By Matt Ames, Chairman – Fairfax GOP
On February 5, my opponent in the race for Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee (FCRC) posted here on The Bull Elephant and on his own newsletter site his reasons for running. I’d like to thank TBE for this opportunity to respond.
Mr. Hannigan and I have a cordial relationship, and I wish him all the best. He is an intelligent, hard-working man and I know he wants what he sees as best for the Party. I believe that our political views, as a matter of general philosophy and outlook, are very much in accord. We differ with regard to tactics, priorities, and, above all, in our experience and understanding of the complexity of running an all-volunteer political organization of the size of the FCRC. That latter point is the critical difference.
Mr. Hannigan’s reasons for running consist of a set of general criticisms of the FCRC under my leadership, and five brief points that he says will remedy the situation. Much of his argument has no basis in fact, however, and even in those cases in which he has a point, his comments reveal both a lack of appreciation for the many improvements that have been made in recent years, and a lack of understanding of the complexity of what he wants to do. If it were all as easy as he makes it sound, I’m sure somebody else would be doing it already. I think my analysis below will that make that clear.
My response will consist largely of rebuttals of specific comments that I see as the key criticisms made by Mr. Hannigan, as well as his five bullet points. His words appear below in italics, my responses in bold.
But before I do that, let me make a few preliminary observations:
– In the seven years since 2008, either the FCRC itself or its chairman have been recognized by the RPV at the Advance as the Unit or Chairman of the year at least four and possibly five times. This happened most recently just two months ago, when I had the honor of sharing the top Unit Chairman award with the Augusta County chairman. Whatever our faults, compared to other units around the Commonwealth, we are seen by RPV as performing well – even though in most of those units our candidates do much better on Election Day than they do here. This is something of a contradiction, if our electoral results are a result of the FCRC’s failure to perform.
– Hannigan is a newcomer to grassroots politics. He first joined the FCRC in late 2013 or early 2014. I first met him in 2013, when he hosted a canvassing event at his home. He has since become precinct captain in his home precinct of Waples Mill, one of the most Republican precincts in Fairfax County. While he has done good work in that precinct, I know from my conversations with him that he has little understanding of conditions on the ground elsewhere in Fairfax. This is not surprising, since it can take years of experience to appreciate how diverse and large the County is.
– In recognition of his work in Waples Mill and his willingness to devote extra time to County-wide FCRC activities, after Mr. Hannigan approached me in November to assist with recruiting precinct captains and volunteers across all of our 241 precincts, I asked him to serve on our Operations Committee. I then directed our nine magisterial district chairmen and the Vice Chairman for Operations to work with him on enhancing our recruiting of precinct captains and volunteers. Although only in the beginning stages, as far as I knew this process was underway when I learned that Mr. Hannigan had decided to run. (Note that the approach he proposed is basic precinct organization 101.)
– Neither Mr. Hannigan’s blog post nor his website propose an actual operational plan, other than the broad and general statements discussed below. Most striking is the absence of any discussion of what key tasks need to be implemented to support the 2016 Presidential campaign.
– My own Strategic Plan stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Hannigan’s proposals. I urge TBE readers to take some time – and you will need some time to digest everything you will find there – to examine my own website closely. The plan you will find there, at http://amesforchairman.com/the-big-picture/ and http://amesforchairman.com/strategic-plan/, is detailed and comprehensive – roughly nine pages if you want to print out the whole thing. It is a distillation of my 25 years of experience as a volunteer at every level in our organization, carefully tailored to our specific needs in this critical 2016 Presidential cycle. Also included on my site are specific numerical goals for key factors, such as numbers of volunteers recruited, fundraising, and social media metrics. Mr. Hannigan’s plan amounts to “Trust me, I’ll do everything better.”
With that background out of the way, let me now address Mr. Hannigan’s actual argument.
- Over the past 10 years, Republicans have consistently lost elections in Fairfax County. This past November, Republicans picked up one school Board position and lost a supervisor position. The County Board of Supervisors currently consists of 8 Democrats and 2 Republicans. The Fairfax County School Board has 9 Democrats and 3 Republicans.
These statements are factually correct, but without context they are meaningless. A little history may be helpful here. The trends that concern Mr. Hannigan – and indeed concern us all – have not been apparent for just ten years. They have actually been gradually altering the face of Fairfax politics for over two decades. I’ll discuss that more later, but for now, just consider the following points:
– In the entire history of the Commonwealth, the Republican Party has never controlled the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, except for the period from 1991 – 95. Before 1991, there were many periods when we had only one GOP supervisor, or even none. Since the 1995 election, we have held, on average, three supervisor seats.
– There have never been more than four Republican endorsees on the School Board since members were first elected in 1995. The average number has been three.
– The last GOP Presidential candidate to earn an outright majority of the vote in Fairfax County was George H.W. Bush, in 1988. Although we carried the County in 1992, 1996, and 2000, it was only with a plurality of the vote.
Now, I certainly don’t want to suggest that the current situation on either the School Board or the Board of Supervisors is desirable or acceptable. But any suggestion that Fairfax was a GOP “bastion” in the past is simply incorrect on the local level, and an oversimplification on the Presidential level. Furthermore, if the FCRC is currently performing poorly under my leadership, then presumably it has been performing poorly for a lot longer than that. Perhaps Mr. Hannigan has the answers nobody else has had in all that time – but as I noted above, there is no actual evidence of that in his blog post or on his website.
- [U]nderperforming Republican turnouts in our county of 1.1 million people have been the deciding factor in Democrats winning all statewide elections for the past six years.
This statement raises two questions: What is meant here by “underperforming,” and How do we know that underperformance has been “the deciding factor?”
Losing is not necessarily the same thing as underperforming. Is the Republican Party in the District of Columbia or New York City underperforming? Or is the Party performing reasonably well under difficult circumstances? What analysis has Mr. Hannigan performed to establish that “underperforming” GOP turnout is the problem, as opposed to other factors?
Please note that I am not saying that we can’t perform better, or that we shouldn’t work hard on improvements – if you doubt that, just look at my website. My point is that Mr. Hannigan has neither established an objective standard – other than that we are losing more than he or any of us would like — nor has he even remotely made his case that he can improve upon the efforts of the present FCRC leadership.
Assuming Mr. Hannigan has established a standard but simply hasn’t shared it with us, why are we underperforming? Mr. Hannigan’s response ultimately comes down to incompetent leadership – his five bullet point remedies (discussed below) make that pretty clear. If only he or somebody like him were in charge, we would win. In fact, we would start winning pretty much right away. Now, he may be right — perhaps I and my entire team, and all the leadership teams before us going back ten years or more have been incompetent. The odds of that seem pretty low, but it could be true.
But even if it were true, would our collective incompetence be likely to be “the deciding factor” in poor showings at the polls? Or might there be other reasons? Space, time and reader attention do not permit anything close to a complete analysis; for example, we don’t have time or space to get into the effects of individual candidate personalities and messaging. But Mr. Hannigan might want to look at one simple factor: demographic changes, which lead to changes in voting patterns. I think Mr. Hannigan would agree that increases in minority populations tend to lead to increases in Democrat vote totals. (If he doesn’t accept that, we have a much bigger problem.) Changes in the political views of some portion of the non-minority population of the County might also be a factor. For now, though, let’s just look at ethnicity. The following table, available on the County website, tells the tale in just a few numbers:
Racial / Ethnic Origin Composition
|American Indian/Alaska Native||0.2%||0.3%||0.2%|
|Other Race or Multi-Racial||8.0%||8.2%||2.3%|
|Hispanic (may be of any race)||16.4%||11.0%||6.3%|
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 1990, 2000 and 2014 American Community Survey.
The table shows that, since at least 1990, the proportion of white residents of the County has steadily declined. Almost 38% of County residents speak a language other than English at home. (A figure also available on the County website.) Five minutes inside the Tysons Corner mall will give you a pretty good idea of the diversity of our population today. I bused tables at the Hot Shoppes in the mall back in the 1970s, and I can assure folks that the clientele at Tysons has changed. These changes are surely significant in many respects, and there is every reason to believe that they have affected voting patterns: we have lost voters while the Democrats gained them. This is why the FCRC has put so much effort in recent years into supporting our Community Engagement Committee. This is why we have translated the RPV Creed into Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese and try hard to get copies into the hands of voters who speak those languages. We need to expand the base of the party into new communities because there are not enough traditional Republican voters in the County to help us win races. This takes a great deal of time and effort – we can’t just show up at a few events and expect people who know nothing about the Party to vote for us. We have to build trust by building relationships.
Any electoral analysis that does not address demographic change is just incomplete. And to bluntly blame poor leadership and poor leadership alone is entirely unjustified. In fact, there are plenty of truly “red” counties around Virginia, where our candidates do very well even though the local party does very little to turn out the vote or otherwise support its candidates. If poor election returns are proof of a weak infrastructure or bad leadership, then why do we do well in areas where we don’t work as hard?
I have often said that it took us a long time to get into the hole we’re in, and it’s going to take a lot of work and a long time to get out. You don’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime, and 700,000 voters is an awful lot of people. We are where we are for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which are entirely outside our control. Anybody who thinks a shiny new plan for recruiting precinct captains and volunteers is all it’s going to take is in for a rude awakening.
- Aggressively recruit “an army” of volunteers to establish a district/precinct-focused structure that supports and empowers leaders at those levels to get out the Republican vote. It’s time to encourage, elevate, and recognize grassroots leadership. Currently less than half of the 234 precincts have Republican captains.
Mr. Hannigan’s point above looks like a proposal – but is it really a proposal for change? We already have a “district/precinct focused structure.” Our nine magisterial district chairmen have broad authority and responsibility within their districts to recruit and train precinct captains and volunteers. They are very well aware of this, and every one of them has devoted many hours to those tasks. (For more detail on how I plan to make sure we take advantage of the flood of volunteers that will soon be coming at us, please see my website.) There is no question that in a perfect world everybody involved would devote more time to the FCRC – but everybody is a volunteer, and we have to respect and value the time and attention they are able to devote.
Incidentally, in our first conversation on this topic, after diplomatically suggesting to Mr. Hannigan that what he was proposing might be more difficult than he thought, I came on quite strong when he insisted that he could completely rebuild our volunteer infrastructure in less than a year. I believe passionately in the work we are doing, and I am driven by the desire to provide our volunteers with the best tools possible to make their efforts worthwhile. When the FCRC is criticized, I will defend it, not to defend myself as Chairman, but to stand up for the thousands of volunteers whom I’ve watched pour such enormous energy and dedication into our cause. Mr. Hannigan wants to help the volunteers, I’ll give him that – but implicit in his platform is a deep and unfair criticism of not just our current leadership team, but of many of our existing precinct captains. It’s my understanding that Mr. Hannigan has a low opinion of our district chairmen; but then he’s never done the job, and he wasn’t an FCRC volunteer when he was working full time. As I discuss further below, Mr. Hannigan believes people are not working hard enough, but doesn’t know much about conditions outside of the Republican pocket in Oakton. I am always open to new ideas, but there are limits to my tolerance for uninformed criticism of what is actually a very effective organization, by any reasonable standard grounded in reality.
As for “encouraging, elevating and recognizing grassroots leadership,” where does Mr. Hannigan think our current leadership members came from?
I am the first to acknowledge that we don’t have enough precinct captains. But having been a district chairman (in a district that is much more Democratic than Sully), I know what’s involved in recruiting them. Mr. Hannigan has recruited volunteers in a single Republican precinct, for a year or two. I personally recruited precinct captains and volunteers for four years in 26 precincts, only one of which went for our candidate in 2008 or 2012. Who has the better experience and understanding of what it’s like to be a district chairman in Fairfax County? (Incidentally, I was named 11th Cong. District Volunteer of the Year in 2010 and 2011 because of that work – I don’t say that to brag, but to make the point that once again somebody thought I was doing an effective job, and I know what I’m talking about.)
Anyway, here’s where reality starts to get in Mr. Hannigan’s way. The three main factors that affect precinct captain and volunteer recruitment are the demographics of the precinct, the rate of turnover (which is related to demographics), and the level of interest in the election, which is affected both by what part of the cycle we are in (Presidential, congressional, or state/local), and the popularity of the candidates on the ballot.
Our volunteers are voters: they may pay more attention than most other voters, and are willing to do more work, but they respond to all of the same considerations. If our candidates are popular, it’s easier to find new volunteers, and easier to get old ones to stay active. In the Presidential year, when we will have 80% voter turnout, it’s very easy to find volunteers: this coming summer and fall we will be at the center of volunteer sign-up. Last year, with 30% turnout, it was a lot harder. Those difficulties can be overcome, but only up to a point – when everybody’s a volunteer there are limits to how much time folks are willing and able to put in on making the calls and doing the other work required to recruit, and limits to what you can expect. People have other obligations, and they can walk away at any time. It’s not a corporate environment by any stretch.
There is constant churn in the volunteer corps, which means there is constant churn among precinct captains. In established upper middle class single family neighborhoods (like Mr. Hannigan’s) people tend to stick around and do the job for a few years and turnover is lower. But in many precincts the population is more mobile. In Merrifield Precinct, for instance, there are many young people living in apartments, who don’t stay in one place for very long. Even if they are available to volunteer one year, they are very likely gone one or two years later. Because these volunteer relationships are fundamentally personal relationships, once a PC moves on, it often means building up a precinct almost from scratch, because people were only willing to work for Jack or Jane because they were friends.
The key issue, though, is local demographics, and this is something Mr. Hannigan just doesn’t get.
At one of our meetings – the one at which I asked him to serve on the Operations Committee – I presented Mr. Hannigan with “A Tale of Two Precincts.” I described to him Graham Precinct, inside the Beltway just short of Seven Corners, and compared it to his home precinct of Waples Mill. Graham has since been merged into a neighboring precinct with very similar demographics, but my tale takes place in 2010. Graham then had 1,210 voters; Waples Mill had 4,320. Graham had a long history of voting Democrat (McCain took 33% in 2008), whereas Waples Mill is Republican (51% in 2008, not counting absentees). The residents of Graham are heavily minority, largely Hispanic, and mostly blue collar. Waples Mill is upper middle class and about 80% white.
In 2010, when I was Providence District Chairman, we had contested primaries in the 8th and 11th Districts, and I asked our precinct captains to staff their polling places on the day of the Congressional primary, to recruit volunteers. At Graham, my precinct captain was there from opening until 9 am, and from about 4 pm until closing. In the six hours he was there, he met a total of 8 voters. All of 17 voters (there were no absentees) voted that day. Now, how is somebody supposed to recruit enough people to staff a precinct when there are essentially zero active Republicans in the precinct?
On the same day, 400 people voted in the GOP primary in Waples Mill, 378 of them in person. You’d basically have to be asleep all day not to be able to recruit help in that environment.
I believe that readers with a strong background in grassroots organization will recognize the problem here. But the comparison made no sense to Mr. Hannigan. He seems to think that conditions everywhere in the County are just like Oakton, even when presented with direct evidence to the contrary.
I’ll leave it to the readers to decide: was my guy at Graham Precinct lazy? Incompetent? How much time should he have spent trying to recruit in light of that experience? Especially considering he had a new baby and a full-time job? For the record, he still lives in Fairfax, and has endorsed me, and I’m proud to have his support.
The contrast between Graham and Waples Mill is just one example. There are about 25 precincts in Fairfax where the Democrats routinely get 70% or more of the vote, no matter who is on the ballot; that’s roughly ten percent of the County and a population equivalent to the City of Alexandria. You can make all the calls you want, but finding somebody to work those precincts is enormously difficult just because Republicans are not thick on the ground there. It’s not as if being a precinct captain is glamorous, or leads to any future reward. When there are only 30 or 40 “hard Rs” in the whole precinct, as opposed to three or four hundred, finding enough folks to do all the work required on top of that is a really tall order.
Incidentally, there are no precincts in Fairfax County where we can expect to get 70% of the vote, only one or two where we can expect over 60%, and no more than about 20 that we can count on winning, regardless of the nature of the office and the candidate. This has nothing to do with our precinct organization. A solid precinct organization can definitely improve turnout and vote margins – that’s why we do it. But you don’t turn 30% precincts into 60% precincts by getting lots of people to go door-to-door.
- Vigorously and systematically engage traditional and non-traditional GOP voters. To turn out Republican votes effectively, each precinct needs a minimum of 10 volunteers. That means we need an organized campaign to recruit 2,500 volunteers—no more tinkering around the edges recruiting oneseys and twoseys.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this point. As discussed above, however, the facts of political life in Fairfax raise questions about the realism of Mr. Hannigan’s goals, or his understanding of actual conditions, depending on exactly what he means in this proposal. Let me make three points to explain.
First, we currently turn out around 2,000 volunteers every year on Election Day. In some precincts we are overstaffed, in others we may have just three or four working all day, and in some we have no organic resources, and have to import help from other precincts. But we are very good at getting our polls covered. (This is probably a good place to note that in many units in the Commonwealth, the local committee does not print a sample ballot and does not emphasize poll coverage.) At any rate, as a very rough estimate based on my experience in Providence and what I know of coverage in other districts, we probably average 8 or 9 volunteers per precinct, which is about 2,000 County-wide. In addition, we encourage volunteers to attend pollwatcher training so they can observe activity inside the polling place, and we recruit people to work for the County as election officers. In fact, many of our members serve as election officers, and so are unavailable for other duties on Election Day. We still need more people in all three categories, and we are constantly recruiting (we are already sending out emails asking for new recruits, and making plans for recruitment walks in key precincts and for gathering contact information from potential volunteers on Primary Day, March 1).
Second, a really effective precinct operation requires more than 10 volunteers because not everybody is willing to do every task. Most volunteers are happy to help on Election Day, a smaller group is willing to drop literature, and an even smaller number is willing to canvass. I presume that Mr. Hannigan means that we need to recruit ten people per precinct to conduct canvassing. I have no problem with that as a goal, and it’s certainly true that in areas like Oakton, with large lots, an effective canvassing operation means a lot of walking. On the other hand, many of our close-in neighborhoods are much easier to walk, and townhouse communities can be covered very efficiently. Still, I won’t quarrel with his estimate, and will only point out that finding that many people who are willing to walk in an off-year is a great challenge in most of the County, especially when we are competing with 30 campaigns for volunteers.
Third, Mr. Hannigan has not addressed the role of the RNC/RPV operation in a Presidential year, perhaps because he is not familiar with it. Most of the canvassing in Fairfax this year will be directed by the RNC/RPV, and later by the Presidential campaign. Staff has been working in Fairfax for about six months and we have a very good relationship with them. Over the course of the campaign they will need to recruit well over 1,000 volunteers to go door-to-door. The challenge this year is making sure that these new people are aware that there is a local organization that they might be interested in joining, and that will want their help next year and the year after. The real challenge and the critical goal is to capture the influx of volunteers that is coming – we will have no problem finding help in a few months – and making sure we are able to reach them and bring them back next year. This is a topic that I address in great detail in the Strategic Plan on my website, which we launched back in January. In fact, that plan sets a goal of 3,000 for the number of volunteers for whom we need to have gathered contact information by Election Day 2016.
- Implement a much-needed voter tracking application containing data that volunteers can use year-over-year to turn out a high percentage of the Republican vote. Current voter data and data systems are candidate-centric and lack update continuity and refinement.
Yes, we need a better voter and volunteer database, but it’s not as if we don’t actually have one. We currently have access to both I-360 (which is favored by the House Republican Caucus and is likely to be in use in Virginia for some time), and the RNC’s GOPDataCenter. They do not offer all of the features that I believe we need, and under my Chairmanship we prepared a report on this issue in an effort to get the developers of both systems to understand local needs better. My views on what needs to be done to improve these systems are well known, especially with the staff at I-360. The Democrats have a single tool that they make available to their candidates and units at all levels, which from all reports is better adapted for use by grassroots volunteers.
In essence, I agree that we need a system that will better support volunteers, and the existing systems are designed for use by campaigns, so I’m not saying that Mr. Hannigan is wrong. I can’t explain why the RNC and I-360 are behind on this, and I won’t try to defend them. But what Mr. Hannigan fails to appreciate is that, as the largest unit in the Commonwealth, it is absolutely essential that we be able to cooperate with every statewide campaign, especially in 2016. No matter who is elected Chairman in March, I can guarantee you that the FCRC will be using the RNC’s GOPDataCenter system. This is because the RNC will be overseeing all canvassing efforts before we have a nominee, and after the national convention, the campaign will be in charge. All the data we collect has to be available to the candidate. That’s just the way it works — we are a support operation under these circumstances. The FCRC could certainly go out and buy a subscription to rVotes, as some of Mr. Hannigan’s supporters have advocated – but what would the practical effect be? For legal and contractual reasons, rVotes users cannot share data with the RNC. In other words, to the extent we collect data, we would have to input the data into our system and then turn it over to the campaign staff, or vice versa. I can assure you that this won’t happen – they will collect the data, put it into their system and that will be the end of it. Volunteers will be encouraged to use some form of mobile app, and that data will go directly into the database. The best Mr. Hannigan could hope for would be spotty collection of data gathered on traditional paper walksheets. We have already raised the general concern about not being able to gather data for use at the local level, and we will continue to pursue this with the state and national staff.
To be clear, I have nothing against rVotes: In 2012 I spoke to the RNC’s Executive Director, and encouraged him to test the system. But I have been working this issue for years, and the bottom line is that the issue has to be solved at the state or national level. If we were a small unit in Southside or the Fighting Ninth, maybe we could go our own way, but we don’t have that luxury here.
Incidentally, in December I signed a contract with a company called PostUp, which provides commercial grade business email services. Through the generosity of one of our larger donors, we have also acquired a large number of email addresses, enough to at least triple the reach of our email campaigns. The plan is to roll out PostUp over the next few months and then terminate our use of Constant Contact. At that point we will not only have a much greater reach within the community, but access to a much more flexible email platform. I raise this for two reasons. First, Mr. Hannigan’s plan says nothing about the FCRC’s communications capabilities. And second, while not a substitute for the kind of voter and volunteer database I would like to see deployed, PostUp will allow us to tag volunteers and their interests and activities in very useful way, that may substitute for some of the functions lacking in GOPDataCenter and I-360.
- Promote and fully defend theVirginia Republican Creedas the basis for FCRC’s messaging. If candidates don’t endorse the Creed, they should not get the FCRC’s endorsement. The “new FCRC” will use the Creed to determine FCRC positions on specific issues.
I love the RPV Creed. In 2010, when I was Operations Chairman, I put the Creed on our 2010 primary day volunteer recruiting piece and on our back-to-school night literature. During my term as Chairman we have had it translated into Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese, and we have been distributing palm cards with the Creed at festivals around the County.
But what does it mean to say that if candidates do not endorse the Creed they won’t get the FCRC’s endorsement? (Later on, Mr. Hannigan says that “all Republican candidates who support the Creed” will get critical services from the FCRC, which suggests some might not.) What does he mean? If a candidate doesn’t sign a statement saying he supports the Creed, will his name be included on sample ballots or on other literature? Will the FCRC refuse to distribute emails on behalf of such a candidate? Deny the candidate the opportunity to speak at meetings? Sanction members who work on behalf of the candidate? Has Mr. Hannigan considered that this might violate Party rules? As Chairman, it would be his duty to support the Republican nominee for office, except in highly unusual circumstances. Nominees are chosen by methods set out in state law and the Party Plan. A local unit does not have the authority to impose an additional requirement on a candidate: it is for the voters in the candidate selection process, party-run or state-run, to decide who our nominees should be. The Creed is a wonderful statement of our principles, and it is valuable and useful for many reasons — but it does not trump the Party Plan. The bottom line is that, while adopting the Creed as some sort of official litmus test may sound awfully good, I don’t think Mr. Hannigan has thought through the practical application of his ideas.
- Raise funds aggressively to support candidates, eradicating the current 3:1 fund-raising advantage currently enjoyed by the Democrats. By demonstrating the FCRC stands for something, offers valuable services to Republican candidates, and delivers electoral results, the FCRC can, and will, out-fundraise the Democrats in the county.
This is not a trivial matter – in fact, fundraising is the most important thing a Chairman does. Mr. Hannigan needs to be very careful about making promises he can’t keep, because if he’s elected, and the money doesn’t come, the whole FCRC infrastructure will crash down around him. It costs a minimum of $8,000 a month just to keep the doors open. I don’t know how much it costs to publish the Fairfax Free Citizen, but I’m certain it’s nowhere near what it costs to run the FCRC, and other than the Free Citizen, there is nothing in Mr. Hannigan’s background that suggests he knows how to raise money. Managing large budgets and selling product is very different from political fundraising – just ask any business executive who’s run for public office. When I announced my candidacy in late 2013, I proposed to double our income over the next four years, in order to do just what Mr. Hannigan is talking about. Our target for 2016 is $250,000, and to achieve my goal we will need to raise $300,000 in 2017. At that point, we will still be behind the Democrats, but we’ll have cut the gap in half. Mr. Hannigan is promising to increase funding by 200%, without giving a timeline, without the vaguest understanding of our budget, or how our fundraising operations function. His comment to our Vice Chairman for Finance that “there are a lot of rich people in Fairfax” demonstrates his lack of understanding of what motivates political contributions. To make promises like this without even a semblance of a plan is deeply irresponsible, and our members deserve better.
Let me offer a brief history of political fundraising in Fairfax County. In the 1990s, the FCRC was raising and spending substantially more money than it is today. At the time, we had good relations with the business community, which was still dominated by property developers. Eventually, the Democrats – led by Gerry Connolly – figured out that they were better off working with the business community rather than opposing it. At the same time, the profile of the business community changed. Government contractors and IT companies are much more focused on the federal government and have much less at stake in local government and local politics than large-scale residential developers.
The business community does make political contributions, of course, but for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of that money goes to candidates. For one thing, you can have a personal relationship with a candidate or an elected official. Mr. Hannigan seems to think that if he can present the right message, the money will come flowing in. Maybe so. But what will that message be? And who will the donors be? I ask those questions because most of the political money in Fairfax comes out of McLean and Great Falls. There is a small pocket of donors down in Mount Vernon, another in Oakton, and a third in Fairfax Station and Clifton. And there are certainly conservative donors in the County. But most of the large donors – and especially the McLean money — need to hear a certain message, and if they don’t hear that message, their cash stays at home, or even goes to the other side. They are not particularly interested in hearing about the RPV Creed. I’m not saying that’s right, but we need to recognize the actual environment we work in.
I am also curious to know what services we did not provide to candidates. As far as I can tell, Mr. Hannigan does not tell us what the FCRC did not do or what he would do instead. I know he’s been listening to a handful of unhappy candidates, but has he surveyed the whole group? In any event, here is a summary of what we have been providing:
– In 2014 and 2015, we developed and paid for a series of new literature pieces designed to help recruit volunteers and introduce the public to our Party’s message, including, among many others, translations of the RPV creed in Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
– We developed, paid for, and distributed 60,000 professional quality Back-to-School Night pieces in both 2014 and 2015 that were very well received by candidates, voters and volunteers.
– We continue to increase our emphasis on in-person absentee voting, including improved staffing at the satellite locations, and have developed and paid for sample ballots for use at these locations.
– We have set a policy of paying the registration fees for all community events and festivals that are covered by our volunteers, thus relieving campaigns of that burden. In the past, this was done on a haphazard basis, in which campaigns were asked to cover some or even all of the cost.
– We send out targeted emails and Facebook posts, aimed at supporting specific candidates or issues. We don’t do as much of this as I’d like, but one element of the Strategic Plan involves both taking advantage of the PostUp system and the additional email addresses to expand our reach, and developing a comprehensive social media strategy.
We’re not perfect, and I’d like us to be able to do a lot more. I set very high standards for myself and any organization I’m a part of. But there are many units across the Commonwealth that offer little or no support of this kind to candidates and I know of no unit that does more than we do.
- “A vote for the current FCRC leadership is a vote for continued electoral defeat.”
In light of the facts presented above, this statement makes no sense. In historical terms, our representation on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board – which seem to be at the heart of Mr. Hannigan’s concerns – are at typical levels. On the federal and statewide level, we are dealing with a demographic trend of twenty years standing. These are just the facts. In any case, Mr. Hannigan has no actual plan, other than “raise more money and recruit more volunteers.” Under the circumstances, a vote for Mr. Hannigan would be a vote for turning our backs on the gains the FCRC has made in recent years, with no time to recover before November 2016. And that would be a vote for defeat.
- The FCRC needs a fresh, bold approach that strengthens the Party’s organization, recruiting, messaging, and fund-raising to end the Republican Party’s electoral malaise in Fairfax County. We will retain our current Republican seats and move forward to win more, with excellent candidate recruitment. We need to replace Gerry Connolly, regain the School Board majority, and take back the Fairfax County Board.
Note the factual error: we’ve never had a majority on the School Board to “regain.” If Mr. Hannigan doesn’t know basic County political history, what else doesn’t he know? In any case, this sounds like a 4-year plan, much like the one I proposed when I ran unsuccessfully in 2012. But where’s the beef? Back then, I had a detailed plan on my website showing how I thought we could improve our performance over the next four years to take control of the Board of Supervisors. I also wonder where there is any discussion of what needs to be done this year, to ensure victory in the Presidential race? It seems to me that Mr. Hannigan simply hasn’t given the job the thought and consideration that our members, our candidates, and our voters deserve.
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The fact of the matter is that Tim Hannigan does not have the knowledge or experience to run the FCRC. He is an intelligent and able man, and at some point he could probably do the job successfully. But nothing in his statement of reasons for running or on his website indicates that he is ready to take on the challenge of running the largest unit in the Commonwealth in this most critical year.
In closing, I urge TBE readers to check out my website at www.amesforchairman.com. There you will find an actual plan for victory in 2016 and for growth into the future.
“That’s just the way it works.” This statement, in reference to the traditional approach of how the RNC takes over the leadership of not only FCRC, but every other county in Virginia, is very telling about the problems the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) has in Virginia. It can be summed up as a conflict of visions.
The vision currently in force in FCRC, that I observed since Bedell, McConville and now Matt Ames has had the reins of leadership, is generally characterized by the following attributes: (i) The party is motivated and animated by personalities (candidates) for top level candidates. (ii) After elections in November the party goes to sleep and only wakes up when a top level candidate is identified. During the sleep period, RPV goes thru the motions of organizational mechanics of having dull, rote meetings where the highlight is the treasurer’s report. (iii) While asleep, all the data collected by the hard work of the base thru door knocking and phone surveys mysteriously disappears, either hoarded by the candidate or the political consultant for his next gig. (iv) The only excitement during this sleep period is the legal infighting about the party plan that keeps the lawyers, that run the party, busy and involved (maybe its an Adrenalin rush). (v) The Republican base wakes up in September, after the vacation season in August, and are asked to assume their traditional role of writing checks to campaigns and showing up to vote when ordered by party leaders.
For many reasons this vision is not working. This does not mean that everyone is not working hard and not concerned about the direction of the country. I have had private meetings with Matt to discuss ways to improve FCRC and RPV. The above article was to me a justification about why the results are the way they are and all FCRC can do is nibble around the edges and make small, non-disruptive changes/progress over a protracted number of years. I have heard from several people that we should not change leadership in such an important Presidential year. This is just another subtle way that the party insures that incumbents stay in office. Party elections should not be held during the years where we have important elections.
Under your leadership, Fairfax continues to sink the rest of the state. Definition of insanity? Continuing to let you do the same things you’ve been doing.
I have no voter stake in this contest other then as a concerned Republican and my comment intent is not to justify support for either FCRC Chair candidate. My motivation is rather the oft repeated prescription that the political gravitational constant of Fairfax County produces a decided spin on all other orbiting VRP efforts across the state. Current Chairman Ames has presented a detailed rebuttal to his opponents earlier positions and to me an unfortunate set of justifications and rationalizations for why things are the way they are and in his own estimation have been for the past two decades. I have never met Chairman Ames but certainly respect what a largely thankless job his role can be at times, but frankly I don’t see much in his discourse to encourage that he or his opponent are considering any really new approaches or have indeed stepped outside the box to look at the long term lack of Republican Party success from a different perspective.
Regarding his general comments upfront I find little encouragement that unit awards from the VRP mothership that has had a very mixed success (to be honest general failure) in placing statewide or federal candidates in elected public office in Virginia over the past decade is much of an award or positive recommendation to hang on your wall. Nor do I buy into that some type of informal county seniority system based on coming up through the ranks of an already overly homogeneous pool of local, caucasian, businessmen and lawyers is the only reasonable preferred path to success, indeed if you refer to some of his later stated woes over demographic details in the county one could conclude this fixation on “time in rank” is part of the problem rather then a required predisposition. Regarding his emphasis on having a detailed plan of operation, I find little to disagree with, but having in the past had the opportunity to set through far too many yearly business unit plan reviews I came early on to the reality that a great and detailed power point presentation, no matter how experienced the executive, did not guarantee meeting financial performance metrics. In the end a plan is a process the goal is results. There can be a large gulf between the two and at the end of the day what really counts is results, not the paper that goes to the shedder for recycle.
This brings me to the one main refrain that over the past 10 years, has served in my opinion, as the excuse bin for the failure of the party (not by any means Chairman Ames) to bring Fairfax into the Republican fold; the ubiquitous demographic argument. The reason FCRC interests me so much is that it is really an evolving microcosm of the larger problem facing the RNC. The only difference I see here is scale. You may not be able to argue with numbers, but as any statistician fully understands you can disagree on how you arrived at them. The inevitability argument always begins with a statement of purported fact that Republican failure is a long term trend line followed by the result that the county is not a GOP bastion, never has been, with trend lines moving away from Republican voter participation due to ethnic minority population growth and their fixed postulated predisposed association with the Democratic party.
Therefore Chairman Ames’ table showing a net 1.9% increase of Black, 10.1% Hispanic and 10.3% Asian population increase vs a 18.1% decline in white voters in the past 14 years has “irrevocably” set the table for Democratic success in Fairfax County from this argument’s conclusion. Attempts at “outreach”, such as translating the Republican creed, rarely means or proposes identifying, investing in and nurturing the development of good local candidates from these expanding communities, as future assets, to introduce and grow support around within these given neighborhoods, along with articulating an awareness of Republican solutions to these ethnic group’s everyday problems.
This is people investment rather then program investment and the rate of return is considerably more meaningful to the future fate of the local county and national Republican Party. These everyday problems are notlikely high the list represented by the local Chamber of Commerce but by what is currently impacting families on neighborhood main streets. Start with simple economics, as these groups and particularly Black Americans are suffering disportionately economically compared to the rest of the country.
Address the “white guy in a suit” issue the Republican Party drags with it everywhere it goes. Right or wrong, the skin color or ethnicity of the speakers and communicators Republican’s send into these communities today to open doors will matter. Recruit and aggressively attract minority candidates to break down the doors of these communities and spread the Republican message. Initially they will not be coming from the old boys network at the local Fairfax County Rotary Club. We need to understand and grasp that racism culture is being sold to these groups by the Democratic Party and the media 7X24 and while most Republicans do not consider racism to be a significant impediment to success anymore these deeply ingrained, shared cultural beliefs among many ethic Americans cannot be simply ignored but must be taken into consideration and dealt with to gain any footholds in these communities.
Finally, any outreach and associated issues must focus on strong Republican principles that are disproportionately impacting these communities. White suburbanites are less concerned with being shot in their own yard, or intimidated by drug dealers selling on their local street corners, or where their kids go to school, or the growing nature of street gang culture. For example, the Republican Party once was the the law and order party, we simply misplaced it over our focus instead on Wall Street. If FCRC doesn’t make itself relevant to these communities you can expect it will remain marginal and Fairfax Republicanism and it’s equivalence in many similar locations will remain a sideshow. Is this trend fixed and inevitable? Only if we continue year after year to bring the wrong cards, with the wrong plan, to the table whether it be in Fairfax County or as we have nationally.