Tip: for those of you that are not in Harris County or don’t care about Republicans in Harris County, now is a good time to tune out. I’m going to vent a little about the state of the Republican Party in Harris County and you’ll undoubtedly be bored The fact that Harris County used to be the largest reliably “red” county in the US should give us all pause but undoubtedly, it won’t.
As most of you know, BJP has been trying to right the sinking ship of the Harris County Republican Party since 2009. This was after the disaster of the Obama wave in 2008 and when I walked into a meeting of the Clear Lake Area Republicans and saw that our “hopes” were being pinned on Terry Lowry, proprietor of the “Link Letter”, a pay to play rag that is the most influential “endorsement” slate in Harris County. The guy had just attacked a candidate for Harris County District Attorney by claiming that she performed oral sex on deputies in exchange for false testimony at trial. Yes, I do have a recording of that. But those claims were just one part of a “system” that has corrupted Harris County Republican politics for a long, long time.
Today, five years later, there is no better example of what is wrong with Harris County Republican Party politics than the “race” to replace Sen. Dan Patrick in Senate District 7. I’ve said, and obviously I’m not alone, that former Harris County Tax Assessor Collector Paul Bettencourt is a shoe-in for the job. Paul’s a good guy, with a good record. But no one should be “anointed” and “given” a political position that represents almost a million Texans. No one.
And that might not have been the case. Sam Harless, husband of State Rep. Patricia Harless, announced that he was going to throw his hat in the ring. And that would have been a good thing, even if he didn’t ultimately succeed. But at the end of the day, he correctly decided that it would be foolish to waste a couple million dollars in a race that he cannot win. Not because he isn’t a better candidate – Bettencourt certainly has problems that a good candidate could have exploited in any county other than Harris County. No, Sam Harless had no chance specifically because the Harris County Republican Party and the Republican primaries no longer belong to “the people”. Instead, they belong to the “Second Baptist” crowd and the pay for play slates. If Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist, and the big three pay-t0-play slates aren’t on board, you cannot win. That is a statistical fact.
Here is Sam Harless’ concession to this fact of Harris County Republican Party politics:
Let me start by saying how humbled and grateful Patricia and I are for your support and friendship. Overwhelmed is the first word that comes to mind from the outpouring of support I have received in my short journey as a candidate for State Senate District 7.
However, after much prayer and soul searching, it is with a heavy heart that I have decided against running for office.
I believe for democracy to work, people must have a choice. Candidates should campaign on the issues and give the constituency an opportunity to know those wishing to serve them. Unfortunately, I feel that opportunity has been eliminated in this race.
This is the first time, to my knowledge, in 25 years of working on campaigns in Harris County that these “slates” have issued an endorsement for a candidate before filing even opens or the field of candidates officially announce. Not only did the “slates” endorse the other announced candidate in the SD 7 race, but so did the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.
Because voter turnout is so low in the Harris County Republican primary, the winners and losers are chosen by the very few – less than 8 percent of the registered voters have decided the Republican candidates in the last four election cycles. That small percentage of voters is often heavily influenced by the “slates” that are mailed prior to the primary election.
Do I think someone can win against all these “king makers?” Yes. But, it will take more than 8 percent of voters showing up to vote in the Republican primary – and it will be a blood bath for our party. At a time when so many great candidates are running for almost every statewide office, we need to be united in getting more people out-to-vote in the primary.
That is what I will be doing. I will work every day as if I were a candidate, to get people motivated to show up and vote. I think we need a new generation of conservative leaders. Not the “good ole boy…you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” politicians that our HCRP called “tried and true.” That is rhetoric for “same as usual.”
I hope you will take the passion you have shown me the last few weeks and join me in changing the face of our party. Let’s make the choices we have in November better by showing up to vote in the March Republican primary.
I am eternally grateful for each of you and may God bless you and our great State of Texas.
That is so, so sad for Harris County Republicans. I don’t know if Sam Harless would have been a better state senator than Paul Bettencourt. But I sure as heck would have liked to find out. I can’t blame him for bowing out. When I received a fundraising email from Bettencourt using the Harris County Republican Party email list, I knew the fix was in. Just like when County Chair Jared Woodfill flagrantly mis-used the Harris County Republican Party email list in his campaign four years ago. But no one called him on it (except me) so it didn’t matter.
The only solution is for you, Harris County Republican Party primary voters, to stop the madness and vote for candidates that you have researched and know. I’m not holding my breath for that one.
Maybe Sam Harless will decide enough is enough and run against Jared Woodfill or finance someone to run against him. People used to laugh at me when I said we were in trouble in 2014 in Harris County but today at the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club, Ed Johnson (HCRP vote counting guru and one of those that laughed at me) asked a question of Lt. Gov. candidate Todd Staples, essentially saying that we were going to lose unless we change our tactics. Too bad Ed doesn’t realize his own mindset is part of the problem.
Like I said, I’m venting. The current Harris County Republican Party system limits our choices and keeps grassroots candidates from rising to the top. We desperately need to abandon the current system and let true competition determine our candidates. The place to start is at the top – Jared Woodfill must be replaced. Unless and until that happens, the pay to play slates will continue to control our destiny. We have lost the top of the ticket county wide for the last three elections (2008, 2010, 2012). Those losses lie solely at the feet of the county party – with better leadership, there never would have been an “Obama wave” as Jared is prone to say. We must make a change if we desire to win in the future.