The 2022 State Convention for the North Dakota Republican Party (NDGOP) saw record attendance this last Saturday. Over 2,300 delegates were seated at that event. Unfortunately, that was probably the most impressive thing about it— with the exception of U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker’s speech. The event itself wasn’t just underwhelming— it was bad.
The way the convention played out left both long-time Republicans and first timers shaking their heads in disappointment. A number of those who have been around a while communicated to me that this was the worst they’d seen. The sentiments of those new to the process were probably summed up best by one delegate who told me that her concern is that other newbies may think this is normal and never participate again. None of this reflects well on the party.
So, what were some of the problems? Let’s break it down.
For those who have attended conventions before, there was two things that quickly became problematic. First, the convention itself was planned as a one-day event. In previous years, it was two. To complicate matters even more, the powers that be somehow decided starting at 11am was a good idea. Well, it wasn’t. In fact, for reasons I’ll explain below, it resulted in some problems later in the program.
Sound & Mic Problems
One of the things that plagued the entire convention was sound issues. There were numerous complaints from delegates that were unable to hear the proceedings. That’s terribly problematic for a gathering such as this.
To top it off, there were also a number of times that delegates went to the mics only to find them muted and unable to speak. Yet, for some reason one of the floor mics — that had been problematic for others on multiple occasions — somehow magically worked when Senator Kevin Cramer stepped to it. Intentional or not, that wasn’t a good look.
While kind of mundane, one of the important aspects of a convention is the credentials report. It’s not only important that delegates are credentialed appropriately and seated but knowing how many delegates there are is essential. These numbers are what’s used to determine a quorum, issue ballots, and to confirm that vote totals are appropriate. But right off the bat, there were problems with credentials. The solution? Go to lunch. That’s right. The convention was delayed for about an hour to try and remedy the issues they were facing.
It’s not entirely uncommon to have credentialing delays. It’s obviously quite a task to ensure 47 districts and all their delegates are in order. But combine whatever challenges they had there with the aforementioned 11am start time and things weren’t off to a good start.
I don’t want to get too deep into this one. I wrote about it to some degree yesterday when I explained how the establishment silenced delegates. What it boils down to is a distinct difference in the way establishment Republicans view the party apparatus versus the grassroots. Schafer and his cohorts view the party as being a product of the government. The “rogue” conservatives that drive them crazy believe in grassroots activism, checks and balances, free speech, and the right of assembly as the basis for the party.
The fundamental question at hand was what kind of organization the NDGOP is. Is it permanent or temporary? It’s an “in the weeds” question in the minds of some, but it’s an important one, nonetheless. Especially for organizations that use Robert’s Rules of Order. If the NDGOP is a temporary organization — meaning their authority to exist runs from convention to convention — like the national Republican Party appears to be, then silencing the delegates voices in regard to State Party Rules at a convention is highly inappropriate.
The interesting thing was that not even Chairman Perrie Schafer seemed to really know the answer to questions regarding the nature of the organization. The only thing he could do is point to the government being his authority. Kind of an odd angle to take for a party that historically isn’t really high on the government meddling in things— especially a supposedly private organization.
In the end, Schafer used his bully pulpit to end any meaningful debate on State Party Rules and made it very clear that the delegates would have no say in them at this year’s convention.
Silencing the Chair Candidates
Imagine not being able to hear from the candidates you’re going to be voting for. Sounds ridiculous, right? That’s because it is. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened when it came to the race for Permanent Chair of the convention.
State Party Rules mandate that the current State Party Chair — in this case, Perrie Schafer — be the Temporary Chair of the convention. This provides someone to gavel in the meeting and get things rolling. Tradition holds that the State Party Chair is typically elected as Permanent Chair as well. Only this time there were folks in the delegation who didn’t want that. And so, they nominated former State Party Chair Gary Emineth to challenge Schafer for the privilege of conducting the meeting.
It only follows that in a contested race those voting should get to hear from the candidates. Adding to that was the fact that a large segment of the delegates are unfamiliar with both men. So, when the motion was made to allow each of them five minutes to speak, the sensible people in attendance expected that to happen. Unfortunately, in an age of political divisiveness, it wasn’t so. The voice vote was so close that Schafer had to call for a second vote in which everyone stood in favor and against. It pretty much looked 50/50, but Schafer called it for the Nea’s and that was that— no speeches.
To make matters worse, in the aftermath of not allowing speeches, Senator Kevin Cramer took to a floor mic and was permitted to give a speech in favor of Perrie Schafer. Given the circumstances, it was highly inappropriate. But hey, some folks will wield the power to allow such things when it’s convenient for them. And Schafer did just that.
When delegates finally got around to voting in the chair race, a number of districts discovered that they had been allocated the incorrect number of ballots. In some cases, there were too many ballots. In others, there were too few. It was a mess. When it finally got straightened out, Schafer defeated Emineth 1,274 to 999 and became Permanent Chair of the convention. A win? Certainly. A ringing endorsement? Not at all.
Post U.S. Senate Race Outmigration
Following the U.S. Senate race between incumbent John Hoeven and State Representative Rick Becker, things deteriorated quickly. This was due in large part to much of what I’ve mentioned already. With a one-day convention that was dragging on late, because it started late and was ran poorly, delegates seemed to have had enough. After Hoeven was declared the endorsed candidate, flocks of people got up and left. And these weren’t just Becker delegates. Large numbers in both camps got up and walked out. And then it got worse from there.
Things got so bad that by the time resolutions were up for a vote it was questionable whether there were enough delegates to even have a quorum. Between this and how late the convention was running, they put off tallying the votes until yesterday with the Executive Committee and observers. The vote tally confirmed suspicions— there wasn’t enough delegates to make the results count. Because of this, the NDGOP now has no resolutions and will leave it up to the almighty State Committee to decide on their adoption at their June meeting.
As if lacking a quorum on that final vote wasn’t bad enough, the long-awaited video tribute to the late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and longtime Secretary of State Al Jaeger had little more than a skeleton crew to watch it at the end of the program. Honestly, it was embarrassing.
It’s worth noting that back in December the North Dakota Republican State Convention nearly got chopped. It was saved by a matter of a few votes when the proposal to eliminate it failed to meet the 2/3 vote threshold. Among those who support the idea of a primary only system is none other than State Party Chair Perrie Schafer. So, perhaps the takeaway from Saturday is this— From now on people who don’t favor conventions probably shouldn’t be the ones planning them.
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