From the national, state, and local level of politics, the Republican Party is undergoing some major image and leadership changes. There are good reasons for this and the time is right to do it.
The Republican National Committee just released its Growth and Opportunity Project report, a 100-page document that gets it right. The report was compiled from more than 52,000 contacts, 800+ conference calls, 36,000 online surveys, 3000 listening groups, dozens of focus groups, and some 500 one-on-one calls with the chairman or co-chairman of the projects. That's a lot of talking and listening to reach some pretty obvious conclusions.
America has changed, is changing and so are its voters. As the traditional GOP base ages there needs to be a new message and approach delivered to the next generation. If the GOP wants the support of women, youth, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, it needs to better understand what they want, listen to what they have to say, and find a message that appeals to them and draws in their support.
A Lightning Rod No More
As hard as the GOP might try to get these groups to accept and fit into the traditional GOP message, that's not happening with a great deal of election success. The GOP has to find a way to be known for standing for something instead of sounding like it's against everything. Does the GOP try to get these groups to fit into its message or does it try to get its message to fit into these groups?
There is transition at the state level, as GOP Chairman Matt Pinnell comes to the end of his term. A new state chairman will be elected at convention this spring. Oklahoma has one of the best records of energizing its base and finding and electing good candidates for every federal, state, and local office.
Statewide, the GOP message has found and reached its base of citizens whether they are registered Republican or Democrat. You can't be elected as a Republican to any statewide office unless Democrats are voting for you. And the reason that Republicans have had election success recently is because a registered Oklahoma Democrat seems to be more of a Reagan Democrat than a Kennedy Democrat.
At the Tulsa County Republican Party convention on March 23, more than 200 countywide delegates gathered at the Jenks Performing Arts Center to elect new leadership. New Chairman Mike McCutchin, director of Finance and Administration for Victory Christian Center, brings a professional career steeped with executive experience.
After years of toiling in the trenches for the local GOP party and candidates, he can say "I've come to understand the Chairman must be a neutral facilitator of the party's official proceedings and be its chief supporter of general election campaign efforts while consistently maintaining the attitude of a servant leaders whose primary goal is to foster the party unity necessary to elect Republicans to all levels of government." All in one breath.
State GOP Chairman Matt Pinnell
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OKLAHOMA GOP
He brings a combination of business experience with political service. And having been married more than 40 years and spent time in the military service, he has that "rock steady" approach to any crisis that might arise.
A Row To Hoe
The biggest challenge to the county GOP is the same as it has been the last 20 years: how do you balance the "big tent" idea with the conflicting and diverse views and opinions on the political landscape and create a unified party? What can be done when "big tent" translates into "big differences"?
This is not a new condition. In the 1980's and 1990's the local GOP party was made up of people supporting the John Birch Society, the Phyllis Schafly movement, the Christian Coalition, the Pat Robertson group, the pro-life groups, the Rockefeller Republicans, the Reagan Republicans, and on and on. Factions have been as much a fixture of the GOP as the elephant has been its symbol.
Today, the names are different but the factionalism is the same. The motto, something along the lines: "divided you fall when the attitude is that it's all about me -- it's not about us."
The challenge for the new state and county chairmen is daunting but doable. It takes a team of strong leaders to build a team of strong players. It takes a diplomatic approach to forge alliances when all you see are differences. The chairman has to be above it without taking sides, reiterating the core principles of the GOP and how they differ from the core principles of the Democrat party.
Perhaps the state and local parties should take a page out of the RNC's Growth and Opportunity Project playbook. Certainly at the local level, many of the types of problems that face elected officials don't have a political answer. They have a collaborative coalition answer where success is measured by having the right message and how many you reach, not just by who you reach.
Whether it's an election for public office or an election for public improvements, local political parties do play a role -- unless you are running for Tulsa Mayor. And the party which sees the future first will be the party of success.
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