After more than four hours of heated argument over the title of the meeting agenda, the Montgomery County Republican Party Executive Committee (CEC) adjourned their biannual organizational meeting without adopting bylaws or selecting officers. The party’s two factions seemed to be at a complete impasse as the meeting descended into chaos and confusion.
The CEC, consisting of the county chairman precinct chairs, is the governing body of the Republican Party at the county level. Every two years, after the entire body is elected in the GOP primary, the CEC is required to hold an organizational meeting to select various party officers and adopt the bylaws which will govern the party for the next biennium.
The Montgomery County Republican Party is currently split between two rival factions: A more establishment faction aligned with an organization called the Republican Voters of Texas PAC, which is largely supportive of County Chairman Bryan Christ, and a right-wing populist faction that has begun identifying as the “Freedom Caucus” in an attempt to emulate the House Freedom Caucus in the U.S. Congress.
The origins of the schism go back many years, however, it really came to a head in 2018. Then-chairman Dr. Wally Wilkerson believed in a very strong executive model, and maintained a tight grip over all party business. Disillusioned with Wilkerson’s leadership style, precinct chairs who found themselves on the outs with the chairman were able to cobble together a majority to change the bylaws to strip the chairman of most of his power and instead invest authority in a steering committee elected by the precinct chairs. Wilkerson refused to recognize the new bylaws limiting his power, and for the rest of his tenure there were essentially two separate organizations both claiming to the be the Montgomery County Republican Party. After Wilkerson retired, Christ was elected in 2020 with Wilkerson’s support. However, Christ took a much more conciliatory approach than Wilkerson had, and sought to build consensus between the two factions. He agreed to abide by the bylaws adopted by the CEC for the 2020-2022 biennium, which were essentially the 2018 bylaws with some modifications.
Ahead of the 2022 organizational meeting, Christ organized a series of workshops to recommend changes to the bylaws for the upcoming biennium and invited members of both factions to participate. The Freedom Caucus, the faction opposed to Christ, also recommended their own set of changes to the bylaws.
If attendees came to the organizational meeting on July 19 expecting a robust debate over bylaws, they would have been sorely disappointed. Not only had the factions come to the meeting with their own set of bylaws changes, they showed up to the meeting with two different agendas. The CEC spent the entire night arguing over adopting an agenda for the meeting, which is typically just a formality. They didn’t even get to the prayer or pledge of allegiance at the beginning.
Members of the Freedom Caucus moved to replace Christ’s meeting agenda with a “Freedom Caucus” agenda, and after about two hours of heated “debate”, the motion passed 47-31. At that point it became apparent that the Freedom Caucus controlled a majority of the CEC. However, the meeting quickly plunged into utter tumult and confusion.
Soon after the “Freedom Caucus” agenda was adopted, it was pointed out that any business conducted under the “Freedom Caucus” agenda could potentially be invalid, since the title of the agenda said “Freedom Caucus” instead of “Republican Party”. The CEC then reached a complete impasse. In order to go back and make changes to something that has already been voted on, you have to get 2/3 of the body to agree on it. However, it was painfully obvious that there wasn’t 2/3 agreement on anything, and the CEC spend another two hours arguing over the wording of the agenda title.
The arguments became increasingly emotional and personal. At one point, Precinct Chair Kenneth Earnest (father of Konner Earnest), objected that some precinct chairs were texting with the parliamentarian, Jason Millsaps, who is also Chief of Staff for County Judge Mark Keough. Ernest demanded that Millsaps surrender his cellphone and allow it to be viewed by the entire CEC. Millsaps became extremely indignant, and explained that precinct chairs had been texting him complaining about the poor air conditioning in the county building where the meeting was held. “That anyone would question the integrity of this parliamentarian is asinine,” said Millsaps in a raised voice.
Precinct Chair Robert Coats attempted to be the voice of reason and moved to make the necessary changes to the agenda, including replacing the words “Freedom Caucus” in the title with “Republican Party”. However, even though the Coats motion received a majority, it did not meet the required 2/3 threshold needed to pass. Since the Coats motion was the best chance the CEC had at resolving the issue with the agenda, it’s demise left the body with no clear path forward.
Clearly at his wit’s end, Precinct Chair Frederick Sunderman moved to adjourn the meeting. Multiple voices shouted to second, and the motion to adjourn passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote. Visibly frustrated and embittered, the members of the CEC were ready to be done with it all.
However, the meeting was adjourned without even adopting bylaws or electing officers. According to Republican Party of Texas Rules, if new bylaws are not adopted at the organizational meeting, the party must use the previous biennium’s bylaws for the next term.
In the aftermath of the organizational meeting debacle, both factions submitted separate petitions to trigger emergency meetings at the same time and place. Included in both meeting calls is the selection of party officers. However, the Freedom Caucus is also arguing that the organizational meeting was not property adjourned, and will try to take the bylaws issue back up at the emergency meeting.
What will happen at the emergency meetings is unclear. However, what is abundantly clear is that rather than resolving the ongoing feud, the organizational meeting appears to be only the beginning of another round of intraparty warfare
“All of this weighs heavy on me,” Christ lamented in an email announcing the emergency meeting. “This is not the outcome I had hoped for a few days ago. I’m very disappointed in how things have turned out. It was my adamant desire that we all had come together and worked together on some much needed changes. This is why I set up bylaw workshops with everyone. There are many flaws and inefficiencies in our previous bylaws that are now enacted that needed to be addressed. I also think debating the issues and creating bylaws is a great team-building experience. I strongly advise that we all come together in an unofficial meeting so we can work together unencumbered by Robert’s Rules (which I believe can lead to squashing of healthy discussion) and figure out a way forward that the vast majority can agree on. A divided house cannot stand.”
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