Behind the New Hampshire Upset
The election of “Tea Party”-backed Jack Kimball as the new state Republican chairman in New Hampshire made nationwide news, including stories in the Washington Post and New York Times.
By a vote of 220-to-199, Kimball upset Chesire County GOP Chairman Juliana Bergeron, who had the backing of outgoing State GOP Chairman John Sununu and most party leaders.
But to call Kimball simply a “Tea Party” candidate overlooks much. The janitorial service owner ran for governor in last year’s GOP primary and, as a result, met many of the state committee people. In addition, the turnout at the committee meeting for the election was unusually high, party sources told me, with 419 members of the 493 member state committee showing up when turnout for such elections is usually in the 200-300 range.
Moreover, the same group that elected Kimball chairman also elected former State Chairman Steve Duprey as national committeeman. Long considered an “establishment” Republican who backs GOPers of all stripes, Duprey, a Concord hotelier, took great delight in telling me, during a flight on John McCain’s 008 campaign plane, that he had worked for liberal anti-war Rep. Pete McCloskey (R.-Calif.)when he, along with conservative Ohio Rep. John Ashbrook, unsuccessfully challenged President Richard Nixon in the 1972 New Hampshire GOP primary.
Duprey easily defeated Tea Party-backed State Rep. Jason Emery for the committeeman post and did so in absentia. He was on a long-planned cruise to Antarctica with his wife.
Party Time (or Tea Party Time?)
Along with New Hampshire, three other states last week elected new Republican chairmen. In two of those GOP meetings, candidates backed by traditional grass roots conservatives as well as new “Tea partiers” won the party helms over “establishment” candidates. The other state featured a contest in which all three contenders for the chairmanship sported conservative credentials.
Arizona: He Who Laughs Last: When conservative State GOP Chairman Randy Pullen was not re-elected to his spot on the Arizona Republican committee and decided not to run again for the chairmanship, , (although he was eligible to do so under party rules), more moderate establishment types felt they could recapture control of the party.
They were mistaken. At the state party convention in Phoenix last week, conservative stalwart Tom Morrissey won the chairmanship on the third ballot. Rolling up 677 votes from the 1,348 eligible convention delegates, Morrissey defeated Ron Carmichael, the candidate favored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) and other party elders.
“My election today is a testimony to the new energy in our party, the constitutional conservatives, the Tea Party, you people. This is your victory,” Morrissey told the cheering convention, “We need to come together now.”
Carmichael and other chairman candidates have since given their blessing to Morrissey, who will be helped in assuming the chairmanship by Randy Pullen.
Washington State: Wilbur’s New Gig There really was no surprise when more than two-thirds of the delegates at the Republican state convention voted to make Kirby Wilbur their new state chairman. Well-known as a popular radio talk-show host for nearly 20 years, Wilbur defeated incumbent Chairman Luke Esser.
Esser was dogged by the fact that, while Republicans were gaining new offices left and right in most of the country, they turned in only a mediocre performance in the Evergreen State, picking up a handful of new legislative seats, electing Republican Jamie Hernandez to the 3rd District U.S. House seat, but losing tight contests for the 2nd District seat and the U.S. Senate seat of liberal Democrat Patty Murray. Party activists thought they needed to do better and chose Wilbur, a member of the board of the American Conservative Union and longtime activist in the conservative Young Americans for Freedom.
North Carolina: Turnover in Tar heel State: When I spoke to North Carolina Republican Chairman Tom Fetzer at the recent Winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, he was justifiably proud of the Tar Heel State GOP’s performance at the polls in 2010. Not only was Republican Sen. Richard Burr handily re-elected, but conservative Renee Ehlmers unseated seven-term Democratic Rep. Bobby Etheridge in one of the biggest U.S. House upsets anywhere in the nation.
Most significantly, Republicans won control of both the state house of representatives and senate for the first time in more than a century.
Former Richmond Mayor Fetzer told me he was stepping down as chairman to go into the private sector, but was confident the state party would elect another conservative to succeed him. He was right: After a three-candidate contest at the state GOP convention, delegates chose as the new chairman former Rep. (1998-08) Robin Hayes. A one-time GOP nominee for governor and successful businessman, Hayes (lifetime ACU rating: 90%) takes the reins of the party as it prepares for a 2012 race to win the governorship that has been in Democratic hands since 1992.
The Quiet Man
Although some politicians have lived to see their sons hold and leave the same offices they themselves once held—George H.W. Bush being a case in point—few did so like former Rep. (1972-78) William F. Walsh (R.-N.Y.). He retired from Congress at age 66 and saw his son Jim go to the U.S. House from the Syracuse area a decade later. When Rep. Jim Walsh (R.-N.Y.) retired from Congress after 20 years in 2008, father Bill was still going strong. When Bill died January 8 at age 98, he was the oldest living former member of Congress. Two things frequently said about the soft-spoken native of Syracuse’s “Tiperary Hill” were that 1) Bill was a lot more conservative in Congress than his son, who grew increasingly moderate in office and 2) the soft-spoken Bill Walsh was first and foremost, a gentleman.
The son of a railroad worker and a U.S. Army Air Corps captain who saw action in the Pacific during World War II, Walsh had a rare background for a Republican:
He held a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo and for more than a decade was a social worker for Onondaga County. In 1959, he was elected welfare director of the county and introduced one of the early requirements of “workfare” for those on relief.
Two years later, Walsh was elected mayor of Syracuse and, from 1961-69, he oversaw the construction of 21 new buildings that transformed the skyline of the city. During his last three years in City Hall, Mayor Walsh lowered Syracuse’s tax rate.
When Republican Rep. John Terry stunned Syracuse-area pols by announcing his retirement in 1972 after one term, Walsh stepped in. Running on a platform of opposing “inefficiency and duplication” in Washington and vowing to close “loopholes through which drug smugglers and pushers now escape,” Walsh won handily on the Republican and Conservative Party ballots.
During six years in Congress, the reserved Syracuse man rarely spoke on the House floor, but was one of the most conservative members from the Empire State.
“Bill was not flashy but was always with ‘us guys’ on the critical issues of the day,” recalled stalwart conservative former Sen. (1978-90) Bill Armstrong (R.-Colo.), who came to the House with Walsh in 1972, “and he was a true gentleman.”