Search This Blog


Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Newcomer's Guide to State Political Conventions

I recently attended my first state GOP political convention. The convention occupied the better part of a weekend, and I never strayed far from the question: is this activity worth my time? In this post, I will describe aspects of the convention and my answer to the preceding question.

Before the convention, I assumed that the main business of the meeting would be working out the party platform. One of my colleagues in the county GOP, however, told me that the resolutions would be more interesting than the platform. As homework before the convention, I studied the platform proposed by the Platform Committee and sought and identified logical inconsistencies, incoherent statements, violations of my idea of small government conservatism, and impolitic planks. I was unsure how one addressed these at the convention.

Day 1: The convention met in a large hall. The delegates were seated by county. I was the only delegate from my county. We began with a prayer, the presentation of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, and a welcome speech from the state party chairman. A large part of the work of the convention then focused on the rules for running the convention itself. The state party chairman appointed the convention officers. In particular, the party chairman does not chair the convention. I assume the rationale for this is that the party chairman generates so much animosity in his capacity as chairman that it makes for a friendlier convention if an outsider is appointed chair of the convention. The next order of business is the report of the Credentials Committee. This committee rules on which people have passed the necessary hurdles to become delegates (and therefore given voting rights). Amusingly, the prospective delegates are asked to vote to accept this report; i.e., we vote on whether we have the right to vote. This process takes a surprisingly large amount of time, especially as there were inevitable omissions which needed to be corrected. Now that we had voted to grant ourselves voting rights, the Rules Committee proposed rules for running the convention, in particular, rules for voting and rules for debating. There was little debate over the rules of debate, and we quickly passed the proposed rules.

I assumed, as a naive newcomer, that the next item on the agenda, amending the state GOP rules of organization, would be comparably pro forma. Apparently, rules changes are the outgrowth of old internecine party fights. There was extended debate about the proposed rules. I had no opinion on (or understanding of) the issues and simply listened and watched the nature of floor debate. The final item on the agenda for the day was voting on the party platform.

My assumption that the party platform would be the heart of the convention was mistaken. There were few proposed amendments. I decided to address a substantive issue. Although I am comfortable speaking before large audiences of mathematicians, I was self conscious addressing the convention. There were microphones spaced along the four aisles dividing the hall. I approached a mike and received permission to speak from the chairman. I gave my name and county and then suggested we amend one of the social planks to delete federal references. I believe it will lead to better electoral prospects for Republicans if we stick to our constitutional principles and treat most social issues as the proper domain of the state governments - not the federal government. My amendment was promptly seconded, and then I was given a second opportunity to approach the mike and take two minutes to argue my case. I had not observed this part of the process and was unready with additional rhetoric. I merely added that conservatives were always ill served when social issues were federalized. I then returned to my seat. At this point other delegates had the opportunity to approach a microphone and argue for or against the amendment. Before any substantive discussion began, a delegate from a nearby county proposed postponing indefinitely debate on the amendment. The convention chairman then explained to us that this was a parliamentary procedure to kill an amendment without expressing an opinion on it. This motion passed killing my amendment. A few minutes later, someone proposed voting to cut off all further debate on the platform. This passed by the required two thirds majority, and we shortly thereafter approved the platform, warts and all. We then adjourned for the day.

The judicial candidates invited the delegates to visit their 'hospitality suite' in the evening. This consisted of a suite in a hotel with free booze and hors d'oeuvres. You had to pass a phalanx of candidates to reach the refreshments. The rooms were too packed with bodies for me to bother to enter.

Day 2 began like day 1: prayer, the presentation of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, and welcome speeches. Various candidates for statewide offices were paraded across the stage and allowed to make a few remarks. The top of the ticket (whom I had met that morning) made a long speech. We then broke out for various 'training sessions', addressing topics such as how to employ facebook and twitter in campaigns. Lunch followed. Lunch with the top of the ticket was an (expensive) option.

After lunch we reconvened in the convention hall. After numerous speeches, many quite good, we once again heard from the Credentials Committee. Once again it took quite a bit of time to vote on who could vote. My county delegation swelled to eight people on day 2. The rest of the day was devoted to voting on resolutions. The Resolutions Committee had prepared a list of proposed resolutions covering numerous topics such as repealing Obamacare, opposing a VAT, and calling for sanctions against Iran. Several handouts proposing resolutions, not supported by the committee, also circulated.

The debate over resolutions was much more heated than the debate over platform. Delegates formed long lines at the microphones, waiting their turn to speak. I was extremely impressed by the informed and thoughtful arguments, articulate speeches, and mastery of parliamentary maneuvers. Of course some delegates made statements I thought absurd, but it was heartening hearing so many concerned citizens from so many different walks of life making subtle and intelligent arguments - even if I did disagree with many of them. The silent majority of delegates, however, seemed to prefer to accept the committee reports essentially unaltered.

By the time 5:30 rolled around, I was ready to join a vote to close discussion and accept the amended report. The convention ended, and I went home. Because this was my first convention, I had looked at every aspect of it with a view to answering the question: is this worth my time? At times I wondered if the convention is primarily a vehicle for rallying the troops, rather than seeking their input. I am sure this is one objective of the convention (and a reasonable one), but my current assessment is that the debate over issues and platform is more important than merely adding an egg to a cake mix. I will try to return next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment