From the Virginia Pilot
By Terrence Boulden, Coby Dillard, Jonathan Morris and Carl Tate
© January 22, 2014
An intraparty disagreement over whether to hold primaries or conventions to nominate candidates has made its way to the least appropriate place for it to be decided: the Virginia General Assembly.
During the opening of the 2014 session, Del. Scott Taylor, a Republican from Virginia Beach, introduced a bill that would “provide that no political party shall determine its candidates for statewide or General Assembly district office by a method that prohibits absentee ballots from being cast by uniformed-service voters or otherwise eligible voters who are employed overseas under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Taylor’s legislation would have the effect of making nominating primaries illegal for both the Republican and Democratic parties in Virginia.
The argument over methods of nomination, for Republicans, came to a head in 2012, when the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee elected to change the method of nomination for its 2013 statewide candidates from an open primary to a closed convention.
Supporters of the convention method hoped that they would be able to select more conservative candidates to lead the statewide ticket. They got their wish in Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson. They also argued that conventions, by their closed nature, kept Democrats from supposedly influencing the candidate-selection process of another party.
Supporters of primaries argued that the Department of Defense prohibited service members from attending conventions and were thus exclusionary to a large block of traditional Republican voters.
The problem with conventions is that they have a tendency to push candidates further to the base of their party in an effort to get nominated.
After a convention, the selected candidates spend the rest of their campaign attempting to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate – one that, in most cases, does not share the views of the hard activists that attend conventions.
Those candidates expend time and resources in an attempt to prove that everything that was said leading up to the primary was either not true, which turns off the supporters who pushed them through the convention – or was true, which limits their appeal to a statewide electorate.
Candidates running in a primary, generally speaking, don’t have that problem. From the beginning of their campaigns, they are running statewide, building an image that will appeal to as many voters as possible. Primaries also give the option, for those who aren’t hard partisans, to select the “next best” person to represent them, should their chosen candidate not win.
While we are in support of primaries as the method of nomination for Republican candidates in Virginia, we find some common ground with convention supporters in that these decisions are best left to the party members and their structure of governance.
For Republicans, it would fly in the face of all our arguments for a smaller, limited government to allow a state legislature to dictate how a political party can choose its candidates. It also raises constitutional questions because blocking conventions would be a restriction on freedom of assembly.
How Republicans choose to nominate their candidates going forward should be just that – their choice.
Terrence Boulden of Woodbridge, Coby Dillard of Norfolk, Jonathan Morris of Norfolk and Carl Tate of Staunton are the founding members of the Virginia Black Conservative Forum.