It is going to be wild in Augusta this weekend. After all, there ain’t no party like the Grand Old Party. Why? The Grand Old Party won’t stop.
With apologies to Coolio, Maine Republicans are gathering in the capital to hold their biennial convention. It is an event steeped in tradition and pageantry. However, its importance is not what it once was.
Long before arguments about ranked-choice voting in political primaries arose, the parties would gather in election years to determine their nominees. The idea that there would be some widespread election to select party standard bearers was not common. After all, political parties have no formal role in our system of government; “freedom of association” protects the rights of citizens to come together in private organizations to pursue shared political goals. The parties could decide amongst themselves who best represented their ideals. The public writ large would choose on Election Day.
That concept is shrill to a modern ear, but had served us well in the past. The “front runner” at the 1860 GOP presidential convention was Gov. William Seward of New York. When Seward alienated other parts of the party, an alternative was able to carry the day as the “face” of the Republicans. And where would America be today without President Abraham Lincoln?
While Mainers may not know whom the Republican flag bearer for governor will be at the end of the convention, they will — if they care to look — know what the GOP purports to believe. Historically, the party platform was one of the major outcomes from the event. They were relatively short, idealistic and policy driven documents meant as a lodestar to those in the party and as campaign materials for its candidates. Using a digital age analogy, it was the “About Us” page.
The end of the Augusta Convention will provide an adopted party platform for Republicans in 2018. But since the primary election — not convention delegates — will determine the nominee, it will fall by the wayside.
As we go into this weekend, there is no clear frontrunner in the GOP race for governor. Shawn Moody has the most money, although Mary Mayhew has him beat in getting others to open their wallet. Garrett Mason has received a substantial draw from the state treasury, while Ken Fredette has not found success on the fundraising circuit.
Matching each against some hypothetical “perfect Republican,” they all fall short. Mayhew lead a Democratic congressional campaign in the early 1990s. Moody ran, as an independent, against Gov. Paul LePage in 2010. Mason is drawing tax dollars from the state treasury to pay for his Blaine House run via a public campaign financing program he opposed and Fredette led the charge to override LePage’s budget veto in 2013 (while Senate President Mike Thibodeau held the line).
That is not intended as a knock on any of the candidates. Because there is no such thing as a perfect Republican. Each has qualities different from the others that different members of the party value in different amounts.
Fredette has been a legislative leader and a lawyer for both Maine businesses and the Air National Guard. Mason has spent most of his adult life as a state senator, with an understanding of how the State House works and bills advance. Moody knows first-hand the challenge of growing and running a business under our tax and regulatory burden. And Mayhew knows how to block and tackle in the executive branch, running the rigging necessary to make government work.
Decades ago, the convention would be where delegates meet, consider, and cajole to select one of these individuals to fly the Republican standard on the 2018 ticket. It would probably have taken a few rounds of balloting, and the different factions would have to decide their own internal priorities, convincing and compromising.
Instead, the GOP will have one grand party this weekend and the big question — who is going to be the nominee? — will be kicked to a ranked choice ballot on June 12. Whether that is a better way is yet to be seen.
But, regardless, and with renewed apologies to Coolio, the Grand Old Party won’t stop. After the primary, it is onto November.