Or how I passed up wet, topless biker chicks to go to the Texas State Republican Convention where a Ron Paul delegate has promised to punch me in the nuts.
Well, I’m off to the Texas State Republican Convention, about two hours behind schedule, hot and sweaty and under-dressed, having forgotten to bring the suit I had hung on the bathroom door so it wouldn’t get wrinkled. The convention is in hot and smelly Houston, and the GPS on my phone prints the street names so small I can’t read them even with my glasses, so what should normally be a two-hour trip may take the rest of the day.
I’m going to be reporting quasi-live from the convention, maybe throwing in some interviews, photos, video and other goodies. There’s a rumor that Chuck Norris may be there as a VIP, accompanying Governor Mike Huckabee, so I’ll be keeping my camera handy to see if his new chin lift is really as impressive as it looks on TV. I’m also going to be paying attention to the efforts of Ron Paul delegates to have an influence on the convention and get their message out.
In honor of the movement to reform the party and because of the possibility of a Norris appearance, I’ll be rating my various reports and the events they chronicle with ‘Righteous Fists’ based on how much the Ron Paul supporters manage to ‘stick it to The Man’ and the amount of Chuck Norris exposure. In the event of an extremely repressive event — something along the lines of an appearance by Phyllis Schlafly — I may break out the inverted ‘Unrighteous Fist’, but I hope it won’t come to that.
Updates will appear below as continuations of this article, so check back periodically to see how things are going over the next three days.
Thursday, 11:33am – What Beats a Pair of Topless Biker Chicks?
Well, this had better be one hell of a convention. On the way from my house to the highway I had to pass by the Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, which was just getting started up, and there were biker chicks holding a bikini carwash. I drove on by in my rush to get to the convention. I hope I made the right choice, because the car washers were uncharacteristically young and attractive and seemed to be having trouble keeping their tops on. Even Chuck Norris may pale in comparison unless he’s had even more radical plastic surgery than I expect.
Thursday, 1:07pm – Skulking at the Salad Bar
I stopped off in Bellville for lunch at a local buffet restaurant and stumbled on a meeting of the Bellville Noon Lions Club which was just wrapping up. I recognized a lot of the members from our Lions district convention, but I have to shamefully admit that I snuck in and out without socializing, because I was just running too far behind. And writing these entries to my phone for later upload isn’t speeding me up any.
Thursday, 3:01pm – Echoes of Past Resentment
I’ve actually made it to Houston and I’m in the convention hall. The convention center is huge and very impressive. My first impression is that the convention is pretty well organized. They’ve got the meeting rooms upstairs and downstairs they have the exhibit hall and the convention floor in two linked rooms so you can easily walk from one to the other. In my extensive past convention experience in another life, one of the big mistakes was always sticking the vendors off in some Siberian outpost so most attendees never even found them, they made no money or contacts and everyone lost out. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine, but this convention center is so huge relative to the size of the convention that there’s no space problem. From what I hear at the national GOP convention in Minneapolis they aren’t going to have that luxury and the exhibit hall is going to be in a hotel several blocks from the convention center. A disaster for the vendors and a strong argument for not picking locations which don’t have adequate facilities for the size convention you’re putting on. Can you guess that I used to be a convention vendor?
Thursday, 3:59pm – It’s Disturbingly Similar to a Star Trek Convention
True confessions. As hinted at in my last entry, I spent an awful lot of time at conventions in an earlier phase in my life. When I was a game designer I attended a lot (like 50+) of gaming and science fiction conventions as a publisher’s rep or a guest. I’ve been to the biggest and the smallest, including multiple GenCons (the biggest gaming convention) and DragonCon (huge comics con in Atlanta) and WorldCon (the world SF convention) and even some conventions in Europe.
One of the things we always did, much like the general public, was wonder at the oddly shaped, oddly behaved, and oddly obsessed people who made those conventions their homes. I always felt bad about it, since I was part of their community. Today I feel a lot better. It’s not just Trekkers or science fiction fans or comic book dweebs who look funny, dress funny, and act oddly. Apparently the same kind of people go to political conventions and engage in a lot of the same behavior.
There are people here in costume or decked in hundreds of buttons and engaging in arcane behavior that I wouldn’t even try to explain. There’s the same social division between the nerdy and withdrawn regular delegates who are the equivalent of the typical gamer or fan, and the candidates who are the equivalent of the writers or actors at the other kind of convention. There’s even a middle group of professional organizers who are nerdy but also a little professional — they have brown suits instead of gray suits and they sort of resemble the professional ‘superfans’ who run big SF, gaming, and media conventions.
There’s a lot of money to be made running conventions for hobbyists, and I suspect there’s a lot of influence to be made running political conventions, which explains the professional manager class. As for the similarities of the attendees, I think that people who are obsessed with anything, be it Ron Paul or saving fetuses or Dark Shadows or Squad Leader, are made similar and pushed to do many of the same things by their obsessiveness.
Thursday, 4:15pm – Let Me Be Perfectly Clear
I may have been a little harsh in the last entry. I have great affection and respect for the socially maladroit who attend conventions of all sorts, and I do think that for some of them it is part of a socialization process which eventually leads them on to better things and more integration into mainstream society. For others it’s a lifestyle which at least makes them happy. In the specific culture of the political convention, I can see attendees going through a process of personal development, from tentative first involvement to greater immersion and the development of better interpersonal skills until at the end of the process a lucky few emerge as butterflies with the skills to get a real job in politics or even run for office. True, some people come into the process more gifted than others and rise more quickly than others, but I think that for all its other flaws the hierarchical party structure and activities like conventions are a valuable learning process for all involved. Those who attend this convention will be more effective advocates for their causes and more able to advance themselves in the political world as a result.
Thursday, 4:17pm – Back to the Main Story
As you’ve probably guessed I arrived late. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Although our District had a caucus scheduled for noon, it didn’t come off and everyone just stood around chatting for a few hours. Another caucus is scheduled for later, but in the meantime I had a chance to visit the exhibit hall and see the vendors and got to spend some time on the convention floor. I’ll write some little features on the vendors later, but for now the story is on the convention floor.
Each district delegation has its own seating section with a section next to it for alternates. As you may recall, I’m a lowly alternate, but even with my high alternate number, because some delegates didn’t show up, I actually serve a valuable function. Whenever there are votes called for on the floor or in a caucus meeting, alternates are allowed in to fill the spots of absent delegates. In the case of the floor votes I attended this afternoon that meant being brought over to sit with the real delegates and getting to vote on the reports from the various committees which had met before the convention. Most of those committee reports were little more than formalities and passed with little or no challenge or discussion. But the report from the Credentials Committee was more controversial. The Credentials Committee goes over delegates from all the districts and determines if they are going to be seated. In most cases it’s just a rubber stamp, but in some districts the validity of certain delegates was challenged. In these cases the committee hears evidence and makes a ruling and that ruling is then submitted to the floor for discussion and a vote.
The big excitement on the floor for this session was mostly focused on the delegation from Nueces County where Ron Paul supporters had challenged the legitimacy of 151 delegates on the grounds that they didn’t appear on the rolls of any of the precincts and therefore had not been legitimately elected. They also alleged that 36 of the delegates hadn’t even voted in the Republican Primary (a vital precondition for attendance) and that another 36 delegates had been added by the Credentials Committee without necessarily having been district convention delegates, including the Chairman of the Credentials Committee. As it turned out, the Credentials Committee didn’t find the claims at all credible and rejected only one delegate from the Nueces delegation. An attempt was made to reject the report from the floor, but the Ron Paul faction just didn’t have the votes and irritated mainstream delegates outvoted them with raucus enthusiasm. By this point a few of the most vocal Paul supporters had made numerous points of order and other procedural motions on almost every item brought up, no matter how trivial, and it was clear that many mainstream delegates who might have been sympathetic were getting fed up with their tactics. I was seated by then, and for what it was worth I voted not to accept the committee’s report, but it was a lost cause. Blame doesn’t attach solely to the Paul faction. The chair seemed rather unsympathetic to them and certainly disinclined to cut them any slack.
One strange additional note. As I mentioned before there was seating set aside on the floor for our district delegation, but despite having known the exact size of that delegation for two years in advance of the convention, they somehow managed to put about 20 too few seats in our section, so we ended up moving them over some of the alternate seats.
Thursday, 6:35pm – Fear and Loathing, but No Drugs or Guns…Yet
One thing I noticed during the general session was that although they were enthusiastic, the number of Ron Paul supporters on the floor was lower than I had expected. Based on our district and others where I have contacts, I had assumed that most districts were like ours with about 30-35% Ron Paul delegates. Plus Senate District 25 supposedly was almost all Ron Paul delegates. So I had assumed they would make up a third or more of the total delegates. But in the votes on the convention floor this afternoon they seemed much fewer in number. People I talked to estimated as little as 10% of the total delegates. I’d put the number a bit higher because SD25 was all the way on the other side of the hall from us. But they certainly didn’t make up more than 20% of the delegates, suggesting that the Paul movement had been considerably less successful in most of the districts than they were in ours.
Some of the Paul delegates seemed pretty discouraged, but I did see some signs of hope, including Paul supporters doing a very good job of mimicing mainstream Republicans and successfully engaging in fairly meaningful discussions of issues without ranting and raving the way you would expect from the examples we see on the comment threads on blogs. I also saw serious mainstream Republican insiders publicly reaching out to Paul supporters and giving them encouragement and trying sincerely to try to welcome them to the world of party activism.
Thursday, 7:30pm – The Caucuses are Not Just a Mountain Range in Eastern Europe
We did manage to get a district caucus together. Sadly turnout was a lot better than it had been earlier in the day and I only got seated for the very last vote. Speeches, discussion, endorsements and ultimately votes took place on various party offices, including our permanent representatives to the various committees and representatives for the State Executive Committee. Candidates from the Ron Paul faction were put forward to challenge the establishment candidates for many of the offices, but in every case they were voted down by almost exactly the same margin, with just over two thirds of the votes going to the establishment candidate. But on a positive note, the Paul supporters seemed to take this pretty well. They didn’t cause a disruption as they had in some cases at our district convention and they seemed to be happy to participate and willing to take a longer view, suggesting they’ll be around pushing for reform for some time to come.
I have to give some credit to Dr. Richard Pojman, our District Chairman, who I slammed on a bit in my report on our district convention. Today he seemed to be making an honest effort to give all sides a fair hearing and as a result the proceedings were pretty harmonious. It doesn’t excuse some of his past draconian tactics, but he seemed to have a better grip on how to handle the Paul supporters and seemed less threatened by them. The overall atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than it was at the district convention. I can’t be as nice to his henchwoman who I previously identified as the “creepy little woman in an oversized pink coat.” Her suit fit better this time, but she may be even creepier than I realized. In making a speech for a party office she was running for she boasted that she had been responsible for getting state funding taken away from Planned Parenthood and given to ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ instead. I’m no big fan of Planned Parenthood, but I sure don’t like the idea of my taxes underwriting religious indoctrination centers for wayward teens.
Thursday, 10:41pm – Even Republicans Like to Party
So after things wrapped up I got a quick steak and spent some time at a party hosted by the nice folks at RightOnline.com a new site whose purpose I’m not entirely clear on, except that I think it’s going to be a conservative online magazine of some sort. It’s a new project of Americans for Prosperity. They’re sponsoring a blogger area in the exhibit hall and setting up interviews with candidates and officials. I’m going to talk to them some more tomorrow and see if I can figure out exactly what it is they’re actually planning to do with their new website. Talked to some interesting people at the party including several staffers from Senator John Cornyn’s office, but it was late and I got tired and so here I am back in my hotel room wrapping all this up.
No Chuck Norris sightings – except for Walker Texas Ranger on the Hallmark Channel – and the whole Righteous Fist thing may be a bust because we’re not getting much in the way of radical fireworks from the Paul faction. The way it’s going so far they’re liable to all be inverted fists or maybe I need to bring in a different symbol to represent limp acquiescence. Kind of disappointing for those of us who were counting on them for entertainment value.
Thursday, 11:20pm – Breaking News: Paul Drops Out
It seems I attended the wrong party tonight. While I was at the RightOnline.com party, at the Ron Paul Ice Cream Social Congressman Paul made an anouncement that he is finally dropping out of the campaign. You can see the video from his speech at Justin.tv and see his short written announcement on his campaign website. This all seems to be coordinated with the launching of his new group Campaign for Liberty which seems to be his longer term plan for promoting libertarian ideas in the GOP and elsewhere. I think this is a smart move on Paul’s part. The annoyance factor of his interminable was starting to distract from the efforts to move beyond just a presidential campaign to turn tthe enthusiasm he generated into a genuine long-term movement. Tomorrow we’ll see how the Paul supporters at the convention feel about the transition.
Continued in a Second Posting as The Righteous Fist Marches On