In a historic victory for grassroots conservatives in Montgomery County, the Republican Party Executive Committee, composed of precinct chairs, voted almost unanimously to support the placement of a non-binding referendum concerning toll roads on the 2018 primary ballot.
Toll roads have been at the forefront of the public consciousness in Montgomery County for the last several months, as a result of County Judge Craig Doyal’s push to extend SH 249 through Montgomery and Grimes Counties. Although the Texas Department of Transportation has said they will pay for the entire 15 mile stretch through Montgomery County, Doyal has insisted on putting the county $73 million in debt to pay for a short, 3.6 mile section in the far southwest corner of the county.
Many community leaders against the toll road have been calling for the voters to be able to make the decision on whether or not their taxes should go to fund toll roads, including County Commissioner James Noack, who has vocally opposed toll roads in Montgomery County. In an effort to give taxpayers a say on new tolls, Republican precinct chairs and activists decided to take the lead, and work to put the issue on the party’s primary ballot.
Precinct Chair Paul Gebolys, who is also the Republican area chair for The Woodlands, championed the resolution to put a toll road referendum on the ballot and stood firm for the taxpayers, even when faced with opposition from County Chair Wally Wilkerson.
In an act of contempt towards the precinct chairs, Wilkerson attempted to deny letting them even consider the measure, and ruled that he would not allow a vote. However, he was challenged by a precinct chair who moved to overturn Wilkerson and allow a vote. Sensing that the vote might not go his way, Wilkerson attempted to shut down the entire meeting, and called to adjourn the committee. The parliamentarian and sergeant-at-arms then had to step in and explain to Wilkerson that he could not adjourn the meeting and had to hear the motion to overrule the chair, which passed 25-18.
A motion was then made to suspend the committee’s standing rule requiring the county chair to be given 14 days notice before a resolution is presented so the toll road referendum could be considered, which passed 33-11. Wilkerson is notorious for working to kill conservative resolutions he knows about in advance.
Gebolys made a passionate and eloquent speech against toll roads, arguing that the voters should have the final say:
“I respect the voters of Montgomery County enough to believe that when they have had the time, and facts to consider, that they can make a wise choice. As community leaders I believe that we have an obligation to give them that opportunity to voice their decisions in a non-binding referendum on the March 6th ballot.”
Gebolys’ speech was met with thunderous applause from both the executive committee and concerned citizens who had packed the room. The committee then voted 34-1 in support of placing a toll referendum on the ballot.
Conroe Precinct Chair Jim Schulze was the lone nay vote who did not want the taxpayers to have a vote on tolls. Schulze has earned the distinction of having the least conservative voting record of any precinct chair.
The county party has never put a proposition on the ballot before, so the committee did not have a procedure for doing so. In the end, it was decided to send the proposition to the State Republican Executive Committee and request that they place it on the ballot.
Regardless, conservatives are hailing the vote as a major victory and an indicator that the establishment is losing control over the county GOP. The committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning House Speaker Joe Straus the same night. Both votes are seen as a bellwether for the 2018 primary, where Tea Party aligned reformers are looking to wrest control of county government from the embattled “old guard” that is desperately clinging to power.