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Six candidates running to be the next Texas GOP chair

The 2024 Texas GOP Convention opens Thursday in San Antonio. Party members will draft the party's platform and select delegates to this year's Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. They'll also select a new state party chair in a race that's both crowded and contentious.

Last Friday, with less than a week to go before the start of the convention, Matt Mackowiak declared himself a candidate to succeed outgoing party chair, Matt Rinaldi. A successful political consultant, Mackowiak has chaired the Travis County Republican Party since 2017.

"In the last 10 days, it’s become increasingly clear how dire the financial situation is at the Republican Party of Texas,” Mackowiak sais shortly after declaring his candidacy. “The situation has been worsening over the last few months. And it now is threatening everything that every Republican in the state cares about."

Mackowiak said that includes not only former President Trump's potential margin of victory in Texas in the November election, but also Senator Ted Cruz's reelection hopes, as well as Republican chances in South Texas congressional races and contests for seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Among other problems, Mackowiak noted the party is down to just five paid staff, a fraction of what he thinks is needed to function effectively. He alleged the party is also $500,000 short of its minimum budget for the convention.

"(Texas) Victory, our coordinated campaign – which is our primary way that we get people, we get out the vote in the fall – is only funded at about a 17% level of our minimum goal. And the person leading it just quit for the first time ever, in the middle of an election cycle," he said. "The problems here are cascading."

Mackowiak generally had kind words for most of his five rivals for the state GOP's top leadership role. But that didn't extend to Abraham George, the preferred candidate of both Rinaldi and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

"The current chairman’s chosen successor is wholly inadequate to the task," Mackowiak said. "He has almost no experience winning even one campaign. While he was county chair in Collin County, Abraham George lost a Republican State House seat. He just ran in a primary against the sitting Republican – the Texas House in Collin County – and lost. That is his record."

George did not respond to High Plains Pundit's request for an interview.

Mackowiak and George are just two of six contenders to succeed Rinaldi, who has led the party since July 2021. Another contender is activist and businessman Ben Armenta of Katy. Armenta and Mackowiak seem to be on the same page regarding the Texas GOP.

"Really, there just seems to be this consistent theme all across the state of Texas that the state party is absent from trying to drive real outcomes at a local level," Armenta said. "If the candidate or the precinct chairs or the grassroots organizations aren’t communicating value-based messages — aren’t connecting with the voters, aren’t doing any marketing, aren’t registering voters — then nobody else is. It’s all on them."

That criticism isn't just coming from people vying to lead the party. It's also apparent to many who've spent years closely following state politics. Among them is Jon Taylor, who chairs the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

"Here’s the problem for the Republican Party of Texas," Taylor said. "Success has made them – and pardon my language here — fat, dumb, and happy, in the sense that they basically have let themselves get a little bit lazy when it comes to fundraising, when it comes to staffing."

The party has also been riven with internal fights that have led — among other developments — to the censuring of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and of San Antonio Congressman Tony Gonzales. Whoever succeeds Rinaldi will have his or her hands full healing those divisions and refilling the party's coffers.

There's at least one other major task Taylor said the next chair will have to deal with: "Move out of the shadow of certain billionaires from West Texas, Dunn and Wilks, and that particular connection to Rinaldi and the problems and the scandals that occurred under Rinaldi in the last few years."

Dunn and Wilks have donated many millions of dollars to a variety of Republican candidates, Rinaldi included, with the aim of pushing the party further to the right. Both individuals support a stronger and more open role for their interpretations of Christianity in the Texas government.

At least one of the six candidates for GOP chair, current Vice Chair Dana Myers, has openly called for the party to distance itself from groups funded by Dunn and Wilks. Myers’ call came in the wake of one of those groups, Defend Texas Liberty PAC, hosting notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes at its headquarters. Rinaldi was in the building at the same time Fuentes was there, though he denied having met Fuentes.

The other two candidates for Texas GOP chair are former executive director of the Texas Freedom Caucus Mike Garcia and former Texas Real Estate Commissioner Weston Martinez. Houston Public Media reached out to Myers, Garcia, and Martinez to request interviews, but none of the three responded.

Overall, UTSA's Jon Taylor believes this year's race for Texas' GOP chair is one to watch. The winner could play a significant role in the direction Texas’ Republican Party moves in the future. He also said it's very unusual to see a six-way race for the party leadership, particularly with candidates who are as well-known and well-financed as the current field. And at this point, Taylor said it's still unclear who the favorite is.

"You would have thought that Dana Myers would have had the inside track as the vice chair of the party," Taylor said. "The one I thought would be the person will be Abraham George because he was endorsed by Ken Paxton soon after Rinaldi decided not to run for reelection. But at the same time, I don’t know if there’s necessarily any sort of groundswell for this guy, because there have been other Republican leaders, particularly the various State Senate leaders, who basically opposed Abraham George. So, who knows?"

The process of electing the chair, a complicated mix of caucuses and floor votes, is set to begin Friday.

"I’d be really surprised if this somehow is a first-ballot win for anybody," said Taylor, adding that the voting could stretch into Saturday.

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