GOP Voters Should Be Wary of Pay-to-Play Slates

By: James C. Rains and Chase Bradstreet, Houston Young Republicans

We in the Houston Young Republicans want the strongest possible Republican ticket in November and therefore believe we must elect the best candidates in the March primary. Our party faces a very difficult obstacle to accomplish that.

It’s because the so-called “Big Three” slates; the Link Letter, the Texas Conservative Review, and Conservative Republicans of Harris County (alternately known as “Conservative Republicans of Texas”), wield disproportionate influence in the Republican primary process. The problem is that these mailers are in essence paid advertising masquerading as a helpful voter guide.

This system of purchased endorsements jeopardizes the Harris County GOP’s strength, standing, and responsiveness to the voters.

These three slates ostensibly 
offer an easy and effective argument on behalf of the candidates they endorse: the appearance that they have done their homework, that chosen people are qualified, and that their picks share your values. To voters, they appear to use a legitimate process for making endorsements. In reality, one or two people make the decision on whom to endorse – often without interviews or questionnaires.

It is a dysfunctional system. For years, the Big Three slates’ endorsement was the deciding factor on an election. This resulted in under- qualified candidates winning the primary who ultimately failed to be competitive in the general election.

The pay-to-play slates undermine legitimate voter guides made through the efforts of real grassroots organizations. These groups devote time and resources to do the actual legwork of research and engagement necessary to enable honest competition in the marketplace of ideas.

Groups such as the “C” Club of Houston, the Conservative Coalition of Harris County, the HRBC, the Kingwood Tea Party, the Spring Branch Republicans, the Texas Asian Republican Club, United Republicans of Harris County, and many others offer their own endorsement lists, which are comprised of choices made after accountable, transparent processes. None of these organizations require candidate contributions, and many expressly refuse to accept them.

The Young Republicans may not always agree with the endorsement lists put out by fellow grassroots organizations, but their process for selecting candidates is just that – a process. It’s open to scrutiny, where candidates’ conservative credentials are actually inspected.

We acknowledge the shades of gray here: not every endorsement is purchased, and many truly qualified and conservative candidates feel the need to pay tribute. We implore citizens of Harris County to do their own research. Voters should solicit information about candidates from trusted sources including knowledgeable friends and neighbors. Become acquainted with your precinct chairman or chairwoman and inquire about their opinion.

The Harris County Republican Party Executive Committee, comprised of the party’s precinct chairs, has condemned deceptive voter guides on three separate occasions. In their November 2017 resolution, the committee did so in order to “protect the integrity of the 2018 Republican primary, and to “[educate] voters about the negative impact [of] these ‘pay to play’ slates.”

2018 has the potential to be a banner year for Harris County Republicans. With new tax cuts in effect, a strengthening economy, and a governor and senator at the top of the ticket.

Republicans have reason to be optimistic. It would be a shame if these opportunities went to waste. Deceptive, for-profit slates in the Harris County GOP’s primary increase the likelihood of this result.

The Houston Young Republicans are leading the effort to combat this perversion of our primary process. To let the Big Three know that Harris County voters are on to their game, we have launched the Trash The Slates campaign.

We encourage voters to share video and photographs of themselves disposing of pay- for-play slate mailers along with the hashtag #TrashTheSlates. We will be joining you with content on our Facebook page “Trash the Pay- for-Pay Slates in Harris County.” We will also be at the polls during early voting with bright red trash receptacles to encourage voters to put these slates in their proper place.

These organizations claim our values but betray our cause for profit. Their hypocrisy deserves to be brought out into the open.

Editor’s note: A version of this op-ed that originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle. (Source)