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Convention Week Rules Drama
September 1, 2012 - Josh Wilkening
In any party, family, or organization there can be disagreements, even sharp disagreements, between individuals or factions, while the individuals or factions still remain loyal to the ultimate goals of the group. The big headlines of the past week were Ann Romney introducing us to the Romney family, Paul Ryan making his prime time debut, and Mitt Romney laying out his case against Obama and for his own candidacy. But there was a subtext that was not widely reported in the mainstream media. This little known subtext could dramatically change the future of the Republican presidential nominating process, and hence the direction of the Republican Party and the country. And grassroots Republican voters deserve to know.
Normally passage of the rules is something that is quick procedural step that occurs near the start of the convention with little fanfare. This year, a floor fight over the rules of the Republican Party loomed due to proposals by top Romney campaign laywer Ben Ginsburg that would strip state Republican parties of some of their powers to select delegates to the national convention and consolidate power with the national GOP. The rules changes that were ultimately adopted on Tuesday (if you can even count what occurred as “being adopted”) were as follows:
1) The Republican National Committee (a smaller group than the national convention composed of two members from each state) can change the rules by a 3/4ths vote before October of 2014. Up till now only the national convention itself had the power to change the rules. 2) All states MUST bind their delegates to presidential candidates according to the percentage results of their caucuses or primaries (with a few exceptions). This is not currently the practice in Minnesota and many other states. 3) There are now national rules governing how bound delegates are disciplined if they do not support the candidate to which they are bound. This is perhaps the least problematic change of the four, but my understanding is that this rule was written badly and may be challenging to implement in some states. The grassroots methods whereby states choose delegates vary widely. 4) States may choose delegates either proportionally or via winner-take-all contests before April 1st of the presidential election year. This was a change back to the rules that governed delegate selection in 2008. This year (2012), I understand that states had to allocate delegates proportionally before April 1st and could not have winner-take-all-contests. Allowing for earlier winner-take-all contests tends to shorten the period of seriously contested presidential nominating contests and plays into the hands of the candidates that have the most money to spend.
Before the convention, Ginsburg had proposed and gotten through the rules committee an even worse rule which first would have allowed the national presidential campaigns to select their own delegates who were bound to them, then secondly would have allowed the campaigns veto power over their delegates (there’s not a big effective difference between the two proposals in my mind). But fortunately this rule was beaten back after significant grassroots opposition spilled out into the national media.
There was a wide coalition of individuals and groups that publically came out in opposition to these rules changes (as a necessary clarification, not everyone opposed all of them equally vociferously. Most notably there was less opposition to the rule about the timing of winner-take-all contests, a more minor aspect). Morton Blackwell, founder of the Leadership Institute, National Right to Work, and a long time fixture on the Republican right spearheaded the effort to stop the rules changes. Rush Limbaugh devoted time on his Tuesday show to oppose and expose what some called a power grab by Republican insiders. FreedomWorks, Michelle Malkin (founder of the Hot Air website and media personality), and Ron Paul publically came out against them. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, to her credit, was working the convention floor to oppose the rules changes. Even many Mitt Romney supporters, including a number from the Minnesota delegation, opposed the rules changes.
In a situation such as this, when there is significant opposition to proposed rules for a convention, a minority report (that is a substitute set of rules on contested items), is often prepared and voted on. Those of us delegates who opposed the rule changes had heard that a minority report was on its way.
But what happened next is especially preposterous. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was presiding over the convention at that point, called for a voice vote on adoption of the rules. The voice vote between the “ayes” and the “nos” sounded pretty equal. Without so much as a breath, the Speaker declared the “ayes” have it and the convention moved on. No minority report. No standing vote. A large group of delegates (including me) from Texas, Minnesota, Maine and elsewhere proceeded to call for and ultimately chant in unison “Division” (a request to count the vote properly by having the voters stand) or “Point of Order” But the effort was to no avail. The request fell on deaf ears and the convention moved on. A video of the event can be found on Youtube at this site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77W5OKStO5s&feature=player_embedded .
But to add insult to injury, what I found out next is even more outrageous. I can’t verify this first hand, but from what I heard later, a minority report (substitute set of rules) was in fact properly presented to be voted on to the RNC Chair, and/or the Chair of the Rules Committee by the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa no less. The response by the convention leadership? They ignored it. Forget rules for the conduct of conventions and proper procedures. Forget encouraging participation by the grassroots in a bottom up fashion. As long as the top insider Republican leadership gets its way, I guess they can just brush the opposition aside and move on with their business.
So what does this mean for the average American? As we know, every eligible American can vote for the final two candidates, a Republican or Democrat in the presidential election in November (or a few others from various smaller parties I might add). But in my mind, the caucus and primary process, whereby those final two major party candidates are selected from the myriad of those who are eligible is at least as important at the final vote between two. The end result of this rule change is that the caucus and primary process has moved away from a being grassroots process which any voter can influence and toward a top down process dominated by Washington insiders. I saw this fiasco first hand, since I happened to be delegate to the Republican National Convention. But lest anyone think this is a criticism of Republican leaders alone, I have absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that Democratic Party operatives are at least as egregious. Washington power brokers operate the same way regardless of which party they call home.
So how will Republican activists and voters in the hinterlands respond to this? First, because so much other news was at the forefront this past week, I doubt many people will even hear that this happened, much less understand its significance. But unfortunately, I think that some who do hear might get discouraged and stay home or even vote third party this fall. But most others will realize that politics is a dirty business and that there is still a lot more good than bad in the Republican Party. These voters will realize that the Romney/Ryan still outpaces Obama/Biden by far when it comes to protecting our freedom, retaining our free enterprise system, and getting our economy back on track. And hopefully this incident will serve as a warning to the Washington insiders who seek to thwart the will of the people in the future – your actions will not be tolerated. And the people you seek to silence will be heard.
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