What does the future hold for the Tarrant County Republican Party? Voters will have a chance to pick a new chairman to helm the party in March 2024. Current chair Rick Barnes announced he will run for tax assessor-collector in 2024. 

But before the decision goes to a countywide vote, the party’s executive committee will choose an interim chairman Oct. 23. Three men with strong ties to Tarrant County Republican politics have thrown their hat in the ring: Bo French, Fred Tate and Warren Norred. 

French is a Fort Worth businessman and former candidate for House District 99. Tate is a Colleyville business owner and the current treasurer of the Tarrant County Republican Party. Norred is an Arlington lawyer and former candidate for Senate District 10. 

All three candidates outlined their visions for Republican leadership in Tarrant County at a forum hosted Oct. 17 by the Tarrant County Republican Assembly. Top of the list: Keep Tarrant County red going into the presidential election. 

“This is the largest Republican county in the country,” Tate said. “We are the last in line. And we need to hold the line to prevent George Soros, the National Democratic Party, from coming in and taking our county.”

‘You fall into the Democrats’ trap’ 

The forum came almost two weeks after the leader of prominent conservative PAC Defend Texas Liberty hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office. 

The PAC has since removed its president, Jonathan Stickland, and replaced him with Luke Macias. But the impact of the meeting is still being felt by the state’s Republican Party and has highlighted interparty fractures. 

French is a former board member of Texans for Strong Borders, a group whose founder was at the meeting with Fuentes. French said that he’d never heard of Fuentes before news broke of this meeting and that he doesn’t associate with those kinds of people.

“But what I would say is … we are the Republican Party,” French said. “Let’s not start doing what the Democrats do. Just because somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who has said a bunch of unsavory racist things, doesn’t mean that the first person is racist and unsavory. That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to play that game, and neither should we as Republicans.”

Norred struck a similar tone. He’s not an oracle who can see the future, he said, nor should he be required to share his opinion on everything that someone else has done. He promised to “work with all the allies that we have,” including Defend Texas Liberty.

“You fall into the Democrats’ trap, if you start saying, ‘You better deny that,’” he said.

In Tarrant County, 12 officials or candidates received money from the PAC; most haven’t commented publicly since the Fuentes meeting was revealed. County Judge Tim O’Hare and Sheriff Bill Waybourn both said they were against antisemitism when contacted by the Report, but did not comment on whether they’d accept future funds from the PAC. 

Tate offered a different opinion than his rivals for chairman. If he were part of an organization that was involved with the Fuentes meeting, he’d push for change.

“I demand accountability. And usually that means resignation or suspension,” he said. 

‘We have to find the common ground’ 

In front of a packed house of local Republicans, the chairman candidates pledged they’d make changes to how the party operates. 

Norred said too much time is spent focusing on divisiveness in the organizational meetings. Establishing rules that end interparty disagreements in a timely manner will help the organization focus on more important issues. 

“We’re going to have to fight — so have the fight and then move on,” he said.

French agreed. A party isn’t a monolith, and differences in opinion are inevitable. What’s important, he said, is not letting those differences derail the work. 

“Let’s get focused on the things we agree on and move forward from there,” French said. “And what I want to do is unify the party in a way that is focused on the success that we’re gonna have, and I think we can do that.”

Norred stressed the importance of engaging people at every level, especially precinct judges. He suggested bringing in more constituent groups to speak at party meetings and offer advice on how to talk about bread-and-butter Republican issues to potential voters.

“Just like a Christian, we’re not called to make converts; we’re called to make disciples,” Norred said. “Precinct chairs are the ones that are out there changing lives and helping our neighbors do things. They have to have the ability to answer critical questions.” 

Tate wants the Tarrant County Republican Party to go on the offensive. He pointed to a recent county commissioners vote to reject funding for Girls Inc. of Tarrant County. Republican commissioners blocked the funds over concerns that the organization, which serves low-income girls and their families, had a leftist ideological bent. The two Democrat commissioners, Roy Brooks and Alisa Simmons, voted in favor of the funding. 

“I would like to see us, as a party, pass resolutions that actually attack Democrats, because Democrats are out there attacking us, and we don’t respond,” Tate said. “We have to find the common ground within our party, which is attacking Democrats.”

By taking the fight to area Democrats, he said, the party can win in November.

“If we change the messaging, we take the fight to them,” Tate said. “We can tell parents that we’re the party against smut in our schools, we’re the party for less government, more effective government.” 

‘I also respect the voters of Tarrant County’

Whoever is chosen by the executive committee Oct. 23 will have only four months to make an impression before the future of their seat is put in the voters’ hands. 

French confirmed that if he’s not chosen by the executive committee, he will challenge whomever is selected in March. 

“While I respect the precinct chairs, who are going to be holding this election next Monday, I also respect the voters of Tarrant County,” he said. “I think they should have a say on who the party chair is.”

If he’s not chosen, Norred told the crowd, he’d decide whether to run in March based on the interim chair’s performance. 

“Whoever gets elected, county chairs ought to have an opportunity to do the job,” he said. “And if you’re doing a good job, I am not interested in going after somebody who is doing a good job.”

Tate said if he isn’t selected by the executive committee to serve in the interim, he probably won’t run for the position in March. 

“The reason being is if the [executive committee] doesn’t support me, I’m not certain that that would be good for the party,” he said. “Because that would create division with the [executive committee] at the time when the new chair takes office in the middle of June, when we’re trying to get into the election.”

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...