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Conventions: What Are They Good For?

Former RPT Chairman Tom Pauken says changes to the nominating process might make convention duty more desirable.

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What’s the use of a state convention anyway?

That might be an odd question to ask what with about 10,000 ruby red Republicans gathered right now in Fort Worth to rally around the party’s platform and leaders. But, not to sound too contrarian about it, what are they really doing up there? Other, that is, from deciding with their platform to what extent Texas should allow undocumented immigrants to participate in the economy.

That’s partly because the biggest function of the convention — choosing the party’s standard bearers for the fall elections — leaves little for the delegates to do other than vote yes.

Former Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Pauken thinks his party is missing an opportunity to create more interest in the convention when it limits delegates’ ability to determine the party’s nominees.

He points to states like Virginia and Utah, where the convention has a much bigger role in nominating candidates. Getting candidates in front of the convention to make their case with the nomination not finally determined would create more excitement, he said.

Since his time as party chairman 20 years ago, Pauken said he’s seen a decline in turnout at the party convention. People aren’t fighting to be a delegate or an alternate like before, something that Pauken attributes to a growing sense of apathy among rank-and-file Republicans.

“What it says is people are saying, 'What difference does it make? Does my voice matter?'” Pauken said.

One other effect, according to Pauken, is that it “would take some of the power of big money out.”

The last point might say more about Pauken, whose ill-starred run for governor this cycle was effectively ended before it could begin by Greg Abbott’s $20 million-plus campaign war chest.

Pauken is not attending this year’s convention, he said, joining lite guv also-rans David Dewhurst and Jerry Patterson in skipping the party’s confab.

Others point to a risk in putting more of the nominating process in the hands of the party supporters hard-core enough to make a trek to the party convention. To take the case of Virginia, the convention made grassroots conservative Ken Cuccinelli a lock for the nomination for governor. But the convention also allowed for the nomination for lieutenant governor of E.W. Jackson, whose penchant for controversial statements on gays, the president and Planned Parenthood limited his viability in the general election.

Pauken, though, said the influence of outside money has weakened the party as a whole. For him, that’s a big concern because of the rise of grassroots groups like the Tea Party that he said are loyal more to the group than the party.

“My overall concern with the party, both in Texas and nationally, is the absence of leadership,” he said. “I don’t think the party can unite the forces within it. … This isn’t something the party can do on its own.”

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