Saturday, March 08, 2008

Johnson County Republican Convention

Johnson County Republican Convention

Man bites dog, fish jumps out of water, Deeth attends GOP convention. Just doin' my job. Greetings from the Johnson County Republican Convention, where I'm embedded as Al Jazeera's special correspondent. (Actually, they're making me feel a little more welcome than that.)

It's 9:13 and we -- we? --just kicked off with a Pledge of Allegiance; the pledger, Gen. Robert Sentman, says "I wish we still did this in every classroom in the nation." Prayer is "in the name of Jesus."

I'm sort of doing double duty here since the JCDems will be in the same hall at West High in exactly 168 hours.

Sally Orr was working the coffee table and says she's happy with McCain; "I got my picture with him on the front page of the paper eight years ago," she says, though she wasn't happy with how she looked in the pic. Yeah, I've been there too. Several folks pick my brain about the Dems much more interesting nomination situation.

78 delegates and 39 alternates to district and state conventions, Rules chair Todd Versteegh tells us. The district convention is 4/19, also here at West.

I'm liveblogging in Linux here. My laptop is now dual-boot, and if I wait too long to select Windows it defaults to Ubuntu, and when it did I just went with it.

Lit is out for two of the three Congressional candidates: Marianette Miller-Meeks and Peter Teahen. No sign of the Lee Harder campaign or the US Senate candidates. Looks like 75 to 100 people here. One big difference, as they make a minor rules tweak: delegates are just delegates. None of the preference group stuff that Dems deal with.

Chuck Seberg is my counterpart: credentials committee chair, reporting in at 9:24. 83 delegates out of 152 in attendance, also 25 alternates. So my counting is a little short, I stand corrected.

Another difference: they have a nominating committee; they also have a sign in for people who want to run. With 83 delegates signed in, and only 78 delegate slots at the next level, it shouldn't be too rough of an election. I wonder if they'll use that old "put your hand down to be an alternate" method that we like. They don't elect any national delegates until another district convention in Des Moines the day before the state convention in June. Dems start electing national delegates in April. GOP delegate fees are $40, and if the county party doesn't fill its slots, the state party bills the local party.

Versteegh reads the list of folks who've signed up to run for delegate; it's only a dozen to 15 but a line forms to sign up.

Tiffin Mayor Royce Phillips gave me a gentle teasing about my presence; all my GOP friends are certainly welcome at our convention in this very room. County Chair Bill Keettell reads some names of more delegate candidates, these were submitted by campaigns. Another 65 or so, so it looks like they filled the slots. Bill didn't say which campaigns offered which names. Todd V. confirms my rough count of 65 from the stage, I nailed it! (Alternates don't pay fees.)

They're taking a break at 9:43 and plugging their spaghetti supper next week. The big speakers are Stew Iverson and Bob Vander Plaats. I may just have to show up there, too. The break is pretty low key, as is the convention in general. "Better than Saturday morning cartoons," Richard Clinite tells me.

Back in business to 10:00 -- the deadline for platform amendments. Perhaps this'll light some fires. 10:00 is also alternate seating time, as they offer a handful of names from the stage.

10:15 and things are still recessed. There's a couple small huddles going on that look like committee meetings. The hall has a subdued look without a lot of signs; school district rules bar tape on the walls and that's good for next week since I hate sign war.

10:25 and they've got 56 people committed to being delegate.

10:38 and State Rep. Jeff Kaufmann (R-Wilton) is at the podium; spends a fair amount of time bashing Michelle Obama on the 'proud of my country' remark. Circling back to actual issues, he says "we don't apoligize for tradition or the phrase old fashioned values." Wants the anti-gay marriage amendment and says "we can have our cake and eat it too" by loving individuals while defending (sic) marriage. Whether that cake is wedding cake or not goes unsaid. Also says GOP needs to not cede ground to the Dems on "defending the little guy." I missed a chunk of the speech, but it seemed like the first red meat of the day.

But after that spark we're back to Keettel reading delegate names.

Regular reader Mike Thayer stopped by a while back to say hi. He was a Fred Thompson guy but says he's fine with McCain. "He's going to be the right man. National security is going to be the foremost issue." Mike's still undecided in the US House race but "I'm pleased there's three qualified candidates" against Loebsack.

State Rep. Sandy Greiner (R-Keota) is here. Her speech is valedictory; she's stepping down. Says she decided to retire before the GOP lost the House majority and has more to do with wanting to do other things after 16 years. She's running for the RNC, for one; for another thing she's apparently having a giant bonfire of her kid's old furniture that's stored in her garage. "It's easy to feel like your voice is not being heard here in Johnson County; we're hearing you."

Linda Smith of Cedar Rapids is here on behalf of Team Rathje at 10:54. She gives us a pronunciation lesson: rah-CHEE. Or is it RAH-chee? Anyway, it's not RATH-gee.

Here's the bullet points: defending nation and constitution, sanctity of one man one woman marriage, life of unborn, child predators, God and pledge of allegiance, defend borders, no amnesty, born again Christian. "He covets your prayers and support," apparenty forgetting thou shalt not covet. Relatively little Harkin-bashing.

We're up to 61 people signed up for district/state delegates.

11:07 and still no sign of the congressional candidates; Keettel told me a while back that one of them was scheduled for 10:15. Wonder if they chose other places? People always forget: despite the overwhelming Dem percentage, Johnson is one of the top ten in the state in number of Republicans. In the meantime, we're settling for a letter from Bill Northey.

65 district/state delegates on the list. Sparks from the floor; a delegate objects to electing anyone in absentia. Todd V. reads the rules; any registered Republican can be elected delegate, even if they ain't here today.

While that debate, the first significant one of the day, goes on, let's get some platform highlights. Quotes cut and paste verbatim; see the full document here. Subject to amendment, they haven't voted yet:

  • We fully support President George W. Bush’s course of action at home and abroad, specifically in the Middle East.
  • We as a party will utilize all constitutional processes to insure those rights are preserved and extended from conception and until natural death.
  • We stand for traditional marriage: One man, and one woman. We also support a constitutional amendment to that end.
  • We also call for legislation that would prevent the automatic granting of citizenship to children who are born on American soil to people who are illegally in this country.
  • Governors and the president should have the line-item veto, and earmarks should be illegal.
  • We believe in vouchers for public, private, and religious schools. And, we believe those same vouchers should be extended to those who choose to home school their children.
  • We support English, by statute, as the official language of the Unites States of America.
  • We believe in a health care system that is competitively based in the private sector.
  • A voter must register with a valid photo ID.
  • ...allow citizens options within the Social Security system which allows for investment through personal retirement accounts.
  • ...term limits for state offices in Iowa...
  • "We support continuation of Iowa's First in the Nation presidential caucuses," so I can honestly say I agree with at least one point of the Johnson County Republican platform.

    Fair Tax is at the moment in the platform, on an 8-5 platform committee vote; most of the rest is labeled as "Unanimous."

    The contentiousness continues at 11:43; basically the gist is some folks want to seat the people who are in attendance first, then vote separately on the people who aren't here. Looks like that idea failed. "We've never had too many people wanting to be a delegate before," says one man to applause. The defeated people are considering just voting down the list.

    11:45 and we have Lee Harder. Mocks Loebsacks 'voice for change': "When you go to a gas station with a $50 bill, you walk away with no change," blamind gas prices on Dem opposition to offshore drilling. "I'm the most conservative candidate for this office, I may be the only conservative candidate." Personal responsibility and traditional values. "I will work Harder for you" is the slogan.

    11:51 we have Jared Klein, the House candidate in Greiner's District 89. He's a high energy go getter type; "let's cut the spending." Asks for $ at least twice. Over in about two minutes and we're back to the delegate debate.

    "We've never had this kind of problem before," Royce Phillips tells me. It's not a debate between campaigns, he says; it's just a lot of people wanting to go on. "There's a lot of new people who aren't as familiar with the process, don't know how it works," he says. "If you go to the state as an alternate, it's a 99 percent chance you'll get in, and you go for free." They're moving toward the Put Your Hand Down To Be An Alternate system. Cathy Michel says the delegate committee treid to keep the advance list "fair, we tried to keep it balanced."

    12:06 and Miller-Meeks is on. Starts with health care and devotes almost the entire speech to it.

    12:15 and Peter Teahen is speaking. First emphasis is "overnvolvent by govt and over taxation." Government should "help us help ourselves." Mentions a few locations of his disaster relief work. Wants border fence immediately, then address iroammigration. "Most of us don't feel safe," on economy and on terrorism. In contrast to Miller-Meeks, he's hitting a broad list of issues. "We should never turn our health care over to the govt." gets fist spontaneoud applause of any candiadte remarks. Value of life "from birth until death, from conception till death." (which is it?) Bashed Loebsack for not funding troops; missed the exact wording and I'll have to go to the tape. "Congress is the most complicated disaster I've ever witnessed, and we need to send a disaster relief expert to Congress."

    And with that, I have other obligations for the day.

    UPDATE: Mike Thayer has his perspective on the day's events.
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