2016 Oklahoma Republican State Convention

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A subdued mood prevailed Saturday as 857 delegates convened at FirstMoore Baptist Church for the 2016 Oklahoma Republican Convention. (The 2012 convention drew approximately 1,400 delegates.)

The state convention in a presidential year has a national focus, electing two members of the Republican National Committee, electing 25 at-large delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention, nominating two electors (and alternates), considering amendments to permanent state party rules, and voting on a state platform, which will be forwarded to the national convention platform committee for their consideration. Once the state convention adjourns, the newly elected national convention delegates caucus to select a delegation chairman and two members each for the national convention platform, rules, credentials, and permanent organization committees.

The presumptive (and presumptuous) Republican presidential nominee scarcely rated a mention. Donald Trump might as well be called Lord Voldemort -- he who must not be named. In her farewell at the conclusion of the convention, State Chairman Pam Pollard urged the delegates to get involved to help defeat Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders, but wisely omitted any mention of the candidate who presumably will be the victor if they are defeated.

Trump signs and stickers were not much in evidence. Those displaying support for the egotistical oompa-loompa were few and far between.

My report will necessarily be incomplete. I was part of the check-in team, which processed about 600 delegates in a two-hour period, and then stayed to help with wrap-up as a handful of credentials problems were cleaned up. Tulsa-area software developer David Byte put together a solid, almost fool-proof, credentialing front-end and back-end system. Delegates were never kept waiting for more than 5-10 minutes during rare rush periods. A handful of counties had delegates who were issued badges but hadn't been recorded as checked-in, evidently a user error that could easily be guarded against next time. Because I was working at check-in, I missed all of the political speeches, so I couldn't tell you who spoke or what was said. To be honest, when the check-in system was packed up and loaded, I was tempted to call it a day, hop in my car, and head home. But there was important business to be done. Here's a summary of what happened.

Republican National Committee:

Incumbent Carolyn McLarty was re-elected to a third term as National Committeewoman, defeating Linda Huggard by a 75%-25% vote. McLarty is a leader among conservatives on the RNC, a founding member of the Republican National Conservative Caucus, and serves as chairman of the RNC's Permanent Committee on Resolutions. She was an early and enthusiastic endorser of Ted Cruz.

Steve Curry was elected to succeed retiring National Committeeman Steve Fair, defeating Richard Engle by a 60%-40% vote. Curry is chairman of the Oklahoma State Election Board and a former chairman of the Oklahoma County Republican Party. While Curry could be regarded as more of an establishment type, at least in temperament, than his opponent, many grassroots delegates (including myself) regarded Curry as a more trustworthy guardian of party values during a possible Trumpist dark age. Curry was willing to oppose a Trump nomination for RNC chairman; Engle dismissed the idea. Engle's credibility with party regulars was damaged by his eager participation in the 2012 "parking lot convention" -- an attempt by Ron Paul supporters to delegitimize the state convention that had just adjourned, at which the Paulestinians were defeated by a 60-40 supermajority.

Delegates and alternates:

The slate of 25 at-large delegates and at-large alternates was approved by an overwhelming roll call vote. (Attempts to suspend the rules to approve the slate by acclamation were rebuffed by convention chairman Greg Treat. A roll call vote was not taken in 2012, which Ron Paul supporters used as a pretext to challenge the convention's validity.) For the first time since 2004, no alternative slate was put forward. At the 2008 and 2012 conventions, Ron Paul supporters attempted to defeat the executive committee slate in hopes of electing fellow Paulestinians to the National Convention.

The rules have changed to make alternative slates more difficult to accomplish. The slate must be complete, filled out with people who had submitted paperwork to the state party, and with people who gave their consent to be included. By contrast, North Dakota voted on individual delegates, and the Cruz campaign was able to circulate a slate that included some who were on the executive committee slate and some who were not.

Had the Indiana primary turned out differently, we likely would have seen a concerted effort by the Cruz campaign to nominate a slate of loyalists and to turn out their supporters to defeat the executive committee slate and elect their own. With an open convention no longer seen as a realistic possibility and with the Cruz campaign in shutdown mode, that didn't happen.

The executive committee slate was an assortment of party activists and donors, typical of years past, going to Cleveland to be the studio audience for a week-long infomercial -- except that there did seem to be the sense that the delegates need to be prepared to defend against attempts by the Trump insurgency to water down the platform and the grassroots role in the party. The slate included a few vocal Trump supporters and a few committed Cruz supporters, but many in the delegation had endorsed other candidates in the March 1 primary or were silent.

Party rules:

A number of substantial amendments to the permanent state party rules were considered and were defeated. (A few housekeeping amendments were approved.) Party rule amendments must be proposed by a county convention and then approved by the state committee before going to the state convention for approval. The general sense was that the problems the rules intended to solve were better handled by the judgment of party leaders than additional rules and regulations. (Here are the current Oklahoma Republican Party Rules.)

A couple of the proposed amendments addressed the problems created by Republican popularity. Contested primaries are becoming more frequent, with challengers seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans over policy differences. Should party resources, such as voter databases, be equally available to all candidates seeking the GOP nomination or to none at all until the primary is settled? Former Democrats are changing parties to run for office -- how to distinguish between genuine conversions and conversions for political convenience? Should party officials vet candidates based on their views on the issues, such as commitment to pro-life principles? Here are each of the proposals. Only the housekeeping amendments were approved.

From Cleveland County: Clarifying that state committee meetings may be called for a location other than Oklahoma City.
From Cleveland County: Cleaning up sex-specific language about filling vacancies in party offices. Sex-specific quotas in state party offices were removed several years ago.
From Cleveland County: More cleanup of moot sex-specific language.
From Cleveland County: Removal of sex-specific language regarding executive committee appointments.
From Cleveland County: Clarifying budget committee appointments.
From Cleveland County: Clarifying that the highest-ranking Republican in each house is a member of the executive committee, aligning the rule with actual practice. (The rule previously specified the "floor leader" in each house, which is not the highest-ranking member when the party is in the majority.)
From Muskogee County: Cleaning up sex-specific language in several rules, largely duplicating several of the Cleveland County proposals.
From Tulsa County: Cleaning up sex-specific language in several rules, largely duplicating several of the Cleveland County proposals.
From Wagoner County: Adding several causes for removal specific to the state chairman and vice chairman, relating to involvement in a Republican primary. (Defeated.)
From Cimarron and Kay Counties: Forbidding Oklahoma GOP conventions and meetings from being held in a gun-free zone. (Defeated.)
From Cimarron and Kay Counties: Creating a pro-life committee, made up of one member from each county, to vet candidates for pro-life views prior to providing them with funding or support from the party. (Defeated.)
From Cimarron County: Prohibiting political lobbyists from participating in the Oklahoma Republican Party State Convention Process. (Defeated. It was pointed out that Tony Lauinger, head of Oklahomans for Life and a tireless lobbyist on his own dime for pro-life legislation, would be banned from the convention under the rule.)

Platform:

This year's platform committee was dominated by delegates from Oklahoma County, and it proposed a one-page statement of principles, followed by a handful of specific resolutions. The platform approved in 2015 was 25 pages long, and while many delegates agreed that the platform needs to be cleaned up and pared down, the two-page proposal was a Procrustean solution. A clear statement of principles is a good thing, but grassroots Republicans want to speak as a body on specific issues, as evidenced by the many individual platform planks proposed by precinct caucuses. The 2016 state platform committee seemed to discard all of that passion and hard work. A majority of delegates voted viva voce to postpone the 2016 platform indefinitely, killing the proposal and leaving the 2015 platform in place. The 2015 platform will be forwarded for consideration by the national platform committee.

Delegation meeting:

The at-large and district delegates elected Cruz supporters to both slots on the national platform committee (a job that requires an additional week's stay in Cleveland before the convention), to both slots on the permanent organization committee (which selects the convention chairman, parliamentarian, and secretary and sets the order of business -- normally non-controversial but possibly contentious this year), and to one of the two slots on the rules committee.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 16, 2016 10:59 PM.

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