Thursday evening was the annual election meeting for the Arizona Legislative District 19 Republican Party, and like any election, it was not without its fair share of drama. I'll start at the beginning.
I learned about the meeting by actively trying to find out when my legislative district meets, as I would love to be able to get back involved with the Republican Party out here. I haven't been an actively productive political person since 2008. Though I have helped at a variety of events (campaign walks, lit drops, sign posting, working the polls, etc.) as longer readers will know, it's not something I've been doing consistently, and I want to get back into it.
So anyway, I showed up at the meeting time of 6:30pm to signs posted on the doors of the Red Mountain Community College multipurpose room declaring that tonight's election was occurring. One man was campaigning outside for his write-in bid to be Chairman of the LD named Wayne Gardner, and he welcomed me and asked me to remember to write him in when I voted. I told him I wasn't voting since I was not a "precinct committeeman" and was only here to observe. More after the jump break:
A quick note... the general structure of the Republican Party goes something like this: the Republican National Committee is made up of an executive board (headed by Michael Steele) and many National Commiteemen. These NCs are representatives of each state elected by SCs. SCs are State Committeemen, elected by PCs as representatives of the various precincts in each state. PCs are Precinct Committeemen who represent Republicans living in each precinct (and there are more than 4,000 precincts in Arizona alone). Each PC in Arizona represents roughly 125 registered Republicans. Each SC represents something like 5 PCs, and each NC represents several SCs. Confused? Me too.
Basically, the job of a PC is to do all the grassroots volunteerism in the Republican Party - phone calls on behalf of candidates, door-to-door walks, lit drops, sign posting, etc. - and they get a title other than "glorified volunteer." Once a year, PCs meet to vote for State Committeemen. SCs manage PCs, and they get to vote once a year on proposed AZGOP rule changes and for National Committeemen. National Committeemen are basically the House of Representatives for all Republicans at the national level. They help create the party platform and do a bunch of other things I'm not gonna go into here.
Okay, so anyway, got into the meeting and introduced myself to a couple of the people in charge. They thanked me for coming, told me to stay involved, was I interested in becoming a PC?, and so forth. I noted only two people there whom I knew, Chad from Congressman Flake's campaign and Brett Mecum, Executive Director of the AZGOP. I said a quick hello to Chad and found a decent seat from which to watch people. I chatted with a few folks, but mostly just watched events play out, trying to get a feel for everything.
Overall, about 200 people showed up, and about 180 of them were Precinct Committeemen, in my very general estimate. Several younger adults also were there, helping Mr. Gardner with his write-in campaign (I think Chad was one such person, and not there in any official capacity). Most of the PCs were actually a lot older folks, 50's and up. Kinda made me a bit disappointed that I was likely the youngest one in the room at 25. Many people were obviously Tea Party Patriots, attendees of the East Valley Tea Party meetings. I could tell this from their shirts and snippets of conversation that floated across the room.
It was a strange dynamic. I'm not a Tea Party supporter, so it was a bit uncomfortable being in a room full of them. I'm more of a realistic Republican, I suppose, and I view the Tea Party people as being more idealistic - not a bad thing, but also not my way of thinking. On the other hand, I was informed by the Chairwoman when I was speaking to her that this meeting was one of the largest turnouts for an election they'd ever had, so it's certainly good people are getting involved. I'm not sure how I feel about it.
About 7pm, they started their "meeting" which was really nothing more than a vote by acclaimation on a rule that voting would end at 7:40pm sharp and a series of courtesy "nominations from the floor" for each office being elected. This is where chaos began to take root. The people in the back of the room were voting and talking, so it was difficult at best to hear the nominations. The microphone was (apparently) causing some voters to not be able to concentrate and mark their ballots (though I find this farcical, it will be important in a moment).
To be perfectly frank, the election system was a completely dysfunctional process. They had three different blocs of nominees for one position, based upon when and in what manner the person had submitted their name for consideration - via email, on paper, before the deadline, after the deadline - and candidates were being considered for multiple offices via write-in, so some ballots were spoiled but were not able to be reissued. A few folks had multiple proxies, so had to fill out multiple ballots. You had to mark 99 separate X's for 99 separate SC spots, not including the time spent writing in names. There was only one ballot box for 180 people, and no semblance of a line to stand in.... Just completely chaotic.
During the voting time, Randy Pullen was supposed to be a guest speaker, but his schedule had been mistaken and he was in San Diego instead, so Brett Mecum, Gary Pierce of the Corporation Commission, and one guy from the Maricopa County GOP board filled in instead.
Come 7:40pm, the Chairwoman had called out that anyone in line would be allowed to cast their ballots, but some of the voters used that time to hold up the line for some unknown reason, some were still filling out proxy ballots, and there was general disarray. By 8:00pm, the people in charge finally said that the ballot box was closed. Those people in line (who were intentionally holding everything up) would not be able to cast their ballots. Well, let me tell you. This did not... NOT... sit well with most of the people there. A man in a plaid jacket got up and started screaming at the election board that he was in line and he had to be given time to complete his ballots, as the chairwoman had said he would. The election overseers told him that he'd had his chance to cast his votes, but instead held up the lines and as a result he would be unable to cast his votes. Big dramatic moment, filled with ranting by Plaid Jacket Man and his compatriots (whom I believe were affiliated with Wayne Gardner), before finally they brought the ballot box back out and let him stuff his ballots in there, along with one other guy who had a bazillion proxies.
Cue another 30 minutes of speeches by various PCs on how everyone should be ashamed of how they acted, peace, love, and good wishes, and one old guy who went on a rant about how the young people never show up to anything and now they expect to come here and vote (and GET OFF MY LAWN!!!).... I told him where he could go stick his offensive comments, by the way.
Finally, after a while, people calmed down and went about their merry discussions with their neighbors and friends. I continued to observe people, and got a chance to speak with Tom Husband, the Executive Director of the Maricopa County GOP board. Nice guy... we had a good conversation.
Finally, the board announced the tally of the votes for the LD-19 Executive Board at 11pm. I don't remember all the names, but the write-in candidate, Wayne Gardner did indeed win for Chairman. If Plaid Jacket Man and his companion were indeed holding up the line on Mr. Gardner's behalf, then it's very possible that their proxy votes were what pushed him over the edge in the very close race. I found that interesting. I was tired by this point, so I said a quick congratulations to Chairman Gardner, then slipped out to my car to go home.
Honestly, this little election meeting reminded me of the good ol' days in the NAU College Republicans, when I was a naive, egotistical moron. It was SO important to me (and most of the other people in the organization) to win board seats that we sacrificed our principles and our good names in the process. Even after I got out of college, that mentality stuck with me, and hurt my ability to connect with some of the Republicans in the state party. I look back on those days as a really good learning experience, which I have not fully grasped yet, I realize, and I think to myself that this LD meeting reminded me a lot of that. I'm not so sure I want to be a Precinct Committeeman and get back into partisan politics if it's going to be like that.
Yet another good learning experience.
For a video clip on YouTube of dramatic Plaid Jacket Man and one of his partners, click HERE.
For a link to another blog description of the drama, click HERE.