Thursday, June 26, 2003

A little history lesson from the South Plains

Recently the folks up in Lubbock helped to elect Randy Nuegebauer to the 19th District Congressional seat vacated by Larry Combest. This was not welcome news to the folks at Burnt Orange Report and understandably so. However, I thought that a little background on the situation with which I am familiar might demonstrate how things might have been much worse.
To win the seat, Nuegebauer, a real estate developer and former Lubbock city councilman, had to get past a number of other ambitious politicians including a former mayor and a current state representative.
Neugebauer’s victory was essentially a win for the Lubbock business community and the establishment wing of the local Republican Party. One hurdle to his victory was Lubbock State Rep. Carl Isett, a staunch member of the Lubbock Republican Party’s religious conservative or social conservative wing.
Carl Isett’s path to the state legislature seven years ago followed an unusual path that holds a powerful lesson for political enthusiasts today.
It all began when then-State Sen. John Montford, the powerful Democratic lawmaker from Lubbock who chaired the Senate Finance Committee, announced that he would be stepping down in the middle of his term to take the newly created post of chancellor of Texas Tech University. This resulted in what some political observers refer to as a spilled fruit basket with people announcing plans to run for the vacant position and creating new vacancies as a result.
Among the half dozen folks who made a bid for Montford’s seat was the sitting mayor and the sitting state representative. State Rep. Robert Duncan, a fairly moderate Republican, eventually won the seat but his departure from his own seat - District 84 - came too late for the state to set up a primary election before the general election. Therefore, it fell to the executive committees of the two local parties to pick candidates to place on the ballot for the general election.
The executive committees were made up of the precinct chairmen from each party in District 84. Precinct chairmen, who normally have little if any power, are selected in caucus meetings held at each polling location after they close.
For years, those caucus meetings had been poorly attended and paid little heed by the party establishment. But one group had been paying attention to the caucus meetings - the religious conservatives - and when it came time to pick a nominee for state representative in the fall of 1996 they held a 2-1 advantage on the executive committee. As a result, the committee passed over the establishment choice of a candidate - Lubbock school trustee Nancy Neal - and instead selected a little known certified public accountant (Isett) who was best known for his opposition to abortion and his advocacy for home schooling.
Once Isett’s name was on the ballot his victory was pretty much assured. Despite the Lubbock Democratic Party’s selection of a conservative attorney who won the endorsement and financial backing of a large contingent of the business community, Isett won in a walk on the strength of solid straight-ticket voting amongst the electorate.
I guess the moral of the story is that you should never take anything for granted in politics. Even those seemingly insignificant precint chairman positions can pay big dividends down the road.

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