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February 28, 2008

Inside The Smoke-Filled Back Room…

Chris Cavey

The world of party politics is a strange entanglement of political clubs, candidate campaigns, entourages of elected officials and the organized political party apparatus. Many know the value and can recognize the former; but few understand the organization of the party faithful consistently struggling in the trenches – the state central committee.


Both major parties have basically the same structure. Perhaps the nuisances and specific rules are a little different between Democrats and Republicans. However, the goals are the same: raise money for the party, support candidates, organize jurisdictions and labor tirelessly for your party. You have to be dedicated to work the hours many committee members do; and it’s all without monetary compensation.


You the voter elected your local county committee members. Yep, the law allows for party positions to be elected on the public ballot during the Gubernatorial Primary Election. The last selections on the ballot are the people who exercise a unique political appointment power.


Two instances arise where the lowly central committee member grabs the political front row. First when they are called upon to replace an elected official who has vacated a seat mid-term, and sending delegates at-large to the party’s national convention. In both cases these individuals become everyone’s best friends.


When an elected official vacates a seat, regardless of the reason, the central committee of that official’s political party gathers to nominate a replacement for that position, who will then be appointed by the governor to fulfill the balance of the term.


A current example is the Washington County Republican State Central Committee, which will select a replacement for former Del. Bob McKee. That’s right, in this case the job of selection falls to only nine people elected by Washington County Republicans for such a duty, if and when needed.


Interestingly, county central committees have no set rules for these selections because none are prescribed by any code or law. They can work in the open or in the secret, their choice; and they are not subject to Maryland’s open meeting laws, due to the fact they are not “elected public or government officials” but instead “elected party officials.”


Frankly, they can make their selection by hiding in the dark and throwing darts at a local phone book or drawing a name from a fishbowl. Luckily this won’t ever happen because “committee members” are dedicated, understand the local community and have every desire to make sure their selection retains the appointed seat for their party during the next election cycle.


The second wielding of central committee power happens every four years when at-large delegate selections are made for the national conventions. In the world of party politics the national convention is like a trip to the Super Bowl. The entire state central committee, members from all county jurisdictions, will gather and elect just a small handful of at-large representatives for their state.


In the Republican world, dozens of party “players,” elected officials, former elected officials and members from the state central committee’s body will vie for a mere 20 slots…just 10 delegates and 10 alternate delegates.


This national convention trip is at the person’s own expense and many times it can be very expensive with five or six day hotel, meals, travel, convention fees, etc.


But, like the Super Bowl, or the World Series. seating is limited, so it is a political junkie’s dream.


Perhaps a moral for this short lesson on internal party politics is: If you want to go to the national convention, or if you are in line for a possible appointment, you have to get elected by the party faithful…and they already know who’s been naughty or nice.


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