My criticisms of the modern-day Republican Party, especially lately, are legion. My regular readers know this and, as it happens, most happen to agree with my characterization that, generally speaking, the party is anything but an enclave for the constitutionally conservative.
I believe my criticisms are warranted, but as a newspaper man first and an op-ed writer second, it's important to me to make sure my readers also know I'm being fair-minded and on the level with them.
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That's why I've decided to reprint, with permission, excerpts of a tome written and sent to me by Grant Noble, an Illinois resident and gifted political analyst.
He believes that control of the political processes on the national and state levels begin at what I am calling the "basic cellular level" of the American body politic: the county committees. If conservatives can control that level of politics, he says, they can become more powerful than the president himself or any congressional caucus currently in existence.
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Here's how it's done, according to Mr. Noble:
- If you want to change things, change the laws. Remember all the nonsense we learned in school about "coequal branches of government?" Actually the founding fathers made Congress far and away the most powerful branch because it was "closest to the people."
The president can't spend a dime unless Congress authorizes it. Congress can reject treaties and presidential appointments, mandate programs the president doesn't want (by overriding vetoes) and even determine if the Supreme Court can rule on a case (Article III, section 2, "... the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction ... with such exceptions and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.").
Because our state constitutions are modeled after the federal Constitution, it's the same story at the local level. Governors and state supreme-court justices have some influence, but [the] ultimate power lies in the same legislature that passes the laws and determines what happen in our society. Unfortunately, most legislatures are dominated by liberals.
- To change laws, change the lawmakers. No citizens or group can possibly keep up with the thousands of laws passed each year by U.S. legislatures. Sure, a big protest campaign can change a vote or two. But after all the shouting is over, sometime down the road, liberal legislators quietly pass whatever they wanted in the first place. There's really no substitute for legislators we can count on whether our eyes are on them or not.
- Our people have to be on the ballot to get elected. When was the last time you were really enthusiastic about a candidate? How often do you vote for the "lesser of two evils"? Ever wonder why, despite the rhetoric, both major parties promote anti-conservative policies after they are elected?
- To get on the ballot, our people have to win a major-party primary. Except in very rare cases, everyone we elected in the fall won a major-party primary. Because one party usually dominates a district, 90 percent of legislative seats are actually decided in the dominant party primary, not in the fall. Usually no more than 20 percent of registered voters bother to vote in these all important primaries. In dominant party primaries with multiple candidates (very common after an incumbent retires), normally less than seven percent of registered voters determine who goes to the legislature (Campaigns and Elections magazine says 108 major-party nominations for governor or U.S. Senate in the 1990's went to candidates who won with less than 50 percent of the primary vote). Since only about half of the eligible population bothers to register to vote, I estimate about four percent are telling all the rest of us what to do!
Some na?ve conservatives fall for third-party appeals of "conservative" leaders who are more interested in fundraising than results. But our "winner-take- all" system (like England and Canada) does not provide for proportional representation. Ten percent of the voters in a general election get nothing. Ten percent of the voters in the primary of the party that dominates a district usually wins a legislative seat.
- Party endorsed candidates win the primary. Sometimes candidates endorsed by their party lose primaries, but it's rare. Endorsements mean you get party money plus party workers who will pass out sample ballots with your name prominently endorsed. Primary voters are no different than anyone else. They don't have a lot of time to study the qualifications of primary candidates and their stands on the issues. Usually they see the party endorsements, assume "the Party knows best" and punch the appropriate holes.
There are state, ward and township party organizations, but the basic unit of U.S. government is the county. In nearly every case, the party endorsements the primary voter sees are made by a county executive committee. This executive committee is usually elected by the county's precinct committeemen. These committeemen are elected in the party primary from every precinct (normally about 500 voters) in the county.
In some states the office of precinct committeeman goes under another name (in Michigan, they are called precinct delegates; in Ohio, it is precinct executive). Sometimes (as in Illinois' Cook County), the county executive committee is elected by primary voters from an entire ward, township or county. But such widespread voting for a major party's county executive committee is the exception, not the rule. Normally it is the locally-elected precinct committeemen who ultimately control endorsements.
Each state has slightly different rules for getting on the primary ballot for committeeman. For example, in Illinois (outside Cook County) you must file the signatures of any 10 registered voters in your precinct 90 days before the primary. In Ohio, you must file five signatures 75 days before the primary from voters who either voted in your party's primary or didn't vote in any primary in the last two years. The rules (and the name of the office) may differ slightly from state to state, but it's usually easy to get on the ballot to run as a committeeman.
- It's not necessary to have a majority of the county committeemen to influence the endorsement process.
Here's how it works in my home county, Lake County, Illinois. Lake County is mostly Republican. To advance their agenda, liberals get elected as Republican committeemen. There are about 400 precincts in Lake County. Normally about 100 are "vacant", i.e., nobody ran for Republican committeeman in the last primary. Of the 300 or so elected committeemen, about 10 percent are conservatives, 15 percent are liberals and the rest "regulars" mainly interested in patronage and power who usually could care less about issues like abortion, "gay rights," gun control, etc.
Say X and Y are running for Lake County's executive committee. Each has half of the "regulars." Where are they going to get the necessary voters to get a majority? From 45 liberals or 30 conservatives? And once elected, who do you think the winning candidate is going to endorse in the next primary – a liberal Republican or a conservative? That's why most of Lake County's officials vote liberal, despite an overwhelming Republican vote. That's how 45 people in a county of 520,000 control the endorsement process. In my county, it's not four percent telling all the rest of us what to do, it's less than one hundredth of one percent!
Occasionally, some rich amateur will dump millions into a campaign and become a senator or governor overnight. But for the vast majority of politicians, it's a long, slow grind to the top. Each step of the ladder, they need a party endorsement – endorsements which in both parties are dominated by liberals. Is it any wonder why we get the government we do?
In summary, to change things, we must change the laws. To change the laws, we must change the people making them. To get elected, our people must get on the ballot. To get on the ballot, they must win a major-party primary. To win the primary, they should get endorsed by their party. To get a party endorsement, we must find, train and elect precinct committeemen who will in turn elect the people who make party endorsements. Precinct committeeman is the most powerful office in the world because committeemen ultimately determine who goes to Washington, D.C., and our state capitol.
- The most powerful office in the world is easy to get! Lake County is typical among U.S. counties. Twenty-five percent of the committeeman spots of the dominant party are normally "vacant." In these precincts, if you get on the primary ballot with no primary opponent, the only way you can lose is through an almost impossible write-in campaign.
In the other 75 percent of precincts, you will probably have to oust an incumbent committeeman (sometimes they withdraw rather than fight). But most incumbent committeemen are patronage hacks who do little besides drop off party literature and endorsements (when was the last time any committeeman came to your door?). Fifty dollars for literature, a few weekends visiting the hundred or so homes that might vote in your party's primary and any dedicated conservative can win.
In my experience in Illinois, it's very rare for a conservative who follows the formula above to lose to a "regular" Republican committeeman – even a "regular" who has had the office for decades. I've even seen one-issue zealots who insisted on converting everyone to their cause (pro-life, gun rights, etc.) eke out wins. Those who follow our advice and say, "I'd like to represent your views to the Republican Party. What do you think are the most important issues?" usually win 2 to 1. Of course, being a conservative is harder in the Democratic Party. But there are many "Reagan Democrat" areas where conservatives can win and the Democrat party is the only game in town. As the 1992 presidential election proved, it's a mistake to put all our conservative eggs in one party's rickety basket. Believe me, liberals never make that mistake. They always join the dominant party of their area, no matter which it is. Voting for the executive committee and determining those critical primary endorsements are by far the most important powers of precinct committeemen.
Committeemen influence or control most party matters. If the Republicans dump pro-life and other conservative positions from their party platform, it won't be because of election results. It will be due to a handful of liberals who have patiently wormed their way to high party positions, starting as precinct committeemen.
Now you know how our government actually works, just like the average liberal does. You can continue to picket, write letters to the editor and your congressman or work in another losing, non-endorsed primary campaign – all the things that have gotten conservatives nowhere the last 60 years. Or you can stop wasting time, run for precinct committeeman and start using the liberals' secret weapon against them.
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And there you have it. Thanks to Mr. Noble for sending this.