There may be a split brewing in the local Republican party, which has endured one controversy after another over the past year.
“A lot of Republicans are very disappointed — I’m very disappointed,” Sue Gafford Piner, Comal County party chair, said Friday of what many believe is becoming a deepening rift between far-right and middle-of-the-road party conservatives.
Firestorms this summer involving national events with Black Lives Matter, the social media actions of Piner and a few other Texas GOP county chairs and controversial Trump Train incidents led into a November presidential election that many county Republicans call a fraud.
Some of those, including District 73 state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, engaged in a Jan. 6 protest in Washington D.C. that led to the storming of the US Capitol building. Investigators are still sorting out the details behind the attack that left five dead, sparked an impeachment of Donald Trump and have turned the city into a fortress ahead of Wednesday’s presidential inauguration of Democrat Joe Biden.
Biedermann told the Herald-Zeitung in an e-mail that he was among the thousands who “peacefully marched on our nation’s Capitol to make our voices heard. It was unfortunate that some used this gathering to sow discord and promote violence.”
On Thursday evening, Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, said his appearance there “was old news,” and refused to answer questions on where he was in proximity to the violence and if he joined those who were illegally inside the Capitol.
“If you want to know about old news, then just go to the TV where you can watch all the old stuff you want. It’s just unfortunate — it’s just old news.”
Former New Braunfels Mayor Doug Miller represented District 73 from 2009 until 2017, after Biedermann defeated him in a primary runoff the previous May, did have things to say.
“I am an American. I was born in Texas, I love Texas and I served Texas — but I am an American,” Miller said. “And the actions by those people who attacked the Capitol were deplorable and in my opinion attacked us domestically.”
Comal County has solidly voted red for decades and overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump in the last two elections.
“We really thought he was going to win. The voter fraud just overwhelmed us,” Piner said, referencing the allegations that have been roundly rejected by the courts and experts across the country. “A lot of people have been calling and complaining — saying they’ll never vote Republican again.
“That’s a knee-jerk reaction. People just need to give it some time and let things sort out … I’m not feeling desperate yet — it’s just a really bad situation.”
In addition to insisting the presidential election was stolen, Piner said the Capitol riot was “staged” by liberals trying to make Trump and his supporters look bad.
“It couldn’t have been anything the Trump supporters did,” she said. “Anytime we’ve had any kind of event at the Capitol, we never left any trash. Republicans have been brought up with manners. They don’t make a mess, they don’t cause trouble, and they certainly don’t storm the Capitol — this was staged.”
Law enforcement officials and people on both side of the political aisle have rejected those claims, and many of those who have been arrested in connection with the attack have been supporters of the president.
Miller says the video he saw didn’t include any Antifa or BLM supporters that he could see.
“I don’t see how anyone who takes an oath pledging to support the Constitution of the United States and support the Constitution of the state of Texas, then goes out to engage in seditious behavior,” he said. “That’s what amazes me — people speaking out of both sides of their mouth.”
Miller said it is all-or-nothing conservatism.
“For too long, we had a situation where people who were mean, vicious and tolerated no one that didn’t accept their idea of 100%,” he said. “That happened to me. I had other constituents who didn’t think like they did, and I had to represent them, too.
“To them, it’s either you support them 100% of the time, and if not, you’re against them — there’s no middle ground.”
Miller, who “abhorred all of the talk about secession and leaving the Union” that has been circulating, has an ally in Barron Casteel, another former New Braunfels mayor.
“I am proud of my birthright as a Texan, and as a citizen of the United States of America and it will be so until my last breath,” Casteel said. “I am an American with all that may entail. At no point will I choose to be anything else, neither will I renounce the gift of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and countless souls who as Lincoln acclaimed gave ‘the last full measure of devotion.’”
Doug Miller stressed he’s no relation to Daniel Miller, the county GOP’s guest speaker Monday at the Village Venue.
Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, says secession isn’t connected to national discontent or the November election.
“People don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Well, because I didn’t get my way in these elections, suddenly I want Texas to withdraw from the union.’ Those issues didn’t just show up on the first Tuesday of November,” he said.
Piner, who is battling COVID-19, wanted to be at Miller’s appearance, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Village Venue and scheduled to last about an hour.
“I think it’s going to be a big Pandora’s Box,” she said. “There will be a lot of people who are yea or nay — it’s going to be really explosive.”
Biedermann has a proposed bill, not yet filed in the Texas House, he says will give voters the choice of seeing Texas remain in the United States or declare its independence. Texas was its own country from 1836 until it joined the Union in 1845. It left as part of the Civil War before rejoining the Union.
Piner, borrowing from District 25 state Sen. Donna Campbell, said the local party’s focus is “to take care of Texas” but stopped short of endorsing Biedermann’s bill.
Biedermann wouldn’t comment on the apparent rift in the Comal GOP, but claimed he has overwhelming support throughout District 73’s Comal, Gillespie and Kendall counties. He said he will file legislation as soon as COVID-19 will allow.
“The session just started (Jan. 12), and things will happen soon,” he said. “The Legislative Council has really been backed up and we’ve been waiting to get our bills from there.”
Asked how different he expected this session will be under COVID-19 protocols, Biedermann said “just like the others” before adding: “Nothing will happen for a month or so. There are no committees yet . . . There’s just nothing to report. But when it does, I will tell you.”