RNC 2008: August 2008 Archives

I was having lunch and writing outside The Bad Waitress, a cafe at 26th & Nicollet in Minneapolis, when the wind blew the umbrella down on my head. There's still a strong wind blowing outside here in the Twin Cities, but it's nothing compared to what's about to hit the other end of the Mississippi River.

Earlier this afternoon, the Republican National Convention media office announced that Monday's convention proceedings will be limited to the bare minimum required to establish the convention and lay the ground work for the official nomination of John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president.

At the recommendation of Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican National Convention announced substantial changes to the convention's program and actions being taken to help with Hurricane Gustav relief efforts. On Monday, all program activities beyond the official business that must be conducted in accordance with party rules will be cancelled. Among the other actions announced today are the formation of the Affected States Working Group, the establishment of an Affected States Information Center, and the chartering of a DC-9 to transport affected delegates.

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain 2008, announced that the upcoming Republican National Nominating Convention is making serious revisions to the convention program and surrounding activities. Davis said, "We are deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of the residents of the Gulf State region. Our top priority is to assist those who will be affected by Hurricane Gustav. This is not a time for politics or celebration; it is a time for us to come together as Americans and assist the residents of the Gulf States."

Davis also discussed what the changes in the program will mean for the nomination process. "In order for the Republican Party to officially exist and for Senator McCain to qualify for the ballot, we are - by law - required to conduct specific official business. At this point, our program on Monday has been scaled back and will only include what party rules governing the nomination of our candidates for president and vice president require. We will perform the official business as required. In addition, we have set aside time to make delegates and Americans watching our proceedings at home aware of what they can do to assist in relief efforts designed to help those who will be affected by Hurricane Gustav."

Davis concluded: "At some point between Monday and Thursday evening, we will convene once again to complete the activities needed to qualify Senator McCain and Governor Palin for the ballot in all 50 states. Beyond that, all we can say is that we will monitor what is happening and make decisions about other convention business as details become available."...

The convention program has been altered in response to the situation developing in the Gulf States region. However, the convention will still take place. According to party rules, it is necessary for the convention to proceed in order to ensure that the party is able to place its candidates' names on the ballot in November.

On November 9, 2007, pursuant to the rules adopted at the 2004 National Republican Convention, the party issued the call for its convention. The call requires that the convention meet on Sept. 1, 2008. The session must be convened no earlier than 9 a.m. and no later than 7 p.m. Under the current party rules, this is the only method by which the party may select a candidate for President and Vice President.

This raises some interesting questions about the necessity and duration of national party conventions. Their four-day length is a relic of a time when delegates actually had decisions to make and time to deliberate them.

Friday's Republican National Convention rules committee meeting heralded major changes in the way Republicans will select a presidential nominee in years to come, although exactly what those changes may be are yet to be determined. The primary process was one of several thorny issues debated in a six-hour meeting by pairs of representatives from each state and territory.

Several attempts have been made in the past to reform the primary process, to address front-loading and to have a process long enough that the flaws of a candidate have time to surface. Such a proposal would normally pass through the permanent Republican National Committee (RNC) rules subcommittee, then through the RNC as a whole, then through the convention rules committee, then through the convention as a whole.

Reform proposals in the past have been killed by the presumptive nominee's campaign team, either at the RNC stage or the convention rules committee stage. This is for two reasons: (1) The nominee wants to avoid any substantive debate at the convention, because it keeps the convention from being a coherent, four-day infomercial for the nominee and his platform. (2) Any modification to the primary calendar is bound to make some states very unhappy, and some of those unhappy states may be swing states. Better to punt the problem down the road.

The Democrats are doing just that. Their rules committee, co-chaired by former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters, recommended the establishment of a "Democratic Change Commission" which will examine the primary schedule (and how schedule violations are enforced), the role of superdelegates, and the conduct of caucuses (caucus presidential preference votes are binding in the Democratic Party). The committee will be appointed by the DNC chairman, will convene in early 2009, and will submit a report back to the DNC by the end of the year. The DNC will then debate whether to adopt the plan for the 2012 election cycle. The plan was approved by the Democratic delegates last week in Denver.

That approach has not been an option for Republicans, as only the quadrennial convention has the power under the party rules to change the rules. This year, however, the rules committee approved, with the blessing of the McCain campaign, an amendment that authorizes a commission to study the primary schedule and to report back to the RNC by the summer of 2010. The RNC would then be authorized to vote up or down on the recommendation (no amendments), and if it passes by a two-thirds margin, it becomes a part of the rules. This approach is similar to that used for military base closures -- the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission makes a recommendation and Congress votes up or down on the recommendation as a whole.

This commission proposal will come before the convention for approval on Monday embedded in the rules committee report. The rules report is usually accepted, without debate, by a voice vote of the delegates. Blink, and you'll miss it.

This commission proposal is a major departure from Republican tradition, which holds that only the convention can change the rules, a fact often repeated by the rules committee veterans who opposed the change.

The composition of the RNC is very different from that of the national convention. Every state and territory has three members on the RNC -- chairman, national committeeman, national committeewoman. The size of the delegations to the national convention are weighted by population and by the state party's success in winning support for Republican candidates. This makes the national convention far more representative of the party as a whole, while the RNC gives undue influence to officials from unsuccessful, small-state party organizations. Texas, Massachusetts, and the Northern Marianas are all equal on the RNC. An RNC vote on the commission proposal which weighted votes in accordance with national convention delegate strength would be more representative of party sentiment.

A long-time RNC member told me that the two-thirds hurdle would be easily surmounted by a commission report with powerful backing. Assuming a Republican is in the White House, the President has only to send one of his minions to the RNC with the message, "The President wants this approved," and two-thirds of the RNC members will fall right in line. (Think back to the RNC's approval of Mel Martinez as chairman.)

Commission opponent Morton Blackwell from Virginia said during the rules committee debate that the Democratic "flexibility" on rules leads to intraparty struggles that purport to be about high-minded principle but are, in reality, about prospective presidential candidates trying to gain an advantage. And as we saw last week, even when Democrats change their rules late in the game, they still don't enforce them -- Michigan and Florida delegates were seated at the convention.

I'm told that the commission proposal was not approved by the RNC's permanent rules committee or by the RNC as a whole. Instead, it was brought as a floor amendment on Friday by Ron Kaufman, the RNC committeeman and rules committee member from Massachusetts. RNC members who might have opposed the idea didn't know about it in time to alert their convention rules committee members or to organize opposition in advance of the committee meeting.

There were enough dissenters on this issue that there may be a minority report, which would be presented to the convention for a vote prior to the majority report. Bettye Fine Collins, a rules committee member from Alabama, was circulating a minority report petition, which would needed 28 signatures to meet the 25% requirement to be presented to the convention. I heard tonight that she had 26, but the number slipped to 25. It's likely that pressure is being applied to rules committee members behind the scenes to keep this issue off the floor.

Even if the minority report gets the signatures, there's no guarantee that it will get a hearing or that it will be handled in accordance with parliamentary procedure, which would require the delegates to deal with the report of a committee minority before they address the majority's committee report. The most important work of a convention happens in the first few hours on Monday afternoon, when the credentials, rules, and platform committee reports are heard. The chair rushes through the agenda as quickly as possible, while the delegates are still dazzled at being on the floor of the convention. If some attentive delegate were to try to raise a point of order, the only chance of getting a hearing is if someone turns on the delegation's microphone.

Expect this major change to fly through right under the radar on Monday.

Minor changes to the primary calendar

The rules committee made changes to the primary calendar over and above the creation of the commission. The recommendation from the RNC to the rules committee would have put the official primary start date on the first Tuesday in March, except for New Hampshire and South Carolina, which would have been allowed to hold a primary as early as the first Tuesday in February.

The change would have penalized more than 20 states which had moved their primaries into February. Committee members from two of those Tsunami Tuesday states, Oklahoma chairman Gary Jones and Tennessee national committeeman John Ryder, proposed a simple amendment to move those dates back by a month. The amendment passed, but a later amendment adjusted the exception to make the third Tuesday in January the earliest primary date for New Hampshire and South Carolina.

These calendar changes would be superseded by anything that the primary process commission comes up with, assuming the RNC votes to approve it.

There was an interesting proposal to discourage but allow February primaries and to help lengthen the primary season by making it harder for one candidate to roll up a huge lead during that month. Under the proposal, primaries held before the first Tuesday in March would have to allocate delegates proportionally -- no "winner-take-all." The motion failed overwhelmingly. Opponents argued that the national party shouldn't impose proportional representation on the state parties.

Military participation in delegate selection

A proposal to guarantee members of the military the right to participate in the delegate selection process drew opposition from rules committee members concerned about logistics and legal exposure. Military personnel are already guaranteed the right to vote in a presidential primary, and most states have special provisions for getting absentee ballots to and from military personnel stationed overseas.

Caucuses and conventions are a different matter. With few exceptions, Republicans don't do anything meaningful to bind delegates at their precinct caucuses. They may hold a straw poll, as they do in Iowa, and the results may boost the profile and fundraising efforts of the straw poll winner, but the straw poll results have no bearing on who is elected to represent the state at the national convention and which presidential candidate those national delegates will support. A small number of Republican caucus/convention states do bind delegates based on a precinct caucus straw poll -- Kansas and Montana come to mind.

(The Democrats are different. Presidential preference polls conducted at precinct caucuses are considered a "first determining step" toward binding delegates to presidential candidates, and the delegates to the next step in the process -- county or state conventions -- are allocated in proportion to the support for each candidate at the precinct level.)

Even though caucuses and conventions rarely bind delegates, they still, in most states, play a role in determining who will represent the state at the national convention, where delegates not only vote for a presidential and vice presidential nominee, but for the rules that will govern the party for the next four years. (In a few states, like Illinois, primary voters vote directly for delegates and alternates.) Because the caucuses and conventions are part of the "process... for selecting delegates," simply giving the military the ability to cast an absentee ballot in a straw poll or a presidential primary is not sufficient to meet the requirement in the proposed rule.

For example, Oklahoma binds its delegates based on the statewide and congressional district primary vote. This year, Mike Huckabee won two congressional districts and six delegates, while John McCain won three districts and the statewide vote to get 32 delegates.

Although all these delegates were bound to McCain or Huckabee, there was still a mighty struggle at each of the congressional district conventions and the state convention as Ron Paul supporters tried to elect delegates from among their number in hopes of influencing the platform, rules, VP selection, and possibly even the presidential nomination itself. (See my April 16 Urban Tulsa Weekly column, "Paul Plot," but please note that since that column was published, I have resigned from both the state and county GOP executive committees and no longer hold any party offices.)

The delegates to Oklahoma's district and state conventions were chosen at the county conventions, and the county delegates were chosen at the precinct caucuses.

So the process of selecting delegates and alternates in nearly every state involves face-to-face meetings in living rooms, school auditoriums, and convention halls. How, practically, do you include active-duty military stationed half a world away in making these decisions?

Two solutions come to mind that would allow greater military participation in the process while meeting the logistical concerns of party officials' concerns. Here's the original language of the proposed amendment:

Any process authorized or implemented by a state party for selecting delegates and alternates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates shall guarantee the right to vote in that process, by absentee ballot, of individuals who are serving in the United States Armed Forces.

One way to allow military participation while retaining the face-to-face qualities of caucuses and conventions would be to authorize a "Republicans Deployed" delegation at the national convention. The members would be selected at caucuses held at bases around the world.

There may be problems with this idea. Active-duty military aren't free to come and go as they please, so it might not be possible for the delegates elected by Republicans Deployed to travel to the national convention. I also don't know to what extent active-duty military can participate in partisan political activity, beyond casting a ballot. Do we really want soldiers at a forward base in Afghanistan arguing with each other over a platform plank or who gets to be chairman?

Another approach would avoid those obstacles: While a deployed soldier or sailor wouldn't be able to attend a precinct caucus or a district convention back home, he could be allowed to vote in elections for delegate and alternate. This would require candidates for delegate and alternate to file well in advance of the district or state convention, rather than filing the morning of the convention as is sometimes done, so that absentee ballots could be sent to deployed members of the military who request them.

How would runoffs be handled? The same way states like Arkansas are already handling military votes in state primary runoff elections: With "instant runoff" ballots, where voters rank their preferences. In Oklahoma's 1st Congressional District, we've been using that voting technique to elect delegates and alternates since 2000.

Given the hour they had to deal with the issue, the rules committee only managed to come up with a compromise that turned the "shall" to a "may" and added a few more qualifiers:

Any process authorized or implemented by a state party for selecting delegates and alternates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates may use every means practicable, in the sole discretion of the state party, to encourage active military personnel the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

The compromise satisfied state party leaders, concerned about how to implement the proposed mandate, and McCain campaign officials, who wanted to avoid the embarrassment of the appearance of a rules committee vote against our troops overseas, but it did nothing to address the original concern.

In its one-day meeting, the rules committee simply doesn't have enough time to work through a four-year backlog of reform ideas. But meeting longer than a day has its own problems. Many committee members are ordinary delegates, elected by the members of their state delegations, who take extra days off from work and pay for some extra pre-convention days in a hotel so they can participate.

There's no doubt that the rules of the Republican Party are in need of review and reform. There has to be a better way than, on the one hand, handing the issue over to an unelected commission and, on the other hand, restricting debate and discussion to one day every four years.

MORE: National Review's Stephen Spruiell covered the rules committee meeting and posted several entries in NRO's "The Corner" regarding the debate over military participation in delegate selection: post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4.

For my liveblogging notes from the committee meeting see these entries:

Rules committee: A Republican commission on the primary/caucus process
Rules committee: Palin applause, long-distance caucusing
Rules committee: Primary calendar changes
Rules committee: Palin buzz

You may also be interested in my coverage of the 2004 convention -- scroll down to read my posts about that year's rules committee deliberations.

There. I had that headline ready to go, and by golly, I'm going to use it. (Dawn Summers already won the Sarah Palin punny headline contest: "Palin Comparison.")

I was excited this morning to hear the buzz about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as I hadn't been hearing her name in the last week or so. Palin is both a good choice and a brilliant political move.

As a political move, choosing Palin helps McCain reach out to independent voters and Democrats. Some, particularly Hillary PUMAs, will like her because she's female. Others will appreciate her hard work in rooting out political corruption in Alaska. It warmed my heart to hear her say the phrase "good ol' boy network."

At the same time, Palin fires up the conservative base. Time magazine has posted a McCain campaign report that they raised $3 million between when the announcement was made and 6 pm today. She's a hunter, she's a homeschooler, she supports domestic oil exploration. She's pro-life -- not just a theoretical pro-lifer, but one who chose life when she learned her fifth child, a son, would have Down Syndrome.

My only worry was how well she'll make the jump from small-state politics to the national stage, but when I think of the depth of corruption she had to face in the Alaska government, I think she's ready for anything. True, she was a beauty queen, but she knows how to throw an elbow under the basket, too.

Other reactions:

Rod Dreher: "Whatever crossover appeal the Palin pick may or may not have, McCain has just energized the base going into his convention -- and, I think, beyond. Next week in St. Paul is going to be a lot different than a lot of us thought it would be."

Dustbury has a photo of her as a high school basketball player who led her team to the state championship.

MORE: My friend David Russ from Coral Ridge Ministries let me know about a three-minute "Learn2Discern" video they did recently about two families who chose life for their unborn children who had Down Syndrome. One of those families is the Palin family.

Everything stopped here at the Rules Committee meeting as we watched Fox News coverage of John McCain's introduction of his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Much enthusiasm here.

Following Palin's speech, we recessed for lunch, allegedly until 12:20, but it's 12:47 and only now are most of the committee officials back on the dais.

The issue on the floor before the VP announcement was the following amendment to Rule 15:

Any process authorized or implemented by a state party for selecting delegates and alternates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates shall guarantee the right to vote in that process, by absentee ballot, of individuals who are serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Now that we're back in session (12:50), the committeewoman from Alabama is proposing a substitute amendment:

Any process authorized or implemented by a state party for selecting delegates and alternates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates may use every means practicable, in the sole discretion of the state party, to encourage active military personnel the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

This seems to satisfy everyone. State party officials were concerned about how you include someone who has been deployed in a caucus, where meeting face-to-face is the whole point. And if you can't accommodate them, what kind of legal and credential challenges are likely to occur? McCain officials will be happy that there won't be a vote on record rejecting a rules amendment about expanding military participation in the political process.

The motion passed overwhelmingly, and we're moving on to other amendments to Rule 15.

Oklahoma GOP chairman Gary Jones along with Mr. Ryder of Tennessee (didn't catch his first name) succeeded, by a vote of 67-31, in passing an amendment to a change to the primary calendar proposed by the Republican National Committee. The RNC proposal would have allowed only New Hampshire and South Carolina to hold primaries prior to the first Tuesday in March. Jones pointed out that this would put many states which are currently in compliance out of compliance. The two committee members from Michigan, one of whom is a state senator, spoke to the difficulty of negotiating with a legislature under mixed control to change the primary date. Under Jones's amendment, NH & SC can go any time after the first Tuesday in January; everyone else can go from the first Tuesday in February onward.

We've had the call to order by Chairman Alec Poitevint, the invocation and pledge of allegiance here at the Republican National Convention Rules Committee meeting. Gary Jones and Mary Rumph are here representing Oklahoma. (I was pleased to see that conservative activist icon Morton Blackwell is here again, representing Virginia.)

I'm hearing a lot of buzz about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain's pick for VP. We'll see. The chairman of the Rules Committee said that they'll halt the meeting and let everyone watch McCain's announcement in Dayton when it happens.

There was a minor delay in being admitted. The communications staff hadn't showed up with the press credentials list yet, but they let me show my convention credential letter and signed me in.

There are six big screen TVs hanging above the room, showing the chairman or whoever is speaking. Media and guests are segregated from the committee by a three-foot-high blue curtain running the width of the room. Two thirds of the press/guest area is roped off as "McCain Staff Seating" -- at least 100 chairs, although only nine people are sitting there. About 12 people are over in the remaining third of the media/guest area. I don't see anyone else who looks like media.

The room is lit brightly, as they're recording the meeting with four cameras.

They are going section by section, and then rule by rule, asking for committee amendments to the rules. Most are technical in nature -- a comma here or there. If someone has an amendment to a rule, they're to speak up when the applicable rule is called.

We have our first amendment, from Louisiana, to rule number 5, and from Kentucky to rule 7, and Louisiana again to rule 9, to Massachusetts to rule 11. That's all for the first section. They will deal with this section before moving on to the next.

There will be a proposal relating to the primary schedule, setting a March start date for all but New Hampshire and South Carolina. (In the Republican system, national delegates don't get bound until district or state conventions, so precinct caucuses aren't considered "the first determining step" as it is for the Democrats.) Oklahoma GOP Chairman Gary Jones, who is also a member of the rules committee, is concerned that states who moved their primaries to February under the current rules, as Oklahoma did, will be penalized, as it would be up to the legislature to adjust the date.

LINKS: Here are the rules as adopted by the 2004 Republican National Convention..

UPDATE: As of 9:39, Rules 1-9 and Rule 11 have been closed to further amendment. Only two amendments from the floor were successful. An amendment by Mary Rumph of Oklahoma and seconded by Morton Blackwell of Virginia, requiring RNC subcommittee meetings to open with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, passed by about a two-thirds margin. The only objection came from an Indiana RNC member who thought it was superfluous, as every RNC subcommittee meeting she'd ever attended has opened in that way. A technical correction to rule 7 (adding a comma to terminate a dependent clause) was passed as well.

Rules committee preview

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This morning I'll be in attendance at the 2008 Republican National Convention rules committee meeting. Back in April the Republican National Committee's rules committee endorsed a new primary schedule for 2012. The schedule would formally recognize the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire, with South Carolina and Nevada permitted to follow closely thereafter. The remaining states would be grouped into four "pods," one of which is specifically for small states and territories. Each of the four pods would be given a starting date for their contests, and the pods would rotate position with each presidential election.

The full Republican National Committee should have considered the issue at their meeting earlier this week. That body and the convention rules committee are both dominated by small states, which have an equal vote in those bodies to large, heavily Republican states. Stay tuned to this blog all day Friday for the latest developments.

Live from Lamoni

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I'm on my way north to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. I stayed last night in Lamoni, Iowa, just north of the Missouri border. I've been spending most of the morning writing at the Linden Street Coffee House, a very comfortable place in the downtown of this small college town.


As I worked, I was overhearing an Obama campaign intern and his supervisor looking at how to generate voter lists for grassroots campaigning. Both Iowa and Missouri are key swing states; Missouri is considered a bellwether -- almost always the candidate who wins Missouri wins the White House.

MORE: If you're headed down I-35 and need a coffee break, I heartily recommend Linden Street Coffee House, which is about 2 miles west of the interstate on US 69 (South). During Graceland College's school year, it's open from 7 am 'til midnight most days. (It opens at noon on Sundays, stays open until 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights.) Summer hours are 8 am to 9 pm most days, noon to five on Sunday.

I learned about Linden Street via IndieCoffeeShops.com.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the RNC 2008 category from August 2008.

RNC 2008: September 2008 is the next archive.

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