When delegates chose Steve Munisteri over sitting chair Cathie Adams as the next leader of the Republican Party of Texas, it marked the close of a three-way race for chair that was peppered with accusations of dishonesty.
The retired Houston lawyer, elected at the party's convention last weekend, accused Adams of using accounting tricks to make the party’s staggering debt appear lower prior to the vote, a criticism echoed by his fellow challenger, Tom Mechler. Adams, in turn, called her opponents’ claims “a lie that they are just totally making up out of thin air.”
Now, with a clear 59 percent of the vote, Munisteri is already installed in the party's headquarters in Austin. Does he think the debt issue played a role in his victory? “It was a factor,” he says, guardedly.
The Tribune talked with the state GOP’s newest elephant-in-chief about the party’s fiscal condition, redistricting, fundraising across partisan aisles and his relationship with Adams.
His first order of business as chair, he says, will be to get to work on that debt, because “you can't do anything else if you are not sound fiscally.” Right away, he says that will involve a $8.25 monthly fee for party members. Currently, the party doesn’t charge for membership — it just requests for donations periodically through telemarketers. He also notes that, for now, he'll be keeping the same staff that served under Adams.
Once the party’s financial obligations are under control, Munisteri says he will turn his eye to “building the party, block by block.” That means people in every precinct, working to get Republicans elected — the objective Munisteri believes is his primary responsibility as chairman.
However, he says he hasn’t “done enough analysis to give an informed answer” about which districts give Republicans the best chance of picking off a Democratic incumbent.
Is he thinking about the looming redistricting fight in the next legislative session at all? Drawing the maps shouldn’t be about getting Republicans in the Legislature, he says, though he says he hopes to see “somewhere over 80” in the red column.
"I don't think you look at it as we want X number of seats,” he says. “The fair process is to draw a map that makes sense based on demographics and location and not have these crazily drawn districts."
Though careful not to call anyone out by name, Munisteri also sounded off on Republicans hosting fundraisers for Democrats — Speaker of the House Joe Straus recently headlined an event for state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, a move that drew criticism from his more conservative colleagues. “As state party chairman, I would certainly prefer that we not host fundraisers for Democrats,” he says.
Is there any possible benefit to the party in reaching across party lines during campaign season? “Not from the state chairman's point of view.”
A big theme of the convention was Republican solidarity against Washington liberalism, and Munisteri says that's also on his mind. “We need to be unified, and we are working very hard to bring all the factions together," he says, adding that the differences between those factions “are very small compared to the differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican party.”
And what about his own relationship with Adams now that the race is over?
"Well, I went up and thanked Mrs. Adams for her service and said I have respect for her activism,” he says. “And I have not had the opportunity to talk to her since.”