I am a conservative Republican. I believe that I have voted ever since I have been old enough to do so, wanting to do my part and to exercise my right to vote. Much more recently I have become a caucus goer, further exercising my right and responsibility to influence who I vote for. This year is the first year that I have ever served as a delegate to the county central committee, as well as the county, district, and state GOP conventions. Though I came in naïve and optimistic, I am no longer either. The entire process has been an amazingly eye-opening experience from which I can say I have learned several things. Here are a few lessons I have gleaned from my experience so far.
Few Get Involved in the Real Process of Influence, and Even Fewer Run the Show
People across the country complain about Iowa having an inordinate amount of sway and influence as the first-in-the-nation caucus (which I am still heartily for), they would be shocked at how few of the caucus goers do anything beyond casting a vote at the caucus. A huge number of my fellow caucus goers vote for their candidate, and then flee into the night. Most, I would guess, would not even have an idea what goes on after they leave. Delegates to the county central committee are elected, and delegates to the county convention are elected (which most likely will become the delegates to the District and State if they so desire). Platform changes are introduced. Very, very few people actually go through the entire caucus process. Further, judging by the attendance at central committee meetings, most of those chosen as delegates either never bother to attend at all, or soon give up once they realize how utterly tedious the business of the party is.
What remains is the few that become the true determiners of the party at every level. These extreme few determine who become the delegates upstream to state and national conventions. This extremely small group chooses even fewer to oversee the credentials validation of future delegates, creation and maintenance of platform planks, and the rules by which business is conducted. This tiny number of people hold the influence of the entire state party in reality.
The “O” in GOP Does Not Stand for “Organization” (and There’s No “E” for “Efficiency” Either)
I understand that most of those involved are self-funded volunteers. However, I see no reason for the continual and amazing lack of organization and efficiency at any GOP meeting that I have attended to date. Time and again I have attended meeting where sound equipment was forgotten or late. Time and again I have been to meetings where the minutes of the previous meeting were not yet available to be read and approved. In some of the meetings the indecisiveness is breath-taking. The sometimes comical chaos of “stop-go-wait-change that” could be alleviated with just another thirty minutes of meaningful planning. We can and must do better at doing our business with excellence and with foresight.
Further, the amount of time wasted in meetings is phenomenal. Nominations for positions are taken, usually with an allowed speech by each one making a nomination. Then each of those nominated are allowed to make speeches. If ten are nominated, there can be twenty minutes spoken by those doing the nominating, and another forty minutes by those that have been nominated. This is for one of many elections to the several positions. This is all necessary, I guess. However, when they take the ballot votes and then wait for forty or more minutes to tally them before conducting the usually necessary second vote, that makes no sense.
There are ways to keep things moving without long breaks of inactivity. If you cannot conduct business, then use the time to further educate, train, influence those in attendance. Plan our down times to leverage time, rather than wasting it. Why not, for example, take all the nominations at once, and then let speeches take place as the various phases of votes are counted. As another example, instead of having those making the nominations spell out names of those being nominated, why not just require a written sheet to be handed to the secretary with the name written on it (or use one of the hundreds of political flyers lying all around for the same candidate)?
Attention has to be given to make the necessary processes as organized and efficient as possible. The present processes are just too cumbersome for the time allotted for each meeting. Such poor business practices lead more to abandon their posts early or to give up altogether.
It’s About Power, Not the Platform
People voting at the grassroots level are conservative and assume that ideals are what the election process is all about. We vote to advance the candidates holding our ideals. Wrong.
At every level, from the precinct caucus to the county, district, and state conventions, the platform receives the least priority. The articles that define the GOP as a party are relegated to the last item on the agenda. This means that most attendees (at the caucus) and many delegates (at the conventions) depart before the platform is ever discussed. People vote on their candidate (at the caucus) or those people that they want in influential committee or delegate positions, and then they go home. A small number of hard core people stay for various reasons and wrestle with the platform.
This focus on the power rather than the platform is reflected in the decisions and actions of those elected by the party, who mildly or greatly ignore the stated platform for the party in which they had been selected. Whether the issue is abortion, agriculture, marriage or any of the 25 platforms, those elected often just ignore what is clearly stated. Once in power, they ignore the platform. The entire Iowa GOP process seems to be focused on being elected, not to further the established written ideals of the party. (This is shameful. We either area party driven by ideals or we are not a party at all. Those elected need to be required to hold to the established platform.)
I saw this in full force at the GOP State Convention this year. Those few that did get involved were elected to these few influential positions and effectively captured or hijacked the party (as I see it), even though they in no way have been in the majority. Their choices, instead of representing the ideals and desires of the broad group, resulted in people who will represent Iowa at the national convention who do not represent the GOP of Iowa, nor the platform decided by the GOP of Iowa.
The Bottom Line
In the end, we need more people willing to get involved and to stay involved at every level. We need to attend our caucuses, yes, but we need to stay and vote for delegates that we trust to follow through on our votes and our ideals (even better, volunteer to be one who does just that). It takes time, money, and endurance to attend meetings and conventions. It is a lot of work, even frustrating effort, but each person involved helps to create strong informed support from the voters, rather than just being unknowing victims of the process that now exists.