Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Texas GOP Conventions: An Overview

The Republican Party holds its 2008 Convention this week, so it's a great time to give an overview of how the GOP works in Texas. I've already covered the Republican party officials who represent Republican voters in their areas. Now we'll look at the Republican conventions, where Republican voters attend conventions and represent themselves.

During even-numbered years, Texas Republicans hold a series of conventions at several levels: Precinct (neighborhoods), County/Senatorial District (depending on your area--some Counties are too big to hold a single convention), State, and finally the National Convention. The participants are always Republican voters who voted in the most recent GOP primary.

At each level, the convention is considered to be the Republican Party of the area (Precinct, County, etc.) they represent--their decisions establish the will and focus of Republican Party voters. Each convention does at least two things:
  1. Elect delegates to represent the area at the next highest convention
  2. Establish a "platform" that represents the views of the Party in that area
The larger the convention, the more work must be accomplished by committees before the majority of the delegates arrive. At Precinct Conventions, everything is handled at the convention, since there are usually just a handful of voters who show up, elect each other and a few neighbors to the County/Senatorial District Convention and sometimes present a resolution or two. By the State Convention, committees work up to 18 hours/day for 3 or 4 days before the majority of the delegates even arrive, sorting out the thousands of delegates to take part and reviewing hundreds of resolutions that will be whittled down to compose the Texas Republican Party Platform--among other things.

At the State Convention, an addition to electing delegates to the National Convention and adopting a platform, party officials on the Senatorial District, State, and National levels are elected as well--see this post for more on that.

At many State and National Conventions (as well as some County/Senatorial Conventions), there is a tension between two groups: Republican delegates and Republican officeholders. This is because the delegates often want to make their voices heard on a variety of subjects, some of which may be difficult or even embarrassing for officeholders from those districts. Conversely, State Representatives, Governors and Senators would all prefer that the coverage of this gathering of Republican activists from their districts be glowing in praise for those officeholders.

The focus of this tension is often on the Chairman. At State Conventions when a chairman is being elected, there will usually be a "grassroots" candidate who pledges allegiance to the average voter/delegates, running against an "establishment" candidate supported by the Governor or Presidential nominee, whose unspoken agenda will be to avoid embarrassment for those high elected officials from the State Conventions or SREC. For the past 15-20 years at the Texas State Convention, there have been very few differences of opinion between candidates on issues like fiscal conservatism, foreign policy or abortion--the choice is always about "management style".

Historically, there was a great amount of actual business transacted at party Conventions; party insiders at National Conventions actually chose nominees for President and Vice-President in "smoke-filled back rooms." In today's TV era, where sound bites reign supreme, parties want their conventions to be devoid of controversy and conflict, instead serving as rallies for the faithful and as a coronation for their nominees for high office. This also exacerbates the tension between the average delegates, who wish to speak their mind, and the Chairman, who would prefer a smooth, camera-friendly event without any infighting.

Next up: a preview of the 2008 Convention.

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