Script of February 9 Hamilton Co. Endorsement Meeting and Review of News Non-Coverage: Fair? Open? Honest?
This post has been retitled and carried forward from its original placement on Monday morning because of the importance of both the original material and the updates below.
The Hamilton County GOP’s endorsement process, unlike similar meetings held in at least two other Ohio counties, was not fair, open, or honest, despite dutifully reported news claims to the contrary, and was particulary hostile to challenging candidates. The results of Hamilton County’s process are suspect at best, and meaningless at worst.
Last Friday morning’s article by Howard Wilkinson in the Cincinnati Enquirer (known to some as “The Invisibler”) about the Hamilton County Republican Party’s endorsement meeting had this to say about the process and its results:
Hamilton County Republican leaders listened Thursday afternoon to an appeal by candidate Jim Petro to stay out of the gubernatorial primary, but went ahead and gave the party endorsement to their hometown candidate, Ken Blackwell.
About 100 members of the Hamilton County Republican Party’s executive committee met behind closed doors at the Queen City Club later Thursday to first decide whether to endorse in the Blackwell-Petro race, and then to choose one of the candidates.
Party Chairman George Vincent called the final vote “overwhelming” for Blackwell, the former Cincinnati mayor who is now Ohio Secretary of State.
“People expressed their opinions on both sides in a most eloquent fashion,” Vincent said. “In the end we had two good candidates; and we chose Ken.”
Both candidates spoke for about 15 minutes each.
….. The party’s executive committee also endorsed Sen. Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent, in a primary contest in which he faces three little-known opponents; and Rep. Steve Chabot, who has no primary opposition.
Interesting. But, it appears, somewhat incomplete.
BizzyBlog has obtained a copy of what I have been told by
a reliable source several reliable sources was the agenda of that meeting. The agenda reads more like a script. What follows is a word-for-word rendition, retyped by me, of what is contained in the copy I received. If the agenda/script accurately reflects what occurred Thursday afternoon (and I have no reason to doubt that it does), it clearly shows that Mr. Wilkinson’s report, for whatever reason, does not fully describe what went down, or how it went down.
After reading this script, I think it would be reasonable to ask: “Has Hamilton County Become the Ohio GOPâ€™s Kangaroo Korner?”
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Hamilton County Republican Executive Committee
February 9, 2006
Notes: Although I understand that US Senate candidates John Mitchel and Bill Pierce did get an opportunity to address the group, the agenda/script indicates that they were clearly not originally scheduled to do so. I have also been told that Jim Petro spoke later than indicated in the agenda/script.
* * * * *
The document I obtained describes a process with features that I believe many would find troubling:
- All candidates except for governor endorsed as a group, not on their individual merits or demerits, and in a single voice vote.
- Candidates specifically endorsed based on their status as incumbents, regardless of the presence or absence of a GOP primary challenger. In at least one case (US Senate), incumbent Mike DeWine has three challengers, one of whom, Bill Pierce, has registered as a candidate with the Federal Elections Commission, and outperformed DeWine at endorsement meetings in two other Ohio counties in January, earning one outright endorsement and one rating of “Well Qualified.” A voice vote would appear to have given no opportunity for any member present to indicate their support for Pierce, Mitchel, or David Smith (who did not attend).
- ONE “Aye” vote requested for all candidates except governor, while no request for “Nays” is noted in an otherwise heavily-scripted document. (Update, 12:40 PM Feb. 16 — I am told that “Nays” were indeed solicited though not scripted. [Oh boy.--Ed.])
- A gubernatorial endorsement decision based on comparative counts of hands, with Blackwell support solicited first, followed by Petro. Given that Blackwell is the favorite-son candidate of Hamilton County, it could be argued that asking for a show of hands for him first would be prejudicial in his favor.
- Votes not conducted by secret ballot. At the end of the meeting everyone in the room would know full well who said “Aye” for the incumbents (and who didn’t), and raised their hand for Blackwell and Petro, respectively.
As noted, two other counties that I am aware of have had County GOP meetings for the purpose of evaluating candidates and making endorsements for the May 2 primary: Knox (story here) and Clermont (endorsements listed here at the county GOP’s web site).
How was the voting handled in these counties? With “all in favor say Aye” for groups of candidates? Or by comparing counts of hands?
Here’s the answer for Knox County, in a picture, then in words:
In order to be endorsed, a candidate must receive two-thirds of the votes by the central committee.
….. Thirty-three central committee members were present, thus requiring 22 votes for endorsement. In races where there was more than one candidate, the first ballot determined which candidate received the most votes. Committee members then voted whether or not to endorse that candidate.
The article further notes that if no candidate received 22 votes, no endorsement was given.
The ballots in the picture appear to be folded shut, and votes can reasonably be assumed to have been made in secret. I am told that the balloting was indeed secret. I have also been told that Clermont County’s balloting was done on a secret-ballot, paper-ballot basis.
Certainly Hamilton County’s GOP Executive Committee can conduct their meeting, and their voting, any way they wish. But how they conduct the proceedings affects the usefulness and significance of the results:
- Those who will do the voting that counts on May 2 in the GOP primary reasonably expect that county committees will conduct secret ballots to determine endorsements. Why wouldn’t they?
- They would also expect that candidates challenging incumbents will at least be placed into a direct contest with that incumbent instead of being summarily ignored. The check boxes to vote straight party-line tickets were eliminated from legally binding elections decades ago. An “Aye for all incumbents” (even those with challengers) in a closed-door endorsement session seems similarly inappropriate.
- If secret ballots and individual contests among competing candidates aren’t happening, I believe, and I suspect that most would agree, that GOP voters (the party faithful, if you will) have a right to know exactly how the endorsement process was conducted to determine its importance (or lack thereof) in their ultimate decision on Primary Election Day.
If the document I received is authentic and reflects what occurred (and I have no reason at this moment to believe that it is not), I can only say that A blogger should not have to be the one to publish the meeting agenda of a county Executive Committee so that loyal GOP voters can learn how its endorsement process varied from what they have a reasonable right to expect. Again, if the document is authentic and reflects what occurred, The leaders of the Hamilton County Executive Committee, who appear from the document’s contents to have orchestrated a pre-determined result while attempting to keep its machinations from public view, ought to be ashamed of themselves (I have been told that a number of those in attendance are considerably less than proud to have been associated with it). And finally, if the document is authentic and reflects what occurred, anyone from the GOP in Columbus or elsewhere who might have influenced the process that appears to have played out last Thursday in Southwestern Ohio shares in that shame.
The lack of secret balloting, the grouping of non-gubernatorial candidates into one “Aye” vote, endorsing incumbents en masse regardless of the existence of credible challengers, and the “show of hands” vote for governor raise enough issues of fairness, possible peer pressure, and contempt for the party faithful, to make a reasonable person question whether the results of last Thursday’s meeting have any meaning at all.
Now perhaps Mr. Wilkinson and the rest of the political reporters at our local newspaper can take it from here and find out the full story of how things happened. They might consider following up on what I have heard, but cannot confirm, about the lack of responsiveness and rudeness challenging candidates experienced, both in the weeks leading up to the meeting and during the meeting itself. Though unconfirmed, the shabby treatment I have heard about would be consistent with the omission of even the names of those challengers in the agenda/script. They might also explore whether the decision to hold one vote for all incumbents as a group, if that is indeed what occurred, was at all influenced by Mike DeWine’s failure to garner endorsements on a standalone basis in Knox and Clermont Counties three weeks earlier.
In the meantime, the following cartoon by guest artist Mars Supial, who got all caught up in the romance of Valentine’s Day, may unfortunately be an accurate portrayal of the state of affairs with the Republican Party in Hamilton County and in the State of Ohio:
UPDATE: I just received an unsolicited e-mail from Tom Brinkman (already indicated in the agenda/script as having opted out of the endorsement proceedings). He attached the letter he sent to George Vincent and Brad Greenberg before the endorsement meeting. He makes some of the points I raised above, though I disagree with his belief that they “inherently” aren’t fair or open (see Knox County above). Brinkman’s letter reads, in part:
I respectfully withdrawal (sic) my name for consideration for endorsement for State Representative at the February 9, 2006 meeting of the Hamilton County Republican Party Executive Committee.
The Republican Party is the party of the free market place of ideas and thrives on competition. The May Primary serves at the proper place for endorsement by the largest number of Republicans. Candidates compete for the votes of loyal Republicans and the Party is better due to the competition.
Party endorsement proceedings are inherently not fair nor are they open. They frustrate Republicans who are not on the inside and have lead to a number of debacles in the past. Our party suffers till this day from heavy-handed endorsement proceedings in the past. The proceedings of February 9th will do nothing to heal those wounds and may in fact open them again.
I have pleaded with the Hamilton County Republican Party for almost six years to stay out of endorsing candidates and implore you once again to do just that.
UPDATE 2: It looks like heavy-handed tactics aren’t the sole province of one party. Look at what Paul Hackett was up against in the final stages of his US Senate run before he officially withdrew today (bolds are mine):
Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and popular Democratic candidate in Ohio’s closely watched Senate contest, said yesterday that he was dropping out of the race and leaving politics altogether as a result of pressure from party leaders.
Mr. Hackett said Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada, the same party leaders who he said persuaded him last August to enter the Senate race, had pushed him to step aside so that Representative Sherrod Brown, a longtime member of Congress, could take on Senator Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent.
….. “This is an extremely disappointing decision that I feel has been forced on me,” said Mr. Hackett, whose announcement comes two days before the state’s filing deadline for candidates. He said he was outraged to learn that party leaders were calling his donors and asking them to stop giving and said he would not enter the Second District Congressional race.
….. Senator Reid did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
And then there’s the hysterical rewriting of history at Daily Kos. It’s really bad when you start believing your own drivel, Markos. Gate Crasher becomes Gatekeeper. He can’t even bring himself to unconditionally condemn donor-tampering — “Seems like a lousy (he used a different word for “lousy”) thing to do.” What a standup guy.
I’ve made my disagreements with Mr. Hackett’s political positions and concerns about his temperament very clear in the past seven months, but nothing he has said or done merits this level of shabby treatment — by his own party. Don’t think for a minute that the GOP establishment isn’t capable of similar shabbiness with their challengers to the status quo.
UPDATE 3: I have confirmed that another challenger was frozen out of the process in Hamilton County on Thursday. The 8th paragraph of the e-mail version of the February 15 edition of the R-Rated Whistleblower reports that Eric Minamyer is running against Michelle Schneider (“Glass Slipper” is her Whistleblower nickname) for State Rep in the 35th District. I have learned that Minamyer had decided to run before the meeting, yet, along with the challengers to Mike DeWine, there was no opportunity for an attendee to express a preference for him, and as noted above, all incumbents were endorsed en masse.
UPDATE 4: I learned late Friday that Eric Minamyer made a last-minute decision not to run against Michelle Schneider for State Representative in the 35th District.
Full (but in my opinion unnecessary) Disclosure: BizzyBlog has not endorsed, or formally opposed, any of the candidates in upcoming GOP Primary races who were considered for endorsement at last week’s meeting of the Hamilton County Republican Executive Committee. See the SUPPLEMENT that follows for links to various posts I have done about some of the candidates who did and did not receive endorsements Thursday.
- I have expressed fairly negative to very negative opinions of current US Senator Mike DeWine in prior posts (here, here [end of Example 3 at post], here, and here [second item at post]).
- I have expressed somewhat supportive opinions of US Senate challenger Bill Pierce (here and here).
- I also expressed opinions on the gubernatorial candidates’ tax-control proposals, here (at end of post), here, and here.
I believe that the opinions I have previously expressed have no impact on the substance of what I have presented here.
I chose to break my pledge not to blog on local and state politics in this single instance because of the important nature of this post’s content. Barring breaking news of similar importance, I intend not to blog any further on local and state politics until this other matter is resolved, which will hopefully occur on March 16.