Oklahoma GOP continues national trend of disenfranchising Paul supporters

Adam Bates Policy Analyst, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice
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The shenanigans I witnessed at the Oklahoma State Republican Convention a few days ago ranged from petty, to absurd, to unjust, to downright violent, irreparably damaging the legitimacy of the Oklahoma Republican Party leadership and, by extension, the Republican presidential nominating process those leaders so brazenly abused.

Over the past several days, social and news media erupted with clips of Ron Paul supporters being physically assaulted by Mitt Romney followers and of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin being drowned out by chants of “Ron Paul!” after pejoratively referring to Paul and his supporters in attendance as “Obama lovers.” As is often the case in today’s media, however, the most sensational controversies that erupted in Norman, OK, on May 12 were also the least consequential. Tensions run high, passions run deep. Heated exchanges and a raucous atmosphere are inevitable. Such behavior, while not altogether acceptable, is at least understandable.

The real story that should come out of the convention is the state party’s abdication of its most basic responsibilities toward the convened delegates and toward dissenting voices within the Republican Party.

A sampling of the more egregious violations of party and convention rules:

● Delegates checking into the convention were not asked to show ID to collect their badges. Aside from the obvious potential for manipulation in such a loose credentialing process, it struck many of us as odd that a party hell-bent on pushing voter ID laws couldn’t be bothered to ID voters at its own convention.

● The delegates were seated around 11:00 a.m., but the convention was delayed while “problems” with the credentials were handled. The credentialing committee eventually did present its report around 1:30 p.m. (roughly three hours late). At this time, there were approximately 1,200 delegates, according to the report. After the reading of the credentials report, State Vice-Chair Pam Pollard admitted that the count was inaccurate and that there were some 22 delegates that needed to be added due to some confusion at the county level. When the new counts were announced, more than 200 delegates had been added. Points of order were made regarding this. They were dismissed. No motion was ever made to properly amend the credentials report and no vote was ever taken accepting the final report. As a result, those delegates should have never been seated. The party leaders opted to move on without a proper vote on or acceptance of the credentials. Ultimately, the permanent roll of the convention was not certified until roughly 6:00 p.m.

● The election of 25 delegates and 25 alternates to the Republican National Convention (the primary purpose of the convention) was conducted by voice vote and standing vote, in clear violation of party rules. State Party Rule 18.D explicitly states, “Election of the Delegates-at-Large and Alternates-at- Large shall be by roll call vote.” That plainly did not happen, and points of order demanding the rules be followed were simply ignored. This rule is as plain as it gets, and the party has yet to offer any explanation. As a result, and in order to prevent the entire delegation from being discredited by the RNC, those of us who continued the convention outside held a proper roll call vote (by written ballot) on the delegate slates at approximately 7:00 p.m.

● Massive improprieties that occurred at the Congressional District 1 (Tulsa area) convention were brought to the floor at about 4:45 p.m. (ironically, the biggest impropriety in the CD1 convention was the refusal of its chair to take a roll call vote as required by the rules). Before a proper vote could be taken, hotel personnel (on orders from the GOP, a hotel employee told us) began moving mobile partitions into the room, literally blocking roughly a third of the delegates (including the very delegates whose district was at issue) from the view of Oklahoma GOP Chair Matt Pinnell, Convention Chair Marc Nuttle, and the rest of the room. Incredibly, Nuttle held a vote on how to resolve the District 1 issue while many delegates from District 1 were behind a wall and out of Nuttle’s view.  Matt Pinnell spoke in favor of tabling the issue, and, unsurprisingly, Pinnell got his way on that vote. Appeals and calls for a division of the house (i.e., a formal vote) were not heard, in violation of the rules.

● With the walls still shutting out a third of the convention, Pinnell entertained a motion to adjourn the convention. The motion clearly failed the voice vote. Undeterred by the wall preventing a third of the convention from being seen, Nuttle then ordered a standing vote on the motion, from which he promptly declared the motion passed, absconded from the stage, and turned out the lights as he fled the room (As you can see here, the panels move into place on the left side, and the motion to adjourn obviously fails both the voice vote and the standing count before the lights go out). Having never properly adjourned the convention, both Nuttle and Pinnell abdicated, leaving the delegates to continue with business in the parking lot.

That is by no means an exhaustive list of improprieties on the part of the Oklahoma Republican Party. The entire process was riddled with a pernicious mixture of corruption and incompetence. There were hundreds more votes cast and counted than there were delegates in the hall, and Pinnell repeatedly disregarded the most explicit rules, and the delegates were forced into the parking lot in order for any official business to be done properly.

Once Pinnell & Co. fled the scene, the convention continued civilly and within the rules. All official business was conducted and concluded in compliance with the rules, and dozens of people around the world watching the stream of the convention online even chipped in to have pizzas delivered to the now-starving delegates. The convention was finally adjourned by unanimous vote around 9:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after it began.

We in the liberty movement have come to expect a certain level of vitriol at Republican functions. After all, we represent a complete rejection of the abject authoritarianism that has come to control the discourse of both major parties in this country. Liberty and authoritarianism are mutually exclusive, and thus their respective adherents are destined for tension. We’ll take their catcalls and curses, we’ll take their thrown bottles and fists; all we ask is that they follow the rules (their rules). Matt Pinnell and the rest of the GOP brass in Oklahoma put their personal preferences before their principles, and the entire Republican Party was irreparably damaged as a result.

The most fundamental principles of our republic are threatened from within, but hey: at least there’s free pizza!

Adam Bates is an Oklahoma State Republican Convention delegate.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Oklahoma GOP Chair Matt Pinnell held a vote on how to resolve a controversy involving improprieties at the Congressional District 1 convention while many delegates from District 1 were behind a wall. In fact, that was Convention Chair Marc Nuttle, not Pinnell.