TCR Comment: This article is quite extensive. It tells the disturbing story of the Harris County Republican Party under Paul Simpson in free fall. With a losing streak now over a year old and no wins to show, one would think it's time for all men and women to work together for a successful 2018 ticket.
Instead, we have a party for the first time in modern history looking for ways to kick Republican candidates off the ballot. The first victim was Paul Coselli, but the party and Simpson wanted more and then came for Civil District Judge candidate Sharon Hemphill and Family District Judge candidate Melanie Flowers. With the same weak complaints about their petitions, they backed off so only Coselli is fighting for his rightful place on the ballot.
If you take the time to read the article it makes clear more than ever that we can't win in November with the Simpson clan running the party into the ground.
There is a foul odor filling the air in the vicinity of 7232 Wynnwood. The source? A putrid political swamp in desperate need of draining. The latest case in point is the race for the 281st Civil District Court in which attorney Paul Coselli is challenging incumbent Sylvia Matthews. It appears though, that Matthews is not a fan of campaigning (she has never run a primary campaign in the 10 years she has occupied the bench) and is challenging Coselli's right to be on the ballot in hopes she can win without a fair fight.
It is worth noting that Paul Coselli is a highly qualified candidate, not some wingnut off the street rolling the dice and hoping to be judge. Coselli currently works for Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel, where he serves as Executive Counsel, Director of Finance and Member of the Harris County Bail Board. Early in his career, Coselli was an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the trial division in Juvenile, Misdemeanor, and Felony courts holding the position of chief prosecutor in several courts. Coselli managed First Chair duties in over 100 jury trials from Juvenile to First Degree Felonies including murder and major crimes. He was then nominated by President Ronald Reagan and appointed to the National Task Force assigned to the Gulf Coast Region and appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas where he tried the first Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) jury case for the Task Force in the Eastern District of Texas as well as additional First Chair cases in the Southern District of Texas. Add to that a lengthy career in private legal practice and a six-year stint as President and CEO of an oilfield-related company and you can see that Coselli's qualifications are impeccable.
Paul Coselli filed with the Harris County Republican Party on December 11th to challenge Sylvia Matthews, the incumbent since her political appointment in 2008. Coselli's filing included an application, a check for $2500 and the required nominating petitions. You see, in judicial races each candidate must collect signatures from registered voters who reside in that candidate's district to nominate him or her for the ballot. In Harris County, the minimum number of signatures required for a district court is 250, although candidates submit more than the minimum, with the expectation that a small number will not qualify. In Coselli's case, he filed 47 pages of petitions totaling well over 400 signatures. Coselli waited for the news he had been approved for the ballot, which came 8 days later December 19th.
In her e-mail notification to Coselli, HCRP Primary Director Melissa Smith wrote, "Congratulations! This is to inform you that, based on our review, your application for a place on the 2018 Harris County Republican Primary ballot DOES comply with the requirements as to form, content, and procedure needed for your name to be placed on that ballot. Therefore, your application is APPROVED." Note: the text is reprinted here exactly as e-mailed, including the exclamation point and all-caps.
The 8-day delay from application to "Congratulations!" while unnerving for a candidate, is to be expected since the HCRP staff goes through the petitions and validates the signatures before placing the candidate on the ballot. After all, no candidate wants to get that "Congratulations!" e-mail only to get sucker-punched later with news that they aren't on the ballot, which is exactly what happened to Coselli.
It didn't take long after that e-mail for Coselli to get the bad news; at 5:58 p.m. that night, Harris County Republican Party Executive Director Ben McPhaul wrote, "Please see below. Your opponent is challenging your petition/application to appear on the 2018 Republican Party primary ballot. You have until Friday, December 22, 2018 at 12:00 pm central standard time to respond to this challenge. Once your response is received or after 12 PM central standard time on Friday, December 22, whichever is first this issue will be reviewed and a decision will be made."
Of additional interest is that it was the Party's Executive Director, and not the Primary Director or Paul Simpson (as head of the Primary), who made the notification. Historically, the HCRP administration has attempted to maintain a firewall of sorts between the Party and the Primary operations, presumably to avoid the co-mingling of resources and the appearance of political pressure within the administration of the Primary, since there are taxpayer funds involved in the administration of the primary election. As a related point, the Primary has traditionally maintained a separate "Harris County Republican Primary" bank account with filing fees made payable to the Harris County Republican Primary; however, the HCRP has also broken from that procedure and instructed candidates to make their checks payable to the Harris County Republican Party and not the Primary. This is not to say that the new procedures violate any law - just that they blur the lines between political and primary and calls into question the HCRP's transparency. It also makes one wonder how heavy the political thumb is on the scale at the primary office, which is supposed to be neutral and transparent to be fair to all candidates.
Unfortunately, as the chronology of the Matthews challenge unfolds, the Primary's neutrality and transparency begins to appear more and more suspect. Coselli for his part did not have the luxury of pondering the possibility of heavy handedness (or an all-out conspiracy as suggested by those familiar with the details) by Simpson and McPhaul. He had, after all, a mere two days to respond to the HCRP request for information, which as it turns out, was a completely arbitrary deadline placed on Coselli, with no known statutory basis. Coselli immediately hired well-known election attorney Jerad Najvar, who drafted a response to the Matthews challenge, which as it turns out was so bad and demonstrated such an ignorance of the law that Matthews had to amend her challenge subsequent to the Najvar/Coselli response. It was the amended challenge that led Harris County Republican Party Chairman Simpson to write:
"Judge Matthews, Mr. Coselli, and Mr. Najvar:
We reviewed Paul Coselli's application to be a candidate on the 2018 Republican Primary ballot for the 281st District Court, for compliance with requirements as to form, content, and procedure, and per advice from the Texas Secretary of State. We have also reviewed Judge Matthews' later challenge to Mr. Coselli's application, Mr. Coselli's response, and subsequent replies from both, as to the specific items challenged."
Simpson concludes by saying Coselli is REJECTED and, "Therefore, Mr. Coselli's name will not appear on the 2018 Republican Primary ballot."
Notice therein the words, "for compliance with requirements as to form, content, and procedure..." in the rejection; they are the same words used in the notification that Coselli was approved for a place on the ballot, "...based on our review, your application for a place on the 2018 Harris County Republican Primary ballot DOES comply with the requirements as to form, content, and procedure..."
In response to the HCRP's bizarre actions, activist Republican attorney Eric Dick jumped into the fray and filed for and was issued a Temporary Restraining Order preventing Paul Simpson and the Harris County Republican Party from removing Paul Coselli's name from the ballot. So Coselli is now back on, right? Well, in a word, no. Coselli's name has been removed from the ballot and from the HCRP's website. Simpson has indicated he will not comply with the restraining order because (in Simpson's mind) Coselli was never on the ballot. What? What happened to, "...based on our review, your application for a place on the 2018 Harris County Republican Primary ballot DOES comply with the requirements as to form, content, and procedure..."? Apparently, Simpson and Co. is willing to do whatever it takes to protect their incumbent is what happened. As of this writing, Coselli still waits for Simpson to follow the Court's order and include him on the ballot, but it appears he will have to go back to court to force Simpson to do his job.
More Background, Observations and Analysis
There are so many breaks from tradition and protocol and odd circumstances - the sudden and unexplained departure of Primary Director Melissa Smith during this time, for example - that it makes one wonder what is going on at the HCRP and why they are working so hard to protect this incumbent. For example, as stated previously, the HCRP has traditionally maintained lines of separation between the Harris County Republican Primary and the Harris County Republican Party, which Simpson has now blurred. The Primary also has a history of NOT intervening in candidate challenges, instead instructing candidates that they must challenge in the courts. In this way they remain completely neutral and above the fray. Previous HCRP administrations have had no interest in choosing winners and losers, as it appears Simpson is willing to do. And, what about that check that the Primary instructed Coselli and others write to the HCRP and not the Primary? If Simpson prevails in his efforts to keep Coselli from the ballot, where will the $2500 they confiscate from Coselli go? Into Party coffers to supplement their ineffective fundraising?
And what of the specifics of the Matthews challenge? Were these gross errors? Signatures from people not registered or registered outside Harris County? No, those had already been disqualified during the HCRP vetting process. No, Matthews' challenge was over technical points of the petitions. For example, on 2 sets of petitions the Notaries who witnessed the circulators' signatures failed to date their affidavits, which the HCRP originally accepted but then rejected under pressure from Matthews, even though Coselli offered affidavits from circulators and the notaries that the signatures were legitimate. Apparently though, Simpson and Co. are willing to throw a challenger off the ballot over minor technical points to protect an incumbent and pick the winner in this race. If Simpson spent the amount of time and energy that he uses to defeat a Republican on defeating Democrats, maybe he could have won at least one race in 2016, instead of getting completely wiped out by the Democrats.
Speaking of getting outfoxed by the D's, Simpson has completely failed to consider the long-term consequences of his short-sighted actions in the Coselli case. By conceding that these minor errors are justification for disqualification, Simpson opens the door for challenges by Democrats and puts the entire ticket in jeopardy. It is not good enough for Simpson and Co. to lose everything on the ballot after an election, now they are setting up our candidates to lose without the Democrats ever having to fire a shot. Paul Simpson is definitely the best chairman the Democrats have ever had.
Meanwhile Back at the Swamp...
So, while Coselli fights against the GOP establishment Goliath and Republican candidates are trying to form a strategy to win in spite of a Harris County Republican Party that can't win a single county-wide election, the Simpson Gang that can't shoot straight is having a hoe-down at the swamp celebrating their checkers victory without realizing that they have unwittingly made the entire Republican ticket vulnerable to Democrat challenges now and in the future. Way to go gang. Way to go. Maybe it is time to drain the swamp and start looking for Harris County Republican Party leadership that knows how to play Chess and think beyond the next move.
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About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his twenty-first year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last sixteen years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. As a public service for the last 13 years, Gary has published election guides for the GOP primary, general elections and city elections, all with the purpose of assisting conservative candidates. Gary is also in his 15th year of co-hosting Red, White and Blue on PBS Houston, longest running political talk show in Texas history. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant. He can be reached at (713) 621-6335.