As you know by now, Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson has received a challenger for the position in the 2018 primary, Chris Carmona. Chris and I had a cup of coffee yesterday and talked about his reasons for entering the race and his vision for the party.
Return to the Grassroots
Chris thinks that under Simpson’s leadership, the party has strayed from the bottom up, grassroots style that made the party successful and he wants to return to that model. One of the complaints that he has is that Precinct Chairs, as volunteers, should not be treated as employees but instead be seen as peers of party leadership and candidates. It is his impression that the party is now being run in a top down model, which limits the input and effectiveness of the volunteers.
One of the examples that he used to illustrate this was a meeting of judicial candidates prior to the 2016 General Election. He said that several of the candidates tried to raise an objection to the messaging that was going to be used (Harris County Works) but they were dismissed without being taken seriously and told that consultants were handling that. Chris thinks that a more collaborative approach would have led to a different message for the election.
In line with his thinking on the grassroots style of the party, Chris wants to increase the donor base of the party. He estimated that the party currently has 1,250 or so donors and wants to get that number up to 5,000. He thinks that he can accomplish this by putting more emphasis on project specific fundraising and reviving the small donor programs of the past.
Project specific fundraising simply means that donors would know exactly what their funds were going to be used for rather than everything going into one large pile and being doled out by the party leadership. For example, back in 2013, Chris wrote a post on BJP about getting judicial candidates to engage with the voters. The party could ask for donations to pay for the event space to carry out his ideas for judicial engagement. Or other specific programs.
During the hour and a half that we chatted, Chris seemed to return over and over to engagement. Many of his ideas revolve around engaging the community – a better media presence, better messaging, better branding, featuring our candidates as “Stars of the Party”, etc. The party, and Republicans in general, has to stop being reactionary. Going to parades every two years is not engagement.
One of the tools that he wants to use to implement his ideas on engagement is to have four Regional Vice-Chairs, one in each county commissioner precinct. The RVC’s would drive the engagement in their respective areas, working with the Senate District Chairs and Precinct Chairs to tailor their efforts to the different communities. Each community is different and the party needs to let them know how Republican values can help them.
Perception as a Big 3 Slate Candidate
One thing that I needed to be clear about was the perception that Chris is a product of the old guard wanting a return to power. After asking him about this from every angle I could, I’m confident that this is not the case. Chris told me that he had been thinking about running for the Chair since last December and specifically mentioned the Strategic Review as one of the reasons he decided to jump in. He thought that the way that review was conducted limited the conclusions reached and that the recommendations were recycled from years past. He said it was a hard decision especially because it prevents him from being Chair of the Young Republican National Federation.
He said that he did approach the slates for their endorsement because they are so influential that it would be self-defeating not to. And I agree with him on that. As I mentioned here, in theory the slates can be an effective tool for voters when used transparently. Obviously, the slates were never going to endorse Simpson, so there’s that, but at least Chris was not recruited by them the way they recruited Rick Ramos and Tex Christopher in 2016.
Not Open Borders/Amnesty Guy
I had to laugh when he wanted to make it clear that he was not Artemio Muñiz. Temo is a friend and has a knack for getting on television and radio to talk about his vision for the Republican Party. Chris said people keep confusing the two and wants to make certain that people know there is a difference and that Chris is not for open borders or amnesty for people that entered the country illegally. BTW, I don’t think that Temo is for those things either but you know how perception works.
All in all, it was a good chat. Hopefully we’ll get other opportunities to discuss the race and dive deeper into the failures in 2016 and his ideas for overcoming them. One thing that Chris said is undoubtedly true: we cannot keep blaming Trump for the loss, we have to figure out how to move forward.