In 2014, the Republican Party will select their nominee for U.S. Senate as well as their leaders for congressional chairman at conventions. Having served as a delegate to the 2008, 2009, and 2013 state conventions as well as the 2012 6th district convention, I’ve enjoyed voicing my opinion when it comes to selecting the most like-minded Republican candidates. However, I regret to say that I cannot participate this year.
Based upon changes made in the Plan of the Republican Party of Virginia in 2013, the Harrisonburg Republican Party has adopted much stricter rules on who can represent the city at conventions. They require all delegates to sign a pledge declaring that they have not participated in the nomination contest of another party for the last five years and that each delegate promises to support every Republican nominee.
For the record, the Harrisonburg call reads: “…a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party in the last five years”. The call ends with the participant signing a pledge declaring, “…I will support ALL the nominees of the Republican Party in the 2014 General Election.”
Unfortunately, I could not sign such a document for a multitude of reasons.
First, I voted in the 2013 Democratic primary for statewide office. Previously, I voted in the 2009, 2006, and 2004 Democratic primaries. The fact that I participated in these contests is not some great secret, I’m fairly certain the information is a matter of public record and I am not ashamed that I did so. In addition, I also attended the 2012 and 2013 Libertarian Party conventions although I did not cast a vote. I will make no apologies for any of these political actions. Although not a Democrat, I want the Democratic party to nominate the candidate most consistent with my values in much the same way that I want the Republicans and Libertarians to do likewise. Given that the Democratic primaries are funded by Virginia tax dollars, requiring people to not participate in a political process that they helped fund is nothing short of ludicrous.
Second, I cannot in good faith pledge my loyalty to a candidate without knowing who he or she is or what he or she stands for. Wasn’t America founded upon the principles of political free will? And, if so, how could the Republican Party require its delegates to support its candidates blindly? It is a move bereft of both political and logical sense.
Now, as you might imagine, this pledge is completely unenforceable. The party cannot legally require a person to support anyone. I must say that when I support a Republican candidate, it should be because she and I hold similar viewpoints, not simply due to a party label (which unfortunately these days can mean a whole multitude of things). For example, I gladly supported Republican Senator Mark Obenshain in 2013 because he was my preferred candidate in much the same way that I supported Libertarian Robert Sarvis. Even though the GOP cannot force anyone to abide by this pledge, I feel it is dishonorable for me to sign something I do not necessarily intend to uphold. Then again, I believe it is wrong of them to make such a request in the first place.
Now, I should point out that not every local Republican Party has adopted such a binding restriction. For example, the Waynesboro GOP simply states that “all Participants are required to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party as expressed in the Creed of the Republican Party of Virginia.” This restriction makes sense and doesn’t deprive anyone of his or her political freedom or require a person to support candidates which he or she believes does not uphold his or her values. A little over a week ago, I wrote to the Harrisonburg GOP stating that, “in order to participate this year, as far as I can tell, I am faced with three options. Either I can lie to you and the Harrisonburg GOP, signing a pledge I cannot honorably uphold, I can abandon my principles in order to have a chance to voice my opinion, or I can ask the Harrisonburg GOP to change their requirements.” I could not choose the first two options and it seems the GOP declined to exercise the third.
Although perhaps not widely known, since 2010 only one Republican candidate has won a contested election in the city of Harrisonburg when facing at least one Democratic opponent and no statewide office seeker has captured the majority of the city’s votes since 2009. Even when Democratic candidates lose elsewhere, they still win Harrisonburg.
I find it incredibly sad that a party that I’ve devoted so much time to in the last nineteen years would surrender to tactics reminiscent of the Radical Republicans of the 1860s. Rather than encouraging voters to take an active role in deciding who the Republican nominee will be, some cities and counties, like Harrisonburg, have decided to circle the wagons and deny participation to activists who cannot swear complete and utter political fealty to the GOP. And what will the results of this restrictive action be? Will they somehow have the effect of increasing Republican victories? It seems doubtful.