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September 5, 2011 / Administrator

Preserving Grassroots Democracy in the Illinois Republican Party

By Jon A. Zahm

The current system for selecting delegates to the Republican National
Convention is a very democratic process that
encourages many candidates to run and promote themselves and the
candidate they are seeking to represent.

If there are 4 delegates and 4 alternates running to represent their
candidate in each of the 19 Congressional Districts in
Illinois, and there are 8 candidates running for the nomination, that
means there are opportunities to run for office for
2432 individuals. To get on the ballot each candidate slate needs a
minimum of 600 signatures on petitions per Congressional
District to be on the ballot. This is not hard to do as all 4
delegates and all 4 alternates can be on the same petition form.
Presidential candidate petition in each CD requires 3000 signatures.

Each delegate and alternate must declare their preference for a
candidate for President whose name will appear on the ballot next to
theirs in parenthesis. So in 2008, when I ran for delegate in the 14th
Congressional District for Mike Huckabee, the ballot read Jon A. Zahm
(Huckabee). Some critics of the current system say that the preference system is a
problem because what if someone changes their preference
at the convention? I do not know a situation where a pledged delgate
has ever not voted for whom they are pledged to so I do not see a
problem here. After campaigning for someone for months I see a close bond
there that would not be broken.
To have these approximately 2500 Republicans using social networking,
going door to door and event to event collecting signatures and
promoting their respective candidacies is a good thing for grassroots development and democracy.
Let me give a real life situation of how things work under this
system. I recognized the quality and potential of Mike Huckabee as a
Presidential candidate well before most people in Illinois did. He was
barely registering in the polls at the time I became a (volunteer) leader and
organizer for the Huckabee campaign. I was put in charge of
building the Delegate teams in the 14th and 13th Districts. This gave
me the opportunity to recruit and reward truly dedicated and
passionate grassroots precinct committeemen to be delgates and alternates. Among
those who I selected were Jim Krenz of Carpentersville, Cynthia
Schneider of Naperville and Mava Zilka of Lockport. Krenz, the owner
of a successful plumbing business, passed away earlier this year
of cancer at the much too young age of 57. I gathered signatures with
Jim at the Elgin train stations, among other places, on brutally cold
mornings. But he loved Mike Huckabee and the photo of them together at the
Illinois Family Institute dinner still graces his Facebook page

People like Jim Krenz will never, ever get to be a delegate under the
new system. The delegates and alternates get hand picked by the
campaigns after the primary. To the victors go the spoils. If you have a big
name or a big checkbook you will get picked. Plus the people who want
this change support a winner-take-all change that will mean that if a candidate
gets 50% plus one of the vote then they get all the delegates. So much
for one man-one vote. If my candidate gets 40% of the vote, he/she should get
40% of the delegates. but instead will get zero.

There are some people in Illinois associated with the Rick Perry
campaign who think he can run a bunch of TV ads and spend a bunch of
money to get the 50% plus one to control all the delegates. Why would we give up
our open and democratic system and disenfranchise 2500 potenrial
candidates to help one organization amass a wealth of political clout?

We learn so much about our party leaders when they have to declare
early for a candidate rather than wait until the end to see who wins.
Remember all the folks who signed up for the pro-abortion, pro- gun control,  Rudy
Giuliani in 2008? They thought they had a winner. A political
entrepreneur can select a lesser known candidate and build an organization around them. Isn’t
that what grassroots politics is all about?

Tea Party and conservative leaders will be wise to support the system
that requires more grassroots action, not less. Treasurer Dan
Rutherford understands that the current system rewards hard work and effective organizations
and he supports this. I don’t always agree with Dan but no one can
take away the fact that his organization and work ethic are top notch.

So with all of this I ask each member of the State Central Committee
to vote NO on changing how we select Delegates and Alternates to the
Republican National convention.

(Jon A. Zahm of Osco, IL is an elected member of the Henry County
Board, an elected Republican Precinct Committeeman, and the Chairman
of the Henry County Tea Party. Jon is also a political and non-profit
consultant. He can be reached at


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