Oklahoma Republicans were disappointed when presidential candidate Mitt Romney canceled plans to be keynote speaker at the Republican Convention April 14, but the events of the convention itself more than compensated the delegates to the state GOP.
Gary Jones, who stepped down as party chairman a year ago to run unsuccessfully against the embattled State Auditor Jeff McMahan, has been vindicated on more than one front.
First, his claims regarding former Sen. Gene Stipe, former Rep. Mike Mass, businessman Steve Phipps and McMahan are becoming a reality. Second, Jones believed that the direction of the GOP needed to be refocused and redirected, and the message refined to embrace what grassroots Republicans believe. He defeated the incumbent chairman and his successor, Tom Daxon, in a very narrow election.
Jones defeated Daxon by just 12 delegate votes in the runoff, and it is interesting to note that Sen. James Inhofe endorsed former Tulsa County Republican Party Chairman Jerry Buchanan, who didn't make the runoff.
Many are asking just what it means for the Republican Party as the 2008 elections loom large. During his campaign for chair, Jones was the first of the three candidates to proclaim that the consultants would "no longer run the party" and that a grassroots focus was needed to "engage the party faithful" in reasonable dialogue. Obviously, they responded affirmatively to his campaign slogans and promises.
Jones has built his reputation on identifying and recruiting rural Republicans to run for elected office, so it is perfectly logical to expect the same in this next cycle. Of particular interest is Senate District 37, home of party-switching former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Nancy Riley. With the state Senate in a dead heat, members of the Republican leadership believe Riley's seat can be one of the critical swing seats that will provide a Republican majority. Both Jones and Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee believe voters in TulsaCounty who voted for Riley as a Republican did so because she was a Republican, and her midterm party switch makes her uniquely vulnerable.
Jones' toughest battle, however, will not be with the Democrats. It will be with the warring factions within the Republican Party who are on their never-ending quest for increased individual power and money, never mindful of what is best for the party, but rather what is best for their personal banking accounts. The tenacity and energy with which Jones has targeted Democratic opponents will translate well for the party faithful, but the power brokers within the party will be busy concentrating their attacks on fellow Republicans.
The new boss, same as the old boss, will have his work cut out for him, and if he is to experience the success he did in 2004, the most difficult challenge he faces is congealing his fragmented GOP. The House and Senate political action committees pretty much have done their own thing over the last year, and bringing Speaker Lance Cargill and Coffee " as well as their respective consultants and staff members " together to frame a consistent message will not be easy. And we mustn't forget Gov. Brad Henry is term-limited in 2010, and there are plenty of potential Republican candidates eyeing that post.
And then there's the whole Republican County Commissioner Brent Rinehart issue "¦ never mind.
Black, the artist formerly known as "The 400-Pound Gorilla," is a political consultant and former talk show host living in Edmond.