Brian Jenkins, who challenged Orrin Hatch for the Republican nomination as candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006 and ran for the Republican nomination as candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District in 2008, gives the following account of his experience last year as a Utah delegate to the Republican National Convention at which Senator John McCain received the Republican nomination for President:
Brian Jenkins of Saratoga Springs was elected at the May 10, 2008, GOP State Convention to serve as a delegate to the GOP National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, held September 1 – 4, 2008. Brian attended the convention with hopes of participating in a thoughtful, deliberative assembly, but instead was assaulted with a school yard bullying lesson in hardball politics bordering on the unethical.
A party rule, in place at the time of his election, said that Brian’s first-round vote was to be cast for the winner of the Presidential Primary Election held on February 5, 2008. Mitt Romney won that election with a landslide 265,000 first-place votes (90%). John McCain received 16,000 first-place votes, and Ron Paul 9,000 first-place votes. The ballot did not allow voters to express a second preference.
Mitt Romney quit the presidential race in late February, however, and the party rule did not address how national delegates should cast their first-round votes in such a case. At the Utah State Convention party leaders asked delegates if they would like to unbind Utah’s National Delegates. The delegates said, “No.” Unwilling to abide the will of the delegates they did an end run, called a meeting of the State Central Committee and and passed a rule such that Utah’s national delegates were now bound to vote for John McCain in the first round.
Never mind the fact that the presidential preference primary did not allow voters to express a second preference.
And never mind the fact that Jennifer Sheehan, Legal Counsel for the RNC, plainly stated in a letter to Nancy Lord, Utah National Committeewoman, several weeks before the convention, “[The] RNC does not recognize a state’s binding of national delegates, but considers each delegate a free agent who can vote for whoever they choose.” And, “The national convention allows delegates to vote for the individual of their choice, regardless of whether the person’s name is officially placed into nomination or not.”
Wednesday came. Brian had told the president of the the Utah delegation (Jon Huntsman) he wanted his vote recorded correctly–not simply cast for McCain against his will. The president did not help. The Republican Party Chairman did not help. The time for the roll call vote drew near. Brian Jenkins brought the convention sergeant-at-arms and a security officer under the sergeant’s direction, and Stan Lockhart, Utah’s Republican Party Chairman, together for a conversation.
“This man would like to make sure his vote is recorded correctly,” said the sergeant at arms to Chairman Lockhart.
“I am instructed to remove anyone from the floor who votes contrary to the Utah State Central Committee’s instructions,” replied Stan.
Brian looked at the Sergeant-at-arms and said “The meeting where the State Central Committee ruled Utah delegates must vote for McCain was illegal. And the RNC specifies that delegates may vote for whomever they wish.” Then he instructed the Sergeant-at-arms, “Please check and see if Stan can remove me from the floor under these circumstances.”
The sergeant-at-arms told Brian to remain where he was, and that he would look into the matter. Neither he nor his assistant returned.
However, shortly thereafter, Ivan Dubois, an employee of the Utah Republican Party, polled Brian and several other national delegates as to whom they wished to vote for. Brian, a Ron Paul supporter, directed Ivan to cast his vote for Mitt Romney because the party rule in place at the time of the primary required delegates to vote for Utah’s first-place selection in the presidential primary. Thus, his vote was cast for Mitt Romney instead of Ron Paul (whom he intended to support, but did not for fear of being removed from the floor of the convention).
Requiring national delegates to vote according to the results of a primary makes Utah more democratic and less of a republic. Democracies are surprisingly ineffective types of government with short, violent lives and unable to safeguard its citizens’ rights. But worse than a democracy is an oligarchy, which is the government under the control of a party with its few leaders. That is what we see manifest when Utahns vote one way and party leaders force something different. In Utah, controlling the Republican party is almost like choosing Utah’s senators and congressmen and governor.
The founders intended that American citizens would select delegates who would spend more time than they might normally spend selecting the ideal candidate. In Utah, a candidate that won 5% of Utah’s popular vote received a nearly unanimous vote from Utah’s national delegates. Because Utah and many states no longer allow their delegates to operate as intended and use their best judgment based on current information, (who should I vote for now that Romney has withdrawn) Brian was not able to spend convention time exploring candidate commitment to principles of proper government (so who is Sarah Palin anyway) but was instead forced to seek the assistance of security to make sure his vote was recorded as he wanted. It is why many Ron Paul delegates from various states voted contrary to their best judgment at the national convention and most of the Utah delegation voted contrary to Utah’s delegates’ wishes. We simply let our party leadership cast our vote for us. It is why not all of Utah’s National Delegates were ever asked whom they were voting for.
Brian believes free elections are a foundational element of a free society and they are jeopardized in Utah and throughout the U.S. Brian believes it is a tragic irony that while America is fighting to insure free elections abroad they are slipping through our fingers at home.