Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): New County Party Leadership Team Elected

Friday, October 21, 2016

New County Party Leadership Team Elected

There's new leadership in town and they've got massive shoes to fill. Last night, Johnson County precinct men and women elected a new chair and his slate of vice chair, secretary, and treasurer.

Mike Jones, a former candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives, was given the nod. Jones ran against Rep. Nancy Lusk, a Democrat from Overland Park, in 2014. (If you'd like a good snicker about Lusk, please visit her Facebook page.) Anyway, the Jones slate includes Vice Chair Robyn Essex, Secretary Diane Macheers, and Treasurer Craig Campbell. They faced a competing slate of Mike Kuckelman for chair, Laura McConwell for vice chair, Theresa Seagraves for Secretary and Steven Wiebler for Treasurer.

The election wasn't close. The Jones team took 235 votes to Kuckelman's 135. This was surprising to me, because the Kuckelman slate was basically an incumbent one. Seagraves replaced Ronnie Metsker as chair, and Kuckelman was treasurer. That team did an amazing job and can take much credit for Republican successes in the last 8 years.

I had heard that there was a little bit of a negotiation between Jones' and Kuckelman's people to determine a slate. One group was to run for the Third District leadership and the other was to run for JoCo. I don't know what occurred between the time I heard that rumor and the Kuckelman team announcing a slate, but something did. I honestly figured if a savvy guy like Kuckelman (universally liked, connected, and respected) had crafted a slate, he must have the votes to win lined up. 

That said, I couldn't imagine a majority of grassroots people agreeing to vote for a slate that included Laura McConwell. The former Mission mayor is mostly known at this point for a disastrous Mission driveway tax. Gov. Brownback re-appointed her to the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission and the Republican-majority Senate torpedoed it in a 19-18 vote. She's well-liked and a Brownback supporter, but far more moderate than the vast majority of Republican grassroots people, and that driveway tax continues to be an anvil on a chain around her neck.

The Jones slate had been working on an effort to takeover the party for quite some time. From attempting to put their players in key leadership roles in the bazillion Johnson County Republican Party clubs to hosting a precinct committeeman and woman thank you event, they've been working for this goal for at least a year, and perhaps even longer. Their early entry into the leadership race and their year-long groundwork effort was like the deciding factor in the race for leadership.

They're going to face tremendous challenges. Before the leadership election, Kuckelman gave the treasurer's report, and it was sobering one. Essentially, the party has about $5,000 to its name right now, and this is the most expensive time for the organization. In a few weeks, the party will host an election night event at the Marriott. That won't be free.

Often, the county party can rely on the financial assistance of Republican candidates, but with a scourge of new candidates and a tough election cycle, most candidates need to spend money financing their own races--not assisting the party. (And I don't think we can be certain the newbies will be all that interested in assisting with the Republican Party. Yeah, I said it out loud.)

And then there's this: The lease on the JCRP headquarters expires at the end of December. Kuckelman said the space owner wants to get a retail business in there, so JCRP will have to move. How does JCRP do that without any money in the bank? It will be a challenge.

My fervent hope is that the new leadership team is committed to fundraising, fundraising, fundraising and keeping the doors open, wherever those doors may be. Having a party office has been wonderful for advancing Republican ideals and getting Republicans elected. It's a place where candidates on all parts of the spectrum can pop in and request assistance, and a place where grassroots people and people new to the political world can stop and ask questions. It's a one-stop shop for all things Republican, and I hope the new team is committed to not just keeping the doors open, but to expanding hours. In this political climate we're going to need all the help we can get.

Speaking of the political climate, there was a little bit of an attempt for a coup last night. Following the leadership election, Steve Shute moved to suspend the rules. Shute explained that people weren't given proper notice for the meeting and so the meeting should be recessed so more people could self-nominate for delegate and seek election at a future meeting. 

There was a hasty debate, and had the meeting not dragged on into eternity, there's a chance Shute's motion may have been successful. There did seem to be a dearth of candidates on the delegate list. (Full disclosure: I forget to self-nominate, but I did know about the meeting and the deadline. So mea culpa.)

Now about that meeting: Guys, it was way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way too long. It wasn't the counting or the voting that took up so much time. It was the talking. The brutal, soul sucking speeches from folks politicking. Bless their hearts.

Congressman Kevin Yoder gave a rousing speech (that everyone in the room had heard at least once). I was moved for the first 3-minutes and then silently pleading that he would stop talking. And then when Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer stepped to the podium, the air was sucked from the room. The first 3 minutes were enjoyable, but every minute after that was excruciating. This isn't personal. I like both of those guys. They've done an amazing job and they're continuing to fight the good fight. But for the love of all things, everyone in that room was ready to get on with the program. A little self awareness, friends! That's all I'm asking! 

And then, Jones' and Kuckelmans' nominators gave speeches. And then Jones and Kuckelman gave speeches. I like the speeches, and I think it's important that we have an idea of the candidates' plans. However, we need time limits. On all of the speeches--from candidates, from electeds, from every person who steps to the podium. And we needed it last night more than ever before. We're in the midst of a very difficult election, and many of the people in that room have been walking precincts several days a week, phone banking for candidates or issues, or doing things that already take hours away from their families. There's a time for windy speeches, but last night wasn't it. 

And while we're on the topic of working for candidates, one thing Yoder said that bears repeating: I sure hope everyone in that room had done some canvassing and phone banking and envelope stuffing this cycle, but it does seem like the good will and effort of volunteers has dried up a bit this cycle. (I totally get it. We're facing some serious headwinds, and it hasn't been all that pleasant, but now candidates need your help more than ever!)

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