At a packed Travis County GOP executive committee meeting Tuesday night, it took less than a minute for someone to acknowledge the elephant not in the room.
“Give us wisdom to deal with the situation that we’re in,” Peggy Bower prayed during the opening invocation, to a chorus of quiet amens. “We pray this can be used as a lesson to everyone about how important it is to stay informed.”
Bower was referring to the recent election of Robert Morrow, the conspiracy theorist and author who won the Travis County GOP chairmanship in the March 1 election with a 55 percent majority. Morrow’s political beliefs — and non-stop stream of graphic tweets, which on Tuesday alone included references to bestiality and various Republican leaders’ sexual preferences — quickly attracted international attention.
Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which Morrow did not attend, Travis County GOP precinct chairs voted overwhelmingly to condemn “all profane or slanderous statements” Morrow made.
“The Travis County Republican Party seeks to raise the level of public debate,” the resolution read.
Although Morrow did not respond to the resolution specifically, he did tweet several pictures of women with what he described as “big titties” while the meeting was in session.
Morrow did have a few high-profile supporters in the room, including Austin city Councilman Don Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who said he values Morrow’s work as a grassroots organizer, said he wanted to table any discussion of Morrow’s election until May at the earliest.
“Robert Morrow knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors” in favor of an amendment to the Texas constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, Zimmerman said. The amendment passed successfully in 2005, in part because of Morrow’s dedication, Zimmerman added.
Zimmerman ultimately abstained from the vote to condemn Morrow’s statements.
At the meeting, members also discussed vice chair Matt Mackowiak’s goal of removing Morrow from office if Morrow does not choose to resign before his term begins in June.
“I do not believe this was a legitimate campaign to begin with — I don’t believe he ran an actual campaign of any kind,” Mackowiak told the precinct chairs. “But even if you set that aside, I do not believe this is a job that has taxpayer responsibility, or responsibility to the public. The responsibility the Travis County Republican chairman has is to its members. Those are the precinct chairs that are elected by the voters.”
Not everyone embraced Mackowiak’s position. Precinct chair Andy Shuvalov quoted the philosopher Voltaire, saying he would defend Morrow’s right to free speech. And Tom Nicewarner, another precinct chair who attended the meeting, told the Tribune he disagreed with Mackowiak’s efforts to oust an elected official.
“He hasn’t done anything — he was elected,” Nicewarner said. “We have an election process, whether you like it or not.”
According to county election experts, there is no legal avenue through which Morrow could be removed from office, unless he is convicted of a felony. Mackowiak told the Tribune he believed a process for Morrow’s removal could be created if need be.
“What’s clear is that we are going to need to create a removal process,” Mackowiak said.
Morrow has made it clear he has no plans to step down, telling the Tribune and other outlets that the party leaders trying to oust him are “neutered gerbils.”
“The people who don’t like me have no legal recourse, and the saner heads on the other side know that,” Morrow said. “I will be the chairman, and I will continue to use my bully pulpit.”
At a precinct convention on the leafy Riverbend Church campus Saturday, Morrow was confronted directly by one of his soon-to-be constituents. Alone among the 12 precinct members at the meeting, Suzanne Davis asked Morrow about his controversial views.
“When you are chair, are you going to be protective of the Republican Party you are supposed to represent?” she asked. “Or are you going to denigrate Republican candidates and officeholders?”
Morrow said he was fully confident in his ability to lead.
“I am very concerned about keeping the nuts-and-bolts operation of the Travis County Republican Party going as it always has,” Morrow said. “However, I will oppose any Republican candidates who I think are criminals or murderers, or rapists or CIA drug smugglers.”
“But wouldn’t that be everyone?” Davis asked.
Morrow did not appear fazed by the question.
“I will continue to savagely attack and tell the truth about the corroded political scum in the Republican Party,” he told Davis. “Just as I have told the truth about the Clintons.”