The Michigan Republican Party, (MRP), is holding its convention February 22 & 23 to elect district leadership and the state chairman for another two years. 2014, will be another key election year as ALL county commissioners, state reps, state senators, and the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, 14 members of congress and a U.S. senator are up for election.
We are fortunate to have a choice this year. Incumbent chairman, Robert (Bobby) Schostak is seeking a second term. Attorney and former state board of education candidate, Todd Courser is also seeking the post.
As a service to the delegates who may be going to the state convention to cast their vote for chairman, I asked several key leaders from both 'camps' of supporters to offer questions they would like to ask of the candidates. Both Bobby and Todd were willing to provide answers. I have printed their answers below as they were written, with only minor formatting changes. I hope that these will be helpful to you as you consider your vote later this month.
Why are you running for state party chair?
TC: Will we stand for something and be committed to liberty, freedom, and conservatism or will we simply assist in slow walking the country to a truly miserable end? My choice is that our party leadership must stand for the principles that made this country great and must articulate a vision for a return to the path that will lead us to greatness again. Democrats are already knocking on doors for the next election. They are at least one "generation' of grass roots development ahead of us. Here is a brief look at what we are up against: In 2012 we lost every statewide partisan race. We even lost four of six county-wide races in Oakland County including two incumbents. We won merely 38% of the races on all levels of government in Michigan. Our strategy, tactics and technology need massive improvements. We have seen what the current leadership has to offer. I do not have confidence that the existing statewide GOP leadership understands, let alone will make, the changes we need. I cannot stand aside and see our Party, State and Country deteriorate into mediocrity and more losses.
I have been "drafted" to run for Chair of the Michigan Republican Party (MRP) by a wide array of Republican and conservative activists who resolutely believe the GOP has to make fundamental improvements to re-brand, re-structure and rebound. We must do this to build a new and expanded foundation for the future of our Party, State and Country and to have the successes in 2014 that we had in 2010. I believe I can bridge to the next generation and lost constituencies, and bring added excitement to the GOP. I feel called to run, believe we will win this campaign and the Party will win in the future under new, exciting and relevant grass roots leadership. I humbly and proudly answer the call and ask for YOUR support.
RS: I'm running for re-election because I am committed to fighting every day for the conservative values and principles that define our party. In 2012, as your chairman, I immediately went to work to defend our Republican members, build a firewall against Obama's momentum and put into place the building blocks that will put our party in a winning position for 2014.
That's why I've already invested in technological advancements that will be custom to Michigan, allowing us to avoid relying on the RNC or national campaigns for expensive technology suites. This includes a custom Election Day Operations mobile phone application that we began testing in 2012 in order to have it ready for 2014.
This is just one example to demonstrate how committed and forward looking I remain in order to ensure Michigan Republicans remain ahead of the curve.
We are the 24th Freedom to Work state because our Republican members know that the Michigan Republican Party has the resources and strength to defend them against the pending Democrat and Union attacks. As Chairman in 2014, I remain committed to protecting and advancing our conservative Republican principles. That's why I'm honored to receive support from thousands of grassroots activists to leaders in our party like Gov. Rick Snyder, Congressman Justin Amash and statewide Tea Party leaders.
What are your qualifications for the job?
TC: Our family has been involved in the Republican Party both locally and statewide for years. I served as precinct delegate, candidate for state legislature and your nominee for Michigan Board of Education. My mother served as Secretary of the Lapeer Republican Party. I have strongly supported our local GOP and their Lincoln Day Dinners, made my office and equipment available, and I have never donated to a Democrat. My record is clear, unambiguous, every fiber committed to core founding principles.
As a candidate for State Board of Education and active in the Labor Freedom movement I had the opportunity to talk to thousands of Republican activists, listening to their concerns and connecting with their expectations. Traveling the state and visiting all but one of the Victory Centers I saw first-hand the great things that were happening but also the significant flaws in strategy, tactics and technology. I have used and have significant experience with social media, data gathering and micro-targeting, areas where MRP needs to make huge improvements.
As an accountant and attorney specializing in tax and financial matters I have devised and implemented a business strategy that allows a significant amount of work to get done by leveraging my professional time using trained and equipped para-professionals. This system might be adapted for greater effectiveness and efficiency within the business resources and responsibilities of the MRP. I have a vision and the experience to lead the MRP into tomorrow, and will work with all constituencies to build a lasting and most significant grass roots operation that will assure victory in 2014 and for years to come.
RS: Prior to entering politics I am proud to have served as president of Schostak Bros., a family company that manages and handles real estate properties across Michigan. The experience in the private sector has given me the ability to understand how to run a large organization such as the Michigan Republican Party, but most of all the understanding of why our party matters. I've worked in the private sector, side by side with business leaders who have felt the negative consequences of Democratic leadership and the need for common sense solutions offered by Republicans.
As finance chairman (2010-2011) and chairman (2011-present), I've developed a strong relationship with grassroots leaders across Michigan and most of all, I will hit the ground running on day-one. There is too much at stake in 2014 to start from scratch, and I am ready to institute the necessary reforms to improve our party and prepare for 2014.
What are your three top priorities for the next two years?
- We must re-brand the Party and articulate a clear vision and platform- We must package, articulate and sell our principles in terms and places that resonate with more voters, present and future. We cannot concede vast territories and constituencies. We can be "hip", "cool" and relevant.
- Promote Unity- and reach New and Lost Voting Blocs- Include all subgroups within the party around shared principles. Be consistent and stick to the rules. Deliver targeted messages to under-reached voters including females, minorities, youth, people of faith, veterans, gun owners, etc.
- Expand the Grassroots and project a winning strategic plan with requisite technological advancement. Develop a winning plan to turn our state "red" not just for the next election cycle, but for the future of our state. Empower, equip, support, and develop the grassroots of the Party. We will communicate with GOP officials and organizations to share information, and use technology to enable focused efforts. We must understand every household in the state and must resource local efforts to make this happen. We must build an efficient fundraising machine which includes bringing back the position of fundraising chair and developing a team to assist in fundraising. Fundraising should not be center around the Chairman or any one person.
RS: First of all, my top three priorities are not for the next two years, they are necessary, now. We will continue to operate defensively if our party continues to prepare for every election, one year at a time. This is why I've already began the process to invest and develop the technology necessary to win in 2014.
My top three priorities include:
- Strengthening the grassroots
- Building a state-of-the-art grassroots program from the precinct level, including up, and expanding our Precinct Delegate recruitment project first instituted in 2012
- Improve and provide more grassroots trainings on the precinct, county and grassroots level
- Empower and engage Republican and conservative clubs, ranging from Republican county parties, Tea Party groups and liberty groups
- Building the Michigan Republican Party within all 83 counties by reorganizing where the Michigan Republican Party political staff is located geographically
- Ensuring Michigan Republican Party vice chairs remain active and engaged throughout the off-year and election year
- Create a coalitional department that is fully staffed to go after the coalitions we need to attract voters and not concede voters from any potential coalition.
- Acquiring and developing the most advance voter database management system to ensure MRP can accurately identify, register and turnout Republican voters
- Development of a custom election day operations mobile phone application (already in process)
- Redesigning the MRP website to create a more interactive interface with users (currently under way)
- Constantly looking two years down the road to continually improve or replace existing technology investments
- Sharpening our Messaging
- Sharpening our message is not watering down our message
- Ensuring all Republican communicators (legislators, elected officials, activists) work off a consistent conservative message that strengthens the Republican brand
- Aggressively bracketing and attacking Democrats to ensure they remain on the defensive
The following are the three issues that come up most often. Please comment on how you would perform or improve upon them?
TC: The political operations and demands on the Chair under the massive strategy, tactic and technology changes that will be necessary to make the MRP continuously competitive, will be an enormous amount of work. The Chair can't do that and alone raise the money rebuilding will take. We must build an efficient fundraising machine which includes bringing back the position of fundraising chair and developing a team to assist in fundraising. Fundraising should not center on a Chairman or any one person. That is a tenuous and dangerous direction for the party to back into, as we have seen previously.
I will seek the assistance of those who have a proven track record in fund raising, including Ron Weiser and Bobby Schostak and the DeVos family and others. I trust they will not abandon the Party if the delegates select another Chair they have confidence in.
One major fund raiser opined that a grass roots chair has no chance of going in to a major donor and coming out with a seven figure check. My first response is shame on you if you let any chair go in alone to see donors you have connections with.
Donors may be disenchanted after investing tens of millions of dollars and seeing such mediocre results as we had in 2012. I believe major donors invest in winning programs and they will resonate with the clear and stimulating program we will implement.
- Having served as finance chair and chair, I have extensive relationships with our donor community and I will continue to cultivate those relationships into the 2014 cycle.
- I have always pledged to raise whatever is required to ensure we have the necessary resources to compete and win.
- I will continue to expand our low dollar program and expand our existing high dollar donor database.
Grass roots development
TC: We have an amazing number of fantastic Republican activists who worked their hearts out for the 2012 election. We also have thousands of tea party, liberty, Labor Freedom and other conservative activists who work largely independent of the Party structure. We must open the doors to them. Every dollar, hour and mile a volunteer gives is a trust that it must not be wasted. In 2012 the Party did not take advantage of tens of thousands of hours by having an untested technology program that failed to deliver for getting out the vote. The most elemental step of my grass roots development is to fully respect and revere volunteer efforts.
We need to partially decentralize the State Party to financially support local parties or activists in developing a massive grass roots program:
- If possible, we should invest the Equivalent of perhaps $50K to 250K per election cycle in each congressional district area, even those not traditionally Republican, in pursuit of identifying every voter. We cannot concede huge territories and constituencies. In 2012 we called our people several times, even after they voted, while not competing left of center. We need technology and strategy to prevent this in 2014.
- With a precise program and adequate controls to be sure the program is followed and being worked and reported
- Every precinct filled with trained and working delegates
- Then every "block" having a captain sharing the load and developing bonds
- Recruit and train poll challengers and staff every polling place; expand the secretary of state efforts by tracking obituaries, people moving in and out, reviewing voter rolls and verify that fraud does not exist. This program can also help identify non-voters who might be supportive of the Republican cause. In 2012 the Wayne and Genesee votes did not come in until late the day after the election. It could be whatever the Democrats want it to be, because we did not have sufficient challengers.
- Develop a solid and comprehensive next generation program on campuses across the state
- Endeavor to understand every household in Michigan. Democrats identify the one liberal in a family and communicate directly with them. We have so much ground to catch up.
- Win Cooperation to acquire extant information from Congressional, Legislative and other elected officials, local Republican Party organizations and persons, the GOP data base, tea parties and others to determine the voter preferences and key issues for as many households and persons as possible
- Concentrate on the 20% to 30% of households we do not know. Visit every one of these, in person, by phone and/or by social media and data base searches.
- Employ and/or expense youth, seniors and unemployed to get this huge amount or work done and recruit their loyalties to the Party
- Make a massive effort to recruit key advocates in female, youth, ethnic, urban and faith communities; and among single interest constituents. We must prudently invest resources where we can get the greatest return. We should follow the information we learned from the Freedom to Work movement that blacks, Hispanics and females in the unions find union leadership discriminatory. I want to explore that and believe we can develop a significant toe hold and build on it.
- Create a state-of-the-art grassroots program from the precinct level up to ensure strong local parties.
- Create a coalitional department that is fully staffed to go after the coalitions we need to attract and not concede voters from any potential coalition.
- MRP staff will be reorganized in order to ensure staff members are located throughout Michigan to provide regional ongoing support
- Expand training seminars on every level
- Engage every conservative group, whether it is a local Republican Party, Tea Party group or liberty caucus, to ensure local clubs and groups have access to resources to strengthen their organizations.
TC: Here is one of the tools the Democrats and far left have that leaves us in their dust: http://mashable.com/2012/07/25/facebook-van/ They had similar tools preceding the 2008 campaign: http://techpresident.com/blog-entry/how-campaigns-use-facebook-data-might-change-2012-election
We are so darn far behind and the GOP leadership, particularly in Michigan, has failed to grasp what is happening to us. We need to understand every single household. When I ran for state senate I found data bases that included many pieces of information on everyone - where you shop, get your oil changed, go to school and church, if you are a veteran, hunter, where you work, what charities and causes you support. Many willingly post even more on social media sites, including political beliefs and causes. While we may agree some of this information should be private, it is out there.
I was able to get as many signs in yards of people defined by GOP data as "Democrats" as Republicans, by knocking on doors of those with profiles that told me they might be receptive to my conservative message. I took 80% of the vote in my home county against two state representatives.
In my campaign for State Board of Education I employed a reasonable Michigan consultant to mine information and to post succinct and micro-targeted messages on social media sites. I even posted one on a Detroit School System site and got about 40,000 hits. This type of in-reach is something I understand and have done successfully, and I can lead the MRP into the future.
Governor Snyder was CEO of one of the premier computer companies. We have talked about his excitement to bring state government records into the future, to better service our residents. He told a recent Republican State Committee meeting that he is willing to help and "will work cheap". I intend to seek his advice and assistance and will vigorously seek technical help to mechanize our systems so they do not fail on Election Day, We will respect volunteer hours by not wasting them as we did last year.
- Improve and develop the most advanced voter database, to ensure tracking, identifying and turning out Republicans remains cutting edge by overlapping existing information sets, including social media profiles, micro targeting information, and no longer relying on the RNC or national campaigns for voter information
- Development of a custom made Election Day operation mobile phone application
- Improve the existing Michigan Republican Party news app
- Redesign and develop a new Michigan Republican Party website with a focus on creating a more interactive user format
What role, if any does the chairman play in holding elected officials accountable to the party platform?
TC: We may not always agree 100% on some specific legislative proposals but I believe the GOP must stand upon a set of core principles and values. I recall one instance in my home county where a Board of Commissioner with a 5-2 Republican majority elected a Democrat Chair. The one vote an elected official owes the Party is that for organization of a legislative body, state or local. Beyond that there are occasions where they have to vote with strong constituent preferences.
We should be able to expect those who run on the Party line to support the Party's principles and values. Holding those principles up is a responsibility of the Chair. Where there are differences, it should be taken to the official or candidate privately and respectfully. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
I believe in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou shall speak no evil of a fellow Republican." In primaries differences in policies, qualifications and performances are fair game; the Party should stay neutral and let the Republican electorate decide.
RS: This is an oft-asked question and many Republicans need not look back too far to remember a former party chair resigning over a policy dispute with former-Gov. Engler.
I'm elected by the grassroots and I'm elected to represent the party and our values and I have never and will never back down from representing the party. We are a stronger party when we remain rooted in our common sense conservative principles.
That doesn't mean I look to pick fights with our Republican elected officials who serve us, represent us, and have to put their name on the ballot. Instead, I look to bring the party together, work to ensure our party platform is upheld and smooth out wrinkles when members of our party have differences. Sadly, some Republicans like to take our internal fights to the press; I prefer to have our internal fights handled - internally - to ensure our Republican family remains strong.
That's why, as your chairman, I was not afraid to support freedom to work, to support the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and will never back down from defending the principles that define our party.
Should the MRP use the RNC platform as its own, or adopt something more state specific?
TC: The MRP must have principles and concerns additional to the RNC. I believe in the 10th Amendment and think the MRP must project a positive and exciting program for our state that may in some cases differ from national interests. The Issues Committee, County and State Conventions have an essential role in defining our principles in light of changing times.
RS: Should the Michigan Republican Party be tied to the RNC platform? No. We share near identical principles, we are a pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker and anti-tax party. As your chairman, the MRP will remain rooted in these common sense conservative principles; I will not allow our party to abandon them.
I respect and I will defend our party and our system of passing resolutions, policy changes and party reforms through the Michigan Republican State Committee, which will always remain independent of the Republican National Committee.
How would you change, if at all, the vice-chair positions vs. paid deputies or other staff positions? What process would you use to decide on how many funds would be budgeted for those vice-chair positions?
TC: Some of the Vice Chairs were not resourced in the past two years and were not included in some strategy, management or staff meetings. They are among the most disenchanted and strongest supporters of my campaign. We must first adopt a program and define objectives, resources and tasks needed. I fully expect the committees of the RSC to participate in this process and to give guidance. Republicans have concerns with "entitlements" and "golden parachutes" but will support fair compensation for proper functions well performed.
I envision the Co-Chair and Vice Chairs having the trust of the Delegates to perform specific programs in their elected areas of responsibility. I believe a reasonable stipend would be in order to resource the fundamental responsibilities and expenses of the Party officials including the national committee persons. They must be frugal and accountable with this trust.
We must adopt specific goals and tasks and set objectives that can be agreed to, implemented and monitored. If the Vice Chairs are willing and able to perform the necessary work at fair compensation they should be given the first opportunity.
RS: There are a number of changes I plan to employ if I'm honored to serve a second term. A number of these changes have come from the feedback I have received from the grassroots as well as learning from groups across the county about how to ensure our state party remains the most well-organized party in the nation.
First, I plan to reorganize the central staff and create regional teams to assist local parties, candidates, and groups throughout the state. The political department is being reorganized. I am committed to building a state-of-the-art grassroots program from the precinct level up that will ensure strong parties. I also will be creating a coalitional department that will be fully staffed to go after essential coalitions around that state.
Second, we tried the "paid deputy" approach. The deputies were independent but serve as consultants to the Michigan Republican Party. We are completely reorganizing the political department and will not be continuing the paid deputy program. Instead, we will be reorganizing to have the best political department in the nation to micro-organize on every level.
Third, I will continue to aggressively engage our vice chairs. Nearly all of our vice chairs remain engaged, working closely with me, the staff, and local parties/candidates. Some vice chairs worked more closely with my staff than others, but there is a seat at the table for all to elect Republicans. I am hopeful we can continue to build a strong grassroots army to elect conservatives.
I welcome and encourage the vice-chairs to create a plan and proposed budget to assist with their engagement with the grassroots and various coalitions. I encouraged this my first term, and I will again if given the opportunity to serve again. However, regardless of whether a vice chair creates a budget, I remain committed to assisting and working closely with our vice chairs as they help our party prepare for 2014.
Do you think improvements can be made on transparency regarding funds raised and expended?
TC: While I think some information would be useful to our opposition if publicly exposed, sufficient information must be available to assure donors and volunteers that the money raised is known and properly spent. If a Chair makes claims of fund raising prowess, or personally takes credit for work that may have been done by others, it begs the question that more transparency is in order.
RS: We are a political organization and as such, nearly all of our donations and expenditures are made public by law. We remain committed to following the letter of the law.
I remain heavily involved with ensuring the budget committee (made up of State Committee members, who sign confidentially contracts) is provided with the most accurate and transparent information. But, this information remains privy only to members of the budget committee in order to protect the strategic decisions that can be learned if all of the party's financial details were handed over to Democrats.
Any candidate for chairman who urges that we expose the inner workings of the party to Democrats is foolish and either doesn't understand campaign finance law (and what's already made public) and what is not made public and thus protects the interests of the party, it's members, donors and elected officials. The budget committee is made up of grassroots activists and they take their responsibility very seriously.
Todd: Some have expressed concerns about whether you can effectively raise money for the party. How would you respond?
TC: I responded to this extensively at question 4 a, and refer to that statement. I have persons with exhibited fund raising capability committed to our program, willing and able to provide the depth and breadth of a significant fund raising program. We need redundancy and cannot depend on one person to get this job done. The party has been there before. The goal is votes. Money is one of the vehicles essential to do that. Raising a ton of money and not spending it wisely misses the target and eventually dries up funds. We learned in the Labor Freedom movement that committed volunteers can and will do a vast amount of work for a sustained amount of time. What are 70,000 or 100,000 volunteer hours worth? The Labor Freedom effort also promises to de-fund Michigan unions of approximately $150 million a year, dwarfing the amount of money the GOP raised in the last election cycle. That was a highly successful grass roots activist led vision. I anticipate a similar effort for the MRP under new grass roots leadership.
We also learned that costs of grass roots operations pale compared to large media programs. If we understood where our needed votes are and got them to the polls, we theoretically would need none of this expensive media. Mass media buys typically happen during the latter part of an election cycle. I would like to do some earlier limited media buys, maybe less expensive cable and social media, to help re-brand the Party, but most of the media money will be needed in the last six months of the campaign. In the Labor Freedom program certain large donors and business associations raised and spent money independently, to defeat Proposal 2 and pass Freedom to Work. Much of the money invested in the Supreme Court races last year were funded the same way.
I believe that the highest priority must be our programs of re-branding, in-reach to lost and new voters, and the grass roots development. This must start the day after the Convention. These programs plus core Party functions should cost about one fourth of the money raised in the last election cycle. Then we have to bank money for media. If some of this has to be raised outside the confines of the state party, I remain confident it WILL be raised and the full burden is not and should not be upon one person, the Chair.
The Democrats raised millions on line in five dollar segments, drawing those donors into their vast grass roots operations. This small investment made them stake holders who went to work on their friends and overwhelmed the GOP. We need to do this as part of our re-branding. We cannot be put into a position where a hand full of big donors yank our chains and dictate our policies, candidates and Party officials. I also believe a re-branded MRP with a clear conservative vision will attract resources from several major national sources, particularly as we defend Labor Freedom and our elected officials who supported it. I am confident and faith we will have the resources we need.
I am frugal and will make every dollar and hour count. Many have lost confidence in current MRP leadership and might channel efforts elsewhere or go fishing, if we do not project a new image, vision and program.
Eighty-eight percent of Romney voters were white, 2% Black, 6% Latino, 2% Asian. Hispanics delivered a crushing 71-27% vote for Obama. In presidential elections there is more than 90% probability that Michigan will vote Democrat. One college student I know had six contacts by Democrats, none by Republicans. The Republican Party needs a paradigm shift. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. We failed in 2012.
We need new leadership to win. I am willing and able to lead. I pray you will join me in making this work.