Ginsberg: My Position on the 2020 RPV State Convention – UPDATED

By Michael E. Ginsberg

UPDATED 7:30pm: State Central has approved holding the state convention in the form of an unassembled convention on Saturday, August 15. I voted in favor of this decision for the reasons outlined in my post below. RPV will pay all costs associated with the convention. I’m eager to hold a great convention, choose our next RPV leaders, and prepare for the crucial elections coming this fall and in 2021. Time to go to work!

As you know, the State Central Committee (SCC) is considering three options in today’s meeting: traditional convention, unassembled convention, and online voting convention. In principle, I’d love to do a traditional convention — I really enjoy conventions, and I think it’s important to have the opportunity to meet with activists and discuss ideas. It’s one of my favorite parts of a convention, and I was very much looking forward to an in-person convention.

After close consideration of the many emails I’ve received over the last few days and the comprehensive report of SCC’s Ad Hoc Committee on convention planning, I believe the convention process that will allow the most delegates to vote is an unassembled convention with voting sites in each congressional district. As much as I would love RPV to hold a traditional convention, I believe there are too many legal and practical obstacles to holding one.

The biggest impediment to a traditional convention is external — Phase 3 of the COVID-19 reopening allows gatherings of a maximum of 250 (indoors) and 1000 (outdoors). Phase 3 is likely to last through August, and we need to have our convention by the end of August to meet the SBE deadline for selecting electors and the RNC deadlines for national committeewoman and national convention delegates. I believe we have over 2,500 prefiled delegates to the state convention, so we exceed the Phase 3 gathering limits.

Therefore, it’s likely as of the convention date we will be prohibited by law from holding either an indoor or outdoor traditional convention. I am doubtful most venues would agree to host us for a traditional convention because of their own legal exposure. Even if a venue were willing to take a deposit on a traditional convention, it is likely that the Phase 3 rules will still be in place through August, meaning we might lose that deposit. I know one of the concerns raised during this debate has been the state of RPV’s finances, and placing a deposit on a traditional convention we are unlikely to be able to hold would not improve RPV’s financial condition.

(As an aside, I have it on good authority that RPV has ample funds for either a traditional convention or an unassembled convention, so I believe these concerns are unfounded.)

In addition, I believe a non-negligible percentage of grassroots delegates may not be comfortable attending a traditional convention during the ongoing public health emergency. At the 11th District convention at which I was elected to SCC last weekend, the people in charge of curbside voting have advised me approximately 50-75 people voted from their cars – many cars with more than one voter. The convention collected the final curbside ballot at 12:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the polls closed, because that voter had been in line at 12 p.m. when the polls closed. The curbside line was that long. These voters did not want to leave their cars and come inside for walk-thru voting because of concerns about COVID risk. That is a non-negligible percentage of the total turnout, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. I understand and appreciate these voters’ concerns, and I think we need to accommodate them so we ensure every grassroots activist who prefiled as a delegate feels safe voting.

I’ve seen some arguments that SCC could plan for a traditional convention and switch to a walk-thru/drive-thru convention as we get closer to the date if we are still in Phase 3. I’ve seen the upcoming 7th District Convention in a few weeks cited as an example. I think at this point, it is extremely likely we will be in Phase 3 through August. I think it is only a matter of time before the 7th District will have to switch to an unassembled convention. I think logistically, planning for an assembled convention and then switching at the last minute to an unassembled convention is impractical – too much planning is required. And as I say, planning for an assembled convention when the law is almost certainly likely to prohibit an indoor or outdoor convention of RPV’s size strikes me as futile.

Taken together, I think these issues pose significant legal and practical challenges to our holding a traditional convention. And I say that as someone who was looking forward to the planned convention—it gives me no pleasure to conclude it may be legally and practically impossible to hold a traditional convention. I come to this conclusion very, very reluctantly.

When I ran for SCC, as a grassroots guy myself, I promised I would be a champion of the grassroots, and I believe my decision to support an unassembled convention is best for the grassroots. I believe our objective during this public health emergency should be to maximize the number of delegates who are able to vote. The people who filed to be delegates represent the active grassroots, and I believe we as a party have an obligation to ensure as many of them as possible can vote safely.

There are two other points I’d like to make. First, I’ve seen some comments stating we should fight back against the state’s Phase 3 orders and defy them if we have to. I appreciate the sentiment behind them, given some of the state’s haphazard implementation of the rules and the Governor’s personally inconsistent application of them. I too saw the pictures of him cavorting on the Virginia Beach boardwalk without a mask. However, I do not believe civil disobedience should be the price of admission to selecting the leadership of RPV. If our goal is to maximize grassroots voting at the convention, requiring delegates to participate in openly defying state law is not likely to achieve that goal. It’s very important that the party have confidence that the entirety of the grassroots has elected party leadership, and, in my view, a convention held in open defiance of state law will not produce that result.

Second, I’ve seen a lot of chatter about how the “establishment” or “elites” are pushing for an unassembled convention, while the grassroots supports a traditional convention. I believe it is time we get away from the “establishment/elites vs. grassroots activists” narrative. This time last week, I was an unelected grassroots volunteer. I didn’t turn into an “establishment” or “elite” figure overnight just by being elected to the SCC. I believe people can disagree in good faith about the convention setup without being forced into one of these camps. Frankly, I believe that is true of many of our internal disagreements, and I think framing these disputes in these terms is unhelpful. Not every dispute is an “establishment vs. grassroots” argument. Sometimes, disagreements are just disagreements, and they shouldn’t be freighted with any larger “elites. vs. grassroots” meaning. I believe people can disagree in good faith about the convention without being pigeonholed into the “establishment/elitist” or “grassroots” category. As I say, I came to my decision because I think it’s best for the grassroots.

I believe an unassembled convention is the closest practical option for the convention experience. Although we won’t be able to talk and exchange ideas with grassroots activists from around the state, we will be able to talk and meet with grassroots activists from our districts. I greatly enjoyed the 11th District Convention last week, and I hope if we have an unassembled convention for the state convention we have the same experience. We should also provide a means for convention speakers, candidates, and other presenters to address the delegates. It could be by Zoom or another online system at a designated time.

I encourage you to watch SCC’s special meeting on RPV’s Facebook Live page this afternoon at 4 p.m. I want this process to be transparent, and RPV is presenting this meeting online to ensure transparency.

Michael Ginsberg represents the 11th Congressional District on the RPV State Central Committee.

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