By Mayor Mike Halfacre, Fair Haven
I am following with interest the piece posted yesterday and its comments on the lack of By-laws for the Monmouth County Republican Committee. First, let’s clear up some nomenclature. Most think “by-laws” and think “candidate selection”. It is clear, however, that the by-laws don’t have to cover candidate selection. The statute contains nothing about what the by-laws should contain, only that there should be by-laws.
However, as someone who spent a considerable amount of time looking at County Party by-laws and their candidate selection procedures last Spring, I can tell you unequivocally two things:
- 1) By-laws don’t matter in candidate selection.
I spent the better part of four months familiarizing myself with the by-laws of the Mercer and Middlesex County Republican Parties, where there are, in the case of Mercer, relatively minimalist by-laws, and in the case of Middlesex, relatively byzantine by-laws. I also spent time trying to divine what the selection process would be in Monmouth County, where there is nothing in writing. Suffice it to say, the ultimate decision on what candidate would get the “party line” in the race I was interested in, the 12th Congressional District, was the same in all three of those counties.
In Mercer County, the Chair came out early and often for their hometown candidate, (look where that got him) and regardless of by-laws, that “nominating convention” was a home game for the candidate. (As it should have been, by the way.) But “rules” had nothing to do with the outcome. Mercer County is not under Republican Control, and hasn’t been for years.
In Middlesex County, the candidate selection process is complicated, multi-part and ultimately, wide-open. If you pay your entry fee, or if someone else pays your entry fee, you get a vote on whom the candidate will be. Middlesex County has not had Republican county control in twenty years.
In Monmouth County, the “Screening Committee”, is a loosely defined body of past and present County and higher elected officials, past and present County leaders and current Municipal Chairs. No actual list of the Screening Committee was made available. (At least, not to me) We had to make one up. But these people made the decision. Sometimes it is a secret ballot, sometimes it is not. Historically, Monmouth County is dominated by the GOP.
In the 12th Congressional District, in each of these three counties, the candidate selection outcome was the same. (But so was the election result)
By-laws don’t matter in candidate selection.
- 2) By-laws matter a great deal.
From a purely public perception stand-point, by-laws matter. To not have by-laws sends a message to the interested public that you don’t care about process, that the same group of Old Boys/Elitists/career politicians/whatever are making the decisions about who will run for office. To people with a Tea Party-type background, not having written rules to follow is anathema.
For example, in the past 18 months, there has been a resurgence of interest in politics thanks to the Tea Party. It should be a priority of leadership to welcome and encourage participation on the Republican team. The first question often heard is “How can I get involved?” the answer usually is, “Get in touch with your local County Committee. Run for a Committee seat. Then you get to help pick candidates and steer the party.”
Except often, that is not the right answer at all. In Monmouth County, the County Committee may have no voice. In the case of Congressional or Legislative Districts, the Past and Present elected and past and present County Party leaders often outnumber the Municipal Chairs. Where the Municipal Chair vote is thus diluted, the County Committee vote is even further diluted. And this assumes the Municipal Chair accurately reflects the feelings of the County Committee people he or she represents.
Why would we want to send this message? If we only welcome their votes in November, and not their participation all year long, we will soon lose their votes in November.
We should write it down, so everyone knows the process.