In deciding to hold its presidential primary on Jan. 29, the Florida Republican Party violated the national party's rules and has thus been subject to a penalty by RNC chairman Mike Duncan -- the Rule 16 penalty, so named after the line item that gives Duncan the power to take delegates away.
The party's committee on the call -- consisting of the RNC's membership -- will vote today to endorse the Duncan sanctions.
But state party chair Jim Greer has always promised that all delegates would be seated by the Republican National Convention in August, and in a letter to RNC members yesterday, Greer appeals to their inner conservative conscience.
He argues that a strict reading of the party's bylaws gives states the latitude to hold their primaries whenever they want provided that no delegate is selected for the national convention that day. (Iowa has taken advantage of this loophole for cycles because their caucuses allocate delegates to a county convention...which allocates delegates to a state convention...which allocates delegates to the national convention).
Writes Greer: "Under the plain language of Rule 16, the 50% penalty applies only to states that choose to SELECT DELEGATES prior to February 5th, and without question Florida will not select its delegates until after that date."
Republicans close to Greer say he is likely to run for RNC chair if Republicans lose the presidential race in 2008. Members of the RNC will keep that in mind as they read the letter.
Greer's letter was provided to this column by an RNC member.
The inapplicability of the Rule 16 penalty to Florida should be given thoughtful consideration. Some would have this Committee follow the approach of liberal activist judges who ignore the express terms of written rules and instead “interpret” the law to their liking in order to achieve a particular outcome. The Committee should resist this temptation and remain faithful to Republican principles. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will help ensure that Florida’s critical 27 electoral votes will go to the Republican nominee in 2008. Although Florida’s position is technical in nature and may not be credible in the eyes of some, this position is factual and requires thoughtful consideration.
Greer then provides what he calls a "long term benefit" that would be derived from "seating all delegates from all states regardless of rule violations."
For years the Republican Party has listened to the false rhetoric of the Democrats, who continue to tell the voters of this nation that our party seeks to disenfranchise voters and withhold our most cherished act of democracy, the right to vote. The Democrat National Committee and its presidential candidates have slapped the face of their party’s voters by becoming a “prisoner to a political party’s rule,” which will have significant consequences for all Democrats on election day in 2008 and for years to come.
The Republican Party has an opportunity that we may never have again—an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment that “every vote counts.” We must put our party first and resolve our primary scheduling process through other means. Together, we must announce proudly, loudly and without reservation that no state and no voter of our party will be penalized in any manner and that all states will be permitted to seat their full delegation at the convention. The immediate benefit will be victory in the presidential election of 2008. The long-term benefit to our party will be invaluable, and it will ensure that the Democrats will not recover from our actions for many years to come. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the Republican Party and to the holders of the highest office of the land, the citizens.
The chairman of the RNC's rules committee, Robert Bennett, e-mailed a swift response:
"Florida is out of compliance with the Rules because it is allocating bound delegate votes to presidential candidates based upon the results of the presidential primary on Jan. 29, 2008, which is before the allowable window opens...."
"Notwithstanding that Chairman Greer believes that Florida is in compliance due to the fact that they do not select delegates until after February 5, 2008; the Rules unequivocally state that “No presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting may be held for the purpose of voting for a presidential candidate and/or selecting delegates or alternate delegates to the national convention, prior to the first Tuesday of February in the year in which the national convention is held.”
He notes that 51 out of 56 states and territories had no problem following that particular rule.
RNC general counsel Blake Hall, in a memo attached to Bennett's responses, takes issue with Greer's assertion that Florida Republicans never received appropriate legal guidance from the RNC.
"As Republican voters in Florida will cast binding votes for presidential candidates during the presidential preference primary on Jan. 29, Florida is clearly in violation ... , " he writes.
Chairman Greer's own words may come back to bite him. Earlier this year, he told the Associated Press that he "felt that moving the primary up outweighed any of the sanctions that would be imposed on Florida."