TWO BILLS CURRENTLY UNDER CONSIDERATION BY THE VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONSTITUTE UNWISE, UNFAIR, AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL INTRUSIONS INTO THE OPERATION OF PRIVATE POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS. TELL YOUR LEGISLATORS TO VOTE THEM DOWN!!
Republican legislators in Richmond–undoubtedly with a lot of support from Democrats–are are currently moving to strip political parties in Virginia of the ability to determine on their own how to select their candidates. If these lawmakers succeed, a decision that for over 200 years has been left to political parties to determine in accordance with their First Amendment rights will now be taken by the state, resulting in state involvement and control of each and every nomination of candidates in Virginia.
These legislators, Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) and Del. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach), have introduced bills (here and here) designed to ban nomination by party canvasses, conventions, mass meetings, firehouse primaries, or any other nomination process not run by the state (i.e., a primary). And while these measures are claimed to be taken to allow active duty military participation, their real purpose and effect is to strip the Republican grassroots of their ability to have a strong voice in how our party is governed.
Before going further, let me make one thing clear. I am a veteran, and the son and grandson of veterans. My closest group of friends–men my children call “Uncle” because I consider them my brothers–are those with whom I served. I live close enough to Quantico to have my windows rattle during live fire training (“the sound of freedom”), and am blessed to count innumerable active duty and retired military people as my neighbors. I respect and admire military service, and the sacrifices made for our freedoms. Further, I think Defense Department rules barring participation in political nomination conventions by active duty personnel are based on misunderstandings of how conventions and other nomination methods work (at least in Virginia). I think those rules should be changed.
What SHOULD NOT be changed is a political party’s right to make its own choices about its candidates, how it governs itself, and how it presents itself and its message to the public. This sort of activity, including (especially) the selection of the party’s nominees, is the absolute core of a party’s First Amendment rights to free speech and association. Accordingly, political parties are PRIVATE organizations whose collective First Amendment rights cannot be violated.
I’ll save for another post the argument about whether primaries, canvasses, or conventions are the better way to choose a nominee. In all honesty, each method has drawbacks and advantages, and each has the potential to alienate some segment of the voting public. Each can be appropriate under different circumstances. But the choice is simply not the government’s to make. That choice belongs, as it has for literally centuries, with the parties themselves, organized and governed in the way they see best suited to their expression of political will.
At bottom, this is an attempt to silence the grassroots and strip their best vehicle for affecting the political process–the Republican Party of Virginia–of any real power to do so. It must be stopped. If these lawmakers were serious about allowing military participation in conventions, they’d be lobbying to have DOD Directive 1344.10 (a policy, not a law) tweaked to allow military personnel, in civilian clothes, to participate in conventions for at least the limited purpose of casting a vote for nominees for public office. But that’s not their real aim.
To members of the legislature that support such an unconstitutional power grab, please remember two names: Joe May and Beverly Sherwood. We will fight this, and we will remember you.
An elephant never forgets.
UPDATE: RPV Chairman Pat Mullins gets it: