THE LAST AMERICAN PRESIDENT

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Opinion & Analysis

The Precinct Meeting - a dinosaur that refuses to die

February 20, 2015 12:38 pm - By: Richard V. Engle

Time was that Americans were less mobile.  Politics was ordinarily accomplished within neighborhoods.  People interacted with those they knew best, their neighbors with whom they lived, shopped, worked and worshipped.


Today, we still most often have influence with those friends, family and co-workers however they are seldom our next door neighbors.  Few attend church in their neighborhood, shop exclusively at the stores nearest their residence or work within walking distance of home.  We count as our best friends people from across the nation or even the world as we maintain contact via social media. Few of us are intimate with our closest neighbors and it is not unusual to be unfamiliar with the names of the inhabitants of even one home we can view from our front doors. I grieve for the loss of neighborliness and wane for the joys of days gone by.  However, our political party systems should adjust accordingly so as to accommodate reality and retain effectiveness.
Precinct Meeting Photo

The rules of the Oklahoma Republican Party, and the rules of a significant other state parties, call for a meeting of all Republicans within a precinct.  Those meetings have diminished in attendance since the 1980's.


Not one County GOP organization in the state has consistently honored the rules of the party and have ignored them for a variety of reasons.


Large Counties have found that organizing hundreds of meetings at the same day and time to be cumbersome, ineffective and often disenfranchising.  In some circumstances a precinct chair elected at the previous year's meeting, by his own family, may chose to hold the next meeting over a dinner table without inviting or even allowing others to attend.  As every county party official is busy at their own meeting there is no accountability for the failure of a precinct chair to allow their neighbors into the meeting.  In 2012 a significant number of Tulsa County grassroots activists were disallowed from becoming Delegates to their own county convention because they were not permitted to attend their local precinct meeting.  Even Dan Keating, twin brother of our former Governor, was turned away from the county convention because he was not permitted access to his precinct meeting.


Most small counties have adopted the habit of having a single mass meeting of any Republicans within the county and holding a county convention without the bother of acknowledging the premise of precinct meetings.  Or they might hold the precinct meetings for a few moments prior to the county convention at one location for the whole county.


In some of the mid-sized counties a habit of holding joint precinct meetings in a few central locations easily accessible by most has been adopted.  In these cases the meeting room is set up with distinct tables for each precinct and a party official guides the disparate groups in the process.  While this form nearly adheres to the rules of the party it still violates them by pushing the meetings out of the precinct and to a central location.  Additionally, it illustrates the fact that the precinct is no longer the best place for the process to begin.


Many years ago, Oklahoma County adopted a concept of State House District organization.  Found nowhere in the party rules it divides the county among the State House districts within the county.  Many districts are completely within the county and thus the organization is significant and others are only partially within the county and in such cases only a few (or even one) precinct make up a House district organization with a Chair appointed by the County Chairman. The party rules call for the County Committee to be the ultimate authority of the County party but few counties ever have that committee meet more than once prior to the county convention and many don't even do that!  Most county party organizations instead operate by the rule of the county chair, the county Central Committee (the elected officers) or the Executive Committee which is largely made of at will appointees of the Chair and Vice Chair. 


The facade of grassroots control is most often lost in the mix.


While the rules are as they are, they should be adhered to.  Recently, in Tulsa County a controversy arose in that some Precinct Chairs wanted to hold their Precinct meetings within the precinct itself instead of moving to the Executive Committee determined central location.  This probably should have been a controversy in many other counties, but few are inclined to stand up to the leaders in favor of a system that has clearly lost much of its value.


If the import of the party process were to be reinvigorated by an improved import in the electoral process (such as a caucus system which has local TV in many precinct meetings in Iowa with scores if not hundreds in attendance) then perhaps local precinct organization would again be the best first step.  This type of mass activism is not likely in our lifetimes.


Another option stares us in the face.  When you have a rule that is universally ignored (though in differing ways in differing places) you should seriously consider a change.


A suggested alternative is to have any county that is entirely within one State House district to hold its County convention as a mass meeting of any Republicans who wish to attend.  That convention would do all the business of a convention currently called for by the rules and it would also elect a County Committee of one person from each Precinct.  If only one person is present from a precinct then that person is duly elected to the committee for the next year (two years in some cases) and the committee could further fill its ranks as it meets through the year by adding active Republicans they identify in those vacant seats.


In counties that are divided by House district lines the initial meeting of Republicans would be those who are registered within the precincts that are both within the county and within the district lines.  Any Republican within both the county and the House District would be welcomed to attend and vote much as has been the intent in the Precinct Meetings.  Again, they would elect County Committee members by precinct as the small counties do but by district.  The House District meetings would also elect Delegates to the County convention just as the Precinct Meetings are currently intended.


We might wish for the invigorated activism that requires localized meetings within the geography that is served by each and every polling place (that's what a precinct is) but we should realize that if the rules will not be observed as they are, the corruption that can result will severely harm the party and its efforts to maintain credibility with the general public.


When lawlessness is commonplace for one law the result is often a general disregard for all laws.  Similarly, for an organization such as a political party, if the rules are ignored in one area the result will be a general disregard for all the rules.  We accomplish nothing good by grasping tightly to a rule that simply will not be honored. 


The time for a change is upon us.





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Meet Richard Engle

Richard Engle

Richard Engle is a Past President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies which is the nation's largest and oldest Republican support organization.

Richard was twice elected to his local city council and twice elected to the Oklahoma delegation to the Republican National Convention including serving on the National Rules Committee in 2000 where he successfully placed a minority report on the floor of the convention - the first, and most recent since Ronald Reagan did the same in 1976.

Richard is President of BellWest America. Richard and Denise, his wife of nearly 30 years, live in Oklahoma City. Denise Engle serves as Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the State of Oklahoma. Richard speaks and writes often on matters of public policy.


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