COMMENTARY: Why the last election on the ballot really matters…
In just a matter of hours, we’ve gone from Christmas Lights and New Year’s Party Hats to campaign signs and political chatter with the primaries on March 1 – now less than two months away.
And while we’ve always been inundated with the national storylines of “Trump vs. Cruz” and “Clinton vs. Sanders’, it’s important to remember how important the local elections are for our community.
One of the local elections that can often be overlooked is that of County Party Chairperson, because it’s largely a heavy-lifting, behind-the-scenes, no glory type of job.
It’s also the last contest on the ballot.
By that point, voters are often ready to turn in their ballot and head to Starbucks or the local dog park.
And this March, both incumbents Mike Gibson (Republican) and Don Bankston (Democratic) face challenges in their respective re-election bids from Bill Michie (Republican) and Cynthia Ginyard (Democratic), respectively.
It’s difficult to underestimate the importance of a Party Chairperson.
An appropriate comparison would be to that of a professional sports franchise’s General Manager role.
Sure, more Houstonians know J.J. Watt’s name than they do Rick Smith’s, but the latter is the reason why the former is in Space City. And Smith has shaped the entire 53-player roster.
Everyone knows the names “Ted Cruz” and “Hillary Clinton”, but quick, name the chairmen of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee. (It’s U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz-DNC and Reince Priebus-RNC…and yes, I admit I had to google one of the names).
At the County level, Party Chairperson is responsible for recruiting candidates, fundraising for the county party, hiring and managing employees, precinct chairs, volunteers and interns and coordinating with the state and national party leaders.
The Fort Bend Democratic Party is similar to the modern-day Dallas Cowboys. They’ve had glory days, but it’s been a while.
The Fort Bend Republican Party recalls the early 1990s era Dallas Cowboys. They currently having a winning brand, but as the mid 1990s Cowboys proved, success can be fragile.
I’m not going to endorse a party chair in either election, but I think it’s important for voters to be informed of these respective elections.
With all due respect to the Democrats, we’ll start with the Republican Party Chair election because it’s the Party that’s dominated Fort Bend politics for more than 20 years now.
Gibson, the GOP Party Chairman for the past four years, faces a challenge from the right in Michie, although both candidates have strong conservative credentials.
Gibson brags about “Straight Ticket” voting increasing by 42 percent.
As a journalist, I like to see voters educate themselves on all of the candidates and choose the best person, but for a party chair, there’s nothing better than straight ticket voting.
Gibson has kept the County deep red and ensured that the GOP has made in-roads in the fast-growing Katy portion of the County and has not taken for granted that the area’s suburban demographics would translate into Republican votes.
Both Gibson and Michie have said the party needs to do a better effort at promoting its conservative message on the eastern side of the County (State House District 27, County Precinct 2).
Michie, a former GOP Precinct Chair, said the party must do a better job connecting with all of the County GOP volunteers.
“It is essential to re-connect with our County Republican volunteers who have been neglected during this chairman’s term,” Michie said.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have an uphill battle – regardless of who’s elected chair.
Bankston, a Richmond attorney, is more dialed into the State Democratic Party than anyone. He serves on the State Democratic Executive Committee, and his first stint as Democratic Party Chair was 1992-94 – when most county officeholders had “Ds” after their names.
Ginyard, a Sugar Land Speech Language Professional and former County Democratic Party Secretary, is challenging Bankston, who raised $160,000 for the Party in 2014.
She’s running on a platform of change and saying that Bankston hasn’t engaged prospective voters – something he strongly denies.
Bankston has referred to Ginyard as “divisive” and “someone that has no ability to do this job…and can’t raise a dime.”
Ginyard has acknowledged that she lacks experience in fundraising, and if elected, she’d like to see Bankston stay on board in a fundraising capacity.
Not possible, said Bankston.
If that happens, Bankston said he’ll raise money for individual candidates in Fort Bend but won’t be involved with the County Party.
Bankston said he took responsibility for the Democratic Party’s low turnout and electoral losses in 2014, but noted that factors outside his control (gerrymandering, a Republican Wave nationally) were at play.