By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—According to state republican insiders, next week’s election of the ALGOP Chairman may be the closest in recent memory.
Matt Fridy (pronounced Friday) is running to unseat current Chairman Bill Armistead. Fridy has received the endorsement of Governor Robert Bentley, Lt. Governor Kay Ivey and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. This would indicate that the party establishment is solidly in Fridy’s corner.
However, this year the party is not solidly unified, as infighting among factions has taken center stage in the election of the next chairman.
Party unity seems to be the key message that the Governor and Mr. Fridy have given for their desire to change leadership at the ALGOP.
Fridy has also said that he is looking to bring fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency to the party.
Fridy’s youth and past leadership of the Shelby County GOP as well as being a member of the ALGOP executive committee and steering committee has served as recommendations for his candidacy.
Fridy has been reported as being a stalwart, Christian Conservative, a hard worker and an honest individual.
The test for Fridy will most likely be to convince the party leadership that he is his own man and not representative of one of the many factions fighting for the soul of the ALGOP.
The following is a partial transcript from an interview we recently conducted with Mr. Fridy.
APR: One of the main themes that has been reoccurring with you is party unity. Could you give us an idea of what you are thinking about when you say that?
Fridy: For a long time, there have been factions within the state party. There are always factions in large political organizations. However, the factions that have developed over the last several years are based more on personality than they are on policy. In my view, our job at the Republican Party is two-fold: To advance our conservative message and elect republicans. We can not spend time fighting among ourselves based on personality.
With that said I am absolutely open to a robust discussion on policy. i think that is an important function within the party is to debate, discuss and develop policy. But we should never be a part of the as the Alabama Republican Party is internal struggle over personality and retributions for perceived slights. As a party we have got to move past the internal struggles and present a united front against the Democrats
APR: The Governor has endorsed you and one of the things at least I was told is that he feels that your youth (now that we consider 30-something youthful). Some people might view youth as a negative and others might view it as a positive. Would you like to comment on that a little bit about how you feel, your enthusiasm, your drive?
Fridy: I think we can be energetic and enthusiastic at any age. I frankly don’t view age as an issue. I don’t think it is an issue, I don’t think it should be an issue. I was elected chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party when I was 29 and did that for 4 years. You can talk to anybody in Shelby County about my 4 years as chairman, I am not going to put words in their mouth, but I know we did some new things, some innovative things. We built the party. We added numbers. A lot of folks who had been involved with the party for a long time became more active and energized. They started knocking on doors and going door-to-door, making phone calls. We got younger folks involved as well and they are still plugged in to this day. So I don’t think age is an issue. I think what is important is energy, enthusiasm, the ability to manage personalities and the ability to move the party toward its goals, always mindful of pitfalls. And doing everything within one’s power to avoid those pitfalls.
I am 37 years old. if I’m not mistaken, and I could be, Riech Prievas was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee when he was 38. Paul Ryan, who I voted for as the vice-presidential candidate, was in his early 40s. We were prepared to make him next in line to the most powerful position in the world. Please don’t hear me saying that I have some sort of arrogant view that I am a Paul Ryan or Riech Prievas. It’s just that their age clearly wasn’t a factor and is not a factor and, frankly, it would be different if I were 22. I am 37. I have children. I am a general partner at my law firm. I am in a place now where it is possible for me to do this. I just don’t see age as an issue. Enthusiasm and energy are substantially more important, I think.
APR: One of the issues that has come up, especially in our reporting, and a little bit in some of the other reporting, has been transparency and accountability for the money that has been raised by the party. Everyone is aware of this audit and the controversy that has has caused. In light of that, how do you see accountability and transparency if you are elected chairman?
Fridy: I think that we, as the Alabama Republican Party, have to redouble our efforts towards being as transparent as possible. Our donors have to feel comfortable that the money that they donate is being spent wisely. Our members have to feel comfortable (and by the way, all of our members are also donors, that is part of the membership, supporting the party) that the state party is spending our resources wisely. A couple of days ago, I released the first in a series of pledges that I am making. If I am elected chairman, one of them is that when we, as a party, file an FEC report or a FCPA form, some sort of financial report, at least on a monthly basis we are going to let the executive committee members know that it has been released. We are going to make it available by email, of course we are determining how that will be rolled out. But every month, it is going to be possible for executive committee members to easily access all of the financial information for the party. Every penny that has come in, every penny that has gone out. I think transparency is critical.
Another thing that I pledge to do, and that we are going to do if I am elected chairman, is that all of the supporting documents for every expenditure are going to be made available. For example if there is a reimbursement to a staff member, to the chairman or to the executive director, any executive committee member, upon request, will be able to see the receipts that support that expenditure, and I don’t mean a credit card bill that supports the expenditure but the actual receipt itself.
We have to be up front, we have to be honest. We have to be transparent if we are going to be effective.
APR: That leads me to my next question which is on fundraising itself. One of the responsibilities of the chairman is the ability to attract donors. At least since 2010 there have been several PACs organized by parts of the Republican Party that seem to be rivals for the campaign funds that would normally come into the party itself. You can say that there are two republican funds, or maybe three. Is there anything you would like to say about that? That certainly is a concern that I hear often and one that I have that there seem to be rival fundraising efforts within the party.
Fridy: There are always rival fundraising efforts within and around the political party. In this sense, every candidate that is running is raising money at the same time that the state party is raising money. Oftentimes groups of individuals will form a political action committee to raise money for a specific purpose and that will compete directly with the fact that the party is attempting to raise money as well.
The fundraising landscape is very, very competitive. If we, as a party, are struggling to raise money against one or two other PACs that are out there, also raising money, then how in the world are we going to be effective at fundraising in the 2013-2014 election cycle when not only are there some PACs out there raising money but an incumbent governor is raising money, an incumbent Lt. governor is raising money. There will be an incumbent attorney general raising money. There will be an open secretarial seat race so you have at least one person that will be running and raising money for that if not others. You’ve got 140 legislative seats up, so all of those legislators and the republicans in those seats will be raising money. There will be more PACs, the BCA will be raising money. ALFA will be raising money. Forestry will be raising money. All of the traditional PACs out of Montgomery will be raising money. So, I don’t think we can attribute any fundraising issues that we are presently having to competition directly. Now, there is a perception that there are one or more PACs that are competing directly with the party. In my view, this perception goes back to the infighting within the party. It is not helpful, it is not healthy for the party. We have got to get to a place where even if multiple groups are raising money we can still get along, not work at cross purposes and work to advance our common conservative message.
APR: Can you give me a view of your vision?
Fridy: My vision for the party can be summed up as unity, transparency and results. If we unify as a party, if we are transparent in what we do, if we focus our effort with a targeted message that articulates all conservative principles, we will be successful in 2014 and that is my goal if I am elected chairman. That is my vision for the party.
APR: It seems to me that the party has in someways lately been more concerned about wining than winning on principles. Do not principles matter most?
Fridy: principles are why I got involved in politics at all. It was the Pro-life movement. It got me involved in politics. It got me interested in politics. My parents got involved with it when I was a teenager, I became involved in it. I stayed involved in the Pro-live movement. To me that was an extremely important issue. My parents are very conservative. I come from a very conservative family. I consider myself a religious conservative. So everything that you are saying about principle, that resonates with me because I feel the same way.