Politics & Government

A kinder Republican Party: Could Tarrant County lead the way?

Incoming Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Tim O’Hare
Incoming Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Tim O’Hare Courtesy

One of the reddest counties in the country is about to get a makeover.

And Tim O’Hare has been elected to lead that effort.

After O’Hare is sworn in to lead the party on June 13, he will kick into high gear plans to soften the image of local Republicans — and still edge Democrats out of office.

Creating scholarships and mentoring programs, lining up rapid response teams to help victims of catastrophic events and having fun in general are at the top of his list.

“A lot of people believe Republicans are angry, unhappy people who don’t care about anyone other than themselves,” said O’Hare, a Southlake attorney and real estate investor. “We’ve got to make sure people know we care.

“We do. We care about all people,” he said. “And our values, our views, are going to help everyone rise.”

O’Hare, a former Farmers Branch mayor, bested GOP activist David Wylie this year in the race to replace outgoing Chairwoman Jennifer Hall, who didn’t seek re-election.

Hall said she plans to stay involved with the party, particularly with legislative issues such as property tax reform. Her last day as chairwoman is Friday.

O’Hare’s first day is June 13, when he will be sworn in during a brief ceremony by Tarrant County Judge David Cook. He will preside over his first executive committee meeting July 28.

Planning ahead

O’Hare’s key goal during this two-year volunteer term is obvious: “Elect Republicans.”

But he said there’s much that can be done to soften the image of local Republicans and help the community get to know them. Among his proposals:

Boosting outreach: O’Hare plans to create an outreach or engagement committee of Republicans who will work with elected officials, Republicans who vote but aren’t active, minorities, local youths and more to develop relationships and encourage activism.

Having fun: O’Hare plans to add a second large fundraiser, in addition to the annual Lincoln Day dinner. But this one would be a casual, family-friendly event where “people can bring their kids and it’s not just for political speeches and rallies. … We need to make it more fun to be a Republican.”

Improving communication: He said he wants to start issuing news releases regularly, to make sure people know where the Tarrant County Republican Party stands on issues, as well as boosting its social media presence. He also wants to set up a TCGOP booth at every local festival or event where it’s possible to let people get to know local Republicans.

Mentoring youths: O’Hare also wants to create a Republican mentoring program that doesn’t go into schools, but is available for youth to help, counsel, talk about life skills and do whatever is needed. He also wants to see Republican clubs formed at every high school and college campus in Tarrant County.

Creating a scholarship: He also plans to host a Republican Christmas party at his family’s home every year, charging a minimal fee such as $20, to help create and fund a Tarrant County Republican Party Scholarship Fund. “It’s a way to help and to build the brand and let everyone know we care,” O’Hare said.

Setting up a Tarrant County Republican Party Rapid Response Team: He said this team will be ready in the event of any catastrophic event, such as a fire or tornado, to send out a team of local Republicans to give victims gift cards, or food, or toys for their children. “We want to be there and say, ‘Hey, we are here to help.’ 

Targeting Democrats: At the same time, O’Hare said he wants the party to become more involved in local elections such as school boards and city councils throughout Tarrant County. “Anywhere there’s a Democrat running or in office, and we have the chance to replace them with a Republican, we want to do that,” he said. “If you vote in a Democratic primary, your job is not safe and we will be coming after you. We know today’s school board and city council members are tomorrow’s state representatives, senators and congress members.”

Political background

In the March Republican primary, O’Hare claimed nearly 67 percent of the vote to Wylie’s 33 percent, in the effort to replace Hall.

But state law dictates that he not take office until 20 days after the 2016 primary runoff date, which is June 12.

O’Hare is no stranger to politics.

He drew national attention nearly a decade ago as a Farmers Branch councilman, when he proposed measures to make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city, which is in Dallas County.

Among his proposals: fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, requiring English to be the city’s official language and penalizing businesses that hire people in the U.S. illegally.

The proposals prompted lawsuits and appeals, costing the city millions of dollars in legal fees before ultimately being ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

But O’Hare’s work also included passing the most restrictive sex offender law in Texas at the time, boosting property valuation rates, downsizing government, creating term limits for elected officials, reducing the crime rate, cutting taxes for senior citizens, renaming the Holiday Tour of Lights the Christmas Tour of Lights and more.

O’Hare served as a Farmers Branch councilman from 2005 to 2008 and as mayor from 2008 to 2011, before moving with his family to Tarrant County in 2014.

He and his wife said they wanted to raise their three daughters in a red county where they know families with young children.

Moving on

Hall was first elected chairwoman in 2011 by Republican precinct chairmen after Chairwoman Stephanie Klick resigned to run for the Texas House.

Precinct chairmen went through three rounds of voting to choose her from a field that included grassroots activist Adrian Murray and former District Judge Bob McGrath.

Hall announced last year that she wouldn’t seek another term in office. And while she does not plan to seek elected office, she will remain active with the Republican Party.

On her last day in office, fellow Republicans are holding a small “Come Say Bye to Jen Party” at the Tarrant County Republican headquarters, 7524 Mosier View Court, for well-wishers.

For now, she plans to spend “tons of time” with her 10-month-old granddaughter and focus on key legislative issues, such as property tax reform.

“I’ll definitely stay involved,” she said.

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley