The executive committee is the governing body of the Republican Party, and is composed of the precinct chairs elected from each voting precinct. The resolution calling for the removal of the Highway 242 tolls, although not binding on any government entity, states the official position of the Montgomery County Republican Party, and puts pressure on the Republican commissioners to comply with the mandate of their party.
As the very first tolls in Montgomery County, the 242 flyovers, championed by County Judge Craig Doyal, have always been controversial. When commissioners court originally voted to toll the road, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack was the lone “no” vote.
However, when the debt for the construction of the flyovers was paid off in January 2017 with pass-through toll revenue from the state, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark called for the tolls to be removed. He placed the issue on the commissioners’ court agenda for February 12, but the court, under Doyal, took no further action.
Seeing an opportunity to enforce the Republican Party of Texas platform and hold their elected officials accountable, a number of precinct chairs began circulating a petition calling for an executive committee meeting to address this issue. The bylaws of the Montgomery County Republican Party state that a meeting may be called at any time and for any purpose by a petition signed by 25% of the precinct chairs. The 242 meeting petition quickly exceeded that number in just a few days.
The petition caused an uproar amongst “establishment” oriented precinct chairs. However, Article II, Sec. 1 of the MCRP bylaws state that among the main functions of the executive committee are, “articulating the Party’s positions and promoting the Party’s candidates.” Passing a resolution calling for the removal of the 242 flyover tolls falls under “articulating the Party’s positions” and is a completely legitimate function of the committee.
The RPT platforms states in plank 211 that, “We believe tolls should be removed when the debt on the road is retired.” The precinct chairs supporting the resolution argued that it was simply taking the party platform and applying it to a local situation.
A few days before the executive committee met, the Montgomery County Young Republicans also passed a similar resolution calling for commissioners’ court to remove the tolls, and calling for the executive committee to vote in favor the resolution.
Sensing that the resolution had broad support in the community and was unlikely to be rejected, a number of precinct chairs with close ties to the establishment created a plan to water down the resolution with an amendment which would leave the tolls on 242 for years and take the pressure off Doyal and the commissioners.
Doyal wants to keep the tolls on the flyovers in order to finance the construction of yet another tolled flyover. If the toll is built with toll revenue, the county must pay 100% of the cost. However, if the tolls are removed after the first two flyovers are paid off, the county can cancel the contract with the state, pay only 20% of the cost for the third flyover, and pull the other 80% in matching funds from the Texas Department of Transportation, as noted by Doyal’s primary challenger, State Rep. Mark Keough.
The amendment pushed by the establishment would have given Doyal cover by stating that the tolls should remain until the third flyover is paid for, which would be years down the road. This would have gutted the original resolution and defeated the purpose of passing it.
The watering down amendment was pushed by party leadership and was presented at the meeting by Precinct 40 Chair Jim Shulze, who has the most liberal voting record of any precinct chair in Montgomery County. However, the executive committee voted it down 26-17.
The final resolution passed without amendment, and demands commissioners’ court immediately remove the tolls. It puts tremendous political pressure on Doyal and Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, both of whom are already embattled and facing strong primary challengers.
The precinct chairs who opposed the resolution attempted to have the vote taken by a secret ballot to hide their vote from their constituents, but their motion failed.
If Doyal and Riley continue to refuse to remove the tolls from 242, they will be in direct defiance of the Republican Party. Keough has publicly stated his support for the resolution, as have Precinct 2 candidates Brian Dawson and Greg Parker.
The resolution also displays the conservative shift of the county’s executive committee, which has been hostile to the grassroots and dominated by the moderate Republicans in Chairman Wally Wilkerson’s inner circle for decades. Over the past two years, the committee has become more conservative, and grassroots activists in the party have become better at organizing. With 14 precinct chair seats up for grabs in the March 6 primary, the executive committee is likely to become even more tilted toward grassroots conservatives.