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LEWISVILLE — Former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Irving is the next chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.
On Sunday, the State Republican Executive Committee elected Rinaldi to replace Allen West, who announced his resignation last month after a dramatic 10 months on the job and is now challenging Gov. Greg Abbott.
Rinaldi won the election on the first ballot, getting 34 votes from the 64-member SREC against three opponents. He needed 33 to win.
"We cannot lose Texas — and will not lose Texas — if we work together," Rinaldi said in his victory speech.
The runner-up was David Covey, president of Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association. Covey, also the Orange County GOP chairman and an SREC member, got 21 votes.
Six votes went to Chad Wilbanks, a lobbyist who once served as executive director of the state party, and three votes went to Bill Burch, a party activist.
Rinaldi was one of the most conservative members of the House during his time there. He lost reelection in 2018, with his North Texas seat flipping to Democrat Julie Johnson.
West's controversial tenure loomed large in the race. As chairman, he did not shy from conflict with the state's Republican leaders, and speculation ran rampant for months that he was positioning himself to challenge Abbott — speculation he confirmed when he announced his campaign a week ago.
Despite some Republicans' clear unease with West, the SREC ended up picking a successor most closely aligned with him. Rinaldi had been complimentary of at least some aspects of West's leadership, and he suggested in his nomination speech Sunday that he wanted to continue the party's intensified focus on its legislative priorities that began under West.
Like West, Rinaldi has been a critic of Abbott's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Rinaldi has already endorsed one of Abbot's GOP primary challengers, former state Sen. Donald Huffines of Dallas.
"We need a chair that will work with — and not for — elected officials," Rinaldi said Sunday, adding that the state party and its executive committee "must remain strong, independent and effective."
Rinaldi otherwise said his No. 1 priority would be fundraising, often viewed as the top responsibility for the state party leader.
Rinaldi served in the House from 2015-19. He was known for his hard-right stances — but particularly for an incident at the end of the 2017 session where he called immigration authorities on people protesting inside the Capitol against the state's new "sanctuary cities" law.
Covey presented himself as "solid ground" and a chair who would make sure Texas Republicans play a part in flipping the U.S. House in 2022 and retaking the White House in 2024, as well as expand their majorities at home. While Covey did not mention West, one of Covey's supporters, Steve Evans, helped introduce Covey by making an explicit reference to the tumult West has presided over.
"All of you can agree we're torn to pieces," Evans said, pitching Covey as the candidate who "can bridge that gap and bring this body back together."
West's time as chairman remained contentious up through its final days, which included a spat with the vice chair, Cat Parks, in which he assailed Parks as a "cancer." Parks is a cancer survivor.
Tensions had long simmered between West and Parks, and in brief remarks before the chair election Sunday, she made clear she was ready to move on from the West era.
“For the last year, we marched to the orders of 'We are the storm,'" Parks said, referring to party slogan under West that drew scrutiny for its connections to the QAnon conspiracy movement. "Today we have the opportunity to elect a new chairman, to go forward together and provide the light."
West, who spoke earlier Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in nearby Dallas, did not appear to attend the meeting to elect his successor.
Rinaldi will finish West's term, which goes until the state party's biennial convention next summer. Rinaldi said in his nomination speech that if elected Sunday, he would run for a full term as chairman at the convention.