Gio Cicione: Closing the Primary – Not in Haste, Not During an Election Year

Dear Members of the Republican State Central Committee:
I am writing to you today to discuss the recent debate arising from a request last week by the Executive Committee of our organization to schedule a special state Central Committee meeting. This debate has, unfortunately, become something of a public spectacle, and in my opinion has unnecessarily hurt our party because of its public nature and the tone it has taken. I have made every effort to refocus public discussions in the last few days on the important work this party should be doing as the election season kicks off. However, I have instead had to spend an inordinate amount of time responding to media inquiries and internal questions about this debate.
I hope in spite of all of this you have taken note of the four substantive press releases issued last week addressing our concerns about Linc Chafee as a candidate for Governor and his plan to raise taxes if elected. I hope that you appreciate that instead of sharing with voters the hard facts that our researchers have dug up on his free spending ways as mayor of Warwick, we have instead had to respond to questions about our own inter-party squabbling.
And because I have tried to shift the discussion back to our strategic messaging rather than this dust-up, I have not taken the opportunity to fully explain my reasoning relating to the decision to not hold a special meeting. I do, however, feel that as committee members you have the right to hear both sides of the debate and judge for yourselves who is acting in the best interests of the party. While I fully expect this public embarrassment to escalate over the next few days, including calls for my resignation, please be assured of two things: I will continue to try to limit the time wasted on these matters, and I have no intent to abandon this party as we begin the most productive election cycle we have potentially seen in over a decade.
Background
For those who may have missed it, let me start with some background. The RIGOP bylaws and state law currently allow voters to register as Republicans on the day of a primary election and vote in our primaries. The same applies to the Democratic Party. This is referred to as an “open primary” system. For many years some advocates of a “closed primary” system for the RIGOP have been suggesting that we require voters to be registered as Republican for at least 90 days prior to casting a primary ballot.
The process for considering such a change is clear. Under our bylaws it would require that a resolution be submitted to the Executive Committee, then to the state central committee at a full meeting, and then voted on favorably at a successive full meeting of the state Central Committee by two-thirds of the delegates present.
There are good arguments on both sides of the debate as to whether a closed primary would help or hurt Republican candidates in Rhode Island, and I don’t intend to restate them here. I will leave it to the advocates of each position to state their arguments before the state Central Committee as a whole. I myself have not yet seen enough facts to allow me to determine one way or another whether this type of move in other states has had a positive or a negative impact.
There is also some debate about whether we can make this change on our own or if it would require a change to state law. The Board of Elections has publically stated that they don’t believe we can, and so a legal fight is likely if this were to move forward. I have assumed, based on assurances given by an attorney for a specific campaign, that we would eventually win a legal challenge. Nonetheless, I have asked the promoters of this initiative to provide written assurances from a lawyer who will take on a potential dispute without cost to the party (we cannot afford a legal battle, and I have been assured that they have secured such a commitment from Joe Larisa, who is more than qualified to do the job.)
I also believe that any such change would require a concrete plan of action and dedicated resources to educate voters, register those who want to participate in our party primary as Republican is time for the elections, and control the perception of this move so as not to allow it to be positioned as a ‘snub’ to unaffiliated voters. The Republican brand is not at its strongest today. It is vital that if we close our primary we take strong public steps to reach out to the citizens of this state to welcome them into the fold, because the news media and our opponents will unquestionable try to make it look like we are simply closing our doors to those who don’t agree with us.
Timing
Given these three points – the need for a full assessment of the merits, the potential time and expense of a legal challenge, and the potential time and expense of a voter education effort – I feel strongly that this discussion should not be made in haste and should not be made in an election year. Not only is it questionable whether any change would be implemented in time for the 2010 elections (in large part because the time required to fight a legal battle is an unknown), it is unavoidable that in an election year this debate becomes tainted with the biases of its impact on particular candidates. In other words, rather than doing what’s best for the party and all of the hundreds of state and local candidates, the decision is influenced by how it might affect an individual race.
I had discussed my concerns about the timing of this potential change with closed primary advocates over a year ago. In response to these concerns they had submitted a proposal for the change early last year. That proposal was put before the Executive Committee last summer and received a negative recommendation. At that point the proponents withdrew the proposal.
For reasons I will leave to them to explain, five proponents of a closed primary came back to me again in December and asked to meet with me to discuss a re-submission of the proposal. We met in my office and they laid out a very accelerated schedule that would require me to call a special meeting of the full state central committee on January 19^th , just two weeks before another tentatively scheduled full meeting on February 9^th . They argued at that time that this was the only way to close our primaries in 2010. They also understood that only the chair has the authority to call a full meeting of the state Central Committee.
While I again restated my concerns about attempting this in an election year, I told the proponents that I would at least agree to schedule the required executive committee meeting to allow them to submit the proposal, and would in the meantime talk to the Governor and other interested parties and constituencies about the schedule.
Having consulted with dozens of people over the following days to gauge the interest of the party leadership, elected officials, donors, candidates, and other in this fast-track approach, I determined that this accelerated effort did not have broad support and would not be good for the party as a whole. While the party should _and will_ have the opportunity to debate the possible closing of the primary, I was unwilling to exercise my discretion to cut short the decision making process.
Prior to the Executive Committee meeting held last Tuesday, I informed the proponents of the measure of my concern, and of my intent not to schedule a special meeting. I also asked them to withdraw the proposed bylaws change in order to avoid a negative public debate at this time. At that point, their tactics and approach changed dramatically. It is my understanding that more than a week before I had even made my decision, they had already discussed how to force my resignation and had circulated a no-confidence petition that was signed by approximately eleven committee members. I view the timing of those actions as a clear sign that this effort was at least in part an attempt to undermine my leadership without reference to the merits of my pending decision on whether or not to fast-track the debate. Why they would attempt to derail the party at the start of an election year remains a mystery to me.
The Executive Committee meeting was held, and with little or no debate on the merits of a closed primary, a 26 to 10 vote was cast to recommend holding a special meeting on January 19^th . As the Executive Committee can only recommend such action and has no authority to schedule full meetings, the discretion remained with me, and I indicated immediately after the meeting that because of a balance of many interests, I did not intend to schedule such a meeting on the 19^th . It is worth noting that the person asking me whether I would do so was David Cote, a former committee member who has not been active in the party for well over a year.
A few days later David circulated an email expressing his anger with my decision and calling on me to resign. When asked by the press – Kathy Gregg from the ProJo appeared to have a copy of the email almost immediately – I responded that I have no intention of resigning and that I have the full support of the Governor, the majority of elected state Republicans, and state party activists. It remains my intent to ignore any such calls from this splinter group and more importantly, I intend presently to get back to the business of this party – electing Republicans in November.
Balancing Interests
It has been asserted that there is no reasoned argument for the decision I made, and therefore I must be acting at the direction of someone else. Of course, that’s insulting on its face, but the specifics are actually funny: I have heard that the Governor asked me to do it in order to favor one candidate over another (when it was I who asked him to weigh in, not the other way around), that I’m supporting the Chafee campaign because we held the executive committee meeting in Scott Avedesian’s office, that I’ve been offered a job by Frank Caprio in exchange for not addressing his record, and that I’m really a moderate who has fooled the republicans into putting me in charge. If anyone thinks these absurdities merit a response, feel free to ask me. I could use a laugh.
Please keep in mind that this is a debate about scheduling one meeting two weeks prior to another. It is not a debate about whether the Committee gets a say in closing the primary. It does. It is not a question of democracy versus dictatorship. We are a party of rules, not pressure groups.
My hope would be that we raise the question at our December meeting, after the hard work ahead of us in this election season is done, but the proponents would be fully within their rights to have it raised on February 9^th and then again at the next scheduled state central meeting. While I personally think that debating the issue before December is a bad idea and a distraction, I would not lift a finger to stop them from properly moving the question forward.
My decision to not fast-track this process was not made in haste. Many factors were taken into account, and while there are persuasive arguments on both sides, in the balance I consider it most consistent with my duties and responsibilities as Chair to not do so. Aside from the reasons stated above, there were other factors that weighed on the decision. Some – for example the impact on candidates in various races who have already committed resources to their campaigns with the expectation of an open primary – are easily discussed. Others – which may relate to broader strategy questions or matters of candidate recruitment – are better off left private.
All I can really say is that in my three years as Chair and my twelve years as a party activist, I don’t think I have done anything that would lead anyone to question my commitment to this party, my integrity, my character, or my goals. Those of you who know me well know that I consider subterfuge and secrets a waste of time. Perhaps that is a flaw in the political world, or perhaps people just can’t believe that a political leader doesn’t have a use for Machiavelli or Alinsky. But to say that after fifteen years I’ve suddenly changed my approach strains credulity.
I therefore find it most unfortunate that this debate has devolved into public insults. I have always welcomed open and vigorous debate, but I have also tried to consistently practice and recommend Reagan’s 11^th commandment – we gain nothing by criticizing fellow Republicans. Yes, I did say on the radio that people who thought there was some vast conspiracy behind my decision were ‘crack-smoking lunatics’ (I thought it was a way to inject a little humor into an incredibly frustrating discussion), and I apologize if anyone took that personally. But even understanding that we are all imperfect and will slip up from time to time, I do not see how we can be expected to support people who publically question my character or my integrity and insult our elected officials and the party itself. While I will not publically call out individuals on this point, please understand that I will focus my efforts and the efforts and resources of the party on working with those Republicans who share a positive vision for 2010 and see the value in working towards a common goal as a team.
So something has changed – I will not deny that. Unfortunately what has changed is that a small group of party officials have put a higher priority on jabbing at me than on winning 120 state and federal level and hundreds of more local elections this year. And every poke, every insult, every criticism of the party itself – no matter how un-credible – costs our candidates votes in November. Every minute we spend continuing this discussion is a minute we are not productively striving for our goal.
Let’s be very clear. Votes for Republicans in Rhode Island are now being sacrificed because a party faction lost a fight to force my hand. Not a fight over some core organizational value, or over a violation of rules, or over corruption. A fight over holding a meeting two weeks early.
One would hope that such a fight – a fair fight held in a manner consistent with our bylaws and among people with a common purpose – could be put behind us. The arguments were made, and inevitably one side had to end up unsatisfied. That’s life. If some members of this party find it impossible to lose a fight, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on with the business of the organization, that is not a flaw of the RIGOP. It is their choice as individuals.
What hasn’t changed is my approach to leading the RIGOP. Although this is the first time in three years in this office that I have had to take such a firm stand, that is only because we have we have been focused and unified behind a common purpose during that period. If some individuals think we lack unity today, then perhaps they should ask themselves what has changed. While they ponder that question, I will continue as Chair to strive for consensus and unity in guiding this party and our candidates forward.
Victory in 2010
It would have been my preference to start the year with a 2009 recap and a few thoughts on 2010 strategy. With another good off-season year of investment in donor prospecting, a banner year for volunteer recruitment and organizing, outfitting the office with new furniture and resources, the establishment of a technology committee, and many other notable improvements, we have made the state party a more effective tool for our candidates in 2010. With help from the Governor we were able to secure commitments for a new website and a 2010 voter ID project from the RNC. With the help of national consultants and a few key donors we were able to set up a “Dump Kennedy” website and fundraising project to keep the heat on the shame of our First Congressional District and provide resources to a Republican challenger. With the help of our legal and research volunteers, we were able to publicly target our most likely challenger for Governor in 2010, Patrick Lynch, and over the course of seven months, see his approval numbers dive down by a heavy 18 point margin.
All these actions, along with dozens of other projects, have put our candidates in a better position to win in November. It is my intent to build upon these gains over the next eleven months rather than focus on internal disputes. I appreciate the time you have taken to read this very long note, and I hope every one of you will choose to join with me this year as we work hard to move the Rhode Island Republican Party forward to victory.
Sincerely,
Giovanni D. Cicione
Gio is the Chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

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Jackson
Jackson
11 years ago

Gio,
— “…..Unfortunately what has changed is that a small group of party officials have put a higher priority on jabbing at me than on winning 120 state and federal level and hundreds of more local elections this year. And every poke, every insult, every criticism of the party itself – no matter how un-credible – costs our candidates votes in November. Every minute we spend continuing this discussion is a minute we are not productively striving for our goal.”
“Let’s be very clear. Votes for Republicans in Rhode Island are now being sacrificed because a party faction lost a fight to force my hand…..” —
No offense, but we’ve been hearing this line for well over a decade, first with John Holmes, then with Bob Watson, then Leo Fontaine (briefly), and Pat Morgan. Always it’s the threat of “doing the hard work of getting our members elected…” — while the numbers only get worse. Every time the Chair promises that the party is poised for victory — then the party sells its soul by backing Chafee in ’06 (look what good that did) and phonies like Avedisian. They get re-elected, but the party, ideas, and the policies get thrown asunder.
Many of us respect you, and in fact, believe your sincerity in embracing fundamental Republican principles. But you’re standing in the way of a (finally) historic shake-up in the state party, and you can either embrace it and climb aboard, or, respectfully, move aside.
As an aside, your bravado will not serve you well, and you will only further antagonize those that are fed up with business as usual in the state GOP.

Will
11 years ago

There was a question by a number of members of the state central committee tonight (it killed by phone battery) who also received this e-mail, as to whether the letter from Gio was solely meant for the several hundred members of the state central committee, or was intended for wider distribution. I guess we have the answer now.
There are significant misrepresentations and omissions of fact in the letter by Gio. I do not know whether or not they are intentional. Gio is simply attempting to spin this debacle of his own creation ahead of what he knows is going to be a disasterous PR week for him.
No matter how much you polish a turd, it isn’t going to shine. The above letter is a big one.

Lester Olson
Lester Olson
11 years ago

Gio,
The proponents of this change, of which I am one, are hardly insignificant in number, fringe, or extreme. These are names you have used publicly to smear people within our party that you claim to want to lead. In the time it took to write this communication, you could have called the special meeting to resolve this issue. The vote of the Executive Committee proves the validity of the depth and breadth of support for this. Your obstinacy is the distraction. Hold the meeting! Resolve the issue! It will not go away. If you had worked with those groups that met with you early on this would have been resolved already.
Lester Olson
Your second vice chair

Paul Lancia
Paul Lancia
11 years ago

This is not the time for the RIGOP to be conducting itself like this. I am embarrassed that the Chairman chose to air this matter in public rather than resolve this matter with a meeting.
Does the RIGOP require new leadership?
Looks that way!

Tim
Tim
11 years ago

Will and Co., no matter how you attempt to spin this we ALL know what is going here and who is behind it. Gio has faced a media smear campaign coming from the Laffey crowd. It’s been ongoing here. it’s been ongoing with the likes of DePetro on the radio, etc. This is Gio’s response to that orchestrated media smear campaign. As I said in a earlier post go ahead and dump Gio. Good for him!! lol
The end product of all this drama set in motion by a egomaniacal part-time citizen fraud is going to blow up in your faces and that will be hilarious.
Got my popcorn ready. Let the circus begin!

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Wow. If the party wasn’t already a laughingstock in the state, we now have this, along with members of the committee firing back. Awesome.
<cue up circus music>

George
George
11 years ago

Tim,
Laffey has confirmed he is not running. Go ahead, get on your high heals, go out and drink a few cosmos with Linc Chafee.
Now you will see, this fight has nothing to do with Laffey and all to do with the history of very weak leadership in this Party that has enabled the Democrat machine to prevail for far too long.
The true leaders of the RIGOP, the city and town chairs and the RIRA should continue this fight. If they do, they will make a huge difference in the General Assembly. There has been no greater opportunity. Especially if we get rid of the baggage left over from the Chafee era(error).

Sean Gately
11 years ago

I am still waiting for someone to answer my question.
How does closing the primary make us a stronger party and attract more voters to our candidates?
No one seems to be able to give me an answer to this fundamental question.

jim
jim
11 years ago

And Laffey is out, according to the AP’s Ray Henry.
Now what?
Robataille for Governor? I don’t think so. I think I’m voting for Caprio

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Sean, my answer is three things:
1. The naturally logical system is for primaries to be members-only, as they are a process of the party. I’d like to know what the political calculations were when the rules were changed to “open” primaries in 1984.
2. Members-only primaries protect the integrity of the party’s process against “Operation Chaos” attacks by its opponents. Whether your conclusion that it didn’t matter in 2006 is correct – and I have serious questions about your analysis – attempts have been made. Allowing “open” primaries is like leaving your doors and windows open and then wondering why your house was burgled.
3. I’d turn your own question around: How does an open primary strengthen the party and attract more voters to our candidates?
4. And another line of questioning: Would unaffiliated voters resent the party for closing its primary to the extent of not voting for its candidate in the general election, even if those unaffiliateds prefer that candidate to the opponent(s)? If so, why?
I haven’t seen any evidence that voters would hold it against the party when it comes time for the general election.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

–“Robataille for Governor? I don’t think so. I think I’m voting for Caprio”
Permit me hear to repeat something that I just posted in the Laffey thread above:
“Since the Democrat primary will be open, perhaps it’s worth considering “crossing over” to vote for the most liberal Democrat running? If the day of reckoning is now inevitable, might as well make it occur sooner so that the renewal can begin sooner.”
That said, if you want to vote for Caprio, at least he’ll have that “D” after his name.

Sean Gately
11 years ago

I am still waiting for someone to answer my question.
How does closing the primary make us a stronger party and attract more voters to our candidates?

Will
11 years ago

“How does closing the primary make us a stronger party and attract more voters to our candidates?”
Because it would require people who hold on to the unaffiliated tag for convenience to actually declare who they are. It would drive Republican voter registration up, because people would have to be part of the party in order to participate in it.

Kathy Santos
Kathy Santos
11 years ago

I support a closed primary. The reason is to try a little harder to keep the d’s out of our primaries. Now, if informed u’s want to vote in the r primary, then they have 90 days to do so. If this isn’t a situation that we can win with the RIBOE, and it requires going to court, let’s hope it gets on the court schedule quickly, because time is of the essence. I wish we had this much support from RIGOP when we had the voter fraud problem in the 2004- 2006 elections instead of the we have no money to pay a lawyer to move on this excuse.
Steve Laffey has made his decision. He does not wish to run. Let’s respect him for his decision and move on. You can’t force a person to run if they don’t want to.
As for John Robitaille’s potential campaign. If he decides to run, I would hope that the party would come to his aid and help him gain name, money, and troops on the ground. After all, let’s face it, he’s facing candidates who have been in various offices forever, have been part of the problem we face today, and are part of legacy families.
We are a small party. Let’s give folks a reason why they should vote for us, not a reason why they shouldn’t.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

RRIer: that’s what I’ve been saying all along too. Vote for George Walsh for Governor! It can’t get any worse than that. Then who will the progressives and unions blame if they have their own head in the Gov’s seat? That right-wing Assembly? HA!
As for forcing people to affiliate, wouldn’t it just mean they’d have to affiliate a month or so before the election and then disaffiliate immediately after? It takes a little more effort, but can still be done.
Sean Gately, I see you reposted your question at 11:30 after someone answered it at 10:50. Heads up!

Kathy Santos
Kathy Santos
11 years ago

I support closing the republican primary because we don’t need the democrats sabotaging our elections. Unaffiliated folks should be educated to understand they need to register as R’s if they want to vote in our primary 90 days before the primary. No one is saying they can’t vote in the primary.
As for Steve Laffey, he made his decision, and we should respect that. You can’t force someone who doesn’t want to run to do so. I hope that someday when the time is right for him, he will run for something he is comfortable with.
I would hope Republicans would support John Robitaille should he decide to run. He will need our help for him to gain name recognition, money, and troops on the ground. He isn’t from a legacy family and will need our help to finance him adequately, as will our other candidates for the other offices.
We have alot of work to do. We have to give people a reason to vote for us, and stop the fighting.
There’s no crying in politics. Let’s move on before we get run over.

George
George
11 years ago

Patrick, Gately has been asking that question over and over again, here and on Facebook. The question has been answered about a dozen times. But instead of rebutting the answers, he just keeps asking it in order to create the impression that no one can answer his question. He’s a spinmiester in the mold of his mentor Gio.

Scott
Scott
11 years ago

Gio has gone out of his way to remove loyal party activists via his planted cronies in the past. Do I need to name names or instances? Why stop now Gio? If he gets rid of all the veteran party members, like those of us who pay our mortgages by working for campaigns and other political organizations whose going to be left? You, Rowley and Gately??? Really is that our party??? A group of RINO frat boys who are so politically naive they would rather put forward a second tier candidate than hold the Governors office?
We will see our base grow if we oust failing leadership!
DRAFT RAY McKAY for Party CHAIR!!!!!!

Kathy Santos
Kathy Santos
11 years ago

RINO frat boys? This is how a real republican feels about these guys who put themselves out to run for office and lead a group of republican young people? What is our party then, a pack of whiners because they can’t get their guys to run for Gov, and therefore don’t want anyone else? That is not party building, that is party tearing down. It’s hard to build a party with all this crazy name calling and backstabbing. We should be helping candidates, not scaring any potential ones. I hardly consider John Robitaille a second tier gubenatorial candidate. He has some good experiences behind him. Sure he lacks money and name recognition, but if we don’t help him, he won’t have a shot. After all, he can’t just whip out a personal check for 1 million dollars.
Steve Laffey decided to stay out of the race. You can’t force him to run if he choses not to, so get over it. We need to grow up and stop acting so immature or nobody new is going to want to join our party.

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
11 years ago

Hi! The history is three a few decades back perhaps several the law was this: If you signed a party’s nomination paper, voted in the party primary, or filed to run as a candidate you became a member of that party for 26 months, (not 24), court action ruled this unacceptable. This is how we became to really our present system. I recalled it happened in the 1970’s. To answer Sean, I could answer both ways on the issue opening and closing the primary. One element is a lot of it depends on whether both parties have active intense primaries to keep Independents from voting in the most contested primaries. Since in 2006, the Republican U.S.Senate race was the active primary draw state wide, usually it is the Dems. Independents can influence a primary even if they are not really committed to a party. What has not been mentioned, I think, and I have not read all the posts yet is 2012,. Obviously Obama is likely or probably likely be renominated without an serious opponent in the Dem Presidential Primary. That means Independents will likey focus on the GOP Presidential Primary as the GOP does not have an incumbent president. It is important to draw people into the party but an argument can be made that with only ten legislators in Rhode Island, an open primary has not helped the GOP overall. Also Lincoln Chafee in 2006 repeatedly bucked the GOP event to the extent of writing in George W. Bush’s father in 2004 for President which was his right but highly unorthodox. In small towns a single issue can overtake an primary election, and a small amount of voters can dominate it, regardless of their party loyalty. The problem in Rhode Island is Democrat primaries are de facto general… Read more »

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