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Disenfranchised?

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Since the adjournment of the 2012 Oregon Republican District Convention June 23rd we’ve heard a lot about how the Precinct Committee People (PCP) were “disenfranchised”.  They had a right, or so the story goes, to vote on Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention.  By ending the Convention at 5:00pm, even though the published agenda made it clear that was the scheduled deadline, and not casting ballots for At-Large and Congressional District (CD) Alternates, they were denied their chance to vote on those positions.

To add insult to injury, the Alternates were chosen by the ORP Executive Committee, who didn’t vote for the people the PCP had intended to vote for.  Instead, this group of so-called “elite” used their power to vote for their “friends”, ignoring the “clear will of the PCP”. To hear them tell it, it’s disgraceful and an obvious abuse of power.

But there’s more to the story.  To understand the full picture, we need to step back a bit and follow the tale starting not with the District Convention, but with the Primary election in May.  At that time, a majority of the Republicans voting chose Mitt Romney (204,176) as their preference for President.  Coming in a distant second was Ron Paul (36,810), followed by Rick Santorum (27,042) with Newt Gingrich trailing (15,451).  Based on criteria that had been set up before, this resulted in Romney earning 18 Delegates to the National Convention from Oregon, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum with 3 each and just 1 for Gingrich.

This is where the plot thickens.  Supporters of Dr. Paul decided to ignore the clear will of the Republicans in Oregon and, instead, ran a number of people loyal to him as candidates for Delegate and Alternate pledged to Romney, Santorum and Gingrich.  Since they had a committed minority of those attending the District Convention, this elite cadre could – and did – elect their friends in place of Delegate candidates actually committed to the other Presidential contenders.

Rather than a delegation that reflected the will of the Republican voters of Oregon, the scheme was to substitute a Delegation that reflected the goals and values of a minority of the PCP.  Based on voting results from each of the Districts, the Paul supporters comprised 40-45% of those in attendance but, because they voted in near lock-step, they gained a result far out of proportion not only to their numbers but out of keeping with what the voters had indicated.   Instead of the Delegate spread as determined by the Primary vote result, Ron Paul had 16 Delegates from Oregon with the other 9 scattered among the other three Presidential candidates.

The full scope of the plan was thwarted when the Convention ran out of time.  There are conspiracy theories about the ORP and/or Team Romney running out the clock, but the main culprit was simple human error and the logistics challenge of holding a single meeting in five locations simultaneously.  One District had the bulb on their projector burn out and then took an extended lunch break, putting it nearly three hours behind the agenda for the day.  Another changed the order of elections so that the CD Delegate elections came late in the day.  As a result, the intrinsically interlinked meetings were all stalled waiting for results before they could move on.  In any event, the Convention was adjourned before the Alternate elections could take place.

The ORP has a rule to deal with a situation like this, and has had since 2005.  Standing Rule 11 provides for the state Executive Committee to appoint Alternates to any position left vacant.  Usually, that occurs when someone who was elected isn’t able to go but, in the past, has also included situations when not enough Alternates are elected to fill all available positions.  Thus, the Executive Committee was called together to select those Alternates, and did so by election on June 30.

Since they understood the purpose of the Convention is to elect a Delegation that matches, more or less, the vote of Republicans in the state and as a way to honor those who had worked for the various candidates, the Executive Committee invited representatives from each campaign to send a representative to provide the names of people they’d like to see included as Alternates.  The Newt Gingrich campaign didn’t send anyone, and a long-time ORP activist was elected to that slot.  The Ron Paul representative spent the first four minutes of his time talking about himself and, after being reminded why he was asked to be there, spent the last talking about Dr. Paul.   Since he provided no recommendations, three people known to be Paul supporters were elected as those Alternates.

The person who directed the Santorum effort in Oregon presented recommendations and tales of what they’d done for the campaign.  He and two of the other two he suggested were elected.  The Romney representative provided a list of those who’d been involved in their campaign not only in 2012 but, in many cases, in 2008 as well.  This included 2 of the 3 people selected in CD2 after that meeting voted for an Extension in compliance with Robert’s Rules of Order after the Adjournment.  They, too, were elected.

So, it kind of comes down to who disenfranchised whom, and who deserves representation.  You see, PCP are elected to be representatives of the registered Republicans in their precinct.  They can, of course, vote any way they want but, like those elected to the Legislature, are expected to reflect their constituency.   By substituting their own will for that of the people they are called upon to represent, did these PCP act like the worst and most corrupt of politicians?

And did the Executive Committee, by using the will of the people as their guide, really disenfranchise a minority of PCP or more accurately restore balance, to a point, to the Oregon Delegation?  If the PCP were right in voting their own will over a majority of the people, why is the Executive Committee wrong in doing the same thing in voting theirs over that of a minority  the PCP?

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

15 July 2012 at 4:54 pm

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