Conservatives Flock to Grassroots GOP Positions to Push Party Reform

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
February 16, 2021 Updated: February 17, 2021

Conservatives across the country are applying for local Republican official positions in a bid to reform the party. Some feel a major part of the party establishment consists of “Republicans in name only,” or RINOs, who no longer represent their voter base.

The movement aims to fill the many vacant positions of precinct committee officers. Those involved in the effort estimate that roughly 400,000 of these jobs exist nationwide, with half or more empty, although the precise number is hard to determine since the GOP doesn’t publish overall data.

These grassroots positions wield significant power and influence. Either directly or through electors and delegates, they elect state GOP leaders as well as a state’s delegation to the Republican National Committee (RNC), which then elects the national party leadership. They are also commonly drawn upon to fill election oversight positions, such as poll observers and ballot signature verification monitors. Some local party committees also endorse primary candidates and may organize get-out-the-vote efforts for a particular candidate.

Interest in the committee positions surged in recent weeks after the topic was picked up by several conservative writers and personalities, and began to spread on social media.

The general sentiment of the movement is that Republicans need to get more actively involved in politics and demand that their party and its candidates faithfully represent their values.

The idea of virtually taking over the Republican Party through filling vacant precinct positions has long been advocated by Arizona lawyer Dan Schultz. Since at least 2009, he’s produced a book, a website, and numerous articles and videos on the subject and sought to influence the party’s movers and shakers, with limited success.

The major breakthrough appears to have come on Feb. 6, when Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, hosted Schultz on his talk show. Interest then started to snowball, with several articles in small conservative outlets and further appearances on Bannon’s show, Schultz told The Epoch Times.

Interest in his website jumped to more than 80,000 visits in the past 10 days, from a couple of hundred per week, he said. His inbox was flooded with hundreds of emails from people seeking more information.

The precinct officer position bears slightly different names in different states. Their election, powers, and responsibilities differ as well, but in general, if the position is vacant, the county GOP can simply appoint a person directly. A registered Republican only needs to ask or perhaps fill out a form and be willing to attend meetings, perhaps once a month.

“The fundamental strategy is this: get into the party, fill up all the vacant slots, and then you’ll run the party,” Schultz said in a phone call. “We conservatives will run the party, not the RINOs.”

Schultz got his opportunity in 2007 after attending a meeting about illegal immigration, where a young man recommended that the participants become GOP committee officers. Schultz said he just assumed at the time that all the positions were filled.

“This is Goldwater country, right? I don’t have to be involved in the party,” he said. But he still asked the man how many positions are open. “He goes, ‘There’s tons of openings. Over half of the slots are open.’”

That prompted Schultz to contact the Maricopa County GOP. After many phone calls, somebody finally got back to him and he learned of an upcoming meeting.

“There were only about 20 people in the room. I said, ‘How many slots does this committee have?’ They said, ‘160.’ I said, ‘Well, then where is everybody?’” Schultz said.

It turned out that that was the usual attendance, since only about 40 of the slots were filled.

“I was blown away,” he said.

Shortly after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, Schultz started his seemingly endless cross-country quest to get all the committee officer positions filled. He decided that the Republican establishment is, in fact, comfortable with the status quo.

“They don’t want us. … They want your money, they want you to volunteer your time and your effort, but they don’t want to tell you about how to become a voting member of the party,” he said.

For whatever reason, Republican voters don’t seem to ask questions about who runs the party.

“Who are these people? Do they get elected? And why am I not electing them?” Schultz said.

Schultz believes that there hadn’t been enough of a crisis to jolt Republicans into active involvement. It appears the election of President Joe Biden and the numerous anomalies throwing into question the 2020 election’s integrity have finally prompted ordinary conservatives to realize they need to “do something.”

“If you want to do something, the thing to do is take over the apparatus of the Republican Party. That’s our vehicle, our tool to elect better Republicans who’ll fight this slow road to socialism that we’re on,” he said.

The task of organizing hundreds of thousands of people in every second voting precinct to become active in party politics may seem overwhelming, but Schultz gave examples of areas where it had already happened.

Arizona’s Cochise County managed to go from some 30 percent positions filled in 2019 to having all of the more than 280 slots filled last year, after several local Trump supporters organized a recruitment drive, he said. Meanwhile, nearby Graham County has had all its positions filled for a decade because of the local chairman’s emphasis on recruitment.

“It can be done, but it only comes about when there’s a focus on this,” he said.

Joe Chesney, a retired military flight test engineer in Kern County, California, is one of those responding to Schultz’s call.

For some time, he wondered who picks the candidates on the Republican ticket and why the selection commonly seems underwhelming.

Hearing Schultz’s interview on Bannon’s show piqued Chesney’s interest.

“I’m going: ‘Are you kidding me? I can be a precinct committeeman and have a say in who goes on the ballot besides just voting?’” he told The Epoch Times in a phone call.

“I got really excited that the key was given to me.”

Epoch Times Photo
Joe Chesney, a retired military flight test engineer, recently applied to be GOP precinct officer in Kern County, Calif. (Courtesy of Joe Chesney)

He called up the local GOP office and asked if he could be a committeeman, learning they are actually called “precinct captains” in California.

The man on the phone simply gave him the job.

Uncomfortable to just take one man’s word for it, Chesney went to the office the next day, where another person told him, “the gentlemen you spoke to might have been a little ahead of himself,” he said. Two days later, the first person reiterated over the phone that, yes, Chesney indeed became a GOP precinct captain, for the whole Kern River Valley no less, since the entire area had had nobody until that point.

“I’m the first person to call to be a precinct captain probably ever in Kern River Valley, to be honest,” he said.

Chesney insisted he go through some formal process, yet the party branch didn’t even have a form for him to fill out. He was told that a form would be established, but the process will take several weeks since it needs to be approved by the state GOP.

He’s now working on getting his fellow conservatives to follow in his footsteps.

“I can now find people who bleed red, white, and blue and fill these positions,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly identified the person who was told he became the Kern River Valley GOP Precinct Captain. It was Joe Chesney who was told he assumed the position. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.