One of the serious problems facing the Republican Party is that their leadership cadre is aging and ossifying. The people who make up the county and state committees all over the country are getting older and older and increasingly out of touch with the grassroots of the party and the younger people who vote Republican but aren’t at all satisfied with what the party has come to stand for or the way that it is run.
The party desperately needs new blood and younger leaders who can relate to young voters. Yet it’s awfully hard to get the entrenched blue-hairs to open their fists and share a little power, and even when they do they often aren’t comfortable with the results. Young people want to actually do things and stand up for principles and make the party dynamic and effective and for people who are set in their ways and just want to do the same things that have produced mediocre results for years, that’s threatening.
A classic example of this conflict between the dinosaur elite and the younger generation who want to make the GOP an effective party and a party to be proud of is now on display in Tucson Arizona. Last year they elected as Chairman a young Air Force veteran who had just concluded an unsuccessful run for Congress. 36 year old Brian Miller seemed to be the model of what the party leaders were looking for in a younger Republican to join their ranks. He was younger but not too young and had a military background they could admire, plus he was articulate and had already showed his political commitment by running for office.
For a few months it looked like the Pima County GOP was going to move forward and do great things under Miller’s leadership. Then came the horrendous death of Jose Guerena at the hands of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department SWAT Team. Guerena was a decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War who was gunned down unnecessarily in a bizarrely excessive SWAT raid on his home in which he fired no shots and was shot 22 times.
The incident became an international scandal. Miller was understandably outraged by the situation and sent out an email as Pima County Republican Chairman objecting to the tactics used by the police in the raid, writing “It is my hope that this tragic event will lead to a renewed discussion of the policies that routinely lead to heavily armed and militarized local police invading private homes and a renewed interest in the civil liberties codified in our Bill of Rights.”
Miller continued to be personally outspoken about the need for an investigation and accountability in the case, not saying anything much different than the criticisms of the raid in local and national news media, but this began to rankle some members of his County Republican Executive Committee who like many older Republicans subscribe to a law and order mentality which assumed that whatever the police did was right because they were the good guys and anyone they went after was automatically guilty by assumption.
Miller disagreed, citing things like the rule of law and due process and the Bill of Rights, but that didn’t mean much to his critics who accused him of causing “division and chaos” and that his statements “created serious problems for our elected officials.” The Executive Committee board issued a statement condemning their own Chairman and ultimately demanded his resignation. When he refused they voted 10-2 to effectively suspend him as chairman pending a vote of the entire County Executive Committee on the issue of removing Miller from office. That vote would require a 2/3 majority and is scheduled for tonight.
Miller has been waging a quiet campaign to build support for his position in the several weeks leading up to this vote. He has sworn not to give up without a fight. The outcome of the vote is by no means certain, because as is the case in many county parties nationwide the rank and file precinct chairs are a much more diverse than the established leadership and also tend to be younger. With a 2/3 majority required to oust Miller the vote will likely be very close.
Miller has described the campaign against him as a “political witchhunt” and that some on the board are “avenging old political scores.” It seems quite likely that outrage against Miller’s statements in some quarters are being used by others to advance their desire to regain control of the party leadership.
This specific situation is troubling, but what is more worrisome is what it says about the current state of the Republican Party at a key organizational level. This problem is not isolated and it is not unique. It is something the party will need to come to terms with if it is to survive. It is unhealthy to suppress the next generation of leadership and alienating Republicans who want to be involved from the party leadership is a sure formula for disaster.
It’s a particularly ugly situation because in this case Miller was just speaking up for principles which he grew up believing were what the Republican Party stood for. The party claims that it champions civil liberties, human life and keeping the government off of our backs. The preamble to the Arizona Republican Party Platform says:
“…the citizens of our great state might blossom under
new freedoms borne from less government regulation; and, the prosperity of a society that shall one day come to recognize fully the value of life, the value of each individual, the value of responsibility, the value of the rule of law, and the value of personal dignity.”
Those are the kinds of values the Republican Party is supposed to stand for. In his statements about the Guerena case Brian Miller was clearly concerned about those very issues, justifiably angry that Guerena was deprived of life and dignity and his individual rights in violation of the rule of law and the kind of responsibility we should expect of our government and its agents.
Miller merely asked his fellow Republicans to stand up for the values they claim to believe in and that got him labeled a traitor. What kind of message does that send to the other young Republicans around the country who might want to get involved in the party? What kind of party is represented by that kind of hypocrisy?
More and more it has become clear that we have two Republican Parties in the United States. One is dedicated to principles and one is dedicated to holding on desperately to status and position and failed ideas. The party of principles is the party which Brian Miller spoke for which he spoke up for Jose Guerena. That’s the Republican Party I want to be part of.
This article appeared previously on Blogcritics Magazine