Only one of the six people who has the opportunity to replace Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen this election cycle missed the chance to participate in a bipartisan forum focused on education issues last week at Brazosport College. That candidate — Republican Rhonda Seth — cited a conflict with a long-planned event as the reason for her absence.
It shouldn’t be noteworthy that the four other Republicans and lone Democrat running in the District 25 party primaries took the stage in the Dow Academic Center at Brazosport College. Political candidates in these parts don’t shy away from opportunities to speak to voters and shake their hands, something we in Brazoria County can take pride in.
What made their presence stand out is the Texas Republican Party didn’t want those four party members to be there or at any other bipartisan forum. Such a philosophy conflicts with the party’s long-held “big tent” mantra and replaces it with purposeful partisan division.
The state GOP’s problem with the local forum is the involvement of Raise Your Hand Texas, a public education advocacy organization backed by Charles Butt, who leads the H-E-B supermarket chain.
Party Chairman James Dickey, in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, labeled Raise Your Hand Texas a “liberal advocacy group” akin to MoveOn, a laughable claim against a nonprofit trying to improve public schools and address the state teacher shortage as well as advocate for school vouchers.
“Selected left-leaning groups are organizing events around the state and inviting Republican candidates to participate,” a Jan. 21 memo authored by Dickey and sent to Republican candidates, elected officials, and party leadership reads, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “The Republican Party of Texas strongly advises against any participation during the Primary in any events, including forums or debates, that involves candidates from other parties.”
Numerous Republicans vouched for the veracity of the memo, including many who ignored it with the notion that getting front of voters is too important to adhere to the state party’s admonition.
Flipping that notion, the voters have the opportunity to hear the people who wish to represent them — regardless of party or the time of year — is how the best ideas are shared. Since Texas has an open primary system, where last election’s Democrat can vote on this election’s GOP slate, bipartisan forums are how some voters decide which voting booth they will choose.
“When you’re talking about public education or schools educating our young people, it’s too important to skip over and pass by,” Texas House District 128 GOP candidate Bob Hoskins told the Baytown Sun at a Raise Your Hand Texas forum in that district. “I think you have to participate.”
Briscoe Cain, the Republican incumbent in the race, cited Dickey’s memo as why he was a no-show at the event.
While voters should be encouraged that a good number of GOP candidates have ignored the state party’s guidance and still appeared at the more than two dozen forums presents by Raise Your Hand Texas, they also should consider the continued party-first emphasis demonstrated in the Dickey memo. That mindset is good for the party but not necessarily good for Texas and its voters.
Hoskins has the right idea about how the system is supposed to work.
“I don’t take direction from the Republican Party,” he told the Sun. “I am affiliated with the Republican Party — I think it’s the right thing to do for America and for Texas, but I don’t take directions from them.”
Candidates from both parties should remember they need to answer to voters, not parties.