Compromising Positions: Texas GOP and Tea Parties Find Their Fortunes Reversed in Ft. Worth
By Dale Huls
A funny thing happened at the 2014 Republican Party of Texas (RPT) convention last weekend. The grassroots tea parties and the Republican establishment were forced to compromise on an immigration plank in the Republican Party of Texas Platform. And the Republican elites are wailing and gnashing their teeth!
You see, “compromise” is what’s supposed to happen when the establishment wins and the tea party loses. Indeed, we are constantly being lectured about party unity. That was one of Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri’s main opening messages to the convention – Party Unity. Sitting in the auditorium as a tea party member, I felt that this was the establishment laying down the terms of surrender. We are told that our enemies are too dangerous for the tea parties to not get in line after our intra-party struggles. When the Platform Committee Chairman, Tom Mechler introduced the RPT platform to the delegates, he stressed “compromise.” Mr. Mechler told us that everyone wouldn’t be able to get all they wanted in the platform, but for the sake of party unity, we should adopt the “perfected” document and move on. Indeed, messages of unity and compromise were the mantra of the day…for a Republican establishment that expected to win.
And why shouldn’t the Republican elites and corporate interests expect to win? They knew that the conservative tea party movement was coming to do battle over the “Texas Solution”. They saw tea party activists preparing for an ideological battle over principles and the rule of law. They monitored the social media posts, tweets and blogs. They understood that this convention would be less well attended than other recent conventions and activists were coming in numbers. With this understanding and foresight, the elitists Republican Party apparatchiks began a counter-campaign to protect the Texas Solution and keep it in the platform. Mailers went out with conservative sounding names claiming that the Texas Solution was necessary for outreach to Hispanic groups and avoid a demographic catastrophe in future elections with the promise of free jobs and legal residence in the United States (in other words – Amnesty). Newspaper articles were written, blogs posted, and surrogates were organized to counter the growing tea party threat. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples began contacting tea party groups and convention delegate trainings to push a rewritten Texas Solution plan that was actually more lenient than the original. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and amnesty lobbyist Norman Adams continued selling the Texas Solution’s guest worker program. A large Texas Solution pavilion in the convention center’s Exhibition Hall was purchased. And finally, the temporary platform committee was staffed with a majority of members sympathetic to a guest worker program and provided food and drinks by Norman Adams.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, the best laid plans of mice and Rinos often go astray when the full weight of the grassroots show up and work for a common goal. As soon as the temporary platform committee went into public session and testimony, it became obvious that the tea party was there to fight against any immigration plank that offered defacto amnesty via a guest worker program. Tea party operatives stayed day and night fighting to get rid of the guest worker language and report out the proceedings to the grassroots network at the convention. Extreme pressure was put on the committee to such an extent that Todd Staples’ rewritten Texas Solution never saw the light of day. By the end of the temporary platform committee’s stint, the immigration platform plank had been completely rewritten and the guest worker program language was changed to a “provisional visa” program (same song, different tune). That night in the Senate District caucuses, a few pro-amnesty temporary committee members were voted out by the grassroots and replaced for Friday’s Permanent Platform committee. With new committee members, a new plank was offered based on Senator Dan Patrick’s website on border security and immigration. In fact, when this amendment was offered, the committee vote was a 15 – 15 tie for which the Chairman Mechler declined to break. An amendment in a tie vote is NOT adopted. Consequently, seven committee members signed a “minority report” that took the amendment to the convention floor as substitution amendment and presented to all the convention delegates. Since this minority report still contained some objectionable language that needed removing and the remaining doubt that it would be accepted, the grassroots hurriedly prepared amendments to be filed before the 6pm Friday deadline (note: that only filed amendments may be considered on the convention floor under normal rules). These amendments dealt with fixing the minority report language or removing the provisional visa language and of the approximately 200 amendments filed about three-quarters addressed the immigration plank.
At this point, the grassroots felt they had a fighting chance at replacing the Texas Solution immigration plank with a common sense immigration plank based on the rule of law. As the convention came to order on the last day, a grassroots network of Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and email spontaneously arose. Numerous activists were prepared to whip the votes by working the delegates and holding up yes/no signs indicating which way the vote should go. And then came the moment, everybody in the convention was waiting for. Mark Ramsey, a member of the Permanent Platform Committee, came out on the center stage to introduce the immigration minority report to the delegation. However, after introducing a motion to substitute the minority report for the proposed immigration plank reported out of committee, Mr. Ramsey started to discuss the committee’s proposed plank in detail. At this point, uneasiness settled on the anti-amnesty supporters. Why wasn’t he talking about the minority report? Why wasn’t he promoting the minority report was a much better stance on immigration? And then came the shocker, Ramsey offered a new amendment to the existing plank as a “trigger” for the provisional visa program and therefore a “fix” for the original plank. The grassroots immediately felt betrayed. It now looked like the minority report had been set up for failure. The problem was Mr. Ramsey’s amendment did make the plank better but it left intact the guest worker/ provisional visa program. Delegates wanted to know what happened and how they should vote. And then parliamentary confusion began, was debate cut off or was it not? Were we voting on the amendment or the minority report or both? Once the muddle was cleared up, the amendment to add a trigger was approved and the minority report failed.
Despair fell over the no amnesty delegates and activists. All of the filed amendments addressing the minority report were no longer relevant. And a last chance attempt was made to strip the provisional visa program from the proposed platform plank. This too ultimately failed. It seems the establishment Republican supporters of the Texas Solution had won again. It looked like the provisional visa language would stay with the only “compromise” being the trigger amendment first offered by Ramsey. The grassroots had fought so hard. It seemed that money and manipulation had once again trumped conservative principles.
But wait all was not lost, from the floor microphones arose a single voice offering a motion to amend the immigration plank by offering the delegates another option. Peter Batura had written his own compromise amendment and had correctly filed it the previous day. In his amendment, he kept the textual language providing rationale from the proposed immigration plank and took the best specific bullet points offered in the minority report to craft a complete plank on his own. It would be an understatement to say that both sides of the issue were stunned at this development. Activists and establishment alike scrambled to read the amendment. Confusion reigned throughout the hall. As the reading went, the amendment read exactly like the proposed plank for the first three paragraphs. Each side asked “Was this a good thing or a bad thing?” Within minutes the leading activists decided that this was a strong alternative to the existing language and the word started going out via text messaging and emails imploring the body to vote yes on this amendment. The pro-guest worker/provisional worker crowd also began to whip their votes against. In fact, in Dan Patrick’s home Senate District (SD 7), Mark Ramsey, Valerie Swanson, and David Riddle managed to place their delegation solidly against the floor amendment (36 – 385). One member of the SD 7 delegation related that “a delegate in the section next to SD 7 asked me why SD 7 voted Democrat? I was so embarrassed…”
As the vote on the floor amendment took place, Chairman Munisteri called for a voice vote which was inconclusive according to the chair. In fact, Steve Munisteri did a remarkably fair job in understanding the will of the convention by calling numerous standing votes to visibly assess votes by the delegation. This vote was no different. However, if we thought the floor amendment was an unlooked for boon and a last minute reprieve from defeat, it was surely divine providence in what happened next. When Chairman Munisteri called for a “standing” vote, he sought confirmation of the vote from others on the stage. Consequently, both the convention Parliamentarian and Secretary answered that they had each seen a different outcome of the standing vote. With a disagreement on the stage Chairman Munisteri was unwilling to call the vote himself and determined that a “roll call” vote was in order. This was exactly what the grassroots wanted. Win or lose, a tallied vote of record was had been sought to document the vote and remove any doubt of vote unlike what occurred in the original Texas Solution vote in 2012.
Now, with each SD voting their full voting strength, the results of the roll call vote was 4763 for the motion and 3735 against. By over a 1000 votes, the tea party position had carried the day. By an approximate 60 to 40% split, the Texas Republican Party had elected to discard an unworkable “market-based” approach to immigration reform. Emphasis was refocused in the party platform to address border security and the rule of law. The new immigration plank was indeed a compromise position by taking the best of the committee’s proposed plank and the minority report and blending them together into a seamless document addressing immigration issues.
Unfortunately, the establishment and corporate interests seem to be not so interested in “party unity” after the platform was adopted and the convention closed. Norman Adams, the high dollar guest worker lobbyist, left insisting that the grassroots had set the Party back 10 years and this was the work of white supremacists. Please! It’s bad enough that the liberal press says these things about the GOP grassroots and tea party, but for other “Republicans” to say it is not advancing party unity after a hard fought intra-party disagreement.
Indeed, both sides knew the stakes were high in Texas regarding the immigration plank. It was suspected that the Texas Solution was intended to give cover to moderates such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie regarding their own immigration stances. Additionally, it was suspected that Speaker Boehner would use the Texas Solution as a further justification for an amnesty vote this summer. Because if Texas, the reddest of red states, can support a guest worker/provisional visa program for all illegal aliens then it must be alright for the Republican-led House to do the same. However, after Saturday’s vote, moderate Republican 2016 candidates must stand on their own without the cover of Texas Republicans and John Boehner must reach for other justifications in his push for amnesty.
So this is what “compromise” feels like when your positions, by and large, carry the day. As demonstrated by the comments, posts, tweets, and blogs in social media, it appears the grassroots can get comfortable with this kind of compromise. However, it is up to the political elite and corporate interests in the Republican Party to see if they can practice what they preach. Will they get in line and defend the party platform? Will they join forces because our enemies are too dangerous for us to be divided? Will they follow the advice of Tom Mechler who called for the sake of party unity to adopt the “perfected” document and move on? After all, he is the one who said everyone would not be able to get all they wanted in the platform. Will Republicans across America support what Texas has done to reject a backdoor amnesty program and support a more common sense and rule of law approach? I wonder.
Saddle up Texas!