Most people in the computer industry are familiar with the acronym FUD. FUD stand for fear, uncertainty and doubt. It describes people’s natural reaction to change. Sometimes this reaction is justified other times it is not.
At this weekend’s quarterly State Central Committee meeting, there are two proposed rule changes that could have a significant effect on the operation of the Republican Party of Iowa in the future. The first is a proposed amendment to the RPI Constitution that would allow delegates to the state convention to elect the RPI chairman. The second is a proposed amendment to the RPI Bylaws that would place term limits on SCC members and prevent members from working on campaigns, being employed by PAC, or registering as lobbyists. Given the current climate withing our state party — I prefer to call it a family feud not a civil war — my phone is ringing off the hook and my inbox is filling up with different people explaining to me the real reason for these proposals. So far the most popular conspiracy theories seem to be (in no particular order):
- This is an attempt by the Ron Paul faction to wrest control at the convention
- This is an attempt to remove Tamara Scott and Monte Shaw who are both registered lobbyists
- This is an attempt to force the establishment members of the SCC to vote against a proposal that is supported by the grassroots thus making them vulnerable to defeat at the district conventions
- This is a racist attempt to remove the only non-white SCC members — Gopal Krishna and me. [OK, you got me — nobody actually suggested this, but since we would be the only two affected by the term limits — I thought I would use the opportunity to play the race card and the victim card!]
Setting the conspiracy theories aside, in this post I will discuss the merits of these proposals and I will share with you how I intend to vote on them (at least at this time). The full text of the proposals are online at TheIowaRepublican.com
First I will address the Constitutional amendment. It was proposed by SCC member Mark Doland. The proposal has the following key points:
- The chair and co-chair will be elected by the delegates at the state convention
- The chair and co-chair will take office at the close of the state convention (SCC members already do)
- The chair or co-chair can only be removed by a 2/3 vote of the SCC for cause
Currently the chair and co-chair are elected by the SCC. I really like the idea of the convention electing these two officers. I am always in favor of more grassroots involvement. The main concern I have heard is that the grassroots would lack the requisite knowledge to select a chair and co-chair. While there may be some merit to the argument — the SCC has chosen both good and bad chairs and co-chairs in the past even with inside knowledge. I am sure the grassroots would do the same.
One of the issues I have with the proposal is that the chair and co-chair would take office at the end of the state convention. This would mean that every single election year we would replace the entire leadership of the party right when we should be preparing for the general election. On the other hand, given the contentious nature of our party — I am not sure that electing the leadership at convention in June then having the election cycle run by a lame duck is a good idea either. I like the idea — I could probably be persuaded on this point.
The biggest issue I have is the requirement for a 2/3 vote of the SCC to remove the chair or co-chair. At first I was OK with this but after hearing from a number of people I have flip-flopped. In my opinion requiring a super majority to remove the chair and co-chair puts too much unchecked power in the hands of the leadership. While I do not recall an SCC actually removing an officer. A few have resigned before the SCC had the chance to act. This accountability has served the party well over the years. I would be more supportive if the SCC could still remove officers by a majority vote
I also dislike the phrase for cause. It is even less clear than the phrase from the US Constitution — high crimes and misdemeanors. Now, I would hope that any time an SCC moved to remove an officer it would be for cause but unlike the constitution, this is a simple vote to remove not an impeachment or trial.
The bylaws proposal comes from SCC member David Cushman. Cushman’s proposal has several parts:
- Term limit of 3 consecutive terms for SCC members
- SCC members may not be employed by a PAC or campaign
- SCC members may not accept compensation or gifts from a PAC, campaign, elected office holder or registered lobbyist
- SCC members may not be registered lobbyists
I have never been a supporter of term limits on any level. The fact that only two of us on the SCC have served three or more consecutive terms, is proof that the will of grassroots is the most effective form of term limits. While I am not a supporter of term limits, I do not have really strong opposition either.
My position on the conflict of interest proposal is a little more nuanced. As an SCC member, I have campaigned on a platform of not endorsing candidates in a primary or caucus, not accepting any form of remuneration from any candidate or PAC, and not serving on the board of any organization whose primary purpose is to influence the government. My reason is that I do not want even the appearance of conflict of interest in my service. On the other hand I have not really publicly advocated to hold others on the SCC to the same standard. Yes, I was involved in the failed constitutional amendment at the 2012 convention but it was put together by a large group of individuals and in my opinion over reached.
As a practical matter, the conflict of interest rule that I would heartily support is this:
No officer of the Republican Party of Iowa (including the Finance Chair and Legal Counsel) or member of the State Central Committee (including Iowa’s National Committeeman and National Committeewoman) shall be employed by a campaign during a primary or caucus
The restriction on compensation or gifts is fine but impractical without a little wordsmithing. I agree in principle, but I have a collection of hats, t-shirts, pens and notepads that I have received over the years and you would be hard pressed to suggest that they represent a conflict of interest. I could support a limit on gifts but I think that prohibiting campaign schwag is impractical and unnecessary.
The PACs and lobbyist restrictions are a little bit more complicated. I like the idea, but many of these organization also have 501(c)3’s as well as PACs and it would be in many cases simple to take an SCC member who is an employee of a PAC and make them instead an employee of the related 501(c)3. I agree with Cushman that there is potential for conflict of interest here.
Historically we have had examples of some who have navigated these waters gracefully and others who did not. For example I did not have a problem with former chair Kayne Robinson serving as NRA president. However, even though I was a Matt Strawn supporter, I felt his association with Strong America Now was unwise and hurt the party.
I am rambling again. I have been around long enough and spoken to enough activists in the Iowa GOP to believe that on Saturday, we could and should pass the much narrower, trimmed down alternative to the Cushman amendment that I propose above.
Even though I have pledged to hold myself to a much higher standard — I believe that such a decision should be made by the broadest cross section of our party’s grassroots — as a constitutional amendment at the state convention.