Despite the drama surrounding the endorsement and proxy debates, the Schuylkill County Republican Convention held at the Shoeneman Complex in Pottsville on Saturday did yield some results that provided me with some optimism as the GOP moves forward. To begin, for the first time in years, new blood was voluntarily infused into Republican leadership with the election of Adam Pankake to the post of Assistant Chairman.
Pankake was unanimously elected as one of four Assistant Chairmen to Bob Ames by the County Committee. A relative newcomer to county politics, Pankake has been active in the west end of Pottsville working polls, hanging signs, and canvassing neighborhoods for local candidates. Most recently, he and State Committeeman Scott Thomas, have spearheaded the county-wide voter registration movement, concentrating on educating voting age high schoolers about how to register and linking the media pages of Republican grassroots organizations and local GOP candidates to one central web page (which is still under construction).
Frankly, I think that Pankake is a breath of fresh air. In his address to the committee, he stated that the party needed to focus on recruiting youth both as loyal voters and as active members of the committee in order to keep the GOP vibrant and alive. “75% of the students I talked to in the schools are already registered Republican, mostly due to their parents affiliation,” he said. “We need to ensure that as they graduate from high school and go off to college or into the workforce, they stay with us. That is where the future lies.”
He is totally spot on in his analysis. With a few exceptions (Thomas, Pankake, myself, Joe Sterns, Michele Rudloff, and an unidentified women who sat in front of me), the average age of those in attendance was probably in the low 50’s. If the Republican party is going to remain a force in this county for years to come, we need to get an ever disenchanted youthto become involved in the process. The Young Republicans are making headway in this area, but the County Committee must also throw in their resources to do the same. Democrats have the market cornered on political re-education camps, also known as college. So, we must get to them BEFORE the sandal wearing, hippie professors warp their minds with the writings of Noam Chomsky and the “heroic” efforts of Che Gueverra and Hugo Chavez. This means being proactive by getting into high school classrooms, holding fun-filled, easily accessible events, and utilizing the electronic media for social networking. I am confident that Pankake is the right person for this job and applaud those in the leadership that advanced his nomination.
Also, three proposed changes to the county by-laws were approved by the full committee. Now, they aren’t as fundamentally important to the long term health of the party as the tabled measures I mentioned in my prior post, but they are steps in the right direction to bring more willing participants into the fold of the party structure.
First, the County Committee voted to reconfigure the position of District Leader. Schuylkill Republicans are represented by hundreds of duly committeemen, one for each municipal precinct, on the County Committee. Within each legislative district (123rd, 124th, and 125th respectively), three District Leaders were tasked with easing the leaderships burden of collecting information from and disseminating information to all of the committeemen within their respective district. Each leader held a seat on the Executive Committee. Unfortunately, the command and control of these District Leaders were not existent. Many positions were vacant. In those districts that they were filled, they were ineffective because a lot of times all three leaders hailed from the same geographical area.
Picture this: you have 70 or so committeemen in the 125th district, stretching from Schuylkill Haven through Pottsvilleout to Tower City. Before Saturday, it was possible that the three leaders tasked with wrangling all these committeemen all resided in the west end of Pottsville. Not very effective, right? Well, the County Committee thought so. Thus, on the recommendation of the By Laws Committee, they changed the current structure to something more workable. Here is how it works now:
The county is now parceled into 10 geographical zones. Each geographical zone consists of approximately the same amount of precinct populations. Each zone now has one District Leader. All still have seats on the Executive Committee and their jobs are made all that much easier. Now the only issue is appointing the right people to occupy these posts.
Second, the By Laws Committee recommended forming a Local Government Council. This body would consist of elected GOP officials like township supervisors, borough council members, mayors, and school board members, who do not have seats reserved on the Executive Committee (only those with seats in Congress, the PA General Assembly, and county row offices have reserved seats on the EC). The council would meet twice a year and provide input and act as liaisons to the County Committee.
I think this council has a great opportunity to bring municipal issues like water/sewage proposals, dilapidated infrastructure, and rising local taxes, to the forefront of the County Committees attention. Too many times the party gets bogged down on county, state, and national issues, that we forget that ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL, meaning that we could make greater headway as a party if we concentrated on some municipal issues that directly affect the constituency that we are trying to woo.
Finally, the By Laws Committee recommended granting the Chairman flexibility in scheduling the biannual convention. Before Saturday, it was mandated that to be held on a particular day in June. By my count on Saturday, there were 47 people in attendance. Less than 40 were committeemen. There are currently over 100 elected County Committee members and 135 Executive Committee members (some people sit on both). It is unforgivableto have that poor a turnout. June is a notoriously bad month of political events. Graduations, family reunions, the start of the golf season, and vacations, all contribute to people not being available to sit in a room for three hours to discuss politics. Now that Ames has the leeway, he can reschedule the convention for a date wherein more individuals could attend without missing an important personal obligation. Again, this goes back to making the party more inclusive and person friendly. Good move.