The Schuylkill County Republican Party will kick off its general election effort Saturday morning, when elected committee members and officers meet at the Shoneman Complex in Pottsville for the biannual county convention. For weeks, leaders of the establishment and reform wings of the party have been in discussions to unify the party under one banner. This convention will be the forum where we all see if those talks actually bore some fruit.
Since starting this blog, I broke the code of silence over the existence of the War Board, openly opposed incumbent office holders, sparred with establishment loyalists, and railed against the elected party leadership. My goal was to shed light on what I considered an overly secretive and exclusionary party structure in the hopes of affecting change. Along the way, I made many political enemies, but I also gained a great many new friends. Some of my new friends were predictable ideological allies like the Sterns’ and Josh Meade. However, others like Jason Ghergel, Michele Rudloff, Dave Lafko, Scott Thomas, and Faye Rudloff, actually took me by surprise.
A few weeks ago on this site, I said that it was time for those on both sides of the aisle to extend an olive branch to one another and move forward as one cohesive unit. To my surprise, it actually happened.
The first gesture came from Rep. Dave Argall (R-124). Despite the fact that he was ferociously challenged in the April primary by reform candidate John Schickram, Argall began planning a “unity breakfast” and invited those (like myself) who had worked against him, to attend.
Next, War Boarder Champ Holman (a man who I have not had many nice things to say) agreed to sit down to discuss many of the issues that I wrote about and the future direction of the party. I was shocked to discover that Holman had many of the same goals as I and shared many of my concerns. Yes, we still differed on some issues, like that of open primaries, but we agreed on more (recruitment of younger members, parring down of the Executive Committee, re-instituting the caucus system, better utilization of elected committee members, and smarter campaign strategy). Since that meeting, Holman and I have been in regular contact bouncing ideas off one another on how to bring more people together.
The crescendo of this burying of the hatchet came at the Toni Gilhooley event that I reported on yesterday. There, I met, talked with, and received good responses from Sen. Jim Rhoades (R-29), County Commissioner Frank Staudenmeirer, State Committee members George Moyer and Maria Casey, former party chair Dan Daub, and reigning county chairman Bob Ames.
Even as recently as one week ago, I criticized Ames for some political tactics that I deemed quite shady. Yet, Ames was very receptive to my ideas and the need for some change within the party structure. Though he does not subscribe to all of my beliefs, I was encouraged by the fact that he actually listened and vowed to work with me and other reformers to resolve our issues. Evidence of Ames’ new leaf was the invitation he extended for me to attend and report from the convention tomorrow (I thought about crashing it anyway, but an invite and assurance of not getting thrown out is better)
One constant theme in all of my discussions with these establishment supporters, was their acknowledgement that reformers like myself, the Sterns’, and Josh Meade ALL need to have a voice within the party organizational structure. Some have recommended putting us on the executive committee, others have stated that we should be given sub-committee assignments, while most have at least said we should be invited to attend meetings, rallies, and fundraisers. In fact, a few even asked me to run for an vacant committee position next year (that’s a real longshot, but a nice thought, though). Tomorrow we will see if the establishment puts their collective money where their mouth is.
So, what should lay republicans expect to happen there?
For starters, my sources report that Bob Ames will be unopposed and unanimously re-elected to the chairman’s post for one final term. Also, sources say that the committee will mull changes to the by-laws to limit proxy voting (only 3 per person) and eliminate the endorsement process.
What will I be hoping for?
Integration of the reformers into the party structure. That should definitely start with the reappointment of Hornberger campaign manager Josh Meade to the Executive Committee. Hopefully, Joe and Gretchen Sterns will be given sub-committee assignments and Gary Hornberger will be embraced by the leadership.
So, lets keep our fingers crossed. For the first time in months, I am optimistic about my local party. I just hope I don’t come home with a broken heart Saturday afternoon.