Chairman’s Corner by Scott McGraw

The Republican Party of Kalamazoo County is on stronger footing as we look toward the future and the 2016 elections. We’ve established a permanent home at 1911 W. Centre Ave. and are re-building our brand as a conservative, compassionate and hard-working party. Let’s look at what we’ve accomplished in 2015:

We’ve moved into a convenient, yet still visible, location on Centre Avenue and hold meetings and various functions there. From our Executive Committee meetings to Tea Party meetings and from our Candidate School to our partnership with the Republican Leadership Initiative, the Republican Headquarters has been a busy place this past year. We’ve held limited office hours this past year and need to expand them soon to accommodate the 2016 elections.

Part of being a cohesive group is to interact socially and we’ve certainly done that. We’ve added many new events to the landscape of the KGOP. “First Annual” has been a frequently used term this year.  The first Growlers outing, the first Chairman’s Reception, the first Euchre Tournament (Jan. 15), the first local Republican Leadership Initiative event, the establishment of a separate Candidate Fund and the return of our Summer Picnic. There are a lot of new events and local Republicans are interacting again on a social level.

Every opportunity we have interacting is an opportunity to strengthen our relationships and our friendships. Let me say this: If we expect to advance our agenda against the liberal movement, we will not go very far as business partners or associates. Our bonds must grow stronger and our relationships must strengthen.

Next year will be a challenging year. We have two vulnerable state rep races (Iden and Nesbitt). There are already challengers on the Democratic side working to defeat our party. Aric Nesbitt has been a great champion for the Republicans and an outstanding leader in Lansing. He will be missed. But we must work hard to have the foundation in place to elect another Republican in that district. Brandt Iden is facing his Democratic opponent for a second time. Brandt must work hard to keep that seat.

That same foundation is needed at the county level. We must win back the 10th District in Portage. That swing has weakened our party in the county substantially. In fact, the void of leadership on the county commission is staggering. It’s hard to imagine it becoming more challenging, but it will. A new chairman will be selected and I fully expect to be shocked when that person is selected. I expect longtime Clerk-Register Tim Snow will have a significant challenger from the Democrats and will need to work harder than he ever has in his 18 years in that position. Do I even need to discuss the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office? We need Republican leadership in this county and it is going to take a lot of hard work and grassroot efforts for us to achieve those goals.

All this is needed to support the efforts at the national level as well. Our congressman is facing a Democratic opponent for a second time. He – as any one of these candidates – may face a primary opponent as well. And our foundation needs to be strong when a Republican candidate immerges from the cluster of candidates running for president.

The Kalamazoo GOP’s efforts for establishing a grassroots system will rely on a couple of things that we have already started working on. First is finding good candidates. That is our primary purpose as stated in our bylaws: Recruit and support candidates for office. It sounds simple, but it is a challenging task.  Secondly, we will work with our precinct delegates to establish a network – or an army – of volunteers to carry our message to every township, every street and every home in our county. We are partnering with the state and national parties to train and coordinate these efforts.

It starts with something simple as answering the question: Why are you a Republican. We must develop and practice this so we can convey that to the people we talk to everyday. We’re going to take that training out to the neighborhoods as we talk to our neighbors and friends. We’re going to host intimate gatherings in our homes to discuss what’s going on in our county, our state and our country. We’re going to go door-to-door with a message that we are not going to stand idle as government grows larger and our paychecks grow smaller. We are going to send a message the path of entitlements is not a career path. We are going to motivate people to vote for a change in the direction of our government. No longer can we afford to walk down this path. This year – 2016 – is the year this stops.

As we look to the future, we must look to our youth. They are the future of our party. I’m happy to have young people like Brandt Iden, SonJalita Hulbert, Chad Dillon, Troy Hudson, Madison Mazer, Scott Morris and others involved with the KGOP – but we need to continue to look for and find young people who share our values. I praise Ron and Ruth Wiser for supporting our Young Republicans at Western Michigan University. I praise Bev Solik for discovering a young conservative at Kalamazoo College – the first to attend, I understand, since Brandt Iden walked those hallowed halls.

I am also so grateful to Ron and Ruth Wiser for hosting a fundraiser this past month for our newly established Candidate Assistance Fund. That fundraiser has set the bar high for support of our local candidates. Through the Wisers’ help, we have set aside more than $6,000 to help candidates in 2016. That’s a good start, but we need to build up that war chest until it overflows.

It wasn’t that long ago we needed every dollar to protect a key seat in the county. In 2014, your party invested heavily in Margaret O’Brien’s campaign and, while no one thing got her over the goal line, I have to believe with a 61-vote margin of victory that the KGOP contribution was significant.

I am proud of what we have done in 2015, but I look forward to the challenge in 2016 to return so many of our local officials to office and welcome a few more candidates to join the ranks of public servants as they take office.