For Alaska delegates, GOP rules fracas wasn't about Donald Trump

CLEVELAND — For some Alaskans, the raucous moment on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Monday afternoon was not about Donald Trump, or Sen. Ted Cruz, or even about the presidency. It was about rules.

The 5,000 Republican delegates went wild for a bit on the first day of the convention. The crowd roared, arguments broke out and some pushed forward to try and take the stage. But they were pushed back and replaced at the bottom of the steps with other delegates who unfurled a Trump banner, stirring the crowd even more.

For some delegates, it was the culmination of a months-long "Never Trump" effort. Anti-Trump Republicans hailing from states with winner-take-all primaries wanted to be unbound and allowed to vote their conscience. They wanted to submit a petition on the floor asking for a recorded vote on the rules changes that came out of a committee meeting last week, which they hoped would open the door to getting their way.

But for many Alaska delegates yelling alongside them, the fight was not about taking the nomination away from Trump. For them, it was about putting delegates' votes on the record. They came nearly 4,000 miles to shape the direction of their party, and they wanted it on the up and up.

Delegate Dave Donley, a former Alaska state senator, had been waiting for the vote on convention rules since 2012. At the last national GOP convention, the changes decided upon by the rules committee were passed in a voice vote, despite loud opposition from some delegates.

[Brief chaos emerges over rules at Republican National Convention]

"And ever since that moment, I've been campaigning to prevent that moment from ever happening again. It's not about Trump. It's not about Cruz. It's about the process. And the process needs to be fair. And you should never amend a rule without a vote of the delegates — on the record," Donley said on the convention floor Monday night.


There were tens of thousands of people in "The Q" — the Cleveland stadium where the GOP is holding the presidential nominating convention. By Donley's estimation, it's impossible to tell who is voting, and for what, during a voice vote. "Everything about it's just wrong," he said.

What happened at the convention Monday was, for many delegates, about the rules. But for others, it was about stopping controversial real estate magnate Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination later this week.

After two rounds of voice votes and as delegates grew rowdier by the minute, a representative from the Utah delegation came to the microphone to request a roll-call vote.

Throughout the morning, groups of delegates had been gathering signatures to petition for a roll-call vote. The "Never Trump" crowd hoped that by upending the committee's agreed-upon rules, they could force a floor vote to change the requirement that delegates from winner-take-all states vote for Trump.
Party rules dictate that the majority of delegates from at least seven states sign on to require a roll-call vote.

But Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, who was managing the rules vote, delivered a heavy blow from the convention stage: He said the committee received signatures from nine delegations asking for a reconsideration of the rules, but some delegates had later withdrawn their signatures. Three states subsequently fell below the majority line. That meant only six states' petitions were "valid" in their call for a voice vote — one short of their last-ditch effort to get a roll-call vote on the floor.

It was the end of the line for the #NeverTrump team. Some delegates walked off the convention floor, irate.

Donley said that 16 of Alaska's 28 delegates signed the petition — enough for the state to be counted as having a majority wanting a roll-call vote. But they were never able to submit their signatures because the convention secretary was nowhere to be found — many think intentionally so — and they were turned away from the stage.

Alaska's delegate on the rules committee, Fred Brown, had fought for roll-call votes in committee, and afterward, but to no avail.

[Alaska goes to Cleveland: Dispatches from the Republican National Convention]

Alaska delegate Jerry Ward said he didn't think half the Alaska delegation had signed the petition and wasn't interested himself, but he credited his co-delegates with giving it a good try.

"You know, I think they're just messing around. It didn't seem too serious," Ward said.

For Alaska delegate Erick Cordero Giorgana, the whole fight was more about knowing what he was voting for.

Monday morning, before the vote, he and many others had not actually seen the rule changes crafted by the committee last week. "Several people were telling us that we were not going to see the changes to the rules," he said.

"Several people were signing a petition to be able to do a roll call but also to be able to receive a copy of the changes," he said. Later, when the rules book was passed around, the changes weren't highlighted he said. "So people were still upset."

And many of the states where delegates were bound to Trump — but perhaps did not want to be — "were really angry about it and they wanted a roll call," he said.

The fight came amid signs of GOP party disunity in Cleveland, mainly in the form of absent high-profile Republicans, including former presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who has vocally opposed Trump's nomination.

Some pro-Trump delegates felt the fight was more sour grapes than anything. And some key party leaders didn't want a show of party strife on day one of the convention.


Donley is still angry, and said "abusing the process" is no way to build party unity. "This is America. We should welcome dissent," he said.

But, he said, "I'll grant you, there were anti-Trump politics at play. But that's not why the vast majority of us wanted a vote on the record."

Donley said he absolutely plans to support Trump as the party's nominee. "I"m going to do anything I can to get Donald Trump elected. This was strictly about the procedure," he said.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.