The Scott County GOP Convention

Today is the day that a group of delegates, who felt that they were treated unfairly, will attempt to reconvene the Scott County GOP Convention. Kevin Hall over at the Iowa Republican has two articles on this topic, one on RPI Chairman AJ Spiker’s response and the other on SCC member Jeremiah Johnson’s plea to delegates to reconvene the convention. As a former chair of county, district and state convention rules committees I want to weigh in on this issue. To be fair I should point out that as a member of the State Central Committee, Scott county is neither in the district that elected me (the old 2nd) nor the district that I now represent (the new 1st). Of course the opinions expressed here are my own and I do not speak for RPI or the SCC.

I was not at the Scott County Convention. I was busy chairing the platform committee at the Linn County Convention. I have however heard from people at RPI and delegates who were at the convention. I also had a brief phone conversation with Jeremiah Johnson last night to discuss what happened and his letter to delegates. The two primary grievances that the group who want to reconvene have seem to be: 1) The conventeion never elected a permanent chair. 2) The handling of the report of the nominating committee

Electing a Permanent Chair

While Robert’s Rules of order call for a convention to elect a permanent chair, the proper remedy for a violation of this or any other rule is for a delegate to object by rising on a Point of Order. The time to remedy the situation was on the day of the convention. Personally I do not see reconvening the convention as necessary or appropriate to remedy this issue. The group has a point but they also had a responsibility to know the rules and attemp to correct the situation during the convention.

The Nominating Committee

If there is one thing I have learned this election cycle it is how byzantine a system we have in our several counties of electing district and state convention delegates. It seems no two counties do it quite the same way. One of the challenges for the new State Central Committee (elected at the April 21st District Conventions) will be to determine whether the State Party should define a uniform procedure for electing delegates to district conventions.

The procedure for electing delegates falls under, the Code of Iowa, RNC rules, RPI Constitution and Bylaws, County GOP Constitution and Bylaws and rules adopted at the convention and Robert’s Rules of Order (RONR). Since I was not at the convention I cannot comment on everything that happened but talking to multiple eyewitnesses it seems that there were some clear violations of RONR in the handling of nomnation and election of delegates.

According to RONR (11th Edition ยง46 pp.434-435) the report of the nomination committee is not something that is approved or amended. It is simply to place certain names into nomination. The section further states:

After the nominating committee has presented its report and before voting for the different offices takes place the chair must call for further nominations from the floor.

I have not read the Scott County GOP Constitution & Bylaws nor have I read the rules adopted by the Scott County Convention. Unless they state otherwise Robert’s Rules is the controlling authority.

Based on all the information I have received, I believe that the election of delegates at the Scott County Convention was handled improperly.

The problem that I have is … what to do about it. RONR provides a mechanism for delegates to raise points of order when rules are not being followed. There is even a procedure for REMOVAL FROM OFFICE AND OTHER REMEDIES FOR DERELICTION OF DUTY IN OFFICE OR MISCONDUCT. (RONR 11th Edition ยง61 pp.65-653). All of the remedies provided in RONR call for action by delegates when the offense occurs. I have been somewhat surprised that in counties where there was advance concerns about procedures at convention neither side appears to have come to the meeting armed with a good knowledge of the rules. In some cases, convention leadership has ignored the rules and acted (mostly out of ignorance) like dictators. In other cases delegates have abused the rules (also out of ignorance) and caused disruptions.

I do not know what the right solution is for Scott County (and I am simply an observer so I have no authority inthe matter) but I am inclined to believe that the time for remdial action was at the convention and that today’s effort is a waste of time.

The moral of the story is that our district and state convention chairs must be capable of fairly and impartially running the meetings in compliance with RONR and all other applicable rules. We must also have parliamentarians who are committed to provide competent, accurate advice to their respective chairs. Parliamentarians must realize that their proper role is advisory only, they cannot make or overrule rulings. Parliamentarians must also relaize that thier responsibility is to the convention, not to the chair or a particular faction. They should also be willing to fairly give advice on parliamentary issues to delegates.

As one who has chaired a large nuber of meetings and conventions I know this. When everyone agrees and there is little controversy, the chair can be somewhat informal in the enforcement of the rules. In the charged environment of our 2012 Caucus to Conevntion cycle our district and state convention chairs must be absolutely rock solid in their knowledge and enforcement of the rules.

To convention delegates I would say

… the only way to insure fairness and that the rules are followed in this process is to become knowledgeable on the rules yourself.

[[Note: The Scott County Convention rules specifically adopt an archaic version of Robert’s Rules, Roberts Rules of Order, Revised as its parliamentary authority. This version became out of date in 1970 and has been superceeded by 6 subsequent editions. The current and authoritative version is Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, published September 2011. All citations in this post are from the current version but the relevant sections are largely unchanged from the older version.]]

Roberts Rules of Order

While our Linn County Convention (and caucuses) went smoothly this year, across the state the entire Caucus to Convention process is turning into a nightmare. The stories are coming in from across the state of counties (like Polk and Scott) where the conventions descended quickly into chaos. And while some are quick to blame Ron Paul’s supporters, our system should be robust enough to handle these situations. My first impression upon hearing from eyewitnesses in some of the troubled counties is that while the Ron Paul people were organized and had specific objectives in mind, the failure is a failure of the convention leadership to deal with the challenges they faced.

I want to be quick to qualify and point out that this does not (necessarily) mean that they are bad people but in several cases thay were unprepared or unequal to the task before them.

When Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army, gave his farewell address at West Point he closed with these words.

Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be-of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.

If this were my farewell address to the Republican Party of Iowa, I would close with:

… The Rules, and The Rules, and The Rules.

Let me start by saying I am not a certified parliamentarian (but I am thinking about starting the process). But over the years I have chaired numerous county, district and state platform committees. I have also chaired meetings outside of politics with hundreds of delegates. So I would characterize myself as someone who is quite familiar with Robert’s Rules.

It is critical that convention chairs for the upcoming district and state conventions be conversant in Robert’s Rules. Further the various organizational committees need to take into account the temperment of the person being asked to chair. I have seen occasions where the chair is given to someone in honor of faithful service. The individual may well be worthy of honor but that does not automatically qualify them to chair a meeting of 500 motivated activists.The chair needs to be level-headed, firm but not contentious and able to handle pressure. It is also essential that the chair be even-handed and fair. Some of our county conventions had problems because the chair felt that they could simply overrule their opponents and since most of our convention rules make it very hard to appeal a ruling they can get away with it. Roberts Rules sets the bar for appealing from a ruling of the chair at a simple majority not 2/3 like our conventions.

But even the most competent chair needs assistance and a good parliamentarian is crucial. Many people don’t understand the role of the parliamentarian. The parliamentarian does not make rulings, the parliamentarian advises the chair and the chair makes rulings. The parliamentarian should also give advice to delegates who have parliamentary questions. I find that when I am chairing the platform discussion I sometimes need to ask my parliamentarian too look up things that in a saner quieter moment I would be ablo to remember. But it is important that when I give an answer to a delegate that it be based correctly on Robert’s Rules.

Our district conventions are fast approaching. I would encourage everyone who is attending to at least become familiar with the rules. By following the rules fairly and consistently a competent chair and parliamentarian can keep even a contentious situation from descending into chaos.


Those evil Ron Paul people took over our convention!!!

The Paulbots took over the Linn County Republican Convention! Here is the indisputable photographic evidence, the smoking gun. In the picture as Jason Besler and I sit helplessly by, Linn County Supervisor and Ron Paul supporter Brent Oleson hijacks the Linn County Republican Convention and takes over the chair. In fact the Paulbots domination was so complete that Brent was elected permanent chair unanimously.

Of course I am just kidding ๐Ÿ™‚ The Organizational team asked Brent to chair and he graciously agreed to do so. He did a great job. We had a great convention, lots of new people (yes several were Ron Paul supporters) and a great deal of excitement.

It is no secret over the years that we have had our issues in the Linn County Central Committee. But I have noticed something in the past couple of years, a number of people who have been adversaries over the years have become allies, or in some cases allies again. Things are looking up, I have had to do a double take a few time as I saw people huddling together who used to be mortal enemies. Now we are still Linn County and we still have our characters (and I know that I am one of them) but for the most part the circular firing squad seems to have disbanded. Instead (I hope) we are circling the wagons and focusing on victory in November.

As usually happens I chaired the Platform Committee this year. I was very pleased with the way everybody handled themselves. We certainly discussed a number of issues about which people were passionate. Even so we manged to hold a civil discussion and people were respectful even of those with whom they disagreed. Usually when I chair a meeting I have to remind a delegate or two to refrain from personally attacking another delegate and to direct their remarks to the chair. We did not have a single instance where I felt it was necessary for me to intervene.

The teams that put the convention together did an awesome job. I only noticed two problems thorughout the day:

  1. We had a pesky wireless microphone but Cindy Golding (former HD18 candidate) stepped up and helped people use it.
  2. The lunchtime entertainment was a bluegrass quartet (instrumental and vocal) and when I should have been reviewing my notes for platform and eating lunch I found myself singing along. I might even have been singing too close to the live podium microphone ๐Ÿ™‚ (but they did some bluegrass gospel and I am a bass … I couldn’t help myself)

The people elected to district committees come from a wide range of constituencies and are a pretty balanced cross section of the Linn County GOP. I love political conventions, I enjoy the atmosphere and the interaction. It may even be the case that our conventions always run this well (they probably do) but as many people were anticipating disaster, and some counties were a mess, it makes me appreciate our convention even more.