In the spirit of unity and exploring ideas in the wake of a bitter and contentious campaign for state party Chairman, I want to respond and share my thoughts on a letter handed to me at the convention by party activist and onetime Delegate Don Murphy. I’m not going to reprint the whole letter, which runs a page and a half, single spaced, but I will go through some key points Don makes.
In his diatribe, Murphy has a long preamble which makes the key statement:
It is time to stop defending the status quo, which only serves to keep us in our state of irrelevance. Things could not be worse, so clearly, the risk is worth the reward.
The first point Murphy brings to the fore is the idea of an open primary:
In the near future, (unaffiliated) voters will represent a plurality, and then a majority of the electorate. At some point between now and then, they will demand and receive participation rights in our primaries, or rightfully, call for an end to taxpayer funded nominating elections. The MDGOP should be prepared for this eventuality, and we should embrace it.
His argument goes on to state that several northeastern states, which have high percentages of unaffiliated voters, have elected either Republican governors, Senators, or a majority of state legislators.
Yet the question to me isn’t one of strictly electing Republicans. Indeed, that part of the country has elected a share of Republicans over the years – but do the names Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chafee ring a bell? They were nominally Republican but eventually became Democrats because they were so liberal. I don’t think the northeastern states are a good example to follow given that reasoning. In essence, the way I look at it is that all an open primary does is dilute the vote in a more moderate direction so that we would end up with liberal, milquetoast Tweedledum on the GOP side and liberal, milquetoast Tweedledee for the Democrats.
But Don then throws a wrench into the process:
Opening the primary to unaffiliated voters doesn’t mean we should lose control of the nomination process. It is time for the Party to endorse candidates in the primary. After all, how can we recruit better candidates if we do not support them through the nomination?
Of all the people for Don to hand this to, you would think he would know how much I absolutely hate, loathe, and despise the idea of pre-primary endorsements, such as Rule 11. Did I mention I can’t stand the thought of its invocation?
He must have kept me in mind:
This should not be a closed process like we experienced with the Rule 11 waivers, but an expanded convention or caucus process, similar to the Virginia model, which is opened to nearly 10,000 convention delegates all elected by the voters within their districts.
I guess the question which comes to my mind then is: why have a primary at all? If we’re so much smarter than the voters, why don’t we just fill out the Republican side of the ballot all the way up and down the line? All a would-be candidate would have to do is figure out a way to appease the 10,000 party activists in a state race and for local races it would perhaps just be the nine Central Committee members.
Now I liked what Collins Bailey had to say about opening our convention to the public and trying to make it a more broad-based event even though it would entail conducting some sensitive party business inside a fishbowl. But while I don’t always agree with who the state as a whole selects as a candidate, I think the idea of maximizing Republican participation in the electoral process to the fullest extent possible makes the most sense.
But there is one final main point Don makes, and it’s one I think has by far the most merit of his three main proposals.
…while voting is our Constitutional right and duty, ballot access under the GOP banner is not. Dozens of state parties require signatures to gain access to the nominating ballot and/or fairly high filing fees. Neither of these hurdles keep anyone off the ballot, but they serve to separate the serious candidates from the perennial candidates. These state parties believe their registered voters have the right and a reason to determine ballot access. More importantly, requiring candidates to gather signatures, only serves to make them credible and electable in the long run…
Granted, we had a candidate who petitioned his way onto the ballot in 2012 by spending oodles of his own money to get the signatures. But get them he did.
I’m actually familiar with the process, both on the level of having to go out and get a minimum of five valid signatures to run for Central Committee in my home state of Ohio as well as trudging out in the freezing January cold to do the same thing for a state House candidate. (Obviously his signature threshold was significantly higher, perhaps 500 signatures.) Maryland’s process is indeed incredibly easy as it only involves a filing fee.
And while I am all for having contested primaries and the like, I think this is a pretty good idea. Most states have a reasonable threshold of ballot access signatures, with a statewide candidate generally required to collect from either every county or every Congressional district. The volunteers and assistance needed to secure ballot access via petition can oftentimes be the beginnings of the campaign staff needed to run a good grassroots campaign.
Murphy goes on to make two other minor suggestions, asking that Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the RNC National Convention be elected on the same line (instead of separately as they are now) and to require photo voter ID in the Republican primary – “The MDGOP should lead by example.”
After discussing Murphy’s ideas, I would like to add one of my own, something which I think would encourage participation. In fact, I would gladly trade the idea of having to collect petition signatures for being let out of the requirements spelled out below.
Being on the Central Committee isn’t quite a thankless job, but it’s relatively close. Yet we have to have a treasurer and file campaign finance data for an UNPAID position. Who came up with that brilliant idea and why?
Now I understand that all I have to do is fill out a form called an Affidavit of Limited Contributions and Expenditures (or ALCE for short) on an annual basis to keep the Board of Election wolves at bay. But I still think having to have a campaign finance entity for a job which pays me nothing is nothing short of ridiculous.
There are a number of other thoughts I’ve had on the state and local parties in the week since the convention was hurriedly brought to an end. But I think the back channels between Chair and onlooker may be a better venue for those.