Make no mistake, the target is 2018.
Both Republicans and Democrats say the political climate has become so intense that they must look ahead — now — to the mid-term elections two years away.
“We are at a crossroads in this country,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told a crowd of more than 600 gathered Saturday night at the Omni Hotel for the Tarrant County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner. “We are at a crossroads in Texas.
“We are going to have to battle in ’18.”
As Republicans rallied inside, raising money to fund the local Republican Party over the next year, hundreds of Democrats protested outside, carrying signs that stated: “Nobody paid me to be here,” “Do your job,” “Yes, we vote” and “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”
Many said they showed up hoping to draw the attention of their members of Congress — particularly U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, whose district includes Fort Worth — who aren’t holding in-person town hall meetings.
Granger said she wasn’t surprised about the protest or that many signs were directed at her.
“I’m glad to be here,” she said. As for town hall meetings, she said “nothing has been planned.”
One thing was clear Saturday night, though.
“The fight is on folks,” U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who heads the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told the local group. “And you’re part of the solution.”
Outside the fundraiser, police estimated there were about 300 protesters.
Those present gave a variety of reasons they showed up. Some want in-person town hall meetings with their members of Congress. Some said they are worried about democracy in general. And still more are calling for an investigation of President Donald Trump.
“I want the politicians in that building to see a bunch of people out here,” said Darrell Norris, a 69-year-old Arlington man who attended the protest carrying a sign that stated “I want my country back.”
Many said they want in-person town hall meetings so they can share their thoughts and concerns about the direction the country is headed with their elected officials.
“I think our democracy is being dismantled by our president and his administration,” said Carolyn Kitchens, a 75-year-old Hurst woman who carried a sign that read, “Where are our town halls?” “Dismantling our way of life is not acceptable.”
Katie Wetsel, a 60-year-old Houston woman, drove four hours across the state just to join in the local protest.
“The representatives are not having town halls. They aren’t listening to us,” she said. “”We just want to be heard.”
The protesters did catch the attention of those inside the high-dollar fundraiser.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted the crowd outside, calling them a “welcoming party,” and noting that some seemed to be trying to copy Tea Party efforts.
“The only difference with the Tea Party is we didn’t have to carry signs saying, ‘We’re here and we’re not being paid,’ ” he said. “We are too cheap.”
He said he was surprised that so many people “found nothing else to do” on a Saturday night.
Chaffetz, who told the crowd how happy he is that “Hillary Clinton is not president,” said he noticed the crowd when he arrived in Fort Worth.
“I thought these people are conservative,” he said. “They only use one finger.”
Patrick briefly updated local Republicans about ongoing state legislative issues. He noted that the Senate has already passed a sanctuary cities bill, because “we are going to make sure we follow the law in Texas.”
And he said the Senate will pass a so-called “bathroom bill” addressing which restrooms transgendered Texans may use.
“We are not going to let the NFL or NBA tell us that our kids have to shower together in high school,” he said.
But much attention during the evening was focused on actor Chuck Norris, who spoke to the crowd.
He noted that it was politics — first playing tennis with first lady Nancy Reagan at the White House and then campaigning with then President-elect George H.W. Bush — that put him on the path to achieving a life goal: helping youths focus on martial arts.
I want to use Texas as a beacon state.
Actor Chuck Norris, about his Kickstart Kids program
Norris, who portrayed a tough guy on TV for years, particularly on TV’s “Walker, Texas Ranger,” said it was Bush who encouraged him to move forward with his program, Kickstart Kids, that teaches martial arts to Texas youths, encouraging them to break ties with gangs and bad influences and focus on succeeding academically.
“I want to use Texas as a beacon state,” Norris said, adding that he wants to expand the program to middle schools throughout Texas. “This is my mission in life.
“We want to show what a program like Kickstart Kids can do.”