9/26/2009 7:21 PM
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tina Benkiser announced that she is endorsing Gov. Rick Perry and resigning her post as party chairman at today’s meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee. She is joining his re-election campaign as a senior adviser. In her speech, she praised the leadership of the state’s elected Republicans, called for the party to continue its conservative principles and not water them down, and called for unity in the Texas GOP.
She also blasted – though not by name – the campaign of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and implied that the Hutchison campaign tactics helped convince her to join the Perry campaign. In her speech to the SREC, Benkiser cited a speech she gave in Edna, Texas, where she praised the state, its conservative leadership, and the Texas economy. She said that another campaign called the Republican Party and objected to the speech and that was one of the things that made her realize she can best promote the conservative agenda by joining the Perry campaign.
In her speech, and in a subsequent interview with LSR, Benkiser went into more detail about her decision and why she made it. Here are a few answers to questions that haved been frequently asked about today’s events.
Why did Benkiser resign?
Said Benkiser: “In 2010, our nation is facing a fight for the heart and soul of America. Under our current leadership, Texas has become a beacon of shining light of conservatism, a model for the country of how government should work and of how people should be able to live free, strong and prosperous. Over the last few weeks, though a variety of circumstances, it has become clear to me that not only are we fighting for the heart and soul of America, but we’re also fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in the State of Texas. And we’re going to choose in our leadership whether we’re going to continue to be a state that believes in conservative principles or not. There’s only one true conservative in the race for governor.”
“As party chairman, I have seen first-hand how one of the candidates wants to tear the State of Texas apart and the Republican Party,” she continued. “… I have decided to step down as chairman so I can openly, publicly, enthusiastically support the one true conservative in the Governor’s race and that’s Gov. Rick Perry… I have always been about moving the conservative agenda forward. At the end of the day, I weighted, given the election cycle that we’re in, where would be the best and highest use of my time to move the conservative agenda forward in Texas and in America.”
What does the Hutchison campaign say about all this?
Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder told LSR: “As a lifelong Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison is committed to growing the party like Ronald Reagan. She looks forward to working with a new chairman to reinvigorate Texas Republicans and increase our majorities in the Legislature.”
What about this speech in Edna?
Benkiser focused much of her remarks to the State Republican Executive Committee on a speech she gave to a Republican group in Edna, Texas, earlier this month. In the speech, Benkiser said she was reminding the crowd of the accomplishments the state has made under Republican leadership.
“As I recited the remarkable achievements of Texas – the number one rankings, the accolades that Texas continues to receive – I watched them in their seats, as they began to sit a bit straighter. As I finally got through, their chests were out, and they were proud to be Texans,” she said. “… After I got through there were lines of people beaming saying ‘thank you for sharing some good news with us. We knew there had to be good news out there. We never heard this before’ … So I was quite surprised to hear later about a call on behalf of an elected official who had been represented at that same meeting. This campaign was extremely upset that I had shared such great news about Texas. I was stunned.”
In a later interview, Benkiser said a member of her staff received a call from Hans Klingler on the campaign staff of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Benkiser told LSR that she was told that Klingler accused her of giving the governor’s speech and objected to the tone of her remarks. Benkiser said she called Klingler and left a message but has not heard back.
Klingler told LSR earlier today he would offer a comment, but at the time of writing he was not available after repeated phone calls. A Hutchison campaign spokesman declined to comment on the incident when asked.
Soon after the speech, Benkiser saw a fundraising letter from Hutchison, which she said tore down the state and its Republican leadership. “As I said in my speech [to the State Republican Executive Committee], I believe that leaders build up, not tear down. And especially when you talk about the work of millions of Texans across this state to build an amazing achievement of success in the Republican Party. And the Republican Party [is] the millions of voters and activists and elected officials, and that’s who I want to encourage. …”
When did Benkiser make her decision?
“I was actually not approached by the Perry campaign or even had discussions with them until just the last week or so,” Benkiser said. “Those were preliminary discussions … I was made the offer to come on board within the last few days, and I made the decision at 11 o’clock last night.”
Many in the room today were surprised with Benkiser’s announcement. Several SREC members, party officers, and staff that LSR spoke with did not know until this morning. Many told LSR they learned about the resignation from Benkiser’s speech.
What will Benkiser’s role be in the Perry campaign?
Benkiser has been named senior adviser to the Perry campaign. In that role, she is expected to travel across Texas while promoting Perry’s leadership. She mentioned she would do media interviews and work on campaign strategy. She said she would be working at least full-time hours on Perry’s behalf as an adviser to the campaign.
“I will basically be going out telling the good news of Texas under Governor Perry’s leadership on a daily basis,” Benkiser said.
What happens next?
Once Benkiser’s resignation takes effect Oct. 5, Republican Party of Texas Vice-Chairman Robin Armstrong has to call for an election for a new chairman within 30 days. Members of the State Republican Executive Committee make the decision, and Armstrong must give at least 10 days notice of the election.
Several candidates for chairmen were working the committee members at today’s meeting. Some of the declared candidates are rethinking their candidacies, others are moving full speed ahead, and new candidates may emerge.
Benkiser has not endorsed a candidate for her successor.
What does this all mean?
Not surprisingly, that is debated.
The Perry campaign is delighted and views this as a major boost to the governor’s re-election efforts. Benkiser is very well liked among socially conservative voters, has a vast network of friends and supporters, and is highly regarded for her ability as a public speaker. “Tina has been a strong and successful advocate for conservative causes throughout her career and I’m pleased she is joining our campaign,” Perry said. “She will be an important voice in promoting our message of fiscal responsibility and limited government.”
Earning the endorsement of a sitting party chairman is often a major boost to a statewide candidate’s ambitions in a contested primary. The Perry campaign is already using the Benkiser endorsement as backup for Perry’s claim to be the true conservatives’ choice in the race.
Benkiser today argued the Texas GOP is one of the most successful in the nation, and at the meeting it was noted that only Texas, Idaho, and Utah have Republicans in every statewide officer, Republican majorities in both legislative houses, and a Republican-majority congressional delegation. Benkiser encouraged Republicans to stay with their conservative values, stating it is the only path to victory. “[with] these false pleas to run to the middle, we lose every time,” she said. “We win when we stand on family values, when we stand on strong national defense, when we stand on limited government but unlimited opportunity for all people. We win races.”
A major theme of the Hutchison campaign, however, has been concern about the Republican Party’s standing in Texas. In her announcement speech Aug. 17, Hutchison said, “Finally, let me say this to every Texas Republican. For the last decade, the Republican Party in Texas has been shrinking. We’re losing elections we used to win easily. In Austin, we’ve gone from 88 seats in the House to 76 – just two away from losing the Texas house.
“As Republicans, we can continue down the road of shrinking majorities. Or we can inspire, unite, and grow our party. Rebuild it from the bottom up, and reach out to Texans and say, ‘If you are for limited government, lower taxes and less spending, we want you in the Republican Party, we welcome you and want you to be active in our cause.’ That’s how we will win elections, keep the majority and be worthy to lead our great state. And that’s what we’re going to do if I’m heading the Republican ticket.”
Benkiser has served as Republican Party Chairman since 2003. Party chairmen are elected to two-year terms by delegates to that party’s state convention. Given that it is an elected post, controversy goes with the territory. Benkiser has faced opposition but has always won re-election by comfortable margins. In 2008, Paul Perry of Ellis County ran unsuccessfully against Benkiser, and two candidates – Tom Mechler and Mark McCaig – had declared for 2010 prior to this meeting. In particular, Benkiser had a rocky relationship with supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Lake Jackson) campaign for the presidency.