12/20/2012 - It’s been a revolving door at the state GOP when it comes to the position of chairman.
Fergus Cullen, who served as state GOP chairman from 2007 to 2009, said the lack of continuity in the party’s chairmanship has been a contributing factor to its problems in three of the last four state elections. There have been eight party chairmen in the last eight years. Beyond that, Cullen said there have been even more executive directors, which, unlike the chairmanship, is a paid position.
With former governor and former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu wanting the job, Cullen opted against seeking re-election in 2009. Sununu took the party’s helm, bringing stability, strong fundraising and widespread victories in 2010. But Sununu didn’t want to stick around longer than two years.
“He is a category unto himself,” Cullen said. “But if people think the reason the party was so successful in 2010 was because of the chairman, well, they’re just wrong about that. Governor Sununu is a category unto himself, but Republicans won big in 49 other states. ... I want to give him credit for maximizing the opportunity, but the party benefited from a really good year. If he had been chairman in 2012, we still would have gotten beat.”
With Sununu bowing out in 2011, stability and strong fundraising bowed out as well. Sununu’s preferred candidate, Juliana Bergeron, lost to tea party activist Jack Kimball in the race for chairman. But Kimball didn’t last. He was essentially forced to resign last fall after less than a year on the job, whereupon the party’s vice chairman, Wayne MacDonald, was called upon to serve. MacDonald’s tenure culminated with catastrophic defeats in the 2012 elections.
“I do think Republicans need to have realistic expectations about the power that a chairman has,” Cullen said. “People seem to think that the chair has some kind of magic wand. They don’t.”
This time around, Jennifer Horn seems to have widespread establishment support in the latest race for chairman, while activist Andrew Hemingway appears to be looking to tap into the same support Kimball enjoyed in his victory.
A marked contrast
In 2002, Cullen recalled that Democrats got blown out in elections. Democrats still re-elected Kathy Sullivan as chairwoman, and two years later, the party bounced back to beat an incumbent Republican governor. Similarly, in 2010 Democrats were blown out, but the party still re-elected Ray Buckley as chairman, and two years later, the party saw widespread victories in the 2012 election.
“Politics is ebb and flow, and you have good and bad cycles,” Cullen said. “Democrats are clearly more realistic about the macro factors that affect election cycles.”
Richard Girard, host of the radio show Girard At Large on WLMW in Manchester, called the position of party chairman thankless. He said Democrats understand the purpose of the party is to elect fellow Democrats.
“[Republicans] need to understand that the purpose of the party is to get members of the party elected,” Girard said. “It seems that people wanting to have it their way has gotten in the way of that purpose.”
“We have to stop making perfect the enemy of the good,” added Girard, who is a former aide to former Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek.
The state GOP is now looking for its fifth chairman in six years. That is in stark contrast to the state Democratic party, which has had two chairmen in the last decade. But the constant flux that is the GOP chairmanship hasn’t been a case of people not wanting the post. Cullen will be advocating for a by-law to pay the chairman.
“It opens up the field of potential candidates,” Cullen said.
“It’s very difficult for people who have to work for a living to also man the helm to build that infrastructure and create it as an effective entity,” Girard added
The party certainly can’t expect to compete year in and year out with volunteers or underpaid staff members, Girard said.
No cues from the top
Republicans haven’t held the governor’s office since 2004. In the past, the Republican governor would essentially decide who the chairman would be. Cullen said Sununu and former Gov. Steve Merrill picked their chairmen, and he guessed that if Democratic Gov. John Lynch had wanted someone other than Ray Buckley as chairman, somebody else would hold the post.
“Republicans don’t have a governor to tell them who to vote for,” Cullen said.
Girard said Republicans don’t necessarily need a governor, but a better infrastructure.
“For years, the state Republican committee was an organ of whatever the Republican governor who occupied the corner office,” Girard said. “It never really developed a stand-alone infrastructure.”