At the Texas Republican convention, while a lot of eyes were focused on the efforts of Ron Paul supporters to become part of the national delegation, the more interesting fight for many Liberty Republicans was over the platform and what it might say about the future character of the Republican Party. Because Texas is the most Republican state in the union: and has such a large presence at the national convention, our platform is looked to as a guide when setting policy for the national party.
I was involved in the platform fight long before arriving at the convention as a delegate. I was an outspoken critic of the 2010 platform, having written several widely read articles critical of its contents and spearheaded a publicity campaign for the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas which targeted the divisive social issues sectiion and had led to interviews in state and national media. Months in advance I created a working group of people with similar concerns which produced and distributed a dozen pro-liberty platform resolutions, including a proposal to limit the length and specificity of the platform. We also wrote an alternative platform to be introduced from the floor if the final platform proved to be unacceptable. Prior to our county convention I contacted all of our county chairmen and SREC members with an email urging them to appoint reformers to their local and statewide platform committees. In the weeks leading up to the convention I also lobbied the members of the platform committee directly by email and wrote an article suggesting key areas where the platform could be improved.
I used every resource at my command to influence the process, from direct appeals to media pressure to threats of an embarrassing floor fight. I knew it was working when anti-reform insiders who actually liked the abominable 2010 platform began to get paranoid and started talking publicly about a conspiracy to destroy it.
All of this work had three main objectives. First, to generally shorten and simplify the platform. Second, to eliminate as many of the anti-gay planks as possible. Third, to reduce the section on foreign policy to a simple statement of principles without specific planks on policy towards other nations. These goals were not intended to address every problem in the platform, but focused on targets which were particularly offensive and also easy to argue against.
In the process of developing this effort I had made contact with sympathetic members of the platform committee and was in touch with them by text message during their meetings and deliberations and saw draft sections of the platform and provided input outside of the normal process of testimony at hearings. I did attend the hearings, but ended up having to testify only once in person, though I also had confederates giving testimony.
The platform committee was under the leadership of Tom Mechler who I would describe as state chairman Steve Munisteri’s right hand man, a choice which tipped me off early that I and my group were not the only ones with a plan to influence the platform. Sitting in the audience at the committee meetings it quickly became clear that the other organized effort was coming from an element of the party leadership headed up by Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a long-time ally of the Republican Liberty Caucus, who was pushing a comprehensive immigration reform plank to replace the entire section on immigration in the platform with a single, coherent plan. Their goal did not conflict with ours and between their influence and our activism we were more effective than expected.
Our first success came when Mechler split the platform committee out into subcommittees for each section of the platform and specifically instructed them to trim down the verbiage and resolve inconsistencies. I assume this was done to protect the new immigration plank with a hand-picked subcommittee, but it also meant smaller groups looking at each section, with more autonomy and room for individual initiative. The revisions which came out of this process were excellent. The overall wordcount was cut by almost 40% and while not many full planks were cut, secondary clauses which contained controversial content were cut aggressively.
At the start of the process there were 8 anti-gay planks and almost 30 foreign policy planks on specific countries. By the final committee meeting this was down to three anti-gay planks and the only country specifically mentioned under foreign policy was Israel. Along the way bad bits in other sections also got the axe, including much of the language supporting creationism. Planks equating homosexuality with pedophilia, condemning gay scoutmasters and opposing gay adoption were among those we had targeted which had been removed. In the original draft of the family values section which came out of the subcommittee a particularly ridiculous plank expressing support for the Texas law criminalizing sodomy which was struck down by the supreme court several years ago had been removed, but it was put back into the platform by the committee at large.
At the final session of the committee I had planned to come to add my voice to those testifying in support of Jerry Patterson’s immigration reform plank, but on discovering the reintroduction of the sodomy plank I left immigration to an associate and got on the list to speak on the sodomy issue. In my three minutes at the microphone I argued for a general softening of the language on gay issues and specifically pointed out that the sodomy law had been struck down by a Republican Supreme Court mostly appointed by presidents from Texas and that if we believe in the Constitution and the rule of law as stated elsewhere in the platform then it was ridiculous to demand that our legislature attempt to override the highest federal court on a constitutional issue. I saw a lot of smiles and nods from the committee and was not surprised to learn several hours later that the committee had followed my advice and again removed the sodomy plank. Most other arguments before the committee were not as successful. Attempts to remove or weaken the new immigration section were not well received, nor were attempts to restore the old foreign policy planks, with the exception of a brief statement in support of Taiwan.
That wasn’t the end of the fight. The platform still had to go to the floor of the convention where it could be challenged and modified by any delegate who stood in line to speak at one of six microphones and could stir up enough support for his position. Unlike previous years the floor debate for the platform was scheduled on Friday, rather than at the close of the convention on Saturday, so there was potentially plenty of time for a fight over controversial planks on the convention floor.
When the platform committee report was presented to the general session of the convention, long lines immediately formed at all of the microphones. As I learned while standing in line, there were three groups of people at the microphones: nativists who wanted to reinstate the 2010 anti-immigration language to the platform, outraged religious right activists who wanted to put the anti-gay language back in the platform and agents of the group that framed the new immigration section planted there to make arguments in support of it. I was there to counter anyone trying to bring up the social policy issues, but as it turned out my efforts were unnecessary. It became fairly clear that supporters of the new immigration plank had a well-formed plan and all I had to do was go along for the ride.
I don’t mean to suggest that anything happened which was not entirely above board. The Chairman made sure that people got equal time to speak on both sides of any issue which was raised. But beyond that it was fairly clear that the situation was being carefully orchestrated. Although immigration was the last item in the platform, the Chairman agreed with a request to take it out of order and examine it first. He then heard motions which were basically complaints about the section which were masquerading as points of information. Supporters were given equal time to defend the immigration plank, including Land Commissioner Patterson who spoke from one of the floor microphones. Back and forth about immigration went on, with several suggestions for changes, including replacing the whole thing with the 2010 wording, being voted down on voice votes. Then, much to everyone’s surprise there was a motion from the floor to close debate and vote on the platform as a whole, and suddenly with about 60 people waiting in line to make motions on the platform, the whole thing passed and it was over.
The intent, clearly planned carefully by the party Chairman, the head of the Platform Committee and the backers of the immigration plank, was to make absolutely sure that the platform passed with their plank in place and unchanged, regardless of what else in the platform their strategy left unchanged. So because of their efforts dozens of anti-gay activists were left fuming on the floor while the platform passed with most of the anti-gay planks edited out. It was a surprise victory which fell into our laps, and while there remain two problem planks in the family values section, we got more change than I had ever realistically expected.
That personal victory aside and without minimizing the progress made on social issues, the really important result of this process was the immigration plank which ended up in the platform. Chairman Munisteri made very clear that he expected our platform to be looked at closely at the national convention, and that Texas ought to have a strong voice in setting national immigration policy for the Republican Party. To that end, what Commissioner Patterson crafted is something the nation has been begging for, an authentic, balanced and comprehensive plan for dealing with all aspects of immigration, and one which a national campaign can be run on.
The immigration plan includes provisions for border security, for limiting the access of immigrants to public welfare and services and a proposal for a robust guest worker program with a modern system for monitoring workers to make sure that immigrants can find jobs and industries which need temporary immigrant labor can find workers legally. It also does this while explicitly avoiding draconian penalties for businesses, punitive measures against those currently in the country illegally and any form of national ID system for citizens like E-Verify. It is very much a “square deal” in the best Republican tradition, looking out for the interests of all the parties involved, including native workers, immigrants, taxpayers and businesses.
With Romney as the nominee we have to expect that the Republican Party will move back towards a more pro-business, small government agenda. Attracting independent voters, small business owners and hispanic voters will be a key component of any winning strategy for the GOP, and a well-conceived position on immigration which satisfies the needs of businesses and the hispanic community to see immigrants treated fairly will be a major asset.
It seems clear that the “fix was in” for this immigration plan at the Texas convention. If this was done with the cooperation and support of the Romney campaign then that is a very promising sign that they will be taking a smart stand on this key issue. If the Romney camp was not involved, they would be wise to pay attention to the opportunity to pick up a good idea from the most Republican state in the union, a state with the longest border in the nation and a wealth of experience in immigration policy.