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Local County Chair Facing Lawsuit Over Alleged Election Violations

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Denton County courts building | Image by dentoncounty.gov

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Denton County Republican Party (DCRP) chair Jayne Howell is facing a lawsuit over alleged violations relating to the 2022 DCRP chair election.

The lawsuit, filed on February 17, lists Howell and DCRP Executive Director Belinda Small as defendants. There are five plaintiffs in the suit, including Alana Phillips, a current DCRP precinct chair, and four others who applied for leadership roles within the DCRP.

Howell announced last year that she would not be seeking reelection after four years as the party’s chair. Two candidates, Brent Hagenbuch and Connie Hudson, sought to replace Howell in the March 1 election.

Hagenbuch is the party’s current vice-chairman of political affairs, and Hudson was the party’s former vice chairman of precinct development.

The lawsuit alleges that DCRP leadership intentionally failed to notify Hudson of missing information she needed to file for the election. Her application was never approved, and on the Texas Secretary of State’s Office website, it is listed as “rejected.”

Hudson is not one of the five plaintiffs in the case. Still, she alleges that Howell and Small “sabotaged” her campaign by not fulfilling an obligation to inform her of all the requirements needed for her application to be accepted.

The central point of the issue comes down to the Texas primary election rule, Section 172.021(f) of the Election Code.

The code states, “a political party’s state executive committee by rule may require that an application for the office of county chair be accompanied by a nominating petition containing the signatures of at least 10% of the incumbent precinct chairs serving on the county executive committee.”

According to Howell, it is a requirement because the Texas State Republican Executive Committee decided to require it.

In Denton County, this means potential candidates for county chair need to have a petition signed by fifteen precinct chairs before their application to enter the race is considered complete and can be accepted.

The period to file for the county chair election began on November 13 and closed on December 13 at 6 p.m.

In a Facebook post on December 21, Hudson claimed that when she turned in her application at the DCRP headquarters on December 8, she asked Small multiple times if it was correct and complete.

On December 13, Hudson returned to the DCRP headquarters and was then notified that she was missing the petition form with the signatures. She wrote that Howell told her she would not have enough time to get the signatures and her application would be rejected.

She also alleges that Small typically goes through a checklist when taking applications from other candidates but did not refer to a checklist when accepting hers.

“The evidence would rather suggest that Chairman Howell and Executive Director Bell Small willfully conspired together to ensure that other candidates received the appropriate filing forms while ensuring that Hudson did not,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit requested an emergency injunction against Howell and Small, which would have prohibited them from serving in their DCRP roles for the March 1 primary election. However, a judge ruled against the emergency injunction, and Hagenbuch was the only candidate on the ballot on election day.

In an interview with the Denton Record-Chronicle, Hudson said Howell “defrauded the Denton County voters by not allowing [her] to be on the ballot.”

Howell denies the allegation that she purposely intended to sabotage Hudson’s campaign. In a December letter, Howell states that county chairs have up to 5 business days before they are required to review and accept filings.

“Immediate review and notice of rejection are not required as has been posted on social media by some,” Howell wrote. “I arrived at headquarters on December 13 at approximately 5 p.m. (3 Business days after Connie Hudson’s filing). I informed her we needed her Precinct Chair nominating petition. This was less than 30 min after I reviewed her application. Thus, it was immediate.”

In an interview with the Denton Record-Chronicle, Howell said the belief that she supported Hagenbuch over Hudson is a “frivolous allegation.”

She also claimed Hudson should have known about the signature requirement, saying that Hagenbuch had even asked Hudson for her signature at one point to use in his own campaign.

Howell added that it is the candidate’s responsibility to know all the filing requirements, and the DCRP’s responsibility is to provide the information a candidate requests.

“We had several candidates file early in the period that were missing items or made mistakes on their filing forms that we had to reject,” Howell said. “But they filed early in the period, so they had an opportunity to correct it and get on the ballot.”

Howell called the lawsuit “meritless” and said it was “illogical” to think she would intentionally try to keep Hudson off the ballot.

“There would be no reason for me to want to do that,” Howell said. “I kept Connie in leadership as one of our officers for four years. To be slandered here so viciously at the end of my term is very disappointing.”

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