Donna Kelm running for GOP county chair

Donna Kelm

A lifetime Odessan has a campaign slogan of “bringing unity, leadership and honesty back to the Republican Party” in her quest to unseat Ector County’s current GOP chair.

Donna Kelm, 65, is a mother and grandmother, who attended K-12 here and graduated from Permian. She moved away once for a year but other than that has been in Odessa her entire life.

Kelm works for First Tier Construction’s five companies and assists husband Derek Kelm with his three businesses. The pair previously owned hometown favorites Daylight Donuts and Dewey’s. They have been married 19 years and their blended family includes three adult children and four grandchildren.

Donna Kelm was a finance manager and accounting manager for about 17 years for NDT Systems and then helped start New Tech Systems where she stayed for about 15 years.

She’s proud of her lifetime in Odessa and attended both Odessa College and the University of Texas Permian Basin and said she loves everything about Odessa and wants to help move it forward in a positive way.

She said she still does some catering and both Derek and Donna Kelm spoke fondly of their time owning the eateries and how important the friendly face to face with customers was to them. “I still miss it sometimes,” Derek Kelm said.

Donna Kelm says she won’t be labeled anything but a Republican and recalls voting for the first time somewhere around 1976 or so (the year she graduated from Permian). She said she was raised Republican and that her values have always lined up with the GOP.

Donna Kelm said she has proudly served as a member, then as vice president of programs, then treasurer and currently as president of the Ector County Republican Women’s Club. She is in her second year as president.

State Sen. Kevin Sparks in an email called her very qualified.

“I have known Donna Kelm for several years as a committed member of the Ector County GOP. As the current president of the Ector County Republican Women, she has proven to be an effective leader for Republicans in our community. Donna is a voice of reason and very qualified for the position of Ector County GOP chairperson.”

Donna Kelm’s hope, she said, is to get the Ector County GOP back on track. She said that means an end to current GOP Chair Tisha Crow’s time as the head of the Party.

Donna Kelm said she is against some of the current tactics being used including endorsing one Republican over another in local races and the use of fake social media accounts to attack Odessans who question the local GOP. Kelm herself was treated harshly at the ECRP Headquarters after she refused to “block walk” for candidates that she did not know. Kelm wants to create an environment where candidates feel free to run without being intimidated and will speak out against Executive Board members who lash out and bully candidates they oppose.

Both Donna and Derek Kelm also talked about how the local GOP, under Crow, held what was billed as a “support law enforcement” pancake breakfast. But when the Kelms arrived they discovered that it was a political event that included T-shirts and flyers supporting several city council candidates.

The issue with that, Donna Kelm said, is that the folks being supported that day were not the only Republicans running. She is against endorsing one Republican over another. “That is for the voters to decide,” she added.

Basically, Donna Kelm is tired of the meanness.

She said she was attacked on social media this year after an ECRW luncheon featured speakers who worked for various downtown Odessa organizations. She said some slammed her for “inviting Democrats to speak at the ECRW event.”

Donna Kelm said that was ridiculous as the theme for that luncheon was Downtown Odessa. “The speakers were in charge of various Downtown departments — we didn’t ask if they were a Republican or a Democrat. The point was to learn what all was happening downtown from the people who knew.” Democrats can speak at ECRW as long as they are not discussing politics.

She said that bout of meanness is what others have also experienced and that much of it comes from both real and fake social media pages that are handled by Crow allies.

Donna Kelm said she welcomes healthy debate, but is not on board with attacks or bullying.

“Well, the Republican Party here, we should mesh and we should accent each other and help each other instead of fighting against each other,” Donna Kelm said. “And that’s what I’d really like to see, is everybody learn to have some unity, and that’s most important.”

She said being president of the ECRW would not be a conflict to be County Chair. She said she is a qualified and organized candidate. She is now asking Precinct Chairs to sign a petition to allow her on the ballot.

Legislation passed several years ago requires 10 percent of precinct chairs to sign off for a candidate to run for County Party Chair. While several precinct chairs here often take to social media to declare this requirement a law that can’t be ignored — that isn’t accurate. There is a provision in the law that states precinct chairs in counties the size of Ector and smaller can vote to opt out of that requirement. Midland’s GOP has opted out.

Donna Kelm needs 2-3 precinct chairs to give their OK for her to challenge Crow, who has been in office since 2009 and ran unopposed all but once. The requirement for signatures is only a few years old, but the last time Precinct Chair Richard Pierce, who defeated Odessa Mayor Javier Joven for precinct chair, tried to run he could not get the required signatures.

This election cycle, more voters are aware of the clause and are keeping an eye on the precinct chairs to see if they sign petitions. Many Republicans have spoken out that it’s time to let the voters choose the County Chair.

Donna Kelm pointed out that precinct chairs are free to sign as many petitions as they wish. In other words, someone could sign for Kelm and also for any other challengers to Crow.

It could be tough to find out who to ask for a signature as Tisha Crow has not updated the Ector County’s Republican precinct chairs on the Texas Secretary of State’s website and the list includes people who have moved or resigned and also does not include any of the recent Crow-appointed precinct chairs. Kelm said if she is elected she would keep the list accurate and accessible both on the Secretary of State web page and the Ector County GOP website. She points to the ECRW website as a good example of keeping Odessans in the know and said it is always updated.

The precinct chair approval clause was put in place to ensure only Republicans run for GOP County Chair and Democrats cannot infiltrate the Party. Social media posts made by Precinct Chair Tim Harry detail: “this law was enacted after local Democrats in a county conspired together to take over a local Republican party by crossing over in a primary to elect a Republican county chair.” Precinct Chair Freda Daniels on social media also wrote, “these democrat operatives will do anything to Trojan Horse their way into a political position in Texas.”

Kelm said she isn’t worried about acquiring the signatures as no one can call her anything but a Republican. She is currently reaching out to local precinct chairs to sign her petition.

She said she reached out to Crow numerous times to ask her to help educate the ECRW about what it takes to be a precinct chair, but Crow did not respond. This was prior to Kelm deciding to challenge Crow.

Kelm said she is now hosting ECRW luncheons that will feature speakers who are state officials who can educate the ECRW about the precinct chair issue.

She’s attended numerous Republican events around the country and enjoys interacting with fellow GOP’ers and learning about the party. She recently went to the National Federation of Republican Women in Oklahoma City and then to the Texas Federation of Republican Women held in Irving.

Donna Kelm said she joined the ECRW after being invited by Odessan Sherry Hurt. She said she was made to feel welcome at the Club’s events and that making people feel welcome is important.

That is something the Kelms learned over the years in the restaurant business. “We built such a bond and friendship with a lot of the people and we would run into someone we hadn’t seen in years who used to come in and eat all the time … We just enjoy those connections.”

Donna and Derek Kelm both talked about how important small businesses are to the community in terms of supporting local events and students. “You can do a lot of community support with these smaller businesses … like Daylight Donuts …If the kids came in and asked you to buy their poster you just did it … and we built such a bond and friendship with a lot of these people … And it meant a lot to the kids, too, because it sure helped them with their band instrument or cheerleading. It all worked out. The kids enjoyed it. It was a good time,” Derek Kelm said.

The couple volunteer and are involved with their church, Community Bible Church, where Donna Kelm enjoys teaching Sunday School.

She has also volunteered for Hope House and the Joe Beene benefits.

She looks forward to the campaign, she said. “I want to be the one that will do my very best to bring them all together here,” she said of her fellow Republicans.

She wants the local GOP headquarters to be inviting and welcoming to all. Kelm is eager to get on the ballot and excited to help unite Ector County Republicans and grow the Party.

Kelm can file and start getting signatures Monday through Dec. 11.