Meetings of the State Republican Executive Committee are always contentious affairs, but Saturday’s gathering was even more compelling than normal with members considering the first application of party rule 44: the censure.
But despite having the support from a majority of the SREC, the resolution failed to reach the two-thirds necessary and was defeated. And two members conservatives expected to support the motion decided against doing so.
Candy Noble, SREC for Collin County’s hyper-conservative Senate District 8 and candidate for Texas House District 89, was shown as abstaining from the vote. Meanwhile, Gail Stanart, SREC for Senate District 15 and candidate for Texas House District 126, was recorded as voting against the resolution (and protecting Cook).
A goal of party activists for years, the censure rule was passed at the Texas GOP’s 2016 convention and provides an outlet for Republicans frustrated with their elected Republican lawmakers to formally reprimand them.
The rule states:
“A County or Senatorial District Convention or a County or District Executive Committee may by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of those present and voting adopt a resolution censuring a Republican public or party office holder representing all or a portion of that County or District for three (3) or more actions taken during the current biennium in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas defined in the Preamble of the Party Platform as described in Rule No. 43A.
Such a resolution may include a request to the State Convention or SREC that the named office holder be penalized. If such a request is included, the delegates of the State Convention by majority vote, or the State Republican Executive Committee by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the full membership, may vote to concur with the resolution.”
Since the rule was adopted, three Republican lawmakers have been censured by a county party: House Speaker Joe Straus who has been censured by more than fifty counties, State Rep. Byron Cook (Corsicana) who has been censured by Anderson County and Hill County, and State Rep. Travis Clardy (Nacodoches) who was censured by the Cherokee County GOP last week.
On Saturday, the SREC was tasked with taking up its first of the censure resolutions, the ones concerning Straus’ hatchet-man, Byron Cook, who, after the censure was passed in Anderson County, has announced he is not running for re-election.
Given Cook’s transgressions and the persuasive, and meticulous case made by the 20 page, identical censure resolutions, the decision to invoke the party’s highest punishment should have been an easy one.
As Randy Dunning of Senate District 16 eloquently said in debate for the resolution:
“Folks, this thing is huge. If we can’t deal with this one, we can’t deal with anything. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry, when people say ‘Oh, we can’t make the elected officials mad or they won’t donate to us!’ then we have done something I think none of us want to go home and tell our constituents we have done.
‘The money is all that matters,’ we have said ‘the money is all that matters, principle be damned, we will do whatever it takes to keep the money flowing rather than dealing with serious complaints made by serious people brought under a serious process that has dealt with frankly a serious problem we have had in our party. I strongly urge each of you to support the resolution.”
Yet despite Dunning’s strong support, it failed.
The vote was 35 for, 16 against, 7 abstaining, and 6 “absent” with many observers alleging that a number of members intentionally left the room during voting in order to help scuttle the measure. Because party rules require a censure to obtain support from two-thirds of the total membership, any vote other than “FOR” should be interpreted as a vote against the censure.
As for Noble, she says she intended to be recorded voting for the resolution but was away from her desk discussing potential points of order with the parliamentarian.
“Frankly, I am frustrated that I missed the opportunity to have my vote registered on this matter,” said Noble in a statement on Monday. “Let me state for the record: I think that Byron Cook’s Censure was not only warranted, but appropriate under our Party Rules. I am in full support of that Resolution!”
The video of the meeting appears to support Noble’s claim and members of the SREC who voted in favor of censuring Cook corroborated her account.
Stanart, meanwhile, has privately claimed that her vote was recorded via proxy by Vergel Cruz and that she would have voted in favor. However, sources to Texas Scorecard have questioned her account and Stanart has not made a public statement condemning Cruz for his vote against her wishes.
Party activists should see the SREC’s failure to pass the Cook censure as a big black eye for the Texas GOP which has otherwise been moving in an encouraging direction under Chairman James Dickey.
Citizens across Texas are rightfully frustrated with the GOP for failing to deliver on its campaign promises despite controlling both chambers of the Texas Legislature and every statewide office for two decades and they should be even more frustrated that the SREC mucked up an attempt to send a message and hold one lawmaker accountable even when he was already heading for the exit.
Over the past few years Texans have become better and better and comparing their lawmakers’ rhetoric to their record and removing from office those who don’t share their values. It’s time they put those same skills to use on the SREC as well.