Kentucky GOP Party rule change causes Tea Party uproar

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Reports that the Republican Party of Kentucky is considering a proposal that would put off the election of party leadership one year until 2013 has caused an uproar among members of the Tea Party, many of whom perceive it as a way to prevent Tea Party candidates from getting elected to the party leadership.

Currently, the RPK reorganization happens every four years, in line with the presidential election cycle. New party officers are elected at a statewide convention, which follows local conventions to elect local officers. Those elected serve for four years.

Dave Adams, who heads a political action committee that supports Tea Party candidates, found the idea of postponing the next election troubling.

“Until I’m proven otherwise, … it’s my contention that some people in the Republican hierarchy are quite concerned about Tea Party members inserting themselves into party leadership,” he said.

Adams said the justification he had heard for the rule change was “that there’d be too steep of a learning curve for the election in that year,” an idea he called “ridiculous.”

“I think you could legitimately draw a parallel to Barack Obama – if he put the word out that things are just too crazy in the world right now, and that if a new president got elected in 2012 there’d be too steep of a learning curve, and so we’re just going to postpone that,” Adams said. (Tea Partiers storm NRSC offices)

Adams also said the timing of the proposal was just too suspicious, given that it came at the very moment when in Kentucky, the “Tea Party is getting better organized and continuing to grow our numbers and becoming more of a vocal force in state politics.”

Karen Seby, a Tea Party activist and radio talk show host had a similar take.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to keep the Tea Party out of the loop,” she said.

Seby said she didn’t expect the proposal to go anywhere, “if they stop and listen to what’s going on.”

Holly Harris, in-house counsel to the RPK, dismissed the notion that there were anything other than practical motivations. (FreedomWorks forming rival debt commission to Obama’s group)

The idea of moving reorganization “is brought up almost every year,” she said, “at least 10 years that I can think back.”

Harris noted that it was not an imminent rule change, or even a “proposed rule change,” but rather just an idea brought up in discussion.

“The only purpose … was just to discuss moving our leadership elections off the presidential year because obviously that year has been very, very busy,” she said.

A source involved with Kentucky politics explained that there was good reason for keeping the leadership elections exactly when they were because presidential years inspired the largest turnout of voters, with enthusiastic new people who come to the meetings. Holding the elections in a presidential year is simply the best way to motivate people to show up.

Another concern is that postponing the elections would mean that those currently in officer positions would serve a fifth year.

Stuart Victor, the Republican chairman of Franklin County, said that his term had begun when he was elected in 2008 and would end in 2012.

“As a chairman, it’s a lot of hard work – four years is a lot of work … and four years is a lot of time,” he said.

Marcus Carey, a former chairman of the RPK, said that while he strongly doubted that the motives were at all sinister, the discussion had been poorly timed.

“It seemed to be a rather odd timing that just at the point when a new group of, I would say, vocal and energetic voters are starting to make their presence known, and their influence felt in the political world, the discussion apparently surfaced this week … that they were currently considering postponing reorganization until 2013,” he said.

On the one hand he said, the party leadership “might have some legitimate grounds to suggest that bringing in a whole bunch of new people in such an important presidential year would have the effect of putting a lot of inexperienced hands on deck.”

On the other hand, he said, “the timing is a shocking display of a lack of appreciation for the mindset of the Tea Party and this new group of activists … a shocking lack of sensitivity to what they’re thinking.” (Tea Partiers say Perry, Bachmann excite them)

“From a PR point of view, it was poorly planned to announce that now,” he said, adding that “it plays right into the hands of the Tea Party and others who have developed a healthy distrust of the insiders.”

With that said, “in politics, appearance is reality,” Carey noted.

“I doubt whether anyone…has openly or even privately suggested that this is necessary to keep the tea party from getting a foothold,” he said.

“But,” he continued, “by doing it in this particular climate, in this particular time, it has certainly given the appearance” that that could be the case.

“So the reality is that this move by the RPK will cause a number of people to think that they are operating with ill motive,” he concluded.

Nonetheless, he said, the poor timing of the discussion could have an upside. The “unforeseen consequence” he expects, will be to “[heighten] the awareness of those who are outside of the party structure, and probably [inspire] a lot of people to become very, very interested in politics during” the summer, which he called, “kind of a down season for politics.”