The lessons of history: Republican Leadership Council fought County GOP on its refusal to support Republican Platform 20 years ago

Longtime political activist Betty Anderson, right, is now the President of the Montgomery County Eagle Forum. Anderson was a Founding Board member of the Republican Leadership Council. Pictured with her is her husband Dave Anderson, left, who is a renowned theologian (as well as a mediocre bowler).

Conroe, August 20 – The history of the Republican Leadership Council (“RLC”), a precursor to the “Tea Party” movement, reveals the opposition the Montgomery County Republican Party has consistently shown to the Republican Party Platform for a long time. Twenty years ago – in 1997 – the individuals running the County GOP refused to permit the RLC to place copies of the Republican Party Platform in the County GOP Headquarters.

How the RLC came to be

The RLC sprang from another local Republican organization called the Montgomery County Pachyderm Club (“MCPC”). MCPC was a local organization that was part of a state and national federation of co-ed Republican clubs. Unlike the National and Texas Federation of Republican Women, which for obvious reasons do not permit males to enjoy full membership, the idea behind the Pachyderms was to have a similar federation of men and women together who worked as an auxiliary of the Republican Party.

MCPC became a very active group. They sponsored monthly luncheons and held numerous other programs. The founders, Jim Alexander and Billie Gray, were active and popular leaders of the local GOP. Alexander ran for the Texas Senate in 1994 and came within a few votes of garnering the Republican nomination for Senate District 4. Gray had served as President of the Woodlands Area Republican Women as well as the Pathfinders Republican Women. They would regularly host renowned Republican candidates and officeholders, such as Dick Cheney, Greg Abbott and many others, at their home and in Alexander’s easily-recognizable handicapped van which he drove all over town.

In 1996, MCPC became a bit more aggressive in its promotion of the Republican Party and its principles. MCPC, under the direction of its 14-member Board of Directors, began a newsletter entitled the “Trunk Line” and a weekly radio program called “The Elephant Hour.” Both the newsletter and the radio show became popular among Republicans in the Greater Houston area.

The “Trunk Line” newsletter offered information about the Republican Party’s events and activities. It also, however, discussed issues and regularly chided individuals in the “other party” for their liberalism. For example, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton both received the “Trunk Line” monthly title of “Democrat of the Month.”

In June, 1997, however, MCPC developed an interesting problem. The 1997 Texas Legislative Session had come to a close. Many Republicans were very upset with Governor George W. Bush who had supported an enormous expansion of the Texas Franchise Tax, because Bush had promised during his gubernatorial campaign that he would follow his presidential father’s promise of “no new taxes.”

The June, 1997, issue of the “Trunk Line” named Republican Governor George W. Bush as the “Democrat of the Month”! Although the Trunk Line received enormous support from rank-and-file Republicans, some of the Republican Party leadership didn’t appreciate calling the Republican Governor a “Democrat of the Month.” A few days after the newsletter appeared, Governor Bush’s political consultant, Karl Rove, called the President of MCPC to inform him that “I hope you burn in h–l and I intend to make sure you get there as quickly as possible!”

At the next monthly Board of Directors meeting, the President, Vice President, and Executive Director of the Texas Pachyderm Federation appeared unannounced and informed MCPC that MCPC could not discuss political issues in its Republican newsletter, because “discussion of issues is not appropriate in a Republican newsletter.”

Rather than succumbing to the ridiculous demands of the state federation, 13 of the 14 MCPC Board of Directors members resigned from MCPC that afternoon and decided to form their own organization.

The Republican Leadership Council was born. Its first president was the Publisher of this newspaper. Its first Executive Vice President was Dennis Stieben. Its founding Board included Betty Anderson, Ed Robb, Lou Bowen, Rosemary Roe, Lori and Ken Smith, and several other very mainstream Republican activists – and quite a diverse group at that –  who believed that Republican candidates and elected officials needed to work harder to follow the Republican Party Platform, because the Platform was the great unifier within the GOP.

Anderson and Jim Jenkins helped grow the membership of the RLC which rapidly grew to over two thousand (2,000) by 1998 easily making the RLC the largest Republican organization in Montgomery County at the time.

The RLC sponsored a major State Party Platform Plank at the 1998 Republican Party of Texas Convention known as the “5, 5, and 8 by 2008” Plank, which set targets to reduce government spending at all levels of governments by percentages of disposable income. Both U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady and County GOP Chairman Walter Wilkerson, Jr., endorsed the Plank before the State Convention adopted it.

The RLC provided campaign workers for Republican campaigns and helped numerous candidates run phone banks, prepare mailouts, and walk blocks. The organization held bi-weekly meetings with candidates and elected officials called “working sessions” in which citizens could speak seriously about important issues in an informal session. Members of Congress, state legislators, County Commissioners, judges, and many others attended the RLC “working sessions.”

The RLC hosted televised debates between U.S. Senate candidates, Texas Railroad Commissioners, and candidates for Texas Attorney General. The monthly meetings grew from events with about 50 people to events in a larger venue usually with a couple of hundred people attending them.

Political activists experienced great excitement over the RLC’s basic message: Republican candidates and elected officials needed to learn about and follow the Republican Party of Texas Platform.

The RLC eventually died a slow death. It’s arguable that the primary cause of the end of the RLC was the 9/11 tragedy. After September 11, 2001, the focus of the Republican Party became the war against terrorism, which was obviously an important focus. Ideological differences on domestic issues, such as government spending, taxes, and even the Party’s Pro-Life Platform Planks, didn’t receive the attention they had before the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Only after the election of ultraliberal community organizer B. Hussein Obama as President of the United States did Republican activists get recharged to proceed with the ideological fights that became the “Tea Party” movement.

The important point to remember, however, is that Montgomery County’s Republican Party is a bit of an aberration, because it has fought against the Republican Party of Texas Platform as a unifying force for more than two decades. The local Party’s rejection of the Platform occurred in the 1980s when some of the leaders, including Jay Naugle, found offense in the Pro-Life Plank which President Ronald Reagan had led the Party to adopt since 1980. Instead, the County GOP has suffered through disunity and weak efforts to unite the Party behind individuals rather than principles.

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