Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jefferson County Republican Party: What Went Wrong?

Nationally, the Republican Party (well, actually the Tea Party Republicans) nearly destroyed the Democrats in the November elections. They previously eliminated most of the remaining moderates in the Grand Ole Party and more than a few Establishment backed candidates and incumbents. In Kentucky, the GOP did pretty well too, except in Louisville. Here, the local Republican Party got their usual butt kicking, which really shouldn’t have happened this time out.

The mood in Jefferson County was strongly in favor of change away from Obama and his political misadventures. People were just as tired of "His Excellency", Mayor Jerry Abramson who served three terms as Louisville Mayor and two terms as Metro Mayor. The GOP had an outstanding candidate in the person of businessman and Metro Councilman, Hal Heiner. The GOP managed to field some good, but not spectacular candidates for Metro Council, but as usual, provided no help. The same goes for a lot of the other races such as for State Representative and State Senator.

The failure began about a year ago when interim party chairman, J T Miller, resigned in order to run for Metro Council District 19, which was being vacated by Hal Heiner to run for mayor (Miller, by the way is a classy guy, won). Party bylaws (antiquated though they be) states that opposite genders must occupy the alternating seats, that is, since there was a male party chairman and as the vice chairperson was female, only a male candidate could be nominated (the vice chairperson was not elected as part as a slate, but as a stand alone candidate). Through some backroom lobbying, Shelly May, who has little political experience, was nominated over a male candidate with significantly more experience and thus apparently violated the party bylaws. The nomination had the weight of a defacto appointment since discussion before the membership wasn’t permitted. Shelly seems nice enough I guess, although she’s never actually spoken to me. She’s married to the former PVA John May who was appointed by then Governor Fletcher and lost his election bid to Tony Lindauer.

After her election, it was necessary to remove the female vice chairperson and key fundraiser (as I said violation of party bylaws appeared to be in play here, though apparently not a lot of common sense was)in favor of a male vice chairperson. The Operations Director, who could have challenged her over the bylaws, had his nominal salary first cut, then eliminated and was finally removed from office. As it turned out, it was all a big mistake, especially during an election cycle. The local GOP did not implement any of desperately needed reform which been proposed. Another insider was selected a vice chairman. It was more (actually less) of the same. There was virtually no fundraising; no vetting of candidates; no training or oversight of candidates; no recruitment of LD chairpersons, precinct captains, volunteers or poll workers. In short, the leadership failed, or to be more accurate, the usual backroom wheelers and dealers failed the party; its members; the candidates; and the voters. One bright spot from the party insider’s perspective was, I suppose, that 25th Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins lost his race for reelection. Hawkins was a perennial thorn in the side of the Executive Board and only Republican west of I-65 as well as an advocate for the Southend. Don’t misconstrue my comments. I’m not picking on Ms. May and no one is blaming her for the local Republican Party’s failures. She was just not adequately prepared for the job in my opinion (as well as others) and the backroom dealmakers deprived the party of the type of leadership it needed.

I think what success there was resulted from the efforts of some Southend conservatives, of which I was one. A friend of mine, Paul Holliger and I had been talking for awhile about the need to turn around the declining Southend. We’re both tired of countless politicians of both stripes promising much and delivering little. We hit upon the idea of political training seminars for Southend conservative candidates (this was strictly non-partisan, but other than one Indie, everyone who showed up were Republican). We recruited two former Indies and current Republicans, Ray Pierce and Ed Springston to help with the training. No one knows drainage and flood issues like Ray. Ed, also a former Labor oriented Democrat, ran for mayor as an Indie, has a pretty popular local radio show called, “My View Matters”.

The format was candidate intensive”. We focused on just about everything and did pretty well too. Mike Nemes won the 38th House seat. Wade Hurt won his 37th State Representative seat, though through the disqualification of his opponent (Apparently Wade’s opponent, Jeff Donahue had an ineligible signature on his candidate application form. The matter went to court and Judge Fred Cowan disqualified Donahue from the race (interestingly, I didn’t learn of this until after the fact when I was told that I was accused of somehow “engineering” the disqualification. I didn’t, but I appreciated the laugh!). Although Renay Davis (whose house we used) lost, she did a spectacular job and came within 183 votes of winning her race in Metro Council District 13. Gail Powers didn’t fare so well in her race for the 44th House seat, and was disqualified, but she picked up some valuable tools for her next race. 46th House candidate Brian Simpson also lost, but put on a pretty good race.

So, there you have it. Locally, the GOP now only controls Metro Council seats east of I-65. The Jefferson County Republican Party has done better in the past. It can do better in the future, but the elitism has to go. However, I will say this, from a personal perspective, I don’t think backroom lobbying has any business in a political party that should be looking to bring out the best in its leadership; its candidates; and its elected officials. After all, isn’t that what they’re always accusing the Democrats of failing to do?

Let me conclude with one final set of predictions from this election cycle. After the appropriate period has passed, I look for a change of party chairperson. I expect the “backroomers” to try and shore up their mistakes and transfer as much of blame as possible elsewhere while retightening their control on the local party structure. They will try to keep out and/or purge any reformers, who also just so happen to be their brightest and most capable.

I think Wade Hurt will have to “double down” to keep his 37th House seat, and that means acting more openly and honestly with Southwest activists. Mike Nemus, who won a close race for the 38th House has all the promise in the world. His next race will be tough. Rumor has it that retired police captain Denver Butler Jr (son of long time 38th State Representative Denver Butler) will run in 2012. 38th State Senator Dan Seum, who’s 70 years old, will likely face an aggressive primary challenge in four years, and if he survives that, an equally hard general election (and the scuttlebutt is that if Senator Seum tries to run any more family members---Dana Seum Stephenson and David Toborowsky come to mind---the same level of challenge can be expected). Lastly, look for yours truly to be calling it as is, but then, you already knew that didn’t you?

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