The leadership in the NDGOP’s District 10 organization say they’re ready to sue their own state party if they’re forced to re-organize.
What follows is going to be a deep swim through the often arcane procedures of district-level partisan organization, but this is an important matter and I think the public should have some eyeballs on it.
In North Dakota the state parties have an organization in each legislative district. This organization consists of a district chairman and an executive committee. These individuals are elected by the party members in the district who show up to the reorganization meetings. The district chairman and the executive committee are then responsible for overseeing the election of delegates to the state nominating convention, the endorsement of local legislative candidates, and the campaign activities during the election year.
In state law is a process requiring that these districts use the precinct process. This basically works like a mini convention. Party members from the district precincts meet and elect representatives who then meet to vote on leadership for the entire district (the district chair, executive committee, etc.).
But many districts don’t use this process, especially the smaller and rural districts where attendance at the meetings is so small they can’t fill up all their precinct slots anyway and it results the district leadership getting elected through what is basically an at-large vote anyway.
That’s essentially what happened in District 10 in the far northeast corner of the state. At the reorganization meeting district members held a voice vote to suspend the rules, ignore the precinct process, and just have the party members at the meeting vote on the new leaders. I spoke with District 10 Chairman Paul Henderson this morning, and he said the voice vote passed with just one person in attendance objecting.
The district then held their vote to elect a new chair, and Henderson won against a gentleman named Camburn Shephard (also the lone dissenter on the voice vote to suspend the rules) on a 63-22 vote.
Shephard wasn’t happy with the outcome and he, along with former state Senator Curtis Olafson (who lost an ugly post-redistricting primary fight against current District 10 Senator Joe Miller a few years ago) complained to the state party.
Here’s where things get interesting.
The NDGOP at the state level has been telling the District 10 folks that they have to hold another reorganization meeting. Henderson says that if the party makes them reorganize they’re pursuing a legal remedy.
“We don’t want to sue the state party,” Henderson told me this morning. “But we had to step in and protect the people of District 10.”
Henderson said that about half of the districts don’t use the precinct process, and it makes little sense to force his district to do so. “If you have a law, and it’s not equitably enforced…they weren’t going to make anyone else reorganize just us,” he said. “If it’s a law and you’re only going to apply it to District 10 is it a law or something else?”
Also, Henderson doesn’t believe they broke the law. He said his district has been reorganization in this fashion for more than two decades.
Things got particularly thorny when Henderson had a conversation with NDGOP Executive Director Jason Florhs who told Henderson that the state party wasn’t going to push for reorganization, which turned out to be something of a miscommunication.
“Jason Flohrs called one day and he said ‘we’re not really interested in reorganizing’,” Henderson said. “Then we found out that the same day the state party had put an ad in one of our papers calling for a reorganization. I thought Jason was acting on behalf of the executive committee.”
Henderson said that after the state party scheduled a reorganization meeting they obtained legal counsel from Minot attorney Lynn Boughey who has provided an opinion (see below) which finds that the District 10 folks are in the right.
Henderson said that after the state party got wind of the locals obtaining legal counsel they’ve backed off their push for a reorganization. A meeting scheduled for later this month has been canceled, and reorganizations have to be completed by March 15.
Still, Henderson says his district is ready to make a legal issue out of this if the state party continues to push the matter.
“If the state party now recognizes us going forth we can get on with the business of getting ready for the 2016 election cycle and growing the party,” Henderson told me. “But if after having seen why we think we’ve done a legal reorganization, we’re within the statute we’re within our bylaws, going forward we have an injunction ready.”
Why is the state party so adamant about the use of the precinct process for reorganization?
“It’s a way to tighten up the districts so they can be controlled more by the old guard,” Henderson told me. “They don’t want open elections, and I don’t know why they’re scared of open elections.”
I hope that’s not the case. Republicans have more to fear from making their party closed off to new activists than they do from intra-party faction.
I spoke with NDGOP Chairman Bob Harms about Henderson’s comments and the situation. “We don’t want to take this off the cliff,” he said acknowledging that the state party did cancel the scheduled reorganization meeting. He said the state party’s executive committee will continue to meet on the matter.
I asked Harms if it was the party’s intent that every district use the precinct process. “If everybody in the room is fine with suspending the rules and they’ve got some unanimity for it then I don’t see a problem with it,” he said, “but if people object the state party is going to expect that we follow state law and the bylaws of the party.”
Asked what the state party would do if Henderson and District 10 continue to resist reorganization through the precinct process, Harms said he wasn’t sure and that the state executive committee would continue to meet on it.