THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: Historic Milestones
(Speech prepared by Dr. Wally Wilkerson, MCRP Chairman)
Where We Were (1952-1990), Where We Are (1991-2010) & Where We Will Be (2011- and beyond)
It will come as no surprise to anyone that things have not always been so great for Montgomery County and Texas Republicans.
The national Republican Party was founded in 1854 by mid-western abolitionists opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that allowed voters in these territories to choose whether or not to allow slavery. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress along with Democrat President Franklin Pierce supported the Act. Abraham Lincoln declared in 1855: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal’. We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes’.” By 1856 almost every American opposed to slavery had joined our Republican Party and the Democrat Party had become pro-slavery. Republicans nominated former Senator John Fremont, a southern-born abolitionist as their candidate for President and the Democrats selected James Buchanan as their nominee for President. Buchanan was victorious and carried the “solid south” while Fremont carried the northern states.
Shortly after the election, in March of 1857, the U. S. Supreme Court announced its infamous Dred Scott decision. Seven Democrat Justices ruled that blacks could not be citizens anywhere in the country and had no standing to sue in court for anything. The two Republican Justices dissented. When speaking of the difference between the Republican and Democrat Parties, Lincoln said in an 1857 speech: “The Republicans inculcate, with whatever ability they have, that the negro is a man; that his bondage is cruelly wrong, and that the field of his oppression ought not to be enlarged. The Democrats deny his manhood; deny, or dwarf to insignificance, the wrong of his bondage.” Thus the stage was set for the climactic election in 1860.
At the Republican Convention held in Chicago, Lincoln won the nomination for president on the third ballot. In the four-candidate presidential race, Lincoln’s 40 % of the vote was enough to win the election. Most political leaders in Texas were Democrats, although President Lincoln gained the support of several prominent Texas leaders such as our first Governor, Sam Houston, along with many African American leaders. Houston did not support secession and was chased out of the office of Governor.
The effects of the Civil War and its aftermath called the Reconstruction would be felt for more than a century in Texas. The death of President Lincoln prevented an orderly reconstruction of the south into a constitutional, free market society. The Union Army under orders from the President occupied the State, and Republicans controlled the State government until the elections of 1874. The Republican controlled U. S. Congress passed in 1866 a Civil Rights Act very similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, the only southern Senator to remain loyal to the Union. It is ironic that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed with strong support from Republicans in the U. S. Senate after a filibuster led by Democrat Senator Strom Thurmond who later would join the Republican Party. The next four generations would not forgive the GOP. It would be 104 years before another Republican was elected Governor.
Fifty years after Reconstruction and the ousting of the Republican Governor, the first statewide Primary election was held in 1926 with 15,239 voters participating. The passage of the poll tax law and partisan-oriented election laws in Texas in 1905 prevented African Americans from participating in the Democrat Primary elections. Democrats doggedly claimed that they functioned as a private, white-only organization until an 8 to 1 ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 1944 barred them from excluding African Americans from their Primary.
As new issues arose and memories of the post Civil War era subsided, the GOP entered the modern era in 1952, when the State Republican Executive Committee was organized.
Where We Were (1952-1990) Milestones
1952- Dwight Eisenhower becomes the first Republican candidate for President since Herbert Hoover in 1928 to win Texas’ electoral votes, but loses the County to
Democrat Adlai Stevenson by 468 votes
1953- Herbert Cartwright of Willis was appointed County Chairman; County Executive Committee was organized with six (6) members, one of whom was Norman Imler, a photographer and son-in-law of the Gus Whitley family, owners of the State Hotel (circa 1931), site of the County Republican Headquarters.
1956- President Dwight Eisenhower again carries Texas and also wins the county by 798 votes.
1957- County Chairman Cartwright resigns in protest over President Eisenhower’s decision to send Federal troops into Little Rock, AK to enforce court ordered school desegregation.
1960- Vice-President Richard Nixon received 48.5 % of the county’s presidential vote (same percentage he received statewide) in the contest against Democrat John F. Kennedy. There were many post-election reports that counties failed to count Nixon crossover votes on straight Democrat Party ballots. Census revealed a county population of 26,839.
1961- A majority vote of 51.5 % in the county was given Republican John G. Tower in his special election victory for the United Senate seat formerly held by Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, becoming the first Republican Senator from Texas since the 1860s. Mrs. Henry G. Bell, wife of a Conroe Family Physician, spearheaded Tower’s campaign in the county.
1962- Phillip Dickinson of Conroe, a Sun Oil Company petroleum engineer, was appointed County Chairman. He conducted the first Republican Primary election that was held on May 5th with thirty-eight (38) votes cast. The Republican candidate for Governor, a recent GOP convert, Jack Cox, visited Conroe on a campaign appearance, but lost in the county by 497 votes and in the statewide vote to Democrat John B. Connally. Cox’s Conroe visit was highlighted by a rally on the east side of the courthouse that attracted a small group of loyal Republicans, but a larger number of curious onlookers who watched from the windows and doors of businesses that lined the east side of the courthouse square.
1963-The inaugural Montgomery County Republican Party fundraiser (with newly appointed Harris County Republican Chairman George H. W. Bush and wife, Barbara, as featured guests) was held in the Conroe Hotel with an attendance exceeding fifty (50) people. Jim Young of Conroe, a Humble Oil petroleum engineer, replaced Dickinson as County Chairman who named Dr. Wally Wilkerson, a Conroe Family Physician, Party Vice-Chairman.
1964- Primary election attracted 105 voters. Dr. Wally Wilkerson was elected County Chairman. Party conducted a door-to-door campaign for Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and United States Senate candidate, George H. W. Bush. On the weekend prior to the general election, a Republican caravan of cars and pickup trucks, decorated with signs and banners, traveled the county and distributed campaign literature and the paperback book entitled “A Texas Looks at Lyndon” that chronicled the controversial political career of Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democrat presidential candidate. Both lost, but Goldwater’s losing margin was only 6 % in the county compared to a statewide losing margin of 11%. Leo T. Jones of Conroe, first Republican candidate to appear on a general election ballot since Reconstruction, lost his race for State Representative.
1965- Republican Headquarters opened at 308 Collins Street (State Hotel circa 1931) in Conroe. The Party faithful hoped it would help them compete with the Democrat headquarters that was known as the “County Courthouse”.
1966- County Party fielded three (3) countywide and one (1) precinct candidates in an effort to build the Party at the local level. All received less than 30 % of the vote, but they would be followed by many more candidates in the future. United States Senator John G. Tower was re-elected and carried the county with 53 % of the county vote. He would be the only Republican officeholder to serve Montgomery County until 1978.
1968- Party organized the first ever phone bank and fielded two (2) candidates for County Commissioner, one (1) for County Attorney and two (2) for Constable. One of the countywide candidates received 30.8 % of the vote. Independent candidate for President, George Wallace, won the race for President in the county; Republican Richard M. Nixon was a close second and Democrat Hubert Humphrey was a poor third. Humphrey won statewide with 41.14 %. Nixon was second with 39.88 % and Wallace third with 18.98 %. Paul Eggers, Republican candidate for Governor, garnered 40.7 % of the vote in the county, an encouraging sign for Republicans.
1969- County Party fundraiser was held at River Plantation Country Club with Congressman George H. W. Bush as the featured speaker.
1970- County population totaled 49,479. County Republicans were optimistic about the election with George H. W. Bush for the United States Senate and Paul Eggers for Governor on the ballot along with a full slate of statewide candidates. Locally, five (5) precinct candidates and one (1) district candidate would also be on the ballot. The Primary attracted a record 474 voters. A Party African-American outreach program was created. Bush made election eve stop in Conroe and carried the county with 51.9 % of the vote (one of twenty counties statewide), but lost to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen by 150,000 votes statewide. No local candidates won, although the one district candidate (former CISD School Superintendent, W. D. Wilkerson, Sr.) for State Board of Education received 40.4 % of the county’s vote.
1972- The first Republican Party Primary contest involved the race for State Representative D-18 (Montgomery & Walker Counties) between Billy Harper of Huntsville and Warren Spencer of Conroe. Harper was the winner in Montgomery County but lost the district race. A statewide contested race for the Republican nomination for Governor between State Senator Hank Grover of Houston and National Republican Party Committeeman, Albert Fay of Houston, created more interest in the Primary. Grover won the vote in Montgomery County and the nomination but he lost in the general election to Democrat Dolph Briscoe. Grover’s win in the county assured that Republicans would appear in the first column of the ballot in 1974. President Richard Nixon won the county with a record 77.5 % of the vote in November. United States Senator John G. Tower won re-election and received 56.8 % of the county’s vote.
1974- The Watergate scandal cast a deep shadow over the GOP, a year to forget.
1976- The first presidential primary in Texas attracted a record County Republican Primary turnout of 2,737 voters. The Primary pitted President Gerald Ford against Ronald Reagan. An April visit to Conroe by Ford during the primary campaign attracted nearly 20,000 people who crowded the courthouse square. A reception at the Holiday Inn for the President followed his appearance and speech. Reagan won the county Primary election with 58 % of the vote.
1978- A Primary gubernatorial contest won by William Clements of Dallas catapulted him to a general election victory over Democrat John Hill to become the first Republican Governor since 1870. Clements won the county in the general election with 55% of the vote largely due to a well-organized phone bank. The Party also celebrated the election of the county’s first Republican officeholder, Mrs. Pat Ruffin for Justice of the Peace, Precinct #3, since the Reconstruction era. This victory climaxed a sixteen year effort to build a two-party system in Montgomery County.
1979- On January 1st jubilant Republicans filled the 9th District Courtroom to witness the swearing-in of Pat Ruffin as Justice of the Peace and later in January traveled to Austin to take part in the inauguration of Republican William P. Clements as Governor of Texas. The Montgomery Republican Women’s Club was founded with the encouragement of Liliya Grumulaitis, who emigrated from Lithuania and became an American citizen. A Party fundraiser was held in the Conroe Hotel with George H. W. Bush, former Congressman and soon to be candidate for President, the featured speaker. The crowd numbered two hundred.
1980- The Census reported a county population of 128,487. Primary voter turnout reached a record 4,973 voters, with George H. W. Bush edging California Governor Ronald Reagan in the county’s presidential primary with 49.8 % of the vote. In the general election Weldon Locke was elected the first Republican County Commissioner since Reconstruction in Precinct #3, and Al Rose was elected constable in Precinct # 3. Reagan trounced President Jimmy Carter in the county and state. Republican candidate for Sheriff, W. W. Buddy Walker of Porter, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Joe Corley, who became a Republican in 1988. Because of inefficient handling of an outpouring of voters in South County, County Chairman Wilkerson persuaded County Judge, R. A. Mickey Deison, to recommend that the County hire a County Election Administrator.
1981- County Commissioners Court approved the hiring of a County Election Administrator. Billie Smith of Magnolia was appointed to this position. She was succeeded by Linda Garner and upon her retirement by the present Administrator, Carol Gaultney.
1982- The Party held a contested Primary and Runoff election for County Judge with candidates Mike Tusing and J. R. Moore, Jr. of South County and Mason Martin of Conroe. Martin won the Runoff against Tusing but lost to Democrat Jimmie C. Edwards of Conroe, a Viet Nam War veteran, by 4.3 % of the vote. A second County Commissioner, Mrs. Carol Shelton of River Plantation, was elected in Precinct #2 and a second Justice of the Peace in Precinct #5, Carolyn Cox. Governor Clements won the county vote but lost statewide to Democrat Mark White, the former Attorney General. Olen Underwood of Conroe became the first elected countywide Republican in over 100 years when he ran unopposed in the general election for Judge of the 284th Judicial District. He had been appointed to the position earlier in the year by Governor Clements.
1983- Democrat U. S. Congressman Phil Gramm in District #6 (included Montgomery County) resigned from office after a dispute with the Democrat Party leadership in Congress over his support of President Reagan’s tax cut policies. He returned to Texas and ran as a Republican in a special election that he won handily. Gramm was very popular in the county and assisted the Party in fundraising.
1984- President Reagan’s popularity was very apparent when he won 75 % of the county’s general election vote in his re-election bid, and Phil Gramm claimed victory in the race for United States Senate. His voting percentage in the county was 71 %. Joe Barton of Ennis defeated Democrat Dan Kubiak to replace Phil Gramm in the 6th Congressional District after surviving a Primary election recount against fellow Republican Max Hoyt of The Woodlands. The straight Republican vote swept into office a number of county Republican candidates, including Jim Dozier for County Attorney with 66 % and Oliver Hance for County Commissioner Precinct #1. With Hance’s victory in a three-way race, Republicans would hold a 3 to 2 margin on Commissioners Court. Keith Valigura of Conroe defeated incumbent Democrat Rodney Tow for State Representative D-16, becoming the first Republican from Montgomery County to serve in the Texas House in over 100 years. Republicans in the county celebrated a watershed election, one that set the tone for future elections in the county. The Republican ROUNDTABLE was created as a major Party donor organization.
1986- Former Governor William Clements was elected after a four year absence and carried the county with 60 % of the vote. Republican Al Stahl’s upset win over Democrat County Judge Jimmie C. Edwards, Martha Gustavsen’s election as County Treasurer and victories in all three contests for County Court at Law Judge highlighted the local races. The SUSTAINING MEMBER PROGRAM was created to help raise funds for maintenance of the County Headquarters. The Conroe newspaper, THE COURIER, reported: “Don’t look now, but this is a Republican County.”
1987- The Woodlands Republican Women’s Club was founded.
1988- A record Primary election turnout of 18,064 exceeded the Democrat Primary turnout for the first time. Vice-President George H. W. Bush received 68 % of the county’s vote in the General election on his way to winning the presidency. A well organized phone bank was manned by Republican women. On General election eve, Senator Phil Gramm, accompanied by Laura and George W. Bush, attended a rally for the Vice-President on the courthouse square in Conroe. Former Democrats Joe Corley and Peter Speers were re-elected as Sheriff and District Attorney as Republicans. Republican J. R. Moore, Jr. was elected Tax Assessor-Collector, along with fellow Republicans Don Chumley Constable Precinct #1 and Travis Bishop Constable Precinct #4.
1990- The Census revealed a county population of 185,000. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands won the State Representative District #15 seat, one that Republicans had coveted for almost ten years. Republican Dr. Bob Rabuck of Conroe won the State Representative District #16 seat vacated by Keith Valigura. At the conclusion of this election cycle, there would be only four (4) Democrats remaining in the Courthouse: County Clerk, County Commissioner Precinct #2, Justice of the Peace Precinct #4 and Constable Precinct #2. Not many Republicans or any Democrats dreamed they would live to see such a dramatic turn around in just over ten years. But more was yet to come.
Where We Are (1991-2011)
1992- President George H. W. Bush won 51.2 % of the countywide vote in the General election followed by Independent candidate Ross Perot with 24.6 %. Bush won statewide, but lost nationally to Democrat Bill Clinton who failed to receive a majority vote. The Party won all the District Judge and Constable contests on the ballot
1993- A Special election for the United States Senate seat held by Democrat Lloyd Bentsen was won by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. George W. Bush is featured at a Party fundraiser in Walden. He strongly hinted he was planning to be a candidate for Governor in 1994 against Democrat Ann Richards. The Lake Conroe Area Republican Women’s Club was founded.
1994- In the General election George W. Bush won in the county with 68.9 % of the vote and defeated Ann Richards for Governor to become only the second Republican elected to this office since 1869. Kay Bailey Hutchison was elected to a full term as United States Senator from Texas, receiving 74.3 % of the county’s vote. Republican Mark Turnbull won the County Clerk position without opposition in the general election after winning a Primary race with Leo Hewitt. Turnbull had narrowly lost to Democrat County Clerk, Roy Harris, in 1990. Republicans won Justice of the Peace Precinct #4 and Constable Precinct #2 races, but Republican John Richards lost to incumbent Democrat County Commissioner Precinct #2 Malcolm Purvis by 372 votes. Republican Drew Nixon won the Senate District #3 race and Mike Galloway of The Woodlands won the Senate District #4 race, unseating veteran Democrat Senator Carl Parker of Beaumont. County Republicans now had two voices in the State Senate. Now there was only one Democrat still in the Courthouse.
1995- County Commissioner Malcolm Purvis announced at his annual Fish Fry in June that he was becoming a Republican. The media reported that he said: “It was either Republican or retire.”
1996- The Dole-Kemp presidential ticket carried the county with 62.6 % of the vote and the statewide vote, but lost to Democrat Bill Clinton. Kevin Brady was elected the Congressman from District #8. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands won the race to replace Brady as State Representative in District #15.
1998- George W. Bush was re-elected Governor. Mike Galloway lost his bid for re-election as State Senator for District #4 to Democrat David Bernsen of Beaumont. Ralph Harrison of The Woodlands was narrowly defeated for Justice of the 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont. Ruben Hope of Conroe won the State Representative D-16 seat vacated by Dr. Bob Rabuck.
2000- Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush carried the county with 75.8 % of the vote and wins the presidency. Lt. Governor Rick Perry became Governor. David Gaultney became first Republican to be elected to serve on the 9th Court of Appeals. No Democrat filed for office except for the County Chairman. U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was re-elected and carried the county with 79.6 % of the vote. The North Shore Republican Women’s Club was founded.
2002- Governor Rick Perry re-elected. Todd Staples of Palestine won Senate District #3 seat with the aid nearly 20,000 vote margin in Montgomery County. Republicans won every statewide office on the ballot. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands won Senate District #4 race and Rob Eissler of The Woodlands won the State Representative D-15 seat to replace Tommy Williams. Steve McKeithen becomes second Republican Justice on the 9th Court of Appeals.
2004- President George W. Bush won the county with over 70 % of the vote in his re-election bid. Charles Kreger became third Republican Justice on the 9th Court of Appeals. Every Republican on the ballot easily won in the county.
2006- Governor Perry won re-election and carried the county with 50.8 % of the vote. Montgomery County was the only one of the top fifteen counties in the state to give Governor Perry a majority vote. Local Republican candidates defeated all four Democrats on the ballot with Cara Wood soundly defeating Democrat Nancy McCoy for the 284th District Judge position replacing Olen Underwood. Justices David Gaultney and Hollis Horton of Beaumont won, giving Republicans a 4 to 0 majority on this important Appeals Court.
2008- After the Democrats strong showing in the March Primary (31,000 votes), Democrats and some political pundits expected Obama to repeat this showing in the General election. Both were in for a surprise. The Republican presidential ticket of McCain-Palin received 119,884 (75.94%) votes: Obama-Biden received 36,703 (23.25%) votes; Libertarian Barr-Root 953 (0.60%) and Write-In 307 (0.17%). There were 103,508 straight party ticket votes cast, 82,126 Republican and 21,108 Democrat. The Republican margin of victory was 81,921 votes compared to the 75,320 margin in 2004. The County’s voter turnout percentage was 62.25% compared to the statewide turnout of 57.8%, a 5.95% difference. Every Republican on the ballot won with a high of 75.98% of the vote to a low of 72.76% of the vote. These percentages surpassed the winning percentages of every county of equal size and demographics in the State.
2010- The Republican wave predicted by the polls became a reality in Montgomery County on November 2nd. Across the State, the number of straight Republican votes was overwhelming, and this was true of Montgomery County. Republican straight ticket vote total (60,435) was 84.8% of all the straight votes cast and 52.2% of the total votes (115,869) cast in the County. Governor Perry received 82% of the vote in his re-election bid. The Party’s GOTV program produced a voter turnout percentage of 46.4% compared to the statewide total of 37.5%, a spectacular difference of 8.9%. Nearly 25,000 phone calls to Republican households during the early voting period along with over 12,000 automated election-day calls were completed, representing over 80,000 voters. In addition 15,000 GOTV door hangers were distributed in targeted precincts. The GOTV program will be fine tuned during 2011 and ready for a maximum effort in 2012.
Where We Will Be (2011 and Beyond)
The demographics in the State are rapidly changing. The Democratic Party is gaining strength in the major cities while the Republican Party is increasing its strength in the suburban and the rural areas of Texas. The Hispanic population is rapidly increasing throughout Texas and the nation.
That is why counties such as Montgomery County must turn out its voters in larger numbers. To accomplish this we must be better organized at the precinct level. We have worked very hard to achieve this goal, but there remains work to be done. Our GOTV program is designed to mobilize our base by contacting voters during the early voting period of the General election either via telephone or by door-to-door contact. Volunteers are the key to our success, and Republican men, Republican women, Young Republicans (YRS) and Teen Age (TARS) will be called on to carry a greater burden in the future. I am confident we are capable of meeting this challenge.
Finally, I would like to comment about the challenges we face and then share with you some things I have learned during my involvement in the political arena.
Our opposition is committed to an economic philosophy that promotes the perception that profits are a form of theft and that economic successes are a form of profiteering, both to be punished by confiscatory taxation. They do not share our trust in the American people, but prefer to rely on bureaucratic power and the unelected intellectual elite to develop and dictate public policy. They aid and abet the “blame America first” crowd at every opportunity. They assume that if there is slaughter of thousands of innocent people in Africa, it is our fault; or if there are suicide bombings in the Mideast, it is our fault. Ronald Reagan described it this way:
“..We’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government of, by and for the people. Well if no one us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Here are several things I have learned:
1. Politics is the art of the possible.
2. In politics, you can rarely have it all. All or nothing guarantees you will get nothing.
3. To exert maximum influence over public policy, you must first win elections.
4. There is no perfect candidate on this earth.
5. Always remain optimistic, less you become desperate and ineffective.