Friday, October 9, 2009

Saving Grace: Benkiser’s role in Perry Campaign an appeal to Evangelicals

Cross-posted from, written by Junta member Benito.

On September 26, 2009, Tina Benkiser, now former Chair of the TX GOP, announced her resignation to join the re-election campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry as senior advisor. According to the announcement made on Rick Perry’s website, her new role in the campaign was chosen because “she will be an important voice in promoting our message of fiscal responsibility and limited government.”

Perhaps, but it is more likely that Benkiser was tapped because of her significant, yet waning, influence with TXGOP leadership and strong Evangelical support. Since 2003, Benkiser enjoyed success in flooding the TX GOP with Social Conservatives. Now, Benkiser’s new role in the Perry campaign indicates a direct appeal to Evangelical Christians. Benkiser, an evangelical herself, has energized the social conservative base during her tenure with the Texas GOP, but her success in this arena alarmed many party faithful since evangelicals have been portrayed as being myopically concerned with social issues while tolerating fiscal and civic mismanagement.

Additionally, during the 2008 primaries, Benkiser, along with many GOP leaders, alienated the party’s liberty movement. She was accused of repeatedly breaking TX GOP rules to block their attempts at party reform through a genuine return to principles outlined in the platform. This even elicited a “fair convention” mini-movement, complete with shirts that bore the expression, “The GOP Rules! Let’s follow them”.

A Fresh Start for the RPT

Enrique Rangler, A-J Austin bureau chief, believes Benkiser’s move out is just what the GOP needs to begin rebuilding. He may be right.

“If Benkiser had run for another term next year, Tom Mechler of Amarillo, Mark McCaig of Katy and others unhappy with her leadership would have challenged her.

Mechler, who remains a candidate for party chairman, and McCaig, who is no longer running because Benkiser is bowing out, wanted to oust her because under her watch Texas Democrats have made significant gains, especially in the House.

Yet, the prospect of a nasty power struggle was one some GOP loyalists – already worried about the damage the Perry-Hutchison fight may do the party – feared.

“The resignation of Tina Benkiser from the Republican Party of Texas provides a great opportunity for Texas Republicans to begin to right the ship,” said Debra Medina, who is also seeking the party’s nomination for governor. “The Republican Party of Texas is in serious trouble and more of the same will not save us.”

Culture War against Hispanics

Benkiser’s social conservatism included a culture war against Mexican immigrants. Immediately before the 2008 convention, she commented on immigration restrictions saying, “We believe that we are in a war for our culture, and our activists understand that the principles that we believe in are the principles that will make Texas a better place and make the lives of Texans better every single day.” Declaring war against the state’s fastest growing minority, however, runs counter to attempts by the party to reach out to Hispanics.

In what appears to be an attempt to reach out to hispanic voters, Perry’s campaign has hired Austin-based advertising agency, LatinWorks. The Austin company will be “helping on a number of message delivery issues, including Hispanic outreach,” said Mark Miner, spokesperson for Perry’s re-election Campaign.

Fiscal Woes

While some would hope that new RPT leadership would be more inclusive, perhaps the most room for improvement would be in how the business of the party is run. When Benkiser took over the reins of the state party, the party had $194,500 cash on hand and $70,000 in debt. She leaves the party with $52,000 cash on hand and $258,200 in debt. Running a party can get expensive, but to be fair to Benkiser, no one has ever accused her of being a fiscal conservative.

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