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Montgomery County voters have sent a clear message by tossing out establishment incumbents in all levels of government, even down to the precinct. One of the most decisive, yet overlooked, victories for conservatives was the success of a slate of reform minded candidates winning precinct chair positions across the county, giving tea party activists a majority on the Republican County Executive Committee.
Grassroots conservatives won 12 of the 14 contested precinct races, defeating a slew of establishment incumbents and gaining control of the county party for the first time in history.
Founded in the 1960s, the Republican Party of Montgomery County has been firmly under the control of establishment County Chairman Wally Wilkerson almost from its inception. Over the course of his 54 year tenure, Wilkerson, dubbed “King Wally” by Karl Rove, has mostly stacked party leadership with liberal Republicans and shut out tea party and social conservatives from positions of influence.
Past attempts to unseat Wilkerson’s loyalists on the executive committee have largely faltered. Efforts were made by conservatives in 2002 and 2004 to contest precinct chair races, and although they elected a minority of dissenters for Wilkerson the deal with, they were never able to wrest the party away from the establishment.
However, times change, and Wilkerson’s grasp on the party began slipping in 2016, when a handful of tea party activists successfully ran for precinct chair against establishment incumbents. Through organizing and mastery of parliamentary procedure, they were able to stage minor revolts, passing resolutions advocating conservative policies such as property tax reform, despite Wilkerson’s opposition.
Strategic maneuvering enabled the activists to fill numerous vacancies with conservatives, and by the eve of the 2018 primary, the executive committee was about evenly split between conservatives aligned with the local tea parties and Wilkerson’s moderate lieutenants.
The primary became a heated struggle for control of the executive committee, with an unprecedented amount of money being spent in precinct chair races. Even the Montgomery County Tea Party PAC and Texas Patriots PAC, two influential tea party groups, got involved, backing the slate of conservative challengers and including them on their mailed voter guides.
In the end, the hard work of the challengers paid off, with reformers winning all but two of the contested races and defeating many of Wilkerson’s top lieutenants.
The greatest prize for conservatives was the defeat of Precinct Chair Jim Schulze, Wilkerson’s right-hand man who had been regarded by many as Wilkerson’s likely successor. Schulze was a pillar of the party establishment and was instrumental in whipping votes on the committee against conservative measures. Taking his place will be conservative Henry Daniels, a political newcomer.
Another one of Wilkerson’s lieutenants to go down was Marisa Rummell, an entrenched incumbent who held the position for over 30 years. Rummell was defeated in a landslide by Jon Bouche, President of the Lone Star Christian Chamber of Commerce.
“With the future we are leaving our children in mind, it was time to step up and be an active conservative voice that serves our community,” said Ashley Burke, a homeschool mom and Texans for Vaccine Choice leader who won her precinct race. “It’s so exciting to bring a new energy to the party and I’m determined to motivate our liberty loving neighbors to get involved.”
Adrian Kaiser, a 22 year old who unseated an establishment incumbent and will become the second youngest precinct chair in the county, tied his win to the broader reform movement sweeping the county:
“The voters showed at the ballot box that they are indeed ready for conservative reform,” said Kaiser. “This shift in county politics can hopefully start a widespread reform movement all across the state with conservatives being elected. Montgomery county is where it starts.”
Samuel Allison, who unseated another one of Wilkerson’s lieutenants, also credited his win to voters seeking change, along with the Lord’s favor:
“Our win, like many others on March 6th, was the result of the voters seeking to change direction, to make government accountable and transparent, to reduce taxes and spending, and to start to bring it back to its proper role. We block walked, talked to voters, and got out the vote to the best of our ability, but ultimately it was the Lord who blessed our work and gave us the victory. All credit goes to Him.”
As icing on the cake for the insurgents, establishment Precinct Chair Jodi Rounavar abruptly resigned the morning after the election which saw the defeat of so many of her allies. Her vacant seat will now be filled by the new conservative majority on the executive committee.
The new chairs will take office June 11. Wilkerson was re-elected, albeit by the closest margin of his political career, but he will face an executive committee stacked against him. He remains “King Wally”, however, he no longer has a kingdom.