Rules are made


On Friday I attended the Republican National Convention Rules Committee meeting. This committee, made up of one male delegate and one female delegate from each of the fifty states and five territories (D. C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands), met for five hours to approve a set of rules governing this convention and the party for next four years. Rules Chairman Bob Kjellander, Republican National Committeeman from Illinois noted in his opening remarks that the Democratic National Committee can alter their party's rules willy-nilly at any time, while the Republican rules can only be changed by the national convention.

Take note of that distribution of seats at the table, because it came into play several times during the committee's deliberations. States and territories, big states and small states, states with strong Republican Party organizations, and states where the local Republican Party is nearly dead -- all have the same amount of representation on the Rules Committee, the Platform Committee, and the Republican National Committee, which governs the party between conventions.

Like the Platform Committee, the Rules Committee met at the Javits Center, a massive convention center on the Hudson River three long blocks west of Madison Square Garden. The GOP committees were the only activities in the building, which meant that at most you had 500 people meeting in a few conference rooms downstairs while the cavernous exhibition hall went unused. I wondered who picked up the tab for reserving the whole hall. Javits is in the deadest part of midtown Manhattan -- very little foot or auto traffic, very few nearby restaurants, the nearest subway access is half a mile away at least. Committee members were delivered to and from Javits by bus.

The Platform Committee was set up for TV, with the committee members on risers facing the gallery, microphones in front of each pair of delegates, and bright TV lights on both the delegates and the committee chairman and co-chairmen. The Rules Committee had no risers, only three microphones, which were set up in the aisles, and the committee members were facing away from the gallery and toward the chairman who was up on a dais. There were a lot of reporters and cameras at the platform hearings; the only reporter at rules committee seemed to be Bob Novak, who was taking notes, answering numerous cell calls, and visiting with Morton Blackwell and one other committee member whom I didn't recognize.

The starting point for the Rules Committee is the 2000 rules. The Republican National Committee's (RNC) Standing Committee on Rules, also chaired by Mr. Kjellander, developed a recommended set of amendments, and a "black-lined" copy showing additions and deletions was provided to the convention Rules Committee members by e-mail about a week ago. Rules Committee members could also submit amendments in writing for consideration by the committee. I've already written about a couple of the amendments -- one to eliminate automatic seats as delegates for RNC members, and another to require the RNC to print a disclaimer on fundraising letters so that donors won't be misled by locally-customized RNC letters into thinking their contributions will help local party operations.

There were only five other significant amendments over the course of the day, and an interesting pattern emerged -- these amendments were mainly proposed and supported by members from the southern states, and were opposed largely by members from the northern states, and nearly all were ultimately defeated. You couldn't tell for sure how each state was voting -- most votes were by voice vote, some were by division (each side standing and being tallied), and the delegates were sitting in alphabetical order by state name, not by region. But the speakers for and against each issue identified themselves by name and state. It seemed that most of the northern state speakers were not only rules committee members, but also RNC members or, often, state chairmen, while the southern committee members were not -- they were delegates who might have been state legislators or county party officials or grass roots activists.

The amendments proposed by the southerners (and I'll include Utah as an honorary southern state, by virtue of its socially conservative nature) were aimed at empowering the grass roots and the local parties, loosening central control, and opening up the party's processes. The opposition to each of the proposals were expressed in terms of the need to keep control of the message, keep control of the convention, and control information. I'll get into specifics in a later entry.

This is a hunch -- I have not done the research, but I suspect that most of these northern state parties have top-down structures, in which the chairman or the executive committee makes most of the decisions without reference to the grass roots. The chairman picks who gets to be a delegate and which delegates get to serve on the committees. I also suspect that most of the southern state parties are like Oklahoma in that the grass roots folks who come to the state and district conventions pick our delegates, and the delegates themselves pick who will serve on the national committees. By the way, almost all the county parties in Oklahoma sent "open delegations" to the state and district conventions, which means that for all practical purposes any registered Republcian who could be bothered to show up could vote on who would be delegates to the national convention.

And I suspect that there is some connection between the difference in state party governance and the relative age and vitality of the state parties concerned. Northern states were historically Republican, dating back to the Civil War and Reconstruction, while the South was solid for the Democrats. Things began to shift as the Democratic Party embraced social liberalism and pacifism in the '60s, while Republicans became the home for social conservatives and advocates of a vigorous opposition to communism. I am inclined to think that the grass roots orientation of southern state Republican organizations reflects the '80s wave of Christian conservatives who took over and reshaped the tiny, impotent, and irrelevant party organizations traditionally run by the country club set.

More of this later. We're off to the Theatre District to laugh at the radicals' attempts to frighten us.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 29, 2004 2:35 PM.

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