A few weeks ago, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Mechler resigned from his position citing the demands on his family and his business. While the position is currently vacant, the State Republican Executive Committee will elect a replacement for Mechler at their meeting in Austin on Saturday, June 3.
So far, two candidates have emerged: Houston businessman Rick Figueroa and Travis County Republican Party Chairman James Dickey. Like we did at the 2016 Republican Party of Texas Convention, Texas Scorecard reached out to both individuals running for the position and provided them a questionnaire over items we believe are important for Texas Republicans.
Here are their responses, published without edits:
Why are you a Republican?
James Dickey: Because I know conservative principles are the principles that will create the best environment for all, and the Republican party is the vessel for implementing those principles in our state and nation. The Republican Party most effectively carries the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Rick Figueroa: I am a Republican because of the values that were instilled in me by my upbringing and the experiences I have had as an adult. I was raised by a single-mom who taught me the value of hard work and a love for the Lord. I worked my way through school and I have spent the last 20 years working in the financial sector.
I am a Republican because I have lived the conservative values of the Republican Party and believe those values have the ability to lift people up and better their lives. The GOP believes in and promotes hard work, upward mobility, religious liberty and free market capitalism. I believe in those principles because I have seen them at work in my own life and I want to improve the lives of my fellow Texans. I’m not just a Republican because of how I vote. I’m a Republican because of how I live. The Republican Party is the Party that allows a kid like me who grew up in government housing to one day run to lead the largest State Party in the nation. The Republican Party- the Party of growth and opportunity- is the Party of the American dream.
Why should Republicans choose you to be the next party chairman?
JD: Because I have a proven history of growing the party and increasing grassroots involvement and effectiveness while also improving operations and financial stability. I have the merit, experience and track record to support my objectives for the RPT and the relationships to raise funds.
RF: I am business man and I make a living by working with people who believe in my ability to assist them to make the very best decisions for their families’ futures which is only possible because they trust me. That trust is earned by having a solid plan and a demonstrable history of being able to deliver. I am asking for Republicans to put their trust in me based on my vision, the plan that I have laid out, and my history of delivering on what I promise. My vision and my plan is not based on what I think the party should do, but rather what it must do in order to remain dominant in this state.
Our party must be able to articulate clearly our conservative principles and fight for conservative policy. We must expand our base, particularly in minority communities that are the fastest growing in our state. The party must be able to help our candidates win tough races. The chairman must be able to raise the funds necessary to make the investments in engagement, registration, and turnout so that we can win elections. And finally, the Chairman needs to be transparent and accountable to the grassroots. I have made public my plans to achieve these goals and I hope people will take the time to review them. I have a history of delivering on my promises and I hope to earn the trust of the SREC and the grassroots.
Party finances are a perennial concern. What steps will you take to strengthen the party’s financial position?
JD: I will increase the size and diversity of the party’s support by clearly tying funds raised to specific measurable objectives that support our mission and as a result both strengthen our relationships with our historical donors as well as attract and retain new ones. I have current relationships and the credibility to build new relationships to raise critical funds for the Party. Immediately.
RF: To ensure future success, we have to first fuel the machine. With over twenty years of experience in the financial sector and over ten years of experience as a business owner, I know what it takes to make an organization financially successful. I understand the nuances of not just selling products, but selling concepts and ideas. If I’m elected to be your next chairman, I promise to use those skills and that knowledge to ensure our Party shatters previous fundraising levels and has the ability to operate at a capacity never before reached. This will be accomplished through the following means:
- Systematic broad support- To maintain our independence and ensure we are never beholden to one specific type of donor, we must ensure that our contributions are coming in from a broad spectrum of support. From CEO’s to small business owners, from the $5 donor to the $500 donor, it is important that our Party’s financial support is reflective of the diversity intrinsic within our voting base. If elected Chairman, I will work tirelessly to make sure that our donor base is built up of Texans from all walks of life and all wings of our Party.
- Fully-funded wish list budget- To ensure our Party remains the strongest State Party in the nation, we must fully-fund our budget. Rather than settling for a bare minimum budget, I promise to work diligently until we have enough money in the bank to fully fund our base and wish list budget. A fully-funded budget will include expanded minority engagement efforts, expanded youth outreach efforts, an expanded media and digital presence, and additional funds to focus on legislative priorities in the future.
- Expand Grassroots support- Under Steve Munisteri’s leadership, the RPT developed the Grassroots Club. This effort was designed to empower the grassroots to have a seat at the fundraising table. Over the past several years, it has proven to be an effective tool.To date, the largest number of active members we’ve had at one time has been 2,000. If elected Chairman, I promise to work to double that number.
- Fully-developed finance team- Under the leadership of our current Finance Chairman, Thomas Gleason, the RPT has developed a regional fundraising team across the state. If elected Chairman, I will work with each of these previously identified leaders to ensure we are reaching our maximum potential in every area of the state. The RPT should not receive the majority of its funds from one or two large cities. Rather, we should ensure our financial base is spread evenly across the state.
A great number of issues more directly affecting Texans are decided in “non-partisan” city, school and special-district elections. What, if anything, can or should the Republican Party do to cultivate and support candidates for those races?
JD: The Party absolutely must actively work to recruit, equip and support Republican candidates in those races. It is for that reason that 3 years ago I proposed, and my Executive Committee approved, the active participation of the TCRP in all available “non-partisan” races. This led to the election of multiple Republican voters into MUD, School Board and City Council seats, including two conservatives elected to the Austin City Council.
RF: The New Leaders on the Rise Committee, which I co-chair, is a great example of what the party is already doing and an effort that we should double down on. My Co-Chair on this committee, RNC National Committeewoman for Texas Toni Anne Dashiell, has a tremendous passion for training and mentorship. The New Leaders on the Rise Committee works with the RPT staff as well as our partners around the state like County Parties, Governor Abbott’s campaign, Texas Republican County Chair Association, and the Texas Federation of Republican Women to develop and host training sessions for people interested in public service, like elected office. If I’m elected Chairman, we will expand this effort all across the state. To win municipal offices, we must first identify strong leaders to run.
There is also an ongoing discussion about the party or elements of the party directly engaging in races when there is an identifiable Republican candidate, even if it is technically non-partisan. I absolutely support this effort and encourage the SREC to continue to evaluate different opportunities for involvement. These local elected offices are critical to the future of our state, and the RPT must take an active role in running candidates and working toward victory in these offices.
Non-partisan, local races are non-partisan in name only. The Democratic Party has recently taken an active role in these races and I will work closely with the SREC to address this new threat to our conservative communities. We must also begin to engage in these races in our large cities and school districts, to challenge the liberals everywhere. Effective RPT fundraising will provide the funds to make this new approach a reality.
As Texas grows, so too must the Republican Party. What will you do to increase party involvement from Texas’ growing and changing population?
JD: The easiest and most meaningful interactions are those focused on a shared goal. I would do at the RPT what we have done at TCRP – charge some people with being intentional about being involved in the community and looking for every possible excuse to work together. Then to very visibly do so – whether it be on a zoning change, opposing a bond that will hurt affordability, or on getting the rules under which the city council members are elected so that broader representation is allowed.
Multiple meaningful interactions over time on the personal level is how a deeply-held misconception is overcome. Fully leveraging our auxiliaries and actively committing to meaningful outreach in all communities representing all demographics creates staying power only the Party can effectively execute over a long period of time. It takes intentionality, time and effort, but it absolutely can be done!
RF: It is no secret that the demographics of our state are rapidly changing. In just a few short years, our state will become one of just five states in the nation with a majority-minority voting age population. If we allow the Democrats to continue their monopoly of courting minority voters, our Party will fade into irrelevancy. If we do not act now, we will lose Texas. At the current pace, it is not a question of “if,” but rather “when.” If the Democrats succeed in taking our state, it will be mathematically impossible for a Republican to ever win the White House. As goes Texas, so goes the nation. Our charge- here and now- is to ensure that they are not successful on our watch. Because of such, we must continue our robust and targeted engagement plan to not just defend our turf, but to also grow our margin of victory.
Engagement- Engagement is my top priority. We can have all of the money in the world, but it means nothing if we don’t have the votes. I have been a part of the RPT effort that has worked closely with Governor Abbott’s campaign building on former Chairman Munisteri’s efforts to develop one of the most sophisticated, focused minority engagement program in our Party’s history. Relying on models, data, and previous trends at the precinct level, we’ve developed a plan that targets the highest opportunity voters in the highest opportunity areas. But we aren’t just using data to micro-target voters, we are also coupling it with a relational element to ensure that our efforts establish tangible, long-term relationships in these communities.
- The “Dime” (tell me) Listening Tour is one of those relational elements. This effort has already achieved remarkable successes across the state. With over 50% of attendees at each event self-reporting that they have never before attended a Republican event, we are truly reaching a new audience. These tours have already reached over 500 Hispanic Texans, produced close to 100 new volunteers, and over 15 new precinct chairs. This effort has already received national recognition. The RNC and the White House are both evaluating Texas’ engagement plan as a potential model to roll-out all across the country. If I’m elected Chairman, I will continue to work with all levels of our Party to grow this effort in every demographic group in Texas. Our continuing efforts in all minority communities have and will continue to be extraordinary.
- County Chairs- If I’m elected Chairman, we will work closely with the TRCCA to develop program to empower our County Chairmen. This effort will focus on incentivizing growth in areas such as precinct chair development, local outreach, and training. We are bottom-up organization, and the RPT should ensure all of our county chairs have the support, resources, and information they need to reach their maximum potential. This incentive program will be broken down by population segments and will operate on a points system. Each area of growth will be awarded with a certain number of points. County Parties that reach certain point levels will be commemorated at State Convention, via email, and with commemorative plaques. This plan hopes to encourage growth at the local level but will also serve to recognize and applaud the hard work of these leaders. We have already begun to develop the metrics for success in this plan. If elected Chairman, we will be ready to implement the program by the beginning of July.
- Youth outreach– Engaging the next generation of Republican leaders is essential to the success of the Republican Party of Texas. I want to empower the Texas Federation of Young Republicans, The Texas Federation of College Republicans, and the Texas Association of High School Republicans to not only be a driving force in Texas’ political scene, but also a breeding ground for new Republican leaders. To do this, the party will supply materials, trainings, and youth summits where we will give the next generation a voice and listen to what issues are most important to them. We will shape our approach to deliver on what’s important to young people so that we can better engage with conservative youth populations across Texas. Also, the Republican Party of Texas, through a statewide internship program, will take an active role in identifying and training the next generation to later become staffers for political offices. Through both mentorship and leadership opportunities, we will successfully lay the groundwork for the leadership of the Republican Party of Texas for generations to come.
Results- Each of these engagement and outreach plans will be accompanied by measurable metrics for success. If fully-funded and fully-implemented, we will not just defend our vulnerable seats in 2018, we will continue to grow our Republican margins.
A vocal minority of Republicans have repeatedly attempted to weaken the party’s platform and messaging when it comes to immigration issues. Will you support the party platform and oppose any path to citizenship or legal status for illegal immigrants?
JD: I have consistently, many times and against the opposition Republicans in Texas only face in Travis County, defended all parts of the platform, from immigration to privacy and religious freedom legislation. I will of course continue to do so if I am elected RPT Chair.
RF: I believe in law and order, and I believe our nation and our state function best when we maintain order and enforce our laws. This is abundantly clear in the case of our nation’s borders. Each day, gangs, drug cartels, criminals, and unknown persons disappear into our country after crossing our porous border. Our immigration and visa system is broken, but before we can address meaningful reform, we first must ensure that our borders are secured. A secure border is the first step to achieving law and order.
Amnesty must never be allowed. I applaud the Texas Legislature, Lt Governor Patrick and Governor Abbott for enacting a ban on Sanctuary Cities. We must continue to work to ensure that all criminals are identified and removed from our state.
After our border is secured, the federal government should begin taking steps to eradicate the bureaucratic red tape that is creating a backlog in our legal entry visa system. I absolutely oppose amnesty.
Some have alleged that there are “pay-to-play” slates in which candidates or their surrogates must pay to receive an endorsement and publicity mailing. What, if any, steps can/should the party take regarding this practice?
JD: This is a frequent topic amongst the SREC and for various reasons has not yet received traction for a lasting impact. If decided by the body or the SREC, it would be completely reasonable to encourage a voluntary “xxx organization does not request or accept any funds from candidates or officeholders in relation to endorsements” or similar.
RF: “Pay-to-play” is directly contradictory to our party’s grassroots structure. The candidate with the deepest pockets should not be able to purchase their support. The RPT should pass a resolution condemning the practice of pay-to-play endorsements and work with county parties to pass similar statements.
A number of Republicans believe that the RPT should move to a closed primary system in order to select its general election candidates. What is your stance on the issue? Why?
JD: I’m absolutely a fan of closed primaries.
RF: Though the open system allows for more participation, it certainly provides for more opportunity for meddling. These are also questions that would need to be fleshed out with regards to the window for changing ones registration prior to an election and the process for that. I would sincerely like to see this debated by the SREC or even at our state convention before making any recommendation. An issue that has such profound implications on our party and, frankly our democracy, here in Texas should be fully vetted by the grassroots
The lifeblood of the Republican Party are its grassroots volunteers. What will you do as chairman to increase and encourage the number of activists engaged in the party?
JD: The easiest way to increase and encourage the number of activists engaged is to empower them. Empower them with things like the resolution the TCRP passed that authorized any member of the EC to testify on behalf of the TCRP on any bill supporting a platform plank item or resolution that had been passed by the party. Grow the numbers by giving non-SREC and EC members ways to meaningfully participate – through membership on committees and projects, supporting materials and training, coordinated communications via text and email on urgent activity needs like testimony at hearings and attendance at rallies. Reach out to communities seen dormant to the Republican Party and make the ask.
RF: What makes our party both unique and exceptional is the volume of grassroots activity in every corner of our great state. We are a party of the grassroots, by the grassroots, and for the grassroots. Our Party is a bottom-up organization, and the grassroots should have access to the information, resources, and materials needed to be successful. If I’m elected Chairman, I will work to again hire a full-time Political Director to help work with the grassroots on legislative priorities. We will increase funding, online resources, and trainings to help empower our grassroots to succeed. Additionally, I will equip our field and engagement team with measurable and achievable goals for identifying new activists, recruiting new precinct chairs, and working with the county parties to integrate these new activists into existing infrastructure.
Despite being the top legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas, constitutional carry failed to receive a vote on the floor of either chamber of the Legislature this session. Other priorities failed as well. If elected, what will you do as chairman to ensure that the RPT’s priorities are advanced by Republican lawmakers?
JD: I’m doubly disappointed by this as I personally testified on the two CC bills this session. I’ll request from the Speaker and the Lt. Governor indication of which legislator will take point on each platform item in their chamber so that we can support that legislator on that item. I’ll ask for the same from all the Republican members of each Chamber. I’ll then communicate those assignments (or the lack thereof) with our membership at regular intervals and encourage activists interested in each item to follow up directly with the assigned legislator (or if there isn’t one, to follow up with their own and request that they be the one to accept the assignment).
RF: To maintain the relevancy of our Party, the RPT must take a bold and outspoken stance in support of conservative legislation. At the directive of state convention delegates, the 85th Legislative Session was the first time the Party has taken an active role in advocating for legislative priorities of the grassroots through the establishment of the Legislative Committee.
This committee made great strides this session, but there’s more that can be done with additional funding, staffing, and resources. Like many, I’ve been personally frustrated and angry to see commonsense conservative measures that the vast majority of Texas Republicans support sit idle as the legislative session draws to a close. I don’t believe that this means we should throw our hands up in frustration, rather we should double down on our efforts to keep fighting for the policies Texas families and taxpayers deserve. I believe that the RPT can work more effectively to organize ahead of the session to vocalize the priorities of the grassroots. With so many bills sometimes our focus can get lost, but the convention delegates were very clear in their priorities. I also believe we need to hire a full-time political director to help advance our priorities. With a full-time, dedicated staff and some additional funds available for media, training, and outreach, we will be better prepared to help advocate for these issues. I am prepared to testify as often as needed and help work with leadership to get these issues across the finish line.
What do you believe the Texas Legislature’s biggest successes this session are? Its biggest failures?
JD: Its biggest failures are the 4 Legislative Priorities that had no progress – Constitutional Carry, Abolition of Abortion, Property Tax Reform, School Choice. Its most impactful success this session is reinforcement of the primacy of the state as reflected in the sanctuary city penalties. The elimination of straight ticket voting is likely to have long-term lasting effects as well.
RF: Banning Sanctuary Cities was also a great victory for conservatives. As a member of the NRA Outreach Committee, I was also thrilled to see the passage of SB 16, which lowers the cost of License to Carry fees. While we still have more work to do on 2nd Amendment protections, this was a good step for Texas gun owners. Passing the Article V Convention of States resolution was a huge victory this legislative session.
In terms of failures, I was disappointed to see limited action on the protection of life, school choice, property tax reform, and the protection of religious liberties through the Texas Privacy Act. These are common-sense, conservative reforms that were overwhelmingly highlighted as top priorities by convention delegates.
Currently the Republican Party of Texas has a rule prohibiting the party from allocating resources in support of candidates who fail to comply with the pro-life planks in the party platform. However, that rule is often not enforced. Do you believe it should be? Why?
JD: I believe that the will of the party, as reflected in its rules and platform, should be enforced, and done so consistently. I am a pro-life individual and would be a pro-life Chairman.
RF: I believe that the Party should abide by its rules. The Party’s job is to elect Republicans in the general election. The primary is where the grassroots get to decide which Republican they want to represent them. I respect the integrity of that process and support letting the candidates vigorously, and honestly, campaign on their beliefs and then letting the grassroots of our party decide.
What will your policy be for accepting or denying applications to host a booth at the state convention? If a group holds a position counter to the existing party platform, should their application be denied?
JD: My gut reaction is that a position of “no one who wants any change in the platform need apply” means we might as well tell the delegates to not come since it’s likely every one of them would prefer a change in at least one of the over 200 platform planks. I realize though that there are some third rails that would be counterproductive or worse. Certainly, wouldn’t accept a booth application for a group advocating white supremacy or unlimited abortions, for example.
So, what I’d ideally like to say here is that I support the development of a booth exhibitor policy that both allows for some variation from the current position on peripheral items but not on attacks to our core principles. I’m painfully aware, though, that who determines which is which and under what standards is really the whole point of their question. I would consult intensely with the SREC and be involved in that decision-making process.
RF: Accepting or denying booth applications is a task assigned to the SREC, in particular the Officials Committee. Current policy calls for denying booth applications to groups with mission statements that directly counter the existing party platform. Since that is sometimes a subjective determination it is up to the SREC to determine the best course of action for booth acceptance or denial. If elected Chairman, I will support whatever policy the SREC chooses to adopt.
Almost every state convention, there seems to be frustration from delegates over the handling of floor proceedings by the chair, specifically, in regards to the enforcement of the convention rules or how the chair responds to vocal opposition to questions presented to the body. What, if anything, can be done to make sure all delegates feel like their voice is heard without significantly delaying convention business?
JD: I have attended state conventions at which there were significant differences and yet there was not frustration over the handling of the process. Adequate microphones, good training for the staff at each one, pre-training for all the delegates, and the Chair fairly recognizing and acknowledging each speaker will go a long way towards allowing for real debate and an efficient process.
RF: The convention is the prime opportunity for grassroots activists in our party to make their voices heard. I will work hard to ensure all floor proceedings are fair and transparent, so that every participant is treated with respect. A free and fair debate on the issues is always a good thing. I believe the change implemented at the last convention that allowed delegates to vote on each plank of the platform individually was a great way to ensure the grassroots were empowered throughout the convention process.
The 2016 state convention was the first time delegates were given the opportunity to vote on each plank in the party platform. It was also the first time the platform listed specific reforms the party viewed as legislative priorities. Should the party continue these two practices?
JD: Yes. In fact, the voting should track the results on each item by legislative district so that information can be used in platform reinforcing communications with legislators during the next session.
RF: Absolutely. This system empowered the grassroots to give their direct thoughts on every piece of our party platform. Additionally, the percentages of support for key plank will be beneficial in future testimonies and advocacy for legislative priorities.
The legislative priorities and the vote at convention lead to the creation of the Legislative Committee within the SREC. That body was charged with educating and empowering the most powerful lobby in the state, the grassroots. That committee plowed new ground this session. It had webinars to educate the grassroots on the process, there were legislative days that I participated in and the party provided resources on how to contact legislators, testify at hearings and advocate for their priorities. I would absolutely like to continue their efforts and build on them.
Outside of the primary elections, should there be a mechanism to hold Republican elected officials accountable when they vote or work against the party platform? If so, what?
JD: The current process in the bylaws seems to me to be the best mix of a capability of holding officials accountable while requiring serious opposition and agreement by party activists at both the district and state level on the severity of that opposition.
RF: There is a rule that was adopted at the last convention which provides a mechanism for this. Basically local party bodies can vote to send to the SREC resolutions regarding elected officials. At that point it is up to the SREC and I would respect the SREC’s decision.
One of the items former chairman Tom Mechler cited in his resignation letter was the stress on his family from his frequent travel from Amarillo to Austin (where the RPT headquarters is located). Would being in Austin frequently be a burden for you, your business, or your family?
JD: Since I live 40 minutes from RPT headquarters, it is not a major burden for me to be there with some regularity. This is an advantage I bring to the office the RPT has not experienced in its most recent history.
RF: I live just 90 minutes from the RPT headquarters, which would allow for greater access and make it easier for me to oversee the business of the RPT. I also have the flexibility with my company to devote as much time as needed to make the office successful. I would never have even considered running if I didn’t have the full support of my family.
If selected by the SREC, you will take the helm of the party at an important and pivotal time. What tangible metrics should Republicans use to determine if you have been successful?
JD: Since my goal is to grow the party, the obvious metrics that should be tracked would include the number of precinct and county chairs, the number of primary voters vs. the number in the similar primary 4 years earlier, the number of elected Republican partisan and non-partisan officials in each county and statewide.
RF: The ultimate measure of the success of the party is determined at the ballot box. Are we successful at winning elections? Additional metrics for success are: pay the bills and incur no debt, more Republicans registered to vote, increase Republican votes cast, increase our vote in traditionally Democrat areas, success in passing conservative legislation, and are we providing for the tools and resources to ensure our county parties are successful. There will be accountability in our plan. The best way to ensure success is to carefully measure and monitor your progress. As a businessman, I’m a firm believer in not just developing a solid plan, but developing deliverable metrics to accompany that plan. If I’m elected Chairman, we will develop clearly-defined goals for every aspect of our party. Those goals (and subsequent progress) will be made available to the SREC. The more transparent we are in our efforts and our progress, the better able we will be to work together as a unified team. If elected Chairman, I promise to be open with you, honest about our progresses, and transparent about our processes. Our next chairman must be accessible and be an amplifier for the voice of the grassroots. You can count on me to be just that. I will always be accessible and work to foster an environment of teamwork among staff, party leadership, activists, and anyone else who wants to help us advance our conservative agenda and keep Texas red.