Mass Meetings are Still a Bad Idea

If you missed the conflict at Monday night’s Republican mass meeting in Richmond City — relax. That mess will eventually come to your home unit, too.

For the uninitiated, a mass meeting is a gathering of interested Republicans (allegedly) who come together to elect a unit chairman or nominate a candidate for local office. The concept is centuries old and hails from an era before the Internet, before email, before television, and even before regular postal service, when the only way for an association to do business was to meet in person after the town crier — or later, a newspaper — called everyone out at an announced date, time, and location.

If you’ve been to a mass meeting lately, it’s little more than an opportunity for the Special People™ to argue over motions, Roberts Rules, and the State Party Plan while everyone else sits around staring at the ceiling or scrolling through Facebook, only occasionally stopping to vote as they have been instructed.

Can anyone honestly claim that parliamentary maneuvering over a rules report or temporary chairman does anything to strengthen the party?

Last night’s problem began when the Richmond GOP hadn’t met regularly in over a year but needed to elect a new chairman. The committee’s executive committee called a special meeting to debate approving a call for the mass meeting where Republicans could vote on their new leader.

However, party rules require the mass meeting call to be approved in a full regular meeting and posted to RPV’s website. Allegedly, that didn’t happen. Last night’s mass meeting has now been voided, and everyone will have to show up again after the full committee meets to approve a call for another mass meeting which complies with the rules.

So, in order to elect a new chairman of a unit not active enough to formally meet over the last year, four meetings will have to have been noticed and held – all to determine who gets to pass out the volunteer signup sheets as November approaches.

Are you tired of this pointless bureaucracy yet? You should be.

This form of jockeying does nothing to elect Republican candidates. Instead, it squanders time on pointless and archaic internal procedure in a year where the Republican House majority is at stake and five seats are conceivably in play in Virginia alone.

As if that weren’t bad enough, this entirely pointless procedure has now wasted the time of RPV’s Executive Director John Findlay, who has more than enough on his plate already without having to play referee as fellow Republicans bicker and squabble over Roberts Rules. It will also waste the time of the State Chairman, John Whitbeck, as well as the State Central Committee if the fallout, now or later, leads to yet another appeal.

There is a better way to determine who organizes the local volunteers: let the local members vote at a regular meeting.

There is no reason why the unit leader, whose primary job is to head up local volunteer efforts, cannot be elected from the people who join the local committee and show up to volunteer.

In other words, those best capable of judging who should lead local volunteer efforts are the local volunteers being organized.

The mass meeting takes a different approach, giving the title to whomever can turn out more friends once every few years.

The ranks of the recruited aren’t typically packed with volunteers. Many don’t even understand the procedure. Those who show up to later disappear aren’t there to participate in a hobbyist parliamentarian’s romanticized notion of a “deliberative assembly” — they are there to vote for their friend, or their friend’s friend, often with little knowledge of why.

These turnout operations offer a convenient way for candidates who aren’t backed by committee volunteers to win by packing a room with bodies. Indeed, it is even possible for someone who has never attended a GOP unit meeting in their life to be elected chairman. That absurd result has happened on multiple occasions.

Rather than an idyllic gathering of local Republicans deliberating as an assembly, those who take the turnout approach often turn to recruiting Democrats to come out and vote for the next Republican chairman, even though the rules make everyone really, really, really promise they are in accord with the principles of the GOP.

Where vetting is too loose, Republicans fight over the involvement of Democrats, and the meeting ends up being appealed.

Where vetting is too tight, Republicans fight over which Republicans are disenfranchised by a credentials committee, and the meeting ends up being appealed.

Isn’t it time to chuck this pointlessness in the wastebasket and get back to electing Republicans?

You might have noticed how every contested meeting always seems to draw out the same people from out of the area who stand in the back talking on their cell phones and organizing with the Special People.™ There is a reason for this.

In addition to volunteer organizing, these unit chairmanships also determine the balance of power on the district committee, which is responsible for determining the method of nomination in House races and refereeing fights appealed up from unit committees. The district committee, in turn, determines the balance of power on the State Central Committee, which determines the statewide nomination method and referees fights appealed up from district committees.

Or, in other words, Republicans are fighting over who gets to referee the fights over their referees.

I’m not accusing anyone of acting improperly last night, or even implying someone acted improperly at all. Neither the current chairman nor the two candidates asked for this pointless procedure. It was foisted on them by the Party Plan.

Who did what last night does not matter and is beside the point.

At the time this was written, a search for “mass meeting” on the leading two online publications tracking internal GOP party politics in Virginia showed 238 results – many of which attracted coverage because one side saw the potential for controversy and felt the need to tell their story to the world – usually to agitate for the eventual appeal. More controversies escaped coverage because nobody had time to write.

Browse for yourself.

Over the years, every faction has been at fault at one time or another. Every reason for controversy appeared at some point.

The only commonality is this archaic method of organization.

This is about cause and effect. If the Republican Party of Virginia continues to rely on mass meetings to organize units, pointless infighting and controversy will invariably follow.

It is long past time to recognize that meetings are not a bureaucratic end to themselves, but rather, a tool to organize the party for its goal of winning elections.

It is long past time to put the volunteers and unit members in charge by letting them elect their chairmen from membership with a simple vote at a regular meeting, as is done by almost every other private organization.

If you want to vote for Grand Poobah, join the local Moose lodge. If you want to vote for the GOP’s unit chairman, join the local Republican party. It really should be that simple.

It is long past time to end this pointless cause of party infighting.

Granted, several Party Plan changes will need to be made: one to change the form of organization, and one to ensure units can’t erect unreasonable barriers to local membership which exclude Republicans from participating as a means of factional advantage. The point isn’t “keeping it small” – it’s encouraging people to join and get active in the party. Turning friends and friends of friends out every two or four years does not do that.

After losing ten statewide races, it’s time to take a fresh look at things which aren’t working, so Republicans can get back to the business of winning elections.

I’ll go one step further: any internal policy or procedure which spawns infighting or time-wasting bureaucracy and does not move the ball forward should be reexamined.

The policies we care about depend on it.