How a former right-wing congressman from Florida just became Texas GOP's new chairman

Allen West defeated James Dickey early Monday morning at a tumultuous virtual state convention

Published July 21, 2020 4:59AM (EDT)

 Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.    (<span about='' xmlns:cc=''><a href='' rel='cc:attributionURL' target='_blank'>Gage Skidmore</a> / <a href=' rel='license' target='_blank'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a></span>)
Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune.

Allen West, the firebrand former Florida congressman, has defeated Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey to lead the country's largest state Republican Party.

West claimed victory shortly before 3:30 a.m. Monday, while Dickey conceded about an hour later. The developments came during an early morning round of voting among state Senate district caucuses at the party's virtual convention.

West ended up carrying a clear majority of the 31 caucuses — 22 — to only four for Dickey, a wide enough margin to negate any desire for a floor fight where individual delegates would be asked to make their choice for chair. Dickey formally withdrew early Monday afternoon, urging party unity ahead of the November election.

"That is my commitment and that is my humble request of all of us — that we stand together, united by our shared commitment to win together in November," Dickey said.

West briefly joined Dickey on the convention broadcast, saying the two are "united in one single message" of keeping Texas a "strong, red conservative state." West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, also told Dickey to "please consider yourself to be a very important counselor and mentor to me — because I know how to jump out of airplanes, but I'm gonna learn how to be a pretty good chairman of the Republican Party of Texas."

West moved to Texas several years ago and became politically active here. His victory means an abrupt change in party leadership with less than four months until one of the most challenging elections that Texas Republicans are facing in a long time.

West's campaign said Monday morning he would "immediately resume the responsibilities of the role and begin to implement his strategy to hold Texas." West got encouragement from President Donald Trump, who tweeted, "Congratulations Allen, great job!"

Dickey's concession early Monday morning came amid reports that West was easily winning the majority of Senate district caucuses. A candidate needs to carry at least three caucuses to force a floor vote, though West's strong showing left little uncertainty about how that vote would go and Dickey chose not to go to the floor.

The race's conclusion capped a tumultuous convention that had unraveled on Dickey's watch. There was so much dysfunction and delay that delegates voted late Sunday night to take up unfinished business at a second convention — after settling party leadership races.

After Dickey dropped out of the chair race Monday afternoon, he passed the convention gavel to West, who promptly adjourned the gathering until the second convention. The time and place of the second convention have not been determined. Those and other details will be recommended by a 10-person committee that delegates voted to establish late Sunday night but has not named yet.

In addition to Dickey, the party's vice chair, Alma Perez Jackson, was also defeated. She had faced a challenge from Cat Parks, who chairs the Hamilton County party and had led a candidate recruitment task force created by Dickey. Parks declared victory late Monday morning, shortly before it was announced that she had won 16 Senate district caucuses to 11 for Jackson.

West represented Florida's 22nd Congressional District from 2011-2013. He built a national profile for his bombast, sparring with his House colleagues and railing against then-President Barack Obama. West came to Texas in 2014 to become the CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas think tank that shuttered three years later.

Responding to West's win Monday morning, the Texas Democratic Party pointed to his long trail of incendiary rhetoric. Among the comments: He has argued Islam is not a religion but a "totalitarian, theocratic political ideology." West, who is Black, has also suggested Black communities were "stronger" during segregation.

"We're disgusted but not surprised that Texas Republicans chose a certified racist conservative hardliner like Allen West as their new chairman," state Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said in a statement. "West is everything that is wrong with the Republican Party and brings to light their failures on building an inclusive, welcoming party that is deliberate and thoughtful in handling crisis situations."

Dickey had campaigned on restoring the party's finances and positioning it well for the November election through a renewed focus on fundraising, candidate recruitment and voter registration. During his closing statement Saturday morning, Dickey also impressed upon delegates how all-consuming the job is, saying "this is a 24/7 job and I have been a 24/7 chairman."

"Words matter, but work matters too — and results matter more," Dickey said, repeatedly saying his "No. 1 priority" is to help ensure success for President Trump and Texas Republicans in November. "This is what I'm focused on, folks — winning."

In his final pitch to delegates, West promised to make the party better known nationally and adopt a more aggressive strategy against what he described as an increasingly extreme Democratic Party.

"It's time that our Republican Party once again steps up and leads the way, not just in Texas, but all across the United States of America," West said. "It's time to make sure that the Republican Party of Texas is relevant again, that our message is out, that our message is being heard."

West also appealed to some in the party who have grown frustrated with their own leaders — namely Gov. Greg Abbott — for how they have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. West rallied delegates against what he said was the "tyranny that we see in the great state of Texas, where we have executive orders and mandates, people telling us what we can and cannot do, who is essential, who is not essential."

The State Republican Executive Committee first elected Dickey to the post in 2017 after the resignation of his predecessor Tom Mechler. Dickey won his first full term a year later at the state convention.

Before chairing the state party, Dickey led the GOP in Travis County, home to Austin.

West brought a high profile to the race and huge financial advantage, vastly out raising and outspending Dickey. While West stumped on building a more ambitious Texas GOP, he also courted support from some in the party who believe Dickey had grown too unwilling to stand up to state leaders when it came to the party's legislative priorities and the scandal last year that forced House Speaker Dennis Bonnen into retirement.

But no issue overshadowed the closing weeks of the race like the party's insistence on conducting an in-person convention in Houston despite the coronavirus pandemic. After the convention center operator nixed the party's contract earlier this month, the party launched a legal battle to continue with an in-person convention. The party lost in the courts shortly before the convention was set to begin, leaving it with a short period to transition to a virtual gathering.

Despite promises that the party had a virtual backup plan all along, the convention opened Thursday with almost immediate technical problems, and the State Republican Executive Committee voted that night to pause the event for a day Friday to resolve the issues. When the convention came back Saturday, things were still rocky — delegates complained they had still not received credentials, committees took much longer than scheduled and live-streaming problems ruined speeches by some of the state's top elected officials.

West largely stayed out of the convention debate until recent days, when he criticized Dickey for not having an adequate backup plan and questioned the voting technology for the virtual gathering. On Saturday afternoon, he joined calls for Dickey to halt the convention until every delegate could be credentialed.

Dickey acknowledged the pre-convention turbulence in his speech Saturday morning.

"This has been a humbling week and this path to our state convention today has been challenging," he said, "but I will never give up on the Texas Republican Party."

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

By Patrick Svitek

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