Yesterday, in Austin, Texas, a group of gay Republicans who wanted to help work on community outreach for the county Republican Party as Precinct Chairmen, were soundly rebuffed by the party’s leadership. The group of applicants for the positions which represent the party’s grassroots, were identified as members of the Log Cabin Republicans and their applications were summarily rejected without consideration of their other qualifications.
Despite the efforts of County Chairman Matt Mackowiak to defuse the situation, at the monthly meeting of the Executive Committee of the Travis County Republican Party, the Vacancy Committee presented their report that the candidates had been rejected for nomination. When objections were raised, anti-gay activists were allowed to show a Power Point presentation attacking the Log Cabin Republicans as “Evil Infiltrators,” in a well planned effort to discredit them and strengthen opposition to their nomination.
The Log Cabin Republicans are a nationwide organization for gay Republicans which has a long history and is generally well respected. They agree with the party platform in general, but think that it should be more inclusive and do more to address their concerns. This is not dissimilar to other groups which have differed from the party on an issue or two and have been allowed to work within the party to resolve their differences. The most obvious example is pro-life groups whose views were contrary to the platform prior to the 1980s but were eventually adopted by the party.
Much of this was possible because of a crisis which the county party had last year with the election of a rogue chairman, Robert Morrow. In response to his election they implemented a system where much of the power of the chairman was transferred to a steering committee. This process was carefully manipulated to exclude more reasonable members and make sure that the LCR members were shut down.
The role of a Precinct Chairman is to provide support for Republican voters and for campaigns. They become the neighborhood face of the GOP. In a city like Austin where Republicans are a minority and the population tends to be socially liberal, a gay presence is more of an asset than a liability. Currently fewer than half of the Precinct Chairman positions in Travis County are filled and five more Precinct Chairs would mean reaching about 50,000 more potential voters.
The candidates included active and dedicated Republicans who have worked on campaigns and for Republican causes. They were also on average much younger than the usual Precinct Chair candidates. Michael Cargill, a prominent gun rights activist, had his application rejected despite a long history of voting Republican, possibly on the dubious basis that he voted in the Democratic primary in 2012. He commented “What took place at Travis County Republican Party tonight is what’s wrong with the Grand “OLD” Party.” Carlos Ortiz, who was present at the meeting, observed “I thought I was at a KKK rally.”
Ironically, the rejected candidates can still be seated if they are able to win election to the positions in a public general election in June. Michael Cargill, Chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans of Austin, warned that “Every board member for Log Cabin Republican Austin will be a precinct chair and there isn’t anything they can do about it. We are coming to take it.”
In this situation it is quite likely that these candidates and likely more gay Republicans will be motivated to run, in the same way that Ron Paul supporters were spurred to get more involved in the party because of their rough treatment from hostile county parties after his campaigns for President.
The Republican Liberty Caucus, which represents those Ron Paul voters and generally stands up for more inclusion in the party, issued a statement which said:
“As long as the general consensus of the platform is met, we should not deny help from those seeking to advance the Republican Party. Surely, if Texas were ever to turn purple or return blue, we’ll need look no further than these types of unwise and short-sighted party tricks to know why.”
This is an evolving situation, and there may be more development in the next days and weeks. Yet at a time when the party is so divided, declaring yourselves to be the party of Roy Moore and not Barry Goldwater seems like a serious mistake, especially in a place like Travis County.