On January 5, Wilkerson sent out an email notifying precinct chairs of the upcoming County Republican Executive Committee meeting. In the email, Wilkerson announced that he was having Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, who is facing a tough primary challenge from the right by State Rep. Mark Keough, host a “Munch and Mingle” event at the party’s headquarters immediately before the executive committee meeting, which will be the last one before the primary election.
The announcement immediately raised concern from precinct chairs. They worry that a candidate in what will likely be the most hotly contested local race hosting such a prominent Republican event before the election gives the appearance that the local GOP is supporting one candidate over the other.
The Montgomery County Republican Party bylaws clearly state in Article II, Section 2, that the party is to remain neutral in contested primaries:
“The Montgomery County Republican Party Executive Committee shall not endorse or oppose any candidate appearing on the Republican Primary, Primary Runoff or Special Election ballot; nor shall the Committee endorse or oppose any candidate or candidates or endorse or oppose any issue or issues appearing on any non-partisan ballot.”
Local Republicans also question a potential conflict of interest. Wilkerson’s “executive assistant” Melinda Fredricks is married to Jim Fredricks, who is Doyal’s chief of staff. Fredricks makes over $118,000 working part-time for the county under Doyal, in addition to being a realtor and running a small PR firm. The Fredrickses have a vested financial interest in making sure Doyal is re-elected.
Many precinct chairs have lamented the undue influence that Melinda Fredricks seems to wield over the 87-year-old Wilkerson. She manages much of the day-to-day function of the county party, including the website, and often stands behind Wilkerson at executive committee meetings and whispers in his ear exactly what to say.
However, Wilkerson showing favoritism towards Doyal, the establishment-backed incumbent, is not out of the ordinary. As county chair for over 50 years, “King Wally” has become a prominent figurehead in the local GOP establishment, and he’s expressed his disdain for the Tea Party and grassroots conservatives on multiple occasions. Widespread disapproval with his leadership among precinct chairs led many to recruit Terrence Boggs to challenge Wilkerson in the March 6 primary.
Wilkerson could avoid the strong appearance of favoritism and conflicts of interest by perhaps allowing Keough to also be a host for the event, or he could just have an official host it who is not on the ballot in the 2018 cycle.