After a couple half days, and all of Friday off for convention, I’m still playing catch-up and trying to unbury myself with work, so I’m not doing a lot of posting beyond pictures. But I did want to start to recap the convention.
The Republican State Convention has kind of morphed into this beast which seems to be a greater challenge to wrangle every year. Not wrangle in any definition of trying to pre-determine an outcome, but in terms of planning for event size, and “who is going to show up for this meal.” No matter how much they plan and plead for people to pre-register, people just aren’t doing it. And in a phenomena which was not unusual to this convention but it happened in 2018 as well, there’s a faction who think that they are entitled to participation without paying convention fees, with some showing up feeling entitled to a free lunch.
Well, ..if someone tries to argue to the convention that it should be free, despite the event costing over $50,000 to put on, then this no-name blogger is going to say that the freeloader label might be accurate. You know, if it walks like a duck, etcetera…. Unless someone wants to go out and find someone to pay for everything, then they should not be trying to bankrupt the Republican Party by demanding everything be free. Which is just an odd position for someone claiming to be conservative.
I’m not sure how the GOP can combat those expecting free meals any more than they have. It was a battle they faced in 2018, (not for the 2020 on-line COVID convention), and again this year. And to address it then as in now, all days with party convention business had the registration fee, and on the day when they selected candidates, there was the free option for the Saturday when the votes were taken.
But even doing as much pre-planning as humanly possible, without the cooperation of the attendees giving them an RSVP that they were coming, the venue found itself overwhelmed at times by the people who just showed up, some of which who didn’t pay, or at least pay ahead of time. It’s like some of the delegates knew R.S.V.P. is an abbreviation for a French phrase, and they rejected it out of hand.
On Thursday, at the event at Joy Ranch, they were able to handle it like champs at an excellent event with excellent food. But the hotel events… it was quickly evident that they weren’t as scalable. And how can you scale when 200 RSVP, and 300 or more show up wanting to be fed? It’s an impossible task.
At more than one event, organizers found themselves buying pizza, and the chair was trying to buy a group food elsewhere because the hotel could not ramp up quickly enough for all the extras. There were a couple of meals I found myself rolling through Taco Johns to pick up something on the way home out of town, because after the speech I went there for, two hours later it wasn’t worth hanging around for mediocre at best hotel food.
Those was just the meals. Hospitality suites? Been there done that. I only did a quick loop on Thursday night. Dozens if not hundreds of people jam packed in the hallway trying to get into an overly small hotel room. It’s great seeing old friends, but, there’s this sense of Déjà vu. And that illustrates something that’s more than a bit outdated about how we select sites and organize these things.
At the end of the convention, they announced that the recommendation of the Site Selection Committee that next two conventions were going to be in Pierre and Rapid City. I literally groaned when I heard it.
Rapid City gives a glimmer of possibility if they have some imagination, but in Pierre, I predict we’ll be stuck doing this dance again at the Ramkota Inn, shoe-horned in the convention space, using the same beat-up podiums that we used at the last Pierre convention, and the one before that, clustered around the pool hospitality suites, and you could play a video of this and many other years’ conventions and not see any differences.
Why do I bring this up? Because we shouldn’t be doomed to a format we’ve been using for 40 years or more.
Among the presentations during the Site Selection Committee process, there was one from former Executive Director of the SDGOP, and now the Executive Director of Visit Brookings, Laura Schoen Carbonneau, that made a huge impression on me. Not because it was from my town, but because it offered a way forward with an update on how conventions could be done. Not pushing the same format that we’ve been holding them in for the last 30-40 years, but making them more community-based.
The model that Laura offered was based on the Republican National Convention, where there is a central large venue for convention activities. There would be a larger hotel where the Party HQ is based, but they aren’t operating the entire convention there, because they know they can’t fit everyone there, and they operate accordingly.
Showcase events are off-site, and hospitality events are distributed elsewhere in the community such as downtown restaurants and other venues.
Most communities large enough to host a convention have mass transit or ride-share. And if you focus the hospitality venues to a certain area, such as a downtown, it is pretty darned manageable.
Some of the best events of recent conventions are those held away from the main convention hall. Joy Ranch this time. Last time the convention was in Pierre, it was at the Riverboat in the Ft. Pierre park, and I could go on. Those events were good, so do more of that! Get us out of the cramped and dated hotel facilities. And it would show more of the host community than trapping us all at the hotel, and condemning us to eat rubber chicken or overcooked sirloin. Or pizza, if you’re last one in.
I’d issue that challenge to the host committee for the Rapid City convention. Put us at events in community venues that can meet the need. Paraphrasing Joan Crawford’s character in Mommie Dearest, I’d declare with what I don’t think would be a singular voice – NO MORE RUBBER CHICKEN! Yes, that would require us to take a break from many years of now-stale precedent, but I would argue that if it’s good enough for the Republican National Convention, there’s no reason we can’t scale down the model for our own purposes.
That’s not to say that the event this last weekend was bad. No, not at all, and noting how we could do things better is not to be meant as a complaint. Everyone did a great job with the tools they had at hand in a convention that was overwhelmed with people.
Rather, it should be considered an opportunity to recognize that this convention has grown, and maybe the “one motel” model should be scrapped moving forward should instead be designed to see the best these communities have to offer.