Complaint filed against GOP State Chairman

Delegate: Call improperly elected to Credentials Committee
The Colorado Statesman

Last Friday, a Republican National Convention delegate from Denver filed a formal petition with the national GOP asking that State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call be thrown off the convention’s Credentials Committee, charging that state party rules don’t allow the kind of election that put Call on the panel. The complaint stirs up simmering tension in Colorado’s delegation between backers of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and upstart supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who hasn’t conceded the nomination.

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UPDATE: The RNC’s Committee on Contests has rejected a challenge to Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call’s election to the Credentials Committee, The Colorado Statesman has learned. In a letter to RNC delegate Florence Sebern delivered on Friday morning, chairman Mike Duncan wrote that she filed her petition almost two weeks after the deadline to consider her complaint. Duncan added that the Contests Committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over convention committee assignments by state delegations, either, implying that his committee couldn’t have intervened even if she had met the deadline.
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Florence Sebern, an unpledged RNC delegate from the 1st Congressional District who supports Paul, charges that Call’s election to the Credentials Committee — conducted last month via email — should be invalidated and wants the delegation to meet in person to fill the slot.

Sean Conway, left, a former delegate for Rick Santorum and chairman of the state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, listens as GOP State Chairman Ryan Call, Colorado’s newest member of the Credentials Committee, talks about the upcoming convention during an informal get-together for delegates last weekend.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“In a nutshell, this election cannot be an email election, it has to be a meeting,” Sebern told The Colorado Statesman. “We don’t have a provision for email elections.” She added, “I don’t want to condemn the delegation, I just want to get it fixed.”

Credentials is one of a handful of bodies — others include the Rules and Platform committees — that convene before the national convention gets under way on Aug. 27 in Tampa, culminating in the nomination of a presidential candidate. It rules on delegate accreditation, potentially a flash point this year as Romney and Paul supporters lay conflicting claims to numerous state delegations.

The Republican National Committee hadn’t ruled on her petition by press time, but a miffed Call dismissed Sebern’s complaint as a “distraction” in an interview with The Statesman. He predicted it wouldn’t get in the way of Republicans winning the swing state’s nine electoral votes for Romney.

“With respect to the complaint that a particular delegate has filed, it is entirely without merit either in terms of process or in terms of substance, and so our focus is just really going to be how we’re going to support the election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan,” Call said on Monday. “Colorado is really excited to be able to welcome Paul Ryan to the event we’re doing tomorrow, and our focus is 100 percent on advancing a positive message of supporting our nominee in Mitt Romney, and anything else is just a distraction.”

Sebern bristled at Call’s suggestion that her complaint was merely a diversion.

“If we want to restore trust in the integrity of our election processes, it starts where we live,” she told The Statesman. “As a national delegate, I have been elected to represent a segment of the GOP who are earnestly and actively engaged for the future of the GOP and our Constitutional Republic. I had an obligation to speak up and I did.”

At stake in the looming Credentials fight: whether Ron Paul supporters control enough state delegations to force the convention to give Paul a meaningful role in Tampa, including a potential prime-time speaking slot and even the chance his name might appear on the nominating ballot. Before the RNC gavels itself to order later this month, dozens of Paul supporters plan to ask the Credentials Committee to overrule state-level organizations and allow them to be seated as delegates.

Paul stopped campaigning for the presidency in May but his campaign has continued trying to amass delegates and he hasn’t endorsed Romney.

The conflict in Colorado is over a vacancy that arose in one of the state delegation’s two slots — filled by a man and a woman from every state — on Credentials. The Colorado man originally elected was Jerry Koerber, an unpledged delegate from the 1st CD, but he stepped down in June because he couldn’t travel to Tampa early for the committee’s meetings in advance of the convention. At an informal party for RNC delegates on July 14 in Denver, the state delegation’s chairman, Sean Conway, a Weld County Commissioner and pledged Santorum delegate, announced that he would conduct an email election to fill the vacancy and took nominations.

When the ballots went out a few days later, the choice was between Call and 21-year-old RNC delegate Luke Kirk of Durango, a member of the anti-Romney coalition who won a majority of the delegation at state GOP meetings in April. Delegates voted on July 18 and 19 via email ballot and the next day El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams — an RNC alternate pledged to Romney — certified that Call had won with 20 votes, beating Kirk’s 14 votes. Two delegates declined to vote.

Sebern’s complaint hinges on an obscure rule — so obscure that the two sides disagree whether it even exists — that governs how the state party can conduct its own internal elections.

“Our State Party bylaws and governing rules allow us to adopt the necessary resolutions and hold the vote among the national convention delegates in writing,” wrote Call on June 25 in an email obtained by The Statesman that asked Koerber to declare formally that he was withdrawing from the committee.

But Sebern cites the same bylaws and rules to refute Call, concluding that there “is no provision in the RNC Rules or the Colorado State Republican Central Committee Bylaws for electronic meetings and electronic voting.” Where the bylaws are silent, Sebern contends, Roberts Rules of Orders is the authority, and that document spells it out clearly: “[E]lectronic meetings may be held only if an organization specifically authorizes electronic meetings in its bylaws and then expressly advises adoption of particular, additional rules to govern them,” she argues in her petition.

What’s more, she says, the rules stipulate that committee vacancies must be filled using the same process that initially elected members, and the RNC slots were filled at an in-person meeting on April 14 at the University of Denver, right after the state assembly. (At that meeting, relying on their greater numbers, the Paul-Santorum coalition filled every RNC position with their own members, denying Romney backers even a single slot.)

Romney supporters count just 13 of 33 elected delegate slots — they have a bigger share of RNC alternates — with the remainder won by members of the Conservative Unity Slate, a group of Santorum and Paul supporters named by the two campaigns. Call, in his role as state party chairman, and Colorado’s two Republican National Committee members, Lilly Nuñez and Mike Kopp, are automatic, unpledged convention delegates.

But since Romney locked up the nomination a few weeks after Colorado’s state convention, the Conservative Unity coalition appears to have splintered. Conway, a Santorum delegate, recently told The Statesman that he was ready to back Romney as soon as Santorum formally released his delegates. He predicted that other Santorum delegates would follow suit.

Sebern isn’t ready to roll over.

When she first raised concerns over the vacancy election’s procedures, Sebern said, Call ignored her questions and refused to provide a copy of the bylaws. Then, after she continued to raise a fuss, she told The Statesman, “I was flat-out looked at in the eye and told to keep it in-house. That’s not good faith, that’s political ‘cover your butt.’ If we’re not going to conduct our own elections validly…” she added, trailing off in frustration.

While she acknowledges that a single vote on Credentials probably won’t be the key to seating more Paul delegates, Sebern said that isn’t the point.

“If I thought that one vote didn’t count some way,” she said, “I wouldn’t be engaged in this at all.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com