Tea Party continues to wield influence in Montgomery County

Area an u2018epicenteru2019 for newer political movement

Area an u2018epicenteru2019 for newer political movement

Patriots PAC Explained

The Woodlands-based Texas Patriots PAC is gearing up for the March 1 primary elections with a new slate of candidate recommendations as the influence of the Tea Party continues to grow in Montgomery County. Since 2012, the Patriots PAC has successfully provided candidates whom they endorse and recommend with a boost to win elections.

“You have the most influence when you work in the smallest district area,” Patriots PAC President Julie Turner said. “You have to build a farm team—like baseball [teams] do—and get people locally who do a good job in office. Then you can say, ‘Good job, you deserve a promotion and can take on more responsibility.’”

Although the group has been successful in mobilizing residents to go to the polls, it has not been without criticism.

Montgomery County Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador said when the Patriots PAC came into the county it gained ground and power quickly.

“They want to control what goes on in Montgomery County—it defies equal representation to me,” he said.

Former Woodlands Township Chairman Bruce Tough—who was defeated in November by a candidate supported by the Patriots PAC—said the Tea Party has affected the outcome of multiple significant past elections.

“The fact that The Woodlands Township and Conroe ISD have been governed in a very conservative manner, unlike our federal government, seems to carry no weight with the supporters of the Tea parties,” Tough said.

Local influenceTexas Patriots PAC a punch at the polls

Although the Tea Party has established itself across Texas and the U.S., there are areas in which its groups are more active than others, including Montgomery County, said Mark Jones, a political scientist with Rice University’s Baker Institute.

“If you ask people where the two strongholds of the Tea Party movement are in Texas, many would point to Tarrant County first and Montgomery County second as the two epicenters,” Jones said.

Prior to elections, the Patriots PAC creates a voter guide featuring endorsements and recommendations for statewide and local races. The Patriots PAC meets with candidates prior to making recommendations and selects individuals who closely meet its core values—a limited constitutional view of government and support of free markets. The PAC also provides specific details online behind the decision for each endorsement.

The PAC’s most successful winning track record involves local bond issues. It supported Montgomery County’s November road bond referendum, which was approved months after the group opposed the May road bond, which was voted down. The Patriots PAC opposed the May bond due in part to a contentious proposed extension of Woodlands Parkway to Hwy. 249.

“Some capital projects deserve bonds,” Turner said. “Debt is not in and of itself a bad thing. There’s a good use for debt; it just needs to be used on things that can be paid off before the project fails and has to be redone.”

Walter Wilkerson, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said he knows many people rely on the Tea Party’s recommendations, but he has never been one who believes in endorsements.

“Our local party has a bylaw that prohibits us from endorsing a candidate or issue on the ballot,” he said. “I’ve long felt [endorsements] creates more difficulties for the unification of the conservative Republican Party.”

Tough said the Patriots PAC has been effective when it comes to running a slate of candidates on the ballot by advertising its endorsements as a voter guide and using block walkers, mailers and poll workers.

If one organized group stays entrenched in one part of the spectrum and the rest of the spectrum does not vote, that organization will continue to control elections, said Rob Eissler, a former District 15 state representative who held the office for 10 years. He was defeated by Steve Toth, who was endorsed by the Patriots PAC, in the May 2012 primary election.

“The business community, which is pretty big in The Woodlands, should get more involved and see what kind of candidates there are—both endorsed and not endorsed by the Tea Party,” Eissler said.

Mobilizing voters

In Montgomery County, about 280,000 of nearly 500,000 residents are registered to vote. However, voter turnout is low—43,510 individuals voted in the March 2014 primary, according to the county elections office.

“In Texas the power is not decided in November in the general election but in the Republican primary in the spring,” Jones said. “In low-participation elections, mobilizing supporters is important.”

The Tea Party movement can ultimately be described as a phenomenon, Eissler said, run by super-charged and committed individuals.

“If democracy is going to survive, we need every citizen to have the same enthusiasm and commitment and education on the issues,” Eissler said. “In that regard, it’s been a good phenomena. If people are satisfied with the candidates the Tea Party chooses for them, everything is fine. But that’s not been my experience.”
Additional reporting by Jesse Mendoza.

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.