TAMPA — On the same day Republicans formally nominated Mitt Romney for the presidency, a battle over proposed party rules changes roiled the GOP’s national convention on Tuesday and left some Colorado delegates vowing they won’t cast a vote for the former Massachusetts governor in the fall election.
Tuesday was the first full official day of business at the convention, after Monday’s program was cancelled due to fears of a hurricane. For the Colorado delegation, it began with a controversial, impromptu delegate meeting at the delegation’s headquarters hotel in Clearwater and ended with speeches by Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that most delegates agreed made strong cases for the Republican nominee’s character and for the GOP’s principles.
In between, delegates enjoyed the suddenly warm and sunny weather aboard a luxury yacht that made its way around Tampa Bay, Colorado threw most of its votes behind Romney in the presidential roll call, and a last-minute change to the national party’s governing rules passed but left conservatives angry and shaken.
The main order of business was the presidential roll call vote, held in the afternoon, a couple hours before President Barack Obama addressed a crowd at Colorado State University in Fort Collins back in Colorado.
Romney was the only candidate whose name was placed into nomination — despite a last-ditch effort by Ron Paul supporters to gather petitions from enough states — and it was New Jersey’s delegate vote that put him over the top, securing the nomination he has been seeking for more than five years. Convention officials only announced Romney’s delegate total of 2,061 votes, though Paul received 202 and others who campaigned throughout a topsy-turvy primary season also received votes, including Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann.
When it came time for Colorado to cast its votes, state GOP chairman Ryan Call took the microphone and reminded a national audience that Colorado cast its electoral college votes for a Republican shortly after it became a state, in 1876.
As is the tradition, Call extolled the virtues of the state — calling out both the CU Buffs and the CSU Rams — and reminded viewers that “the words to America the Beautiful were inspired by the vistas of purple mountains atop Pike’s Peak,” before introducing the delegation’s youngest member, 20-year-old Luke Kirk of Bayfield.
“I am honored to be the youngest member of Colorado’s delegation, and I’d like to encourage youth everywhere to get involved, stay involved, and let’s take this nation back,” Kirk said as cheers rose up throughout the convention hall.
Then Call stepped back into the spotlight and announced that Colorado was proudly casting 28 votes for Romney and that eight votes were abstained — the result of a group of Paul and Santorum supporters who decided earlier in the week to refrain from voting rather than support Romney at the convention.
During the roll call, Colorado National Committeewoman Lily Nuñez sat high on the podium in her role as a tally clerk of the convention.
Right after casting the votes, an exuberant Call said it was time to get behind the nominee.
“We’ve got a terrific delegation, and we understand how important it is to come together in support of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as our Republican candidates, and we’re excited to get back to Colorado and go to work,” he told The Colorado Statesman, and then took a breath before national reporters pulled him away.
Later that night, Ann Romney delivered a wel-received speech describing her husband as a man the country can trust. It was capped by a brief appearance by the nominee himself, who strode onto the stage, said her speech had been “amazing,” and basked in the applause to the sounds of the Temptations’ hit “My Girl.”
In her remarks, which provoked some of the loudest and most sustained applause of the entire day’s program, Mrs. Romney sought to refute the notion that she and her husband have “a storybook marriage.”
“Let me tell you something,” she said. “In the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once, and those storybooks never seemed to have chapter’s called M.S. or breast cancer. A storybook marriage? Nope, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Christie’s keynote address made the case that his state’s voters reward politicians who “lead instead of politicians who pander.” Calling on Republicans to stick to their guns and not treat voters the way he claimed Democrats do, he added: “It has always been the power of our ideas, not our rhetoric, that attracts people to our party. We win when we make it about what needs to be done. We lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing.”
But earlier that evening, as a simmering clash over proposed changes to the Republican Party’s rules of operation came to a boil, it was a divided GOP and, some claimed, the party establishment acting like the opposition.
“The process was hijacked,” said delegate Florence Sebern, one of two Colorado delegates who sat on the Rules Committee. “That’s Chicago-style politics coming to bear in the Republican National Convention.”
In a tumultuous floor vote that threatened to devolve into one of the fabled floor fights of national convention yore, RNC Chairman John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is also speaker of the House, called a voice vote on the whole raft of proposed rules and determined that they had passed, ruling opponents and their proposed minority reports off the floor. The disputed rules allow the Republican National Committee to change rules between conventions — previously, the GOP had to wait until the next national convention to ratify rules changes — and gives presidential candidates veto power over RNC delegates elected under some circumstances.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners founder Dudley Brown, Colorado’s other Rules Committee member, was furious how the whole thing went down, and said it would harm Romney’s prospects in the fall.
“The Republican Party ramrodded a series of rules that consolidates power in Washington D.C. with high-powered consultants, and disenfranchises conservative activists, tea party activists and grassroots people, from being part of decision-making,” he told The Statesman after the convention adopted the new set of rules.
“That’s what they’ve always wanted,” he continued. “It’s what Mitt Romney wanted, it’s what his campaign wanted. They should have been nice — they won the nomination, they should have been nice and gracious and not done those rules changes — because they won under those rules, right? But, instead, they go and poke a sharp stick in the eye of conservative activists. They’re going to lose votes.”
He said a national outcry over the RNC’s heavy-handed tactics was already echoing around conservative talk radio and on blogs, including a widely shared Facebook post by Sarah Palin that called on Republicans to reject the proposed rules. “Conservative activists are in arms right now,” he said, shaking his head and reiterating that the move could cost Republicans in November.
“If what I got in my emails is any indication,” he said. “I got literally hundreds of emails saying, ‘I will not give another red cent to the Republican Party,’ ‘I will not vote for Mitt Romney,’ ‘I will not do this,’ ‘I will not do that.’”
Brown declined to say how he planned to vote in November, saying, “My vote is my personal vote,” but adding with a grin: “You’re talking to the leader of a gun-rights organization. I’m telling you Mitt Romney is not pro-gun. I only support conservatives and pro-gun conservatives.”
Sebern, a Paul supporter, said the rules fight was separate and distinct from battles over whether Paul was nominated from the floor or whether some of his delegates were seated.
“That’s over and done with,” she told The Statesman. “If you don’t have the votes, that’s it. The credentials was also a very unfortunate situation, but it’s over and done with. The rules will impact this party going forward for the next four years. The rules will impact this election.”
She said her beef with the new rules rested primarily with how they grant more power to distant politicians, removing it from grassroots activists.
“It is a shift from the local, Republican form of governance within the organization to a command-and-control, top-down, centralized form of governance. It’s a Democratic style vs. a Republican style, and that’s not who we are,” she said.
It bothered her, Sebern added, that Boehner had allowed staffers, alternates and whoever else was milling around the convention floor to shout out during the voice vote on adopting the rules.
“The voice vote was very close, so the chairman had the obligation at that point to do a roll call vote. He had the opportunity to do that. He did not.”
Delegate Nancy McKiern, a Santorum supporter and one of the eight Coloradans who abstained rather than back Romney, said the whole process left her disgusted with Republican Party leadership and questioning whether she could vote for Romney in the fall.
“All of a sudden, it’s like ayes and yeas and whoever yelled loudest won. It was crazy, it was complete mayhem,” she said, and then stopped for a moment to gather her composure. “I feel like we were completely disregarded and the fact that these rules would have been presented in the first place is appalling. You’re telling people like me, grassroots people, that we don’t matter.” Shaking her head, she added, “It’s a very big power grab by the Republican Party.”
Noting that she was an RNC delegate for the first time this year, McKiernan said the new rules — and the power-play GOP officials used to institute them — would likely turn off other newcomers to politics.
“I wouldn’t bother running for delegate after the rules change they made today,” she said. “Why would I waste my time?”
Then she added that the rules controversy could cast a longer shadow than GOP leaders realize.
“I think the establishment is making a very serious mistake,” she said. “I think they’re playing with fire.”
Alternate Lloyd Garcia wasn’t conflicted about whether the Rules Committee actions had cost Romney his vote. Noting that he was a life-long Republican, he said it would be easy this fall to vote for a candidate other than Romney, though he hastened to add that he won’t be voting for Obama.
“I’ll be voting against Romney,” Garcia told The Statesman. “It’s hard to believe where he stands on a lot of issues, especially when it comes to pro-life issues. He’s explained why he changed his position, but it’s hard to take him seriously.”
After the rules fiasco, he said, the choice was even easier.
“The new rules seem to be a way to make everything we’re doing here just a puppet show, make it have the appearance of democracy, have the appearance of the little man making things work,” he said. “If we make it a top-down party, we’ve lost our party, we’ve lost the grassroots and we’ve lost what this party originally stood for.”
State Sen. Ted Harvey, who opposed the new rules, lamented how RNC officials handled things, saying that, as a legislator, he likes to see process respected. But he also sounded ready to leave the rules imbroglio behind when delegates depart Tampa later this week.
“I think it’s unfortunate the way the two controversial amendments were put into the rules. We have a process where it normally goes through the process through a year or two, and these were introduce this week and pushed through,” he told The Statesman. “I don’t think it should have been done that way, especially when there are people in the country who don’t trust the way that we run the party. Even when they’re great amendments, it has the potential to breed distrust. I think it could have been handled a lot better, but they’ve been voted on, and we go forward.”
In the scheme of things, he said, the rules change pales in comparison to the choice that faced voters in just 70 days.
“But that’s not the reason why we’re here is to vote on rules, the reason why we’re here is to vote on the next president of the United States,” Harvey said. “I think that America will have the opportunity to meet the real Mitt Romney, not the Mitt Romney that the Democrat Party has tried to define over the last year. I think you will find he will have a jump in the polls and he will never get behind, and I think we will win this in November and I think we will win this in Colorado.”