I’m far from the first person to suggest that insurgent political factions looking to wield influence on a national level need to take the reins of power locally first, then build their way up. While it’s sexier to focus on the presidential primary than it is to work on city council races, there’s no doubt that your marginal impact will be greater with efforts geared toward the latter. It’s also important to remember that without a farm team of good – in my case defined as liberty-leaning – candidates and activists to draw from when the time does come to run nationally, one can expect little chance of success.
This is an area where President Obama was right: Community organizing is the key to eventual national-level victory. The Left is generally quite good at building from the ground-up via local action while simultaneously motivating their activist base with national and statewide issues. Take for example, an ongoing effort in my adopted home state of Texas.
Pioneered by former Obama Field Director Jeremy Bird, Battleground Texas (BGTX) is an effort spearheaded by liberals who believe that if they can increase voter registration and turnout in Texas, especially among minority populations, they can turn the solidly red state blue. And if Texas turns blue, best of luck to Republicans presidentially given Texas’ thirty-eight electoral college votes.
Truth be told, BGTX’s calculations aren’t entirely off the mark. Though Wendy Davis, the candidate for Governor they pushed, lost to current Governor Greg Abbott by over twenty points, I don’t believe the group’s efforts have been in vain. Davis was a flawed candidate for countless reasons, as chronicled aptly by Erica Grieder at Texas Monthly.
But BGTX is thinking long-term – and rightfully so. Despite her many shortcomings, Davis served as a motivator for liberal activists who canvassed targeted neighborhoods throughout Texas, registering voters and identifying new recruits to their cause. Savvy liberals, particularly those who have done this type of organizing before, know the change they want won’t come overnight. And Republicans, especially those of the insurgent liberty variety, ought to take note.
The good news is that in Texas, particularly my home city of Houston, I’ve seen positive progress that motivates me, even when I feel incredibly disillusioned by the state of national politics. And the truth is, I do feel that way right now (remember my Trump rant from earlier this summer?). While I’ve only lived in the Houston area for five years, I’ve seen grassroots changes here, and in countless cities and towns throughout the country, that lead me to believe our Republican future will in fact be bright, if we stay the course.
Flashback to May of 2013: The Houston Young Republicans hosted a forum in the wake of an incident that still makes my blood boil. It featured a discussion between Gregory Angelo, national President of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Dave Welch, a Houston based leader with the U.S. Pastors Council. They convened to talk about the state of the Republican Party in response to an occurrence that stirred longstanding factional divisions and upset many activists, especially those of us on the younger side.
A month beforehand, Chris Busby, a prolific Republican volunteer for a variety of candidates and causes, decided he wanted to become a precinct chair, and the seat in his neighborhood wasn’t occupied by anyone at the time. This led to an interview with the county Party’s vacancy committee that frankly, didn’t go well. As conservative Houston blogger David Jennings explained:
“When I spoke to Chris today, he described the questions from Mr. Lowry as “brutal”. Chris was asked about his membership in the Log Cabin Republicans, should sex education be taught to kindergarteners, his position on gay marriage, and, bizarrely, did Chris agree with the 1972 homosexual agenda that promotes removal of all “age of consent” laws. Yes, he was asked that, confirmed by the people that were in the room. Chris took this to mean that the question was asking if he approved of pedophilia. Obviously he answered of course not but the damage was done and Chris was denied membership in the club.
If you don’t know about the ‘1972 homosexual agenda’ just Google it. Like I had to. Who in the hell has a copy of that on hand so that they can interrogate potential Harris County Republican Party Precinct Chairs?“
This inquisition upset a large number of people, and reflected ongoing problems with a less-than-inclusive good old boys club that had long controlled the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP). During the aforementioned forum however, Dave Welch, with whom I have many fundamental disagreements, said something simple but prolific.
Welch chronicled how the Christian Right wrested local control of Republican Party apparatuses throughout the country and were able to rise up in the ranks. He implored more socially moderate and liberty-leaning Republicans to do as he and his allies did in the late Reagan era: Work to take the reins of power and move the party in our direction. Of course from Welch’s perspective, this was more a challenge than a wish – and a small but determined group of Houston activists stood ready to accept.
In March of 2014, Jared Woodfill, the former HCRP chair who had long enabled the type of behavior chronicled above was defeated in a primary by an insurgent candidate and longtime Republican activist Paul Simpson, who has since measurably improved HCRP’s programs and increased local electoral victories, not to mention the fact that he has taken a much more inclusive stance toward Party participation.
Meanwhile, a very competent liberty Republican named John Baucum became the President of the Houston Young Republicans (HYR) around the same time, growing the club to levels it hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. John’s efforts in HYR and other arenas got him elected as the newest Texas Young Republicans Chairman in a landslide just last month. And guess who replaced John as HYR President with the overwhelming support of his peers? Chris Busby – who by the way, now has more power as the leader of an official GOP auxiliary club than the men who, just two years ago, needlessly persecuted him and drove people who had identified with the Republican Party out of activism entirely.
The moral of the story is ultimately that the efforts of pro-liberty Republicans are in fact laying crucial groundwork and making a measurable difference. John, Chris, and the many activists working beside them, represent the future of the GOP. And this is just one story; efforts like this are being replicated on a nationwide scale, particularly in a generational context.
Ultimately, a significant portion of winning is simply showing up, taking power, and staying active; and it starts in your neighborhood. It’s precisely what I’m focused on through a new group called Liberty Action Texas, which with enough manpower behind it will be a crucial weapon in the arsenal in the fight against the efforts of organizations like Battleground Texas.
I know that right now, a lot of my ideological allies are frustrated by things like Rand Paul’s current presidential poll numbers, conservatives conflating religious liberty with government-enabled discrimination, an increase in hawkishness among national Republicans, and the rise of hyper-nationalism as embodied by Donald Trump.
These are trends I believe we need to fight within our own movement, but without building and cultivating our local armies, there will be no ultimate battle. While I’m less than thrilled with much of what’s going on right now politically, I stay optimistic by looking at what I know the future holds. Millennial Republicans, reflective of our generation broadly speaking, are vastly more socially tolerant and interested in fair, limited government than many of our predecessors, according to a variety of polling.
The question is, will we take our ball and go home, refusing to identify as members of the GOP because we dislike the status quo? Or will we take over by integrating ourselves, making a difference locally, and building the infrastructure necessary to not only change the public’s perception of our Party, but win nationally? I believe enough of us are doing the latter to make a difference. Ultimately, politicians are always interested in taking the path of least resistance to electoral victory. If you’re a young, libertarian leaning voter, become one of the Republican power-wielders they need to get past to win. The future might quite literally depend on it.
Photo by LuminaStock / Getty Images
Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas.
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