Democrat Kathy Richerson came across as principled, rural and folksy at the Herald’s forum for House District 54 candidates — a real Texan.
But she was less-than-specific in many of her responses to the moderators’ questions about state and local issues during the 90-minute forum Monday night.
A few hours later, the Bell County Democratic Party issued a news release stating that it was distancing itself from Richerson, saying the party “cannot endorse and will not support” the candidate for the state House seat.
Apparently, Richerson’s performance just wasn’t good enough for the party’s local leadership.
Party chairs Chris and Bill Rosenberg’s release contained a litany of party positions on a variety of issues — and suggested that Richerson failed to represent them adequately.
Even though the party chairs later backed off some of their tough rhetoric in the initial news release, they stood by their contention that Richerson was poorly educated on the issues and ill-prepared to run for public office.
That may be true to some degree, but this is January. The general election is in November. Is Richerson such a lost cause that she couldn’t be coached and brought up to speed in 11 months? Or is something bigger at play here?
Is it possible that Richerson, a 70-year-old retired Realtor and landowner, just doesn’t fit the image the party is trying to project to voters?
Richerson told the Herald that when she asked party leaders for coaching on public speaking, she was told the party was looking for more of a community activist.
Well, what they’ve got is Richerson, and unless something changes between now and November, she’s going to be the one on the ballot with the “D” by her name.
It’s worth asking whether this is an issue of qualifications, or an issue of personality.
Apparently, it’s a bit of both.
On Dec. 11 — the last day of the filing period — Chris Rosenberg asked Richerson to come to her office and talk about the responsibilities of running for office before the would-be candidate filed her paperwork. Richerson declined, saying they could talk after she filed in Austin.
When she finally met with the Rosenbergs, the party chairs found her to be lacking in many of the basic administrative responsibilities for a state campaign.
Still, nothing was said publicly — until Richerson’s forum performance caused them to pull the plug on their support.
The fact is, the Bell County Democratic Party can’t have it both ways.
If Richerson hadn’t filed for office on the last day, the party would have had no representative on the ballot in November — and maybe that’s what they’d prefer at this point.
But the party leadership in Bell and Lampasas counties has had more than a year to recruit a higher-profile, more skilled candidate to run for the House District 54 seat, yet they failed to produce anyone.
No matter what the leaders say about their intense recruiting efforts, that’s on them.
True, you can’t make people run for office, but an energized party organization should be able to impress on its members the need to field a strong candidate for such an important office.
And the District 54 race is anything but a foregone conclusion.
Though Rep. Scott Cosper enters the 2018 race as an incumbent, he is facing a challenge from two Republicans in the March 5 primary.
In the 2016 race, Democrat Sandra Blankenship — a political newcomer — polled well, drawing 46 percent of the ballots cast and losing Bell County by fewer than 300 votes.
That encouraging result should have been enough to produce a competitive candidate this time around.
Bill Rosenberg made it clear that he didn’t take issue with Richerson’s desire to run, just that she has no concept of what it takes to run a state-level campaign.
But for now, at least, the Democrats have Richerson. And to hear her tell it, she isn’t going anywhere.
For its part, the Lampasas County Democratic Party said Friday it has invited Richerson to take part in their monthly meetings, and is holding out the possibility of campaign funds after the primary election.
It will be interesting to see how the campaign unfolds.
As a rural Bel County resident, Richerson should be a good fit for many voters in Lampasas County, which is largely rural. And if Richerson takes time to become familiar with the issues and work on a coherent campaign strategy, she could be a viable alternative to the Republican candidate in the fall.
But whatever happens, it’s unlikely she’ll compromise her principles in the process — and that should count for something.
Obviously, the Bell County Democratic Party has work to do. Out of 12 county races this fall, Democrats are on the ballot in only two of them. That has to change, and no doubt the Rosenbergs are working hard to make that happen.
A strong, multi-party system is essential for a free exchange of ideas and a constructive dialogue on issues of importance to the county and state.
For that reason alone, it is important that the Democratic Party return to its former prominence in Bell County and compete head-on for offices up and down the ballot.
Redistricting of District 54 to more accurately reflect the strength of the Democratic-leaning precincts in the county can go a along way to restoring the balance.
But before they can put someone in office, Democrats, independents and more moderate Republicans must first have someone to vote for.
With that in mind, publicly chastising a candidate who fails to live up to party leaders’ expectations is hardly the right message to send to others who might consider throwing their hat in the ring.
Even if she isn’t the best candidate the Democrats could field, Richerson still deserves respect for putting her name out there for voters to consider.
Sadly, she wasn’t shown that respect by her party’s leaders last week.