By Kevin Joseph Ryan
In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 19, the Vermont GOP faithful headed to Montpelier High School, to choose their delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. Of course, Tampa will choose who will face off against Barack Obama for the Presidency in the Fall. Republicans being who they are, such a convention is normally an orderly and uneventful affair. With the contentious battle for the nomination this year, one could expect the unexpected.
All of the usual folk were to be found at the Convention. Former Governor Jim Douglas was to Chair the event, providing a congenial and familiar face to the proceedings. Former Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie led the Flag Salute. Newly installed Vermont GOP Chairman Jack Lindley intended to use the day to make a strong statement, “…Republicans are on the rise again and will be rescuing our state from the arrogance of one party rule.” Truly, no one had seen such a packed delegate convention in many a year. Over 500 delegates, elected in local contests throughout the state began arriving even before 8 AM to make their choice to represent Vermont. They knew full well that you have to get up early in the morning to beat Democrats in Vermont.
Everyone assembled knew the obvious choice was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. After all, Romney had won 35 state primaries and caucuses, and had nearly clinched enough delegates. He’d won Vermont’s March 3 Primary with 39% of the vote. All of his opposition had left the race…all except one. Congressman Ron Paul of Texas just didn’t have the horse sense to quit and had said he’d fight all the way to Tampa. His supporters didn’t have the horse sense, either. They decided to show up and make a fair fight of it, having won 25% of the vote in March. Unlike a certain Governor we all know, they were ready for bear.
The Romney folk were taking no chances. On March 6, Ron Paul supporters had effectively run the competition in Maine, taking 14 delegates and the State GOP by surprise. Lindley had vowed unity within the party and helped to promote Romney the night before with a Spaghetti dinner at the school featuring Romney‘s son Tagg. In addition, Lindley had a surprise waiting for the Paul folk when they arrived. At 8 AM when delegate registration began, the delegates found a new set of rules for the Convention waiting for them, written by Lindley himself.
Among the changes made by Chairman Lindley for the Convention were a suspension of Robert’s Rules of Order and the elimination of any parliamentary privilege by the delegation, unless approved by Lindley’s hand-picked parliamentarian, J. Paul Giuliani. Lindley insisted he was entitled to create such rules under Republican Party rule 11(b.), which allows him to “set times and procedures”. Several Paul supporters protested, including Jessica Bernier, a Town Chair, who insisted that she had asked for the Convention rules in advance, and had been misled. Vermont election law does require such rules be approved by the State Committee in advance.
When asked about the changes, Lindley responded to all inquiries by saying, “I am entitled to make such rules, I am the dictator.” The original rules called for all national delegate candidates to be given a two-minute period to address the group. While Bernier attempted to change the proceedings early in the day by motioning to allow the 37 delegate candidates to speak, she was overruled by Lindley from the podium as being out of order. She was out of order, but under the new Lindley rules, all motions were out of order unless approved by both Lindley and his chosen parliamentarian. Lindley did undertake the motion later in the day, asking, “Do you really want all thirty-seven candidates to speak?” The crowd declined.
The speakers of the day included House Minority Leader Don Turner and Auditor Tom Salmon and a host of potential candidates for statewide office. For United States Senate, John McGovern and Brooke Paige gave their vision for Vermont, as did State Treasurer hopeful Wendy Wilton of Rutland. TNR has noted the comments given by gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock, while his primary competitor Roy Newton added, ““Governor Schumlin, you have created many dinosaurs. A dinosaur in taxation, a dinosaur in our health care, a dinosaur in our education…you have created many new dinosaurs.”
The Mitt Romney campaign issued a slate of candidates during the meeting for consideration, and certainly the Ron Paul supporters made themselves known. When the voting was all said and done, a strange thing had occurred. While the Romney camp elected the majority of their slate of candidates as delegates, and the Ron Paul contingent had to satisfy themselves with only two delegates, plus eleven alternates, the winner of the day was Vermont Right to Life, who managed to elect 13 of their chosen slate to go to Tampa. Emily Houghton, who assisted in counting votes, said that over 460 ballots were counted.
As to the controversy regarding the rules, Lindley said his goal was to beat the Democrats in November and end one-party rule. He felt justified in the changes made to ensure a smooth convention that didn’t drag on through the day. Interviewed later, Lindley said that he will do what it takes to promote good Republican candidates and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, no matter who they supported for President. National Committeeman Candidate Brian Alberelli said he wasn’t satisfied with how the Convention was run, and doesn’t think it “makes a good statement for the GOP as a big tent party in Vermont.” Alberelli said he is investigating his options regarding the Convention.
The voting results for Delegates were as follows:
1. Brain Dubie-329
2. Randy Brock- 292
3. Jay Shepard- 276
4. Tom Salmon- 259
5. Darcie Johnston- 258
6. Mark Candon- 239
7. Rich Cochran- 231
8. Dave Sargent- 217
9. Mark Snelling- 215
10. Craig Benson- 202
11. Terrace McKnight- 191
12. Jane McKnight- 184
13. Paul Dame- 182
14. Stewart Skill-176