rejected by Chairman Woodfill and Blakemore. TCR believes it was a plan that could have been successful in minimizing GOP losses.
Beyond 2008: Where Do We Go Now?
The GOP in Texas and in the big counties is now at a precipice. The current Republican Party of Texas, which at its most recent state convention, treated about 30% of the delegates and alternates as stepchildren, must broaden itself and welcome all, otherwise those in control can have a GOP that wins nothing important, and be a permanent minority party.
2010 now beckons as the most critical election cycle since 1994. With the State legislature 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats and the Senate essentially moderate to liberal, unless the GOP has a revival in 2010, the Democrats could control redistricting and if they do, they will dominate Texas until at least 2022.
Obviously the statewide's are one key, but with a bruising GOP primary for Governor on the horizon between Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Governor Rick Perry, the prospects are questionable. The wrong candidate for Governor in 2010 will silence the GOP in the major counties for a decade.
If conservatives want to rebound, we must have candidates with broad-based appeal, who can manage the state well and accomplish things. We need to learn about our failures this cycle and how to repair our mistakes. We need to do a great job of candidate recruitment like the Democrats have.
The Democrats have the White House now and will use it to continue to seek and broaden their base of support and use the power of government to suppress the GOP. They know if they can get hold of Texas, they can have a stranglehold on Washington forever.
For 2010, Democrat Mayor Bill White is the man to watch. He has friends in both parties and will run as the successful, tax cutting manager of Houston. He will be hard to deal with, especially if we have a circular firing squad primary for Governor. TCR hopes we get smart.
SD 17: The Aftermath
Watching the first round with a campaign of lies, half-truths, and mud thrown on the GOP's best hope to hold SD 17, Judge Joan Huffman, TCR was truly astounded at the depths the cabal of Blakemore, Janek and Furse have gone. $300,000 of Kyle Janek's campaign funds were given to (Best of Texas PAC) Allen Blakemore for the sole purpose of character assassination to, in the end, elect Chris Bell? TCR is sorry Austen Furse let Blakemore and Janek run his reputation into the ground with the worst GOP campaign TCR can remember, and by the way, he finished a poor fourth. The extent of prevarications by the cabal is breathtaking, where do we start?
- Janek delays his resignation until June which puts SD 17 at risk, because he did not have "a candidate" for special May elections.
- The first lies about Huffman on the web and in the mail about vacation time off is discovered and Furse apologizes, as does Blakemore. At the same time they were apologizing, the next set of lies about Huffman were already in the mail, that took chutzpah, don't you think?
- Janek, when confronted with the mud, claims he knew nothing about how his $300,000 was being spent and had not seen the lies. TCR does not know what is more pathetic, not knowing how your money is spent or lying about it.
- Janek says Allen Blakemore does not attack Republicans. This is the biggest lie of all. See article herein.
- Things got so bad that Texans for Lawsuit Reform, who had been neutral, endorsed Huffman, saying "Huffman's reputation for courage and public service are helping her stand up to a series of brutal and inaccurate attacks by one of her Republican opponents (Furse). These attacks are so outrageous that her opponent even apologized for them, yet they still continue," reads the TLR release. "TLR is adding its voice to the many others who condemn the attacks and support Joan Huffman."
Despite all she had to deal with, Huffman is in the runoff, though behind Chris Bell. Observers wonder whether the GOP can unify and get the vote out in December? If this seat is indeed lost, send your thank you's to Allen Blakemore at One Greenway Plaza, Suite 225, Houston, Texas 77046, Austen Furse at One Greenway Plaza, Suite 225, Houston, Texas 77046 and Kyle Janek at 103 Pascal Lane, Austin, TX 78746-2543.
The sad thing is this was all preventable. The truth is the cabal would rather have a Democrat if they can't have a Republican they control. How pathetic. This race and their actions are a poster child for what ails the GOP and conservatives in Texas. Of course,with a runoff coming we can still hold the seat, if we unify behind Joan Huffman.
Red, White & Blue, featuring TCR Editor Gary Polland and liberal commentator David Jones. Airing weekly on Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on PBS Houston Channel 8. This week November 7 the SD 17 faceoff - Joan Huffman (R) v. Chris Bell (D). November 14 - where do we go from here with Congressman Ted Poe (R) and Congressman Gene Green (D).
About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his twelfth year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last seven years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant. He can be reached at (713) 621-6335.