TAMPA, FL -- The Republican National Convention may be over, but Minnesota's delegates sure left an impression.
So much so, in fact, that some of those delegates are deeply concerned—in the wake of —that the Republican Party is quietly working to render powerless all future delegates who express independence from the party line.
Delegates from Minnesota are saying that some rule changes made last week at the convention will quash grassroots efforts like the one that enabled Paul to win the majority of the Minnesota delegates.
Just before the convention started on Monday, a key committee endorsed new rules for 2016 convention that essentially gave the party's presumptive nominee veto power over delegates, who typically are selected at the local and state level. Under the rules, a presidential campaign would have been able to replace any delegates it didn't like.
That proposed rule change set off a firestorm of controversy — and not just among Ron Paul supporters. Tea-party groups and other conservatives — including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh — came out against the change.
No longer a grassroots party?
"They turned it from a bottom-up process that it has been in most states, to a top-down system where the party leadership — based on who they determine is the ordained nominee — will be able to not only control the delegations but also vet the delegates themselves," said Neil Lynch, an alternate delegate from Maple Grove. "They will be able to keep the people they like and kick out the people they don’t like."
Because of the opposition to that rule, it was dropped by the time delegates voted on the rules on Tuesday.
However, on a controversial voice vote Tuesday, revised rules still were put into place that say that delegate allocation must be determined solely by a statewide presidential primary or caucuses, regardless of a state's individual rules.
For example, in Minnesota, by taking 45 percent of the vote. But because delegates are selected at district conventions and the state GOP convention, the Paul campaign focused its efforts there. And Paul wound up with 33 of the state's 40 delegates. That can't happen in 2016, under the new rules.
The rules also allow candidates to replace any of their delegates and alternates replaced with someone else simply by "disavowing" the original delegate.
Finally, another rule that passed Tuesday gives the Republican National Committee the power to change rules for the 2016 convention again without going before the delegates. Historically, rules for national conventions are voted upon by delegates at the previous convention and cannot be changed.
The National Review and other media outlets are reporting that the rule changes, engineered by one of candidate Mitt Romney's lawyers, are an effort to prevent a conservative challenge to Romney in 2016.
Party leaders accused of silencing dissenters
But the Ron Paul delegates from Minnesota see it as more than that. They consider the change as a continuation of a shift in the Republican party toward exerting more control at the national level.
"What they’re trying to do is silence dissenting voices," said delegate Kevin Erickson, who is a pastor in Mountain Iron. "Dissenting voices make our platform stronger, and make our issues broader and more appealing to the masses."
"They want to be able to say, 'Yeah, we have grassroots organizations in every community in the country.' But they don’t want our voice, they want us to get in line," said Greg O’Connor, a delegate from Inver Grove Heights. "And that’s what we saw (Tuesday) at this convention. The power is centralized; they intend to keep it centralized."
While the rule the concerned them the most — allowing a presidential candidate to replace delegates selected at district and state conventions — ultimately wasn't put into place, the delegates are still concerned the change may be implemented for the 2016 convention.
Erickson said: "This would have given the Romney camp the ability to say, 'Wait a minute. You supported Ron Paul, therefore, I’m vetoing you as a delegate. It doesn’t matter that the people of your district elected you to represent them on their issues. I don’t like you. You’re out.'”
It's Not About Ron Paul
And even though they're Paul supporters, the delegates say their concern over the rule changes go beyond any particular candidate.
"People are trying to cast this as a Ron Paul issue and the crazy Ron Paul-ers who oppose this," Lynch said. "This isn’t just about Ron Paul. Any grass-roots underdog candidate would be hindered and practically prevented from having a voice. People like Ted Cruz, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum…The national party wants to say, 'Romney’s our guy. The rest of you can all just go home.’"
Melissa Valeriano, a delegate from Rochester and candidate for House District 25B, noted that these kind of changes could hurt Republicans as they attempt to bring more young voters into the party.
"They say we have to grow the GOP for the future. And yet, you have real grassroots activity from a lot of young people this time around, and what they’ve just done is effectively turned those people away," she said. "They will not continue to be part of the Republican party when these kind of things are done."
"This is not a Ron Paul issue," added Erickson. "This is about the very heart and soul of the Republcan party."
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