THE DALLAS GOP: A BATTLE BREWING?

There has been talk that young Republican organizational whiz Bill Elliott will mount a challenge to county Republican party chairman Bill McKenzie this May. Well, you can scratch that talk. Though members of the county GOP’s younger generation have made a lot of noise about the challenge in recent months, time and circumstance, it seems, have forced Elliott to lie low for at least another year.

Many of the party’s young Turks had felt the one-term incumbent McKenzie was more than a little vulnerable this spring: The party has been operating hand to mouth for at least the past year; the once-vaunted North Dallas precinct machinery has grown creaky; nor have the GOP’s much-hailed inroads at the county courthouse been spectacular. Judge John Whittington, Commissioner Jim Jackson and Sheriff Carl Thomas, say critics, have done little to prove the party’s long-standing claim that county government would be better off in the hands of the Republicans.

Insiders indicate Elliott, a 29-year-old attorney, weighed a challenge seriously, but finally decided discretion was the better part of valor. “It’s a question of whether he wanted to take over a sinking ship, or wait, and take over a sunken ship,” says one observer. “He probably could have beat McKenzie, but then he would have appeared to be just another part of the problem, rather than a solution.” An Elliott challenge in 1980, observers think, would be perfect for a coup: The party will probably be in even more woeful shape, they say. Whittington, possibly even Tower, will have been drowned in the Democratic deluge of 78. The party will need a savior.

Some feel the matter may come to a head well before 1980. Talk that McKenzie will resign the post after the November general elections persists, though McKenzie calls it “rank speculation.” “He just wants to get John Tower re-elected one more time and then quit,” says one party member. If McKenzie does retire, Elliott might make a play for the chairmanship before the party’s county executive committee, which would select McKenzie’s successor. Though McKenzie would likely put up his own protege, possibly present county vice-chairwoman Kathy Smith, most feel the executive committee would not necessarily rubber stamp McKenzie’s choice. In fact, Elliott would have a better than even money shot at the post. His problems, party insiders say, would not be so much with McKenzie loyalists as with Commissioner Jackson and Republican City Councilman John Leedom. Jackson apparently feels it’s time one of his Irving cronies, such as Roger Hill or George Bauman, fills the county chairmanship. And Leedom, though on good speaking terms with Elliott, is capable of causing a lot of trouble if he feels personally threatened.

Whatever the outcome of the infighting, one thing is certain. As county Democrats swing into their biennial bloodletting over their county chairmanship this spring, Dallas Republicans will not be able to be nearly so smug about their “party unity” as they have in the past.

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