James Dickey Elected RPT Chairman. We Talk to Some That Were There

Photo by Gage Skidmore

For those that are involved with the Texas Nationalist Movement, few names elicit a more negative response than Tom Mechler. Mechler was chiefly responsible for detaching a party plank calling for a referendum on Texas independence during last year’s Texas GOP convention. So, it was with much excitement that we learned of his imminent resignation and coming replacement. To this end, last Saturday, the Senior Republican Executive Committee held a vote to replace the out-going chairman, and James Dickey beat out opponent Rick Figueroa to become the next RPT chairman.

SREC member Scott Stratton took some time to share with me his impressions about Dickey, the process on Saturday’s vote, and what we should expect from a GOP under his leadership. In his view, the contest between Dickey and Figueroa was essentially a match between the conservative grass roots and “Dallas progressive elites.”  For the member voters, it all boiled down to each candidate’s experience, positions stated, and their record of supporting those positions they claimed to believe in.

“Figueroa, basically had never won an election in his life and voted Democratic for most of the time,” Stratton commented. “Where the other candidate was a constant Republican for the last 30 years, as a precinct chair, as an SREC member, as an actual chairmen of a county, there in Dallas. Bottom up and not top down being appointed. That’s the voice of the grass-roots.”

Authenticity seemed to be an important trait to Stratton, as he went on to describe his disfavor for candidates that “tell you anything you want to hear to get you to vote [for them], even though that’s not their true stance.” When asked to describe what he liked about the new chairman, he said, “He’s seen as very transparent. And number one, if the people’s voice (70%, higher, 61%, or whatever), wanted [something], he would be behind that. It’s not about leading [according to] his own situation, it’s about leading [according to the will] of the people that put him there.” Having a chairman that will not abuse his position to affect change different than what the GOP members decide is paramount. For Texas Nationalists, that’s all we want: a fair shot. The will of the people will take care of the rest.

Stratton was also impressed by what he personally witnessed of Dickey’s own humility and concern for those that work with him. Additionally, his diligence in making sure members were informed, and the fundraising potential of Dickey (a trait that the candidate himself stressed in debate), were equally impressive. But more than these, Stratton also believes that much of the conservative agenda will be advanced under Dickey’s leadership.

However, not all news is good news. Sadly, for those who were hoping for Republican harmony at the end of a divided, yet remarkably genial, election, this vote may have borne ominous indications of future GOP disunity. “Both sides were expecting their candidate to win; that’s why it was so close. You got to realize that the win was by one vote.” Under such contentious circumstances, things tend to get a bit tribal. However, what happened next was a bit of a shock. “Everything was very cordial, but the room, the people that came in to support [Figueroa], that wanted to see if he got the vote, they were right on the other side, cleared out after the vote. I mean half the room.” Despite expectations, Figueroa supporters didn’t reach out to Dickey supporters, rather they abruptly picked up and left. “I was kind of surprised by that,” said Stratton.

With as gloomy as that prediction sounds, it may be too soon to tell. According to Stratton, Figueroa’s crowd seemed to be made up of special interests and lobbyists, not concerned voters. Because of this, there may be hope that the group wasn’t representative of too many real Republican voters.

Regina Cowan, DeWitt County Republican Party Chairman, seemed to confirm that a Texas GOP divide maybe only between elements of the leadership and the GOP voters. She indicated that a common sentiment expressed Saturday by SREC members on the Figueroa side was their intention to vote against the popular wishes of their constituents. Indeed, James Dickey’s popularity seemed to outshine what his slim SREC victory might otherwise imply. According to Cowan, whereas Figueroa speeches elicited silence, Dickey was received by excited applause from the greater audience, lending credence to the idea of a dichotomy between GOP leadership and interests and the general GOP rank and file. Ultimately, Cowan remained expectant of GOP voter unity under Dickey. Time will tell.

As we wait for experience to prove or disprove our hopes for the chairmanship of James Dickey, it is still good to know that there is reason to be optimistic. Being reputed a grass-roots candidate, let’s hope that he continues to listen to his roots, rather than play the old cynical political game of pretending to hold the views of constituents, while behind the scenes trying to deny them as much of what they want, as is politically expedient.