Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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Delegates don’t run the convention show

Nevada’s delegates to both the Republican and Democratic national conventions traveled across the country excited to be a part of the festivities but also believing they might have some say over the decisions being made at the respective three-day events.

They were, after all, duly elected to represent the Silver State with a vote not only for who should be the party’s nominee but what rules would govern the next convention and what their parties’ platforms would end up saying.

Alas, Nevada’s Republican and Democratic delegations ran smack into a fact of modern convention reality: Anything that happens on the convention floor is scripted.

And the delegate’s role in that script: enthusiastic member of the audience.

“It is naive to go and think this is anything more than a way for the party to celebrate itself,” UNR political scientist Eric Herzik said. “That is what it is: a show that’s been stage-managed so you avoid any fight on the floor.”

Still, Democratic and Republican Nevada delegates had at least some expectation that they would be able to influence the process. That intent was obvious with the Republicans.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s supporters captured the majority of the delegate spots and traveled to Tampa, Fla., with the express intent of making a last-ditch effort to get him nominated.

As far as these things go, they had relative success. They gathered petitions to put Paul’s name into nomination and organized the floor enough to try to bring up a debate over the rules that stood in their way.

But even though they had a strong contingent of supporters — not all of them Paul fans — who wanted to debate some of those rules, the convention chairman, House Speaker John Boehner, refused to deviate from the script. He called for a vote, listened to the shouting and declared it passed.

To many in the arena, the vote sounded split enough that a show of hands may have been in order. But that wasn’t in the script.

What happened at the Democratic convention was a little more unexpected but left Nevada delegates just as irritated at being ignored as their Republican counterparts.

In an enthusiastic vote, Democrats passed a party platform on the first day of the convention in which references to God were absent and that did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

That didn’t sit well with the party’s top brass — including President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley — especially after Republicans began criticizing them for it.

But the Democrats’ convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, wasn’t quite as prepared to simply stick to the script.

He called for a vote to amend the platform, and the call from the partially filled hall sounded a lot like the nays had it. With a somewhat bewildered look, he called for a second vote and then a third before finally declaring the amendment passed.

“What the Democrats did came the closest to a floor fight that we’ve seen in three or four decades,” Herzik said.

Nevada’s Democratic delegates were frustrated by their party’s elected leaders pushing a change to a platform supported by most of the delegates.

“I have a real issue with having a vote on a platform that was supported unanimously,” Nevada delegate Joetta Brown told the Sun’s Karoun Demirjian. “They should have called for credentials and gotten the numbers. ... Where was the parliamentarian?”

But that’s just the point. The parliamentarian doesn’t exactly run the show.

“Delegates are not there to make a decision; they’re there to ratify a decision,” Herzik said. “And if you don’t follow the script, the well-managed convention will just roll right over you.”

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