MINOT, N.D. — There are a lot of fractures in the North Dakota Republican Party, from Gov. Doug Burgum ruffling the feathers of many lawmakers with his big-money spending in the June legislative primary campaigns to the rump caucus Bastiat faction of the Legislature, the divides in North Dakota's dominant political party have perhaps never been more palpable.
Here comes another example of in-fighting.
Curly Haugland is a long-time Republican activist in North Dakota. Though he doesn't presently hold an official position with the NDGOP, Haugland has, in the past, served as a national committeeman representing North Dakota in the Republican National Committee, as well as the party's chairman.
Currently, he's trying to organize a state convention for his party. He's even got a date and a location, July 25, in Bismarck.
Typically the NDGOP holds its state convention in the spring, usually late March or early April. This year the party canceled their planned convention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The North Dakota Democratic-NPL held an online convention, but they had no competitive races for their nominations. The NDGOP did, and party officials felt they couldn't organize a secure online process for their convention business before the looming deadlines for the June primary.
But, per Haugland, candidate endorsements aren't the only business of the convention.
'Without a convention, there is no party!'
"Unfortunately, the convention was interrupted by an unforeseen emergency. Fortunately, that crisis has now subsided sufficiently to allow our deliberative assembly to continue," Haugland wrote in an email sent last night to delegates who had registered for the NDGOP's spring convention. "We must have a convention this year! Without a convention, there is no party!"
As Haugland tells it, the Republican party is organized as a series of back-to-back conventions. The governing body of each assembly sets rules for the duration of a convention event -- be it state level or national level -- and then rules to govern the party until the next convention.
"The Republican Party is deliberately organized as an unincorporated association of individuals, created and governed by Robert's Rules of Order and the special rules of order adopted by the most recent quadrennial Convention," he writes in the email. "As opposed to a permanent organization, the Republican Party is created anew by each successive Convention."
"Without a convention there is no Republican Party of North Dakota," Haugland argues at the conclusion of his email.
What would a convention in July do, given that voters have already nominated Republican candidates on the June ballot?
Haugland provides a list, including creating new rules for the NDGOP to govern it until the next state convention, electing national committee members, adopting a platform, electing delegates to the national Republican convention, nominating presidential electors, and setting the site for the NDGOP's 2022 meeting.
"Each of these duties cannot become official without the completion of the convention," Haugland writes.
How was the NDGOP planning on handling these issues without a convention?
"They waved their hands and said it was done," Haugland told me when I called him this morning. "They sent out a ballot and said it was done. They just disregarded all the rules. It's completely invalid."
Has Haugland run his plan past current party leadership?
"I've been trying to communicate with Rick (Berg) for three months, but he hasn't responded very well," Haugland said.
"It's going to be held at the Bismarck Civic Center, and more details are coming," he said of his ad-hoc organizing effort. "They had a credentialing committee and credentialed the delegates. That's the opening salvo of a convention. The delegates are in charge now."
Does Haugland need a certain number of delegates to show up to make his convention valid? What happens if sitting party officials, such as current Chairman Rick Berg, choose not to participate? Would that render Haugland's convention invalid?
"No, because of the nature of the organization, we're not a permanent organization, so the people who show up are the quorum. Politics belongs to those who show up. You can't not have a convention and have a party. That's the essential message here," he said.
"There's nothing personal about anything here. There's no hidden agendas. We just need to have a convention," he added.
A convention requires a 90-day notice
"First of all, our rules require a 90-day notice for a state convention and that it's called by the state committee. Curly hasn't made a request of the state committee to call a convention," Berg told me when I spoke with him about Haugland's email.
"Second, what party business needs to be decided? We've selected and the RNC has approved our delegates for the national convention. According to our rules they've selected the national committeeman and committeewoman. Our delegates voted on them in our mail-in ballot. I'm assuming the state committee is going to honor that when they gather on July 18," he continued, referring to an upcoming meeting of NDGOP leaders in Medora.
"Obviously our convention, we couldn't hold it, it was canceled," Berg said. "It was important for us to have some way to have the delegates vote on different issues. The state committee approved a ballot which we conducted just like our absentee ballots."
"One issue is delegates to the national convention. Another issue is national committeemen and committeewomen. The third issue is Republican electors," he continued.
For the delegates, "what we did is we kind of took the mail-in ballot and we went to the national Republican committee and said 'here is our process.' The RNC granted us a waiver and accepted our delegates," Berg said.
As for the national committee members? "The way the rules are, we typically elect them at the state convention, but their terms end in August. If no one is elected, then the delegates to the national convention would vote for the national committee members," Berg said.
How to handle the Republican electors is still an open question, Berg said. "What the RNC has recommended is that the state committee take that up, so that's one of the issues we'll take up at our state committee meeting on the 18th of July in Medora."
Haugland identified the party's platform as unfinished business, But Berg says that isn't so.
"We changed our rules a view years ago, so the party platform is approved by the state committee. It's not approved at the convention. Our platform, I believe, was approved a year ago at our summer meeting and it's for a two-year cycle. Our current platform has been in place, I think, since June of 2019 and is valid through June of 2021," he said.
"I've probably spent five hours over three weeks talking with Curly about this, and so he understands that. He maybe doesn't accept it, but he understands that," Berg continued. "According to Robert's Rules, in order for a convention to convene you need a quorum. If he's trying to convene the delegates, which he is, he'd need half of 930 or 466 people for a quorum. But first of all, a convention needs to be officially called, and that requires a 90-day notice."
"For me personally, we have people going around the state trying to get signatures for an open primary which I think is a huge risk to our governance here in North Dakota," Berg continued, referencing an initiated measure being circulated by a group calling itself North Dakota Voters First, which would, among other sweeping changes to state election laws, eliminate political party primaries on the ballot (though you might not know that given the way petitioners are describing the measure).
"I'd like to see Republicans' time and energy focused on that issue over the next month."
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.