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There Was No Deal, State Central Members; Vote Your Conscience on Saturday

RPV’s State Central Committee is meeting this Saturday, August 27, and the proposed nominating method for our statewide candidates in 2017 is on the agenda.  RPV Chairman John Whitbeck has scheduled discussion, and possibly a vote, on the Call for a state Convention [1].  If the proposed call is approved, RPV will be nominating by convention.

There is no reason for me to argue in favor of one method or another – others will do that, and I’ve spoken my peace on the issue.

Last year, a number of State Central Members, including former 3rd District State Central Member Chip Muir (who chose not to run in 2016), and Dan Webb, YRFV Chair, proposed what they called a “compromise.”  Chip wrote a number of articles about it in various places, including on the now defunct Virginia Virtucon [2].  Under the terms of his “compromise,” State Central would approve a presidential preference primary to choose our presidential nominee in 2016, and State Central would then choose a statewide convention for nominating our statewide candidates in 2017.

The proposal was ostensibly designed to provide party unity – pro-primary forces would get what they want in 2016, and convention forces would get what they want in 2017.  There were plenty of flaws with the “compromise,” not the least of which was the fact that the deal would have effectively allowed last year’s State Central to bind a future State Central on a nominating process two full years before the election, and at least a full year earlier than had been past practice.  That “pre-binding” was a practice that has been repudiated by previous State Centrals.  As recently as 2012, a newly elected State Central Committee reversed a decision to nominate by primary that a previous State Central had made, after the balance of power shifted  in favor of conventions.  That decision resulted in considerable turmoil within the party, and laid bare a schism that persists to this day.

Perhaps the “compromise” could have brought party unity.  Perhaps it would have made things a lot easier.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have to worry about what is happening this Saturday at all.

Unfortunately, we will never know, because the “compromise,” as Muir envisioned it, never passed State Central.

Let’s be clear – the “Muir/Webb Compromise” did not pass State Central.  The way Chip presented his “compromise,” it was always predicated on a straight-up deal between primary and convention forces – primary gets 2016, and convention gets 2017.  The idea was to lock in both parties so neither side could spend time arguing over nominating methods in the future.  Chip himself wrote on Virtucon that:

Debates over process have drained us of energy and bled off our volunteers, and our financial resources. (We just can’t deny the financial condition of the party.) My compromise ends that debate for two years. That’s two years of prioritizing winning elections over process debates. Winning cures a lot of ills. When you’re part of a winning team, you feel good, you build relationships, you see value in your time. Winning cures a lot of ills. (Repetition intentional.)

It was clear from Chip’s copious writings on the subject – a modern day RPV version of the Federalist Papers as it pertained to this “compromise,” and well done, in my opinion – that he envisioned a binding resolution that would clearly ensure that both sides in the debate were locked in on this choice.

That, however, is not the motion that Dan Webb made at the June 27, 2015 meeting [3].  Despite references to Chip Muir’s “compromise,” the motion that ended up being passed by State Central reads as follows:

In accordance with the state Party Plan, and the rules of the Republican National Committee, I move that Virginia’s Delegates and Alternates to the 2016 National Convention shall be elected by the respective District and State Conventions, and that their votes be bound by the results of the Republican Presidential Primary, to be held on March 1, 2016.

The votes of Virginia’s delegates, district, at-large Delegates, and Alternates, shall be bound on the first ballot, proportionally to candidates according to the votes received in the Statewide Presidential Primary vote. For the purpose of this allocation of votes, the State Chairman, National Committeewoman, and National Committeeman shall be considered unbound delegates.

In addition, it is recommended that RPV holds a 2017 nominating convention for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General. RPV shall establish a restricted account to be used for convention expenses. Money can be donated or transferred to the account, if it’s expressly designated, and can only be drawn for use to pay expenses related to the 2017 convention.

This was the substitute motion made by Dan Webb in response to an original motion for a presidential convention made by Virginia RNC Committeeman Morton Blackwell.  That motion carried on a 42-40-1 vote.  Note the language in the final paragraph – “it is recommended that RPV holds a 2017 nominating convention.”

Recommended.  Not required.

That’s not the “compromise” that Chip Muir envisioned and advocated for.  That’s not the “compromise” that Chip proposed.  It was, in effect, a compromise of “the” compromise.  Recommendations are simply that – recommendations.  They are not binding, and they do not have the force of law or rule.

Chris Marston, RPV’s General Counsel, confirmed this in writing [4] to two questions asked by 2nd District Chairman Dennis Free.

Dan Webb has taken to the internets to demand that State Central members [5] adhere to the “deal” he argues they accepted last year.

There are a few problems with that.

First, obviously, as I noted the “compromise” never passed.  The watered down version did, which only recommended a convention and bound no one.  Second, we have no idea who crossed over and voted for what, because individual speeches weren’t tallied in the minutes, and State Central ultimately voted by secret ballot.  It was that vote, not the vote on nomination method as argued by Webb, that cost many State Central members their seats.  That secret ballot vote was what rankled the grassroots, far more than a presidential primary – a decision many in the grassroots now laud because it made possible Donald Trump’s victory in Virginia, which nobody believes would have happened had a convention been selected.

It’s also important to note that things have changed considerably since last year when we were talking about this “compromise.”  With the potential of a special statewide election to fill Tim Kaine’s Senate seat if he wins the Vice Presidency, we can’t afford to select a convention – literally and figuratively.  Four multi-candidate races means at a minimum a two day+ fully contested convention, and that’s not something RPV has put together in a long, long time.  Given the issues we’ve seen in just the last few years, and the serious lack of trust between many in the grassroots and who they perceive are in the “party leadership,” it’s just a bad idea. Another convention, with its arcane rules and certain rules-lawyering by candidates, is only going to split the party even worse than it is now, which makes a toddler’s birthday party look cohesive.

Webb claims that “[i]t’s time to put the integrity of our party first, to bring the Compromise Plan to fruition, and prove to ourselves that we can work together and begin trusting each other once again.”  It’s hard to put into words, given what we’ve seen in Virginia over the last few years, how naive that argument is.  The idea that suddenly all the rifts within the party, at every level, will suddenly start to heal and we’ll all trust each other again if SCC supports a convention in 2017 is laughably absurd.  No matter what decision is made, somebody is going to hate it and cry foul.

When it comes to integrity, there’s no integrity in holding yourself to a deal that never existed.  The only proof that we can work together will be when that actually happens, and it hasn’t been happening since 2013. The chances of it happening next year are slim, no matter what State Central does.

As for trust, the voters in the various districts across Virginia put their trust in their elected State Central Committee members to do what they were elected to do – and that was not to weld themselves to a bad deal that would not only hurt the party and our electoral chances in 2017, but that, in all honesty, doesn’t even exist.

There was no deal.  There is no deal.  State Central members should continue to vote their consciences on Saturday, regardless of where they stand on the primary vs. convention issue.

Those who went to their local conventions and voted for State Central are owed a duty of loyalty – that duty is more binding than any deal somebody thinks was made last year.  State Central members should be loyal to their constituents – the people who elected them – and they should do what their constituents elected them to do.

To them, I say don’t let anybody mislead you about what integrity is.  It’s voting your principles.

It always has been and always will be.