Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guess alternate to GOP convention

(This story originally appeared in the April 14 edition of The Crittenden Press.)

Cleveland rocks, but it’s not just because it’s home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This summer, it will be home to the hottest political event so far this millennium, and Gordon Guess will be there. Last weekend, he got his ticket punched to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in July.

Guess on April 9 was elected by county-level delegates in the 1st Congressional District as one of three alternates who will join three delegates from the district to the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio. It appears unlikely any of the three current GOP hopefuls for the presidential nomination will have earned the number of delegates required to be the party’s candidate on the November ballot, so the first contested or brokered convention since 1976 is possible.

Guess, a lifelong Republican who says his idea of fun is politics, had a glow in his eyes discussing what will be his third trip to a GOP convention.

“There's no way to tell how I enjoy it. This has really charged me up,” the 79-year-old said. “I'm on fire.”

No one in Crittenden County is as keen a study of national politics as Guess. In 1980, he served as a delegate to the GOP convention in Detroit that offered Ronald Reagan to voters. Eight years earlier, he went to Miami as an officer with the Nixon campaign in Kentucky. As an alternate delegate this year, Guess will simply fill in on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena should one of Kentucky’s 46 delegates have to step away from their seat.

“You have to be more ready than football players coming off the bench...all four days,” he explained.

If Guess gets the call, he could be a part of the delegation that elects a nominee, just like he did 36 years ago in the Motor City.

“The delegates decide who's gonna be the nominee, I’m sorry to tell you,” Guess said of a potentially contested convention, “not John Doe.”

Even before he was old enough to vote in his first presidential election, he was out signing up voters during Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 bid for re-election to the White House. At that time, you had to be 21 to vote. Even as a 17-year-old, Guess was hooked on politics.

“I think I heard every word of the Eisenhower-Taft race,” he said of Ike’s close but successful run at President four years earlier against U.S. Robert A. Taft of Ohio.

Guess admits he has voted for a couple of Democrats over the last 58 years, but none are likely to get his vote this November, regardless of who emerges as the nominee out of Cleveland – frontrunner Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or perhaps even someone currently on the sidelines. It could take multiple ballots by delegates to the convention to pick a nominee, but Guess surmises that any rancor in the party following the selection will be short-lived even if the top delegate-earner is snubbed.

“Will it cause split?” offered Guess, who is a Kasich supporter. “Sure it will...for a day or two. By November, everyone will be back on the same page. That’s how it works.”

While today’s media has billed a possible contested Republican convention as historic, as a long study of politics, Guess scoffs at the notion.

“This pales in comparison to the Garfield election,” he roared.

In 1880, James A. Garfield emerged from Chicago as the Republican presidential nominee after 36 convention votes by delegates. It even took two floor votes at the convention in 1952 – the one that helped get Guess hooked on politics – for Eisenhower to defeat Taft for the nomination.

“What you think can happen does, and some other things you'd never think about,” a politically-astute Guess said of the wrangling that takes place at a party convention. “I don't care what anybody tells you, there is such a thing as a smoke-filled room (where deals are made).”

There were no smoke-filled rooms April 9 in Hopkinsville during the 1st District Republican Convention, but it wasn’t by luck that Guess was chosen as an alternate. He had to submit a biography, of sorts, to the Republican Party of Kentucky to put his hat in the ring. He’s never held office, but with a long history of party involvement from national conventions to helping his pal Mitch McConnell get elected six times to the U.S. Senate to deep local involvement both publicly and behind the scenes, Guess had the resume to make the cut.   However, it wasn’t just his political pedigree that won the day.

“I had an edge over the others (at the 1st District convention),” Guess said. “I’m a lot older.”

Elected April 9 at the district convention as delegates were Christian County's George Barnett, Republican 1st District Chairman Richard Grana of McCracken County and Barbara Barnett of Taylor County. Other alternates are Kathy Dietrich of Trigg County and Simpson County's Robert Taylor.

Guess will be 80 when the convention rolls around July 18-21, so he says this will be his last go at the RNC. As an alternate, his schedule won’t be filled at the convention with committee meetings like he experienced in 1980, and this will allow him every opportunity to enjoy the political theater firsthand.

“I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “If you like mystery, you'll jump at the chance to be active like this.”