Censure of Speaker Straus a Major Flashpoint in Race to Lead the Republican Party of Texas

Originally published on Quorum Report.

The race to be Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas is getting downright nasty ahead of the governing party of this state’s convention coming up in just a couple weeks. At forums around the state, the two candidates for chairman have clashed over a variety of issues including management of the RPT’s finances, party unity, party purity, accusations of securities fraud against the incumbent, and much more.

But what drew the most emotional response from a crowd of about 100 of the party faithful gathered this past week at the Harris County Republican Party’s headquarters in Houston was the censure of retiring Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

More on that in a moment. First, some context.

Cindy Crocker Asche, from DFW, is challenging sitting RPT Chairman James Dickey, a former Travis County GOP Chair who was installed by the State Republican Executive Committee last year following the abrupt resignation of former Chairman Tom Mechler. Dickey now says Mechler had “at best, a troubled legacy” as chairman. The battle to succeed him played out in such an under-the-radar kind of way that some Republicans could be forgiven for thinking Mechler's still chairman.

Mechler had supported a different candidate, Brenham businessman Rick Figueroa, who would have been the party’s first Hispanic chairman when Dickey was elected instead by a deeply divided SREC last June.

Mechler now supports Asche in her bid to unseat Dickey, who the former chairman insists cannot be trusted with the party’s finances. Among other things, Mechler points to federal accusations against Dickey that he and a business partner swindled investors out of millions of dollars while managing a hedge fund years ago in Dallas.

“Some have questioned the validity or relevance of the information, given that the incident took place so many years ago,” Mechler wrote on the Big Jolly Politics blog in Houston. “But others have maintained that it is very relevant since it gives a window into Dickey’s character,” Mechler wrote. He then asked “If Dickey lied to investors 14 years ago, resulting in investors losing millions of dollars, can he be trusted to tell us the truth today?”

Dickey was not asked about those accusations during last week’s forum, but he defended himself anyway by comparing the situation to President Donald Trump’s tensions with the Department of Justice.  

“Has anyone paid attention the FBI lately?” Dickey asked the crowd, drawing some laughter. “Government bureaucrats get things wrong,” he said while some in the audience who support Asche muttered “you signed it, though.”

Those activists were referring to the fact that Dickey did settle the case with the Securities and Exchange Commission and, under the settlement, is not allowed to misrepresent the facts that led up to the filing of the case.

Among those seizing on Dickey’s past civil legal problems: Many members of the state’s largest group of GOP women, the Texas Federation of Republican Women.

During the forum in Houston, Dickey said it was regrettable that he was – as he saw it – not welcome to speak at TFRW’s convention last year. He told the divided crowd at Harris County GOP headquarters that he tried to work it out with then-TFRW President Theresa Kosmoski, who was sitting in the front row at the debate and could be heard calling him “a liar.” To say it was an awkward moment would be understating things considerably.

“In typical James Dickey style, he believes that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth,” Kosmoski later told Quorum Report. “Everything he said about TFRW was an unmitigated lie. Absolutely everything. If he is willing to lie about something so easily fact-checked, how can we trust him to be honest about anything?”

Kosmoski and four other past presidents of TFRW including Carolyn Hodges have endorsed Asche. All her endorsements are here. Dickey’s are here.

On the issue of bringing the party together to defeat possibly ascendant Democrats in the fall, Dickey said that even though the State Republican Executive Committee chose him by the slimmest of margins – by a single vote – the SREC has since been essentially unanimous on most major issues.

There was one glaring exception: The censure of Straus, who earlier this year stood accused of not completely adhering to the state GOP’s platform and its nearly 300 planks. The censure required a two-thirds vote of the SREC. Its passage was made possible by the affirmative votes of Dickey and Vice Chair Amy Clark.

“In the most important vote, Mr. Dickey broke the tie to censure Joe Straus,” challenger Asche said, which caused Dickey’s supporters to jump to their feet in a standing ovation for having made the rebuke of Straus a reality.

“I bet she didn’t think that would be the reaction,” said a Republican in attendance.

Asche pushed back, arguing the censure was the kind of purity test driving some people from the party. “Are we telling Republicans across the state that you’re not a good enough Republican?” Asche said. “Do we want them to vote for the Democrats?”

Some in the crowd answered “yes.”

Asche said voters who agree with 95 percent of the GOP platform should be supporting the party’s candidates and welcome within their ranks. Certain parts of the state have already become more competitive for Democrats, at least in part, because some Republicans are working as hard as they can to constantly make the tent smaller, Asche said.

“I’ve seen it in Dallas County. I’ve seen it in Travis County (where of course Dickey was chairman),” Asche said. “It (Texas) will flip blue,” she said, and “If we lose Texas, we lose this country.”

Chairman Dickey stressed that his vote to censure Straus did not technically “break a tie” because he and the vice chair’s votes gave the resolution the two-thirds support it needed to pass. His argument, in other words, is that a majority of the SREC wanted to punish Straus so Dickey voted with them for the sake of putting the issue in the Texas GOP’s rearview mirror.

"The votes cast by the Chair and Vice Chair (in favor of censure) do not necessarily represent their personal views on this matter but were cast in a sincere effort to foster unity,” the RPT said in a statement in the days following the vote in January.

Both candidates say unity is important, but Dickey said strict adherence to the party platform is critical.

“What it is now is a resource guide,” Dickey said of the platform, which he said should be treated seriously – including what it says about unpasteurized milk – because it is the work product of the GOP’s delegates. “We check the guide” whenever anyone asks what the party is going to do on any given issue, Dickey said.

As far as the party’s finances, Dickey has boasted of record fundraising. During the Houston forum, he said the party had raised $1.2 million for core operations and $1.6 million for the upcoming convention. When later asked how much the party has on hand for core operations, Dickey said more than $575,000 as of May 17.

But some Republicans pointed to an Empower Texans email “paid for by the Republican Party of Texas” this past week as reason to question who is keeping the party’s finances afloat for now.

Some current GOP members of the Texas House told QR that the arrangement to allow such a group to send a message to all the delegates for $5,000 is “outrageous.” Also, it did not go unnoticed by some Republican House members that one of the first things Dickey did as chairman was choose Empower Texans’ attorney Trey Trainor to be a party attorney.

Retired Texas House Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, said of the email: “Where do you think the Texas GOP's money is coming from?”

Chair Dickey shot back at Keffer on social media, “As I told you in March we very much look forward to your sponsorship also. Email blast is only an extra $5k.” Dickey also said he would welcome the same kind of sponsorship money from TFRW.

As far as their own finances, Chair Dickey raised $19,000, spent $18,000, had $10,000 on hand with no loans in the last report.

Asche has said that, like President Trump, she is the biggest funder of her own campaign. Per filings, that is true. On the last available report, she had raised $12,000, spent $48,000 and had $33,000 on hand after a $50,000 loan.

Copyright May 30, 2018, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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