Heated debate breaks out ahead of vote on whether Texas GOP Chairman should be paid

Some in the GOP argue Chairman Dickey is taking his eye off the ball; others say a part-time volunteer chairman cannot possibly have the focus necessary to compete with an ascendant Texas Democratic party heading toward 2020

As the Republican Party of Texas does some soul searching following historic gains for Democrats in the Legislature and the most competitive statewide contests in decades, party officials are wrestling with a key question: Should GOP Chairman be a paid position instead of a volunteer?

No chairman has ever received compensation – neither does the Democratic counterpart – but a line included in the budget proposal up for a vote this weekend at the State Republican Executive Committee in Austin would allow for Chairman James Dickey to start drawing a paycheck.

While some argue Dickey is taking his eye off the ball, others argue compensation for the chairman – making it a full-time position – would give the leader of the Texas GOP a laser focus on fundraising and electing Republicans.

Under the proposed RPT budget, the chairman would receive annual compensation of $150,000 plus another $22,500 in taxes and benefits. For context, the party’s executive director right now takes home $130,000 a year. The overall budget Dickey and his staff have put together totals roughly $5 million with the intention of doing national fundraising. That is in stark contrast to previous years’ budgets that hovered between about $1.2 to $1.5 million.

Chair Dickey told Quorum Report in an interview that the real issue isn’t whether the person in the chair is paid. Referring to Democratic gains this fall, he said the key is whether fundamental changes need to be implemented to make the RPT more effective. “That’s a board question,” Dickey said of the SREC.

"Do they think the status quo, or the status quo plus 10 or 20 percent, is sufficient?" Dickey asked. If not then it’s time for a shakeup in how the RPT conducts its business, he said. "Requiring the chair to be a full time CEO would be one of the changes required.”

Dickey’s predecessor could not disagree more.

“He ran as a volunteer chairman,” said former RPT Chairman Tom Mechler, who’s been telling the party faithful for months that paying the chairman would be an unwise use of resources.

Mechler, who stepped down last year citing family concerns, said that for Dickey “to allege that he didn't know it was going to take this much time, that's disingenuous.”

It is fair to say, though, that Dickey has supported compensation for the RPT chairman going back to 2016, before he took the gavel.

"He never said he wanted to get paid,” Mechler said, suggesting Dickey would not have been elected had he told SREC members or delegates to the RPT convention that he wished to receive compensation. “He didn’t bring it up when he was running.”

“The money ought to be used to get Republicans elected instead of putting it in a chairman’s pocket,” Mechler said. “Ultimately, I stepped down because there was too much strain on my marriage and my business.”

Mechler opposed Dickey when he was first appointed by a narrowly divided SREC, by the way. After his appointment to fill the remainder of Mechler’s term, Dickey was later elected by the full RPT Convention in San Antonio earlier this year with the support of groups like Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life, Texas Values, Texas House Freedom Caucus members, and others.

Dickey’s time in office has also been, critics contend, more focused on party purification than electing Republicans to office.

Those critics, including some privately-grumbling GOP members of the Legislature, point to the censure of retiring Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and the RPT’s speaker commitment forms, which were promoted by the party during the last filing period for legislative offices. Dickey has said both the censure and the speaker commitment forms were actually aimed at party unity, not purification.

It is not yet clear where the SREC will come down on the issue of the chairman’s compensation.  

“I think it’s morally irresponsible, even beyond fiscally irresponsible,” said SREC member Mike McCloskey of Senate District 5 (that’s Sen. Charles Scwhertner’s area).  “The pitch to the donors is always that we need your money to elect our candidates, not pay party officers.”

“If I were a contributor, I’d be worried about that,” McCloskey said.

But others on the SREC disagree.

Writing on the Empower Texans blog, SREC member Tanya Robertson from SD 11 on the Gulf Coast, said the changing political environment is exactly why the chairman should be paid.

"We woke up in a different Texas on Wednesday, November 7 than we went to sleep in the night before," Robertson wrote. "The Republican Party of Texas must meet that challenge head on and this cannot be done successfully with a part-time chairman.”

“Either we must be bold and step up to this challenge or continue to follow the status quo while losing Texas to the Democrats,” Robertson said.

Copyright November 26, 2018, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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