Maine’s Delegate Train Wreck

The Maine delegation to the Republican National Convention next week is a hot mess.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to this evolving soap opera – and trust me I don’t blame you for not – an internal fight within the Republican Party has emerged over who is going to Tampa to represent the state.

In May, the Republican Party of Maine held their state convention, in which the delegates to the national convention were selected.  There, supporters of Congressman Ron Paul were able to stage a mini-coup, and elected a slate of twenty Paul supporters to be those delegates.

Many Romney supporters cried foul at how the convention was conducted, and an official challenge to the results was eventually filed by Peter Cianchette and Jan Staples.

The challenge was eviscerated by Paul-ites, who viewed it as the dying cough of a fading establishment within the Republican Party.  They believe that such a challenge was engineered to squash the will of the people in favor of propping up old hand political hacks.

According to Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster, the RNC’s Committee on Contests met on Wednesday to consider the challenge, and concluded that many rules were indeed broken.  Poor security and lax credentialing, according to the committee, allowed unqualified participants to cast votes, delegitimizing the results.

A deal has since been offered that would split the delegation, with half being Paul delegates and half being Romney delegates.

As of right now, the Paul contingent insists that it is sticking to its “all or nothing” strategy.  Either all of them are seated, or none of them will be, they say.  If true, they may be choosing the latter as the RNC’s plan is to select delegates themselves if no compromise is reached.

The real problem here, though, isn’t the establishment or the fiery anti-establishment.  This fight really isn’t either of their faults.  To be perfectly honest, the Ron Paul folks have a point.  And the people challenging the Ron Paul folks have a point too.

No, the real problem is this ludicrous system that both parties use to select presidents.

Caucuses are an absolute joke, driving down turnout and giving power to monied establishment types and hyper-organized, radical activists to the detriment of everyone else.  They don’t reflect the will of a state’s political party any more than a collection of investment bankers and granola environmentalists represent the rest of America.

And the possibility of delegates being chosen in the way that they were at Maine’s convention is an even sadder joke.

Contrary to what the Ron Paul people have been saying, Ron Paul did not “win Maine”, he actually lost the caucus straw poll.  The very best they could argue is that he fought Romney to parity among the Republicans in Maine, and even that was due to the fact that their small numbers and organizational prowess could make Paul’s support look larger than it was.

A well engineered coup of the system to install a slate of your delegates may be a laudable example of political activism, but it is not democracy.  I don’t blame them for doing it, because they were well within their rights to try (and succeed) at doing so, but I think I could do without the righteous affectation.

In the end, everyone lost, and nobody won.  This is the least instructive example of representative democracy I can imagine.

This should serve as a rallying point to reform the party selection process in Maine.  It is time to move to a primary, and have delegates to the convention – selected by the candidates themselves – proportionally awarded based on share of the vote received state-wide.

But as for the current conundrum, the Ron Paul folks should take the deal.  Romney won the straw poll and deserved to have at least as many delegates as Ron Paul to begin with.

That reflective, proportional allocation was thrown aside, and it turns out it was thrown aside while convention rules were flouted.  Any kind of superior moral authority resulting from the win is now gone.  You can’t decry the establishment gaming the system to cling to power if your own success is stained with irregularities, tricks, and rule-breaking.

Ten delegates each is fair, it is basically reflective of the will of the Maine Republican voter, and it is probably the best result either side could hope for.  Take the deal, and I will hopefully see you in Tampa.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.