I just returned from an intense and inspiring weekend at the RLC National Convention, hosted by the great folks at the RLC of Florida in humid but congenial Jacksonville. I wish I could have reported during the convention but there was so much going on and so many people to talk to that I didn’t have have a chance to sit down and write anything substantial until it was all over.
Sarah Lovett, Will Pitts, Mark Cross and all the great folks at the dynamic and growing RLC chapter here have really gone above and beyond to put on a great convention for their state and to generously share so much of what they’ve done with delegates from other parts of the country and the national organization. Their efforts on behalf of the National RLC have been above and beyond the call of duty and they are an example for other states to follow in how to manage rapid growth and deal with the struggles which come with that growth in positive and productive ways. It’s very clear from the hard work and dedication I have seen here that they are going to be enormously successful in reawakening the Republican Party in Florida to the ideas of individual liberty, responsible government and fiscal responsibility.
My role at the Convention as Vice Chairman of the National RLC was to fill in for Chairman Bill Westmiller who could not attend and run the business meeting on Saturday morning and supervise the election of new officers. I was also there to meet libertty advocates from all over the country, make some new friends and connections, and gather ideas on how to move the RLC forward to greater success and take advantage of this period of flux within the GOP to make our liberty message more central to the party agenda.
Convention business started first thing Saturday and it was a very long and busy day and wiped me out. There may be a video on YouTube sometime soon which shows me stumbling through an awards ceremony at around 10pm, bleary eyed and barely coherent. I did at least manage not to fall off of the stage.
Overall events on Saturday went very smoothly, though the schedule got a bit out of hand. Attendance exceeded expectations with close to 150 people there, including a strong showing from outside of Florida, with representatives from Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. About 100 qualified delegates turned out for the national RLC meeting on Saturday morning.
The business meeting went nicely, despite the fact that I was running it based on parliamentary experience acquired primarily at meetings where you don’t bang the first gavel until everyone is at least on their second drink. My management style was a balance of the pragmatically informal and the things I was able to glean and remember from a quick reread of Roberts Rules of Order. I did have the help of parliamentarian Louis Rose, who was understanding about my laxity with some of the rules and helped out cheerfully when needed.
The positive tone of the meeting was a pleasant surprise for me with my varied and not always happy experience of political meetings in Texas which have sometimes been contentious and acrimonious. The mood here was more collaborative and congenial. In fact, it was so nice that I may have stretched the rules a little bit to allow more latitude than I should have because I was so happy to see delegates working together in a positive way.
We passed a set of bylaw revisions first. The most significant of these was the creation of five regional districts so that we can add regional coordinators to the board who help with chapters in the states in their regions. That idea was warmly received and passed unanimously, as did most of the rest of the proposed changes with the occasional token Ron Paul style no vote from RLC board member Jeff Palmer. Jeff’s contributions stood out, as did RLC founding member Eric Rittberg’s enthusiastic cheerleading during several key parts of the proceedings. There were a couple of small unexpected proposals for wording changes in the bylaws, which I thought were relatively meaningless and more aesthetic than substantive, but I allowed them as a gesture of respect to the delegates.
We then held officer elections, which included a vote for Chairman during which I yielded the gavel to RLC Treasurer Mark Cross as I was a candidate. We had a huge number of nominations for at-large positions on the board and had to pick from more than a dozen candidates for 3 seats and 3 alternates. The final results were:
Dave Nalle (TX), Chairman
Mark Cross (FL), Vice Chairman
Aaron Biterman (VA), Secretary
Bill Westmiller (CA), Treasurer
Bryan Haddock (TN), At-Large
Dan Sheill (MI), At-Large
Jeff Palmer (NC), At-Large
Steven Talcott-Smith (FL), Alternate
Eric Wall (FL), Alternate
Steve Wright (MD), Alternate
John Orlando (MD), Alternate
As you’ll notice, there are four alternates when there were supposed to be three. There was a tie for the third alternate spot, so after lunch we very briefly reconvened and voted to allow a fourth alternate on the basis that the bylaws don’t explicitly say we can’t have more than 3 alternates, and on the theory that having another alternate can’t do any harm — plus we didn’t want any hard feelings among our feisty new Maryland chapter members. Many of those in the election for at large spots were not in attendance, but had their names put in nomination as a courtesy by members of the delegation who rose to speak on their behalf. Of those absentee nominees only Dan Sheill of Michigan won a spot. The rest will be invited to join one of the new committees which we are forming over the next few weeks. That will give them excellent opportunities for substantive involvement and lift some of the work burden off of the board.
Later on Saturday there was a dinner featuring speakers and awards and a tasty Mediterranean-style buffet. Will Pitts of the Florida RLC opened the ceremonies, followed by Sirius talk radio host Mike Church, local candidate State Senate candidate Dan Quiggle and Dr. Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education.
In addition to his presence at the RLC Convention, Larry Reed also address the Palm Beach County Republican Club, including the Executive Committee members, on April 3.
At the Convention, Mike Church was quite a rabble-rouser and Quiggle had interesting stories to relate from his time in the Reagan White House. Reed was a bit dry and monotone but gave an interesting lecture on the Depression. By that time I was barely conscious — working on 3 hours sleep and 15 hours of convention — but I struggled up to the podium and I think I made a rather stirring introduction with some nice things to say about our activist members and especially the Florida chapter and their great job hosting the convention.
Other speakers included Ivan Osorio of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, John Hallman of the Florida Taxpayers Union, Allen Douglas of the National Federation of Independent Business and author-activist Matt Falconer. Several candidates and politicians attended and participated including State House candidate Dean Santoro, U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Marion Thorpe, and former Maryland Delegate Don Murphy. Special thanks to Lenny Curry, Duval County Republican Party Chairman, for answering tough questions about the future of the Republican Party and the party’s willingness to work with limited government Republicans.
So I started to give out awards and realized that very few of those we have awards for except for a few Floridians has already fled the increasingly empty hall and those who are left look tired and testy. But I did manage to stumble through and get our attractive certificates given out with some backup from the equally exhausted Mark Cross. There were activist awards for some of our most successful chapter organizers including Adina Cappell from California, David FitzSimmons and Norann Dillon from Minnesota, and Phil Blumel and Will Pitts from Florida. I think I also managed to do a pretty good job of giving the Chairman’s Award to Aaron Biterman on behalf of outgoing Chairman Bill Westmiller. And I have to say that Aaron’s tireless competence and remarkable command of information and resources is even more impressive when you meet him face-to-face and realize that all that knowledge is stored in his head available for instant recall. No one is as competent or deserving of recognition for his work as Aaron.
Further awards went to B. J. Lawson for his exceptional work as a congressional candidate and to Jeff Palmer of North Carolina for his work in launching two state chapters and making the RLC strong nationwide. Awards also went to featured speaker Lawrence Reed for his work in promoting free market economics and Sarah Lovett for her fantastic job organizing the Jacksonville convention on short notice. After I was done, Mark Cross gave out additional awards for the Florida chapter, but I was barely conscious by that point and ready to stumble off to bed with dreams of the very cool stylized eagle-head trophy — which Richard Bradfield Lee had found for the Floridians to use as their premier award.
On Sunday the Florida RLC had its business meeting and by all accounts it went very well. I’d report on it, but I only peeked in a couple of times because I spent the morning eating brunch and chatting with delegates from some of our other chapters about what we can do to grow the RLC and make our efforts more effective. Steve Wright and John Orlando from Maryland had a lot of great ideas to offer and Dan Halloran and Vito Palmieri from New York shared some of their campaign experiences and suggestions.
From there we went to the first meeting for the new executive board, with Jeff Palmer (who had gone home), Dan Sheill (in MI), Bill Westmiller (in CA) and Mark Cross (who was still in the Florida meeting) absent and our two Maryland alternates filling out the quorum. The meeting was informal, but productive. There are things you can get done quickly face to face which you just can’t do as easily in a teleconference. We talked a lot about fundraising and ways to get the RLC National organization the resources it needs to achieve the goal of chartering 12 new states in the next year. We also did preliminary planning for setting up committees to which we can delegate some of the work which the board has been doing, including press relations, finances and fundraising, technology and endorsements. As we were discussing putting together a packet of materials to provide new chapters with information and tools to help them get started, Steven Talcott Smith arrived from the Florida meeting carrying a binder of materials which Florida had developed for their sub-chapters which was exactly the kind of thing we were talking about assembling. They had already done our work for us, and later on Mark Cross gave me all of the materials on CD, so drawing on Florida’s expertise we’re on our way to putting together a really helpful packet for new chapters and state coordinators. Not long after that it was time to catch afternoon flights out of Jacksonville and we had to adjourn the meeting, but we’d accomplished a great deal in a few hours.
Just reporting the official events doesn’t really do justice to what was going on in Jacksonville. The real action was in the hallways and the atrium and over meals and drinks, where delegates from all over gathered enthusiastically to share ideas and pick each others’ brains and find ways to work together to help make the RLC bigger, better and more effective in getting its message out. I got to meet and talk to an inspiring group of activists, from long-time RLC members like Phil Blumel, Eric Rittberg and Jeff Palmer to enthusiastic newcomers like Will Pitts, John Orlando, Steve Wright, Bryan Haddock, Dan Halloran and too many others to name. They all had good ideas and the enthusiasm to make those ideas a reality. Special recognition was given to past Chairman Bill Westmiller for his service to the RLC. To get a feel for the convention, check out the photo collection at RLC.org.
I came away from the convention convinced that we can really accomplish great things with the RLC if we can export the kind of energy I saw in Jacksonville nationwide in this time when the GOP is looking for renewal and inspiration, which we have in abundance. In the next year I see three main goals for the RLC:
• Expand fundraising so we can afford a small permanent staff and a budget for travel and other expenses.
• Charter at least 12 new state chapters and provide all of the chapters with a Florida-style coordinator’s toolkit.
• Raise the profile of the RLC by capitalizing on key issues and events to promote our viewpoint in online, print and broadcast media.
Thanks to everyone who was in Jacksonville for putting on a great convention and helping to build the RLC. I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months.