Convention railroaded

In 1972, the Nevada Republican Convention meeting in an Elko theatre was about to begin debating the abortion plank (this was pre-Roe) in the proposed platform when party leaders decided they didn’t want the polarization the issue might cause, so they engineered the convention’s adjournment, and everyone went home.

Few at that Republican convention were upset because no one had invested much effort in the platform.

That wasn’t the case at the 2008 Nevada Republican Convention. New party members invested huge amounts of effort and organizing in winning a convention majority, so when GOP leaders ended the convention without warning—or authority from the delegates—it produced fury of a kind not seen in Nevada party politics in decades.

“We were lied to,” said one delegate, referring to a claim by Republican leaders that the contract for use of the hall at the Peppermill had expired. “In truth, the Peppermill granted the convention three more hours,” said one Ron Paul delegate.

Bob Beers, a state senator from Clark County who chaired the convention, called a recess without warning (and without a motion from the floor) after nine national convention delegates had been elected but before their names had been announced. The tactic ran roughshod over the sentiments of the delegates. “We voted this morning to make some changes in the rules that left us on overtime with a day’s work left to do,” Beers said. “We have a budget. We’re now going over. And we don’t even have ballots.”

Beers’ move came after the mastery of the convention by delegates supporting presidential candidate Ron Paul had been demonstrated, putting them in position to claim most if not all 31 of the party’s delegate seats at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. Over the objection of party leaders, the Paul delegates passed a motion to democratize national convention delegate selection by allowing any delegate to run instead of using a nominating committee.

It was widely assumed that the recess was called because the leaders did not want to allow a Paul victory after John McCain’s nomination is assured, and while they denied it, U.S. Rep. Dean Heller said on the Nevada Newsmakers program Monday that he believed it.

In the disarray, no one knows if the ballot for nine delegates will be honored by the leaders—or whether the results of that balloting can be regarded as honestly reported. Trust is not at a high level at the moment. “The ballots had been counted and were in a box confiscated by Republican Party officials after we passed a platform that many good ol’ boys were not happy to adopt,” said one Washoe delegate.

Beers’ role was paradoxical because he is normally allied with exactly the kind of Republicans as those dedicated to Paul’s candidacy, and he was widely seen as being one of the major losers in the fiasco, alienating his natural base of support without gaining ground among the party regulars who have long distrusted him.

The Paul delegates, like Beers, support a version of dogmatic conservatism that barely supports government as a concept, opposing social programs and taxation in most forms. But the differences between the two sides is illuminated even more by the term RINO, an acronym for “Republican in name only.” Journalists frequently quote it in the mouths of fiscal conservatives like Beers and the Paulists, but it is also applied by party regulars to social conservatives.

“I’ve stuffed envelopes for this party for 40 years,” said one elderly delegate. “People like Beers don’t do that kind of work; they just want to use the party. They take positions that Goldwater and Nixon and Reagan rejected and then call us RINOs for not going along. They’re the Republicans in name only. They just want to use the party.”

That view that fiscal conservatives see the GOP as merely a vehicle is common among party regulars, but is seldom expressed.

Delegates say the convention could have finished its business in the remaining three hours. “We had dozens of laptops,” said one. “We could have designed the ballot in moments, and if there was no copier we could use in the hotel, there’s a couple of Kinkos in driving distance. But that kind of solution requires a dialogue.”

Instead of a dialogue, delegates got an edict.