Sunday, May 22, 2016

Boy, do they deserve each other

Hoping to contain the fallout from conspiracy theorist Robert Morrow’s surprise election as Travis County GOP chairman, local Republicans are moving to limit his power and form a nonprofit to hold the county party’s money and control its social media accounts during his two-year tenure.

Additionally, delegates to last week’s state Republican Party convention in Dallas approved a change to the party’s bylaws that could make it easier to remove a county party chairman from office.

Austin-area Republicans, however, say they have no plans to remove Morrow once he takes office in mid-June.

After he defeated incumbent Chairman James Dickey on March 1, Morrow made international headlines for his vulgar, racist and misogynist social media postings, leading the party to create a transition committee to explore ways to limit Morrow’s impact. The proposals, to form the nonprofit group, to be called Friends of the Travis County Republican Party, and to weaken the chairman’s role by empowering precinct leaders, will go before the party’s executive committee at a special meeting May 31.

Jerri Lynn Ward, who chaired the transition committee, said Morrow has indicated that he is less interested in running the party than in spreading his conspiracy theories about the Bushes, Clintons and other major political figures.

“This is not a coup against Robert Morrow. It’s just basically taking off his shoulders things he doesn’t want to do,” said Ward, a precinct chairwoman from Hudson Bend. “I’m willing to give him a chance. He’s not out to hurt the party. He just has certain beliefs and interests that he wants to pursue, and they’re kind of consuming of him.”

Morrow said he doesn’t have a problem with the arrangement, at least for the time being.

“I’ll have to see. There’s a thing called ‘the devil is in the details.’ But right now, I’m OK with that,” he said. “I want to see the party’s nuts-and-bolts machinery continue to function while I tell the truth about political criminals in both the Republican and Democratic parties.”

Many of the proposed bylaw changes were designed to transfer duties from the chairman to the executive committee, which is made up of the precinct chairs. Another creates a new position, the executive vice chair, who can run meetings without the chairman.

There is a limit, however, to how much power can be stripped from Morrow’s post, which under state law is responsible for running the GOP primaries, including certifying election results and approving candidates to appear on the ballot.

If adopted, the bylaw changes will be the party’s official rules for only a few weeks before Morrow can push to change them after he and the new class of precinct chairs are sworn in.

Every two years, each new party executive committee must adopt its own rules. Morrow will be in charge of calling the first meeting after he takes office, and Travis County Republicans are hoping he will propose adopting the new rules then.

Dickey, the departing chairman, said the party has only a few thousand dollars on hand. Creating a new group, he said, will allow Republicans to raise money without facing questions about Morrow’s behavior.

Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based political consultant and vice chairman of the Travis County GOP, said creating the nonprofit and changing the bylaws will effectively curtail Morrow’s role.

“We’ve done about all we could do to limit his impact. He’s going to be taking over an organization that has no money; he’ll have no access to our data, our email list,” Mackowiak said. “Will he from time to time be able to spout off?

Probably. Will he be used against our candidates this fall with the outrageous things he’s said? I think so, and that’s a really big problem.”

Although Mackowiak has been one of the leading critics of Morrow, he said he is hesitant to try to remove Morrow from office through the new method approved by the state party, calling it a legally murky proposition. The change might need legislative approval, he said, because state law provides few options for removing elected officials.

“If we feel like we have a path, we could pursue it. I just don’t know,” he said.

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