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Ricardo Graham Re-elected, But With Concerns Expressed

It is highly unlikely that an incumbent elected official in the Adventist denomination will be voted down in session after being recommended by a nominating committee.

For a brief moment at the Pacific Union Conference Constituency Meeting in Ontario, California, it seemed that Elder Ricardo Graham might be an exception to the rule. Graham, the president of the Pacific Union Conference, came up for re-election during the meeting’s Monday morning session.

Prior to entertaining motions on the list of nominees for re-election, Elder Daniel Jackson, president of the North American Division, took the podium to brief delegates on the rules of order. During the briefing Jackson stated there would be no comments about the nominees permitted from the floor, ostensibly to prevent potentially slanderous or libelous remarks from being made about candidates.

Ricardo Graham’s name came to delegates for re-election as president. Following several “seconds” to the nomination, the floor was opened for general discussion.

Elwin Dunn, a retired physician and former member of the Southeastern California Conference and North American Division Executive Committees, stood at the microphone to address the nominating committee. He made a motion that in light of recent legal proceedings that have taken place since the nominating committee met (the committee convened to make nominations on June 1, 2011), Ricardo Graham’s name should be referred back to the nominating committee. There were several “seconds” to Dunn’s motion. Dunn asked whether he might share some reasons for referring Graham back the nomination. Jackson said no.

Without discussion, Dunn’s motion was put to a vote. Using an electronic voting system that provided immediate results, delegates voted down the motion by a spread of 248 (no) to 117 (yes). Next, delegates voted on Graham’s re-election, and voted him back into office 299 (yes) to 61 (no). The other nominees were voted in without discussion. There were, however, thirty minutes or more of discussion over the by-laws. To close out the session, newly re-elected President Graham delievered a charge to delegates and attendees. In his charge, he expressed three points:

First, in light of the times in which we live, look to Jesus, Graham told the audience. Rather than looking to Barack Obama or Jerry Brown or Ted Wilson, look to Jesus, he said. Second, it is easy to critique people in ministry, Graham said, and added that “church people need encouragement rather than criticism, and prayers rather than gossip.” Third, Graham said that we are all in this together, and implored constituents to “press together, press together, press together in the unity God dwells in.”

As delegates cleared out of the convention hall for a catered lunch, pockets of conversation returned to the events of the morning. Several delegates noted the lack of discussion surrounding Graham’s re-election, comparing it to the lengthy discussion of the comparatively banal by-laws. Others compared the election process to Elder Ted Wilson’s election as General Conference president one year ago. In both cases, discussion was kept to a minimum, seemingly deliberately so.

Genevieve Koh, an associate pastor at the Loma Linda University Church, noted apparent confusion over the voting process, which involved a motion within a motion. She also pointed out that few delegates likely had much knowledge of the elected officials.

Commenting on Jackson’s insistence that there not be comments about nominees, Raewyn Hankins, associate pastor at the Yucaipa Seventh-day Adventist Church, said that she felt the rule was a good one in principle, but “The problem,” she said, “is that people never know whether or not [a concern about a nominee] is a justifiable concern or not, so no one ever knows whether to vote yes or no unless they have an idea what the issue is.” 

Pastor Basil Bell of the San Marcos Adventist Church likened elected office in a conference or union position to gaining tenure. He objected to the elections, but for a different reason. All of the Union leaders are retirement age or beyond, he pointed out, but they seem to have no interest or incentive to make space for younger leaders with fresh ideas, Bell said. While he felt most of the leaders were doing their jobs sufficiently well, he felt that new ideas and methodologies were overdue.

The most weighty objections voiced by delegates had to do with interpretation of Roberts Rules of Order and Elder Jackson’s limiting of conversation during Graham’s election. Several delegates were unclear what portion of the by-laws stipulated that nominees may not be discussed from the floor, and noted further that in bypassing debate over Elwin Dunn’s motion, Jackson appeared to exercise a prerogative not specifically called for in the Rules of Order. Although 117 delegates expressed their sense that the issue was worth pursuing further, there was no discussion.

In the end, Elder Graham was elected to another five-year term, demonstrating again that it is highly unlikely that an incumbent will be voted down after being recommended by a nominating committee.


UPDATE: Shortly after publication, the author recieved a phone call clarifying that the session had been held under the General Conference Rules of Order, which do stipulate that no comments will be made on nominees, as Jackson stated. This would seem to suggest that Dunn was in fact out of order by mentioning the legal proceedings. However, also according to General Conference Rules of Order, if Dunn were to have simply stated that he referred the nomination back to committee, Graham’s nomination would have been returned to the nominating committee without debate and without vote. The confusion seems to have arisen from delegates unfamiliarity with the GC Rules of Order, or confusion over which rules were in effect, or possibly both. Whatever the case, there are now legitimate questions to be answered over how best to address cases like Graham’s, in which undisclosed information about a nominee might have some bearing on election results.


Photo courtesy Gerry Chudleigh

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