This week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland is attended by 2,472 delegates. Over the last six months, we all watched as candidates won delegates based on voting results in 56 caucuses and primary elections. What few people understand is how the Republican Party actually selects the individuals who serve as delegates.
Why does it matter who the 2,472 are? After all, most are “bound” to vote in accordance with the primary election results. Any power to influence the nominee is limited to when no candidate wins a majority of “bound” delegates. Even in this year’s wild race, Mr. Trump managed to capture a majority. This means that the delegates’ responsibilities are generally limited to policymaking — particularly writing the Republican Party’s platform.
I participated in the Republican Party’s conventions this year primarily because of my interest in energy policy. The industry is facing many new policy challenges, including climate change and restrictions on hydraulic fracturing. Few officials are really knowledgeable about the energy industry, and misconceptions and misunderstandings abound. I sought to bring a dose of real world experience to the Republican Conventions.
In order to reach Cleveland, I had to be elected three times: (i) precinct convention, (ii) county convention, and (iii) state convention. My path started at the Bunker Hill Village precinct convention. As there were more delegate slots available than attendees, I easily continued on. The Harris County convention was more challenging. Delegates even were asked whom they voted for in the primary. I avoided this question and instead focused on my energy experience. That was enough to advance again.
My final stop was the state convention in Dallas. That’s where Texas selects two groups of delegates to the national convention. First, each congressional district picks three delegates (for a total of 108), who provide geographic diversity. Second, there are 47 at-large delegate slots for statewide officials and policy experts. These at-large delegates often serve on policymaking committees and participate in writing the Party’s Platform. More than 600 delegates applied for at-large positions, providing their applications and résumés.
The at-large delegates are selected by a special committee—the Nominations Committee—comprised of 37 members, one from each of Texas’ 36 congressional districts and a chair appointed by the Texas Republican Party. Most of the Committee members were long-time insiders, who had put in many years of service as volunteers on campaigns or at party headquarters.
The Nominations Committee called upon the 600 applicants to speak before it at the state convention in Dallas. Hundreds of us stood in a long line, waiting patiently to appear. Each spoke for only a few minutes. It was evening before the speeches ended and the Committee’s deliberations finally began. By then, only a handful of observers remained in the room. I was one of them.
The Committee’s first action was to elect seven statewide officials to the national delegation (the Governor, the Lt. Governor, Attorney General, former Governor, and three Republican National Committee members). Forty slots remained. When the Chairman opened the floor to further submissions, the Committee member seated at the far left of the room nominated himself as a national delegate. The gentleman to his left did the same, and so forth, and so on, around the room. In a prearranged plan, almost all of the Committee members put forward their own names.
Those who declined to self-nominate sought instead to designate friends. Others objected to this tactic, arguing that only Committee members were guaranteed slots under their prior arrangement. One member complained that she had made an important deal in which she had traded her position. When her pleas were rejected, she actually started to cry. Notwithstanding tears, the Nominations Committee voted to elect most of its own members as national delegates.
There was not even a discussion about whether the Committee members had any particular policy expertise. For example, could any of the self-appointed Committee members advise the Republican National Convention on the nuances of energy policy?
Nor did any of the Committee voice concern about conflicts of interest. A basic definition (from Wikipedia) follows:
“conflicts of interest can be defined as any situation in which an individual is in a position to exploit a professional or official capacity in some way for their personal benefit.”
The temptation to appoint oneself the personal benefit of attending the Republican National Convention is apparently quite strong.
I asked a senior Republican Party official what he thought about the Committee’s actions. He acknowledged that the Committee’s vote was “sordid,” but correctly pointed out that no rule prohibited it. Exploiting rules for personal advantage has become common political sport. It’s also why so many Americans have lost faith in good governance. An elderly delegate approached me after the Committee’s vote and commiserated. “That’s just wrong,” he said. If only it had been that obvious to the others.
About the Gaille Energy Blog. The Gaille Energy Blog discusses issues in the field of energy law, with weekly posts at http://www.gaillelaw.com. Scott Gaille is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, an Adjunct Professor in Management at Rice University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of two books on energy law (Shale Energy Development and International Energy Development).