The first step in evaluating any candidate for any position is deciding what’s needed in the role, regardless of who fills the position.
After discussions with other County Chairs, thoughts on my term as Chair in Travis County, and input from activists, volunteers, candidates and Precinct Chairs from around the state, here’s the list of qualifications that I recommend:
- Raising Funds. It was true in 1966, and it’s still true today, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” The reality is that no matter how frugal you are, donations are needed to obtain the data, equipment, design, communication and other resources needed to run a party and win elections. The Chair must be willing and able to make the case to donors for the vision of the party, and through their management and results keep the confidence of those donors so that the needed funding can be obtained. This is first for a reason – it is an absolute non-negotiable requirement without which little else can happen.
- Maximizing Media Opportunities. The County Chair is frequently asked for input on the issues of the day by TV, radio and newspaper reporters. In every single one of those interactions the Chair has the opportunity to build up the party, minimize the damage to the party from a negative story, or make things much worse. Excellent press interactions maximize the impact of the donations received and the volunteer and staff efforts. Conversely, even a single large misstep in this area, at least for conservatives, is a self-inflicted wound from which it is almost impossible to recover.
- Managing an Election Impartially. In Texas a County Chair is the person legally responsible – and personally liable – for making sure the primary election is handled correctly: that the voting process is equally accessible, conducted in compliance with all laws, and completely unbiased toward or against any candidate. There cannot be any doubt at all that the Chair is in some way conflicted and likely to tip the scales on the part of any candidate no matter their personal preferences.
- Managing the Party’s Operations*. Setting and staying within a budget, recruiting and managing officers and staff, and ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Making sure the party benefits from the best possible team and that the team’s efforts are deployed in the most efficient possible manner. Removing distractions and obstacles that inhibit the team’s ability to accomplish the party’s goals.
- Growing the Party. There are many ways the Chair can and should do this, and just as many ways for them to accomplish the opposite. Of course this includes wise use of the best available data and voter outreach efforts, and handling press interactions positively. It also requires recruiting and supporting good candidates at the local level. But to benefit from any of that, the volunteer base must be built, which requires doing several other critical things well, including:
- planning ahead, casting a vision and communicating that vision clearly so everyone knows what they should be doing, the point of attending the next meeting, and the ideas they have that the group needs to hear,
- managing County Executive Committee meetings* so that it is clear that everyone is respected, all input is heard, and the Executive Committee’s wishes are implemented,
- building confidence in and visibility of the party by attending as many as possible of the dozens of local organization and campaign meetings and events each month,
- warmly welcoming new volunteers to the party,
- having an efficient process and good follow up on plugging in new volunteers, and
- involving as many people from as many different factions of the party as possible in committees and projects so that the party benefits from the widest possible group of available volunteers.
This list is designed to be applicable universally. The County Executive Committee has the ability to reassign some of these duties. If the Committee did, those duties would no longer be the Chair’s. The Chair has the ability to delegate some of the duties as well, but in that case, the Chair still remains responsible for ensuring they are done well.
I know that there were times during my term as County Chair when I fell short on meeting these standards. Fortunately I have fantastic family, friends and advisors who are not shy about calling me out when that happens, and I have and will continue to work to improve in all that I do.
What do you think? Was there a critical item I missed?
*Under the Travis County Republican Party’s bylaws enacted in June 2016, most of these are not duties or responsibilities of the Chair, but have instead been explicitly transferred to the Executive Vice Chair position. Your county’s bylaws will specify any similar exceptions, but the duties listed above are representative of the typical structure.