This weekend brings with it the Fall Convention of the California Republican Party. At this biannual confab the better part of a thousand Republican activists, donors, elected officials, leaders and more will occupy the Anaheim Hilton hotel. Delegate and attendees will be able to hear from a number of great speakers — I’m especially looking forward to hearing from Texas Governor Rick Perry and noted economist Arthur Laffer.
As the State GOP gathers, it does so still reeling from the effects of the passage of Proposition 14. For those needing a refresher, Proposition 14 was a ballot measure authored by former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado which he got placed before the voters by the legislature in return for putting up his vote in 2009 for the largest single tax increase in California history. Both Maldonado, and the primary cheerleader and campaigner for Prop. 14, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, overtly stated that the purpose of the ballot measure was to weaken the political party system in California. Overnight, with its passage, Prop. 14 came an end to the use of June elections for political parties to nominate candidates to go forward to the general election, to face off against the nominees of the other parties. Now we have, in essence, a general election in June — everyone running, regardless of party, appears on the same ballot — and everyone who is registered to vote gets to cast a ballot for any of the candidates. The top two candidates, regardless of political party, move forward to a run-off in November. The goal of Schwarzenegger and Maldonado was to have a system where Democrats could cross over in June and vote for liberal Republicans, and Republicans could cross over and vote for moderate Democrats. The goal, again — to push the parties towards the political center. Only the Presidential primary remains, and that is because Prop. 14 did not seek to change it (though there is a fledgling effort underway to try and do just that).
If the passage of Prop. 14 itself, and the end of the traditional primary system was not enough, the California GOP has also been weakened because, unlike the California Democrat Party, they do not have a robust system to allow for the party to consider endorsements for candidates going into the now-earlier general election that takes place in June. There are many circumstances that might cause the California GOP to want to endorse in advance of the June election. In no particular order, these could include: making sure that a Republican makes it into the top-two runoff in November, giving a boost to unopposed candidates early, circling the wagons behind a strong candidate for a seat early, or engaging to offset manipulation in the June election – whether it be to stop game-playing by special interest groups like the public employee unions, or to offset divisive spending by wealthy individuals seeking to change the GOP to be more like themselves.
California Democrats have a grassroots driven process where locally selected party delegates come together in caucuses at their conventions to consider endorsements in races. After much division at the January, 2011 State GOP convention, the party rules were revised and the endorsement process was handed over to the elite, 23 member party Board of Directors (a body on which I served for four years, and I can assure you it is too exclusive to be vested with this sort of power). Many opposed this process — primarily grassroots organizations and county parties. But a coalition of moneyed interests as well as partisan officeholders (the latter focused primary on ease of obtaining endorsements in their re-elections) won that battle. So it is the case today that the ultimate and final decision-making body on endorsements of the State GOP is a small group, and even then it takes a two-thirds vote to do that. It’s a terrible system that encourages cronyism and game playing, and rests too much authority in a small group of people. I remember, when political novice Elizabeth Emken was endorsed by the State GOP in her bid to unseat Senator Feinstein, that she trumpeted her pre-June endorsement far and wide. But none of her materials mentioned that it was only about 20 people that voted for her endorsement (I’m not trying to dis Elizabeth, by the way, who worked hard to get her endorsement under the rules put in front of her). Did I mention, by the way, that all of these endorsements were considered behind closed doors in “closed session” — out of the public’s eye?
This weekend’s convention represents really the last opportunity for the party to reexamine and make adjustments to the endorsement process looking into 2014. It comes as a disappointment to many, including me, that there are no proposals before the convention to get rid of the “Star Chamber” system of 23 people making all of the final decisions in Congressional and state legislative races. There are some tweaks propose, some of which make the current system a little better in terms of process, and some proposed tweaks clearly were introduced to make it even more rare for the party to assert itself before June.
That having been said, there is a proposed before convention delegates to significantly open up the process for whether and how the California GOP looks at endorsements for candidates seeking statewide constitutional office, from Governor on down. It’s a solid proposal that I really like — but I am biased — I introduced it! Before I explain it, let me dash your hopes by saying that I think it is very unlikely that my proposal wins the day at the convention. There are too many “influential people” in the party who are much more comfortable leaving that kind of decision making to the 23 member CRP Board (which is much more easily influenced or controlled).
In a nutshell, my proposal says that for all of these statewide races, instead of the CRP Board considering endorsements we would vest that power with the CRP delegates and to all duly elected members of the 58 county party central committees. The idea is that at the party’s Spring Convention you would actually have all of these races considered. And instead of it being done by 23 people in a back room, it would be close to 5,000 GOP leaders all having a say in this important process. Included in the proposal is that a candidate would have to reach a high threshold of 60% of the vote to get the endorsement — no small feat.
What a great opportunity for our party to draw so many elected Republicans together. Think of all of the positive energy and excitement of a blow-out event like that — with electioneering, signs waving, button wearing, and all of the hoopla! Think of the wonderful earned media that all of the candidates would receive at a big mega-convention such as this! Of course it would be a big money-maker for the State GOP — since they could charge registration, garner sponsorships, and perhaps even conduct a lucrative Presidential straw poll.
The bylaw proposal is purposely short, and leaves most of the logistical details to be worked out by the party. The full text of it is at the bottom of this post.
Unfortunately, as I said above, I don’t think hold out much hope that this proposal will be looked at favorably by the party’s Rules Committee — as I said below, the party elite have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. And the very nature of these conventions is that many, many delegates do not attend. So then moneyed interests spend big bucks to gather proxy forms up to cast votes against proposals like this one that decentralize power.
It’s worth restating as I close out this column that Prop. 14 is terrible, and that the idea that even as few as 5,000 Republicans (let alone 23) would be making decisions about party endorsements that just a few years ago were being made by Republican voters at the polls is shameful. Would that we could repeal this terrible bad change in state election law tomorrow. But short of being able to do that, we should vest the power of potential party endorsements in thousand of people rather than in 23.
TEXT OF THE BYLAW SUBMITTAL
[New] Section 3.02.06 CRP Endorsements in Statewide Elections
(A) Notwithstanding any other provision or section of these bylaws, so long as there is a “top-two” jungle election system in effect the Committee shall only endorse in statewide elections as follows:
(1) There shall be no endorsements for the Republica n nomination for President of the United States.
(2) At each Spring Convention occurring in even numbered years the Committee shall hold an endorsement vote for each statewide election to be held that year.
(3) All Delegates, registered to the convention, as well as any elected County Central Committee members, registered to the convention, shall be entitled to cast one ballot for each office. There
shall be no voting by proxy. No individual shall be entitled to cast more than one ballot irrespective if they are both a Delegate and an elected County Central Committee member.
(4) Any Republican candidate receiving 60% + 1 of the votes cast shall receive the endorsement. If no candidate for a specific statewide race receives at least 60% + 1 of the votes cast then there shall be up to two additional ballots for that race with the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes dropped from each subsequent ballot. If no candidate receives at least 60% + 1 of the votes cast on the third ballot there shall be no endorsement in that race.