In the days after this April’s Republican Party of Virginia 2016 State Convention, I wrote a piece called “End the Slate.” In it, I decried the opaque and arcane manner in which Virginia Republicans select their at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention.
This system allows a handful of party insiders on the Nominations Committee (which included me this year) to recommend to the Convention a slate of candidates. Delegates are then given no real choice in who represents them…they can either vote for the slate, or they can vote against it and be faced with an alternative slate. Delegates are never given a real opportunity to express their own preferences.
In most years this hasn’t been controversial (even if it has caused decades of griping and grumbling), as in normal years it has always been thought to not really matter who we send to represent us at the national convention. As such, the slate has always been adopted without much fuss, and they’ve usually included current and former statewide elected officials, senior party leaders, major donors, and other pals of the party insiders on the Nominations Committee.
This year, as we all know, has not been a normal year. At the time of the state convention, a contested national convention (where no candidate had a majority going in) appeared to be a very real possibility. In that scenario, the individual candidate preferences of the national delegates would be of the utmost importance. As I wrote previously,
In most other years it hasn’t mattered who the delegates were, as the results of the national convention were already known on the basis of a single candidate’s having secured the bound delegate votes necessary to clinch the nomination. This year, it is not overly dramatic to say that those whom we selected could quite literally determine who the next President of the United States will be. In large part, this informed the preferences of committee members this year.
Given this dynamic, the Nominations Committee slate took on a new importance. For many in attendance who didn’t understand the party’s rules, customs, and processes, this gave the understandable impression that the system was “rigged.” And in a very real way, it was. A delegate representing his or her home county should have the right to expect, when they arrive at the Convention that has been called for the purpose of electing delegates to the national convention, that they will have some meaningful choice in the matter…that they will be entitled to vote their preference, instead of being called upon to be someone else’s rubber stamp. From “End the Slate“:
Our failure to accommodate the reality of 2016 and the possibility of a contested national convention gave rise to a tsunami of ill-informed vitriol about our process, only about half of which is unjustified.
Setting aside the opportunistic demagoguery from certain quarters, it is entirely legitimate and correct to say the process lacks transparency, and places too much power in the hands of a few leaders at the expense of the grassroots of our Party. I’m not yet sure what method I would recommend to replace it, but it must be replaced.
Many members of the Virginia delegation to this year’s RNC, along with allies from around the country, backed amendments to RNC rules that would have barred the practice of nominating committee slates. As Ken Cuccinelli explained here, the main proposed amendment would have read as follows:
Congressional districts and state parties may not nominate delegates or receive nominations for delegates via a nominating committee or via any group the purpose of which is to select or recommend one or more delegates for a slate or ballot.
As TBE readers will know, this and every other reform amendment was unfairly blocked by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and his allies. That means it is up to the states that use nominations committees to put their own houses in order. Luckily, there is now a broad-based effort afoot in Virginia to do just that.
Newly-elected 8th District State Central Committee Representative Sandy Liddy Bourne will introduce a resolution at the upcoming August 27 meeting of that body that would start the process of amending the Republican Party of Virginia’s rules to specifically require direct election of national delegates at all conventions. (This would not only address the state convention, but also the egregious local nominations committee processes some districts
, like the old 7th District, have used in the past to shut out grassroots participation) [Ed. Note: Former 7th District strongman Linwood Cobb takes issue with this. We’ve been on the opposite side on many issues, and he’s got a habit of scowling at me when I greet him and try to shake his hand, but as far as I know Linwood is an honorable man. I will take his word that the old 7th District didn’t do nomination committee slates. I was misinformed. Linwood, I apologize for having mistakenly maligned your record.]. Sandy’s resolution reads as follows:
Let it be resolved that the membership of the State Central Committee place the following amendment into the Party Plan Amendment Committee for review with the recommendation that it be passed and brought before the State Central Committee at its next meeting for a vote of approval.
I propose that we amend Article VIII, Section L. of the party plan, which currently reads as follows:
SECTION L. National Convention Delegates
Procedures concerning Conventions at which delegates and alternates to National Conventions are elected shall comply with the applicable Rules of the National Republican Party.
to be changed to read as follows:
SECTION L. National Convention Delegates
(a) Procedures concerning Conventions at which delegates and alternates to National Conventions are elected shall comply with the applicable Rules of the National Republican Party.
(b)(i) All individuals who qualify as candidates to run for delegate and alternate to a National Convention shall be on one ballot, whether in electronic or paper form, with no recommendation or screening of candidates other than ensuring their proper qualifications. Delegate candidates shall be ranked in descending order of their vote totals, and the top number of delegates matching the number of delegate positions shall be declared the winners of those delegate positions. The next ranking delegate candidates of the same number shall be declared the winners of the alternate delegate positions.
(b)(2) In the event there is a tie for delegate, there should be a runoff between the candidates who have tied with the loser receiving the status of first alternate delegate. If there is a tie for the last position of alternate delegate, that position should be determined by a coin toss.
Sandy Liddy Bourne is to be commended for hitting the ground running as a new member of State Central, and for proactively taking steps to address an old problem that this year’s state convention called to everyone’s attention. Although Sandy and I won’t agree on everything, this is a good example of the great majority of things where we can all work together in the party’s best interests.
If adopted, Sandy’s proposed resolution would put the question to the subset of the State Central Committee tasked with studying and drafting amendments to the party’s Plan of Organization (i.e., its rules). That group can make tweaks or offer alternative suggestions, but it would ultimately be up to the State Central Committee at a future meeting to adopt such an amendment.
I, for one, will heartily back such a move, and suspect that it will have well more than the level of support necessary for passage. It is long overdue.