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Hypocrisy defined – the Beach GOP’s mass meeting

What happened at the Virginia Beach GOP mass meeting last night should give convention proponents pause.  Not because of the outcome, which will likely lead to the election of pro-primary officials to RPV’s State Central Committee and resulted in a victory for Ken Longo, but because we have yet another example of why conventions are such a fundamentally bad idea for democracy.  If I had to write a textbook definition for political hypocrisy (from both sides), it would be last night’s meeting.

Despite there being nearly 1,000 people present for the mass meeting, thanks to the slating process adopted by the meeting, only 32 of them will be voting delegates to the 2nd District Republican Convention.  Hundreds of would be convention goers and party activists were disenfranchised by the action taken by the mass meeting by the majority of attendees voting for the slating procedure.

I’m going to ignore the arguments I’ve seen from my colleagues about whether this was a war between moderates and conservatives, establishment and Tea Party, or whether this was a war between primary supporters and convention supporters.  For some who attended, it is clear they were there to fight those fights.  But fundamentally what happened in the Beach last night is the capstone to every criticism I have ever had about nominating processes other than primaries.  This is no way to run a railroad, people.  We, as a Republican Party, are better than this.

This mass meeting was, from the reports I read on Twitter and that I’ve heard from a half dozen people on the ground, a farce.  Screaming, shouting, and the chair barely controlling himself resulted in a spectacle rarely seen these days.  The meeting itself was poorly run, with even something as fundamentally simple as a secret ballot being denied to the meeting goers.  Each ballot was numbered and when a ballot was distributed, the number was recorded next to the name of the meeting goer to whom it was given.  Anybody with the ballots and the list could easily figure out who voted for whom.  Many of the 32 people who were chosen by the meeting to be on the slate didn’t even know they’d been chosen.  Hopefully, those 32 individuals won’t be retaliated against, since most of them had no idea they were even listed.

This is what happens with conventions, folks.  And if this is what happens in the largest city in Virginia, with one of the most active GOP units, it could happen anywhere.  Slating is not only legal, it’s not an uncommon practice.  While I understand that many in the party are complaining about the slating, many of those same people – unfortunately including Pat Mullins – said nothing when we saw slating last year used in Craig County in an even more egregious way than what we saw last night.  Shaun Kenney [1], unlike some of those folks, has been consistent in his complaining about slating [2]and deserves credit for that consistency.

I, like Shaun, oppose slating, but then again I also oppose things like mass meetings and conventions on general principle.  This is what happens when you’re dealing with a system that is designed to give the power to a limited number of people who are familiar enough with the rules to know how to game the system to get what they want.  Generally, when you see parliamentary moves like this being played, it’s the result of a small number of power players wanting to override the will of the electorate. That wasn’t what happened here – the pro-slating folks had 643 votes in favor of the slate, almost double their opponents.  This was the will of the majority.  But just because the majority chose to give up their right to be delegates to the convention doesn’t mean it’s okay.  Tyranny of the majority is just as bad as a tyranny by the minority.

That’s what makes this puzzling to me – you can get 643 folks (a 2-1 margin) to a mass meeting, so why can’t you do that in a convention and win without the games?  Why cause the division and strife?  To make a point?

Well, the point has been made:  when given the chance, both sides will take advantage of the rules to win.  When the rules are massaged to the detriment of the losing side who aren’t simply beaten, but completely silenced, it damages our party and increases cynicism.  Instead of simply being a vote for the other side, the losers (and, frankly, most of the winners) are disenfranchised completely and their ability to influence the process at all is taken away.  That’s bad for our democracy because it makes people feel powerless.  We want to empower our activists, not the other way around.

That being said, the other side – who have been loudly complaining since last night – need to take a step back and look themselves in the mirror.  Their complaining is highly ironic. Many of the same folks who support conventions and ignore the concerns those of us on the pro-primary side have about disenfranchising the military, small business owners, parents with small kids, the elderly and others who can’t attend a convention were themselves disenfranchised by a convention-style trick.  Now you’re complaining about being disenfranchised?  It’s only bad when it happens to you?

The hypocrisy – on both sides here – is astounding.  For those of us who complain frequently about using tricks and arcane parliamentary maneuvers to win nominating fights, this isn’t the right way to respond to our critics.  We aren’t going to win any converts to our cause by using those same tricks and maneuvers to win.  While we may be able to point out the flaws in the process, we do so by engaging in the same behavior we condemn.  That’s hypocritical.  And for folks who support conventions and non-primary means of nominating delegates and nominees, you can’t turn a blind eye to the disenfranchising of whole swaths of the party faithful when it’s convenient, but decry it when you lose at your own game.

So who is to blame for what happened at the Beach last night?  Everyone.  Because nobody can walk away from something like this with clean hands.  Those of us who support primaries should have been able to find a way to win (and the path seems clear given the huge majorities that showed up last night) without having to play games.  And those on the other side who are crying foul because they find themselves on the losing end of the game they’ve been playing for years need to suck it up.

The Beach mass meeting wasn’t the GOP’s finest hour. Let’s hope that this experience causes folks on both sides of the primary/convention debate to recognize that we need to do better.