The past continues to haunt two Republicans running for the open state representative District 58 seat. Both said they’d just as soon concentrate on the here and now issues of this race.
A request by one candidate has caused an uproar. Grandview resident Lyndon Laird requested to speak during a stump speech event to be held Sept. 28 at Cleburne’s Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum. The event, which is also a fundraiser for the Johnson County Republican Party, is from 2-6 p.m.
Open spots for the speeches, which cost $10 per minute for a maximum of five minutes, are open to candidates and elected officials and “anyone can speak from a stump,” according to an email advertising the event. Spots are limited, however, and first come, first served.
State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, announced last week that he will not seek reelection in 2014 to a sixth term. District 58 includes Johnson and Bosque counties. Within days of Orr’s announcement, Clifton resident Phillip Eby and Laird both announced intentions to run for Orr’s open seat as Republicans. Laird, in a Friday Times-Review article, said he had contemplated running for the seat for some time and fully expected to compete against Orr next year. Laird said Orr’s retirement announcement caught him by surprise.
Republican litmus test
Several local Republicans have questioned whether Laird is more Republican in name only than conservative given that he ran, for a short time at least, as a Democrat in 2012 and contributed $225 to President Barack Obama’s campaign that same year. Laird admits as much, but stresses that he is a lifelong conservative Republican and has always voted such.
Johnson County Republican Party Executive Committee member Wynne Loveless replied to Laird’s request in an email also sent to the Times-Review. Loveless — in the email and when reached by phone Tuesday morning — said that she was responding to Laird, as is her right to do, as a private citizen who happens to be a “local conservative activist” and not speaking on behalf of the JCRP.
Loveless, in her Monday email, said that Johnson County is one of Texas’ most conservative counties thanks in large part to 20-plus years of hard work by area conservatives. Those same county conservatives, Loveless said, expect and work to recruit the “cream of the crop of committed conservative [candidates] to represent [Johnson County].”
Which is a measure in which, in Loveless’ opinion, Laird falls short.
“All of your past, both running against Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, our Republican state senator, as a Democrat and the $225 you gave to Obama’s campaign, in my opinion, disqualify you as a Republican. Anybody who knowingly aligned himself with the Dems after 2008 is either a) liberal beyond redemption; or b) too stupid to be a Republican, much less a candidate; or c) too cowardly to represent us!”
Loveless, in the same email, suggested that Laird visit the Johnson County Democratic Headquarters to “pursue his dream of self aggrandizement.”
“Should you pursue your desire to run, be aware that your past will haunt you, and that I am one of many who will make your campaign a miserable failure,” Loveless wrote in her email.
On a more practical note, Loveless, said Tuesday the available speaking spots had already filled by the time Laird made his request.
Several emails between Loveless and Laird, all of which were sent to the Times-Review, followed.
Laird called the back and forth a “very unfortunate” situation. Laird acknowledges that the JCRP has the right to decide who can and cannot speak at their events, but added that he also believes the public has the right to hear his positions on the issues.
Laird also addressed the Democratic question.
“Regarding my short run last year, I’m not a career politician who calculates his every move,” Laird said. “I’m a lifelong conservative, a problem solver and a straight shooter. I told the Democratic friends who asked me to run that I was a conservative and that is how I ran.
“I spoke about the benefits of a good education, access to health care and equal rights guaranteed under the Constitution. I was shocked at the  State Democratic Convention that other controversial, social issues were the party’s top priority. I immediately withdrew my name from the race.”
Upon discovering that pro-choice, pro-gay and -lesbian and pro-marijuana legalization platforms ranked “front and center” at the state convention, Laird said he realized he and the Democrats were not on the same page. Laird admits to having contributed to Obama’s campaign, but said he did not vote for Obama and has always voted Republican.
“My entire life I’ve voted Republican in every election and voiced my support and lived by those principals,” Laird said. “I’m as conservative as you can get.”
When asked if it is not incongruous that a life long conservative Republican would be unaware of the tenants of the Democratic Party, Laird said that he had never previously run for public office and did so at the behest of friends all the while remaining up front concerning his conservative bent. In hindsight, however, Laird said that running as a Democrat in 2012 was “probably not the best decision.”
That aside, Laird said he hopes to offer District 58 voters the opportunity to judge him on his conservative credentials and career of problem solving and helping people as an attorney and member of the community. Laird said he stands for lower taxes, economic growth, immigration reform, right to life, Second Amendment rights and defense of traditional marriage among other conservative ideals.
Laird said he is “disappointed by the hostile and uniformed emails from [Loveless]”
Laird said he refuses to be “silenced or intimidated” by the emails.
“And I will report your threats to proper law enforcement,” Laird wrote in one of his reply emails.
Laird said he has received encouragement and support from several residents and elected officials in his District 58 bid.
“I’m not sure to what effect Mrs. Loveless’ opinions are shared by other voters in the district, but I think I’m in close alignment with the values and goals of conservative voters in the district,” Laird said. “I’m a political novice, but I think I have a lot to say and offer. I’ve heard politics can be rough and tumble and I guess so. But I plan to talk about the issues and take the high road and I bear no ill will toward Mrs. Loveless.”
Laird said he plans to attend the Sept. 28 stump speech event and still hopes to be given a chance to speak, if not during one of the scheduled time slots then afterwards.
It’s a free country
Loveless said that Laird is welcome to attend the event given that it’s scheduled in a public place.
“That’s the question,” Loveless said when asked if it would be best to let Laird speak and let attendees decide for themselves how Republican or not he really is.
JCRP Executive Committee Member Robin Wilson said Tuesday that she “loves Wynne to death” but still thinks Laird should be allowed to speak at the event.
“If we truly believe in the Constitution, freedom of speech and the right to choose is the resolution to this discussion,” Wilson wrote in a email to Loveless, which was also sent to the Times-Review.
Wilson, in reference to Laird’s donation to Obama, said that, by paying the fee to deliver a stump speech, he would also be making a donation to the Republican Party.
“It was my understanding when this [event] was planned was that anyone who paid the $10 per minute, as long as the spots were not all filled, could get up and speak,” Wilson said. “So, I would think, if someone wanted to pay the money and get up and give us their grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, that would be OK.
“The point is, I don’t think we should pick and choose who gets to talk to people. People have the right to listen to them and choose who they want to vote and campaign for. I don’t think we can choose like that as a Republican party.”
Wilson, in the same email, wrote that Eby, who is scheduled to deliver a stump speech that day, supported Ron Paul in the 2012 primary but did not vote for Mitt Romney in the general election.
“[Eby] has a long road to haul to regain trust and support from Republican voters and this is no different than what Lyndon Laird would be facing,” Wilson wrote. “In my opinion, if Eby speaks, Laird should be allowed to speak and we should all be diligent in following all candidate campaigns to make the right choices. An uninformed voter is a shot in the dark.”
Eby on Tuesday said he didn’t vote for Romney in protest to how Romney’s campaign treated not just Ron Paul but other Republican candidates in the 2012 Republican primaries.
“I knew there was no question at all that Romney would win Texas,” Eby said. “If there was any question he could’ve lost I would have voted for him. So I made a protest vote, but I want to make it perfectly clear that I did not and never have voted for Obama and have never supported him.”
Although it’s not his decision to make, Eby said he has no problem with whether the JCRP allows Laird to speak at the Sept. 28 event or not given that it’s their decision to make.
“I think candidates have a right to deliver their message and people have the right to make up their decision whether to support them or not,” Eby said.
Either way, Eby said he plans to concentrate on the issues facing District 58 and Texas.
JCRP Vice Chairman Jack Guthrie, in a Tuesday email, takes no stance on whether Laird should be allowed to speak or not, but reiterates that the JCRP, as does any private entity, reserves the right to decide who can and cannot speak at their fundraisers and other events.
“If we open speeches to Demo, pseudo- Republican opportunists, we may very well open Pandora’s Box and set a precedent that will create major problems in the future,” Guthrie wrote.