GOP expects secret ballot

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Republican National Committee members think they will get a secret ballot on today’s election of a new general chairman, which would protect members opposed to the White House’s push to fill the new slot with an advocate of an amnesty for illegal aliens.

“If we get the secret ballot as promised, then every member will feel free to express his or her view without the fear of coercion or intimidation,” said RNC member Curly Haugland of North Dakota.

The move to create a new top office on the committee and fill it with Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida is scheduled to take place today, on the third day of the annual RNC winter meeting here. Mr. Martinez supports President Bush’s plans for what conservative critics call amnesty for illegal aliens.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a former state party chairman and RNC member who attended the meeting yesterday as an observer, was talked up by some members as an alternative to Mr. Martinez.

Mr. Steele, praised by name in a farewell speech by outgoing Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, lost a Senate run in November but remains popular with RNC members.

“The Republican Party is against amnesty for illegals, but if the president wants Mr. Martinez as general chairman, that should be the president’s prerogative,” Mr. Steele told The Washington Times.

The RNC leadership’s desires historically almost always carry the day, especially when a Republican is in the White House, but some members yesterday said they saw hope that things might turn out differently this time.

“If it is a secret ballot, it will make a huge difference,” said RNC member Denise McNamara of Texas, who said she intends to vote against the creation of the general-chairman position and, if that move fails, to vote against Mr. Martinez to fill the office, regardless of whether the vote is secret or public.

So far, a minority of members share her willingness to publicly express opposition.

“I will vote against the creation of an office of general chairman, even if it is a voice vote,” said RNC member Steve Cloud of Kansas. “But a lot of others on this committee who also oppose the creation of that office — whether because it violates the rules or because they oppose amnesty for illegal aliens — they will be afraid to say what they think unless there is a secret ballot.”

At issue is whether the RNC’s rules permit the creation the “general chairman” position. The rules governing the RNC, adopted at the 2004 Republican National Convention, call only for an elected chairman and co-chairman.

RNC member Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, a Kentucky resident and the current treasurer, is running unopposed for chairman. RNC member Tim Morgan of California is exacted to become the new treasurer.

Mr. Bush has said his friend, Mr. Martinez, will be the RNC’s general chairman, even though the office has yet to be created by a vote of the 168-member national committee.

“Some members are opposed for that reason alone,” Mr. Cloud said.

Mr. Haugland said he had won agreement, in a private meeting with the RNC leadership, to provide a report from a certified parliamentarian in support of a secret ballot instead of the usual voice vote on such issues.

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