Those wanting to run for office in Christian County as Republicans are now required to undergo a vetting process. While those leading the new effort want to see it expanded state-wide, some counties and the Missouri Republican Party remain cautious.
Don Carriker, chairman of the Christian County Republican Central Committee, told the News-Leader the goal of vetting candidates is to make the Republican brand stronger and gain more voters that he said the party has lost because of a lack of strength and cohesion. Without the vetting process, Carriker said candidates can simply run with an "R" by their name on the ballot to gain voter support in red counties without actually holding values that align with the party.
"The job of the party is not to deceive people by letting people put an 'R' by their name when they're really not a Republican," he said.
The vetting process will be proctored and include an "objective review" of each candidate's background, a 25-question multiple choice "values survey" based on the state party platform and will require candidates to sign a statement pledging their allegiance to both the state and federal Republican Party platforms and constitutions, according to a news release. Those who refuse to go through vetting or fail the process will not have their filing fees accepted. Incumbents and those who have held office in the past will have their voting records reviewed.
Concerns raised about legality
The vetting process was developed by the Republican Association of Central Committees for Missouri, or REPACCMO, when representatives from central committees recognized the need to certify that those running as Republicans will govern in line with party principles.
Carriker is also the REPACCMO survey administrator. He said the association was born out of this year's Lincoln Days event in Springfield, where central committees' chairs and vice chairs sought the opportunity to give counties across the state ability to communicate and share in their work. The group, which was registered as a nonprofit corporation Oct. 3, according to the Missouri Secretary of State database, was created and is led by Cyndia Haggard, the chair of the Vernon County Republican Central Committee.
The website for the organization praises elected officials from Missouri who objected to the certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021, and criticizes those who did not. It also includes repeatedly debunked allegations about voter fraud and that the 2020 election was "stolen."
Carriker said he hopes to see the vetting process adopted state-wide and nationally and has heard counties in other states inquire about the process. According to the news release, the Christian County committee will vet candidates for county positions, though the committee is prepared to vet those running for state House and Senate districts that include the county, as well. Vetting candidates of districts that cover multiple counties would be a collaborative effort between the central committees to determine a candidate's legitimacy, he said.
As of Dec. 1, the REPACCMO website shows twelve candidates have already been vetted for 2024.
However, some of the most significant pushback has come from the Missouri Republican Party, with officials warning against the practice and questioning whether it is unconstitutional and liable to prompt future lawsuits. Carriker said these concerns are unfounded, as the vetting process would not restrict anyone from appearing on the ballot, only preventing them from running under the Republican banner.
County central committees must vote to adopt the vetting process, for which REPACCMO provides a manual that promotes uniformity for all counties. Carriker said that central committees can adopt a different vetting approach, though in case of legal challenges they would not be represented by REPACCMO.
Lowell Pearson, an attorney with Husch Blackwell, issued a memo on REPACC's vetting manual on Nov. 8, though the document has since been updated on Nov. 30. The memo focused on the lack of definitions and guidelines for scoring candidates on various subjects such as Casenet records, Missouri Ethics Commission filings, social media and others.
Pearson also points out that while the goal for the manual is to create a uniform process, this uniformity is impossible to achieve since not all 114 counties will opt to adopt it.
Vetting in Greene County left up to voters
Greene County is among the counties that have opted against the vetting process. Danette Proctor, chair of the Greene County Republican Central Committee, called the vetting process promoted by REPACCMO "dangerous."
She echoed the concerns of the state party in regard to lawsuits, which could be a financial liability for county committees.
"Most central committees, we're all grassroots, we do not have that much funds," Proctor said. "Those funds should be used to elect our candidates, not in the legal profession."
Voters should be doing their own vetting of candidates, she said, rather than making a select group of people gatekeepers. While Proctor said the issue of people running as Republicans to gain support without reflecting party values has been an issue for years, the solution lies in recruiting better candidates.
"We don't need to be in courtrooms. We need to be recruiting good candidates and pushing our good candidates and all of us need to be vetting," Proctor said. "That's what the primary is for. It's a vetting process to pick the good candidates that the people want."
Each county is different, as are its constituents. This is further reason for Proctor, who said the Republican party is "very diverse," to allow the constituents to make their own judgements and select those who align best with their own values.
She said Greene County committee members are encouraged to choose their top picks and share their views about the candidates with others who may not be as familiar with their politics, which she said is different than a formal vetting process that gives a select few the power to score and include candidates as Republicans and exclude others.
There is also the question of statutory rights to file for candidacy up until the last day. According to the Christian County news release, candidates are required to contact the central committee about vetting at least two weeks prior to the final day of filing. Carriker said it's a county clerk's job to inform would-be candidates on the rules surrounding running, including the vetting deadline.
The different factors taken into account during the vetting process can be subjective to the person evaluating it, Proctor said, making a formal vetting process arbitrary. She said the Greene County committee can still deny candidates, but they would need a good reason to, for example if a would-be candidate had committed a felony or been delinquent on taxes.
Carriker emphasized that the process is designed to be objective in all its parts. As a private organization, he said it is the party's right to allow or disallow someone to be a part of it.
"Subjectivity does not have a place in trying to figure out if somebody is a Republican or not. It's not a subjective answer," he said. "It's an objective criteria based on either what they've already done or what their beliefs are, and what they espouse to."
Marta Mieze covers local government at the News-Leader. Contact her with tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Christian County Republicans among committees adopting vetting process