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Another Perspective - Bullish on the state’s GOP

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Election Day was a tough one for Republicans. It was tough for our candidates, our volunteers and Gov. Martinez. Despite an investment of nearly $3 million by the governor and her related political action committees, a well-funded U.S. Senate race and an active GOP Victory operation, let’s not fool ourselves; the Republican Party frankly got wiped out.

Although Republicans had a net gain of three seats in the state Senate, we experienced a net loss of at least two in the House of Representatives, thus dashing our hopes of taking control of this chamber.  

In addition, most of the governor’s judicial appointees won’t be returning to the bench in January.  

Finally, our electoral votes again went for President Obama and three of our four candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress lost.

It’s an unfortunate outcome — particularly on the state level — because New Mexicans overwhelmingly agree with Gov. Martinez’s agenda. They agree that our state government should live within its means; that we should reform our tax code to diversify and grow our economy; that elementary children should be proficient in reading at their grade level; and that people here in the U.S. illegally should not have driver’s licenses.

As with any party that loses in an election, we must do some soul searching and correct our mistakes if we are to advance our party’s agenda. To help re-elect the governor, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran, and to elect more Republicans to Congress, the state legislature and other statewide offices in 2014, we must get this right.

As a longtime conservative and Republican activist, I believe our party must return to the lead role in grassroots, candidate recruitment, messaging and fundraising. For too long, the party has adopted a top-down approach when it comes to communicating our message and values to voters. Multi-million-dollar TV campaigns and mailers go a long way, but they don’t take the place of direct personal engagement in our communities and having frank but civil conversations with people about how we can alleviate our national, state and local problems.

I envision a state Republican Party that encourages county organizations to develop innovative outreach efforts that work best for their communities and a party that does not wait until an election to get involved with business groups, churches, charities and neighborhood organizations where people who agree with us on the issues exist. In other words, we shouldn’t be building coalitions only to abandon them right after the election and then seek to rebuild them in the next election cycle.

When we invest in building a viable grassroots organization, we not only begin to build the party from the bottom up, but we also discover new leaders for the future. Many of our best candidates have surfaced this way and if we truly want to change the face of the party to reflect the diverse makeup of our state, we must take this seriously rather than allowing this critical activity to be run by outside consultants.

To give our county parties the resources they need to succeed, I believe our state party must become the central resource for training in grassroots, communications, messaging and campaign tactics.

This is particularly important for rural parts of our state where qualified resources are almost nonexistent.

It takes money to do these things, which is why I believe the state party needs a comprehensive fundraising strategy — one that ensures a strong primary role where the state party can aggressively engage in the re-election of our governor and all of our candidates.

This will require the party to remain relevant and strong when it comes to delivering our message rather than relying on PACs and consultants.

While Republicans are disappointed with the Nov. 6 outcome, there’s much to be thankful for.  With a popular governor and lieutenant governor at the helm, we remain in a good position to present our agenda of freedom and prosperity to New Mexicans.  

To succeed, however, we must seize the opportunity before us to improve our party’s cohesiveness, our outreach and our ability to connect with voters or risk the consequences.

John Billingsley is first vice chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico. He may be reached at john.pb45@gmail.com.