Smith County GOP passes resolution censuring Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

Smith County Republican Party Chairman Brent Thompson thanks supporters during an election night watch party in 2016 at Staybridge Suites in Tyler.

The chairman of the Smith County Republican Party says he’ll serve the remainder of his term, despite recent efforts to remove him from office.

Brent Thompson, who unseated an incumbent in 2016 to win a four-year term, said Friday he has not abandoned his office and will finish his term.

Thompson said a group of leaders in the Republican Party of Texas held an emergency meeting Thursday night to discuss his future, after state Chairman James Dickey had declared Thompson had abandoned his office.

Dickey had said in a letter to some leaders within the county party that Thompson had abandoned his office because he had not picked up a certified letter sent to him in April asking if he had abandoned his post.

Sue Evenwell, who represents Smith County and the surrounding area on the State Republican Executive Committee, was one of the members of the group who met Thursday night.

“We received a letter from Brent dated yesterday,” Evenwell said Friday. “He said he’d never received the certified mail from us that we sent out. We will send him another letter asking him if in fact he’s abandoned the office of chair.”

Elisabeth Ayub, the spokeswoman for the county party, said the letter had never been accepted or had delivery attempted to Thompson, that the letter had not been returned to sender, and that the U.S. Post Office verified that it had no idea where the letter went.

When Thompson receives the letter, he plans to respond by letter, phone call or email saying that he will stay in his position, Ayub said. Meanwhile, the staff is moving forward with planning for the 2020 election cycle, she said.

“This should have never got to Austin,” Thompson said of the situation. He said he had been in Bulgaria for several months on a business trip that he said ran longer than expected. He said he also had emergency surgery while he was there.

“There was a device invented by Alexander Graham Bell called a telephone, and, believe it or not, you can actually communicate and work extremely hard with your staff over the phone, working hard every day with a fantastic team of people who are trying to promote the Republican Party,” he said.

He added: “We are not supposed to be the story. We want our elected officials to shine. We have a fantastic group of leaders here in Smith County who happen to be Republicans, and the party infrastructure is never supposed to be the story.”

Wendy Osburn, the secretary for the county party’s executive committee, announced Wednesday afternoon that the committee would have a meeting May 30 to elect a new chairman. She said Friday that the meeting will still happen, but there may not be an election for a new chairman.

Osburn said the executive committee had added the election of the chairman to an existing meeting agenda out of necessity because, in the event of a vacant chairman position, the executive committee needs to elect a new chairman within a specific time frame.

“The fall election is coming up for 2020, and we just need to make sure that we have somebody to fulfill that position,” Osburn said. “So as long as he’s there, I’m sure everyone is in agreement that they’re unhappy with his performance in the past year, but we need somebody there to run it."

Ayub said the meeting scheduled for May 30 would not have the same decision-making power as a meeting called by the chairman. She said the chairman likely would call another meeting in the next few weeks, but not on Memorial Day weekend because few people would be available.

Thompson’s term will end in about a year. He did not say whether he would run for reelection, and the key political action committee that endorsed him in 2016, Grassroots America-We the People, has pulled its support of him.

But he shared a message for the future.

“I want to encourage this community to understand that their voices need to be heard,” Thompson said. “We want them to come out. We want them to take an active interest in the future of their Republican Party because this is Smith County’s Republican Party — it’s everyone who lives here, works here, raises a family here, and believes in these principles we hold.

“I want to call on them to consider running for positions inside the party infrastructure because we need a new day in this county where their voices are engaged and active, so our party will not be embarrassed down in Austin through these mechanisms that they tried to pull,” he said.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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