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Monday, November 20th, 2017Last Update: Sunday, November 5th, 2017 11:44:31 PM

Cheerleaders Anonymous

By: Richard Engle

On Sunday, July 19th a front page story appeared in the Daily Oklahoman which detailed the controversial tenure of Oklahoma GOP Chairman Randy Brogdon. Setting aside the details of such controversies, because they have been explored ad nauseam, we will turn instead to the intent of those who wish the former Senator to step down or to minimize the publicity of his office and of the party structure in general.

Most telling were comments by Senator David Holt, "We've never had a chairman do anything but be a cheerleader for Republicans." In defense of the Senator, he made it clear that he did not intend "cheerleader" to be a pejorative. In personal communications with him he expressed to me that he feels the term to be very positive.

As the Senator seems to think that Chairman Brogdon is (or is attempting to be) more than just a cheerleader, one is drawn to the implications on the performance of others who fulfilled the role of Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. One can't help but wonder if certain previous party chairs see their legacy of party leadership as that of cheerleading. Matt Pinnell, David Weston, Gary Jones (now State Auditor), Tom Daxon, Chad Alexander, Steve Edwards, Clinton Key, Quinetta Wylie and most obviously Tom Cole (now Congressman) may take exception to the singular label. My guess is that all of them would agree that their job certainly did include an effort to rally the GOP faithful toward electoral victory. However, would they suggest that they never did "anything but be a cheerleader"?

Perhaps it was the cheerleading that successful party chairs were most often seen doing and as such that is what Senator Holt was hoping to continue to be the case with Brogdon, and those who would follow him. I will presume that my State Senator did indeed intend so. Also to Senator Holt's defense, unlike many other elected Republicans, Senator David Holt does attend his Precinct meetings and is an active participant in party conventions. Indeed, he voted for my daughter, Destiny Engle, as his precinct chair. Senator Holt is not speaking out of turn, he remains active in the party that nominated him and has enough skin in the game to be afforded the opportunity to communicate his vision of the what the party structure and its leadership ought to be doing.

The pressing question goes to the proper role of the state party, and by that, the role of its leaders. In our day of political action committees (PAC's), high powered consultants, Chamber of Commerce activism, and a plethora of special interests that will recruit, fund, advise, and nurse a candidate from obscurity to elective office, what role remains for the party structure? I have long said that there are three Republican parties. There are the voters who identify as Republicans, the elected officials who were elected as Republicans, and the party structure.

There was a day, well before Sen. Holt was active, that the party structure meant much more than it does today. I suspect we are all pleased to see the demise of the old fashioned political machine with smoke filled rooms and corrupt political hacks holding the reins of power over the nomination of their party. Of course, that was only commonplace among the Democrats of Oklahoma, but even among them that day is a far distant memory.

So, avoiding that extreme, what is the best level of influence on politics for the party structure? We need to recognize that the structure of which I speak consists of much more than the state chair. There is also the national committee, the state committee, executive committee, the county chairs and the respective county committees, the precinct chairs and vice chairs, as well as the many active party members who attend their precinct meetings, get elected as delegates to their county and state conventions, and who are the first to man the phones and beat the streets for the candidates of their choice. Also to be included should be the multitude of women active in the Republican women's clubs, the Young Republicans and the activists who participate in groups like High Noon, Republican Assemblies, OCPAC and the Tea Parties among others. Many would suggest that this party structure of which I speak is in its totality the grassroots of which every elected Republican portrays themselves as a member in good standing.

Yet, the pressure has been to constantly drive down the influence of the party. It has been an effective campaign. Few elected officials take serious a call from the state chair, let alone a county chair. Fewer still point to the party as the reason they won office. The press has long ago ceased to seek out party insiders for their insight into political realities. For the most part the party is a fund raising entity which raises such funds largely for its own sustenance and contributions to candidates are made only to justify the greater part of the fundraising which never sees an impact on an election.

One could be tempted to find a way to do without any party structure whatsoever. However, the party structure is the party itself in a legal sense. They own the brand that is Republican or Democrat. And, to the dread of the PAC's, consultants and special interests, the party structure can control the nominating process of all candidates wishing to be nominated and elected under the flag of their party.

Those who continue to drive the party into irrelevance do so to their demise. As the conventions continue to shrink, the cost of control of the party shrinks with it. It will not take long before some group of activists in support of one candidate for President will find themselves the clear majority of a state convention. With that they may choose to alter the rules of the party creating a caucus system. They may be so emboldened as to expand the caucus or convention system into one that reflects those in some other states which nominate exclusively (or largely) in convention. They can sidestep entirely the primary process. No law can be written to prevent this unless the state finds a way to take ownership of the political parties themselves. So long as political parties nominate, they can control the nomination process. If a state ends the nomination by party (like Louisiana) then the party can openly endorse one candidate giving that candidate an effective nomination.

I would suggest that it is in the interest of those who want to keep the party small, and want to keep it from taking charge of the nomination process, to fund the party structure that we have to a sustainable level. Doing so will secure that there is adequate influence in the party. This, in turn, makes activism in the party valuable and the number of persons involved high enough to prevent an easy takeover.

The choice is simple. Make sure the state party (love or hate the current chair) has enough funds to operate adequately or wane for the day when someone so moderate is at the helm.

About Richard Engle

Richard Engle is President of BellWest America. He has long been a fixture in conservative Republican politics in Oklahoma. He was twice elected to the Bethany City Council, served two terms as President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, and over a decade as Vice President of the Oklahoma Conservative PAC. He is married to Denise Engle, Commissioner for the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission and they live in Oklahoma City. He may be reached by email at: engle@flash.net

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