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While no one at the meeting was willing to criticize Neerman, others haven't been as kind. Cathie Adams, president of the conservative, pro-family organization Texas Eagle Forum, strongly disagrees with Neerman's plan to broaden the party's base at the expense of compromising on social issues. Adams, who served on the Republican National Platform Committee, points out that it took a social conservative like Sarah Palin to energize the base of the party.
"When you think that you've got to appeal to the moderates by setting aside the moral issues, you're denying the cost of tearing away the fabric of the morality of our community," Adams says. "You're also denying the fact that Sarah Palin brought not only excitement, but the coffers people poured into in the form of not only money but hours of volunteer time."
Adams describes Neerman as a bright person with proven dedication, lots of energy and someone who tirelessly pushes candidates to work harder. But he is listening to a small faction of people, she says, "who think they're more powerful than they are" and are willing to reach out to Log Cabin Republicans, pro-choice Republicans and "environmental wackos."
She offers cautious confidence in Neerman's ability to lead the party. "I think Jonathan can do it, but I think he needs a good team of people around him to balance out those views."
Neerman remains unconcerned about alienating conservatives like Adams. "We may disagree on the social issues, but that's OK. Let's focus on what unites us," he says. "The party has to continue to grow, and if there are certain elements of the party who are forcing us to contract for whatever reason, they need to understand that by doing that, they are turning off new people."
Tom Pauken, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission and former chair of the Texas Republican Party, seems more skeptical about Neerman's leadership abilities. "Jonathan's not a bad guy, but we need some warriors that want to win and want to do it the right way and are committed to taking on the liberals in an effective fashion," he says. "He did a reasonable job under the circumstances...but there needs to be a whole new cadre of leaders to come in who are principled conservatives and are committed to turning this thing around."
Neerman says he wishes Pauken would have called him with his concerns before the election and stresses that while the party hoped for victory this year, rebuilding from 2006 was always envisioned as a multiyear endeavor. "I'm not suggesting that I'm the perfect person for this job, and there may be somebody better. I've never claimed that I am."
Mari Woodlief, president of Allyn & Company, served as a political consultant for several Republican candidates, including Goolsby and State Representative Linda Harper-Brown. She says Neerman had a difficult job, but the party has an identity crisis that must be resolved. "We have no image. We can't even agree internally what we want to be, so how can we reach out and attract new voters if we can't tell them what we're asking them to be a part of?"
Another Republican political consultant, not speaking for attribution, says he has yet to find an elected official that was pleased with Neerman's election strategy. The consultant claims that Neerman refused to offer assistance to key statehouse races, practically snubbing Goolsby and Harper-Brown when they asked for his help. Harper-Brown, after a final vote count, maintained a 20-vote margin over former Irving City Council member Bob Romano. But a federal voting rights lawsuit filed by Democrats primarily seeks a recount that emphasizes straight-ticket voting, and alternatively requests that a new election be ordered. No ruling has been rendered as of press time, but an outcome favoring Harper-Brown would allow the GOP to maintain a one-seat majority in the Texas House and increase the odds that Republican Tom Craddick of Midland will be re-elected speaker.
"[Republican state representative candidates] worked hard, but they were literally treated like second-class citizens by the county party, and Neerman didn't help them out at all," says the consultant.
Neerman says he doesn't see his job as helping out the state reps, who run their own campaigns, stressing that the party's job is "to help the candidates who can't otherwise help themselves" and provide services such as ballot security during the election. Those candidates probably should have started their programs earlier, he says, because they underestimated the high early-voting turnout.
Harper-Brown did not return phone calls to the Observer, and Goolsby says he had plenty of funds to run his own campaign. He refused to answer if he had asked Neerman for help and refused to comment on whether Neerman was the right person to lead the party forward. "I'll leave that to others to decide."
Goolsby, who spent 20 years in the Texas House, attributes his loss to straight-ticket voting, and adds the Republican Party must stop talking about being the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and start being more inclusive.
"Our party needs to change," he says. "We're doing the same thing we did 20 years ago when we took over. We didn't learn that the competition changed and we didn't."
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