Wanted: A new leader for the Tarrant County Republican Party.
Tarrant County GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Hall is not seeking re-election to the post next year, potentially setting up a battle to determine who will lead one of the state’s reddest counties.
“Since the GOP is dominant in Tarrant County, the position might be quite coveted, and it is important as the Republicans try to position themselves for continued success in the years ahead,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “With urban areas across the nation becoming increasingly Democratic, the challenges for keeping Tarrant in the Republican camp are real.”
Already one person has jumped into the race, former Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare, who, with his family, moved to Tarrant County last year.
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O’Hare drew national attention nearly a decade ago when he, as a Farmers Branch councilman, proposed measures to make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city, which is in Dallas County.
Hall, who plans to make a formal announcement about her political decision next month, said she has heard some names batted around, but O’Hare is the only firm candidate she knows of for the job now.
“It’s early,” she said, adding that she won’t weigh in on the race yet but hopes the Tarrant County Republican Party ends up with a good leader. “I would like to see them continue to grow the party.”
Political observers say the race for this post could be key for the whole state.
“In a way, as Tarrant County goes, so goes Texas,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate political science professor at the University of Houston. “If Republicans can hold in urban areas and dominate in suburban ones, the state GOP will maintain a stronghold statewide.
“Tarrant County is a bellwether county for Republicans who are hoping to gain and keep control of large and small urban areas and grow in suburban ones. The GOP county chair is central to making this happen.”
O’Hare, who served as a Farmers Branch city councilman from 2005 to 2008 and as mayor from 2008 to 2011, moved with his family to Southlake last year.
He said he and his wife wanted to raise their three daughters in a red county where they knew a lot of families with young children.
After settling in, O’Hare said he continued to get questions from fellow Republicans about whether he would run for office. When he heard that Hall wasn’t seeking re-election, he said he realized this might be the perfect place for him to serve.
“I think I can bring some energy to the party,” said O’Hare, a 45-year-old attorney and real estate investor.
He has big goals already, with about nine months to go before the March 1 primary.
If elected, O’Hare said he wants to broaden the party base, reaching out to African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American voters — and not just right before elections.
“We have to make outreach consistent and incessant,” he said. “I think we can grow the party, keep Tarrant County red and turn it even redder.”
He also wants to build a database to help turn out GOP voters in smaller elections. And he wants to grow the influence Tarrant County has on both statewide and nationwide levels.
He has already picked up endorsements from Tarrant County officials, ranging from former GOP chairwomen Cathie Adams and Stephanie Klick to U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, and Southlake Mayor Laura Hill.
O’Hare drew national attention for proposals such as fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, requiring English to be the city’s official language and penalizing businesses that hire people in this country illegally.
The proposals prompted lawsuits and appeals that cost millions of dollars and stretched over years. They ultimately were ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider an appeal of that ruling.
Hall first was elected to the post in 2011 by Republican precinct chairmen after then-Chairwoman Stephanie Klick resigned to run for the Texas House. Precinct chairmen went through three rounds of voting to choose Hall from a field that included grassroots activist Adrian Murray and former District Judge Bob McGrath.
Hall said she will serve out her term of office, which ends 20 days after the 2016 primary runoff date.
After that, she hopes to focus on gardening and her first grandchild, now on the way.
She does not plan to seek elected office, but she will remain involved with the Republican Party.
“There’s always room to be involved,” she said.
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610