The earliest days of Republican history in Fort Bend County began with the Civil War Reconstruction era and ended with the “Jaybird-Woodpecker War” of 1889. That colorful and violent episode in the county’s political development triggered almost a hundred years of domination by the Democrat Party.
But, as the 20th Century neared its midpoint and the Republican Party began to gain strength nationally, a growth trend began in Texas and in Fort Bend County. In 1947, Capt. J.F. Lucey of Dallas founded the Republican Club of Texas and a drive was begun to build the party in the Lone Star State. The current governing body of the Republican Party of Texas, the State Republican Executive Committee, was organized in 1952, the year Republicans took back the U.S. Presidency. That same year, the Republican Party of Fort Bend County was organized with Walter Shult as County Chairman.
Clarence Danklefs succeeded Shult in 1960. So few Republicans lived in the county then that a letter addressed to “Mr. Republican, Rosenberg, Texas” was once delivered to Danklefs.
Statewide in 1960, Texas Republicans still did not have enough voter strength to hold a regular primary. However, Richard Nixon polled 49 percent of the state vote in his race against John F. Kennedy that year, and John G. Tower of Wichita Falls received 926,653 votes as a candidate for the United State Senate against Lyndon B. Johnson, who was running concurrently for Vice-President. When Johnson resigned his seat in the Senate to become Vice-President, Tower was selected to replace him in the special election that followed, becoming the first Republican to hold statewide elective office since Edmund J. Davis was elected Governor during Reconstruction.
The first Republican Primary in the “new era” was held in Fort Bend County in 1962. The ballot featured W.J. (Bill) Walker, Jr. as candidate for Precinct 4 County Commissioner. He polled 117 votes in the November General Election. No county offices appeared on the Republican Primary ballot in 1964, although the Republican Party of Texas held a non-binding presidential preferential primary.
In 1966, Fort Bend Republicans did not hold a Primary. In November, Tower was re-elected to his first full term. Two Republicans (including future President George H. W. Bush of Houston) were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction, three were chosen for the State House of Representatives, and the first Republican in 39 years was elected to the Texas Senate. In Fort Bend, A.E. Sona Foerster, Jr. followed “Mr. Republican” as County Chairman in 1966.
As the 1960s came to an end, Fort Bend County’s first master-planned communities were begun in Missouri City and Sugar Land, and people discovered U.S. 59 did not end at Sharpstown Center. Fort Bend’s population began to grow, slowly at first and then in big leaps, especially on the east side of the Brazos River. Many of the newcomers to what would soon be called “one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S.” were Republicans and the concentration of voting strength began to shift to the “East End.”
One Republican pioneer, R.W. Cowart, sought election as District Attorney in 1968. There was also a contested race for County Chairman between Foerster and Duffie Monroe, and four people vied for Precinct 13 Republican Chairman.
In 1970, Monroe became County Chairman and his wife, Charlene, started the first Independent Republican Women’s Club. The group met in various locations in the Richmond/Rosenberg area and the membership rolls quickly swelled to eight or ten members. After two or three years, the club dwindled to a total membership of four –all elected officers– and disbanded. The party did not hold a Primary Election in 1970.
Further gains by Republicans were made in the Texas Legislature in 1972 when 17 were elected to the House and three were sent to the Senate. In Fort Bend County, Republican James Tolly made a bid for Precinct 3 County Commissioner. He polled 2,205 votes in the General Election.
In 1972, most “Republicans” voted in the Democrat Primary statewide because that was where “the action was.” Fort Bend voters were no exception: 233 Republicans voted in the 1972 Primary but 12,000 voted for Republicans in the General Election.
In Fort Bend, Jean Blissard became County Chairman in 1974 and helped establish the East Fort Bend Republican Women’s Club. The club, like the East Fort Bend County population, grew rapidly, working to help candidates and to register voters. Club members provided organized volunteer resources for candidates and helped recruit candidates to seek county offices. The club later dropped the “East” from its name.
Statewide, the Republican Party’s 1972 gains were consolidated in 1974 when 16 Republicans were elected to the House and the same three Republicans were returned to the Texas Senate. In Fort Bend, the 1974 ballot saw more Republicans seeking county offices: Robert L. Conrad for County Judge (George Ortiz was the candidate on the Republican Primary ballot, but was replaced by Conrad), E.C. Garretson for Precinct 2 County Commissioner, Jim Davis for Precinct 4 County Commissioner, Wayne Elkins for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace, and Joyce Gay for Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace. None were successful.
1976 brought the first success by Republican candidates on a Fort Bend County ballot since the Jaybird-Woodpecker battles were fought. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson in Brazoria County was elected to U.S. Congress in an April special election in the district that included part of Fort Bend. Republican Walter Keith defeated Democrat Gene Jones for District 7 State Senator in the same special election. Also in 1976, Clyde Farquhar succeeded Blissard as Fort Bend County Chairman.
In the November 1976 General Election, Paul lost his newly won seat after defeating another Republican candidate (Joe Jones) in the May Primary. Other Republicans on the Fort Bend ballot that November were Keith for District 7 State Senate, Al Conover for District 22 State Representative, and Alton B. Pressley for Precinct 3 County Commissioner. Only Keith was elected.
If there were a “banner year” in the Republican history of Fort Bend County (and Texas), it would be 1978. Tom DeLay became the first Republican elected countywide since Reconstruction when voters sent him to Austin as District 21 State Representative. Lee Eguia was elected Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, the first Republican to hold a county office in the 20th Century. Statewide, William P. Clements, Jr., became the first Republican Governor in more than 100 years. And, Paul was returned to Congress.
Jim Tallas became County Chairman in 1978 and helped recruit a record number of candidates for county offices. Walter McMeans and Rick Forlano challenged each other for nomination as County Judge in the Republican Primary. Jan Bonn, Vi Chandler and Dianne Wilson also threw their hats into the ring, but all were defeated by Democrats at the polls.
In 1980, the national Reagan/Bush ticket carried the county with about 68 percent of the vote. In Fort Bend, Kathy Norvell was elected Tax Assessor Collector, becoming the first Republican elected to a countywide office in modern history. Pressley was elected Precinct 3 County Commissioner, the first Republican voice on Commissioners’ Court since the Jaybirds and Woodpeckers exchanged gunshots. R.G. “Bob” Parker defeated popular Democrat and war hero J.C. “Buster” Court for Precinct 3 Constable. Joe B. Spillars was elected Precinct 4 Constable.
In 1982′s Republican Primary, incumbent District Attorney Bill Meitzen switched parties and won a challenge from Charles C. Cate. He was unopposed in the General Election. Vicki Hill ran unsuccessfully for County Judge. But, Wilson returned to win the post of Fort Bend County Clerk, Kathy Hynson won her bid for County Treasurer and Bob Lutts was elected Precinct 4 County Commissioner. In the Justice of the Peace races, Republicans fielded candidates in all four precincts for the first time. Mary Ward, Robert Stahl and Jim Scott won in Precincts 1, 3 and 4, respectively. Stahl had defeated Eguia in the Primary.
As the East End Republican population continued to burgeon, Republican strength on the west side of the Brazos also grew. In 1984, the year Norm Mason became County Chairman; Republican Gus George unseated the Democrat incumbent for Sheriff, drawing significant support from the west side precincts. Republicans now held the offices of Sheriff, County Clerk, County Treasurer, Tax Assessor Collector, District Attorney, County Commissioner in Precincts 3 and 4, Justice of the Peace in Precincts 1, 3 and 4 and Constable in Precincts 3 and 4. In 1986, Republicans added District Clerk with the election of Glory Ketelers.
The decade of the 1980s saw growth in Republican organizations. Republican Women On-the-Go formed in 1981 to offer night meetings as an alternative for women who could not meet during the day. In 1986, both the Republican Men’s Club and the Spirit of Freedom Republican Women’s Club began. The Muslim American Republican Caucus, Republican National Hispanic Assembly-Fort Bend, Katy Area Republican Club, West Fort Bend County Republican Women’s Club and Fort Bend Young Republicans Club have joined these groups.
Also in the 1980s, Republicans began to take control of the judiciary in the State District Courts and County Courts-at-Law, both by gubernatorial appointment and election. Among the pioneers in 1981 were Reagan Clark, appointed by Gov. Clements to be a District Court Judge and Tommy Culver, appointed to a County Court-at-Law bench. In 1982, Tom Stansbury, who was running unopposed, was appointed to the 328th District Court prior to the election. Then came Brady Elliott, appointed District Judge by the governor during his second term, and Walter McMeans, who was elected as judge of a County Court-at-Law.
Jim Stokes became County Chairman in 1988, and Fort Bend Republicans continued to field candidates for state and county offices. Charles Barclay followed Stokes as County Chairman in 1990 Eric Thode took the reins in 1992.
In 1994, another “first since Reconstruction” occurred with the election of Mike Rozell as County Judge. His election created the first “Republican majority” on Commissioners’ Court as he joined County Commissioners Pressley and Lutts.
The 1990s was also a time of concentrated party growth in the West End, particularly in Precinct 1. Thode used that growth to help recruit conservative Democrats in Precinct 1 to switch parties. County Commissioner Bud O’Shieles and Justice of the Peace Gary Fredrickson joined the party in 1995 and ran as Republican candidates in 1996. Justice of the Peace Gary Geick joined them in 1997.
Today, as it celebrates a 50th anniversary, The Republican Party of Fort Bend County has reason to be proud. Once dominated by Democrats, Fort Bend County is now a stronghold for the Republican Party. Countywide, Republicans hold every elected office except those in Precinct 2. In the State Legislature, Fort Bend Republicans hold one House and one Senate seat, with Republican candidates seeking election in the 2002 General Election to additional seats in the House and in the Senate. Statewide candidates recognize the voting strength in the county and Fort Bend is becoming a “must” on their campaign trails.
It’s clear that if someone were to address a letter to “Mr. Republican, Rosenberg, Texas” today, it would never be delivered. Far too many people now meet that description, evidence indeed of how far the party has come since 1952.