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Mayor Johnson Spearheads Push To Save American Cities

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson | Image by Eric Johnson/Facebook

Republican mayors from across the country munched on Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets in a downtown hotel conference room on Tuesday as they asked themselves one question: How can we end the Democratic Party’s monopoly on cities?

Republicans hold 26 mayoral offices in the top 100 U.S. cities, according to Ballotpedia. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said he hopes to even the score as the chairman and president of the newly founded Republican Mayors Association (RMA), whose advisory board came to Dallas this week for its first in-person meeting.

“We have to be mayors who prioritize law and order and public safety,” Johnson told The Dallas Express. “We saw in the wake of the George Floyd incident what it looks like if you don’t have that commitment. To me, the Republican Party has always been the more trusted party on those issues.”

Johnson switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in September after spending his first term fighting against calls to defund the police. He formed the RMA one month later to recruit and advise GOP mayors on how to chip away at the Democratic Party’s municipal dominance.

Tony Perry, the Republican mayor of Middletown, New Jersey, said the RMA’s message is simple.

“As Ronald Reagan used to ask when he was running in 1980, ‘Are you better off today than where you were four years ago?’ Well, I think for a lot of the places where this organization wants to go into, the question is, ‘Are you better off 40 years ago than where you are today?’” Perry, a member of the group’s advisory board, told DX. “Is your life better than when Democrats came in and controlled big cities?”

Johnson and Perry were joined in Dallas by an extensive list of Republican mayors: Ronald Morrell Jr. of Marion, Indiana; Matthew Moench of Bridgewater, New Jersey; Will O’Neill of Newport Beach, California; Dan Davis of Manvel, Texas; Doyle Moss of Willow Park, Texas; and Javier Villalobos of McAllen, Texas.

The mayors emphasized that local campaigns must adjust to the values and priorities of their constituents but expressed a few common themes they believe can win anywhere: unapologetic support for law enforcement, investments in infrastructure, low taxes, and business-friendly fiscal policy.

“Nobody can argue against effective government, strong law enforcement, better quality of life, good infrastructure,” Villalobos told DX. “That’s what we’re looking at. We see the differences in Los Angeles and Chicago and those areas. We don’t represent them, but they are our sister cities. They are our nation. We want to help.”

Johnson said control of major cities is not the only goal for his group, which works to elect mayors in all types of towns. The advisory board mostly comprises rural and suburban mayors who said their humble approach could benefit urban areas.

“Focus on what issues you can control. I got elected to repave our roads, invest in our parks, and support our police to keep our town safe,” Moench told DX. “This is how we’ll see more local candidates be successful. We can debate foreign policy all we want, but it doesn’t keep us safe at home.”

Davis, who was elected last year at just 30 years of age, said one electoral challenge for rural areas in Texas is the wave of citizens fleeing liberal states and cities to a simpler life. He said these citizens may not be your average rural Texan, but they quickly realize the value of conservative leadership if done effectively at the local level.

“One of the sayings around my neck of the woods in South Texas, just south of Houston, is ‘Don’t Harris my Brazoria county, and don’t Houston my Manvel,’” he told DX. “Because what we see is the policies from these Democrats are failing these people.”

“When I talk to people in the community, they want to see their roads paved, they want a strong police force, they want a fire department and EMS service that will respond quickly. And that is what conservative leadership brings,” he continued.

Johnson and Morrell Jr., who are both black, said the key for Republicans in big cities is to continue to grow their support in black and Hispanic communities.

“There is a wave of young conservative Republicans who look like me and want to be a part of this party,” Morrell Jr. told DX. “If we start reaching out and letting them know they can be a part of this party and be leaders in this party, then we will grow at a tremendous rate.”

“Everybody cares about the same thing: They want to be safe,” he continued.

Former President Donald Trump is polling at roughly 20% with black Americans, which would be the highest vote share for a Republican presidential candidate since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as previously reported by DX. Johnson said this support could reach even higher levels at the local level if Republicans put in the work.

“There’s something going on right now, particularly in communities of color,” Johnson told DX. “There’s an expiration date on these liberal policies we were sold on in the 60s that were supposed to save us all. People are coming to the realization that the experiment has failed.”

“How many more decades are we going to try the same approach to the same problems and not hold anybody accountable for the failures?” he continued. “I think a lot of people are giving us a serious look. African Americans in particular, which I can speak to, are thinking, ‘Maybe we should vote for the other guy.’”

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