We are in the midst of the Caucus to Convention process here in Iowa. We hear that term a lot, but what does it mean?
It is perhaps the epitome of “representative” government. It is the process whereby we conduct the periodic business of our political party and organize its governance.
So what is it, exactly, that we do during that process, and why do we do it? We begin with our precinct caucuses. We meet with our neighbors in schools, churches, community centers, and even homes and talk about the platform, the candidates for President and other elected offices and to decide who will go on to “represent” our precinct (the 1,800 or so of us) for the next two years on the county central committee. It’s not practical for us to “caucus” every week or every month to conduct the party business of the county (namely recruiting candidates and getting them elected). So we select a county central committee to “represent us” and do it for us in between caucuses. We also use the caucus to elect delegates who will go on to “represent” our precinct at the county convention.
At the county convention, we elect delegates to go on and “represent” us at the congressional district convention and state convention.
At that district convention, we elect delegates to go on and “represent” our district at the national convention where we select the presidential nominee for the election in November. We also elect people to serve on the State Central Committee to “represent” our district for the next two years. The body that conducts “party business” and organization for the time between conventions.
At the state convention, we elect people to “represent” our state on the Republican National Committee (RNC) for the next four years. We also conduct other business such as who will run on the ticket with our candidate for Governor as our Lieutenant Governor during years where we have gubernatorial elections.
These elections are elegant in their simplicity, and all of these committees, whether they are county, state, or national, are designed to self-dissolve at two or four year intervals. Then they are designed to be rebuilt from nothing again and again. This process and system are specifically designed to keep power from being too centralized by a particular group of people for an extended period. It is intended to be the best “representation” of the people down to the precinct level.
That is why you don’t see much in the way of rules governing the process. In the RNC rules, you will find language leaving the method for electing National Committee persons up to the State Parties, State laws, or State Delegations. In the Republican Party of Iowa (RPI) Constitution, you will find language that it simply states:
“ARTICLE IV 1. The Republican State Central Committee shall be composed of the National Committeemen and the National Committeewomen and representatives elected by the District Caucus from each Congressional District…”
… and concerning County Central Committees…
“ARTICLE VI 1. County Central Committees shall consist of two precinct committee members elected from each precinct…”
Nowhere will you find language that dictates precisely how those elections take place or how nominations for those elections will take place. The entire process is ambiguous by design to leave that power to the people and their “representatives” along the way. It leaves the majority of the power where it belongs, with the people.
That is why I disagree with the “rule” that the State Central Committee passed two years ago. They attempted to impose on the districts that nominees to the State Central Committee shall be required to send a “Declaration of Candidacy” to the state party by such and so date, and that was the only requirement to get on the ballot.
First, consider a body, serving a term of two years, creating an arbitrary “rule” once in power to dictate an eligibility requirement to be nominated in a future election to replace them after their term is complete. This rule change would be similar to Congress passing a “rule” to impose some requirement on future nominees to Congress. They lack that authority.
The notion that they would have such authority is absurd. It would be an extreme abuse of power. That is the type of thing done in communist regimes by the politburo to guarantee that the members of the politburo never change. If you are willing to accept that sort of requirement, then ask yourself where the limit is? What if it were a different requirement? What if the requirement said nominees for the State Central Committee must submit a “Declaration of Candidacy” and signatures by a majority of current State Central Committee members before a certain date?
This possibility is why I assert that they don’t have the right to impose any such “rule” on the district conventions. It is the district convention’s exclusive right to decide how they will select nominees and how they will “elect” people to “represent” them on the State Central Committee. It is my position that any rule, so long as it is not in violation of the Constitution of RPI and of the RNC, some other state or federal law, or the Constitution, is within our right to adopt. I would go on further to say that even a bylaw passed by the State Central Committee would be unenforceable over our county and district conventions. The State Central Committee serves at our pleasure, not the other way around. Period.
This type of power shift is the most dangerous thing to a “representative” form of government.
You need only recognize that the State Convention is the only body that can ever change the State Party Constitution to decide for yourself which body has more power, the Convention or the Central Committee at any level.
The expressed justification for this “rule” this was that people were complaining about the situation where so many people ran for State Central Committee a few years ago, and the delegation heard like ten nominations and seconds from the floor and 10 two minute speeches and how are they supposed to decide from that? The “intent” of the “rule” may have been good. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Secondly, consider that the threshold of a simple nomination and second from the floor is far too low for such an important position, much less a simple declaration of candidacy. This is a matter for the Rules committee to identify and write into a rule the convention can adopt. It is the responsibility and duty of the convention to pass their own rule, and likewise that of the rules committee to head this off before the convention begins.
This is why I successfully lobbied hard two years ago to create a rule for an alternative method to the “Declaration of Candidacy” form at the district convention rules committee. We didn’t want to disenfranchise those who felt they followed the “rule” in submitting a “Declaration of Candidacy” to the state party by the arbitrary “deadline,” so we passed a rule to allow it. Although I will say that adopting a rule at a convention for a date that has already passed is sort of silly. We also wrote a rule that stated a person could be nominated from the floor of the convention provided they turned in 50 signatures from delegates, “representing” a minimum of 8 counties, to the convention. I collected the signatures and ran on that principle alone because I thought it was essential to maintain this rule and right at the convention. I lost the election for the last seat by a slim margin, although, as memory serves, after receiving over 300 votes.
This year I felt compelled to get on the district rules committee to make sure among other things that we maintained this rule as we did two years ago. I actually had no intention of running for State Central Committee because I was told all of the incumbents were running again, and they were all ok with me, but I didn’t want us to forget that we were in charge of our own rules. Rules have a funny way of just being recycled from convention to convention.
In a strange twist of fate, we were blindsided by COVID-19. Our traditional conventions were canceled to be replaced by a mail-in ballot “convention,” and the state party facilitated “virtual” convention committee meetings online. They postponed the original committee meetings by one week, and they were held the Saturday following the Friday of the initial arbitrary deadline for filing a “Declaration of Candidacy” form. I’m not suggesting that was intentional, just the way it happened. They also provided us with “rules” for our “mail-in convention” for us to consider at the meeting, and they were hoping we would adopt.
I was elected as the rules chair in the Third District by the committee, and we had another committee member suggest an amendment to the proposed rule to allow an alternate method of nomination and candidacy to the State Central Committee as we did two years ago. This committee person knew of an individual that wanted to run who wasn’t aware of the deadline and the “Declaration of Candidacy” form. We passed a rule under roughly the same guidelines that a person to be eligible must have filed a “Declaration of Candidacy” by the arbitrary date OR submit a “Declaration of Candidacy” AND 50 signatures or emails “representing” at least eight counties of the district in support of the candidate by the following Friday to get on the ballot.
We were informed by Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa Chairman, that our rule change was not allowed because a district rule can not overturn a state rule. “The state party sought the advice of a certified parliamentarian and our legal counsel regarding the validity of this proposed rule change; both agreed the rule change was not allowed and the district rules committee does not have the power to change a state rule. State rules can be changed through the state central committee or by the delegates to the state convention,” he wrote in an email to party leaders.
Let’s eliminate the “Declaration of Candidacy” form as a “requirement.” If someone wants to run, they should be required to obtain signatures from the delegates they are asking to “represent” at the convention. We have this type of requirement for every elected office in the state.
I do think it would be an excellent idea for the state party to allow a section on their website where candidates could submit their “Declaration of Candidacy” in advance. Then the state party could post that information and include it in the convention tabloid for delegates. That way, the delegates might be better informed about potential candidates. This would be a benefit of potential candidates, not a requirement.
In short, I feel that we should leave the power where it belongs concerning nominations and elections of people at the district convention. We should leave it with the delegates.
Incidentally the word “represent” in some form appears 18 times in this article. The beauty of our system is you have the right to decide for yourself if that matters. You have the power with your vote to make sure your voice is appropriately “represented,” so that never changes.