Editor’s note: appeared on Patch.com Monday.
The St. Charles County Republican Caucus was disrupted Saturday when the meeting closed with little or no business being acted upon. About 2,500 voters left the meeting at Francis Howell North High School on Saturday afraid they were in danger of being disenfranchised, with no delegates assigned for the Congressional District Conventions coming up April 21.
No Video Rule
The caucus got off to a rocky start when the temporary chairman Eugene Dokes, announced the rules, including a stipulation that no video recording would be allowed. That brought some angry shouting from the crowd, setting the tone for the rest of the meeting. Some participants ignored the no video rule.
“It was all Ron Paul supporters,” said Jon Bennett, a St. Charles County Republican Central Committee member. “They were sticking cameras in our faces trying to intimidate people.”
The rule was listed before the caucus on the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee website.
Brent Stafford, also a county Republican Central Committee member, said he tried to make a point of order to allow the video cameras when Dokes announced he would not recognize anyone to speak on the topic. Stafford said he was going to make the point that videos should be allowed for the sake of transparency.
He also said that the entire caucus body should be vote on such a rule. Stafford was the choice of a coalition of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney supporters to become caucus chairman.
“I think (caucus organiziers) knew they would violate the rules to achieve their goals, and they didn’t want evidence of that,” Stafford said. “If you don’t have documentation or proof, how are you going to challenge it?”
However, Bennett said there were requests from people to not allow video recording in the caucus.
“They felt threatened, and this was a closed Republican meeting. Some people didn’t want their votes being recorded,” he said.
Bennett said he felt the request not to videotape proceedings was reasonable, and the vast majority of those attending the caucus obeyed that rule.
“Is it completely enforceable? Obviously not if you look at the number of YouTube videos out there,” he said.
Participants were asked to fill out a ballot indicating which candidate they supported. This was to be the organizers’ attempt to prevent Paul and Romney supporters from dominating the meeting and splitting the vote, Bennett said. The organizers include Dokes, Bryan Spencer and other members of the Republican Central Committee's caucus organizing subcommittee.
Dokes said the plan was to make a motion to apportion delegates according to the percentage of supporters for each candidate.
Stafford said he also was suspicious of what he called “the straw poll.” He said the state GOP Committee had instructed there be no straw polling, so the county organizers broke the state Republican committee’s rule.
Dokes said he didn’t consider the vote a straw poll, which is defined as a non-binding vote. His plan was to make it a binding vote by proposing it be used to assign delegates proportionally.
“I don’t know what the result of the vote would have been,” Dokes said.
Stafford said that no Ron Paul supporter was allowed in to help count the votes.
“One person supporting Ron Paul was doing data entry, but when it came time to count them he was forced to leave,” he said. “There was no oversight of the straw poll ballots. There is no way to know if it was done honestly.”
Bennett took issue with that.
“That’s absolutely wrong,” he said. “Brent had objected to the (pre-caucus vote) in general, but he had an opportunity to have someone there to count ballots. He said the guy was removed by the sergeant-at-arms. That didn’t happen.”
He said if the Ron Paul supporter wasn’t aware the ballots were being counted, it was his fault. However, he was in the room or allowed to be in the room when the ballots were counted, Bennett said.
Trying to reconvene
After taking nominations for one candidate for caucus chairman and closing the nominations in a series of quick votes, Matt Ehlen was elected chairman. Dokes said he simply acted on motions before him at the time, and much of the crowd was yelling or chanting and not participating in the voting.
“It was obvious to everyone that the organizers had a predetermined outcome, and they would not deviate from that outcome,” Stafford said.
Dokes said that the meeting simply got out of hand after he announced Ehlen was elected, and there was no gaining control over the meeting.
Ehlen told the crowd that police were threatening to shut the meeting down if order was not restored.
St. Peters Police spokesman Melissa Doss said Dokes consulted with police officers and school officials.
“He made the decision to shut the meeting down on his own—after consulting with officers and school officials,” she said.
Dokes said he did make the call came from him after recommendations to do so from officers on the scene.
After the meeting was shut down, Stafford said he was trying to reconvene the meeting in the gymnasium. He said a two-thirds majority was needed to close the meeting, and there was nowhere close to that vote.
“Nobody seemed to understand or have any will to follow Roberts Rules of Order,” he said.
He tried to reconvene the meeting inside the gymnasium, however, police asked him to leave so he went outside to the parking lot.
“The majority of the people in the caucus wanted me as chairman,” he said. “I was the only one who seemed to have any idea of how to reconvene a meeting. I was trying to get some business done.”
So he stood on a chair in the parking lot in attempt to reconvene the meeting there. He said hundreds of people were listening to him peacefully when a police officer came over and arrested him.
“I guess I was visible since I was standing on a chair. I was told to leave the gymnasium, and I did,” he said. “I was never told to leave the parking lot. I wasn’t trying to incite a riot. I was trying to reconvene a meeting.”
St. Peters Police released a statement that reads, “Two people were arrested for trespassing after receiving numerous warnings to leave the school property.”
Stafford and another Ron Paul supporter, Kenneth Suitter, were arrested for trespassing.
Dokes and Stafford have been talking with the Missouri Republican State Committee officials about hosting another caucus.
“The most important thing right now is making sure that St. Charles County is represented at the Congressional District Convention,” Dokes said.
That will mean rescheduling another caucus, but time is short.
Stafford said 15 days notice is required before the caucus, and the district convention is April 21, just 33 days away. He said April 14 currently is the most likely date for another caucus attempt.