Civil war. Is that a fair term to describe the Nevada Republican Party’s 2012 State Convention? Maybe, maybe not. But it was an event to remember for a lifetime that had its share of battles, cooperation, outright cheating, moments of inspiration, bitterness, glee, disrespect, and civility. It seemed to toe the line between a civil convention and a war. It has been seen by many, along with the Maine convention the same weekend, as about the point when the dam broke, when the Ron Paul’s grassroots campaign success was really bearing its fruits and taking over the country one state convention at a time. It was no secret from the get-go that it would be a fierce battle between Romney supporters and Paul supporters, and this was seen in nearly every single vote. Fifteen hours Saturday and about three Sunday of nays, ayes, divided houses, and many of these being contentions over who could actually vote.
The stage for a bitter battle royale was set in the days leading up to the convention, starting with a robo-call going out to tons of republicans, incidentally including Ron Paul supporters (including myself), urging delegates to come out to Sparks to stop the Ron Paul people from “unfairly” taking over the convention. It implied we were establishment plants… hilarious! Then came the letter from the RNC chief counsel warning Nevada GOP chairman Michael McDonald that if Ron Paul supporters took over most or all of the national delegate slots, thus winning Nevada, the Nevada delegation wouldn’t be seated at the National Convention in Tampa. (RNC to NV GOP: Don’t let Ron Paul delegates take over national convention slots or don’t bother coming to Tampa)
The concern was that the 20 bound Mitt Romney delegates based on the February 4th caucus results would be unbound by a vote at the Paulite-dominated state convention and end up going to Paul in the first round of voting- of course amped up as some sort of evil Ron Paul takeover plan- but in the end, the state rules were not changed, and even though 22 of 25 delegate slots at the convention were won by Ron Paul supporters, they are bound to vote for Mitt Romney in the first round of the National Convention if Romney reaches the minimum 1144 he needs to keep his bound delegates. If he doesn’t reach the 1144, there will be a second round and the Paul delegates may and surely will vote for Ron Paul.
(Update: according to Republican National Committee rules, all delegates are unbound regardless of state rules, so the Ron Paul delegates who won may be able to vote for Ron Paul and not Mitt Romney at all after all! RNC Lawyer Says All Delegates Are Unbound!)
When the convention finally came (at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks), the tension quickly became palpable. A debate of who was eligible to vote went on for hours, which I’ll get to in a moment. But the standout controversy happened shortly after the motions and debating began, a major cheating attempt by some Mitt Romney supporters. A green “Ron Paul” slate of delegates being circulated to guide RP supporters on what fellow RP delegates to vote for, was found to be a FAKE. An imitation of the real green slate with actual Ron Paul delegates, obviously printed out quickly after the real slate was seen (didn’t have a back side of alternates, which the real one did), that had all Mitt Romney supporters with the exception of the obvious candidate, Nevada Ron Paul campaign chairman Carl Bunce (well, they put “Carl Brunce”). My friend/former fellow intern Rachel Stephens caught this and announced this to the room (stating that if we’re on the subject of fairness… after Romney people tried labelling Paul people as not playing fair), and went around clarifying which was fake and which was real. around twelve people were caught trying to pass these around and were detained. This was about the height of the blatant corruption. (Dirty Tricks at Nevada State Republican Convention)
Following that, there were a few obvious bad calls on votes by the chairman in favor of the Romney people, and at the very least it should’ve been house divided. In the first hour, there was a credential count of around 1100 which then got updated to around 1600 after 10am, which became a hugely contested question of if 400+ people let in after 9 (the cutoff time to get in) could vote, and to get the 100-ish guests out of the group of registered delegates because they weren’t allowed to vote. The debate took until about 2pm (about the time that Ron Paul was scheduled to speak) when the solution was agreed upon to check all IDs upon re-entry after lunch. After massive upheaval and contention and nearly voting out the chairman, things cooled down a few degrees and people stepped more toward civility and wanting to move ahead.
Finally, the moment (aside from the national delegate elections and victories) Ron Paul supporters had been waiting for had come. Ron Paul spoke at about 2:30pm (I think), and of course, it was superb. He had plenty of his famous one-liners (but they’re never the same- he’s always changing, evolving his speeches so it’s always fresh) and the great points on liberty and small government and the economy that no conservative could deny were very, very strong and valid points. I looked around the room to see if Romney supporters were closing their ears or wiping the sleep out of their eyes and waking up, and some were indeed looking down or trying to seem unaffected, but I could tell many were actually learning- and seeing someone great and revolutionary speak- of course I couldn’t know what they really were thinking, but by the end it was clear most of the room was filled with love for Ron Paul.
And an update: This article- Paul Causes Mitt Romney Supporters to Crumple Up Romney Signs, Say They Will Vote for Paul came from the Sparks convention (where the line came from Allan Stevo’s great article here: Will Ron Paul Force Mitt Romney Into A Debate?). And this confirms a couple things I saw- a friend I went with pointed out she thought that a girl a few rows in front of us was waving a Mitt Romney sign (at the very least) earlier in the day, but through the 2nd half (after Paul spoke), was holding a Ron Paul sign. I also recalled that but thought maybe our memories had fooled us. And at a pub gathering later, which I get to later in this article, a Romney supporter said he had switched to a Ron Paul supporter. Awesome, awesome news. Surely many people hadn’t seen Ron Paul speak before and were swayed by his speech. I had a feeling that would happen.
As expected and planned for, the basic battle was based on Paul supporters wanting to make sure everything was done fairly and transparently, and the Romney supporters wanting to just get the votes over with at the cost of rushing and not understanding all votes. But a large part of the delays was the lack of proper coordination of credential counting and noting when people registered. So the votes for national delegates that should’ve taken place around 2pm started around 6:30pm, after the national committeeman and committeewoman elections were moved up to before the delegate elections, a bit before 5. Ron Paul supporters Diana Orrock (whom I was surprised and pleased to hear address stopping Agenda 21) and James Smack won both positions.
Meanwhile, as the masses finished voting and counties started gettng released to vote for the delegate elections, and some sort of purgatory-type gap when people migrated randomly to and fro and grabbed pizza, a state of delerium and slap happyness/stir crazyness seemed to set in. People took the mic to tell jokes (most cheesy/corny/bad, but some decent), sing songs, and advertise their outside-of-convention events. It became Republican Open Mic Night. A woman in flag-design attire, hat and all, sang “God Bless America” in a very high pitch twice in a row. She may be the type of person that many people stereotype Ron Paul supporters as, but that’s ok with me, she was endearing and sincere and we sang it every day when I was a young kid going to my grandma’s senior center. Every American should know that song by heart.
The delegate elections, the most important votes of the convention, may have been the biggest embarassing mess of the convention. I walked around for over an hour to let the line go and try to get in when it was dwindling down, but when I got back, the lines were the same or worse. I got in and found out that the printer (just one apparently) had broken and they were waiting to fix it and print more ballots (these lines were just to pick up ballots, it was a whole separate line to vote). I decided to leave for another twenty minutes or so and returned, to find out they fixed the printer and printed more, but just as I got there the printer reportedly broke AGAIN. I waited in the unmoving line for about half hour with a friend as numerous people were losing their patience and tempers. We were happy when the line started moving again- and when I got halfway, they ran out of ballots. Again. Who knew when it was an actual printer break, or just not printing enough, or what, but it was obviously something that could’ve and should’ve been prepared for. It wasn’t like they didn’t expect us to vote. After another wait of fifteen minutes or so, we moved forward again and I joked that they probably just print a few at a time. About ten people got their ballots and I got to the 2nd position in line when the guy in front of me said they ran out of the fourth set of the four sets of ballots. I laughed, figuring he had to be kidding. After a couple minutes of no movement and him repeating himself, I asked, “you’re kidding, right?” But he wasn’t. I couldn’t accept that but I had to. After another 10-15 minutes of waiting, they finally brought up a little batch of the ballots and I finally got my ballots, wrote in my votes, and waited in the line to cast the ballots which miraculously went smoothly. The meeting was soon back underway, and voting and bickering continued nearly until midnight. The Romney folks were clearly disgruntled, making motions to complain about everything from Ron Paul supporters getting up to get water and walking around taking head counts, to the volume of our voices at the mic.
After the near 15-hour day, there was a Paul supporter gathering at the O’Ski’s pub a block away. Two Mitt Romney supporters showed up and someone commented that it was like Samuel Adams showing up at a bar full of Brits. Then the guy commented that the beers were to be put on Goldman Sachs tab. And one of them claimed to convert to Paulism while at the bar! Another highlight was the pairs of Mitt Romney flip flops, with his face and a very flip-floppy quote on the nature of his own flip-floppyness on each flip flop. (Something about him always remaining consistent on one, and to paraphrase “if you’re looking for consistency, I’m not your guy” on the other). And what a thrill it must be to walk on Romney’s face all day. At one point the bar erupted in a Ron Paul cheer, and it felt like a guttoral unifying soul sound from our collective consciousness. Or, ok, just a cool moment. After about an hour was last call, a shock of earlyness to us Las Vegans. There could be many more and much longer/less exhausted Ron Paul pub takeovers like it in Vegas, and there better be. But the early end was probably for the best, since we had to be back for more voting by 9am.
The Sunday continuation/last hours of the convention were potentially going to be the most important, because the possibility of unbinding the delegates so the Ron Paul supporters wouldn’t have to vote for Romney in the 1st round of the National Convention was being discussed as a possible vote t be set in motion. But NV campaign chairman Carl Bunce got up and told the delegation that “just because we have the sword doesn’t mean we have to wield it” (I may be a couple words off), and I think he made a great point and a very honorable decision was made not to try to change the state rules. And now it turns out that the binding rules won’t apply at the National Convention anyway so it all works out.
And an “aww” moment brought things to a fairly peaceful conclusion and something we couldn’t fight over (after a lot more desperate sore-loser attempts to get Paul supporters to shut up and get it over with, after our delegates won 22 of the 25 slots)- a very little Hispanic girl approached the mic to say “mama” (too short for most of the room to see) then “mommy and daddy left me.” Followed of course by awws and gasps, then the father picking her up and applause. I left to check out shortly before the meeting adjourned at nooon and didn’t hear of any more important business. A wild contentious convention and memorable life experience concluded. Back on the road for the 8-hour drive back to Las Vegas. Nevada lived up to its state slogan as “Battle Born” (it became a state during the Civil War) and truly is a battleground state in 2012. May the revolution and the evolution of our country continue.