The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) 2008 Convention was a study in the abuse of power by the chairman of our party. Unfortunately, this is a pattern.
The tendency first became apparent when she was the Rules Committee Chairman in 2002. A controversial rule was proposed by delegates who argued that the RPT had authority to, by rule, move the party to a closed primary. The delegates were frustrated with Democrats who were voting in our primary to influence the choice of our nominees. (Many will recognize this tactic with the tables turned as “Operation Chaos” promoted by Rush Limbaugh this year in the Democratic Primaries.) In spite of legal opinions supporting the right of political parties to take this action and two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Chairman Benkiser, after hours of discussion, ruled that the committee would not be allowed to vote on this issue. Her stated reason was that the proposal would be a violation of the Texas Election Code (TEC). When a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair was offered and seconded, the chair ruled that motion dilatory and refused to allow the will of the committee to be expressed by a vote.
Benkiser was later heard saying that she had just accomplished the “dirty work of the chairman.” Many believe the reason that a vote was not allowed to be taken was that there would have been at least twenty percent of the committee who supported the proposal – which would have resulted in a minority report to the convention floor for debate and final decision by the convention delegates. The Chairman of the RPT at that time did not want that to happen and therefore directed the committee chairman (Benkiser) along with the legal counsel and parlimentarian not to allow it.
Fast-forward to 2008. RPT Chairman Benkiser had Judge Rene Diaz do her “dirty work” in the credentials committee. Regarding the Nueces County debacle (See blog entries, Thrown Under the Bus and The Inconvenience of the Rule of Law.), RPT Chairman Benkiser defended the Nueces County Chairman (NCC) before the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in his bid to illegally withhold the minutes of the precinct conventions from those who held a rump convention.
Also, Diaz’ Credentials Committee (actually Diaz himself) ruled that the minority report of the committee concerning the Nueces County delegation was not really a minority report. Thus Chairman Benkiser, as the temporary chairman of the convention, ruled it out of order in the general sessions. Repeated attempts to allow the convention delegates to hear the issue from the temporary credentials committee and make the final determination were rejected on Thursday and again on Friday. Just as in 2002, although the delegates at the RPT State Convention are supposed to be the final authority for the establishing the rules, positions and officers of the party, Benkiser denied the delegates an opportunity to hear and make the decision for themselves. Judge Diaz, therefore, also did not present the Nueces County issue to the SREC. It had been “resolved,” he told them. In the end, the delegates of the Convention were neither allowed to hear the facts of that case nor to voice their opinion by voting on it.
Paul Perry lost his last minute bid to unseat Benkiser but gained a third of the vote (in spite of attempts by Benkiser forces to paint him as a liberal because of his support for Ron Paul in the Republican Primary, in spite of his 20 years as a conservative Republican party activist). There appeared to be a clear understanding by most of the delegates that an abuse of power had taken place with regard to the Nueces County delegation at the hands of the credentials committee, but perhaps many did not perceive this to be the “dirty work” of Benkiser that it was.