Charlie Harper: GOP targets primaries

May 28, 2013 

The Georgia Republican Party -- the party that has everything so long as you count the number of statewide elected offices -- is apparently not content. It seems that some meaningful number of folks within the grassroots of the party would like to change the rules about how candidates are selected, now that super majority status has been achieved.

A resolution to be presented to the State GOP convention called for Republicans to ditch the current primary system and allow the delegates at a nominating convention to instead select Republican candidates. Though not adopted due to lack of a quorum, the idea lingers like dead fish and remains, in many ways, a horrible idea.

Those pushing this concept say it will make campaigns cheaper and thus make it easier to draw a more qualified and higher-quality field of candidates. And yet, the idea that the same amount of money could be focused on a much smaller, easily approachable set of voters seems to be beyond the imagination of those who believe this.

The goal, as even stated in the resolution, isn't about saving money or finding better candidates. It is the latest manifestation by some within the party to purify it by selecting only the candidates who agree with their faction or coalition. That is all that can and should be concluded by this line:

"WHEREAS, our party risks permanent minority status unless we return to our core values and become a truly representative party."

So the rationale is that the party that used a primary system to become one of super-majority status risks losing that same status unless a closed group of insiders and activists can pick the candidates?

And, of course, there is the issue of the delegates believing that they are the sole holder to the title of being the party's "grassroots," and are therefore more special than other Republican voters. That shows up here:

"WHEREAS, the Virginia Plan will greatly increase the influence of the grassroots; grow the Republican Party's base of volunteers, members, and participants; "

Greatly increase the influence of the grassroots -- as defined by those who are convention delegates. While most would be loath to admit it, convention delegates aren't just the grassroots, they're also the embodiment of the party establishment. The grassroots also include those who work on campaigns -- often primary campaigns -- for their friends and neighbors who run for office. This resolution claims to grow the base of volunteers, while specifically cutting down on the number of things they can volunteer for.

Note that the resolution specifically refers to this as "the Virginia Plan." While the Georgia GOP was holding its convention, the Virginia GOP was holding their nominating convention -- the very model that those pushing this idea hope to accomplish. While the results won't be known until November, it appears that the Virginia GOP has selected a slate that reflects the values of a narrow group of insiders rather than the electorate of the state as a whole.

Democrats are already using the result to raise money, calling the Republican slate "extreme." The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is circulating a video with clips of E.W. Jackson's making statements that would likely draw applause from most hard-core partisans, but will likely make more centrist and independent voters wince.

Georgia Republicans have arrived at their majority status not because they enforced purity tests or closed the nominating process to a select group of party insiders. Switching to a closed and exclusive selection process doesn't open the process to more people, but instead makes the targets of backroom deals in exchange for support much smaller.

The Georgia GOP already runs the risk of being too inwardly focused, as evidenced by virtually all candidates who ran for party positions on platforms promising to increase outreach and participation. There is no better way to defeat these goals than by sending the message that party insiders know more than rank and file voters.

If this plan is adopted, those rank and file voters have cause to send a message back to Republicans. One "less important" vote at a time, they can choose the other party -- that doesn't take them for granted.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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