As expected, I've seen a lot of half-truths and misinformation in the mainstream media's account of what happened at the Michigan Republican Convention on Saturday, August 28th. The good news is that I've also seen a few truthful pieces on what happened there, thanks to Conservative bloggers and "regular" people who participated as delegates.
I will start this off by saying that for the first time ever in my life, I ran for a political office this year. I campaigned to be a precinct delegate in my district in Grand Traverse County, Michigan (Traverse City). I am a graphic designer, not a politician. I read about becoming a precinct delegate on Redstate and thought it was a great idea. I already knew that the Democrats are bad news but I was also hearing that the Republican party needed to be fixed, starting at the local level. I wanted to be a part of the process to make the Republicans represent the people and not their own self-interests. I ran to be a delegate and was clearly the only one in my district who thought the position was worthy of a campaign - complete with yard signs, bumper stickers, a postcard mailing and a Facebook page. I won one of the four seats available.
I joined the local 912 group pretty soon after becoming a delegate. We kept in touch pretty regularly and passed along information back and forth so that we knew what would be expected of us and what the rules were for both the county and state conventions. While many of us ran to be a delegate to be a representative of our district, we found out that the McManus campaign (for Secretary of State) had actually sought out people to run as delegates in Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties specifically to vote for her - http://www.leelanaunews.com/drupal/index.php?q=node/20829 and http://leelanaunews.com/drupal/index.php?q=node/20304
This kind of "planting" of delegates did not sit well with those of us who were new to the process. As the county convention got closer, we heard that the McManus people were putting together a voting block so that only those candidates supporting her would be voted in to go to the state convention, leaving the rest of us out in the cold. The 912 group had no such litmus test. In fact, our group had supporters of every candidate. We didn't necessarily care who our fellow 912 member supported. We just didn't want to vote for someone who became a delegate specifically to vote for McManus. Although recruiting delegate candidates is legal and may be something that's been going on for years, it's just the sort of dirty politics that Tea Party voters are against.
At our local county convention, there were 23 spots open for delegates to go to the state convention and 23 spots open for the alternates. Because the McManus group had organized well (and early), they got most of the 23 delegate spots and a few of the alternate spots as well.
Moving on to the convention weekend...Even though a majority of our 912 members were alternates and most likely were not going to vote at the state convention, a lot of us went anyway. Even if we couldn't vote, we wanted to see what went on and observe the process. I considered it a scouting mission for 2012.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Tea Party Caucus the night before in Holt, Michigan, the town that I grew up in. The caucus was organized by the Michigan Tea Party Alliance and held at the Capitol City Baptist Church. It turned out to be quite an interesting night. I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived, all of the parking lots were full and there were yard signs, busses and candidate volunteers everywhere. The entrance to the church was lined with candidates and volunteers handing out their stickers and trying to win our support. After registering, I went into the sanctuary of the church and found some local 912 members from Traverse City to sit with and was lucky enough to end up in the front row. We said the pledge of allegiance, sang the national anthem and listened to prayers by the pastor.
After we all got settled in, the night was all about the Secretary of State and the Attorney General candidates trying to win our support. Even though they all had their own parties that night, they stayed at our meeting for quite a while to win us over. And there were quite a lot of us to win over. The Michigan Tea Party Alliance estimated that there were 600 delegates there. Considering that there were 2065 delegates who would be voting at the state convention the next day, that made our voting block at the church pretty big. And we knew there were even more of us who didn't make it to the caucus that night.
The candidates were well aware that to get a nomination, they would need a majority of the votes on Saturday - which would be a total of 1033 votes.
There were some straw polls taken at the end of the night. A lot of people didn't vote but it still gave us an indication of how people were thinking. The first vote put Mike Bishop and Bill Schuette pretty even in the run for the Attorney General. Bishop had 100 votes and Schuette had 93. For Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson won handily with 97 votes. After her, Anne Norlander had 42 votes, Cameron Brown 40, Paul Scott 28 and Michelle McManus 15.
What was very interesting (at least to me) was that the final voting at the state convention turned out pretty close as it had gone down at the Tea Party Caucus. Bill Schuette won the AG nomination with 1072 votes. Bishop trailed closely behind with 971 votes. For the Secretary of State nomination, there were two votes. After the first vote, the top two winners have a run-off. The first vote netted the following results: Ruth Johnson 625, Cameron Brown 454, Anne Norlander 412, Paul Scott 335 and Michelle McManus 237. The run-off between Ruth and Cameron went in Ruth's favor. Ruth received 1089 votes and Brown received 974.
I can happily report to you that after the first vote at the state convention, a large number of our district's McManus supporters left after she didn't make the top two for the run-off. That said, EVERY alternate that was still there from our district got to vote in the second secretary of state election. We were probably the most excited people in the entire building!
Going back to the Tea Party caucus the night before, we were able to learn a few things. One was that there was a rumor that the rules committee might try to get rid of the secret ballot. We were given the time and location of the rules committee meeting for the next morning for anyone who wanted to attend. We also learned that members of the Tea Party of West Michigan would be nominating Fruitport businessman Bill Cooper for lieutenant governor. Cooper gave a good speech towards the end of the evening and many of us had decided to support his candidacy, if only to show Rick Snyder and the Michigan GOP machine that we were the ones to choose the candidates, not them. The Michigan GOP had other plans though and even had their Snyder/Calley campaign signs printed up and ready to go.
Finally...the day of the convention...I got up early on that Saturday because I intended to go the rules committee and make sure they didn't pull any shenanigans. That turned out to be quite a blessing as I only had to stand in line about 20 minutes for my credentials to get into the building. Later, I would learn that people were standing in line up to an hour to get in. An audience was gathering to watch the rules committee meeting. I would estimate about 40 or 50 of us were standing around the committee, observing. Senator Jason Allen was chosen to preside over the meeting. I had talked to him before the meeting regarding the rumor about nixing the secret ballot. He said he supported the secret ballot and that it was already in place. He didn't think a motion to remove it would pass and didn't seem too concerned about the rumor. At the beginning of the meeting, one of the members of the rules committee asked that they reaffirm the secret ballot rule just to get the rumor out of the way right from the get-go. It was UNANIMOUSLY supported (Please keep this in mind for the Cooper/Calley part of the story later).
There was also a motion that didn't go through after receiving a 15-15 split with the vote. Apparently, if there is an incumbent running for a position and there are two or more challengers, the challengers get to decide whether they want to run on ballot A against the incumbent or on ballot B. These are called slots. Stupid idea, to be sure. I just assumed (along with most delegates) that we'd get one ballot with all the names on it. No such luck. Well, I guess in one of the races, one of the candidates changed their mind about which slot they wanted to run on. So if the motion would have passed, this candidate would have been able to be on both ballots. I don't like that solution at all - but the real problem is that there are separate ballots to begin with. Which leads me to a question for future reference...HOW DOES SOMEONE GET TO BE ON THE RULES COMMITTEE?
I would also like to point out that the Michigan Party Chairman, Ron Weiser, was at the rules committee meeting and said a few words. He seemed a bit frustrated by the motions being made and what I saw was a person who just wanted to keep everything as it was and to rush through the whole thing as fast as possible. Even with the age of technology and fast copiers, printing extra ballots seemed out of reach for these people. Someone from the rules committee finally asked if they were there to do the right thing or the expedient thing. That brought some applause from people in the crowd. So what if we had to be there for a few extra hours while they printed and counted new ballots? No one expected to get out of East Lansing's Breslin Center on time to begin with.
After that meeting was over, I went upstairs and joined my district in our pre-determined section of the room. Flyers were being passed out about voting for Cooper over Calley for lieutenant governor. These were the same flyers that were handed out at the Tea Party caucus the night before. The Convention started almost an hour late and aside from the lieutenant governor flap, it was one big yawn. It was hours of nominations, seconds of nominations and then speeches or videos by the candidates. Honestly, the whole convention could have taken place in about three or four hours without the "show" that was put on. It didn't inspire us - it only made us bored and agitated. The fact that the Breslin Center proceeded to run out of food and water didn't help anything.
Back to the lieutenant governor nominations....As expected, Cooper was nominated from the floor and the guy on stage wanted a show of hands to vote between the two. SERIOUSLY, people? Are you actually able to count 2065 hands and somehow figure out which of those people are delegates, alternates or guests? Give me a break. We shouted "no" very loudly. We shouted "roll call" and "secret ballot" and "card check." The Michigan GOP tried again and asked if we could stand up instead of doing a show of hands. And how is that more accurate exactly???? We shouted "no" again. Discussions were going on, back and forth, down on the floor. The guy on stage threw up his hands because he knew he wasn't going to make us happy. However, before we knew it, Cooper was taking himself out of consideration for the nomination. We were bummed. We're pretty sure we had the numbers for Cooper to win but even if we didn't, we still wanted a fair election by secret ballot - something that was guaranteed to us in the rules.
After the Cooper/Calley event, I went out into the main lobby area of the Breslin Center and I tracked down one of the members of the rules committee. I reminded him that they had just voted UNANIMOUSLY for the secret ballot to be used today. I asked him if that rule would have been upheld if Cooper had kept him name in as a nominee. Well at least I got the right answer. He said yes. But he also said that that's what they were trying to avoid (I'm not sure who "they" were). He also said a a deal was brokered. Well, obviously.
I don't know much about Cooper and what kind of deal was made. It's possible that he could have run just to get a deal. Or maybe he did what he thought was best for the party by dropping out. Who knows. What I do know is that I don't like a sell-out. I don't like someone who is supposed to be "one of us" and then caves in when the heat is on. There was a principle at work here and we should have been able to have a secret ballot on the vote. We were sold down the river by Cooper AND the Michigan Republican party. And all because of a candidate preference by our state party - or because of time issues that they didn't want to deal with. The end result was delegates not being allowed to vote for candidates of their choice for lieutenant governor - and also not being allowed to vote for candidates of their choice because they were slotted on separate ballots. These are issues that need to be addressed before the 2012 election.
All in all, I did have a good weekend and met some fantastic Conservative Tea Party Republicans. Anyone who thinks we aren't a force to be reckoned with is crazy. We're learning how the political system operates and how to change it for the better. We're gathering information and sharing it with each other. We will no longer allow our local parties or the Michigan GOP to operate with unchecked power just because things have always been done a certain way.
That said, you don't have to worry about us all uniting as Republicans. That's a given. The battle within the Michigan GOP is over for the time being and now the war against the Democrats has begun.
Politics. Ain't it grand?!
Here are some additional links that seem to be pretty accurate accounts of the Michigan Republican Convention and the events relating to it...