It goes without saying that some days or weeks are more eventful and consequential than others, and that we often don’t fully appreciate the full impact of such moments in time until long after they occur. As I have been trying to make sense of everything I have witnessed over the last 10 days, a few observations—lessons, if you will—are coming into focus for me that I think could be consequential for our party over the next few years.
This 10-day period started with three forums that I was privileged to moderate, which were sponsored by the Clear Lake Area Republicans (videos of which have been, or will be posted on its website (http://www.clearlakearearepublicans.com): a forum in Kemah of local GOP, libertarian, and Tea Party leaders discussing different perspectives of conservatism within the local Republican Party; a forum for candidates for the Clear Creek Independent School District (“CCISD”) Board of Trustees; and a forum for candidates for Mayor and the City Council of Deer Park. The week essentially ended with listening to a candid and wise speech by County Judge Ed Emmett about our local and state Republican politics and local government issues as part of United Republicans of Harris County’s first meeting of the year (which was summarized well by my fellow UR Board member, Karen Townsend, on her “Pondering Penguin” blog (http://ponderingpenguin.blogspot.com). Interspersed with these events were separate discussions I had with a current member of the CCISD Board about education issues, a former mayor of one of Harris County’s 34 cities about the GOP and local government, and a current SREC member about the growth of our party within the Latino community in Fort Bend County; an ongoing face-to-face and email discussion within the Clear Lake Area Republicans about the CCISD bond referendum; and face-to-face and online discussions (and debates) about the HCRP’s Vacancy Committee’s handling of Chris Busby’s application to become a Precinct Chair.
I don’t want to get into the weeds about any of these events, or the issues that were covered during those events. Instead, what I want to do in this post is try to share some general lessons I have learned over these last 10 days.
Specifically, I have learned four, somewhat interrelated, lessons:
- First, I believe that what really ails the GOP right now is not so much any insurmountable division over principles or beliefs, but instead a loss of perspective among some of us about why the GOP exists as a political party and about how to put our principles into practice through politics.
- Second, I believe that many of us have our focus and perspective exactly backwards. While we contend that we are the party that believes in a limited national government and in the re-invigoration of the rights of the individual, and of the powers and responsibilities local and state governments, many of us remain fixated on the dysfunctions of Washington and analyze every issue at every level of government and society through the prism of that fixation. Looking though such a prism too often distorts our assessment of local governments, local issues, and local candidates. Moreover, our fixation on Washington actually prevents many of us from effectively participating in our local institutions in a manner that is consistent with the principles we espouse.
- Third, too many of us don’t adequately understand what local governments (including county commissioners’ courts, city councils, and school boards) do, how they work (either by themselves, or within the framework of the federal scheme of divisions of power and responsibility), or how they should work, even as we seek to return power and responsibility to the local levels of government and society.
- Finally, this lack of understanding about, and reversed perspective toward, local government exacerbates our inability to put our principles into practice in many urban neighborhoods.
Normally, I would now digress to support these statements with citations to sources like Federalist Paper No. 45, or Ronald Reagan’s New Republican Party speech from 1977, or the 1976 Republican National Platform that Reagan believed should serve as the principled basis for the New Republican Party; or I would elaborate about some of the positive examples about Republicans who understand these lessons and are addressing it. At some point soon I will return to each of these four points and address them in more detail; but for now, I want to stop here and ask you to give these four points some thought based on your own experiences.
In the meantime, many of you live in cities or school districts that are holding elections right now, or will do so this fall. If you have time before you vote, try to put aside all of the information you are getting from outside sources and try to contact someone who is, or has been involved in one of these councils or boards and talk to them—about their responsibilities, the issues they have faced, and the issues they believe these institutions will face over the next few years. Then, think about our principles and how they can be applied to meet these responsibilities and address these issues—without thinking about Washington.
My guess is that at least some pre-conceived notions will change, and we will find a better way to effectively participate in local government and prepare it for a more limited national role in local issues over the years ahead.
Now, I will end this post by addressing one specific issue that arose during the last week. Frankly, I have struggled over whether I should post any specific comments about what has been written about the Harris County Republican Party’ Vacancy Committee’s treatment of Chris Busby. Although there is not much I can add to what has been said, I have come to the conclusion that it is important for those of us in formal and informal leadership positions within the local party family to state where they stand. I agree with the sentiments expressed on this website in various posts and comments (and in many related Facebook comments), by Karen Townsend on her blog, and by Judge Emmett last Tuesday evening—the Committee members who treated Chris and his application with such disrespect should be ashamed of themselves. Moreover, we should be ashamed that we have allowed this type of behavior to continue to fester within our party and under the name of the Republican Party, and that we have looked the other way while our candidates have been subjected to a primary process in which they feel compelled to underwrite and enrich the instigator of this shameful conduct in order to get elected.
As our country approached the abyss of civil war, our party’s national platform of 1860 ended with the following plank:
Finally, having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the co-operation of all citizens, however differing on other questions, who substantially agree with us in their affirmance and support.
Consistent with this approach to inclusion, Reagan admonished us about how we should persuade others to join our New Republican Party:
After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with. If we truly believe in our principles, we should sit down and talk. Talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time if it means talking about the principles of the Republican Party. Conservatism is not a narrow ideology nor is it the exclusive property of conservative activists.
It is not Christian, not Conservative, and not Republican to treat our neighbors the way Chris was treated. Chris, please continue to work for our party, our principles and our candidates, and please file to run for your precinct chair position in the next primary—we need young men like you for the future of our party.