Friday, June 20, 2008

Why Weh, Why?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Las Cruces, N.M. – Behind Closed Doors

Analysis First

The fundamentals of the democratic process were effectively thwarted by the leadership of the New Mexico Republican Party during their 2008 Quadrennial Convention this past Saturday.

The purpose of the convention was three-fold: to confirm the five Presidential elector nominees, to elect 29 delegates and 29 alternates to represent the State GOP at the National Convention scheduled for Minneapolis the first week of September, and to select a National Committeeman and Committeewoman.

The process is just one step in the most important national political decision of our country this year, the election of the President of the United States.

The concept of a democratic process, all the way back to the Athenian times, was based on, one-man, one-vote. In order for citizens to participate, it is imperative that government be open. The Republican Party even makes this their goal in the rules adopted in 2004.
The Rules of The Republican Party As adopted by the 2004 Republican National Convention August 30, 2004
BE IT RESOLVED, That the Republican Party is the party of the open door. Ours is the party of liberty, the party of equality of opportunity for all and favoritism for none.
It is the intent and purpose of these rules to encourage and allow the broadest possible participation of all voters in Republican Party activities at all levels and to assure that the Republican Party is open and accessible to all Americans.
But the officials in New Mexico’s Republican party don’t appear to follow their own rules. Last Saturday, I was removed from the convention by a sergeant at arms while other members of the media were precluded from entering.

I ventured to Las Cruces and the state convention to obtain photographs of the gathered Republican candidates who live away from Albuquerque. With the general election in November, only five months away, I needed to augment my archives. There may be scant opportunity to cover some of these candidates for my clients and ultimately my readers.

Friday, June 13, On the Party Bus

This was meant to be a fun little excursion to the state convention; I thought this would be a light event. I planned shooting a photo essay of the party’s faithful riding the bus to Las Cruces.

The hosts were, Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Fernando C. de Baca, right and his wife, Cecilia, both of whom were State delegates and candidates for National delegates. Both were elected as At-Large delegates.

The GOP doesn’t party like some groups; conservative values and all. However, there was a non-stop offering of snacks, soft drinks and some great homemade banana bread.

There were several raffles and party leaders gave their assessment of the current political scene.

Write-in candidate for National Committeeman Anthony Contri spoke to the captive audience; then worked his fellow delegates one-on-one.

It was a lively and occasionally vocal group. As State Representative Janice Arnold Jones was explaining some details of an issue. As our bus approached a Steve Pearce for Senate billboard alongside Interstate 25 just south of Socorro, the hopeful delegates erupted into chants for Pearce.

State senate candidate Spiro Vassilopoulos confers with Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Fernando C. de Baca.

June 14, 2008, Flag Day – The Convention

About 340 delegates from New Mexico’s 33 counties assembled at Las Cruces’ Oñate High School Performing Arts Center to open the convention. There were about 100 guests.

I was prepared to be bored out of my mind listening to: the Roll Call of Counties, the appointment of committees, the dry reports of the Credentials and of the Rules and Order of Business committees, before getting to the selection and election of delegates to their various national duties. However, it wasn’t to be.

The session began with the invocation led by the Reverend Morris Wolfe, Pastor of Healing Word Sanctuary in Las Cruces.

The patriotic ceremonies; Susan Rush and Peter Chandler of Santa Fe County in Congressional District 3 recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The convention sang the National Anthem and in honor of Flag Day, a stirring rendition of George M. Cohen’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, now Dean of the New Mexico State University’s College of Business, began giving his welcoming remarks when I was approached by a Sergeant at Arms and told I had to leave; the meeting was closed to the press.

This request didn’t jibe with what I had been told by Spanish Communications Director Ivette Barajas, left, seen with New Mexico Republican Party’s Communications Director Scott Darnell, center, who were talking with Chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico Allen Weh, right. Barajas said the sessions were open to the press, and the idea was published in the official program about the presence of guests. If the press aren’t considered guests, then why were non-media guests allowed to remain?

Once in the hallway, I met: Photographer Angela Kurz, left, of the Las Cruces Bulletin, Las Cruces based Blogger Heath Haussamen, center, of New Mexico Politics, Photographer Shari Vialpando, right, and Reporter Ashley Meeks of the Las Cruces Sun-News. All were kept out of the meeting until after lunch, when the major party candidates addressed the gathering.

The women were facing another assignment, to cover a baseball game, so they convinced U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Steve Pearce and Congressional District 2 candidate Ed Tinsley to pose for them.

The ethics of photojournalism suggests that you should not pose situations as news. However, once it’s posed, if something causes the situation to become newsworthy, all bets are off.

In this case, a Rep. Ron Paul, R- Texas, for President supporter walked her dog, covered with Paul stickers through the hallway.

Haussamen used a picture of Tinsley in an article posted on his site and duplicated on the New Mexico Independent, about the CD 2 race, but did not cover the event nor comment on being excluded from the convention. Haussamen is on vacation this week.

This is State GOP Boss Allen Weh. According to his official biography on the State GOP’s website:
Allen E. Weh was elected Chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico on April 17, 2004. In this position, Mr. Weh also serves as a member of the Republican National Committee.

During his military service, Colonel Weh was recommended for the Navy Cross, awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” for heroism, three Purple Hearts, and five Air Medals. In addition to his combat awards, he is the recipient of the Legion of Merit, and two Meritorious Service Medals.
Patrick Marron, also a former Marine, State delegate from Albuquerque, a candidate for the National Convention delegation, and a supporter of Ron Paul for President, was ejected for asking why he couldn’t videotape the proceedings. Listen to his comments made to me after being removed in this audio posting that I made as a correspondent for Peter St. Cyr’s, What's the Word?

I was unable to interview Weh at the convention because of how busy he was.

As the convention ended Weh held a caucus with the newly elected National delegates; I had to catch a ride.

On Sunday my collogue, St. Cyr talked with Weh about the Marron’s ejection.
“Other state’s run their conventions by Robert’s Rules,” said Chairman Allen Weh. “Not ours. This convention was run by the chairman’s gavel.”

Later Sunday evening a party leader told me he thought the move [by Weh to remove Marron] was a “little heavy handed and unnecessary.”

But Weh disagreed, “It’s my bat, my ball, and he [Marron] struck out.”
Weh is a “real war hero,” according to Marron, and as denoted by the Silver Star lapel pin, which was awarded for "Gallantry in action."
The Silver Star is the third highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is also the third highest award given for Valor (in the face of the enemy).
GOP officials circled the wagons in a response to St. Cyr’s postings of audio I obtained by pointing out that Marron had been removed from the New Mexico's Veteran Memorial Park for shouting during U.S. Sen. John McCain, R – Ariz., the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate’s speech on Memorial Day.

Communications Director Scott Darnell, right, attempted to smear Marron on St. Cyr’s site and again here with accusations that Marron should be ignored for asking a question,

“From other vantage points,” Darnell said, “he (Marron) showed the same disrespect from the audience that he showed Senator McCain at the Memorial Day speech in Albuquerque, when during McCain’s remarks he was yelling from the audience.”

Darnell called Marron’s shouting out as disrespectful yet had no problem with the partisan nature the event took when McCain veered into parts of his stump speech. The nature of the speech dictates the nature of the respect for the speaker.

"When I am President..." McCain said and with those words the solemnity of the Memorial Day Ceremony was broken by his own hands, or more accurately, out of his own mouth. The free for all that is the public sphere was on.

Marron, may have been impolite, rude, maybe even inappropriate in the eyes of McCain supporters. However, many present were offended by the partisan tone and the apparent takeover of the event by a single political party.

Consider that the polar opposite of applause is the jeer. If some feel that it is OK to applaud as a response to what they hear and appreciate, remember that it then must be equally socially acceptable to object. Those who hear things that are inaccurate or objectionable have as much right to express their emotion as do those who approve. Ejecting Marron by the use of force and power is an unacceptable response to settle a disagreement.

Just because a speaker is calm in their delivery, does not make their message right any more than a person who yells and screams makes their message wrong.

St. Cyr wrote on his site of Jeff Wright, the Ron Paul for President state director:
[Monday Update - 9am] GOP Communications Director Scott Darnell says Wright was only prohibited from attending a State Central Committee meeting. Darnell says delegates and members of the public who are not members of the committee are not allowed.
“The State Central Committee meeting has always only been open to State Central Committee members,” Darnell said in an interview, Wednesday, about the convention. “There was a decision made that during the voting portion of it, that it would not be open to the press,” He said.

“As far as opening up the voting portion of the convention to the press, if we do open it up then we have certain Republican Party members come to us and say, we’re voting, this is the decision making body for the day of the Republican Party,” Darnell said. “We’re making decisions and, you know, we are the elected members, we are supposed to make these decisions and then move forward, and so, therefore, they don’t like that part of the meeting to be open to the press, then there are others who say that, you know that both portions should.”

As Pat Rogers, candidate for National Committeeman entered the auditorium, he asked why we (the media) were standing in the hall? I told him I had been ejected and we were excluded. I asked if he could do anything about it. “I’m a supporter of the First Amendment,” Rogers said, as he passed through the doors. No discussion was had by the convention.

Rogers, is seen here with his wife, Julie, before being elected National Committeeman. He is replacing former State Rep. George Buffett, seen below, center, with Jay Hone, right, husband of Rep. Wilson and Ted Shad, left.

Weh’s behavior and comments may be appropriate in a combat situation; taking war to a determined enemy set on killing him and those he fights to support. However, Weh completely undermined the rules and, more importantly, the philosophies of the Republican Party: to be open, inclusive, and accessible to all Americans.

It’s not the first time that the State conference has been used, behind closed doors, to shield public and party members from watching its representatives doing the public’s work. Two years ago the convention went behind closed doors with a primary elected candidate for governor, Dr. J.R. Damron, and emerged with that candidate stripped of his mandate and replaced by a former Party leader John Dendhal.

Here is 2004 Republican gubernatorial candidate John Dendhal and his wife, Jackie checking in at the First Lady Laura Bush Rep. Heather Wilson campaign event after he replaced Damron. Dendhal was defeated in a record setting landslide victory by incumbent Governor Bill Richardson.

A couple of years ago, after being cleared by the White House (read as, passing the routine Secret Service name check for warrants and threats) someone locally struck my name from the credentials list for Laura Bush’s visit supporting Rep. Wilson’s reelection. As GOP Chair, Weh professed that he had no control over the actions of campaigns when, I appealed my situation to him. Weh said that all Republican functions were always open to anyone. I never determined the name of the person, as each camp denied any involvement.

I was relegated to photographing the First Lady's motorcade.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

There are some issues within the Party that are tearing at its fabric, specifically: the endorsement by the Party and Party officials of one primary candidate over another candidate, the use of Party officials to lean on potential candidates, telling them that they cannot win and that the Party and its officials will assist their hand picked or anointed candidate and denigrate and refuse to support those who wish to run.

These charges violate party rules...
Party officers shall not publicly endorse one Republican candidate over another Republican candidate.
… and even state law.
1-19-1. Campaign practices; primary election; expenditure of party money.
A. No contribution of money, or the equivalent thereof, made directly or indirectly to any political party, to any political party committee, to members of any political party committee or to any person representing or acting on behalf of a political party, and no money in the treasury of any political party or political party committee shall be expended directly or indirectly in the aid of the nomination at a primary election of any one or more persons as against any one or more other persons of the same political party running in such primary election.

B. Any person who expends money, or is responsible for the expenditure of money, in violation of this section is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.
Saturday morning’s conversation was that Weh would address the allegations of illegal endorsements and inappropriate pressure during his report. He may not have wished to speak of it in public. Ultimately, he did not speak of it at all.

The State Party and Weh in particular, reject the National Party’s preferred parliamentary procedural guide, Rule 7 that the National GOP uses, which are, the U.S. House of Representatives rules and Roberts Rules of Order. Instead, Weh operates under the “rule of the gavel,” or as one delegate put it, it’s “Weh’s way or the highway.” If the rules are set by the chairman, and the organization has no mechanism to overrule its leader, then isn’t that the definition of a dictatorship?

“Obviously you’re going to interpret it one way and it’s, you know, we’re going to interpret it a different way,” Darnell responded, when asked how the state GOP squares its rules with the National Party rules when they use the words, “…Republican Party activities at all levels?”

There were 111 candidates seeking the 58 delegate positions.

Similar to the list of favored delegates used at the Bernalillo County Pre Primary caucuses, there was a pre-printed slate of favored delegates called “The Unity Slate,” for the 29 National delegates and 29 alternates. Click to enlarge image.

Several convention delegates from Bernalillo County, who were not seeking elected delegate status, stated the “The Unity Slate” sheet of paper was distributed by State Party staff members. One delegate said that it was improper and was the same tactic used to favor one candidate over another in the primary election.

Only seven names from the 58-person “Unity Slate” sheet of paper were not elected: Cliff Cizan, Jock Fleming, Laurence Gerald Xavier Pena, Ben Trujillo, Lucille Wolfe, Bruce F, Walker, and Roxanne Rivera Weist. They were replaced by: Ruben Pacheco, CD-1, Brian Tigelaar, CD-2, and William F. Davis, CD-3, all as alternates to their respective Congressional District delegations. Bob Cornelius, Lee Gonzales, Rusty Ragan, and Joe Thornton were elected as At-Large alternates.

"That the portion with the speakers and other order of business and announcement of results and things like that that was open to the press," Darnell said.

However, there was a problem, the public announcement of the election results were incomplete. Only the 58 delegate positions, National committeeman and committeewoman were announced in public.

The five Presidential elector nominees: District Attorney Susanna Martinez, former Secretary of the Interior and Congressman Manuel Lujan, Marylou Melvin, Sam Winder, and Valin Woodward, and three party officials: Weh, current National committeeman Buffet, and National committeewoman Rosie Tripp, who automatically go to the National convention by virtue of their elected positions, were not publicly disclosed until Darnell issued a June 16 press release.

The Republican Party, just like the Democrats and other lesser parties are not an “invitation only” club. The Republican Party is not a private club. It’s supposed to be open. The National GOP recognizes it’s supposed to be open, except in New Mexico.

“I would just disagree,” Darnell said. "We are not a government agency. Do you know what I mean?“

Yes, Mr. Darnell, I do you know what you mean.

The purpose of the convention process, at each and every level, ultimately is to elect the next President and Congress of the United States. Though it is not a governmental entity, in and of itself, it serves a governmental purpose. And this group is hiding. Convention delegates are subject to several state laws. Though they are not elected to government positions they are publicly elected officials who must follow the laws and the rules of their Party.

Membership in the Party is the result of a person, any person, wishing to participate. Weh and his staff and supporters have it completely wrong.

Weh is imposing exclusion, not inclusion. How he believes that his renegade philosophy can be sold to those the party needs to attract on Election Day is beyond me.

Weh’s actions in war are considered honorable; they just don’t translate to the American public/political square where his hiding and refusing to allow for a voice that does not agree with his own, is more the act of a coward.

Is he fearful of the public’s ability to figure out the political landscape when adequately informed and allowed to participate? Or is he more interested in trying to control the thoughts in the “Big Tent?” Is he not willing to accept the will of all the people, not just limited to just those with whom he agrees?

It is the duty of the Party and its officials, including 2nd Congressional Vice Chair Mike Kakuska, left, Weh, and 1st Vice Chair Jon Barela, right, conferring on stage before the convention, to facilitate any party member who wishes to seek office with assistance in getting on the ballot; not to use the Party office to commend one candidate over another. If any staff member feels so strongly about a particular candidate that they feel they must support them, then the staffer should resign and work directly on that campaign. To do otherwise is a disservice to the entire Party and violates the philosophy of “equality of opportunity for all and favoritism for none.”

Being called out reminded me of two thoughts: images of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party purge where members who had dared make a suggestions for change or improvement or offered new ideas at Hussein’s request, were escorted from the gathering, and the fact that, even under then Communist Party Secretary Joseph Stalin meetings, when a vote was taken the dissenting votes were recognized and recorded. However, in both cases, those who expressed themselves were summarily shot!

I escaped to live another day.

U.S. Air Force Colonel George E. "Bud" Day, Retired, was cellmate at the "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner of war camp of, then U.S. Navy Lt. John McCain, and is one of now Sen. McCain’s surrogate-speaker to the convention.

Day, described the torture techniques used by his Vietnam captors, of stretching his arms and how McCain set his shoulder. He is the most decorated serviceman since Gen. Douglas McArthur and holds the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a Prisoner of War.

I was able to acquire photographs of the top Republican candidates.

Rep. Wilson, as the senior elected official present, was the first to speak. She pledged complete support for her victorious Senate primary rival, Pearce.

The candidates for the congressional seats were the “Four Horseman,” Rep. Pearce, said.

Pearce is running as the nominee for U.S. Senate, against Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, Sheriff Darren White is Congressional District 1 nominee running against Democratic, former Albuquerque City Councillor Martin Heinrich, Ed Tinsley is Congressional District 2 nominee running against Democratic, former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teauge, and Dan East is Congressional District 3 nominee running against Democratic, and current Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan.

The phrase, the “Four Horseman,” is generally associated with the Biblical reference of the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse,” or the destruction of mankind. It seems a strange metaphoric reference for national office seekers.

I didn’t get photographs of all the players with whom you, as well-informed, participating and active citizens, should be acquainted.

“I hope you’ll be fair enough to print both sides,” Darnell asked? I only hope the Republican Party of New Mexico can be as fair.

I’m not sure how long the freedom to observe the making of government will continue under the current Party’s thinking. I will continue to monitor the process. It is my longstanding belief that issues are not as important as the exercise of a fair process. Fair and open procedures will allow the appropriate resolution of any issue.

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