June 2, 2008
I served as a delegate to the Republican convention in Richmond this weekend, my first such experience. It wasn't exactly "Kumbaya," but the tensions among the rival factions were under control. On the surface, at least, Republicans came together. On Friday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling was elected to chair the meeting, after a challenge from Ron Paul supporters that almost created a disruption similar to what happened in some party meetings last year. Bolling gave the introductory speech, followed by Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and then a brief recorded video message from President Bush.
I forget who said it, but one of the speakers quoted Andrew Jackson as follows:
One man with courage makes a majority.
That's a refreshing and encouraging thought.
The most important issue to be decided was the senatorial nomination, and that was the first major item on Saturday's agenda. Congressman Eric Cantor nominated Jim Gilmore, reminding everyone that Mark Warner can't be trusted to act in the best interests of all Virginians. (I recorded several of the speeches, and may post a montage of some of the best parts later on.) [In his speech, Gov. Gilmore] made a strong promise not to raise taxes, not to go along with pork barrel spending, and to secure our borders against illegal immigration. Then he made a very bold pledge:
And finally, I will work to reduce these outrageous gas prices which are crushing our working families and crippling our economy. It's time for a declaration of energy independence for the United States!
That drew the loudest cheers, but as the guy sitting next to me said, "If he can do that, he'd be a miracle worker." [Gilmore] called Mark Warner a "limousine liberal who says one thing to get elected and then does another thing once he's in office," referring to Warner's broken commitment not to raise taxes. Indeed! He also urged party members not to write off Northern Virginia, which has come to be a Democrat stronghold in recent years.
Then Delegate Bob Marshall was nominated (I'm not sure by whom), and he elicited a rousing chorus of whoops and cheers from his supporters. "Go, Bob, go! Go, Bob, go!" I knew he had strong "grassroots" support, but was taken aback by just how loud they were. The intensity of his supporters was so great that I was convinced he would win easily, which would have been an upset. Then a woman sitting near me pointed out that [each unit's voting strength is based on the total number Republican votes in the most recent presidential and gubernatorial elections, not the number of delegates actually present.]
I was leaning toward Gilmore all along, but I was impressed with his opponent Bob Marshall's command of the issues. I also appreciate the fact that Delegate Marshall took the time to call me and ask me what my concerns were. My main hesitation with him is his overriding emphasis on social issues, such as banning all abortions. Because I do not believe that personhood begins at conception, I favor some choice for women in the early weeks of pregnancy.
Finally, they began passing out ballots and tabulating the vote counts. For the large party units such as Fairfax County, delegates had to line up along the side of the auditorium to make sure ballots were properly cast. It was incredibly dramatic as each district's leader announced their vote totals. I carefully wrote down the totals for each district, and borrowed a calculator to come up with the totals, getting it correct to the second decimal place, so the folks sitting next to me learned the final results even before they were announced at the podium!
|District||Jim Gilmore||Bob Marshall||? Berry|
It could not have been any closer. [The difference between Gilmore and Marshall was 65.86 votes, only six-tenths of one percent of the total!] Indeed, two women sitting near me probably made the difference, switching to Gilmore at the last minute almost. Since they were the only delegates in attendance, they alone determined their unit's votes, and that was enough to tip the balance. It proves the adage that one person can make the difference.
In Staunton, which is part of the Sixth District, there were
20.7 [27.7 ?] votes for Marshall, and 8.3 votes for Gilmore. Thirteen delegates from Staunton cast a total of 36 votes, which means that only two others besides me voted for the winning candidate. Someone suggested that we should adopt the "unit rule," meaning that whichever candidate got a majority in Staunton would get all the votes, but we decided against that.
[ * The 7th District passed when they were called the first time, so they were the last ones to announce their vote totals, which is what put Gilmore over the top. ]
Delegate Jeff Frederick, age 32, succeeded in his bid to replace long-time party activist John Hager, age 72, for the position of RPV Chairman. Frederick is from Woodbridge, part of Prince William County in mostly-Democratic Northern Virginia. He is clearly energetic, appealing to the party's "grassroots." I expected Hager to win comfortably, and once again, my hunch was way off base. Even before the votes were announced, Mr. Hager took the podium to move that his opponent be declared the winner by acclamation. In Staunton, Hager received 11.07 votes (four delegates) and Frederick received 24.93 (nine), and the Sixth District totals were even more lopsided. Obviously, it's a reflection of deep dissatisfaction with the party leadership in these times of division and acrimony.
Frederick's election will lead to a very awkward situation, because Frederick by law cannot raise money for political causes while the General Assembly is in session. He has promised to step aside from party leadership while the legislature is in session, which means he will not be able to serve as party leader during those 6-8 weeks every January and February.
Electing someone with conflicting obligations seems problematic to me, and that got me to thinking about something that Augusta County Republican Chairman Kurt Michael (see below!) said in his speech to the mass meeting on April 10 (watch the YouTube video):
Let the public officials do their public duties, let the party people run the party!
As I noted at the time, that is a good idea as a general rule, unless there are truly extenuating circumstances. (If the current situation in SWAC Land is not an extenuating circumstance, I don't know what is.) I just hope Delegate Frederick can juggle his overlapping duties and perform effectively.
I must say, I was rather disgusted by Frederick's campaign literature suggesting that Hager was on cozy terms with the Democrats. What's he trying to say? Is John Hager a "RINO"? In the last days of the campaign, Hager sent out a flyer quoting Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican." Frederick had the enthusiastic backing of the party "grassroots," and his election marks another step backward in terms of the party's appeal to the general public and the electability of its candidates, I'm afraid.
As for Mr. Hager, he is a fine, dynamic party leader, as well as a polite gentleman, and to me it's a shame he was ousted so abruptly, after less than ten months in office -- hardly enough time to prove himself. (He was elected last July, and paid a visit to Staunton just a few weeks later.) He has probably been spending most of his time lately taking care of his son Henry's wedding to Jenna Bush. I feel sorry for the party elders in his age group who are just learning what blogs are, but can't quite grasp all the opportunities and pitfalls created by this new medium. The rapid turnover rate in the RPV chairmanship -- Kate Obenshain Griffin, Ed Gillespie, John Hager, and now Jeff Frederick, all within the space of two years -- is a prime indicator of the turbulent state of the party these days. Hager tried but failed to reconcile the divergent factions in the party, and I'm not sure that Frederick makes that a very high priority. "Grassroots" über alles!
As most of us had come to expect, the RPV Central Committee voted to accept the decision of the Sixth District Committee, recognizing Kurt Michael as Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee. They probably figured it was the safe thing to do. See the News Leader. (Did Lynn Mitchell recuse herself, as she suggested that Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson do?)
FACT CHECK: It says on the sixtyfour.81.com blog that the decision in favor of Kurt Michael was by unanimous vote, but I learned from a first-hand source at the convention that it was definitely not unanimous. I keep saying that truth and candor are essential for restoring party unity, and I'm not encouraged when I read false statements like that.
Meanwhile, as I returned home that evening, I got to watch (live on CNN) the Democrats tear themselves apart over the question of how and whether to allow Michigan and Florida to be represented with delegates at the Democrats' convention. As a compromise that pleases no one and angers many, they allowed delegations from both states to participate, but with only one half vote each. So, Barack Obama will get significant number of delegates from Michigan, even though his name wasn't even on the ballot! On TV, there were a couple of Clinton delegates who were so mad they said they would vote for McCain in November! Well, if I were in Hillary's camp, I'd be pretty P.O.'d as well!