Can anyone explain why the Texas Republican party named Talmadge Heflin as its new executive director? Is it because the former chairman of the House appropriations committee is a brilliant electoral tactician? Apparently not, since the reason he’s a former chairman is that he lost his race for reelection in 2004 to Democrat Hubert Vo, a political neophyte, by 33 votes–and lost again, by a much bigger margin, in 2006. Is it because he’s a tireless worker? Apparently not, since the word I kept getting about the 04 race was that Heflin didn’t work very hard; indeed, a couple of his Harris County colleagues blockwalked his district for him. Is it that he can take the party in a new direction by appealing to blacks and Hispanics? Not likely. One of the contributing factors to Heflin’s first loss was his well publicized attempt to adopt his maid’s young son, against her will. And Hispanics no doubt remember how he jerked them around on funding for the Texas Tech medical school in El Paso and the Irma Rangel pharmacy school at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Is it that he is popular with his former legislative colleagues? Nope. He had been a bully as chairman, even to the point that his committee rebelled against him when he brought up the appropriations bill for a vote without letting members know where the money had been allocated. When he decided to file an official election challenge at the start of the 05 session, few members on either side of the aisle were eager to see him return, and Will Hartnett crafted an exquisite brief that poured him out. Maybe the reason for Heflin’s new assignment is as simple as he needed a job. He had talked about applying for executive director of the Texas Lottery, but he didn’t have the college degree that was a prerequisite. He also worked part time for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

This unkind assessment is directed not so much at Heflin as at the state GOP. The choice of Heflin indicates that its leaders are clueless about the threat to continued Republican domination of the state. This is not ground-breaking news in 2007. The president, the governor, the speaker, the war, the national Democratic resurgence, the glimmerings of a state Democratic resurgence–it’s as if party leaders have never heard of these things. This is what happens when an extreme faction seizes control of a party. Ideologues on the right are still obsessed with ridding the world of RINOs, instead of adjusting to the new realities of Texas (and national) politics. Here’s an example of their thinking, from an article in Gary Polland’s online Texas Conservative Review. Polland was formerly Harris County Republican chairman. Here was his assessment of the legislative session in TCR’s June 11 issue:

Promising Conservative Era In Texas
Hijacked By Special Interests And RINO’s

The great conservative era in Texas politics was to be an era where common sense conservative programs and principles would be followed and implemented. Instead, we have been disappointed, let down, and victimized by a political bait-and-switch.

This last Legislative session was by far the worst of the GOP Era.

What happened, what went wrong and what can we do about it?

In simple terms, the GOP era has been hijacked by the lobby in Austin with the cooperation of too many GOP legislators elected as conservatives, but voting otherwise in Austin. The loyal conservative legislators are there, but unfortunately they are in the minority in both houses. When you understand that, you know why we failed on a lower appraisal cap, the Governor’s budget reform and spending controls, voter ID, reform of higher education admissions without “diversity” quotas, a pilot program for school choice (couldn’t even get it for special needs children), and real reform of out of control state agencies.

Instead, we had the spectacle of a political brawl in the House over who should be Speaker for the last two weeks of the session, while critical bills were dying left and right.

So what to do? TCR feels we need to make sure we elect conservatives who will not wilt in Austin and stay true and weed out those GOP imposters now in office or who are candidates in the future.

You get that by accountability. The Republican Party of Texas can deliver this with a simple Compact with Texas for the 2008 election. The compact can be presented to candidates and officeholders seeking a pledge of support for the compact and down the line be reminded of their pledge, rated on their votes and defeated if they sell us out. Maybe then they will get the message from us.

Heflin is just about the worst choice I can think of to change the attitude in the GOP. He is a totally committed far-right conservative, blind to the big picture of Texas politics. To the extent that the job requires a lot of fielding complaints from party operatives with small problems and big egos, he’s not the kind of person (judging from his performance as appropriations chairman) who suffers fools gladly and is eager to help them with their desire for a better seat at the state convention, or an appointment to a particular committee.

Some years ago, as the Texas Democratic party drifted inexorably leftward, a conservative Democrat told me, “Liberals have worked for years to kick the conservatives out and get control of the party, and when they finally get it, they’ll find it isn’t worth anything.” He was right. The conservatives became Republicans, and the Democratic party, as an organization, became irrelevant. When that happens, the donors become the party. In the Democrats’ case, that meant the trial lawyers, and that was disastrous for Democrats. In the Republicans case, that meant Bob Perry, Dick Weekley, Louis Beecherl, and James Leininger. They and other big donors are the de facto party leadership, and while they have been good for Rick Perry (and he has been good for them), they haven’t been good for the way Republicans are perceived in this state. There is no chance, none, that Talmadge Heflin knows or cares how to turn this around.