I am still dipping my toe in the pool of local party politics. I have done a lot of volunteering and joined the party and a local GOP club. Last month we had our precinct caucuses to select delegates for the GOP county convention. We were allowed to send 10 delegates, but only had 2 of us at the caucus. I was the only one that showed up for the convention itself.
Yesterday we had the county convention. It was a beautiful day, and right in the middle of the NCAA tournament. When we entered the building we were greeted with a slate of the suggested candidates that we vote for on each position. We had specific seats to sit in inside the auditorium so each precinct would sit together, and roll call was done shortly after 3 pm. No delagates would be seated after roll call, and one latecomer was denied the right to vote because she missed roll call. There was no opposition for the leading officers, including the chairman of the county Republican party. Whew, I thought, this is not going to take long. I heard someone say it usually takes a couple of hours, but I thought we could beat that.
Things got interesting when it came to the elections for at-large members of the steering committee. According to my district’s outgoing steering committee member, the responsibilities of the steering committee range from deciding on how to spend the county’s money, endorsing candidates in non-partisan races such as judges, and candidate recruitment. Last year, we did have a success story with a candidate for Shelby Country trustee. The GOP did not have a candidate, and the committee found a good candidate with banking experience and he was elected in our sweep of county offices in late 2010.
Each house district in the county gets to elect a member of the steering committee and there are 8 at-large positions elected during the convention. Each at-large position was contested. While the party did give us a list of suggested candidates by the party leaders, there were some very good candidates that were nominated to oppose the “establishment pick”. For kicks I kept track of the tally.
At Large Position 1, Establishment Pick 121, Opposing 120
At Large Position 2, Establishment Pick 136, Opposing 107
At Large Position 3, Establishment Pick 132, Opposing 109
At Large Position 4, Establishment Pick 139, Opposing 98
At Large Position 5, Establishment Pick 109, Opposing 120
At Large Position 6, Establishment Pick 167, Opposing 59
At Large Position 7, Establishment Pick 105, Opposing 119
At Large Position 8, Establishment Pick won (I skipped out to the vending machine after we voted so I didn’t get the tally, but was told it wasn’t close).
You can see an increase in the delegates can make a difference. Two establishment candidates were defeated by great candidates. Other opposition candidates were also very good, despite the fact that they did not win. That is not to say the establishment candidates were bad. I knew and voted for three of them, and each of those was elected.
What is remarkable to me, is that the party was clearly not prepared for close votes. People who had been to the convention in the past indicated it never took this long. The split in votes was acknowledged by some of the speakers as a good sign that more people were getting involved in the party. It is my hope that some of these remarkable candidates that got defeated stay in the party and find other ways to contribute their skills, and the precinct delagates that sought to bring more diverse voices to the party stay involved.
The precinct delegates representing each state district had a separate secret ballot election for the representative from their state district to the steering committee. For my district we also went with someone new that has done volunteer work for the party. It was also a close vote 19-16.
In short, a few voices can make a difference. While I did support some of the establishment picks, I was thrilled to get two really great candidates that were not picked by the party leadership into the steering committee. Overall 5 of my chosen candidates made it. It was incredibly easy to be a precinct delegate. I just had to show up at the caucuses. The convention itself took close to 4 hours, but it was worth it.
There were some new delagates there that were so determined to get new voices into the party, that they only voted for opposing candidates. Others did split their votes. Of those I was sitting around, we all agreed that it was good to get some new people involved. The message about the need for new blood in the party seems to be getting out.