Last night the Sedgwick County Republican Party met in an organizational meeting to elect its leadership for the next two years. The primary news made was in the contest for chairman and vice-chairman. The secretary and treasurer positions were not contested.
Some observers, including myself, saw the contest as being between “establishment” Republicans and a group associated with the tea party. Others cast the election as more between experienced and veteran party members versus relative newcomers, while still others saw the differences as based more on personalities than anything substantive. Whatever the terminology, the newcomers did not do well in the election.
The people attending the organizational meeting and voting on leadership are those elected or appointed as precinct committeemen or committeewomen. That election was held in August in conjunction with the statewide primary election.
In the past, there have been contentious election contests at the organizational meeting, with the dividing line being between conservatives and moderates, with the abortion issue prominent. The last organizational meeting in November 2008 was calm, with one slate of candidates offered for the leadership and delegate positions, with party leaders urging that no nominations be brought up from the floor.
This year’s meeting had two slates of candidates. One — clearly the establishment or veteran slate — was headed by Bob Dool, a Wichita businessman who has been serving as treasurer of the fourth congressional district party committee. Julie Sipe was the slate’s nominee for vice-chair. Dool was endorsed by Mike Pompeo, the recently-elected U.S. congressman from the Kansas fourth district, which includes all of Sedgwick County.
There’s a backstory here that deserves mention. The 2008 organizational meeting, where there was one slate of candidates and any talk of offering nominations from the floor was strongly discouraged by party insiders, made a bad impression on many activists. Some were particularly disturbed that the slate of delegates to the fourth district committee — the next level up in the party hierarchy — included many people who were not elected precinct committeemen or committeewomen. To newcomers, the 2008 meeting smacked of “good ol’ boy” cronyism, with no consideration given to the newcomers who had ran for election to — and had to campaign in order to win — precinct committee positions.
Since then, the tea party movement started in the winter months of early 2009. This movement, operating largely outside the established Republican party, grew to become a significant force nationally. Locally, a tea party activist group led by Craig Gabel and Lynda Tyler played a significant role in the November elections by working for Republican candidates, although the group did support one Democrat, Gwen Welshimer. The group played a crucial role in electing Benny Boman and Les Osterman to the Kansas House of Representatives by defeating incumbent Democrats. The group helped in the reelection of Phil Hermanson to the House, and helped elect Joseph Scapa and Jim Howell to open House seats. John Stevens and James Clendenin came surprisingly close to gaining election over their Democratic Party incumbents.
At the county level, the group was active in helping Richard Ranzau in his election to the county commission. Gabel estimates his group distributed 4,000 blended packets of literature, placed 600 signs, and made 40,000 robo-calls plus several thousand live calls.
Having played a role in local politics — successful by their own account, but perhaps not appreciated by everyone — the group wanted inclusion in the local Republican Party process. Neither Gabel or Tyler sought leadership positions. (Tyler is running for Wichita city council in the spring.) Instead, both wanted an open and honest process that was inclusive and gave everyone an opportunity to seek office, either as leadership or a delegate to the higher committee.
Both leaders seem genuinely concerned that the Republican Party be open and seek to grow. I asked Gabel what he would like to see in a chairman. He said: “A chair that would reach out to all portions of the Republican Party, that would keep the momentum flowing that was started in the election — someone interested in filling the precincts, raising funds, and educating people.” Reaching out to young people and minorities is also important, Gabel said.
As Dool made his candidacy for chair known, Gabel, Tyler, and others invited him to a meeting. Initially Dool did not want to meet and declined the invitation. A meeting with Dool took place earlier this week, said Gabel. He described the meeting as unproductive.
Back to last night’s organizational meeting: While social issues weren’t the primary issue on voters’ minds in the recent national election, abortion politics played a role last night. In his nominating speech for Dool, Mark Kahrs said that Dool “strongly supports the sanctity of life, which is the concern of this local party, and must remain the cornerstone of our party’s platform.” That drew applause from the audience.
Before that, in her speech Park, the nominee for vice-chair, said that someone in the audience was spreading rumors that she is not conservative and not pro-life. Park said these allegations were not true.
In nominating Jim Anderson, John Stevens praised Anderson for his experience in campaigning and technology. Explicitly referring to the tea party, Stevens said that we need as chair “a person who is inclusive of all Republicans, as well as tea party active people. These folks helped make it work this time. Don’t deny them.”
Speaking for himself, Dool said he wanted to increase the Republican Party base by increasing communication, hosting events for elected officials to meet with the public, increasing opportunities for all to participate in the political process, creating a business-friendly environment with lower taxes and less regulation, and raising enough money locally for a full-time employee. He said he supports the tea party movement, saying such populist movements have helped us stay true to the Founding Fathers’ principles.
In his speech, Anderson referred to his run for U.S. Congress. He also addressed an issue that many said would prevent them from voting for Anderson — his failure to endorse Mike Pompeo after Anderson lost to him and others in the Republican primary election in August. Anderson said he pledged his support to Pompeo — privately, though. Anderson said we need to grow the party by reaching out to all people, including independents.
The results of the election for vice-chair were Park 43 votes (21 percent), and Sipe 164 votes (79 percent).
For chair, the result was Anderson 59 votes (28 percent), and Dool 149 votes (72 percent).
In the selection of delegates to the fourth congressional district committee, voters had to select 98 delegates and 100 alternate delegates. A group called “Republicans for Conservative Leadership” provided a slate. The group headed by Gabel and Tyler had a slate, but the slate did not have enough names. The RCL slates won. (Disclaimer: my mother was on the RCL slate as an alternate delegate.)
After the meeting, reaction was mixed as to whether the group of tea party or new activists felt welcomed into the process. Some felt the process was improved over 2008, as there were two candidates for each of the top leadership positions. Others felt that the outcome was nonetheless predetermined. But like in most elections, the winning candidates had the message most voters agreed with, and simply did a better job of campaigning for their positions.
Going forward, the local party has the same challenge as does the national party: how to integrate or channel the energy of the tea party. If the vote for the challengers — about one-fourth of the party members present — is a measure of the numbers in the tea party, it’s a significant force that Republicans should welcome. But an initial challenge for Dool and party leaders is that many tea party activists will resent anything they perceive as channeling of their energy or integration of their politics.
Also, some had asked that the slates of delegates should have been made available before the meeting. Voters had to vote for 98 delegates and 100 alternates. But party officials refused to release the names before the meeting, which seems to be the type of needless secret-keeping that breeds distrust and conspiracy theories.