Saturday, May 31, 2008

Convention Observations --- Rank Incompetence

Perhaps the most incompetently run State Republican Convention I have ever witnessed.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

I didn't attend the session on Friday, as I reported previously. However, I suspect that some bloggers will relate that day's festivities, or already have.

Nevertheless, the level of incompetence demonstrated at this weekend's GOP gathering in Richmond was sufficient to cause me to reconsider and change my vote for State Chairman. There are aspects that were simply unforgivable on a wholly technical level.

The day started out well. Woke the wife and kids, performed our morning ablutions, and went downstairs at the Marriott for a very nice buffet breakfast, included in the price of our room. Then provided for late checkout (not as late as necessary, as it turned out), and went over to registration. Registration was fairly prompt, though the individual handling the end of the alphabet nearly gave me credentials for someone named "William" whose last name started with a "Z." Cleared that up, and made our way to the convention hall.

The immediate problem was getting in. People were checking credentials, and the entrance was the same door as the exit. Sooooo, people were coming out as many more were attempting to gain entry. Traffic jam ensued, aggravated by the usual suspects handing out lapel labels. Nice planning.

However, when the Youngs entered the hall, and sought out our delegation from Prince William County, we immediately noticed that only three rows --- perhaps fifty seats in all --- had been allotted for our delegates. Hmmmm. Had spoken to Tony Guiffre and his lovely fiance, who informed me that 427 PWC delegates had been elected to cast our ballots. If even half showed up (one can never tell about these things, but that's probably a minimal estimate), fully three-quarters of our people hadn't been planned for.

Well, someone needed to do something, so I sought out a staff member. Worthless, save to point me to the help desk on the other end of the Convention Center. Great. Now I would be one of those people fighting against the tide to exit the hall. Soooo, I left the boys with the wife, and sought to get more seating for Prince William's delegates. Waited in line (a lot of people needed help, including Congressman Frank Wolf and his wife), and finally corraled someone at the help desk. He informed me that the unit Chairman (Lyle Beefelt) would have to request more seats. "Let me make sure I understand this: there's a problem, and you're telling me I have to get him out here to make the request?" "That's right." "No, that's ridiculous."

It was an annoying and crowded walk back to the hall, but I resolved on the way that this --- a staffer completely unresponsive to an easily-solved problem --- was a serious enough problem that it had to be illustrative of larger problems.

In any case, I went back into the hall, and looked for Lyle. Nowhere to be found, but it was a big crowd. Instead, I sought out the central control area, and Charlie Judd, RPV's Executive Director. Now, I've never met Charlie, though I've of course heard his name.

He, too, was unresponsive.

Saw Jeff Frederick and Amy on the way back, and told him that I had reconsidered. While I believe that many of his criticisms of John Hager --- a man I've known and liked for nearly 20 years --- were unfair, this was inexcusable incompetence, and that I would wear his sticker and vote for him.

Now, I voted for Jeff, more times than I remember. Supported him against Jack Rollison when he ran his successful primary challenge to take his seat. Like him.

But I've known John Hager for nearly twenty years. Haven't always agreed with him, but have always been cordial. He finished his race for Lieutenant Governor in 1997 --- the same year I ran for School Board for a second and final time --- at the polls at Henderson Precinct in Montclair, my home precinct. We were side by side for the last two hours at the polls. Four years later, when he ran for the GOP nomination for Governor, he visited the offices of National Right to Work. Visited my office, and personally asked for my support, which I happily gave to him.

But this was no longer about personal loyalty. This was about the functionality and continued health of the State GOP. And today, in a very basic, well-rehearsed function, it wasn't working.

Sadly, the lack of adequate seating and the non-responsive staff was not the only display of incompetence in what was to be a fairly long day.

Sat next to Bob and Debbie FitzSimmonds. Kibbutzed. Listened to the speeches. Lyle asked Bob and me to aid with the balloting. Happy to help.

Turns out that Bob Berry had failed to appear at the Nominations Committee --- I was told later that no one informed him that he had to --- and therefore, his name was not placed in nomination.

And then we met to plan the balloting for PWC. And the ballots for Senate still had Bob Berry's name on them.

What, the copiers at RPV were down? No one could make a run to Kinko's? It's not like the ballots were on special paper. They were simple copier paper.

Now, Bob's disqualification was announced from the podium. But nevertheless, this was a simple problem easily fixed. And nobody bothered to do it!

Maybe not a big deal. 'Cept, when the votes were tallied, two or three districts reported votes for Bob Berry.


Under Robert's Rules, under which the State GOP and the Convention operates, ballots for an unqualified candidate are nullities. They don't count against the total vote, and should not be reported.

Nobody bothered to tell the ballot counters this.

Sooooo, as the votes are being reported, and it's a very close contest, those votes --- about 22 or 23 delegate votes in all --- might make a difference. Perhaps a huge difference.

Nevertheless, when all the votes were counted, it was clear that it was a very tight race. Only about sixty-five delegate votes separated Jim Gilmore from Bob Marshall, with the former prevailing.

As it happened, the Youngs voted for Marshall. Again, it was a tough decision. Both men are friends, of nearly twenty years. We supported Bob in his first race for House of Delegates, and ever since. Met Jim Gilmore at the Leadership Institute's Independence Day Conservative Soiree, back when he was Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney. Were at his home, at a reception for convention-goers on the day Ronald Reagan died.

We were ticked off at both of them for putting us in this position: having to choose between two well-qualified candidates who were friends. We would be happy for either. In the end, our decision was made on the fact that Bob would simply be more fun in the Senate.

And now, I have questions as to whether the winner is, in fact, the winner. Because of RPV's incompetence/laziness. This simply shouldn't have happened.

Now, perhaps counting Bob Berry's votes didn't make a difference. It probably didn't. But don't Virginia Republicans deserve better? Don't Jim Gilmore and Bob Marshall deserve better? This isn't rocket science. We've attended more than half a dozen State Conventions over the last sixteen years, and I've served on both Rules and Credentials Committees in the past. This has never been a problem.

In any case, it made our decision for Chairman a little easier.

Turns out, the race for that office wasn't even that close. In the end, Jeff Frederick's lead was so commanding that John Hager --- very graciously and magnanimously --- moved to make the election one by acclamation. Class act.

But I hope that he realizes that the negative result was, at least in part, a function of the fact that these happenstances caused him to bleed votes with each additional failure.

In the end, John deserved better, too, from the people at RPV. And he didn't get it.


Salem Republicans said...

FWIW, the Berry issue was actually resolved correctly. The 6th District, and specifically Salem and Roanoke City, were where the Berry votes came from (I know because I counted the Salem ballots). While they were initially reported, they came back to us and told us to remove those Berry votes (our 5 votes cast for 44 delegates became 4 votes cast for 44 delegates). We then recalculated and the official numbers were based on these recalculated numbers (done according to Roberts Rules).

The only remaining question is why would anyone even try to vote for Berry? Having spoken to the Berry voters from the 6th, it was done simply as a protest vote. Didn't like either candidate but wanted to register a "no vote" rather than abstain and they thought Berry was the way they could do that.

James Young said...

Thanks for the report. I was deeply worried about this because of the narrowness of the margin, and how it might affect the outcome given the weighted vote. Because of the size of the Prince William delegation, we used an electronic counter to tally the ballots, so Eleventh District Chairman Becky Stoeckel thought that the number might have been spit out that way. At the time, however, we had no information about the source of the Berry numbers, so didn't know that they had been hand counted. I'm delighted to have your report, however; it removes any small doubt that I may have had about the outcome.

Your comment is very much appreciated.

Leslie Carbone said...

Thanks for this write-up, Jim. I too was appalled by the incompetency on display at the convention. "#seats = #delegates" isn't exactly a complex formula. As someone behind me commented during the Fairfax Co-cophany, the next five months don't look promising if RPV can't handle its own convention.

I'm sorry to have missed you. I hope your family had a good time.

Bwana said...

Excellent account, and one that hits on the issues of technical competence and customer service that seem to be so lacking at RPV.

BTW, you "kibbutzed"? Does that mean you were building small settlements in the middle of the convention hall?


James Young said...

Well, maybe not me, but we had the boys with us. And certainly, I think you'd call what they did "building small settlements in the middle of the convention hall."

Bwana said...

Actually, I was sort of going in the direction that you were "kibbitzing", not "kibbutzing"...unless you were in fact building those settlements!

James Young said...

Hmmm. Thought the spelling was the same. Learn something new every day.

As for those settlement, I wasn't. But they were!!!!