Galveston County’s Republican Party has undergone a complete revolution in recent days with the resignation of County Chairman Carl Gustafson and the adoption of completely new bylaws that significantly restructure the organization.
For years, the Galveston GOP has been engaged in a battle between the more moderate old guard on one hand, and conservative precinct chairs who believe in holding officials accountable to the party platform on the other.
The feud turned nasty in the last several months, when Gustafson sued several of his own precinct chairs, forcing them to spend a significant amount of money on attorneys to defend themselves. The chairs had held a special meeting to create a steering committee to provide oversight and dilute Gustafson’s power.
Gustafson had become increasingly dictatorial, and on several occasions simply ignored votes on the executive committee that did not go his way and proceeded with his own agenda. He also unsuccessfully recruited challengers to several of his nemeses on the executive committee.
The matter finally came to a resolution on July 25, when Gustafson sent in his resignation, just one day before the party’s biennial organizational meeting, when precinct chairs are sworn in for a second term and bylaws are adopted.
Partly due to Gustafson’s resignation, the organizational meeting on the 26th was oddly anti-climactic. State Republican Executive Committeeman for Senate District 11, J.T. Edwards, presided as temporary chairman due to Gustafson’s resignation. Most of the establishment precinct chairs aligned with Gustafson were not present, leaving the grassroots conservatives as the overwhelming majority with only a few dissenters.
Most of the meeting consisted of discussing the adoption of new bylaws. Republican Party of Texas Rule 8 requires county parties to hold organizational meetings to adopt bylaws every two years. In the end, the Galveston County GOP adopted bylaws that decentralize power, very similar to the bylaws recently adopted by the Montgomery County GOP. The county chair still retains the authority to fulfill their duties outlined in the election code, but authority not outlined in state law is now under the executive committee as a whole.
Several precinct chairs from Montgomery County actually attended the Galveston County meeting to show their support. The Montgomery County executive committee is facing its own battle. After they passed decentralized bylaws back in June, County Chair Wally Wilkerson decided to ignore the bylaws and act like the organizational meeting had never happened. Wilkerson shut down the headquarters and changed the locks on the doors. He has threatened to sue precinct chairs who supported the bylaws as well.
With many county chairs around Texas having too much power, and ignoring their executive committees, the decentralized bylaws of Montgomery County are becoming popular. Now that Galveston County has successfully passed them, many other counties are considering implementing them as well.
As for Galveston County, better days seem to be ahead. With new bylaws and new leadership, local conservative activists are optimistic about the direction the party is headed. The executive committee has elected Yolanda Waters, who unsuccessfully challenged Gustafson in the last primary, to replace him as chairman. Scott Apley and Alisha Youngblood, two of the conservative precinct chairs who were sued by Gustafson, were elected vice chair and secretary, respectively.
The executive committee also passed a resolution to use party funds to reimburse the precinct chairs for their legal expenses.
The reform of the Galveston County GOP is the culmination of years of hard work and struggle by dedicated conservative activists. Despite enduring intense political opposition, lawsuits, and abuse from their county chair, they persevered. Their story is a lesson to the grassroots in counties across Texas, that even if it takes years of ups and downs, hard fights, setbacks, and small victories here and there, they can be successful in the end if they persevere.