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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sausage, Donuts, and Paperwork in Triplicate

This semester I attended my first county GOP convention. The convention provided a close view of grass roots politics. The goals of the convention in a non-election year were to choose the county GOP leadership for the next two years and to update the rules governing the county party organization.

In our county, the Republican party is a small minority, and it can be difficult to convince people that local participation is worthwhile. About 50% of the eligible delegates from my precinct attended the convention, and that was considered an exceptionally high turn out. When trying to encourage my neighbors to attend, I encountered many excuses for not attending. The prize for the most annoying response goes to those people who told me that they did not want to participate because the people who did take the time to participate were moving the party in directions antithetical to the nonparticipants. This response was particularly nettlesome this year because our leadership race pitted our politically inoffensive current chairman against a newcomer with a record of attacking opponents on religious grounds. Note that I am not complaining that he attacked policies on religious grounds but that he impugned the faith of the proponents of liberal policies. In fact, on one occasion he even made public remarks that appeared to me and my neighbors to attack members of other religious groups regardless of their policy positions. My neighbors most exercised by such religious attacks did not attend the convention. The newcomer won.

Although the focus of the convention was the election of new leadership, the bulk of the time was devoted to changing the rules governing the party. There were no significant areas of contention, but a room full of people in the grip of Robert's Rules of Order can have trouble reaching a common goal. In addition, an occasional freelancer would offer an ill considered amendment that would send the group into strange byways that strongly testified against the reputed wisdom of crowds.

As the convention dragged into the afternoon, the assembled became hungry and restless. A GOP auxillary group offered water and snacks for sale. Unfortunately, election law has become so ridiculous that the purchase of a donut is regarded as a political contribution. In order to avoid corrupting our political process by hordes of conventioneers receiving lucrative government contracts in return for a cruller, the purchase of a donut or bottle of water required the buyer to fill out forms providing employer, address, phone number, and endless other nonsense.

The county convention was definitely messier than the state convention I attended last summer. There were fewer experts to guide us along. Nonetheless, despite the crudeness of the process, I admire those who are willing to give up a beautiful weekend morning in order to make political sausage, and maybe, if they are lucky, leverage a box of glazed donuts into ill gotten government largesse.

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