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How to evaluate a state Republican Chairman

Posted by Ron Nehring in Developments on January 7, 2017 with No Comments

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by Ron Nehring

Internal elections offer the members and leaders of political parties to refresh and refine their leadership at the onset of a new election cycle.  There is a reason many state parties choose their leadership soon after the general election – leaders are put in place to move the party forward in a new cycle.

As the performance of party leadership is reviewed, some commentators and self-styled analysts get it wrong — mixing up what party leaders can control and influence with what they can’t.  The result can be incorrect analysis and bad recommendations.

Having served as a party chairman for more than a decade – six years as leader of the Republican Party in San Diego and four as Chairman of the state GOP – I’m acutely aware of what a chairman controls, versus the external factors beyond his control.  Measuring a chairman’s success requires a careful examination of the areas a chairman controls, and comparing the party’s performance in those areas against the limits of what was otherwise possible.

First let’s review what a chairman doesn’t control.  He (or she)  does not pick the nominees – those are chosen by voters in primaries.

America’s political system is candidate-centric, not party centric.  Commentators and journalists consistently gloss over the reality that the real decision-making power in any campaign lies with the candidates, who choose their own messages, staff, strategy, tactics and approaches to fundraising.  If a candidate alienates key constituencies, fails to raise money effectively, chooses the wrong messages, or their mail lands after the polls close are all decisions made by candidates and campaigns, and it is they who need to be accountable.

And they are – when they lose, they’re out.

Chairmen also do not control the party’s brand, which is primarily driven by national media coverage of Republicans in Washington and on the national stage.  Doubt this?  Check how many minutes of coverage per day the typical American receives from their state capital versus Washington DC.  Party brands are defined nationally, and the Republican Party brand does pretty well — nationally.  A Republican President-elect, House and Senate demonstrate that.  But in some states — California, New York, Hawaii, New Mexico, etc. — the state electorate is very different from the national electorate, and the national Republican brand is not as strong.  State parties and state chairmen have little influence on this.

So just what does a party chairman control?  Three things – personnel, finances, and programs.

Is the party’s staff professional and efficient?  Are they good at their jobs, or a bunch of hacks?  Are phone calls and emails returned?  Do they  represent the party well and diligently implement party programs and manage party affairs?

State party finances are a critically important metric for me.  When I became state party chairman in 2007 the CRP was in a $4.7 MILLION sinkhole.  I left the chairmanship in 2011 with well over $400,000 in cash on hand, no debt, no bills and a low burn rate.  When evaluating a state chairman, it’s important to examine the state of party finances.  Is the Republican Party — the party of “fiscal responsibility” in the red, or the black?

Just like in government, all the pressure on the party coming from all quarters can be summed up in two words: SPEND.  MORE.  Desperate candidates push  the party to spend money it doesn’t have to help their campaigns, and consultants don’t earn commissions on money left in the bank.  A chairman must demonstrates the strength to say yes when he can, and say no when he must.

Finally, programs.  Does the party implement programs to promote membership in the party, nominate and endorse candidates in an orderly way, turn Republicans out to vote, and maximize the number and effectiveness of party activists?

If a party chairman meets three tests — good staff, good finances, and good programs — then the chairman deserves serious consideration to continue in a leadership role.

Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011.

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