Iowa GOP chair forced to backpedal on state convention date

Republican Party of Iowa Chair A.J. Spiker tried this week to end discussion over the unpopular decision to schedule the state GOP convention for July 2014. However, he was forced today to acknowledge that the State Central Committee cannot ignore criticism from a growing number of elected officials, GOP candidates, and even central committee members.

Let’s take a quick look at how this “epic fail” unfolded.

Without seeking input from party leaders or even including the item on the agenda ahead of time, the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee voted last month to move the state convention date from June 14, 2014 (eleven days after the primary election) to July 12. Central Committee member Gopal Krishna later told Polk County Republicans that moving the date was Spiker’s idea. A state convention may be needed to select a nominee for U.S. Senate if none of the Republican candidates wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary. Spiker and at least two potential Senate candidates (David Fischer and Drew Ivers) are part of the Iowa GOP’s “Liberty” wing. A delayed convention would give Ron Paul supporters more time to lobby convention delegates to support their preferred candidate.

Governor Terry Branstad, Senator Chuck Grassley, and all of the declared U.S. Senate candidates criticized the new convention date, saying a month of uncertainty about the GOP nominee would only help Democratic candidate Bruce Braley.

I figured it was only a matter of time before Spiker backed down, because several of his own central committee members spoke out for moving the convention date back to June.

This week, Iowa’s Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler wrote in his “fall update” for GOP activists,

There has been much discussion on the date of the 2014 State Convention. I have visited at length with my good friend Loras Schulte, one of the 1st Congressional District’s State Central Committee members. Loras was not able to attend our last SCC meeting and so now after gleaning information that he has researched, I believe that it is important that we move the convention back into June.

Primary day is June 3, 2014. It is quite possible that we will be required to have a State Nominating Convention if no candidate receives 35% of the primary vote. First, I am opposed to two State Conventions-too confusing, too costly, and could become needlessly divisive.

The new information that convinces me that we must have a June Convention is that Iowa’s 99 County Auditors must have the primary vote canvass completed by June 9th or 10th. All absentee and provisional ballots will be included in this canvass and these numbers are the final certified results for each County. The Secretary of State will reiterate the results of each County’s canvass.

I believe that the State Convention date should be either June 14th or June 21st. Loras contends, and I agree, that moving the Convention date to June 21st might make the most sense. This way it gives us a little wiggle room and breathing space if needed.

But yesterday, Spiker informed State Central Committee members that he won’t reopen discussion on the state convention date. He tried to frame his position as a simple matter of following state law:

While there was consensus to hold a convention capable of nominating candidates in June, a ballot vacancy does not exist until after the canvass is complete. Since the Iowa Code provides 27 days from the primary to complete the canvassing process, Saturday, July 12th is the first Saturday (except for 4th of July holiday weekend) we are guaranteed the canvassing process to be finalized with all candidates named.  With this information, a date in July allows for one convention.

It has been suggested by some that we move ahead with filling a ballot vacancy before one legally exists. A review from RPI Legal Counsel Bill Talbot confirmed that a ballot vacancy does not legally exist until the canvass is completed. Furthermore, if a ballot vacancy does not exist, it cannot be filled. See attached letter. Others have argued that while the legal opinion is correct, it isn’t politically wise to follow the law.

A July 12 state convention fulfills what we discussed at the last meeting and what the state central committee unanimously voted to approve. It provides one state convention and it allows for the convention to fill a ballot vacancy should no candidate receive 35% of the vote in the primary election. Remember that all candidates for our Party’s nomination an equal chance to appeal to delegates for the nomination.

I am confident the party will benefit from our decision to hold only one convention.  I will not ask for another vote by the State Central Committee to move the State Convention date from July 12 to a date prior to the completion of the canvass due to the legal opinion and the importance for our Party to adhere to Iowa Code.

Free tip for Spiker: check with the state’s top elections official before hiding behind state law. Secretary of State Matt Schultz (a Republican) released a strongly-worded statement today:

DES MOINES – Iowa Secretary of State and State Commissioner of Elections, Matt Schultz, issued the following statement today regarding the timing of political party conventions and nominations for ballot vacancies:

“As Secretary of State and State Commissioner of Elections for the State of Iowa, it is my duty to make sure that Iowans understand the election process, including their duties and rights under the law.

In response to questions raised by members of the public, it is necessary for me to clarify the timing of a special nominating convention, which becomes necessary when a federal or state candidate does not receive a minimum of 35% of the vote in a primary election.

There is no law that prohibits the Iowa Democratic or Republican parties from holding a special nominating convention prior to the final certification of the primary election by the State Board of Canvassers.

In fact, the Iowa Code is silent as to when a special nominating convention may begin, but it is clear that the convention must be held and the names of nominees submitted in writing to the Secretary of State before 5:00 PM on the 81st day prior to the General Election.  The only requirement with regard to timing is for both the ballot vacancy and the special nominating convention to occur prior to the filing deadline.

As Secretary of State it has always been my position to err on the side of inclusion when it comes to ballot access. Based on this principle, I included Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson on the ballot when his nomination was challenged.  My decision was upheld by the district court.

That is why under the authority granted to me by Iowa Code section 43.73, I will certify the names of any federal or state candidates nominated by the political parties prior to the certification of the election results as long as all other statutory requirements are met.  This same authority has been upheld in the past by the Supreme Court of Iowa in Zellmer v. Smith.

Therefore, no political party should use the excuse of the final date of the statewide canvass to determine the date of its special nominating convention.  Furthermore, to state that it is necessary to hold a special nominating convention after the conclusion of the state canvass is not only misleading, it is false.”

Speaking to Radio Iowa this afternoon, Schultz added,

“If a party chooses to have their state convention in July, for whatever reason they want, they can do so, but don’t use an excuse of the secretary of state’s office because there’s precedent for holding state conventions in June and clearly state law doesn’t prohibit it,” Schultz told Radio Iowa.

Republican Congressman Steve King was nominated at just such an event in June of 2002 and Republican Governor Terry Branstad has said for as long as he can remember state conventions have been held in June. […]

“It’s a strong response to make sure that people understand that you can’t use the secretary of state’s office as an excuse,” Schultz told Radio Iowa this afternoon. “If you’re going to move your convention to a different date, that’s fine – but don’t use the secretary of state and the State of Iowa as an excuse for doing it.”

The Iowa Republican blog’s Kevin Hall provided historical background that goes against Spiker’s reading of the law.

Finally, Spiker waved the white flag this afternoon. He will convene a special State Central Committee meeting by telephone on September 23 to discuss scheduling of the state convention. I’m guessing that conversation will last a lot longer than the three minutes committee members spent talking about the issue before last month’s vote. Given how angry many party activists are (see this official Facebook post from the Polk County GOP), I expect a June 2014 date to be chosen.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

SEPTEMBER 16 UPDATE: On a conference call with Iowa reporters, Branstad again stated that he believes the GOP’s statewide convention should take place in June 2014. I’m not sure that leaning on the state central committee will help his cause, given the level of friction between the governor and the state party leadership since Spiker replaced Matt Strawn in early 2012.

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  • Maybe while they're at it

    they can get det the two parties onto one caucus date?…

    • won't happen

      They need turnout to be as low as possible to get more of “their” people chosen as county delegates. Hence the Saturday caucus.

      • Ok then

        Democrats will need to move to Saturday.  

        • Democrats will resist doing that

          for several reasons.

          My guess is they will roll the dice on this problem not costing Iowa its position in 2016, provided that both Ds and Rs choose the same non-Saturday caucus date for 2016.

  • Puzzling

    It makes me wonder whether the Ron/Rand Paul team is more worried about David Fischer (for example) winning the nomination for U.S. Senate than they are winning a general election.

    I’ve got news for them though.  Most of the GOP statewide officials aren’t Paulists and they aren’t going away anytime soon.  If Spiker’s crowd thinks he can just remake the GOP totally during and after Branstad’s team leaves office, they are making another miscalculation.  King, Latham, Northey aren’t Paulists for example.  

    You can’t elect radical people on a statewide or district by district basis (in most cases) because of our non-partisan redistricting system.  

    • I don't know what they're thinking

      but it’s bad politics either way.

      Even with a crowded field it’s possible one candidate could pull away and win more than 35 percent in the primary. They seem to be counting on the other scenario.