Involvement in civic life—and thus in politics—comes natural to me. My family taught me from a young age that good citizens participate in their communities and do whatever they can to make their world a better place. As a teenager I learned that participation in local and state politics was the most effective way to help my neighbors, keep abreast of important problems, share and debate ideas, and interact with others.
Likewise, being involved in local party organizations has always been extremely important in my life no matter where I’ve lived. When I moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2009 I began researching how to get involved with the city’s Republican Party. I met with some party leaders and operatives and soon began volunteering my time with several campaigns before being elected as a committee person in 2010.
By the time I got involved, the Philadelphia GOP was in the midst of a spirited debate over party leadership. I immediately found to be a healthy exercise as factions within the party were competing to recruit committee people, organize their wards (some of which had lain dormant for years), and reach out to minority voters in a city that is majority-minority.
Unfortunately, after observing several years of brutal, public in-fighting among warring factions in the Philadelphia GOP—one aligned with the traditional Republican City Committee and the other aligned with the State Republican Party—I sense that healthy inner-party competition has been replaced by a vitriolic, venomous civil war that has failed to produce a bigger, better, and stronger Republican Party.
On May 23 the State Republican Party-affiliated faction held an election and now claims that the winner is the rightful chairman of the Republican City Committee. The current leaders of the City Committee faction reject this claim as illegitimate since only about half of the party’s ward leaders were invited to participate. This outcome will certainly lead to a continuation of the nasty internal party skirmish and a bruising court battle that will prove costly—financially and organizationally speaking—for both sides.
While the GOP civil war drags on, the Democratic Party continues running roughshod over Philadelphia’s political scene. Just one Republican remains in the Philadelphia delegation to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Republicans hold just a single council district. Beyond this, Republicans maintain just the one city commissioner position and two at-large council seats guaranteed to the minority party by the City Charter. The party holds no other public offices.
As of April Democrats held a colossal edge of roughly 801,000 registrations to about 129,000 Republicans. That number has declined significantly over the past 50 years, as Republicans trailed by just 180,000 voters in 1960. As Republicans feud over leadership titles, Democrats continue eating our lunch and controlling the levers of city government.
Rather than continuing the civil war with both sides laying claim to the title of party chair, I propose a more responsible and rational way forward. The only fair and reasonable solution to the question of who should be recognized as chairman of the Republican City Committee is to hold an open convention in which all duly elected committee people chosen in the May 2010 primary and those appointed to fill vacancies as of last November’s general election are permitted to vote via secret ballot for the candidate of their choice.
Committee people and rank-and-file Republicans in 66 counties get to choose their county party leaders. Philadelphia’s GOP should follow the same practice. This process will be open to the press, affords all duly elected and appointed committee people an equally-weighted vote, permits any candidate to be nominated from the floor, and gives all nominated candidates an opportunity to speak before the rank-and-file they are seeking to lead. Above all else, the open convention option must feature a proper 30 day call by which all of the eligible committee people are notified via U.S. Mail to prevent any one faction from claiming they were excluded from the process.
An open convention with a proper public call where the committee people choose their leader via secret ballot is the only way to restore legitimacy to the Republican City Committee among the public, the press, and the rank-and-file themselves. Any other attempt to choose a chairman without the direct input of the rank-and-file will not restore confidence in the party or legitimacy to the organization.
It is also the only way to end the current power struggle that has drained valuable time and resources from both of the party’s factions that could have been better utilized for organizing ward organizations, recruiting new committee people, and developing a bold urban agenda for Philadelphia powered by a rejuvenated Republican City Committee.
All factions competing for control of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee must embrace an open convention, allowing the committee people who represent the heart and soul of the party to choose a leader in a fair and inclusive public process. The party of McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan deserves a voice in Philadelphia that is driven by the rank-and-file, for the rank-and-file. A party convention is the best and only remaining option on the table.
Nathan Shrader is a PhD candidate in the Temple University Department of Political Science and the former Political Director of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee. He can be reached at [email protected]