Steven Hofman: Fair and square in Colorado
April 18, 2016
In politics, the big lie is the demagogue's best friend. Donald Trump's Wall Street Journal op-ed on Colorado's delegate selection process is the latest example that truth has no place in his campaign and that he will say and do anything if it advances his goal of securing the Republican nomination for president.
I know something about the Colorado delegate selection process. I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a small town of about 12,000 in the northwest part of the state. I have been active in the local Republican Party throughout the past eight years, since my wife and I moved to Colorado from the Maryland suburb of Silver Springs. Through the past three years, I have chaired the fundraising committee for the Routt County Republican Party, a grassroots effort in support of our local candidates and our local party.
Colorado began its delegate selection process in February, when caucus meetings were held throughout the state in each individual local precinct. In my town, our local newspaper, the Steamboat Pilot &Today, ran stories for several days leading up to the caucus, telling voters details about the caucus meetings, the time, the place and phone numbers for each precinct chair. Our local party sent emails to registered Republicans providing the same information and urging them to attend.
I attended my local precinct meeting, as did about 25 or so other Republicans. The meeting was chaired by Moose Barrows. Besides Moose's commitment to grassroots Republican interests, he is also known as being the skier flying through the air for decades representing the "agony of defeat" during the opening segment to ABC's Wide World of Sports. Through the course of about an hour of friendly discussion about the candidates for president and suggestions for resolutions on issues ranging from how we elect our delegates to the best ways to battle global terrorism, we turned to picking precinct delegates to our county assembly, to be held on a Saturday about three weeks later at the local library.
I mention this meeting, because, like other such meetings across the state that evening, this was the time and place for people supporting each of the candidates for president to show up, voice their support and, if they were interested, be chosen to represent that candidate at the next step in the Colorado delegate selection process — the county assembly meeting. If you showed up, you had a voice in the process. If you stayed home, you did not.
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For the record, there were a couple of Trump supporters at my precinct meeting. At least one asked to be selected as a delegate to the county assembly, and she was. But Trump supporters were a distinct minority at my precinct gathering, and there was no hint that any of the campaigns among the presidential contenders — Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich or others — had an organized effort to pack this meeting with its supporters. The meeting was classic grassroots politics. Every voter had an opportunity to participate. Some people did, and some didn't, just as people decide to vote or not to vote on Election Day.
The next step in the delegate selection process was our Routt County Republican Assembly. This is where delegates were elected to attend our state party convention in early April. Routt County was allocated 19 delegates on the basis of population in the state. We were a small minority among the more-than 3,000 delegates from across the state. By the time of our meeting, the candidate choices had narrowed to the three remaining today in the race: Mr. Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich.
I had decided to seek a delegate position at our precinct meeting and was chosen to attend the county assembly as a delegate candidate. Like other delegate candidates for one of our 19 slots to the state convention, I was given the opportunity to say a few words about myself to the other delegates to our county assembly and tell them if I was supporting a particular presidential hopeful. My choice for president was, of course, my own. I had never heard from any of the campaigns of the candidates. I told my fellow Routt County delegates that I was a committed supporter of Sen. Cruz. Other candidates ran as Trump supporters, Kasich supporters or uncommitted.
As was the case at our precinct meeting, none of the presidential campaigns had an organized presence at our county assembly. In the end, I, along with 18 other delegates, was elected as a delegate to the state convention. Some of our delegates were elected as "uncommitted," and those remaining were for one of the three candidates. Immediately after the vote, our party chairman announced that, if any of the 19 elected delegates had a desire to attend the national convention in Cleveland, they needed to fill out a form stating their intention to run for that position at the state party convention in early April. I filled out that form and paid a small processing fee.
I then did a little research about the next step in the selection process. I quickly found out that each of the seven congressional districts were allocated only three delegate slots to the national convention. This total of 21 delegates was in addition to 12 at-large slots for the entire state, along with three slots for existing state party leaders. Each of the three delegates representing each congressional district would be voted on in separate meetings of the delegates from each congressional district. The 12 at-large slots to the national convention were to be voted on by the more than 3,000 delegates to the state convention.
My congressional district was the Third Congressional District, which produced more than 650 delegates. Our 19 delegates from Routt County were clearly a tiny minority of the total. So if I had any chance to be elected to the national convention, I needed to be endorsed by the Cruz campaign and hope that endorsement carried sway with enough other delegates in my congressional district, most of whom didn't know me from Adam.
I reached out to the Cruz campaign at that point, telling them who I was and that I was seeking election to the national convention as a Cruz-committed delegate. Along with a friend, Brita Horn, our elected Routt County treasurer, I was put on a slate of six Cruz campaign endorsed candidates.
Other than being a Cruz-endorsed candidate, my campaign was my own. I wrote and paid for a flier describing me. I personally handed it out at our meeting of the Third Congressional District. Brita and I jointly did a robo call using a list of delegates provided by the Cruz campaign. I wrote a speech about myself that was reduced to 10 seconds when time pressure cut short our third CD meeting. I walked around the convention hall for a day shaking hands and meeting as many delegates as possible. I participated in several conference calls and meetings with Cruz campaign officials, in which they outlined the talking points they hoped we would all use to encourage delegates to vote the Cruz slate in each of the congressional districts and the at-large assembly.
In short, the process at the convention was Political Organization 101, a far cry from what recently hired Trump campaign czar Paul Manafort called "Gestapo tactics."
In the end, Brita and I tied for the third and final slot in our congressional district, so we had a coin flip. She won and is going to Cleveland.
In his op-ed, Mr. Trump talks about a "Washington cartel" and a "voter-nullification scheme." He wrote "the system is being rigged by party operatives with 'double-agent' delegates who reject the decisions of voters."
Across our state, Colorado Republicans ran a process that was open, transparent and by the rules. As a businessman, I'm sure when the rules work for Mr. Trump, he loves and operates by them. As a candidate for office, not having read them, he calls them a "scheme."
Mr. Trump should take his campaign out of the cable TV studios and his 757 and meet the delegates from my county and my state. The guy sitting alongside me on the convention floor was a former coal miner and ex-military. The woman a few seats over started her own software development company and now employs hundreds. Our county chairman is half my age and pointing the way for the next generation of grass-roots political leadership.
"Double-agent delegates?" I think not. "A Washington cartel?" Only in the minds of Mr. Trump's ghost writers.
Mr. Trump is far from the first politician to try to use the big lie to win votes. When this year's Republican nomination process is all done, let's hope the message is sent to ensure he is the last.
Steven Hofman, an independent consultant who advises corporate CEOs, is a full-time Steamboat Springs resident, a former United States assistant secretary of labor under President George H.W. Bush and former director of research and policy for the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives.