Friday, 27 May 2011

Utah's GOP and the Limits of "Public" Participation

I caught this via Paul Rolly this morning:

Mike Ridgway has been an outspoken and obsessed pain in the neck for the Utah Republican Party for many years. He has taken over Republican meetings to call out what he believed were violations of party bylaws, unfair officer selection practices and cliques taking over the party.

The result has been resolutions barring the former central committee member, legislative district chairman and U.S. Senate candidate from holding office in the party and even attending Republican meetings.

Party leaders have justified the banishment by saying Ridgway has been too disruptive, and by pointing out the party is a private organization and can institute its own rules.

Rolly's conclusion is right on the money:

But what do you call it when it becomes increasingly apparent that the dominant political party can use the police and courts to harass someone its leaders don’t like?...Ridgway was summoned to the justice court in Lehi (Lehikistan?) Wednesday to face a charge of disturbing the peace. The complaint was filed after tea party organizers claimed he came to the private Challenger School in Lehi during a meeting where he was not welcome. [The charges were later dismissed]

My reaction to this is twofold: first of all, despite Rolly's misgivings (and I understand them perfectly) the Utah GOP is well within its rights, as far as I can tell, to "banish" Ridgway from its proceedings, since the Utah Republican Party has never claimed, and probably never will claim, to be open or transparent. After all, the GOP holds a closed convention and primary vote, which is why the eventual candidates that emerge from primaries here (Mike Lee et. al.) tend to be more extreme than even the mainstream Utah political scene.

This new wrinkle - Ridgway being dragged into court for attempting to "disrupt" a Tea Party meeting he wasn't invited to - is a cause for concern, though. Unlike the Utah GOP, the Utah Tea Party has made many loud noises about government accountability and transparency, not to mention its calls for limited, non-intervention-oriented government*.

To flex your muscle and use local political clout to jail a gadfly (Rolly refers to him as a "dissident," but I think that's too strong) smacks of the worst totalitarian impulses of politics and government, the same worst impulses the Tea Party supposedly exists to resist.

As a civil libertarian, I have to say that it drives me up a damn tree that Utah Tea Partiers (not all of them, but the vast majority) hate and fear government...EXCEPT when it comes to valid threats to liberty like the surveillance state or the militarization of local police or the slow erosion of due process and/or civil liberties. One exception that I'm very pleased with is the blowback Orrin Hatch may experience over his continued support for the PATRIOT act. As long as Tea Partiers are consistent in their concern about government overreach into the private lives of citizens, they have a friend in me.

1 comment:

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