This weekend, I had the chance to sit down and speak at length with RPV Chairman Pat Mullins. For a good hour, Mullins went back and forth about his thoughts for building back the Republican Party in Virginia, as well as how conservative principles should inform and lead the party.
One thing that continually impressed me was Mullins’ attention to personalities. As a communicator, you couldn’t ask for a more personal touch.
Moreover, Mullins went into great detail as to why Virginia Republicans have performed so poorly in recent elections, and how we can regain our majority in the Senate, build on our majority in the House, and take back the Governor’s Mansion in 2009. My questions are in bold, all answers are paraphrased as fast as I could type the answers.
Q: How’s the campaign going so far?
Feeling pretty good about it! We have 36 unit chairs lined up so far, just sent out a letter with McDonnell’s endorsement, and received a real good endorsement from Don Huffman, former chairman of the party. But we’re treating it as a toss up, and feel real good about it right now.
Q: You mentioned outside that you have travelled to 11 unit committees in the last two weeks?
…and four next week! And we’ve been in every congressional district so far, and I’ve been very impressed with the enthusiasm everywhere I’ve gone.
Q: I was just going to ask that. What exactly is the mood you’re discovering as you’re travelling?
It’s been very upbeat, though there’s been some rumbling about some of the infighting. But we have six great candidates for statewide office. We’re looking forward to taking back the Governor’s Mansion, and holding on to all of our House of Delegates seats this year and picking a few seats up. Barbara Comstock was here today, which is a seat we intend to pick up.
Membership is up, and it’s probably the best since Allen ran for governor. Culpeper had 300-400 members, there were 150 in Virginia Beach, 60 in Alexandria, and a full house down in Roanoke. The energy is out there.
Q: Obviously you’ve as unit chairman, both in Fairfax and Louisa. I’ve served as one as well in Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg, so we both understand the challenges unit chairmen and activists face.
I’ve travelled the country and done a lot on explaining how small groups nationally can do the same or better than large units, and we’ve applied this principle in Fairfax and Louisa – and it works. Even with a small group, you can still do a great deal and raise a lot of money for candidates, and we can train our unit committees how to do this.
Sandy Liddy Borune has been a great help and will be active in helping with this training. And RPV Staff has been assembling information now and we will be taking these training events directly to the grassroots rather than bringing everyone to Richmond.
Q: And what will those training events basically cover?
We’ll do things like raising money, returning members to the unit committee, how you do door-to-door, man precincts, and how you work with your candidates, find them and recruit them to run, and help them win – basic type things that a unit chairman should do.
A lot of the time, unit chairmen come in and basically they are on their own. So we want to be able to assist them with ideas. For instance, I did an event in Louisa with the Spotsylvania GOP and we raised about $2100 for it. I told Bryce Reeves in Spotsylvania that if I held an event like that in Fairfax, about two people with $2000 a piece would have cut me checks just not to do it! But for a small unit, that’s a big deal, and we can train people on how to do that.
Q: So it sounds like we’re going to be teaching our unit committees how to be entrepreneurs to some degree?
There’s a lot of that into it. If you have money, you can do things like sample ballots, stickers, newspaper advertisements – if you don’t have money, then it leaves the campaigns in the position where they have to do it. It makes more sense for unit committees to be able to coordinate some of the basic material needs.
It remains important to emphasize that our constitutional offices and supervisors are the backbone of our future leadership. If you hold the courthouse, you hold the levers of power. The great news is that our Victory staff will be helping at virtually every level, so we’ll have the staff to make sure that even a Sherriff’s candidate will feel the effects of the party’s efforts come November.
Q: Unit committee chairman have heard some of this before though, and as you know through experience, RPV tends to impose benchmarks or expectations without much in the way of help. What will RPV be doing to help other than train?
Training will be the basic part of it, but we also need to be immediately responsive to the smaller committees if they have a need. I’ll be holding an informal meeting with the unit committees on Friday. There has to be an environment of trust where they feel they can call RPV and have us help them. Lines of communication have to be open, to talk to us and even challenge us from time to time to let us know what is working and what is not.
Training is important, but open communication where people aren’t pointing fingers, but rather trying new things and asking open and tough questions.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about RPV’s openness to new media. What are your thoughts?
I’ve never been on State Central, so I’ve never been well versed on how RPV has approached new media in the past. So as I approached State Central members, one of the first few folks I spoke to was Cortland Putbrese (Richmond GOP Chairman) who served as Chairman of the New Media Committee on RPV.
It’s probably the most important committee at RPV right now. I asked would Cortland continue to chair the committee, and he said he would. I asked him to get the best folks he could to serve on that committee, and I also asked point blank “Do you need money?” For the moment I was told no, but if resources are required the resources will be there.
At the convention next week, we have a Bloggers Row strictly for new media. We’re going to do some fundraising via new media at RPV, we’ll have streaming video for those who can’t attend the convention. We are making our first steps towards getting ourselves more involved in new media and comfortable with the technology. We are going to bring someone in from RNC to help educate State Central about the potential of new media.
Our next Communciations Director must be knowledgeable about new media and be extremely comfortable with the bloggers. Once we get it in place at the party, that’s something we need to export to our district and unit committees. I suggested to RPV New Media that they set up a room with about twenty or so computers and let local unit chairs come in and spend an hour or two learning how to blog, use FaceBook, use Twitter, etc. And if it’s not being done this year, we’re going to make sure it’s done the following year.
I use FaceBook and Twitter, and recognize even at my age the importance of this. Funny thing was I went to the ACC baseball tournament with my son, and I was sitting at the game and text messaging someone. The folks behind me kidded that their teenage daughter did the same and wondered if my son’s “teenage father” was doing the same! But I realize the importance of new media, and we will be engaging it.
Q: So will RPV be hiring a New Media Director?
We’re looking at hiring a Communications Director well versed in new media. We had a 45 minute meeting with Morton Blackwell, Kathy Haden-Terry and Allison Coccia where Chairman Steele told us we would be getting 28 people through RNC Victory Staff and they are starting to put resources towards RPV to the tune of 2.5 million dollars.
But that’s a first start, and my first thought was to ask Steele if we could get one or two New Media people on staff. Even if we bring in that kind of staff, our Communications Director will have to be highly versed in new media, especially as the Democrats seem to be pouring so many resources towards it.
Q: There’s been talk about “coalitions” with the Republican Party nationally, whether it’s dumping social conservatives, embracing libertarians, etc. What kind of coalitions would you seek to build as RPV Chairman?
I am both a social conservative and a fiscal conservative. I am pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, for free enterprise, free markets – I have never deviated at all from these. We won elections in Fairfax County by running on our core values and reaching out to fiscal conservatives and moderates.
The fiscal conservative worried about feeding their family and paying their mortgage are going to basically embrace a pro-life social conservative agenda. When we stick to our values, and give our voters a clear choice, we win elections. And based on Fairfax – and if it can happen there it can happen anywhere in Virginia – if we run on our values and we give the voters a clear choice, we will start winning elections in Virginia.
I think last year was an aberration, and Virginia is basically a red state. But we just haven’t had a clear message and we’ve waffled on our values, and that’s been very difficult to sell to the voters.
Q: So would you say that Republican losses over the last three years have been due to a message deviated from our core values?
I think last year would have been extremely difficult regardless because of Obama being on the ticket; his outreach and his use of new media as an advantage. Obama’s personal charisma – not message – carried the election.
2007 is more difficult to analyze, but I think what happened was that we were still feeling the effects of 2006, where George Allen lost his race because of one word the national media kept throwing out over and over again.
What the media understood was that George Allen was going to be our presidential nominee, and if so he would have been President of the United States and would certainly have done better than John McCain. 2006 was a referendum on Allen, not an election of Jim Webb, and 2007 resonated some of that.
In 2005 we had Republicans in leadership roles such as Chichester and Potts who teamed up with Governor Mark Warner. During that period of time during the 2004 tax hike, we lost the message and we lost the voters. And if we’re the majority party and we’re not standing by our principles, then why should the voters keep returning us?
The same thing happened at the national level, to be honest. But this year, with the people we have running ,we are going to be on message this year. Hopefully we’ve learned the lesson that if we stand by our message, we’ll win voters.
Part of doing this is holding the Democrats accountable. I am going to bring Tim Kaine to task at every opportunity possible, and if there are issues we need to challenge them on, we are going to challenge them publicly. Certainly McAuliffe’s position on union workers in Florida aren’t what we need in Virginia. With Kaine, he needs to give up one of his full time jobs – either focus on the economy in Virginia or be the chief partisan in Washington. It’s interesting to note that Kaine has refused to take a position on moving prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Virginia, where if he were focused on his job as Virginian Governor, he would have joined a series of state governors who have rejected bringing those prisoners to American soil. But he can’t, because he’s too wrapped up in what’s going on in Washington and in the White House.
Q: So how would Chairman Mullins have reacted to the 2004 tax hike?
I would have been absolutely opposed to it. There are times when the Party have to take a stand against our elected officials if our elected officials are wandering off the reservation, particularly if they are lining up with Democratic leaders.
Now I would have privately sat down with Chichester as I did in the 1990’s with State Senators who supported a tax hike then, and boy you talk about me getting beat up then! I’ve talked to Tom Davis while he was a supervsior in Fairfax about his proposal to impose a meals tax, and when he refused to reconsider, we took things to the local committee. So we took a vote at the Fairfax GOP and 95% of the committee opposed the meals tax – in direct opposition to our elected officials.
Eventually we defeated the meals tax. You have to take a chance with folks like Chichester and sit them down and say for the good of the party, you can’t support the Warner tax hike.
If they continue to support tax increases, there are consequences, and in some remote and rare cases, sometimes it’s better to withhold the nomination. It’s a rare option, but it’s got to be on the table, because it’s harmful to the party to have Republicans voting with Mark Warner.
Q: If you are elected chairman, what are your first actions with a new term?
The first act? A flyaround! But second is really going to be sitting down with staff and looking at the organization – where our strengths are, our weaknesses are, and what exactly is going on in the office and what is actually going on in the office. We need a Communications Director, we need to focus on political staff, work in new media.
Once that is done, we need to start meeting our district committees, especially in the 9th District. Allison and I will be going out for three days and meeting with some of the folks out there.
But most of all, fundraising will remain a strong emphasis. It’s not going to all be prioritized as a 1-2-3, but it’s all got to happen at the same time – and quickly.
Thank you Chairman Mullins for the time! Any clarifications I could offer, please feel free to comment below.