Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mike Thomas: Cheating is not a conservative value

By Mike Thomas
First Vice Chairman, Republican Party of Virginia

When did cheating become an acceptable “conservative” value?

There has been a whole lot of talk about slating in party circles recently. It isn’t surprising. While slating has been around a lot longer than I have been involved in Republican politics (since 1976 when I was in high school), over the last decade it has taken place only once or twice each year and not in any larger locality.

Discussions about slating are not only appropriate, they are necessary. I am even among those who are open to eliminating slating. But, my purpose here is not to discuss slating. My purpose is to stress the importance of us following our own rules.

So, why do I bring it up?

Because the slating that occurred this year on a larger scale than in recent years is being touted by some as a reason to cheat. Cheat, as in intentionally disregarding the rules that Republicans purport to abide by.

The Republican Party of Virginia is held together by shared principles, as embodied in the Republican Creed, and it is held together and governed by our Party Plan. While the rules themselves aren’t the reason we come together, they are the written statement of how we agree to work with one another. They protect the rights of the majority as well as of the minority on any given question. They provide a method to resolve disputes and a way to keep moving forward even in the midst of controversies.

One of the clearest – and most fundamental – rules of the RPV is that in order to be a delegate or alternate to a convention, you must first be elected by a mass meeting, party canvass, or convention. No individual or group is given the power to appoint delegates. They must have been elected. Not prefiled. Elected. Not having stated in open meeting, “I want to be a delegate.” Elected.

Sometimes mistakes happen. Mass meetings have forgotten to electe delegates due to a hotly contested race for chairman. Some have elected delegates but forgot to elect alternates. Some have forgotten to elect a county committee. There have been numerous cases where, through a genuine mistake, one or two individuals were left off of the list of people nominated to the mass meeting. There have been cases where an individual was not elected because of an erroneous determination that they were not registered to vote.

I have sympathy for anyone in such a circumstance. It has happened to numerous personal friends and allies, in one case resulting in the election of a candidate whom I did not favor.

And, there have been thousands of people over the years who were not elected a delegate because that is what the majority of the mass meeting intended to happen. Most of the time this has been to secure the nomination of a candidate for public office. Other times it has happened to win an intra-party contest. And, in a few cases, it has happened to “settle an old score.”

This is the point. Regardless of the reason that an individual was not elected a delegate, the fact remains they were not elected. And the many, many times that I have wished there was a way to correct a mistake – even a political miscalculation – have all led to the same result: No committee or convention can seat as a delegate someone who was not first elected as a delegate by their local mass meeting, party canvass, or convention.

Unless, that is, you ignore the Party Plan and attempt to do it anyway. Unless you cheat.

If this happens, and if the State Central Committee were to uphold this, thus setting the precedent of it being okay to ignore the Party Plan as long as you have the votes on a given committee, the consequences for the RPV and indeed for the future of conventions would be enormous and disastrous.

Consider these possibilities, because there is no difference. None. Why bother with holding a mass meeting at all if your District Committee is going to elect the delegates it wants anyway? Why should prefiling not be ignored, too? While at it, why stop with convention delegates? Are the votes not there on the District Committee to sustain an appeal? No problem, we’ll just add a few members and give them a vote. Or, we’ll just “fire” one of the officers who doesn’t support the appeal.

If we are willing to throw one part of the Party Plan out the door, where does it stop? And on what basis do we then demand our rights to a contest or appeal under the same Party Plan we have already disregarded?

Most of us have complained for years about liberal activists and leaders who throw the rules out or ignore the law to reach the outcome they desire. When this happens, it means that brute force and the well-placed few win, rather than respect for the rules and the outcomes that it produces, as well as the confidence it inspires.

There have been plenty of contests over the years. Where there was a clear violation of the Party Plan and that violation clearly made a difference in the outcome of a contest, the appeals process worked and it worked well. But a contest or appeal that is brought simply because those bringing it don’t like the outcome should be dealt with swiftly.

In order to preserve mass meetings and conventions as a method of nominating candidates for public office – and while I favor party canvasses, I strongly support the party also having the option of mass meetings, conventions, and primaries – we have to be able to guarantee that the rules of our party will be enforced. If we cannot guarantee that a candidate for public office will win or lose a nomination based upon the rules rather than who the members of a committee are, we could see conventions taken from us.

Let’s make sure that does not happen. More importantly, let’s get on with the real business of the RPV this year – electing a new United States Senator and adding to our delegation in the House.
Mike Thomas graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in political science and has spent more than 30 years working in local, state, and federal politics. He served from 1994-98 as the Commonwealth's Secretary of Administration for Governor George Allen, and as State Director and Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator George Allen. A senior vice president for State Government Relations at McGuire Woods Consulting, Mike is married and lives in Chesterfield.

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