Polk County Convention Primer

Republican activists across the state are still worked up over the use of at-large slates by multiple counties to determine delegates for the upcoming District and State Conventions.  Polk County, the largest county in the state, has been the main focus of the debate.  Its original at-large delegate slate was enormous.  It totaled 99 people and will be ratified if the proposed rules to the convention are adopted at the start of Saturday’s county convention.

The Branstad campaign and the Polk County GOP have been surprised by the reaction to the slate.  They reject the notion that they have manipulated delegate-nominating process in Polk County, and they do have a point.  The 2014 rules regarding at-large delegate selection are identical to the rules that Polk County used in 2012.  Just like this year, the at-large delegate slate was affirmed along with the rules.  The main difference, however, is the size of the slates.

The 2012 Polk County at-large delegate slate included 29 people, which was the same size as the 2010 slate.  It’s hard to argue with anyone of the individuals that were awarded at-large delegate spots in 2012.  The list included nine (9) convention officers.  Four (4) honorary delegates that included former Governor Bob Ray, former Lt. Governor Joy Corning, former State Auditor Richard Johnson, and former Congressman Greg Ganske.  The slate also included the four members from Polk County that were Republican Party of Iowa officials, and eleven (11) elected officials.

Where the Polk County GOP and the Branstad campaign are guilty of delegate manipulation is when they decided to enlarge the slate from 29 to 99.  The seventy additional at-large delegates consisted of spouses of elected officials, candidates running for office, members of the professional political class, and current and former members of the Branstad administration or campaign.

The Polk County GOP and Branstad campaign were surprised by the backlash at the proposed slate because they failed to realize that the 2014 Districts and State Conventions are a totally different animal from the conventions of the past. There are two big difference that they failed to realize.  First, activists are more suspicious of delegate stacking and slating after Ron Paul’s supporters used the caucus-to-convention process to wrestle away control of the Republican Party of Iowa.

Republican activist are now fully aware that control of the Republican Party of Iowa can be determined by the makeup of the District and State conventions.  While a number of Republican activists want to elect a new leadership team for the Republican Party of Iowa, just like Governor Branstad does, they want to achieve their goal in a legitimate way.  Using huge at-large slates feels more like a power play than using the traditional route to elect delegates.

The other reason why Republican activists had a negative reaction to the large at-large slate is because the District Convention may determine who is the Republican nominee for Congress in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, and the State Convention may ultimately decided who the Republican nomine is going to be for the U.S. Senate.  It is imperative that, should the Republican nominee for Congress or U.S. Senate be determined at convention, who ever wins the nomination must be viewed as the legitimate nominee.  There are likely to be sour-grapes if either of the races are decided at convention, but if there is any hint of favoritism in the delegate selection process, conspiracy theories and bad blood are going to remain throughout the general election campaign.  For Republicans to win either the 3rd District or the U.S. Senate race, Republicans need to be united leaving their convention.

For those of you who are delegates to the Polk County Republican convention, here is a quick run down of what to expect regarding the rules and at-large slate.

After the opening ceremonies of the convention, the first official business will to hear the report from the rules committee.  It is likely that the Polk County GOP Rules Committee will offer its own amendments to the original rules, which presently includes the 99-person at-large slate.  At the very least, they will probably propose replacing “Exhibit A,” the 99-person slate with “Exhibit B,” the proposed 50 person at-large slate.  It is also possible that the Rules Committee could have met and come up with a third alternative.

Knowing all of that, here is some advice to those who care about this issue.

1. Arrive at the convention early, and make sure you are in the auditorium at the start of the convention.

2. If the rules are not amended by one way or another and become ratified, the original slate of 99 at-large delegates will be affirmed.  Thus, if you don’t like the slate, you have to vote against the adoption of the rules.  This could be difficult since a two-thirds vote is required to amend the rules.

3. Pay attention.  It is likely that a number of amendments to the rules will be filed and debated.  If you don’t know what’s going on, ask someone who does.

4. Brush up on your Roberts Rules of Order.  You can get some quick tips here.

5. Some helpful insight from SCC member David Chung on the Rules:

The 75 percent threshold that is established in the convention rules DOES NOT TAKE EFFECT until the rules are approved. The rules are simply a proposal from the rules committee UNTIL they are adopted by the convention. Roberts Rules of Order covers the debate on the rules.

A single delegate can move to amend the rules, and a single delegate must second the motion to amend. Approving amendments to the rules before they are adopted only REQUIRES a majority vote.

Also, the chair cannot unilaterally shut off debate on the rules.  Shutting off debate (unless no one wants to speak) requires a ‘Call for the Question’ and REQUIRES a 2/3 vote.

David was a pain in my a$$ when I served as the State Platform Chair in 2004.  He knows his Roberts Rules and expects them to be followed.  I hated it at the time, but his insistence forced me to purchase a copy of Robert’s Rules and to read and understand them before the state convention that year.  Whenever Roberts Rules come up I groan, and think of David.


See you on Saturday morning.