Rebuilding the RI GOP Part III: The Leadership Speaks
Rhode Island GOP Chair Patricia Morgan sat down for an extensive and wide-ranging interview with Dan Yorke yesterday. I believe that the viewpoints of the current GOP Chair are worthy of conclusion in this discussion we are having about rebuilding the RIGOP. Call it serendipity, I guess.
First, here are my quick takes on some of the items that came out of the interview:
The headliner is that Steve Laffey was engaged in some dealmaking with regards to the Senate run and that he asked for either the URI Presidency or an Ambassadorship in lieu of taking on Chafee. He was denied both. Throughout the interview, Morgan repeatedly talked of healing the party, but in the end, Laffey proves to be a constant source of friction, even for her.
It would appear that a lot of the money/resources sent to the RI GOP from the National Party was spent in the primary for the GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort, which essentially helped Senator Chafee. I understand that it was used to build a GOTV system (computers, lists, etc.) and that it would have been unwise to hold back until after the primary. I even recognize that using the primary as a “dry run” for the general election was a good idea.
However, I also can’t help but wonder if too much of those resources were used specifically for the GOTV effort on behalf of the Chafee campaign in the primary. How much of those resources were spent identifying independents and Democrats and then cajoling them to vote for the first–and probably only–time for a Republican? As a caller said, why couldn’t the RI GOP just have stayed out of the Senate ’06 primary and let the two candidates with the deepest pockets slug it out on their own? Then they could have still built the GOTV effort and focused on the local races, where the money was really needed.
I think that all can agree that the Governor absolutely needs to take charge of the party. I realize he has a state to manage, but if he wants to have a lasting legacy, he had better step up and create an environment whereby individuals with whom he shares a political philosophy can carry the banner in the future.
Finally, we can agree that there are a core set of principles (mostly fiscal/good government) around which the RI GOP needs to build. However, many of the most energized volunteers in both the national and local GOP are those who prioritize social issues over economic. They don’t engage in politics for the sake of helping themselves (ie, pocketbook issues), they do it so that their children will have a better future in a world that is a little less crass than it is now. Those resources need to be tapped and the only way to do that is to convince social and religious conservatives that their input is valuable and that their viewpoint will be respected.
In the extended entry (below) is a summarization of that conversation.
I’ve broken the interview into seven parts and embedded a link to the audio file for each (available on Yorke’s web page).
Dan Yorke’s proposition that the RI GOP shut itself down apparently aggravated Chair Patricia Morgan enough that she decided to sit down for an interview with Yorke.
She began by explaining what went wrong. In short, while they had a great slate of candidates that should have won, a the “Perfect Storm” swept them away. It wasn’t just Rhode Island, but also nationally. But in addition, RI had some specific factors (the casino, a motivated labor coalition) that contributed to the electoral difficulty for the state GOP’s candidates.
Yorke ran through the fact that the GOP made no gains in the Legislature or the Senate, the Governor barely won and Senator Chafee lost and cried about it later (blaming Laffey). Also, there are double agents throughout the RI GOP and the party has no money.
Morgan explained that polls taken the weekend before the election showed Chafee, Carcieri and Sec. State candidate Sue Stenhouse all leading, as well as 6 candidates for the House. But, in the bluest of the blue states, there was an energized union leadership that threw a lot of effort at this election and they were more organized than ever.
She explained that the unions get their money from everyone’s paycheck automatically; they don�t have to ask for a check. Rhode Islanders aren’t used to voluntarily giving contributions. The Democrats have a constant stream going into their coffers. Because the Governor took on pension reform and angered union leadership, they were out to get him and down ticket candidates suffered.
Additionally, there was Harrah’s, which seemed to have an open checkbook. After ten years and millions of dollars, everyone in RI knew how they were going to vote on the casino. They also probably knew about the governor and the senate races, but didn’t really know their local candidates. Thus, because it’s a Democrat state, they tended to default to the Democrat side; besides which, as they were going into the polls, they were told to vote straight Democrat. Finally, Morgan thinks that the number of ballots that were straight Dem was double that of last election.
Yorke explained that he was “sick of the excuses.” Morgan said that it wasn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation. After some back and forth, Morgan offered that, “I think the people of Rhode Island made a bad call.” As an example, she mentioned Spencer McGuire in Bristol. He was a qualified candidate, raised $30,000, walked door to door for months, met everyone in his district and ran a great campaign. He was going against a guy who has a voting record that isn’t in the best interest of the people in his district and had a very serious ethics complaint against him. Yet, the people returned him to office. Is it because the RI GOP didn�t have a great candidate? No. It’s because the people aren’t informed about their local officials.
Morgan attempted to take the heat herself by explaining that the RI GOP keeps trying but they’re underfunded and she stated, “Criticize me for that.” Yorke would have none of that line of thinking, explaining that it wasn�t about blaming Morgan, it was about the systemic issues of the RI GOP, which is a tiny party, fractured, full of double agents, no cohesive leadership plan and no money to even implement that plan if they had it.
Yorke repeated that they should shut it down. When Morgan defended the current Republicans up on the Hill, Yorke averred that they enjoyed being the minority party and taking what they could get. Morgan offered that Yorke’s real question should be why the people of RI continue to vote for the people who don’t serve their best interest. Yorke said no, my question is when is the GOP going to get its act together.
Yorke said the Governor should call for a GOP meeting ASAP (not in March, when it is currently scheduled). He should call out the double-agents, tell the factions to leave each other alone, talk about the party’s benefits, elect a chairman, find the people to raise money, and then implement this plan. He should lead the effort for 6 months to get it going. If not, kill it. After some back and forth, Morgan eventually agreed that the Governor was the only one who had the star power to lead the effort in rebuilding the RIGOP.
A Caller offered that the state GOP has tried too hard to �out-left� the Democrats and also took the RI GOP leadership to task for “savaging” Laffey. Morgan disagreed that they had “savaged” Laffey.
Yorke then brought up the $1/2 million sent to the party for party-building that Laffey believed he should have had access to. Morgan explained that it was for party building and, once they got into the general election, that money was available for everyone. [According to National GOP rules, from which this money came, only incumbents can have access to this money in a primary].
Yorke played a clip of Chafee saying he was glad the GOP lost the House and asked how Morgan felt about it. Morgan said it was unfortunate and that Chafee was vulnerable. He had a bad couple days. Yorke offered that that was a very �chic� think to say (no offense intended).
Yorke then moved on to the fact that you don’t get points for trying, and that�s all he was hearing. He also criticized the RI GOP for having nobody to run against Langevin. Morgan said that it just made sense to not run against Langevin. Too often the party puts up sacrificial lambs. They have limited resources and only so many volunteers and they needed to put them where they can make a difference.
A caller (Laffey supporter) said that in the primary, both Laffey and Chafee were well financed and could support their own campaigns. Why did the state party inject itself into that race? The Governor can’t even sustain a veto in the house and the party was worried about two guys who have enough money to run both now AND four years from now.
Morgan explained that her concern was building the party infrastructure, getting GOTV expertise and getting help to help all candidates up and down the ticket. She hears the criticism that the RI GOP doesn’t get enough volunteers and it is volunteers who do all of the hard work like making phone calls and going door to door, which helps to pull that vote out. According to Morgan, the RI GOP has never done that in RI because they’ve never had that grass roots infrastructure.
Laffey Supporter then had two follow-ups–He asked how much of that $1/2 million went to Chafee in the primary. Second, he thought it insulting for Morgan to say the people went the wrong way and asked when it was time to shoot the messenger. When do you acknowledge that you or the party isn’t being effective?
Morgan explained that, first, none of that money went to Chafee, it was all GOTV. Laffey Supporter then asked how much went to the primary? Morgan restated that the national GOP didn�t give any money to Chafee. Laffey Supporter then stated that Morgan was avoiding the question and asked how much went to the GOTV effort during the primary.
Morgan said that they used the money during the primary and general election. She explained that you don’t start building GOTV after the primary because there isn’t enough time. There is only 8 weeks until general election. You have to start building it early.
At this point, Yorke jumped in, and said that Laffey, as the challenger, had to know he wouldn�t get that money until, and if, he won the primary. . Laffey Supporter agreed, but wanted to know where the RI GOP was when that decision was made. Morgan explained that the state central committee overwhelmingly approved (75%) using that money for GOTV. . Laffey Supporter responded that, while he understood that, wouldn’t it have been better used for the general election and that he suspected most was used in Chafee/Laffey race. Morgan discounted that and said it wasn’t, but the GOTV program was constantly built.
For clarificiaton, Yorke asked Morgan (rhetorically) to define what the GOTV and $1/2 million was. Yorke explained that it wasn’t really cash, but a program for GOTV. They were assets for investing into a system for identifying voters. The Chafee campaign had access to that system in the primary but Laffey couldn’t. He then asked Morgan if she knew how much of that now-famous 72 hour push in the GOP Senate ’06 primary was helped by that $1/2 million. Morgan confirmed that that system was used by the Chafee campaign, but that the dollar amount didn’t equate to half of the total. She explained that it was hard to quantify it because it was an ongoing thing.
Yorke then changed tack and played cuts of Jackvony comparing Laffey to Saddam Hussein and blaming him for all that is wrong with the RI GOP. Yorke asked Morgan when the RI GOP was going to get those type of people out of the party. Morgan replied that the GOP needed to realize that their opponent was the Democrats, not each other and they needed to get together.
Yorke explained that Jackvony and Holmes were self-serving, double agents who looked out for themselves. He also asked why the local media always goes to them for the GOP POV. He then played the clip of Holmes explaining that he had given advice to Democrat Charlie Fogarty. Morgan was very upset at this and called it “absolutely outrageous” and declared that Holmes’ credentials as a Republican should be taken away and that the RI GOP needed to tell the media that Holmes doesn’t speak for us and that there are others that are more representative of the party. When asked about Jackvony, Morgan dodged a bit. Finally, Yorke also mentioned that Morgan works 30 hours a week without pay.
A Democrat Caller had two points. He disagreed that it’s the governors job to build a party. They can lend their name, but it has to come from the party chair and the grassroots. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Second, the RI GOP’s whole strategy for winning on a local level is flawed because they are too negative. [Yorke and Morgan blew him out of the water on that–he interpreted “going negative” as being critical of your opponent’s voting record].
Yorke reiterated that the Governor was the only guy who can resurrect the party and put the chairperson on the playing field. Morgan agreed that she needed his help. To this, Yorke explained that the RI GOP needs more than help, it needs restructuring. That’s what the Governor supposed to do as a businessman.
Yorke asked Morgan how the Governor could help. Morgan stated that he energizes the troops and helps in raising money, to which Yorke added that, “He needs to knock heads.” According to Yorke, John Holmes is only one of a bunch of bad players in the RI GOP. He then asked, “What about Jackvony?” Yorke observed that, while he’s got a personal problem with Laffey, Laffey does that to people, but he isn’t going away. The RI GOP have to embrace Laffey as a viable part of the party and stop the internecine warfare. Morgan explained that there is a personal history between Laffey and Jackvony, but the GOP needs to take on the Democrats, not each other.
Morgan also said she wanted to still be Chair. She believed in the GOP philosophy and that it could help RI. People complain about taxes and corruption, but vote in the same people again and again. (Then they went back and forth again about the past election problems).
Morgan said that there was a lot of money on the other side floating around the state. Yorke said that that is what happens and when a party has no infrastructure, they get caught flat footed by that type of effort. Morgan explained that’s why they got the money from the National GOP for GOTV, to which Yorke said, but it was chump change.
A Republican Caller said he was looking for an email or message from state party about what happened (speaking to communication issues) and said that the prty should embrace Laffey, and he needs to run again.
Yorke then went into a different direction than the party-building conversation and delved into the behind the scenes deal-making between Laffey, Chafee the RI GOP and National GOP. As has been well-documented, many tried to persuade him to run for another office. Morgan said that she believed Laffey wouldn’t because he apparently really wanted to be Senator. However, she then explained that Laffey may have considered running for Lt. Governor if the duties of the office were expanded. Governor Carcieri knocked that down.
A Republican Contributor called and opined that, while Morgan said there were no grassroots, “maybe you’re fishing in the wrong pond,” ie; maybe the RI GOP should turn to its more conservative members. He then asked why does the RI GOP have to be Democrat-lite. According to Republican Contributor, Laffey had three paid staff members and the rest were highly motivated volunteers. “I didn’t know him, but his message intrigued me and I thought I’d help.” RepCon finally offered that if Chafee hadn’t been rescued by the RNC, he would have lost.
Morgan explained that she would take anyone in the GOP. She doesn’t restrict philosophy. If they want to work for the RI GOP, she’ll take them. She qualified that when she talked about the grassroots, she was talking about the town committees. They need help. The Democrats have a natural constituency. They’ve been in power for so long, they’ve distributed patronage and they have the unions. They have people who show up because they’re expected to show up. Morgan offered this anecdote: When she showed up for a debate against Speaker Murphy in 2004, the place was full of State House workers. There was a financial, personal reason why they were there. They weren’t strict volunteers. On a side note, she also explained that Harrah’s “volunteers” were being paid.
Another Caller chimed in and stated that, in other states, parties build their back bench through appointments to commissions by the governor. He said that he had inquired and didn’t get any feed back that they had received his letter. He had to show up at the door of a certain member of the Governor’s leadership team to confirm that he had heard of him. The RI GOP has to build from the bottom up, but some of these other positions could be used effectively. Morgan reminded him that many of those positions have to be approved by the Senate and there is horse-trading going on and, as a result, it’s really Democrats that end up filling those spots. The caller made the final point is that the Governor’s office or RI GOP should at least give some feedback when someone offers to help. Communication can help to energize the young party members.
Yorke then reported that he had received a well-sourced (confidential) email that said that in private meetings, Laffey had indicated he would accept the URI Presidency or a diplomatic position (ambassador) and drop out of the race against Chafee. The Governor shot down the URI Presidency and Ken Mehlman shot down the ambassadorship.
Yorke asked Morgan why she didn�t want to say it and she said because she wasn�t there. Yorke said he had heard this, but had had no sources. In the end, Morgan said it revealed Laffey’s personality and that it showed that he was disingenuous. “If you really want to do something, you don’t trade it away for something else–he was trying to use it as currency.”
An Independent voter called. He was proud of Laffey and the Governor. He said part of the RI GOP’s problem is that Morgan said she could care less if someone is liberal or conservative, as long as they’re a Republican. Ind. Voter thought that is and example of the problem. He thought many with more traditional views felt that Chafee and many Republicans and Democrats don’t share those views and that “we don’t know where to go. We’re orphans.” Thus, maybe the RI GOP needs to articulate a value laden party. Carcieri has the values and views and strength to stand up to the corruption here in Rhode Island. Only a few others, like Dan Yorke and Steve Laffey, have done it, too.
Morgan said that she needed him to come help the party to grow. There are certain things that bind all Republicans together, she explained: smaller, efficient government; people running their own lives and not a government bureaucracy. There are things that we can all agree on and the RI GOP needs like-minded people to help.
Yorke asked the caller about the Laffey horse-trading deal and the Caller revealed that there was a softer side to Laffey, who would visit the caller’s sick mother and bring her a Thanksgiving turkey every year. That is the softer side of Laffey that needs to come out. Yorke refocused and tried to get an answer. The Caller said he believed Yorke and Morgan, but didn’t know for sure what to make of it. Morgan stated, “It really happened.”
Another Caller said he was sick to his stomach listening to this. To be effective, the RI GOP needs an organization which requires money and a message. Two things they don’t have. A lot of excuses: democrats, unions, terrorists–everyone but those running the RIGOP. They’ve failed and when are they going to take responsibility? The party needs new blood.
Yorke asked if he was saying that Morgan should go. The Caller responded,
“Yes.” The RI GOP hasn�t won anything. If you fail, you move on. The RI GOP hasn’t raised money. How much money did you spend on candidates that wasn’t part of the rule 11 money (the $1/2 million). Morgan responded that $165,000 was spent for approximately 58 candidates. The Caller broke it down: they got $3000 each, “How the hell do you win an election doing that.” This got Morgan’s back up and explained that the RI GOP had a platform and that a booklet was provided to every candidate and that the RI GOP did opposition research for every candidate. Finally, she told the caller that she was surprised that someone such as he–who was supposedly so informed about the RI GOP–wouldn’t have known that.
This segment opened with a caller who said he was the Secretary/Treasurer of the North Providence Town Committee and also a state GOP convention delegate. He said he was floored by Morgan’s depiction of how the vote for the $1/2million went down. According to him, throughout the convention it was proposed that the money be used for all of the candidates and then, at the end, it was revealed that all of the $� million was for Chafee’s campaign. As for grassroots, he said that he had offered several times to help the party with publicity or advertising, in which he had 40 years of experience. He then said he had never heard back from the RI GOP. Morgan confessed that she didn�t know who he was, but if people volunteer, she uses them and that she’d like his phone number.
Another Caller rang in to observe that the party is fractured and that Morgan had made a huge move forward by condemning John Holmes. He continued that a lot of people were disenchanted with Holmes et al and that, unfortunately, he’s the face of the GOP party on local media outlets, not Morgan.
Yorke agreed and told Morgan that she needed to do a better job of getting genuine GOP spokespeople. Morgan pointed to Rep’s Watson, Gorham and Trillo as some who should be used by the media not Holmes. Yorke commented that Morgan should have gone after ABC 6 for having Holmes on Election night or Lively Experiment for going with Jackvony as the GOP voice. Morgan agreed that there are more current people withing the RI GOP to whom the local media should turn. Yorke stated that, as the RI GOP Chair, Morgan needed to control these issues.
Another Caller said he was disgusted with Laffey, Holmes and Jackvony. Asserted that the RI GOP has good people in the House who can represent the party well. He was shocked by Laffey’s actions re: the back room dealing and stated that Laffey shouldn�t be looked to within the party anymore because he put himself first. Yorke asked Morgan if she sanctioned that point of view, that “Laffey should be sent to the back of the bus.” Morgan said that the people of the party will have to decide, but it’s a window into his personality.