Ever since I was old enough to lick an envelope or slide a curled up George Voinovich information card between the knob and the door of each house on the streets of a westside neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, I have been involved in political campaigns. My father, Hugh, a long time Republican supporter, had the benefit of six kids to help. So my childhood was filled with picnics where I met lots of candidates along the way. When I grew up and became a photojournalist for newspapers I was no longer allowed to participate but covered all the campaigns even riding through Cleveland in a limo as part of Vice President Dan Quayle’s motorcade.
When I moved to Florida as a journalist the paper I worked for considered working on campaigns a conflict of interest although they themselves endorsed party candidates. After leaving newspapers behind and working for magazines and private clients around the world I was again drawn to the familiar territory. However, I had the benefit of twenty some years of covering campaigns. This year that path led me to try to be a Florida Delegate to the Republican Convention this summer in my hometown.
I thought back to my high school civics class about how we elect a president. I remembered thinking how delegates were ordinary citizens who were elected to represent us and fulfill the role of placing our vote in the ballot box for our selected party candidate. Then something called the Electoral College would then again do the same thing at the final level to choose POTUS. I barely remember much else from that class but I do recall that I had an idea in my head that in a Democracy each of us had a vote and our votes collectively counted. Somehow with the happy ending that we the people elected the president of our choice.
So when I was told that the delegates were chosen as a perk for specific volunteers within the Republican party I still sent my application Fedex overnight as required to Tallahassee and waited with just a little bit of enthusiasm. Then I and the present 35 out of 40 other applicants met at a closed door meeting to pick the delegates in Jacksonville. Only registered Republicans were allowed to enter and cel phones were checked at the door. I was told that each of us would be given a chance to speak publicly to the eight chair people who would be choosing the delegates.
After every applicant spoke the eight people voted. A specific party member collected their index cards and took them in a back room. A few minutes later he came out and said “Ander Crenshaw.” Thus the first delegate was chosen. I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just open each index card and read off how many votes were for whom. This same process happened five more times with four of the board members basically being elected by themselves. I thought for sure the former military officer who had worked the makeshift morgue on September 11th, 2001 at the Pentagon would be chosen. I hoped I would be too. Instead the additional person to round out the six was a former elected official. I overheard two women behind me say something like if this is how the Republican Party runs things no wonder no one wants to join them anymore. I left that meeting with the feeling that although these people chosen would probably do a good job as delegates, it was definitely predetermined who would go based on their allegiance to the Republican Party and not necessarily their obligation to the voters of Florida. I also felt that when they got to the convention they were not going to pick Donald Trump if they could help it.
Ironically I got a call this past week asking me to donate $75 to the Republican Party. I said I have a wait and see attitude. I want to see if the American people’s vote counts or if a back door decision denies the voters their choice. I recall a conversation I had years ago with a Washington beltway insider. ” No matter who is president the same people run the country,” I was told.
I will be in Cleveland to see how this all really plays out, but I wanted to end with comments I remember from two of my Kent State University professors. If you don’t want to be in the newsroom on election day get out of the business; and It’s not what you look at but what you see that matters.