Ask the average Republican voter or even activist if he or she is familiar with the party plan of the Republican Party of Virginia and I’d wager you’re likely to get a blank stare in response. Much like a constitution or a set of bylaws, the party plan is the governing document for the state party. Well, as Craig Orndorff, who runs the Race to Richmond, This Time, Roanoke, recently highlighted, the RPV has made several changes to their party plan. You can read the entire document here.
Perhaps the most important modification deals with participation in party activities. Point 2 in section A of Article 1 reads, “A voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.”
Now what difference does this change make? Well, if it were in effect prior to the 2011 elections, Ken Cuccinelli would not have been the Republican Party nominee for governor in 2013. Both Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling broke party ranks to support independent Bill Janis for commonwealth attorney of Henrico over the GOP nominee. As such, under this change not only would neither of the two men would have been eligible to run for any office under the Republican Party last year, but in addition they would have been excluded from all party functions until 2015. Even Eric Cantor, the U.S. House Majority Leader, backed Janis and would not be eligible to be a Republican, much less hold his current post.
Although not changed in the latest round of revisions, there are other troubling aspects of the party plan. For example, who can participate in Republican primaries and conventions? According to the plan, “all legal and qualified voters…who are in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, and who, if requested, express in open meeting either orally or in writing as may be required their intent to support all of its nominees for public office in the ensuing election may participate as members of the Republican Party of Virginia in its mass meetings, party canvasses, conventions, or primaries encompassing their respective election districts.”
Several years ago the RPV attempted to use a loyalty oath as a condition to vote in a primary. Although legally unenforceable, the effort generated considerable backlash and it was withdrawn. The whole idea is rather concerning. In order to select a Republican nominee a voter has to pledge in advance to support the eventual Republican candidate whomever he or she happens to be and regardless of what positions he or she happens to hold. Imagine, if you will, a single issue voter. Let’s say she is a pro-life Republican. On primary day she goes to the polls to support a pro-life candidate over a pro-choice one. Regardless of the outcome, according to the party plan by voting in that primary she is honor-bound to support the Republican even if that candidate holds a position which is in stark contrast to her own. Does that seem right to you? What will be the effect assuming it is attempted to be enforced? It seems that the loyalty oath is alive and well.
Now, this position is not unique to the Republican Party as the Democratic Party of Virginia included a similar statement in their 2010 party Plan. “No person shall participate in a Democratic primary, convention or caucus who intends to support a candidate opposed to any Democratic nominee in that general or special election.” Many of the locals know that it is very unlikely (but not impossible) for me to vote Democratic. Will some party official stand at the door of the polling place on primary day, like George Wallace, denying me entrance?
In point three, the party seems to call for voter registration by political party, an idea I firmly oppose.
Moving through the RPV party plan, we reach point four. It reads, “In addition to the foregoing, to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, unless otherwise stipulated by the appropriate Official Committee, a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party within the last five years.”
In plain English, this means that if you vote in the Democratic primaries, you are booted from the GOP. It doesn’t matter that your tax dollars fund these primaries, you cannot voice your opinion in these contests…according to the Virginia Republican Party. As someone who faithfully votes in as many primaries as he can, this plank is exceedingly worrisome. I can think of at least three Democratic primaries in which I’ve voted; 2006 U.S. Senate, 2009 Statewide Virginia, and 2013 Statewide Virginia. In addition, although I could not vote, I was a witness to the 2013 Libertarian state convention. Does that count as participation too? What if you live in an area of the state where only Democratic candidates can win? Would voicing your opinion to select the best Democratic option exclude you from later expressing your opinion in Republican circles too? Can a party forbid you to take part in a political process funded by your own tax dollars? Although there is a clause to avoid this issue…as a one-time exception…being required to craft a written statement denouncing the other party very much seems over the top.
I find these issues worrisome and would expect that many of my conservative brothers and sisters would as well. Why is it that the Republican Party is so concerned with making vassals of their base? Shouldn’t they instead promote the Republican principles found in the Republican creed and make sure that Republican elected officials actually honor and uphold these values? If the GOP wants to make a principled statement, why not strip party membership from delegates and state senators who supported the transportation tax hike last year…or work to remove them from leadership positions…or, at the very least, publicly chastise them?
With these rules, one has to ponder why the party just doesn’t force all primary voters, convention goers, and potential candidates to declare, “I will to my party be true and faithful, and love all which it loves and shun all which it shuns”? In case you are wondering, that declaration is a modification of the Anglo-Saxon Oath of Fealty. I wonder if the RPV wishes to reduce us to serfdom. Is political feudalism alive and well within the Commonwealth? Are we being transformed into red and blue vassals, stripped of any semblance of political free will?
Shouldn’t the RPV do a better job reaching out to voters and actually reducing the size of government rather than promoting restrictive regulations? Rather than expanding the Republican Party, these rules (especially if actually enforced) will only serve to shrink involvement, which, in turn, will further reduce any chances of future Republican statewide victories.
As so many Virginia elections are either uncontested or one party has a virtual lock on a seat, participation in party nominating contests is an important tool for voters to have at least some voice in determining their representation. Demanding loyalty or forbidding cross party voting in order to take part in party politics is a violation of a free and open political process and weakens the strength of our democratic process. No group or individual should ever unquestioningly own your vote or your support. We haven’t lived in the middle ages for centuries, so why should our partisan politics be so mired in the past?
If the Republican Party of Virginia desires to enact an oath I can get behind, it ought to sound something like this: “I will to my principles be true and faithful. As long as the party and her candidates uphold these shared principles, I will support them.”