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Missouri GOP to focus on issues, and future of primaries, at convention

A vintage photo of an elephant walking.
Wikimedia Commons

When Missouri Republicans gather this weekend in Branson for their once-every-four-years convention, the focus won’t be just on presidential delegates.

Much of the attention will center on the party’s core beliefs, and what issues it deems most important, as GOP candidates from Donald Trump on down appeal to the public for votes.

Known as the “party platform,’’the thick document gets into the nitty-gritty on everything from same-sex marriage – the GOP opposes it – to gun rights, immigration and tax issues.

“It’s our statement to Missouri of what the Republican Party stands for,’’ said state GOP executive director Jonathon Prouty.

New proposed platform additions this year include:

  • Opposition to allowing transgender individuals to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify;
  • Support for “right to work,’’ which would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees;
  • A call for the Missouri General Assembly to change the state’s primary system so that voters seeking to cast ballots in a party’s primary would have to register as a member of that party. Their political affiliation would be retained as a public record.

A closed primary setup this spring likely would have hurt Trump’s chances of winning on March 15, since he had little  support from top GOP leaders or activists.
Influential St. Louisans among delegates

Missouri’s top Republican candidates this year, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and the four rivals for governor, will address the convention Saturday morning.

Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson is on state GOP's slate of delegates to the presidential convention.

Then conventioneers then will get down to business. Before debating the platform, they will fill the remaining 25 delegate slots (and 25 alternates) to the national Republican convention in Cleveland, which begins July 18.

All told, there are 52 Republican delegates.  Trump won 37 of them with his Missouri primary victory. Ted Cruz captured 15.

Cruz’s campaign also was successful in getting a number of its allies in the Trump delegate slots filled earlier. Although that had prompted some internal fights at that time, Prouty says the tension has eased since Cruz suspended his presidential campaign.

Still, Trump’s campaign may not be happy with all of Saturday’s delegate choices.

The state party’s recommended slate for the last 50 delegate and alternate spots includes a variety of party activists and officials, most of whom had not been aligned with Trump, even though he’s now the likely presidential nominee.

St. Louis County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, a Republican from Town and Country
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger among the recommended delegates.

The proposed slate includes:

  • Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff  
  • Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin
  • St. Louis County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R- Huntleigh
  • Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, Ladue. 

Schlafly is among the few on the slate who publicly backed Trump.
State GOP will seek 'closed primaries'

For years, the state’s Republican and Democratic leaders have considered whether to push for legislative changes to end the state’s “open primaries,’’ where a voter can take whichever party ballot they prefer, and no record is kept.  About a decade ago, for example, the national Democratic Party was pressing for Missouri to join the ranks of "closed'' primaries. But rank and file activists in Missouri balked, in part because "open primaries'' are popular with the public.

Some political insiders privately believe that Missouri’s open primary system this year likely helped Trump – who carried the state in the March 15 presidential primary despite garnering no support from any major Missouri Republican leaders.

(Missouri Democrats saw a similar situation, where Hillary Clinton – the favorite of established party leaders – almost lost the March 15 primary to rival Bernie Sanders, who also has had little institutional support. Sanders generally has not performed as well in closed primaries.)

Prouty, with the state GOP, contends that Republican Party leaders are more concerned about alleged cases where independent or Democratic-leaning voters have taken Republican primary ballots to help or hurt a particular GOP candidate.

In any case, the Missouri GOP’s state committee will vote Friday on a proposal to ask the Republican-controlled General Assembly to consider passing a bill that makes Missouri a “closed primary’’ state, where a voter would have to register their party preference, which would be a public record. Only voters who register as Republicans, for example, would be allowed to cast ballots in any GOP primary, state or local.

Candidates don’t always embrace platform

Among Republicans or Democrats, party platforms can cause a headache if their candidates opt against agreeing with all of the stances.

And occasionally, the rival party will use a platform’s controversial stands as ammunition to attack that party’s candidates.

The opening paragraph of the Missouri Republican Party's platform sets the tone for much of what follows:

"Most of what is important in life we do for ourselves, without the government. We form our own families and raise our own children. We choose what we want to do in life. We pray to our God as we choose; we form and join the religious and civic groups that care for our neighbors in need and shape the direction of our state. There are only a few things we need the government to do for us; but it should do those things well and faithfully."

Some of the Missouri GOP platform’s positions have been around for decades. Other stances have been added in the past eight years.

Among the key views stated in the proposed 2016 platform:

  • Taxes and Regulations: Calls for an end to the inheritance tax (referred to in the platform as "the death tax") and a moratorium on government regulations.
  • Labor: "Ending forced unionism by enacting a 'Right to Work' law that gives workers the power to decide whether to join and pay dues to a union."
  • Federal budget: "Passage of a federal Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution to be adopted by the states and NOT by constitutional convention."
  • Federal finances: "An independent audit of the Federal Reserve Banking System."
  • Education: Cites the importance of "the authority of parents as the primary educators of their children in all matters, including morality, sexual orientation, sexuality and sexual health, and responsibility." The platform also opposes "the establishment of school-based clinics/health links that dispense contraceptives and provide abortion counseling," and calls for "eliminating the Department of Education and rejecting all efforts to establish a national curriculum, thereby, retaining control of schools at the local level."
  • Elections: Supports a photo ID requirement, and also advocates "requiring paper ballots to prevent voter fraud."
  • Reproductive issues: "Life begins at conception, and therefore we reaffirm our support for a Human Life amendment to the United States Constitution."
  • National Security: "Combating global terrorism by taking the fight directly to the enemies of freedom ... Greater security at our borders to prevent illegal immigrants and terrorists from entering our country."
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.