- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

Sen. Mel Martinez was selected yesterday as the general chairman of the Republican National Committee, despite some members’ public objections and considerable private grumbling.

The RNC leadership, loyal to President Bush and his choice for general chairman, used parliamentary procedures to end a brief floor skirmish over Mr. Martinez’s election — outmaneuvering members who opposed the creation of the new position and the nomination of the Florida senator to fill it.

Some members said publicly and privately that the senator from Florida would make RNC fundraising more difficult because he supports what critics say is Mr. Bush’s desire to grant amnesty to illegal aliens.

“I do not support amnesty for illegal aliens,” Mr. Martinez, a naturalized citizen who fled communist Cuba as a boy, insisted in an interview with The Washington Times after his election. “I do support strong border enforcement, and absolutely I support the rule of law [when it comes to] illegal aliens here.”

Mr. Martinez was elected in a voice vote, instead of the secret ballot that opponents had sought.

“Senator Martinez will help our party effectively communicate the Republican message of hope and opportunity for all Americans,” Mr. Bush said after Mr. Martinez’s election.

Several outspoken opponents of Mr. Martinez made some effort at conciliation after the vote.

“While we disagree with Senator Martinez’s support of amnesty for people who are in this country illegally, we must still look for the best ways to secure our border, keep our homeland safe and enforce our laws,” said Texas Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser, who had voted against the creation of the general chairman’s office and the senator’s nomination.

“On issues we do agree on such as lowering our taxes, protecting our families, creating a strong economy and reforming our government, we look forward to his leadership,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a luncheon address to the 168-member RNC, said that after Republicans lost the majority in Congress in November’s midterm elections, “Mel Martinez is the one Republican senator left I can refer to as ‘Mr. Chairman.’ ”

Before yesterday’s vote, North Dakota RNC member Curly Haugland, one of the opponents of creating a general chairmanship, offered the written opinion of an accredited professional parliamentarian that the move violated RNC rules. The rules governing the RNC, adopted at the 2004 Republican National Convention, call only for an elected chairman and co-chairman.

The wheels came off Mr. Haugland’s drive to use Roberts Rules of Parliamentary Procedure and the RNC’s own rules to have a secret ballot on the creation of a general chairman when Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, the newly elected day-to-day RNC chairman, quickly called for a voice vote.

While the vast majority of members voiced public satisfaction with the outcome, Mr. Haugland told The Times afterward: “They didn’t follow the rules or the opinion of the independent certified parliamentarian. The breach of rules continues.”

Mr. Duncan said his job as chairman “is not to make policy or headlines but to win elections,” while Mr. Martinez “will be the voice of the party.”

He said the November elections were a sobering reminder to Republicans that “we can’t be arrogant or dismiss the message the voters sent us” on Iraq, domestic spending and scandals within the party’s ranks.

The RNC annual meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel also issued what some said amounted to a rebuke of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a chief proponent of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that Congress passed and Mr. Bush signed before the 2004 elections.

On Thursday, the committee passed a resolution — authored by Indiana RNC member James Bopp Jr. and others — condemning the 2002 passage of the McCain-supported bill, which restricts what political parties can do in conjunction with their own candidates for federal office. Its passage spawned the creation of so-called 527 groups often dominated by wealthy donors.

The RNC resolution urges Congress to deregulate campaign financing instead of further complicating it by attempting to solve unintended consequences with new regulations.

“I don’t think it’s a repudiation of McCain,” said Michigan RNC member Chuck Yob, whose son works for Mr. McCain’s unofficial presidential nomination campaign organization. “Even McCain feels the 527s need to be brought under the saddle.”

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