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The next meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee could feature contentious debate over a proposal to water down a key rule that allows the grassroots to hold county chairmen accountable for misbehavior in office.

On September 5, Republican Party of Texas Organization Director Brandon Moore sent SREC members a list of proposed changes to the RPT Rules on behalf of RPT Rules Committee Chair Jan Duncan. The amendments will be considered at the SREC’s next quarterly meeting on September 13 and 14.

While most of the proposed changes are relatively minor and should be noncontroversial, the biggest change revolves around Rule 8k, concerning county chairmen’s misbehavior in office. The notice initially said that the RPT would be considering removing 8k in its entirety, however, immediate public backlash prompted the RPT to send out a new proposal claiming the intent was just to amend 8k.

Rule 8k outlines the procedure for how the party deals with county chairmen who have misbehaved in office. If a chairman fails to perform statutory duties, embezzles party funds, is convicted of election fraud, or commits “other behavior designed to disgrace the Republican Party”, the majority of precinct chairs in the county can file a complaint to the RPT. If the RPT Officials Committee finds the complaint has merit, they conduct a hearing on the issue and can then forward a recommendation to the RPT chairman for an “appropriate lawful remedy.”

The proposed amendment to Rule 8k would strike the words “county chairman” and replace them with “member of the executive committee,” which is composed of the county chairman and all the precinct chairs. However, the wording of the amendment could allow it to be interpreted as excluding county chairmen. There is a rule of statutory construction that if legislators intentionally leave a subject out when writing or amending legislation, it is to be interpreted that they intended to exclude that person from the new rule.

“County Chairmen will now be excluded from 8(k) even though they are technically ‘members of the Executive Committee,’” explained Montgomery County Republican Party Treasurer John Wertz.

While precinct chairs can already be held accountable through local party bylaws, it is sometimes necessary to appeal to the higher authority of the state party when dealing with rogue county chairs. Many grassroots activists have expressed concern that vindictive county chairmen would weaponize the amended 8k against grassroots precinct chairs.

The proposed amendment also strikes out the specific list of offenses for which a chairman could be held accountable under 8k and replaces the entire section with the vague and ambiguous phrase, “any item currently listed in Texas election code.”

Striking the specific language “weakens the rule” and “is vague and confusing,” according to Wertz.

The amendment is being pushed by SREC member Jack Barcroft, who is also the president of the Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association, an organization which lobbies for the interests of county chairs. Barcroft has long sought to abolish 8k entirely but, facing pushback, is instead making a backdoor attempt to gut the rule by amending it.

“8k was implemented by the convention to protect the party from rogue chairs,” Wertz told Texas Scorecard. “Now, we have an SREC member, who also doubles as the TRCCA president, paid by the county chairs, trying to backdoor this through the SREC outside of the purview of the convention delegates who created it.”

SREC committeeman Walter West sees the change as an attempt by the TRCCA to undermine the grassroots.

“[8k] is the dumbest thing to worry about right now,” West told Texas Scorecard. “TRCCA seems to be trying to deflect the grassroots’ effort to save Texas.”

Since being adopted by the delegates to the RPT convention in 2018, Rule 8k has only been used once, in the case of Montgomery County. It was inspired by an episode in Galveston County the previous year, where a rogue county chairman refused to follow the party bylaws, and a dispute over control of the party bank account ensued, climaxing in the chairman filing a lawsuit against his own precinct chairs. The chairman eventually resigned.

Hoping to prevent another situation like Galveston, the RPT added Rule 8k to provide a way for the party to hold misbehaving county chairmen accountable and allow the party to handle disputes between precinct chairs and county chairs internally without going to court.

Similar to the Galveston County saga, Montgomery County Republican Chairman Wally Wilkerson simply ignored the bylaws adopted in June 2018 by the party’s elected precinct chairs. Wilkerson then took the party funds and created a splinter organization, using the money to pay his personal assistant and leaving the party scrambling to raise money for the 2018 election.

The precinct chairs then filed a complaint against Wilkerson under Rule 8k, causing the RPT Officials Committee to conduct a hearing into the matter. At the hearing, the Officials Committee handed down a ruling determining that Wilkerson “failed to perform a statutory duty” and had engaged in “behavior designed to disgrace the Republican Party.”

The 8k ruling allowed the MCRP to handle Wilkerson’s misconduct within the party and likely prevented a lawsuit between the two factions. According to MCRP Fundraising Chair Kelli Cook, if it wasn’t for Rule 8k, “we would still be stuck in a quagmire.”

“After the 8k was filed and the SREC ruled on it in Montgomery County’s situation, it brought a sense of relief and normalcy so the steering committee could continue to lead with a set of rules in place,” said Cook. “Authority was somewhat restored, so we were no longer trying to function in a ruleless society.”

The proposed changes must be approved by the RPT Rules Committee before being sent to the full SREC, where it would require a two-thirds vote to pass.