Local conservative activists held a unique candidate forum at the Midwest Music Conservatory in Ballwin two weeks ago. Sponsored by area Republican representatives and Senator Jane Cunningham, the event was held on June 27th and 28th.
Little, if anything, is typically known about the smallest (elected) position in the Republican Party, committeemen and committeewomen. (Democrats have their own committee positions.) Ask around the neighborhood. Few will know who their committeeman or woman is, let alone what their roles and responsibilities are.
A record number of new candidates are running for this position in St. Louis County, approximately 20. With so many running for the first time, activists from groups like iheardthepeoplesay.org organized the debate forums to give voters an opportunity to get to know the candidates better. Only candidates with opponents were invited to participate. The men running were scheduled on the first night and women the following night.
Committee members across the country are the foundational structure of the Republican Party. They represent the integrity, energy and leadership of the GOP. Their role is to promote political involvement at the grassroots level and organize neighborhoods in their township to get out the vote! They also have a tremendous influence on your choice of candidates on the ballot. If your committee members aren't honest, don't expect the Party to be. If your committee members aren't motivated, the Party won't be. If committee members do business as usual, we shouldn't expect much. Unfortunately, too many committee members don't do very much beyond holding monthly meetings, if they do anything at all.
St. Louis County: Our county is divided into 28 townships--with one committeeman and one committeewoman per township--which totals 56 positions on the central committee. Each county in Missouri has their own central committee (again, one committeeman and committeewoman per township/precinct). These positions are critical to the growth and well-being of the GOP. They determine the direction, integrity and overall message of the Republican Party. Don't like our choice of presidential nominee? You can trace it back to committee representation nationwide. Don't see enough young people involved in the Party? Or are we missing the independent voters? Everything can usually be traced back to what is happening or not happening at the township level. Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, has stressed the importance of quality committee persons for years and published "The Most Powerful Office in the World is NOT the President of the United States!"
After the debate forum was scheduled, the current committeemen and committeewomen (incumbents) in St. Louis County unexpectedly refused to attend the event or respond to the invitation. One incumbent, Dave Blanke of Lewis & Clark Township in Florissant, did attend after responding to the invitation immediately. At their respective township's meetings last month, incumbents were saying that the forum would be an offensive attack on them. New candidates were diminished as inexperienced or accused of wanting to "take over the party."
One local leader in the GOP recently said, " ...many people don't know this, but these people [committee members] do potentially have an impact on your life in the sense that they pick who the candidates are sometimes; they make decisions on who represents you on the state party's level." You can see the insider agrees with how important the committee position is... but he persuaded an incumbent to not attend the forum because there was no "need" to feature his opponent. Hypocrisy? Arrogance? Not sure.
Are these local positions owned or something? If the committee seats are already claimed, it sounds more like a monarchy instead of America.
Citizens who file for office should not be criticized for stepping forward to run for office. Not enough conservatives run for office in the first place. The unpaid committee position requires considerable work and sacrifice.
Jennifer Kelly, who is running against Judy Hon in Chesterfield Township, has an MBA from the University of Akron and spent four years in the U.S. Army, now married and the mother of four children. She said she cares more about our country now than when she took an oath to defend the Constitution in 1995. Jennifer's voice broke when she answered why she is running, calling her children's future the incentive to try and make a difference.
Senator Jane Cunningham, who gave a short presentation each night, was extremely impressed with the candidates too. "It was the best (forum) I have ever attended with good questions from the audience. How encouraging to see candidates with such energy, experience and new ideas to improve the GOP presence and voter turnout in St. Louis County, as the forum reflected. I encourage the central committee to continue the momentum by copying this format from the sponsors, publicizing and hosting their own candidate forum. It's a great public service and advertisement for what townships are all about."
Sen. Cunningham's district, a Republican stronghold in Missouri, was lost to redistricting late last year. [She is not seeking re-election at this time, spending time with her family for now. She doesn't expect to make final plans for her future until after November.] As the champion of the Health Care Freedom Act (Prop C), along with Rep. Tim Jones, and additional help from Senators Brian Nieves and Jim Lembke, Sen. Cunningham has long realized the importance of local politics. Last year, she offered $2,000 to the first township to organize their precincts. Although a couple townships attempted, the overall response from committee persons was close to none.
Rep. Paul Curtman was well received as the moderator both nights, opening all questions to the audience and managing to get all of them answered. The first night, someone asked, "Will you vote for the Republican nominee in November?" fueled by rumors that the new candidates were angry about Mitt Romney's nomination and planned to stay home in November or write in a different name. Affirmative responses were spoken across the panel and the forum continued.
At the end of the first night, the candidates were noted as leaders by everyone who attended, as well as energetic, innovative and articulate. John Vahey, running against Dave Blanke, described his years of experience with successful social media campaigns, when the question for candidates was how the GOP could do better.
When questioned about political experience, Pat Walker, who is running against Tom Wilsdon in Maryland Heights Township, referred to all of the campaigns he's worked on, including Prop C and candidates like Sen. John Lamping, and Representatives Paul Curtman and Gary Fuhr. "Politics is not a spectator sport," he emphasized. Pat added that in all the years he's lived in his township, even though he's been politically involved for years, he has not heard from his committeeman or committeewoman once, not even by email. Township inactivity was a common concern among most of the new candidates. Nathan Brekel, running in Lemay Township, said he had trouble finding any township information online. "I can navigate anywhere online," he said. "If I can't find it, nobody can."
One of the female candidates said she offered to update the local GOP website several times over the last couple years but was always turned down. The website remained inactive until quite recently.
My own township, Missouri River, is somewhat active. The committee persons hold monthly meetings. They have started trying to organize the precincts. However, the youth remains absent and efforts to reach out to all the independent voters are seriously lacking.
Social media, a clear factor in the 2008 victory of our President, is halfheartedly pursued by most members of the central committee. We need every advantage we can get to win this year!
Finding ways to grow the Republican Party and get out the vote should be of utmost priority to everyone running for committeeman and committeewoman. Current members complain that new people running "haven't been to any meetings," instead of admiring all their accomplishments with campaigns, recruiting the youth and getting out the vote! Meetings are necessary but they will not attract activists without action and accomplishment.
If you believe the status quo is working, you probably stopped reading by now. If you're still reading, maybe the incumbent is your friend and it's tough to vote for someone else. Your children and grandchildren are counting on you to do the right thing by voting for the right candidate instead of the local legend, nicest person or biggest donor.
Not all incumbents should be criticized. However, I recall very few Republican clubs or committees reaching out to relatively new volunteers like me in the fall of 2008. I'm not complaining, just stating where improvements are needed. Back then, the events and meetings we organized were ignored because we were "tea partiers." There was a time when tea partiers shunned me because I supported Sen. Roy Blunt when Sen. Chuck Purgason lost the primary. As they say, politics isn't for the faint of heart. The longtime Republicans who enthusiastically welcomed newcomers from the start are appreciated more than ever.
Santorum supporters still lash out at "establishment" Romney supporters. Ron Paul supporters resent Romney supporters for "selling out." Who knows where Romney supporters are at because they're caught in the middle. The Mexican standoff will accomplish one thing: a Mexican standoff. Our Campaigner-in-Chief will thank you in November. Can't we learn from our mistakes and capitalize on the here and now? Alienating other conservatives might give you personal satisfaction but we will lose. Last March, there were days I wanted to ask, "Who made YOU God, that we should all vote for (fill in the blank)?" Every camp was guilty to some degree. My candidate didn't make it and I'm over it.
Winners and losers on August 7th, including me, better keep finding ways to work together. The new candidates in St. Louis County township races hope to at least be appreciated for making the sacrifice to run for office when someone else wouldn't. Critics, be quiet and keep working to get out the vote and spread the message of capitalism and freedom.
Sometimes competition is good. Not being willing to publicly make your case as a candidate is antithetical to our mission of the last few years. Stepping right into an elected office without a challenger is too. The latter is unintentional. In either case, though, the lack of accountability should concern you. Incumbents deliberately boycotting a candidate forum should be a red flag. The lack of accountability might be apathy, arrogance, selfishness, entitlement, or all of the above, and none of those character traits belong in leadership. Asking your township representatives (if they qualified as contested races) why they refused to attend would be revealing. Responses like, "I didn't get an invitation," "They were all for Ron Paul," or, "The forum wasn't in my area," are easily refutable and warrant further questions.
Moving on from the forums, a good question to ask current members and candidates alike is, "What have you been doing to get everyone to work together?" Again, getting out the vote, which includes working together with everyone, should be of utmost priority to good and faithful Republicans.
When was the last time you noticed a yard sign for a committee race? I saw one a couple days ago. Wonderful! Running for office and getting our names out there is how it should be!
[A list of contested races in St. Louis County township can be found at the IHTPS website.]
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