Conroe, March 20 – There really are two political parties in Montgomery County. They’re just not the two you might think they are. It’s not the Republicans and the other party.
One Thursday night, the last powerful other party politician in Montgomery County , Precinct 2 Commissioner Malcolm Purvis, came before the Candidates Committee of the County Republican Party and announced that he and his Operations Manager, Craig Doyal, were switching parties, “because I [Purvis] want to win re-election.” Committee Chairman Ron Saikowski welcomed the last elected democrat into the GOP with open arms that night and told Purvis and Doyal, “we’re honored to have you in our Party.”
Thanks largely to George Mitchell, the developer of The Woodlands, and Bruce Belin, the developer of April Sound and Bentwater, Montgomery County’s voting population shifted dramatically towards the Republican Party by the early 1990s. Since approximately 1995, candidates who win the so-called “Republican nomination” in the Republican Primary Election are sworn into office the following January after only a perfunctory General Election.
The Republican Party is not one unified group, however. Some Republican candidates and elected officials in Montgomery County are “conservative” in the sense that they are for lower government spending and taxes while the vast majority of Republican candidates and elected officials are “liberals” in the sense that they vote for government spending and taxation growth, even though the Republican Party of Texas Platform could not be clearer that it is fiscally “conservative” and opposes spending growth.
In the latter part of the 1990s, the County saw the rise of the Republican Leadership Council, which urged the Party to provide organizational leadership and to hold Republican candidates and elected officials to their commitment to support the Republican Party Platform. The RLC slowly withered away by the early 2000s.
In 2008, however, with the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party movement arose and revived many of the concepts the RLC had espoused: reduced government spending, Constitutional conservatism, and a reliance on free markets rather than government intervention to solve problems. Under the leadership of the remarkable Julie Turner and Suzanne Guggenheim, the Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC became an enormously-dominant political force in Montgomery County, particularly south of the San Jacinto River. Today, the “Patriots PAC” remains large, well-organized, and remarkably led, although Guggenheim moved to south Texas. There are other Tea Party organizations, including the highly-spirited Montgomery County Tea Party, which holds regular meetings and regular local candidate vetting sessions.
Federated Republican organizations have changed quite a bit in this community as well. In the 1990s, there were only three or four Republican women’s groups, the Montgomery County Republican Women (based in River Plantation), the Lake Conroe Area Republican Women (centered around Walden on Lake Conroe), the Pathfinders Republican Women, and the Woodlands Area Republican Women. Since then, organizations affiliated with the Texas Federation of Republican Women have proliferated. There are at least seven major Republican women’s organizations all across Montgomery County with the most recent addition being the already highly successful Liberty Belles Republican Women meeting mostly at Panorama Village.
Despite the apparent hegemony of the Republican Party, there actually are two fairly easily-defined political groups that exist in Montgomery County: the “Establishment” and the “Reformers.”
The “Establishment” is comfortable with the status quo. They believe that the progress of increased government spending, increased taxation, and development controlled within the hands of a few major developers (Howard Hughes Corporation, Johnson Development, Friendswood Development, and Black Forest Ventures to name the four most influential) is comfortable. Such growth requires growth of the County government bureaucracy and the bureaucracies of other governmental bodies, such as the San Jacinto River Authority, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (“LSGCD”), Montgomery County Hospital District, the emergency service district, and the school districts. Big government helps big business and that’s why the “Establishment” is there.
It’s the “Establishment” that resents efforts at reform and uses “loyalty to the Republican Party” as a pretext for shutting up any criticism of incumbent elected officials.
Not surprisingly, the “Reformers” want reform. They want an end to the “good ol’ boy” system of politics that made Montgomery County a bastion of east Texas. Instead, they want efficient, non-wasteful government that places this community in the southeast Texas region. They want ethics reform inside the County and aren’t afraid to call out ethical violations. The “Reformers” want less spending and less taxation. Interestingly, there are many business leaders and real estate developers who realize that it’s in their interests to support reform because lower taxes make it easier to sell real estate. Ethics goes hand-in-hand with making the LSGCD more responsive to the citizens. Openness makes government behave in a respectable manner which make this community more desirable for young families and for senior citizens enjoying retirement.
Who are they?
The “Establishment” group is pretty easy to identify. Here are some of them:
- Marc Davenport, the brilliant political consultant, and arguably its leader (an Honorable Mention on The Golden Hammer’s Top Ten List of Most Powerful People in Montgomery County)
- Craig Doyal, County Judge who has spent almost his entire career within government
- Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley
- Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador (#5 on The Golden Hammer’s Top Ten Most Powerful People in Montgomery County)
- Kevin Brady, Congressman (#2 on the Top Ten List)
- J.D. Lambright, County Attorney, the great enabler for the terrible practices inside the County government
- Robert Marling, Woodforest Financial Chairman (#4 on the Top Ten List)
- Don Stockton, CISD Superintendant (#6 on the Top Ten List)
- Phyllis Martin, County Auditor (#8 on the Top Ten List)
- Bobby Jack Adams, Halff Associates engineer (#9 on the Top Ten List)
- Walter Wilkerson, Jr., longtime County GOP Chairman
- Duane Ham, trying to bring some reforms but has very close “ties that bind” him to Doyal
- Brian Dawson, a very close friend of Craig Doyal
- Stephanne Davenport, County Treasurer
- Ann Snyder, Woodlands Township board member.
The “Reform” group is also easy to identify. Here are some of them:
- Julie Turner, Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC Chair, arguably leader of the “Reformers” (#3 on the Top Ten List), lives in Magnolia area
- James Noack, Precinct 3 County Commissioner, outspoken advocate for County government reform (#5 on the Top Ten List)
- Gordy Bunch, Woodlands Township Chairman, as well as all of his colleagues on the Township board, other than Snyder (Bunch was an Honorable Mention on the Top Ten List)
- Steve Toth, former State Representative
- Kelli Cook, rancher, libertarian, and aggressive activist
- Betty Anderson, longtime GOP Precinct Chair from Shenandoah and Christian conservative activist and organizer
- Jim Doyle, longtime Conroe area GOP Precinct Chair
- Reagan Reed, GOP Precinct Chair from Willis
- Bill O’Sullivan, Patriots PAC Treasurer, the “Sage”
- Rachael M. Jones, longtime Patriots PAC supporter and community activist
- Bob Bagley, MCHD board member
- Georgette Whatley, MCHD board member, lives in Commissioners Precinct 1
- the vetting committee of the Montgomery County Tea Party
- Paul Crowson, East Montgomery County political activist
- a voting majority of the County GOP Executive Committee which recently passed a resolution calling for substantial reductions in County government spending and a 20% homestead exemption.
The 2016 Sheriff’s race in the Republican Primary Election pitted the “Establishment” versus the “Reformers.” Interestingly, however, while the “Establishment” candidate Rand Henderson won, he’s actually instituting substantial reforms inside of the Sheriff’s Office, which such reforms include zero-based budgeting, managerial reform, and far better citizen communications.
Some of the people not mentioned above are interesting in regard to where they sit with respect to these two groups. In alphabetical order:
- Jim Clark, Precinct 4 Commissioner, is arguably in transition from the “Establishment” to the “Reformers.” Some might argue otherwise. His record will tell, but it’s improving.
- Brandon Creighton, State Senator, seems to straddle the fence between the two groups.
- Rowdy Hayden, Precinct 4 Constable, is close with Marc Davenport but is arguably a “reformer at heart.”
- Mark Keough, State Representative, seems to straddle the fence.
- Brett Ligon, District Attorney, #1 on the Golden Hammer‘s Top Ten List of the Most Powerful People in Montgomery County, straddles the fence but has moved the “reform” ball forward considerably.