An Austin-based political action committee has sent out “RINO alerts” calling for Republican members to hold local party chair Lee Lester accountable by “demanding that he stops attacking his own party or you’ll vote him out” in response to the Harrison County GOP executive committee’s decision to censure State Rep. Chris Paddie.

The request has been sent in the form of political mailers by Project Red Tex. The treasurer of the PAC is listed as Cabell Hobbs; Shannon Oleary is listed as assistant treasurer.

The “RINO alerts” were not only sent in reference to Lester, but also with regard to Harrison County GOP Precinct Chair Brad Barnard. Both mailers accused the men of attempting to cause division within the party instead of focusing on disputes the party has had with Texas Democrats.

“Hold Lee Lester accountable. Your Harrison County GOP Chairman Lee Lester has not censured the Texas Democrats who fled to DC to kill Texas property tax cuts and stop election integrity legislation. But Lee Lester did vote to censure conservative Republican State Rep. Chris Paddie, who just passed: Constitutional Carry, the Heartbeat bill, election integrity legislation, $1.8 billion in border security to finish the wall,” the mailer states.

The mailer says the exact same sentiments for precinct chair, Barnard. Referring to Lester and Barnard as RINOs (Republican in name only), the PAC goes on to say that if the two were real Republicans, “they would not attack their own party and hold the runaway Democrats accountable.”

“Only Rinos attack Republicans,” the mailer stated, urging fellow Republicans to unite and hold Democrats accountable, as well as the named county GOP executive members.

The Harrison County GOP executive committee voted 9-1 on Aug. 2 to censure Paddie (R-Marshall). Lester explained at the time the vote was spurred by Paddie’s seemingly lack of support to the party’s platform and failure to respond to the local group’s invitations to attend their meetings to address their grievances.

The censure cited approximately 18 grievances against Paddie, one of which accused the Republican state representative of ignoring the near collapse of the state’s power grid system during February’s deadly winter blackout, by allowing two pieces of legislation concerning electric grid reform, to die in the State Affairs Committee that he chairs without a committee hearing. The censure urged other counties in House District 9 to censure Paddie. Marion County’s executive committee followed suit with a censure of their own.

Party chair response

In response to the PAC’s Rino alert, Lester said he’s not trying to cause division by censuring Paddie (R-Marshall). He says the censure was voted as an action to hold the state representative accountable.

“I’m not trying to divide anything. It’s just like (former President) Donald Trump, he showed who were not doing what they’re supposed to do and that’s what I’ve done,” Lester told the News Messenger when asked for comment Friday.

“We have exposed the people that are not supportive of the conservative principles of what Harrison County stands for,” said Lester. “They cannot attack the facts of what they did, so they can only attack me.”

Lester said the PAC calls itself Project Red Texas, but he believes it’s the same group that’s affiliated with Paddie, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and former speaker Joe Strauss.

“They just accuse you of doing what they’re doing,” said Lester. “If a parent tells their child what to do and they don’t hold the child accountable, then they’re not a good parent. That’s what we as a party are trying to do.

“We as the voters of Harrison County told them what our priorities were for them to pass. All we were doing is holding him accountable of what conservative voters asked him to do.”

Lester, who received an alert himself, said the mailer didn’t mention a single bill authored by Paddie.

“They did pass those in the Legislature, but Chris Paddie didn’t have anything to do with it,” said local party chair said.

He said the Heartbeat Bill, for instance, was authored by local State Sen. Bryan Hughes.

“We didn’t censure Bryan Hughes,” said Lester. “He went down and did what he was supposed to do.”

With regard to the mailer accusing him of not holding Democrats accountable, Lester said the Democrats do not represent conservatives.

“None of them represent us,” said Lester. “There’s not a single Democrat in Austin who is representing Harrison County.

“That is not our job to censure people who do not represent us,” he said.

When asked if he planned to step down since the mailer threatens to vote him out, Lester said he isn’t going anywhere.

“Why in the world would I step down when I’m doing the job that the county conservatives asked me to do?” he said.

Instead of viewing it as disparaging, Lester considers the mailer helpful.

“Since a lot of the people in Harrison County did not know who I am, it’s nice now that they sent my picture and my name to all of them so they can see who I am and they can search me out on Facebook and see my post, and they can tell if I’m a liberal or a conservative,” he said. “I think the people that have called me out are way more liberal.”

Rep. Paddie said while he’s not familiar with the PAC, it speaks volumes that the Austin-based group has taken interest in the seemingly division here locally.

“I was not familiar with this group before these mailings, but it is very telling that folks outside of East Texas are taking note of the damage that Lee Lester and his little group of hangers-on are doing to the Republican Party,” Paddie responded when asked by the News Messenger for comment.

“Maybe this will serve as a wakeup call for Lester and he will actually try to help Republicans instead of working to tear our party apart,” said Paddie.

Paddie’s plea

Paddie took a moment last Monday during the Harrison County Republican Women’s annual Columbus Day dinner scholarship fundraiser to address the intra-party fighting. Within the past few months, he’s been both lauded and ridiculed by his actions to address electric grid reform issue, following the winter storm.

Late last month, on Sept. 30, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement on the Public Utility Commission’s vote to finance $2.1 billion for retail electric companies, expressing his dismay that the settlement agreement the PUC endorsed does not provide transparency to distinguish between companies that made money and those who lost during the storm. Patrick said the PUC violated the spirit of House Bill 4492 and undermined the public trust. Patrick accused Paddie as the author of House Bill 4492 of being “disingenuous throughout the legislative process and after.”

Although Paddie declined to comment on Patrick’s statements, others have come to the state representative’s defense, including Dade Phelan on the matter.

Following Patrick’s statements, Phelan wrote on his Twitter page how honored he is to work with smart decision makers in energy and electricity policy like Paddie and Sen. Kelly Hancock.

“I am grateful for Chairman Paddie’s steady leadership, his character, and his integrity, all of which were integral to the passage of landmark legislation in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” Phelan wrote.

Gov. Greg Abbott echoed his sentiments, also singing Paddie’s praises as he spoke as the keynote speaker last Monday at the Harrison County Republican Women’s event.

“(Rep. Paddie) has been an incredible public servant, and knowing the amount of time and attention and detail that he went into, to ensure that the Texas power grid would never fail again, thank you Chris Paddie for everything that you do,” Abbott said, to a rousing applause.

During the Columbus Day dinner, Paddie, who is not running for re-election, said it’s been the honor of his life to serve East Texas for five terms.

Paddie said when elected into office, he went for a specific purpose, which was to be a good, strong and effective representative for East Texas.

“I’m very proud and have zero regrets over these 10 years of the way I’ve approached stuff, and I think in most places I did pretty OK,” he said. “So I’m excited about what we’ve done, but I’m also excited that it’s time to turn the page, it’s time to move on, someone else’s turn to step up.”

Getting choked up, Paddie thanked all of the local elected officials who have supported him, including former sheriff Tom McCool, who he became acquainted with nearly two decades ago as a weekly speaker on KMHT radio where Paddie serves as general manager.

“I can start with Sheriff McCool and I can go through all sorts of folks in here who have been wonderful supporters of mine over the years, at times where maybe other folks weren’t very happy with me for whatever reason, usually because some third party group didn’t like the way I scored on their card or whatever it was,” said Paddie. “These elected officials in this county were always behind me and I will never forget that.

“Thank you,” he said to applause.

Paddie thanked the local Republican women group for being a positive influence in their efforts to try to grow the party.

“I appreciate those efforts, for you to keep that positive influence out there,” he said.

Acknowledging those with grievances, Paddie noted that while this has been deemed the most successful and most conservative session in the state’s recent history, some still aren’t satisfied with things.

“We’re pro-life. The Heartbeat Bill passed this time; it’s a model for the country now. Election integrity (passed) and an unprecedented $1.8 billion for border security. Once again, as always, a conservative budget, we have to have a balanced budget in this state,” Paddie pointed out.

“We maintain our commitments to our public education system and the unprecedented efforts that we had in the previous session, continue to take care of our retired teachers who we owe so much to, etcetera. And there are those that say we didn’t do anything,” he said.

Closing his message, Paddie said he wanted to encourage the party to focus on unity.

“It’s about unity in our party and about growing our party,” said Paddie. “And that is all of your homework, is to find a way to do your part to help with that, because we have to do it. This is not a time to be divisive and listen to folks who, frankly, are in the very lucrative business of division, who want us fighting. Now is the time for us to come together, and expand the party and focus on those shared values that we have. That’s what we’ve got to do folks.”

Paddie said he and other elected officials were not elected by the party, but by the people.

“That is who I and they are accountable to, and don’t let anyone take that from you,” he urged

“Now we’re not going to always agree, but our Republican friends are not our enemies, and we need to stop that,” he said to a quiet, attentive audience.

Paddie wished all well in getting others involved.

“People don’t want to be a part of negativity,” he said. “They want to be a part of something positive. And we got a ton of it. We just gotta talk more about it. There’s no coincidence that thousands of people a day are moving to this state. There are reasons for that, very good reasons. And if we don’t get our act together, we’re going to jeopardize some of that.”

“For us here, locally, in our own parties, that is our job, to go tell our story to expand and grow our party — not to fight,” he added. “That’s not what we need to do.”

He said if they don’t stop the intra-fighting they will lose the younger generation.

“You may not know this but young people have a little bit different view of the law,” he said. “We talk about the time in education about our kids being the future. Of course we’re talking about those that are going on to do the jobs, and that is great, but they are also the future in politics, folks. And we’re not investing in those people, in our kids.

“And you probably ask the question, why are they listening to the Beto and some of those guys? Well they listen because that’s the only people that are talking to them and they’re listening to them. We’ve gotta do a better job of that. There are other groups as well, that we just basically kind of (concede) them to the Democrats. I’m thankful because of leadership of Gov. Abbott and others, there are a lot of efforts out there to cultivate those relationships and to try to build our party.”

“We’ve got to be more inviting and less demanding. Right now it’s this is what we believe and you need to believe that or you’re out,” said Paddie. “We gotta listen, make sure we know what people care about and work with them. We’re talking about those shared values — faith, family, pro-life, hard working families, entrepreneurs, people want the same things you and I do and in schools for their kids, for them to go on and have opportunities.”

Paddie said although he’s not running for re-election, he’ll still be actively involved in the party when his term ends.

“I’ll be around, don’t you worry,” he said. “I will be using whatever level of influence that I have to make sure that you guys are doing some of those things that I’m talking about.”

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