Last Monday, Dallas paramedic Chris Suprun went from simply being one of the 38 Texas electors who will cast their ballots in the Electoral College on December 19 to an infamous "faithless elector" who will not be honoring his pledge to vote for President-elect Donald Trump.
Since then, there have been a flood of comments and messages on social media along with letters and phone calls. There have also been death threats, Suprun says. “Some people want to talk to me, some people to thank me and some people want to kill me for this,” he says.
When Suprun ran to become a Texas elector for the 2016 Electoral College last May, it still wasn't clear Donald Trump would become the Republican presidential nominee, let alone the president-elect. Once Trump got the nod, Suprun, a lifelong Republican who was inspired by President Ronald Reagan, supported the GOP's chosen candidate, despite being unsettled by Trump's diatribes about immigration, about spending billions on infrastructure and his attacks on the media.
After Trump's surprise win, he took the stage and gave a speech that was actually conciliatory and presidential. Watching the address, Suprun felt hopeful. “He'd said he was going to act presidential if he won, and it seemed like he actually was doing that,” Suprun says.
But shortly after that, Trump went back to ripping into The New York Times and Saturday Night Live, while it was reported the president-elect was skipping daily intelligence meetings. Suprun realized that as an elector, he was in a quandary.
“I didn't want to Bork him,” Suprun says, referring to Reagan's U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who got chewed up and spit out by Congress during his ultimately futile confirmation hearings. “It's not fair to get rid of nominees simply because of disagreements on policy, but there have been buildups. The attacks on the press, the point where Governor Pence started parroting Trump's phrase about how there were three million illegal votes. That was it for me."
He reached out to numerous people, including various Republican officials, about what to do, but never heard back. “I certainly heard from them all afterward, of course, but by then I had already made up my mind,” Suprun says.
Suprun says Dr. Lyman Hall, a member of the Second Continental Congress, helped him make up his mind. Or, technically, the fictional version of the Georgia representative who appeared in the musical take on the birth of American independence, 1776, did.
In the musical – which chronicles the struggles of John Adams to persuade colonial representatives to vote to break with Great Britain – Hall is in favor of independence, while his constituents are against it.
“In trying to solve my dilemma, I remembered something I'd once read, 'that a representative owes the people not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion,'” Hall says, quoting famed member of the British Parliament Edmund Burke.
Suprun decided to go with his gut, which was even easier to do, since Texas doesn't bind its electors to the popular-vote winner in the state.
When Suprun won his post at the state Republican Convention in Dallas, he pledged to vote for the winning Republican candidate, but the pledge isn't legally binding. There's no federal law governing how electors vote, but 29 states and the District of Columbia have either passed laws or have their electors make a pledge to either the state or the party to vote for whichever candidate wins the popular vote, according to FairVote.
In the past, electors who have refused to vote for the winner of their state's popular vote have only been hit with misdemeanor charges or a $1,000 fine. Aside from all that, Texas is one of the 21 states with electors that are completely unbound.
Once Suprun decided he could not vote for Trump, and that he was going to be honest about that, he penned an op-ed and sent it to The New York Times, which he chose because the newspaper has a huge readership and because Trump has gone after the paper, he says. The Times published it last Monday, and the response was immediate.
Within 14 minutes, CNN contacted him, and other journalists and media outlets were trying to reach him. Meanwhile, his Twitter and other social media accounts were inundated with comments from people furious that Suprun was choosing not to vote for Trump, and with people who thanked him for speaking out against the president-elect.
State officials have also gotten in on the act. Last Wednesday Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said he thinks the Texas Legislature should pass a law binding Texas electors so this will never happen again, a move Governor Greg Abbott says he also supports.
“There's a lot of anger out there, and I get that, so maybe it's the right political response, and if you've got the votes, you can pass whatever you want,” Suprun says. “But I don't think binding legislation has ever worked. If you have the courage to speak your mind, a binding law isn't going to stop you.”
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The push-back hasn't swayed Suprun from his course, not even the death threats. “You can disagree with me any time you want, but when you threaten me and my family because I don't politically agree with you, that's not a constitutional republic, that's not the United States, that's 1930s Germany.”
Now the question is whom he will cast his ballot for when the Texas electors meet on December 19 in Austin. When Suprun wrote his op-ed, he said he was considering putting Ohio Governor John Kasich on the ballot, but Kasich quickly stated he does not want to be considered, so Suprun has gone back to the drawing board.
“I'm working as hard as I can to come up with the right name,” he says, noting that a Republican governor would make sense to him, since that would be someone with experience running a government. It won't be Trump, Hillary Clinton or Kasich, and it will be a Republican, he says.
Ultimately, Suprun owns there's a chance he could be wrong about Trump. “If Donald Trump turns out to be the next Ronald Reagan, great. Maybe history will prove me wrong. I would welcome that. But we won't know if I was right to do this or not until 20 years from now,” he says. “I've made a decision, and it's not necessarily a popular one, but I have to do what I think is right.”