A convention preview

During most years, the Spring Convention of the Maryland Republican Party is a pretty genteel affair – I should have some idea since I’ve gone to the last five. Unlike the Fall Convention where officers are selected or resolutions incite disagreement, the Spring meeting usually is very businesslike and features our annual awards.

Well, this year may be a little different. I hadn’t thought about writing a preview, but a Facebook friend of mine made the suggestion:

Just wanted to let me know how much I agree with your resolution regarding Rule 11… I think you need to blog about it to create a buzz among the cc members…

The resolution in question is quite simple, and its background – oddly enough – comes out of the last Spring Convention.

If you’ve read along this website over the last few years, you may recall that I fumed about the treatment of gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy during that gathering. Little did I know at the time the Maryland GOP brass were covertly plotting to assist their anointed candidate (and former governor) Bob Ehrlich by allowing the national Republican Party to waive their rule against pre-primary involvement, known as Rule 11. (Andy Harris was also part of that waiver.)

Once I found out about the situation, I was good and mad because we on the Central Committee were never consulted for input. If they had only brought it before the convention as a resolution, I’m certain the measure would have passed overwhelmingly despite my principled objection.

So I decided to do something about it. Originally this was going to happen for last fall’s convention, but there was enough other business to contend with since the party Chair would be elected – and I thought I’d perhaps have an ally for this resolution in the spring. I’m not sure Alex Mooney fits this bill, however.

Written with Heather Olsen of Prince George’s County, I authored a resolution which would change the party bylaws and make the three representatives to the national party get permission from a supermajority (3/4) of the rank-and-file members before asking for a Rule 11 waiver in the future. Seems like a pretty cut-and-dried, common sense regulation doesn’t it?

Well, apparently not to those who set up the agenda and added a total rewrite of the bylaws (which were just revamped three years ago) onto the business of the convention – then wrote rules to limit the proceedings to three hours and made my resolution last on the list (it’s the only resolution up for consideration.)

I have news for them, though: I don’t give up and I don’t give in. If I don’t get my up-or-down roll call vote this time, you can be sure you’ll see this again come fall. Why not get the debate over with and pass the resolution to allow those elected by the people a check and balance on executive power?

There’s another thing which bothers me about the proposed bylaws. No, it’s not the voting method discussion, which I’ll come back to in a bit. But there’s a proposal to form a Judiciary Committee, a star chamber of sorts to mete out party discipline. Again, my spider sense begins to tingle when we start talking about this sort of matter because I can guaran-damn-tee you there’s a lot in the party who think me at the very least a nonconformist and perhaps some sort of troublemaker. Luckily for me I come from a county which has my back. But what about other TEA Party members and those who don’t share the establishment political background – will they be subject to a witch hunt? I think this is a valid concern.

Now to the voting question. During the national party convention, delegates are each allotted a vote and a candidate needs to win the support of 50 percent plus one of the body there to secure the nomination. The number of convention delegates is known before the start, so the media can focus on the horserace to the magic number of delegates required. It doesn’t work that way in Maryland, though.

The other day I received an e-mail which beseeched me to maintain the one man, one vote principle at the convention (as does this blog post.) While it makes sense on a certain level to do so, the problem is that one county would have 1/6 of the possible votes while others have much smaller proportions. However, that’s not as bad as the previous proportional voting system in place, a different version of which has been in use during the last two state conventions. In those cases, the total delegation of the largest county had enough power to outvote the eleven smallest counties.

In a compromise move, members of a subcommittee got together and hashed out a system which is population-based, but both levels out the playing field somewhat and adds incentives for getting Republicans elected. Obviously the large (and heavily Democratic) counties cried foul about this and I’m betting that’s where the e-mail came from. But with the new system the small, rural counties aren’t completely powerless and can build a coalition among themselves when needed. I think the compromise isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the old system and an improvement over one man, one vote.

But it seems like in this go-round there’s something for everyone to hate. The party has a lot of adjustment to do since there was a lot of new blood added in 2010 and those rookie members have a heavy TEA Party influence (witness who’s taking the lead on the referendum drive to overturn in-state tuition for illegal immigrants – hint: it’s not the state party leadership, but instead a group of mostly freshman Delegates.) One has to ask: would someone like Sam Hale gotten any support at all four years ago?

Nor do I look badly at all the changes proposed – for example, I think two-year terms for MDGOP officers are a good idea for accountability. (Maybe we would have avoided the Jim Pelura controversy, for example.) But the proposal overall needs a lot more work to be acceptable, and I don’t think either the itinerary for consideration or the artificial time limit imposed is the way to proceed.

Our Fall Convention last year took about six hours to recite the reports and elect officers to lead the party. There’s no way three hours will be able to contain a reasonable and reasoned discussion of the bylaw changes; instead, perhaps this is a discussion for the Fall meeting when we can allow for a single-subject meeting at a less hurried pace. (I can also drop my proposal into the new bylaws if necessary.)

The by-laws aren’t going anywhere, so let’s take the time to do them right.

Update, 10 p.m. 5-5-11: My proposal and this post in general were discussed at length on Red Maryland radio (first 20 minutes or so) and I wanted to respond to the questions posed by Brian Griffiths, Greg Kline, and Mark Newgent regarding the 3/4 majority in my proposal.

If Queen Anne’s County Republicans don’t like the proposal, so be it. They can be wrong every so often too. But the reason I insisted on a 3/4 majority was to make it difficult but not impossible to adopt a Rule 11 waiver. I look at it this way: almost every resolution and vote between two options at these conventions turns out to be overwhelming, if not unanimous. (The best example I can think of would be Audrey Scott vs. Daniel Vovak for party Chair in 2009.)

Had the Rule 11 exemption been put up to a vote at the 2010 convention I’d be willing to wager there wouldn’t have been 12 people in the room besides me objecting. And I wouldn’t have objected because I eventually supported Brian Murphy (because at the time I was truthfully undecided between the two) but because I don’t believe in the state party taking sides – that was my experience in the Ohio Republican Party coming out. Remember, as I wrote at the time:

We’re not supposed to endorse candidates pre-primary, but by all appearances the Maryland GOP has placed its lot for better or worse behind Bob Ehrlich. Yes, it can be argued that Murphy has little chance but at least he put his name on the line while someone was dithering about which race to run in – if he would run at all. I think we owed him the opportunity to speak, or else be neutral in the race and find a different keynote speaker.

Now, I’m pleased the trio brought up the “star chamber” aspect of the proposed Judiciary Committee because I think their take is like mine – glad they agree it’s spot on.

But again, I think the Rule 11 fiasco from last year is worth discussing because there’s a potential we could see the same thing happen this fall in the U.S. Senate race or even the Sixth District. (I don’t foresee any GOP challenger for Andy Harris, but you never know.)

The only thing I would have appreciated is the chance to say my piece on the radio show. Just ask.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

3 thoughts on “A convention preview”

  1. We kind decided to go with it last minute, so we didn’t want to put you on the spot. We’ll see what happens this weekend and we’ll discuss it more on next week’s show

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