The national Republican panel considering a challenge to the rights of 21 Maine delegates to be seated at the GOP convention in Florida later this month wants more information and a full hearing on the matter before deciding how Maine will be represented at the four-day confab.
The request from the Republican contest committee, issued Friday, marks the latest development in the back-and-forth over whether Maine’s delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., will be seated at the gathering.
Maine’s delegates to the convention support Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential bid. Paul needs the support of at least five state delegations to be formally nominated for president and given a 15-minute, prime-time speaking slot. Meanwhile, political parties generally use their conventions to showcase their presumptive nominees — in this case, Mitt Romney.
Maine Republicans Peter Cianchette and Jan Martens Staples late last month filed a challenge with the Republican National Committee that alleged voting irregularities and procedural violations at this spring’s Maine Republican convention led to illegal votes for a slate of delegates who favor Paul over Romney.
The Republicans’ Committee on Contests reviewed filings from both sides in Washington, D.C., last week and decided to request more information and schedule the hearing, which will take place in Tampa the week before the convention.
Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster had tried to resolve the standoff recently by offering a deal to the delegates that would have obligated them to support Romney if Paul weren’t nominated for president and would have removed the delegation chairman — a Paul supporter — as spokesman. The delegates turned down that offer.
On Friday, radio host Ray Richardson said Gov. Paul LePage told him he wouldn’t attend the Republican convention if Maine’s delegation wasn’t seated. LePage’s political consultant Brent Littlefield didn’t confirm LePage’s pledge but said the governor wants to see the state’s delegation seated.
In a brief issued by contest committee Chairman Mike Duncan, the committee said it wants to determine if “the credentialing process was so fundamentally flawed as to invalidate” the election of delegates and alternate delegates. The committee also said it wants to determine whether the election of Maine’s delegates violated a delegate-selection plan the Maine Republican Party filed with the national party last fall and whether a quorum of party delegates was present at the state Republican convention in May when convention goers voted on national delegates.
Staples said Monday the attorney representing her and Cianchette in the contest told her the contest committee requested a hearing only to resolve the contest to Maine’s delegation. The committee had a number of other contests to resolve when it met last week.
“From their perspective, the issues raised were very serious,” Staples said. “Hardly any of the business we conducted really could stand, could be considered properly conducted.”
But the fact that the committee couldn’t make a ruling without more information suggests that Staples and Cianchette don’t have a strong case, said John Jones, a delegate from Falmouth who is also a Maine House candidate.
“The burden of proof is on the contestants,” he said. “For the committee to come back saying they don’t have enough evidence to make a decision says to me they don’t think they can make a ruling in favor of the contestants.”
Staples, a Romney supporter who lost her bid at the May convention to be re-elected as the state’s Republican national committeewoman, has said the challenge isn’t motivated by her and Cianchette’s support for Romney. Instead, she’s interested in seeing party rules and parliamentary procedures upheld.
Cianchette, a former Republican candidate for governor, was chairman of Romney’s campaign in Maine.
But the contest process isn’t free of politics, Jones said.
“The contest process is kind of like a political move wrapped in concerns about procedure,” he said. “This isn’t really about the rules. It’s about having a picture-perfect convention down there.”
“The delegation from Maine is committed to going there, being civil and having a discussion,” he added.
At the hearing, both sides likely will be represented by their lawyers. A lawyer paid for by Paul’s campaign is representing Maine’s delegates, Jones said.
An attorney from the Washington, D.C., firm Patton Boggs is representing Staples and Cianchette pro bono. Staples said the lawyer also is involved with other contests involving state delegations to the Republican convention.