Yesterday the MN Republican Party's State Executive Committee held a conference call to discuss moving the date of precinct caucuses from the second Tuesday in February to March 1. The call and vote were actually more of a formality. GOP Chairman Keith Downey had already agreed with his DFL counterpart Ken Martin on the date change. The vote to change the date passed with only one objection, that of CD2 representative Bill Jungbauer. He wanted to table the motion so that it could be discussed further. He couldn't get a second.
Last year I ran for (and won) a spot on my local city council. My campaign was centered largely on a message of the need to increase transparency in our local government.
I'm about 2 months into the job now, and one thing that has been funny to see is just how much more transparent everything is in government compared to the party process. In fact, in a statement that would have seemed preposterous to me just a few months ago, I think there's a lot the Republican Party could learn from the government.
Now of course I understand that a political party is not a unit of government, and cannot and should not operate like one. But it's been my experience than many Republicans like to campaign on things like openness and transparency, but sure don't like to practice what they preach.
Let's take this decision to move caucus night as one simple example. This is a decision that could have significant implications to the way Minnesota awards its delegates at the national convention, which could in turn impact which Republican candidate is nominated for President. A pretty big deal. But how was the decision made? If you are an average Republican in Minnesota who has a strong feeling about the topic, how would you know that a decision is even being discussed? Notice of yesterday's meeting, like all executive committee meetings, wasn't posted online.
In the government world, a public body has to post notice of their meetings at least 72 hours in advance. That includes a complete list of the items which will be discussed. And no- you can't just have a section at the end for "other business". You didn't provide proper notice. People have the right to know what you are discussing and when.
How about attendance? In the government world we can't have conference calls (unless there's a pandemic). All meetings have to be in a place where the public can observe. Can't attend the meeting? You have the right to get the meeting minutes so you can see what happened. If you were a Republican who wanted to listen in to a meeting, could you? Where do you get the minutes? They certainly aren't on the Party's website. When Chris Fields was the Party Secretary he used to email out executive committee minutes. That doesn't happen any more.
Not that it matters anyway, since most of the time the executive committee meets in executive session, where no notes are kept and nobody can talk about what is discussed. Again, not allowed in government. There are only a few reasons you can close a meeting, and even then you are required to audio record the proceedings and make them available eventually.
What about the decision making process? In the government world you're entitled to all of the documentation that those making the decision are given. As a council member at the dais I have a packet of information. That same packet is available for any member of the audience to review so they have the same information I have.
During the last MNGOP State Central Committee meeting, delegates were not given printed copies of financial information to review. Instead they got a snapshot of information on a PowerPoint. As a result many Republicans were probably surprised to learn that the Party's debt had grown significantly at the end of 2014 and that the Party ended the year with roughly the same amount of debt that it had when Keith Downey took office.
I wasn't. But then again I was provided access to copies of the full financial statements before the meeting. Not every delegate was given this opportunity. In fact, when it became known that I was provided information about the party's finances some Republican insiders were much more concerned about who had "leaked" the information to me (a delegate to State Central, the governing body of the party) than the information about the additional debt.
Now, again, I know that a political party is not a unit of government. It's a self governing body, and the members get to decide how much transparency and openness they want. It seems that the majority of Republican delegates are OK with the closed, secretive process that they have. After all, it appears Chairman Downey is going to sail to re-election without opposition. Many Republican delegates don't seem to care that their elected chairman tries to control the flow of information to keep them in the dark. Actually, some seem to prefer it that way.
The Republican Party is currently in the process of electing new delegates to State Central for the next two years. I would encourage this new crop of delegates to reflect on their organization and see if it really models the values that Republicans claim to care about during campaign season.
Perhaps they can take some cues from an organization that really understands transparency and openness. The government.