On Saturday, April 27, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Washington (RLCWA) held its first state convention. Many liberty activists like me were hopeful about this organization as a vehicle to organize under, for the purpose of continuing the liberty movement inspired by Ron Paul who insists, “You cannot defend liberty without defending life,” and as an OBGYN who has delivered over 4,000 babies, he asserts, “The debate about when life begins should not be a debate…Let me assure you that all life begins at conception.” We were hopeful that in forming a state charter of the Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC), we could make it the vehicle to influence local and national politics for what we perceived as our shared goals. At our statewide kick-off in Yakima, in January, I was very hopeful about our prospects when our featured speakers of the event were the Freedom Agenda-Washington Team. In both speech and practice, they are effectively moving forward on these goals without compromise. But my hopes were dashed for the RLCWA when we met in Yakima again for the state convention.
To be completely up front, we were all aware that there were certain differences among the supporters of Ron Paul, particularly regarding his statements quoted above. Still, it seemed thus far, we had been unified in our support of candidates like those on the Freedom Agenda team and some of the RLC’s apparent national favorites like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Ted Cruz. On the local level, we have made allies with patriots who were not Paul supporters, but found enough common ground with us on the issues to build a coalition when we formed our county charters. These alliances, which formed during the Presidential caucus and convention process of 2012, were crucial for us to maintain if we hoped to restore the GOP to its core principles. Now is not the time to burn bridges we’ve built with them, but burning them is precisely what the majority of the RLCWA delegates did when they rejected a pro-life resolution at the convention. “What the folks in Yakima forgot was that it was specifically pro-life members of the Paul campaign, like you Michelle, who made any mutual work possible in the cause of smaller government,” said Mark Buse, Snohomish Co. Rick Santorum Campaign Chair.
Initial Reservations Disclosed
So why did the RLCWA, a group focused on “liberty” need a pro-life resolution in the first place? We heard that question frequently. Firstly, “liberty” is not a “single issue”. It is a comprehensive set of issues. The rights to life and liberty are inseparable. Many liberty activists oppose drone strikes and unnecessary war, for good reason: they rob the rights to life and liberty from the innocent. Secondly, many of us who joined the RLCWA, did so with reservations, which we shared with the chair Sandra Brendale when she was recruiting people to charter in the various counties around the state. Those reservations were mainly concerning the “Abortion” section of the national RLC’s Statement of Principles, which we felt needed to change if we were going to lend our name and support to such an organization.
She assured us at the time that most or all of the members in the Yakima charter including herself, as well as the Okanogan charter and other various counties who had already chartered were pro-life, and that we in Snohomish County were pro-life and as long as we had the majority of members, we could modify that for our state. Meanwhile, she assured us, we had autonomy within our own county charters. When I pointed out that we were concerned about the national umbrella having a statement that condones a pro-choice view, she agreed and said we could change that from the ground up. We could do so by passing resolutions (or proposed amendments) at our county level, then state level, then national level through our delegates to the national convention. This made sense to me because I’ve been through this process in the Republican Party proper by serving on platform committees at the local and state level so I was familiar with this process and the national one. Every county and state Republican Party organization has its own platforms which all vary quite a bit. We accepted those assurances and were happy to move forward.
Struggle for Autonomy and Process
When we had our first charter meeting in Snohomish Co., we hashed out what we thought we were adopting as our own platform, otherwise known as the Statement of Principles (SoP). The first thing we tackled was the abortion statement and we modified it to be a strong pro-life statement. This passed overwhelmingly by our chartering members.
As we began promoting the county charter and blasted it all over the social media, it came to the attention of the National RLC leadership. Bill Westmiller the former RLC chair and author of the “Abortion” section of the SoP, had a conversation on Facebook that included Dave Nalle, current national chairman, and members of the WA state leadership. In it, he specifically mentioned that state chapters “need to rein in county chapters who violate their bylaws by allowing ‘revision’ to the national RLC statement.” (Be sure to check out his views on abortion in order to understand why he’s protecting his turf). The RLCWA secretary, Becky Washam, asked him to clarify his allegation, offering to clear up any potential oversight. Nalle clarified Westmiller’s statement by pointing out that Snohomish County modified the Statement of Principles on their website, “in violation of the state and national bylaws.” Nalle went on to say that changes to the statement of principles were a problem because they had been passed by the national delegates from all over the country and were meant to represent the entire organization. “If you don’t like the SoP, the way to address it is to introduce a resolution at the convention to change it, not act unilaterally.” Mind you, it was not our intention to act “unilaterally”, we thought we were speaking for our county charter alone, not the national organization. So much for our autonomy. Full disclosure, it was our intention to eventually move the issue forward through the ranks as we understood the process would allow, but we were only claiming to speak for the Snohomish Co. charter at the time. In short, national leadership came down with a heavy hammer to make sure we didn’t “contradict” their so-called “neutral” statement on abortion. Their bylaws, it became clear, were set up to safeguard that statement and keep local and state charters from straying from the fold.
Sandy Brendale contacted Brian Landsberger (Snohomish County chair) and told him that we had to take down our statement and could only link to the national one. By contradicting the national’s Statement of Principles, we were in danger of having our charter revoked. She told him we could pass a county resolution but could not “contradict” the national Statement of Principles. I spoke with Sandra and reminded her of our previous conversation, during which she told us we COULD be autonomous. I half-jokingly mentioned that we could just call it our platform instead of a Statement of Principles. Sandra’s response was “Yeah, that works.” Shocked that simply changing the title of the document could make everything ok, I went back to fill in Brian and Clayton on the good news; that this whole matter was easy to resolve. Brian replied that we would have to have the chapter vote on that, so we did. A motion to simply change the title passed overwhelmingly in March of this year. It is now up on the website.
Moving it up through the ranks
We weren’t simply interested in making a statement just for Snohomish County though. We wanted to bring this up through the ranks to the national level so we could rectify the problematic language in the National Statement of Principles. To that end, on the same night, we passed the county level version of the resolution that we hoped to eventually bring to national.
We announced our intention to bring this resolution to the state convention, and Clayton Strang who drafted the resolution (as well as the platform language) contacted the chair and secretary for the RLCWA, requesting the procedure for bringing this forward. After some pestering, Sandra told him that he should have a speech ready because he would be presenting it from the floor.
Opposition within our ranks
Once the proposed resolution was emailed out to the membership by the RLCWA, discussion on the resolution began in the various social media groups on Facebook. In response, we heard all sorts of excuses about why we should not pass this resolution, which were later echoed on the convention floor, such as: “this could turn away other liberty activists who disagree, it’s too divisive,” or “this is a group focused on ‘liberty issues’ and there are plenty of other groups where life is the focus,” as if defending the right to life has nothing to do with a term so broad as “liberty”. There were also a tiny minority of members/delegates, some who hold office in the state and national organization that opposed what they perceived as the sentiment in the resolution: “the federal government has no business making law on abortion.” We pointed out that the resolution mentions nothing about the federal government. (Most in the liberty movement acknowledge that the states are where murder laws are written and enforced and have jurisdiction on the matter.) Here is the actual text of the resolution:
“Whereas, the Declaration of Independence States “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness;” and
Whereas, it is the sole duty of government to secure these rights for the people of the United States of America; and
Whereas, without the right to life, all other rights which the government should properly secure become meaningless; and
Whereas, the right to life for pre-born humans is currently not secured; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Snohomish County Republican Liberty Caucus (this will be replaced with “Republican Liberty Caucus of Washington” via a motion to amend from the floor) opposes any act of aggression against an innocent individual and his inherent right to life. This includes such acts against any human whether born or unborn”
So, the resolution had no prescription for the federal government. It was just asking the RLCWA to take a stand opposing “acts of aggression”, which is one of the core principles of libertarian philosophy that this group all claims to hold. When that argument failed, the arguments unfortunately turned to personal attacks by the opponents of the resolution. They would have you believe the reverse is true.
Obstacles within our ranks
The chair began to make comments saying that it was “unlikely” that the resolution would be heard, and that it was improperly formatted anyway. At the time, it still mentioned only Snohomish County. Some of the excuses given by RLCWA leadership were that it was past the submission deadline for the national convention. As a result, we focused on the state convention and getting the resolution passed for the state of Washington. At the time, we did not even have a state set of bylaws or statement of principles, and so we were operating solely under the national bylaws.
The agenda for the convention, as it was proposed by state leadership, put resolutions on the agenda after all other business. In addition, the time for adjourning the meeting was set for 6 PM. Knowing that the adoption of bylaws and election of officers, board members and delegates would take at least up to that time, this would have absolutely ensured that the resolution were “unlikely” to be heard. Proponents of the resolution gathered together in a side room and we wrote a modified version of the agenda, reworking the times to ensure that the adjournment was not a fixed time. This would allow time to ensure the resolution was able to be heard. We succeeded in passing the modified agenda, thanks to the parliamentary skills of Doug Parris and others.
When we finally got around to the Resolutions part of the agenda, the only one on the docket was our Life resolution. Clayton introduced it, made a motion to adopt and it was quickly seconded by several others. Then, Clayton gave a fiery speech to open the debate. After only 2-3 people had a chance to speak, someone called the question, attempting to end debate and call a vote before all opinions on the matter had been heard. The motion failed, so debate was allowed to continue. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the question cannot be called more than once. As a result of “calling it” too early on, it could not be called again, so the debate went on far longer than necessary. After 40 minutes of debate, I wanted to end it and call the question, just before dinner, because I thought both sides had already been sufficiently heard and I sensed that sentiment among the crowd. I was reminded of the rules though. Up until this time, the convention had been run very orderly, with fairness and by the rules.
Debate becomes murky
The fixed time for dinner arrived before we had finished the debate, and so when the debate resumed in the dining room, some members had already been drinking alcoholic beverages. This contributed to a general aura of disorder and lack of focus. We were sitting at round tables, scattered across the room; side conversations were taking place, and some who spoke were not even heard by the whole assembly. Compounding the debate problems was that leadership allowed at least one person to speak twice before others had a chance to speak for the first time. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, “No member can speak twice to the same issue until everyone else wishing to speak has spoken to it once.”
In the first half of the debate, it actually looked to me and others (including the chair who has since opined on this), that the resolution looked as if it might pass in the first half of the debate before dinner. It was estimated that 90% of the members self-identified as “pro-life”. What the turning point was is still in question, but I am convinced it had something to do with some of the dinner conversation around the room. It became clear that others were being told about and shown the main Facebook thread where the earlier debate had transpired. Some of the comments by one of the proponents were misconstrued and exaggerated. This was brought up later in the evening by probably the most liked and best-spoken opponent in the debate as an emotional appeal to the friendships across the room, not to “divide this movement”. “There have been harsh words by the drafters of this resolution,” we were told by this opponent. “I personally was called a ‘baby killer’, ‘immoral’, and ‘not welcome in the liberty movement or the RLC’,” we were told. As a witness to this conversation, I can tell you that these words were not said nor implied. In fact, it was admitted to me privately that “those may not have been his exact words.” Indeed, they weren’t. The comments in question can be summed up as this: “supporting child murder is immoral”. News flash: supporting child murder is immoral. Who can argue with that? There was no “name calling” on the part of any proponents. The comment was not directed at any particular person.
The overreaching point being made by the resolution’s opponents was that it was necessary to retain the allegiance of the pro-abortion libertarian members already in the RLC, and continue to recruit libertarians who were pro-abortion. They felt that a statement that defended life would be divisive to the liberty movement and stated several times that the pro-life members were free to stay in the RLC and work toward the cause of liberty, but that any discussion or action on the pro-life front should be directed to a group that was focused on that issue alone. One of the other arguments heard several times was that since the RLC is Republican, and the Republican Party already has a stated pro-life position, it would be redundant to make a pro-life statement. However, the national statement of the RLC condones a pro-choice view, so by its very nature it contradicts the standing Republican Party pro-life position.
It would not have been redundant at all, because the pro-life and pro-liberty members of the GOP that would otherwise coalition with us are doubtful about our faction’s commitment to defending life. This was our opportunity to prove to them that we are serious about defending life. Instead, they chose to wimp out, to cater to the libertarian pro-abortion faction. This alienates our allies in the GOP, the same people we desperately need if we are to truly reform the party as we have claimed is our goal. It also makes current members who are pro-life rethink their involvement with a caucus that holds such a position. For some, abortion is not a “trigger issue,” and this is why some pro-abortion libertarians were able to support Ron Paul. However, for social conservatives who are pro-life, the defense of that life is the very foundation of liberty. The founders put these rights in a certain order for a reason. Life trumps liberty, and liberty trumps property. This is not what the RLC was founded on, and not what they currently believe.
Flawed foundation and head
It has since become apparent, that the RLC itself was founded by pro-abortion libertarians and is currently chaired by someone who supports keeping partial birth abortion legal in some cases. Current advisory board members include Ann Stone, the head of Republicans for Choice (who, by the way, preferred Giuliani and McCain over Ron Paul in the presidential race of 2008), and a man who wrote several essays in support of abortion. (For more information on how abortion has always been a part of the RLC’s platform, please take a look at this article.)
As a pro-life activist and leader who has worked within the Republican Party and fought the battles for years over our life plank in the platform and keeping Republican candidates accountable; blogging since 2006 to provide information to pro-life voters about their candidates, my whole reason for being involved in politics at all is to defend the right to life. I am not a one-issue voter, but to me this is the one issue that matters the most. It is the issue that brought me to the Ron Paul campaign, and brought me to the liberty movement. I’ve defended the Ron Paul liberty movement to my pro-life friends. However, I cannot in good conscience continue to lend my name to an organization that refuses to include the defense of human life as part of its platform and in fact has a statement that condones the direct opposition of what I value most.
An invitation to pro-life friends
What I want to say to my pro-life friends in the RLC is this: If you are seriously committed to ending abortion as one of your goals, then I submit to you that the RLC is probably not the organization you want to be in. If you get to the point within your heart that you believe the defense of life truly is the foundation of liberty, and you do not want to have to compromise that by being part of a group that does not share your view, you’re not alone. The RLC’s position is that “liberty trumps life”. If you believe that life trumps liberty, then I invite you to join me in moving on. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Life Trumps Liberty”. You’ll find that there are far more like you than you think.