“I believe in conventions, but I no longer believe in the people who run them.” R. L. Hedlund
Going back to 1993, as chairman of the Alleghany County, Covington and Clifton Forge GOP units, I have always been a staunch supporter of conventions as our party’s preferred, if not exclusive, method of nominating candidates for statewide office.
I remember leading the Alleghany Highlands contingent of roughly one dozen delegates to the Richmond Coliseum (there was only 1 this year at JMU) where we nominated George Allen, Mike Farris and Jim Gilmore. That selection was vilified by establishment Republicans, as the most extreme, right wing ticket ever, with absolutely zero chance of taking out the democrats, led by Mary Sue Terry.
Today, we have the same question before us, only now, I am a member of the State Central Committee and am called upon to cast a vote for either a state-run open primary or a party-run convention. I will not waste ink or electrons arguing pros and cons of each. We’ve all heard them. But let me add, what good does it do the grassroots to have strong, competing grassroots candidates and their campaigns cheated out of a nomination at a party-run convention? Those folks go away with revenge on their minds, not party loyalty. And many of them go away, never to be seen again.
What I have gained today, is much more insight as to how our party is run behind the curtain, and more importantly, the character of those who are running our party. We need to shine more light on our party leaders, even if it exposes more of my own faults.
Two years ago, I got back into hardcore politics with Dave Brat and the Brat Pack during that historic primary. If you want to read the inside baseball account of what it took to make political history, read “How to Bag a Rino” by Gray Delaney and Zach Werrell. After the 2014 primary, I stepped out of politics again, but not for ten years this time. When Vince Haley decided to run for state senate six months later, I offered to volunteer my services.
Another grueling primary campaign against three formidable opponents. Congratulations to Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant, the eventual winner.
After the spring state senate primary, a presidential nomination loomed. Having worked alongside fellow right wing, Tea Party conservatives in both the Brat and Haley primaries, I made many friends with Ted Cruz supporters and considered myself one among them. Ted Cruz even endorsed Vince Haley for state senate.
I had great aspirations for Senator Cruz and it was not until July of last year, that I was asked by my good friend, fellow VCDL member and Chairman of the Hopewell GOP, Brandon Howard, to back Donald Trump for President. I was one of the very first volunteers to get on board with the Trump campaign in Virginia. And I have no intention of getting off.
I liked what I saw. An outsider, like Dave Brat. A man who could see through the chatter and fog and analyze players, strategies and personalities like Vince Haley.
I have stuck with Trump through thick and thin. He has the moxy to bring the power brokers to the table and make them play on his terms, not theirs. I admire Trump and his innate ability to peel back the layers of false pretenses and get to the matter at hand. He speaks what I and many of the disenfranchised are thinking. And what Trump has consistently said is that the system is rigged. And it is. The hardline Cruz apologists will argue that Trump simply does not know how the system works and that it does not matter what the voters think, it only matters how many delegates you bring to convention. I used to believe that too.
Last fall, the SCC voted to institute a mandatory party pledge for the March 2016 primary. I was not on SCC then, but I vigorously fought the pledge as antithetical to the Tea Party and independent voter that would be attracted to Trump. Many of the same type attracted to Ronald Reagan. After repeatedly being rebuffed and then told by Chairman Whitbeck that it was too late to repeal the pledge, on January 15 this year, Vince Haley filed to run against Whitbeck for RPV Chairman and within 2 weeks, SCC voted UNANIMOUSLY to repeal the contentiously passed pledge with no public discussion whatsoever. NO PUBLIC DISCUSSION, WHATSOEVER! Miracle of miracles. After the vote, Whitbeck whispered in my ear, “You can call your dogs off now.” With no pledge to run against, and a lack of financial support, Vince ceased campaigning for chairman, while I began earnestly campaigning for SCC.
I realized I had serious issues with what I found going on inside the party, with their secretive executive session meetings and I thought I could help make a difference to the good. With Vince out of the race, John Whitbeck turned his attention and retribution, toward the 7th District SCC ticket. Our ticket was supported by the Conservative Fellowship wing of the SCC. We ended up winning 2-1, in spite of the Chairman’s efforts and big money, to sway the outcome.
But it is the Cruz-heavy, Conservative Fellowship with which, I now find myself at odds. The single biggest principle upon which CF members are united behind, is the choice of conventions as the method of nomination for statewide candidates. But apparently, that was not the case last year when the SCC voted for a presidential primary with breakaway Fellowship support.
How did I arrive at this point? When Whitbeck tried to exert undue influence in the 7th District SCC race, Vince Haley decided to reconstitute his campaign for party Chairman and I joined back up with him, against the advice of several close political allies. Haley For Chairman, Part II was a real eye opener for Vince and me. Sausage making at its worst. Nominations and Rules Committee members, some hand picked by Ken Cuccinelli and John Whitbeck, rigged the system against Vince. Their meetings and deliberations were kept secret and members were instructed by RPV leadership. If you attended the state convention at JMU, you can appreciate the truly monumental disaster that it was. More of the same, only now, the backstabbing was closer to home.
To top it off, you had the Cuccinelli-led, national delegate selection debacle that will forever be a festering scab on the party and the work we try to accomplish electing Republicans. It wasn’t just about salvaging a Cruz nomination. It was about extracting revenge and retribution on Corey Stewart and others. Even writing this article raises concerns for me. We have an election to win in November. Will this piece ultimately hinder our efforts at party organization and winning for the ticket? There is NEVER a good time to deal with serious, inner party issues in Virginia. We have elections every year.
That is one reason for putting off this nomination vote until AFTER November. No matter what method we choose, there will be gnashing of teeth and perpetual hand-wringing. But I suspect we will not put it off. And should I find myself forced to pick convention or primary Saturday, I find myself now seriously considering a primary for one simple, but monumental reason. I no longer trust many of those with whom I have associated for running a fair and open convention.
Tuesday night, I found myself at serious odds with the Fellowship. One of the newly elected leadership team vigorously stated that if anyone on the call was not supportive of moving the SCC meeting to Loudoun County as suggested by Whitbeck, in his opinion, we were no longer a part of the Fellowship and should hang up immediately. So I hung up immediately and I must assume I am no longer a part of the Fellowship. Eight others on that call voted against moving the meeting. Did they change their votes or are they no longer considered a part of the Fellowship? It turns out, a total of 47 members of the entire SCC are in agreement that it was a bad idea to move the meeting at such a late date and with such a contentious agenda scheduled.
After hanging up, I had to wonder why there was such an unreasonable effort to give Whitbeck an absolute unanimous vote of support for relocation from the Fellowship. The Chairman had already conceded at the start of the call that the then current, SCC vote was 28-8, opposed to relocation.
If you have a weak stomach for conspiracy theories, please skip this paragraph. And know that this is more than just a theory. The biggest reason the Fellowship was pushing the Whitbeck relocation idea, was to create a slight geographic advantage for a convention vote victory. Primary supporters in the 4th and 2nd districts would have a further distance to drive and might possibly miss the meeting. These are the kind of dirty, underhanded, backroom political tricks I had come to know from our opponents. Now, it was coming from our own people who helped get me elected to SCC. People angry at me for not, “seeing the bigger picture.”
Talk about rigging the system! And let me point out that the same person who demanded lockstep unanimity on the concall, is the same person who made the original motion to institute the mandatory party pledge in the presidential primary. A Cruz supporter. Purely coincidental.
The Fellowship is not only attempting to rig the SCC vote. Even within our own internal proceedings for nominating candidates for SCC offices, they rigged the system to keep out unwanted candidates. They did the very same thing Whitbeck has been criticized for doing. They put their thumb on the scale to unduly influence the outcome for officer nominations. I nearly left the Fellowship over that incident back in June. But cooler heads prevailed.
I realize there will be those who now consider me a traitor for having pledged to support a convention, even as late as Tuesday night on the concall. But I can take heart in the advice of my original choice for President, Ted Cruz. I will vote my conscience Saturday. How ironic is it to now possibly find myself lumped together with that other infamous convention traitor, John Whitbeck?
As much as it pains me to say this, until RPV can prove to me our conventions will be run fairly and transparently, you can expect me to remain on the primary side of the aisle. One small step in that direction is a revamping of the method of nomination and election of our at-large national convention delegates at our state conventions. We have three years to get this right, and that is why I am supporting the resolution offered by Sandy Bourne. Voter disenfranchisement and rigging the system, if we have not learned anything from Trump, HAS TO STOP!
I still can’t believe I wrote this. I was advised not to for fear that the Fellowship would come after me and try to have me removed from SCC. Some of those no longer on SCC were Fellowship members who voted for the primary last year. If I am ultimately forced out, it only proves my point how extremist their leadership has become. To those of you convention supporters who voted for me, I sincerely apologize. My goal is to work with all sides to get to the point where SCC is responsible for administering a fair and open process that invites more grassroots voters, and not get lost in the weeds being focused on individual candidates and their win-at-any-cost campaigns.
I ran for SCC on a platform of transparency. That is why I am letting my constituents know what I am thinking as I head into the Saturday meeting. Even if we have a secret ballot, which I will vote against, I want you to know how disgusted I am with the rigged system. How will we ever expect to attract good and decent people like Vince Haley and 5th District congressional candidate, Michael Del Rosso (who happened to be a Trump surrogate speaker on national security issues in Cleveland), and keep people like them in the party, if we don’t clean up our own act?
It can be done if we work together. I know this because we are doing it in Henrico County with our new Chairman, Eddie Whitlock. He has been a true conservative statesman and gentleman to work with. If you are happy with the status quo and our rigged conventions, move along. There is an alternative. What do we have to lose? A republic?