Recently, both a news story and a column by Jordana R. Lewis '02 in The Crimson have criticized the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) and have together comprised an uninformed attack on the club, its members and its recently elected president, Robert R. Porter '00-'02. We feel such an attack could not go unaddressed.
The constitution and bylaws of the HRC establish an impartial commission to oversee the annual elections and detail the process by which any student can become a member in good standing, and consequently an eligible voter, in those elections. Our elections are more highly regulated, competitive and above-board than those of virtually any other campus organization. Some 29 individuals ran for only 6 spots. As dictated by election rules, candidates had to file for office 14 days in advance and only those undergraduates who had paid dues 7 days in advance of the election were eligible to vote. All voters who attended the election were required to present their student I.D. cards at the door, and their names were checked against club membership lists. We know of no other organization that goes to such lengths to ensure that the voting process is so fair and orderly, both out of respect for the candidates and the club.
Additionally, as is true of all official campus organizations, the HRC must welcome any student, regardless even of political persuasion, to fully participate in the activities and events of the club. Our constitution is unambiguous on the matter: "Any student of Harvard or Radcliffe Colleges shall be eligible to become a voting member of the HRC upon payment of annual dues, regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or physical disability....Endorsement of official club policies shall not be a prerequisite for membership in the club or service on the executive board."
To quote former IOP Director Alan K. Simpson, we do not ask people to take a "saliva purity test." Republican candidates for national office this past year, including President-elect George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), sought to broaden the outreach of the party to include those who previously may not have identified with the GOP. The Republican Party and the HRC do not and will not condition acceptance on any sort of litmus test. Our organization's goal is to motivate, educate and inspire students in the Republican cause, not to draw battle lines and divide students based on past association. To call this principle of open membership "immoral," or to suggest that it creates a "stilted and corrupt" election process--phrases used by Lewis in her column--is to form an unfounded insult to the notion of inclusivity that stands as a hallmark of both the HRC and Harvard itself.
Before publicly smearing individuals and organizations, one would hopefully check all facts and seek to tell the whole story. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Despite naive and unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, Republican Club elections were open, fair and represented the best interests both of the club and the Harvard community.
Elections in the HRC are not so focused on substantive political ideology as they are about finding leaders who will project a strong Republican image on a liberal campus. The 101 individuals who asked questions of the candidates and voted in the election were more concerned about club activities and leadership qualities than about whether to first cut taxes or pay down the debt. No candidate ran on a platform of political issues.
An election is an important time to bring students into our club. There are many on campus who had come to HRC events (several of which were attended by more than 100 students), were involved in the presidential campaign and expressed interest in the club yet had not paid dues or "officially" joined. Executive Board campaigns and elections represent an ideal time to energize and expand this support and interest.
Leading up to the election, there was much speculation and suspicion that candidates for office might try to bring non-Republican friends to join, vote for them and then leave the club--especially because it is alleged that this very situation occurred in the Harvard College Democrats' election a few weeks prior. Such conditions, had they persisted, may very well have led to the unfortunate situation described by Lewis.
Fortunately, however, the HRC took a difficult situation and turned it into a great success--something to be proud of. Even though our constitution allows any dues-paid member in good standing to vote, in a board meeting a week before the election, the candidates made a "gentlemen's agreement" to focus on expanding the base of the club by "recruiting" those who had interest in the club and its activities. Porter, whom Lewis singled out by name, went even further to suggest a higher standard, asking that only members who attended at least one club function be allowed to vote. Ultimately, however, it was determined by all in attendance that, in fairness to all candidates, such a change would have to be instituted next year, before the start of the election process. Judging on the basis of those who came and voted, this voluntary agreement was kept by all candidates. The election was unquestionably decided by those who had "investment or interest" in the HRC (Lewis' words) at heart.
Because no one can objectively answer the question "Who is most qualified?" voters in any election must consider other factors beyond sterile qualifications. They may consider personality and affability and often, heaven forbid, give more favorable consideration to their friends.
We felt the first article The Crimson ran was unfair in its representation of the club elections, but we respected the right of HRC members to critique our rules and of The Crimson to report those critiques. After Lewis' column describing the HRC as led by "lackluster leaders," however--an attack largely at the expense of a leader who does not meet even her own description of the term--we could not let the HRC, its officers or members stand as an ill-chosen example of something Lewis felt but could not accurately document on campus. It is unfortunate that Lewis would write disparagingly about an organization in which she had never participated and about which she knew relatively little.
Lewis was correct in her assertion that "Good Guys" do attend this school, "the gems that everyone takes for granted." Porter and the other 5 leaders elected to the Executive Board of the HRC on Wednesday, Dec. 6, however, stand at the head of the "Good Guy" pack.
The members of the 2001 board are among the finest and most upstanding students on this campus. They are the students who "refuse to compromise their principles" for any personal gain, certainly not to win a position in a college student organization. Perhaps all of us would see more of these "Good Guys" on campus if we, as Harvard students, were more reluctant to judge and blindly accept unsubstantiated rumors--and instead took a closer look at campus organizations.
Jason P. Brinton '00-'02 is president emeritus and Sterling P. A. Darling '01 is chair of the Election Commission of the Harvard Republican Club.