By Conduit for Action
When the Republican Party of Arkansas (RPA) has its summer meeting of the State Committee, the committee will vote on two proposals to amend party rules. The proposals and the timing for bringing up the proposals have upset some members of County Committees who have been expressing their concerns.
The proposals amount to a power grab by the State Committee. The proposals limit the authority of Republican County Committees and make it more difficult for the Republican State Convention to adopt platform resolutions and party rules. Together, the proposals amount to an attack on the Republican grassroots.
When the RPA sent out notice of the proposals, an explanation of each proposal was included. Unfortunately, the explanations are misleading.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
When will the State Committee’s summer meeting be held? The summer meeting will be held on May 18th, 2024. In other words, the “Summer Meeting” will be held in the Spring.
Second, if you have seen the proposed rule changes you will notice that the changes are shown with proposed additions being underlined and language proposed to be deleted shown using strikethrough. Providing proposals in markup format has not always been the case and in one instance, Conduit created a markup for readers to show what RPA officials were proposing. The RPA should be applauded for providing the proposals in mark up format to help readers see the proposed changes.
Let’s look at the two proposed rule changes. The discussion is lengthy so feel free to skip around to the areas of most interest to you.
PROPOSED RULES CHANGE #1
In rare instances, some County Committees have used the motion “Not Recommended” to show that at least 2/3rds of the committee members have a problem with a candidate’s status as a Republican candidate.
The proposed rule would stop County Committees from using the motion in most races. The proposed rule would limit a County Committee’s use of a “not recommended” motion to only candidates for county offices. A County Committee could not use the motion in a State Senate or House of Representatives race or any other race, other than a county race. Under the proposal, the State Committee could not use the motion concerning a candidate for county office.
Here is the explanation of the proposal sent out by the RPA.
“Proposal #1 clarifies the original intent of the non-recommended designation to make clear that only the committee that files said candidate in question has the authority to give a nonrecommended status. This ensures that committees, both at the County and State level, are not attempting to influence primaries. We should ultimately trust the voters to make determinations on who our nominees will be and should only ever issue such a designation in extreme circumstances. The State Executive Committee should not be opining on county level candidates any more than a County Committee should be giving favorable or unfavorable treatment to a candidate whose district covers more than just one county.”
There are problems with every sentence in the explanation.
- The explanation claims the “original intent” of the non-recommended designation was that only the committee that files the candidate has that authority. There is no evidence for such a claim of original intent. Even if there was, the clearest statement of intent is always the words themselves. In this instance the rule clearly allows the “State Executive Committee and/or the respective County Committees” to use the motion. “And/or” means either one or both. The very words of the rule show the opposite intent from what the proposal purports to clarify. The rule allows either or both to use the motion.
- The explanation claims the proposal ensures committees are not attempting to influence primaries. The proposal does no such thing. Even under the proposed rules change, a motion of “not recommended” would still exist. ANYTIME the motion is used it influences the primary. The rule doesn’t alter that fact. It is just directed at limiting the authority of a County Committee to speak.
- The explanation indicates that instead of using the “not-recommended” motion, the committees should just trust the voters. It is not an issue of trusting voters; it is an issue of whether to keep Republican voters in the dark.
- The explanation closes with this statement: “The State Executive Committee should not be opining on county level candidates any more than a County Committee should be giving favorable or unfavorable treatment to a candidate whose district covers more than just one county.” The rules of the Republican Party of Arkansas disagree with that idea. The rules allow either the State Committee or County Committee or both committees or even more than one County Committee to speak. If the State Executive Committee or a County Committee is aware of a problem with a candidate, why should one or the other be silenced.
Favoritism Is At The Center Of The Issue
The origin of this proposal is rooted in a past conflict between some County Committees and some RPA officials in 2022. In at least one instance during the 2022 primary election cycle, the designation was adopted by a County Committee because the candidate’s voting record showed a significant disregard for party principles and the party platform. A state party official pressured County Committees to reverse their actions claiming the County Committee action was in violation of the rule against a County Committee publicly showing favoritism. The argument concerning favoritism is in direct conflict with the RPA rules.
Yes, there is a RPA rule against a County Committee endorsing a candidate in the primary or publicly showing favoritism. But the very next sentence of the rule authorizes the motion of “not recommended.” The only way the two sentences can be read together is that a motion of “not recommended” is a recognized exception to the rule against favoritism. It must be read as an exception because anytime a motion to “not recommend” is used, it is in essence favoritism, but the motion is expressly authorized by the rule. Apparently, the exception exists because the ability of a County Committee to designate a candidate as “not recommended” is that important.
Don’t just take our word for it. Here is the entire paragraph from RPA Rule ARTICLE II, Section 4 (C). Read it for yourself and you will see the “not recommended” motion is an exception to the rule on favoritism.
“ C. The County Committee shall not endorse or otherwise publicly show favoritism to one candidate over another in a contested Republican primary. The County Committee, by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the membership at any regular or duly announced special meeting, may vote that a particular candidate is not a recommended candidate.”
The favoritism argument has also been used to try to say County Committees should not be speaking out on issues before the state legislature, such as taxes, gun rights, etc., because in doing so they are siding with some Republican legislators against the position of other Republican legislators. The question there was whether County Committees should be silenced and not defend the party’s principles and platform when some legislators take positions in direct conflict with the principles or platform. Defending the platform on an issue before the legislature is not covered by the proposed rule change but the proposal would stop County Committees from speaking when an elected official consistently ignores the principles and platform.
Bottom line: Forget the misleading explanation attached to the proposed rule. If you want to silence County Committees even if the candidate has a serious problem or is a RINO, you are for the proposal. If you want County Committees by a 2/3rds vote to be able to continue to say “not recommended” you are against the proposal. You are free to pick.
PROPOSED RULE CHANGE #2
Proposed Rule Change #2 would make it harder for the State Convention to amend party rules or the party platform. Currently the State Convention may amend the rules or platform by a majority vote. The proposal would increase the threshold to a 2/3rds vote.
The RPA explanation attached to Proposed Rule Change #2 says:
“Proposal #2 has to do with the threshold needed to amend the governing rules and platform of the Republican Party of Arkansas. Currently amending local or state rules requires two thirds (2/3) of members voting for both a County Committee and this body, the State Committee. However, that is not the same at a state convention. We should hold our rules and platform in high regard and, as conservatives, be cautious in amending these documents. We should not be persuaded by the emotions of the day to act in haste, but instead act in transparency and firm support to make a change. This very proposal requires the same threshold it seeks to hold a state convention to, ultimately making the process fairer to all Republican bodies. 2/3 approval is also a baseline for most actions under Robert’s Rules of Order.”
Allowing the State Convention to amend the rules or platform by a majority vote does not appear to be an error or oversight by the drafters of the RPA rules. It is more likely the threshold was set lower than for the State Committee because of the nature of the State Convention.
In reading the explanation provided, we were struck by the notion that raising the threshold for amendments is seen as “making the process fairer to all Republican bodies.” That is an odd goal. The various Republican bodies are quite different.
The State Convention is the “final authority” in all party matters. The State Committee and the Executive Committee are deemed to hold delegated power between state conventions. There is an argument that the State Committee was given a higher threshold for amendments in recognition that it is holding delegated power, not the original power established in the State Convention.
The State Convention is a meeting of delegates selected by the various County Committees and is as close as it comes to the Republican “grassroots.” State Convention delegates already face a number of obstacles in exercising their duties, obstacles that do not exist for the State Committee or the Executive Committee. The delegates to the State Convention are selected by the County Committees not long before the State Convention. Meanwhile, a delegate who wants to propose an amendment or resolution must file the amendment at least 60 days before the convention. The rules state the RPA will not mail out a delegate’s amendment to the delegates.
Raising the vote required for amendment to pass is just one more obstacle for delegates in conducting party business.
Passage of this limitation on the State Convention would set a terrible precedent. What powers might the State Committee want to take away from the State Convention in the future? Remember the State Convention is supposed to be the highest authority, but this precedent would allow the State Committee to reduce or eliminate the convention’s authority.
Bottom line: Forget about the odd notion of fairness between Republican bodies. If you are for making it harder for delegates at the State Convention to amend the platform and rules, then you are for the proposal. If you favor leaving the State Convention’s threshold at a majority vote, then you are against the proposal. You are free to pick.
WHY THE RUSH?
Why are the two proposed rule changes being brought up in the State Committee meeting on May 18th instead of waiting to let the State Convention consider them? Neither of the proposals are urgent matters.
Some Republicans think it is because the proposals would not pass if presented at the State Convention. Would the State Convention, whose delegates are selected by County Committees, vote to silence County Committees? Would the State Convention vote to make it harder for it to pass amendments to the platform and rules?
Regardless of the motive, the fact remains that the State Committee will vote whether to place restrictions on other RPA bodies.