[5440 note: reprinted in full by permission of the author. Original post: Hidden Agenda | the whitestick papers.]
There always have been, and always will be, sub-groups within the Republican Party. Some are based on demographic similarities; Young Republicans, College Republicans, the Federation of Republican Women and the like. Most of these have links to the official party structure of one sort or another while maintaining an identity distinct from the party structure itself.
Others are issue-oriented. Groups like Log Cabin Republicans, Mainstream Republicans, Republican Liberty Caucus and others all have issues – often, single issues – they seek to promote within the official party structure. Like the demographic-based groups, they tend to have both a national and state-level organization and structure but, unlike the demographic groups, the issue groups don’t usually have a seat at the party table.
In both cases, there’s a clear leadership structure; people are appointed (sometime, by themselves) or elected to be the chief representative. Membership is usually known and leaders speak on behalf of the group. There’s nothing secret or secretive about them; they tend to be up front and open about who they are and what they want.
For the past several years, however, a new phenomenon has developed within the Republican Party. There is a nationwide network of folks who not only tend to stay under the radar, they seem determined to deliberately operate in stealth mode. Here in Oregon, there have been a number of examples of this, most notably the “false flag” delegate attempt during the 2012 election cycle.
The latest instance is a plot to bypass and undercut the ORP organizational structure. Don’t get me wrong; there’s no problem with people organizing to better communicate or promote an agenda. That’s pretty much standard fare within political organizations. But you can’t help but wonder what’s going on when those people keep not only their identity a secret but make no attempt to explain their agenda or why they’re not operating within the long-established system described in the ORP Bylaws and Rules.
What I’m referring to is the Oregon PCP News website – apparently created and maintained by those behind the 80-page nuisance lawsuit mentioned in Making sure Republicans lose – which purports to be an way for Oregon Republican PCPs to communicate with each other between regular meetings. On the surface, that appears innocent enough and there’s an Oregon PCP Facebook page, a email distribution list used by the state Central Committee and most county GOP organizations provide similar internal communications networks to accomplish just that. In fact, there’s so much interactive communication going on within the ORP it begs the question why this one is even needed.
There are a couple of troubling wrinkles to this forum. First, ORP Chair Art Robinson has said he knows nothing about it. Back in the late 1990s, I was Interim Chair of the Oregon Republican Assembly, an ardently conservative state group affiliated with the National Federation of Republican Assemblies. Our goal was to build upon the existing conservative nature of the GOP, taking on leadership roles and pushing a more consistent conservative agenda. As we were getting organized, I met with Deanna Smith, then ORP Chair, to discuss the nature and goals of the group. There were several things upon which we agreed and a number of them where we disagreed, but the point is it was done in the open and, while not with the consent of the ORP leadership, with their knowledge. That’s the way it should be done. If Chair Robinson doesn’t know about this group or this website, there’s been no such interaction. Despite the implication by one of the known leaders that it’s done under the authority of the ORP, it could actually be hostile to him and to the ORP leadership. As it happens, there’s evidence that’s exactly the case.
Along the same lines, this group is shrouded in secrecy. The website states its policy is to not divulge the names of its members. It’s understandable why it wouldn’t be willing to do so to media or those outside the group; that’s just basic security procedure. It is, however, of concern that they won’t reveal who is administering the website. They also don’t allow forwarding addresses, using as an example “firstname.lastname@example.org,” saying this could lead to non-members inadvertently becoming part of the group. Why is this a concern? All county officers are elected by (and usually elected out of) the PCP; don’t they automatically meet the criteria? What does the group need to keep hidden from the ORP leadership that they don’t want membership to slide easily and automatically if there’s a change?
The final wrinkle is that it’s creating a top-down shadow GOP. The entire structure of the ORP is the PCPs form the core, elected by registered Republicans and organizing at the county level. Most counties even break that up into House District or other areas so the PCP at the grassroots level are working most closely with each other. The counties then elect their representation at the state level, which forms the overall governing body, the state Central Committee. Out of that are elected the state Officers who, with District leaders elected directly by the PCP, comprise the Executive Committee. How is a self-appointed, largely unrevealed group of people operating at the state level an improvement on a bottom-up grassroots structure?
Again, there’s nothing wrong with PCP communicating with each other, and there’s a great benefit in cross-pollination around the state. There are mechanisms in place to do that. It’s just questionable when it’s done outside the party structure without being clear as to who’s involved and why.