Skip to comments.Precinct Chairs Drawing Attention - 4 of them to be on panel to pick replacement for DeLay on ballot
Posted on 06/19/2006 6:56:47 PM PDT by anymouse
The political grass roots closest to the soil precinct chairs are enjoying some time in the sun because of their role in selecting a Republican congressional nominee to succeed Tom DeLay.
Most of the time, precinct chairs labor anonymously in the unglamorous elective positions that typically are won uncontested if anyone seeks them at all.
But for now, the precinct leaders have one of the hottest jobs in local politics.
"We've been discovered," said Harris County precinct chair Kathy Haigler. "We are the lowest level of public officials that exist. We are the last ones on the ballot. But we are the first ones candidates call for an endorsement."
DeLay resigned from the House after winning the GOP nomination in March for a 12th term representing the 22nd Congressional District in suburban Houston.
A four-member committee representing each of the counties in the district will select the nominee to replace DeLay on the November ballot. And precinct chairs in the district will name the committee from among their ranks, so they're getting lots of attention from more than half a dozen candidates who covet the spot on the ballot.
Besides selecting the November nominee who may well succeed DeLay in the U.S. House, Harris County GOP precinct chairs also will nominate a candidate to replace County Treasurer Jack Cato, who died May 22.
Haigler said a successful political campaign needs financial donors and worker bees, and the latter often come in the form of volunteers like precinct chairs.
"We each have a proper place, and we are important to the process," she said. "We don't feel like we need to be in the limelight."
But lately, they are.
Prospective nominees are hosting coffees for them, buying them seats to charity dinners and meeting them one-on-one to discuss their candidacies.
For most of the chairs, such attention is unprecedented.
While it's not rare for precinct chairs to select ballot replacements for elected officials who die or resign, it typically involves down-ballot races such as judgeships or county administrative offices.
Precinct chairs' official duties are to run primary elections. They make up the executive committee of the party, attend four meetings a year, serve on standing committees, and vote on resolutions.
But good chairs do more. They know their little piece of the political world better than anyone else. They endorse candidates, send out mailers on the issues and know things like which subdivisions' deed restrictions prohibit campaign signs.
"Good precinct chairs know the primary voting history and identification of registered voters for each home in their district," said Harris County Republican Party Chair Jared Woodfill.
"They are the building blocks of the party. It's the secret to having a successful grass-roots organization," he said.
The job has become less secret because of the battle to succeed DeLay. "These elections have put the precinct chairs in the limelight," Woodfill said.
Woodfill is seizing the opportunity as a recruiting tool. In Harris County, about 40 percent of the precinct chair posts are vacant.
Woodfill has the ambitious goal of bringing the proportion of occupied GOP precinct chairs to 90 percent.
Precinct chairs are elected in party primaries.
A party committee is authorized to fill vacancies between elections, and officials say some new chairs may take office in time to participate in the 22nd District nomination process.
Beside selecting nominees, precinct chairs can be key to candidates' success in primaries and general elections.
Radio talk show host Dan Patrick mobilized precinct chairs during the March primary, and received the endorsement of about 85 percent of them in his successful bid for a state Senate nomination.
"Precinct chairs are the lifeblood of the party and the main connection between elected officials and constituents," Patrick said.
He plans to keep those connections if, as expected, he is elected to the Senate in the heavily Republican district.
Terese Raia, who has been a precinct chair in Fort Bend County since 1980, says she helped turn the county from Democratic to Republican domination.
She and others did it by doing things like offering child care to young mothers who wanted to get involved.
"We are the backbone of the party," Raia said.
Raia is vying for a place on the committee that will select DeLay's replacement.
It will comprise one precinct chair each from Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston and Harris counties.
"All of us aren't here for the glory, the pomp and circumstance," Raia said. "We're here to bring forward the person who is most qualified to win in November."
Among the 22nd Congressional District contenders who think they fit that bill are lawyer Tom Campbell, who came in second to DeLay in the four-candidate March primary; state Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land; state Sen. Mike Jackson of La Porte; Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers; retired Air Force Maj. Don Richardson; Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs; state Rep. Robert Talton of Pasadena; former state GOP executive committee member Tim Turner; and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace.
Haigler, who is seeking to represent Harris County on the selection committee, predicted that the Harris and Fort Bend county representatives will back candidates from their home counties, which could make the other two county representatives the swing votes. "Galveston and Brazoria have no dog in the hunt," she said.
That means the candidates have to cover a lot of ground to get acquainted with the almost 200 precinct chairs in the district.
"It's nice, we're getting all this attention," said Haigler. "But that will be over soon. And we know it."
I'm kind of shocked that the Houston Comical actually provided a pro-GOP viewpoint. The editors must have been on vacation.
Editorial board out to lunch ping!
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