In race to lead the Texas GOP Chairman Dickey promotes building party infrastructure, challenger West focuses on life story

In San Antonio, the pastor at The Restoring Church prays over the candidates to lead the Republican Party of Texas.

SAN ANTONIO – With warmup acts including Texans for Lawsuit Reform Chairman Dick Weekley, Betty Cardenas of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and others, the candidates to lead the Republican Party of Texas this month sparred in the Alamo City over which of them is best qualified to lead the state’s majority party.

It was one of several planned debates between Chairman James Dickey and his challenger Lt. Col. (Ret.) Allen West.

It should not have been lost on anyone in attendance that the race could prove critical heading into an election year that may see Texas Democrats as competitive as they’ve been in a generation.

The hour-long debate at The Restoring Church, which happens to be in a Democratic Texas House district, between Chairman Dickey and Col. West was respectful and lighthearted at times. In fact, a Mariachi band played as the two walked onstage. It was an appropriate introduction at a time when Hispanic outreach is thought of as key for the GOP to retain its firm grip on control in Austin.

Though they’re playing nice for now, longtime observers of Republican politics say the race between Dickey and West is likely to become a nasty fight culminating in a floor vote of the delegates at the party’s convention in Houston in May. Meanwhile the Democrats, those observers noted, will be looking to build on their momentum following historic gains in legislative races coupled with the closest statewide election results seen in Texas in decades.

Dickey, the former Travis County GOP Chairman first selected in 2017 by the State Republican Executive Committee to succeed former RPT Chairman Tom Mechler when he resigned, said the total political spend in Texas will be around $1 billion spread across races in 2020.

That’s why it is critical, Dickey argued, to shore up party infrastructure so that it’s fully ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice on behalf of GOP candidates up and down the ballot.

“It’s a unique set of skills to raise money for the party,” Dickey said, proudly pointing to the fact that the RPT has on hand just a little more than $3 million in its accounts. That total number for cash on hand had never been more than $2 million before the last few months.

“We’re building up for the biggest paid RPT field staff effort ever next year,” Dickey told Quorum Report.

Dickey said there’s an added sense of urgency for Republicans this cycle because of the information highlighted in TLR Chairman Weekley’s presentation. In his remarks, Weekley mainly focused on the wakeup call Republicans received in November of 2018. Weekely’s public appearance raised some eyebrows back in Austin because the TLR chairman rarely, if ever, speaks at events that are open to the public. “That’s…interesting,” quipped a veteran lobbyist.

It’s our understanding that Weekley plans to do a series of as many as eight public speeches to GOP grassroots groups in the coming months to raise awareness of the perceived threat of Democrats’ competitiveness, particularly focusing on what many believe is a real chance of a power shift in the Texas House. Veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove, who’s now working with Texas House GOP leadership, has said that if current trends hold there’s a high likelihood their next Speaker will be a Democrat.

And while no polling – public or private that QR has reviewed – shows retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s scandal has broken through with voters, there is concern among GOP insiders that the now toxic presiding officer has left a vacuum of leadership heading into 2020 contests while grassroots groups call for him to resign. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is said to be quite concerned that Bonnen’s problems are still a “distraction” for Republicans, according to sources familiar with his thinking.

Chairman Dickey said he’s been sounding the alarm with GOP donors for more than a year, telling them Democrats are on the rise. At first, those concerns were not taken seriously, Dickey said.

“When I would say that a year and a half ago, I would get dismissed,” Dickey said. After November of 2018, however, contributors have had a very different reaction and are now stepping up with resources.

For his part, West argued “It does not matter how much money you have if you have a crappy message.”

“That other party needs victims,” West said of the Democrats. “We’ve got to get that message back out about being victors.” As the word “crappy” came out of his mouth on stage, West was reminded by the moderator that the debate was being held in a church facility. Naturally, he thanked the Lord for the freedom to speak.

Lt. Col. West, who’s never run a comparable organization but does have experience as a former member of Congress and in the US Army, put a sharp focus on social issues, especially his pro-life stance. “20 million black babies have been murdered in the womb,” said West, who is African American. West added that he wanted to warn “my Latino brothers and sisters” about abortion claiming the lives of their unborn children as well.

West also argued the party should be supporting local candidates in traditionally nonpartisan races, creating a slate for voters including every race all the way to the bottom of the ballot like city council and school board contests.

There was applause for both candidates as they spoke throughout the forum. But red meat statements like those made mostly by West are what seemed to draw the overwhelmingly positive reactions from the crowd. Those are the kinds of messages that make the base nod their heads and stomp their feet, of course. As one of the grassroots activists later told the candidates, Republicans are looking for a chairman who fires up the base.

But Lt. Col. West was among those raising his hand earlier in their debate as Chairman Dickey asked those in attendance whether they were willing to sacrifice to keep Texas under GOP control.

Dickey “is obviously the best man for the job,” said one Republican after the debate. “I want a work horse, not a figurehead,” they said.

Copyright November 13, 2019, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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