Paul Lilly, Republican nominee for Brown County judge, won the support Thursday of the Brown County Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Texas.
Committee members received the applause of about 30 Lilly supporters when the committee voted 8-2 to endorse Lilly in its biennial organizational meeting at the Adams Street Community Center. Lilly and Steve Fryar, who is challenging Lilly as a write-in candidate in the November general election, attended the meeting. Both men spoke at the meeting, which was publicized in advance by Lilly supporters on social media.
Lilly asked the committee for its endorsement, while Fryar told committee members they had the right to endorse or refrain from endorsing.
The executive committee consists of 16 county precinct chairs and is chaired by Robert Porter, who is the chairman of the Brown County Republican Party.
Until Thursday, Porter had not commented to the media about his or the Republican Party’s position in an election that pits Lilly, who defeated incumbent Brown County Judge Ray West in the March primary election, against Fryar, also a Republican.
“Rather than me making a single-minded decision on behalf of the Brown County Executive Committee, I felt that it was best for each of the precinct chairs to hear the expressions of various points of view so that you could hear them in your own ears, rather than me making a single-minded decision as the county chair,” Porter said before the committee voted.
“So that is why we’ve chosen to do that this way.”
After the meeting, Porter said he was not surprised by the vote and supports the vote.
Before Porter made his comments in the meeting, Lilly spoke, saying he met with Porter about two weeks ago. Lilly said he asked Porter “what are we going to do to promote the Republican Party and the Republican platform, and since I had a write-in opponent, what the party was going to do to help me win?
“That is when Robert informed me that the party was going to remain neutral and was not going to endorse me, even though I had won the Republican Party Primary,” Lilly said. “By doing that, he put you all in a very awkward situation. I apologize for that. I didn’t make it happen, but I’m forced to deal tie it.”
Lilly said candidates pay large filing fees to run in a primary election and “there is an expectation that if they win that primary, they’re going to have the support of that party. … We need to be unified as one party. There is only one Republican running for county judge. That is the wording of the attorney general, the ethics commission and the Republican Party of Texas.”
After hearing comments from four audience members, Porter said Fryar “is a Republican. The definition of a Republican is somebody that voted in the Republican primary. That doesn’t change unless you disavow yourself from your affiliation, and to my knowledge he has not done that.”
Fryar said the legislature and congress “have given the opportunity for there to be an independent candidate or a write-in candidate to file in the summer. It’s been around for years. It is not something that is unheard of. You do have the right to either endorse, or not endorse.”
Fryar said Chad Wilbanks, former executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, told him there is no requirement for the party to endorse one candidate or the other.
“The last thing I want to do is to try to split up anything,” Fryar said. “My goal is to try to bring the county back together, to bring the courthouse back together. If there’s somebody that’s doing something wrong up there, we need to have them dismissed. If there’s somebody that’s not doing something wrong and they’re doing their job great, we need to keep them.”
As committee members prepared to vote, a motion to remain neutral and refrain from endorsing died without a second to the motion. Committee member Rick Phelps then made a motion to endorse Lilly, and committee members voted by secret ballot.
Porter said the meeting’s purpose had been to allow a forum “for open discussion and presentation of viewpoints by both sides.”
In voting to endorse Lilly, Porter said, the committee declared “we support the vote of people from the primary. This was the nominee from the Republican primary.”