Why a Life-Long Republican Left the Party

Image from sodahead.com

A Guest Post by David Benjamin Dull

To start, I feel it is important to explain how I was raised, and where my roots are. My father is a die-hard, Trump supporting, racist, social conservative and his parents were social conservatives as well while my mother is a bit of a hippie, but a conservative hippie.  I was raised to vote Republican and did so starting with George Bush in 2000 when I was 18.  I was never “involved”, never did any research and didn’t pay attention to the issues even though I smoked cannabis, was pro-choice and had close friends who were/are homosexual.

All of that changed, however, in the fall of 2008 when I accidentally ran across a motivational YouTube video for libertarian godfather Ron Paul who was running for the Republican presidential nomination.  Without a shred of hesitation, I am proud to say the words of this modern-day prophet made me openly weep.  For the first time in my life, my worldview was challenged in a way that was informative and more importantly, not condescending, which was needed to get thru to me.

Did I run right outside with my pitchfork and torch, ready to burn down the capitol?  No.  I spent a long time combing the internet for input.  I researched Austrian economics, free-market solutions, non-interventionist foreign policy, individual sovereignty and ending prohibition. I began talking less and listening more.  Eventually, fully confident that my new worldview was solid, I ventured out into the political realm by attending my first Tea Party Tax Day rally in DC in 2010, which featured to my surprise, Ron Paul himself.  And yet, I still didn’t know how to get involved.

I left Baltimore and bought a home in Virginia Beach, and knowing no one political in the area, remained the guy who protests on social media… …until my mother sent me a friend suggestion for a local anarcho-capitalist.  Finally, I had someone in my town I could share my disdain for waste, fraud, and abuse with!  And what’s more, when a mutual friend commented about the Ron Paul 2012 campaign and I jumped right on that asking how I could get involved.  I was directed to attend a dinner in Newport News across the river.  The night of that dinner, I met a dozen libertarians who have become like family.  Never in my life have I ever felt so connected to and loved by a group of individuals, not of my blood.  Together, we took on the establishment, hard!

Luckily for us, there were only two candidates on the ballot in 2012; Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, which enabled a Tea Party/libertarian alliance to not only send 49% of Virginia’s delegates to the Republican national convention, but more importantly, the grassroots alliance overwhelmingly took over the Republican Party of Virginia state central committee and a host of district chairman seats and local unit chairman seats.  We did it!  We won!  Or did we?  With the primary firmly behind us, the “presumptive nominee” was hailed as the savior to the “Obama” problem with the Tea Party falling in line like good little Republicans.  We Ron Paul supporters were soon left out in the cold.  We were scorned for not eagerly volunteering for the nominee.  We were constantly told by establishment trolls that “libertarians belong in the Libertarian Party” and our posts on Republican social media outlets were deleted.  We were called isolationists, dreamers, liberals, and idiots.

When we rallied behind Susan Stimpson for Lt. Governor, who had an impeccable record of cutting taxes and fees while also cutting the budget of Stanford County while remaining temperate on social issues, the Tea Party and other grassroots social conservatives flocked to boisterous hot-heads like Corey Stewart who is in the middle of losing his third statewide race, and EW Jackson who just lost his third statewide race. When the votes were tallied for the first ballot of the seven-way Lt. Governor race, Susan came in second after Jackson, but when the names were put up on the Jumbotron, her name was at the bottom. When she failed to carry the third ballot, I voted for “moderate” (establishment) Pete Snyder because I wasn’t about to let Jackson pull down the ticket with his outrageous statements when Snyder would help libertarian-leaning Ken Cuccinelli win the governorship… which is exactly what happened despite Republicans complaining about the Libertarian nominee, who exit polls show actually took more votes from (D) McAuliffe than Cuccinelli… but I digress.  This was in effect, the beginning of the end of the grassroots revolt of 2012.  The establishment slowly took back the state central and local units.  The Tea Party continued to rally around hot-heads like Corey Stewart year after year.  Many of my libertarian friends, disgusted with the political process and the online nastiness from bigoted conservatives and paid establishment trolls, simply threw in the towel.  Subsequently, the Ron Paul class of 2012 was all but gone by 2014.

To be fair, having left Virginia to seek my fortune in the oil fields of North Dakota in the summer of 2013 and not returning until December of 2015, I was in no position to blame anyone for leaving, and I didn’t.  I did, however, unfurl my libertarian-Republican banner and plant it in the red sand of the Republican Party on last time for Rand Paul in the 2016 presidential primary, but was met with mild enthusiasm.  I saw even less enthusiasm for Trump, but his bigoted and insulting rhetoric somehow positively reached the voters even though it turned off most of the politically active.  The abysmal primary results coupled with the death rattle of the Tea Party in Virginia was the signal to me that “changing it from the inside” was a completely unattainable goal in Virginia Beach and highly unlikely in Virginia.  So I left the party of my father and my grandfather after being undyingly faithful for eight years, somewhat hesitant for another four and actively engaged for the last four.  Truth be told; it’s the best breakup of my life!

David Benjamin Dull is a libertarian activist who has volunteered for a dozen campaigns.  Although admittedly brash and stubborn, he is working to better himself and is currently engaged in growing the Libertarian Party of Anne Arundel County by reaching out to disenfranchised liberals and conservatives as well as independents who lost faith in voting.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXI)

Departing from our usual date of Wednesday, on Thursday, August 9th, Andy Schmookler and I returned to WSVA, 550 AM for our 61st radio hour.

In this episode, we spoke about Dominion Power and their vast influence on Virginia politics, the insider trading charges against Representative Chris Collins (NY-27), a surprise discussion of climate change, and some predictions regarding the 2018 November elections.

As a side note, last night I attended my high school reunion.  I was somewhat surprised to hear that some of my former classmates listen to our show.

Anyway, if you missed it live, you can find our episode here.  

 

The Dysfunctional Republican 6th District

On August 3rd, at First Friday, a monthly political gathering in Harrisonburg, the featured speaker was Jennifer Brown, the 6th District Republican Chairman.  I found her inclusion surprising, as she and the leader of First Friday, Donna Moser, are part of two different, presently hostile, factions within the 6th District Republican Committee.

When Jennifer Brown began her speech, she said she needed to address some elephants in the room (or as she called them, donkeys).  One is the pending lawsuit and defense.  Almost since Ms. Brown took over as chair, the two sides have been feuding over a recent decision by the committee to hire a law firm to defend itself against alleged FEC violations made against the committee and the previous chairman, Scott Sayre.  I’ve read that Brown supporters launched the suit against Sayre and other members of the committee in an effort to discredit and defeat Sayre which they did successfully at their May convention.  As a result, the majority of the committee voted to retain a law firm in Indiana for their legal defense at a cost of $30,000.  Ms. Brown opposed this decision by the 6th District committee and has appealed to the Virginia Republican State Central Committee.

Jennifer Brown also spoke of the need for unity, for the group to work together to elect Republican candidates and welcome Democrats who recently walked away from their party so that they would become Republicans rather than turning into independents.  Curiously though, although she welcomed votes and aid from former Democrats, as far as I could tell she didn’t stress advancing any ideological agenda other than a blanket support for Republicans.  She paused to yield some time to Frank McMillan, an independent candidate running for Harrisonburg City Council this year.  As a side note, I noticed that there were three independent city council candidates (McMillan, George Hirschmann from 2016, and me from 2014) at the gathering.  McMillan stated that he was a Republican (and will likely have the backing of the local Republican Party as Hirschmann did in 2016) but stressed he was running as an independent.  I presume that the reason for this maneuver is that the Republican Party label is so toxic in the city of Harrisonburg that using it will almost certainly result in defeat.  After all, since 2009 only one Republican candidate has won the city when facing a Democratic opponent.

After Jennifer Brown gave her speech, she opened the floor for questions.  One local activist, a fellow named Phil Corbo, asked to share an email he recently received from Roger Jarrell, Jennifer Brown’s fiance and apparently legal liaison for the 6th district committee.  Although Donna Moser opposed the reading of the email at first, Mr. Corbo persisted.  In that email, Mr. Jarrell claimed that the leader of First Friday, Ms. Moser, had slandered Ms. Brown at a recent meeting of the local tea party and demanded it cease immediately or legal action could be taken.  As evidence of this slander, it mentioned Cole Trower and other unnamed parties.  Mr. Corbo declared that although he had been involved in New Jersey politics for decades, he had never seen such dirty politics as what has been going on in the 6th district prior to the recent convention and at the present.

At first, Jennifer Brown offered to apologize if the allegations from Mr. Jarrell were proven untrue, but when several of the attendees declared that Ms. Moser did not slander Ms. Brown at the tea party meeting, her tone became rather defensive.  Donna Moser steered the conversation toward announcements and the subject dissipated.  (Here is a clip of that part of the gathering).

What is most troubling to me is not whether or not individuals are critical of Ms. Brown’s leadership as chairman, (after all it is impossible to be both effective in politics and still please everyone) but rather the fact that she would consider taking legal action against a person who potentially declared her to be inept and/or ineffectual.  Unlike Ms. Brown, I am not an attorney but, to the best of my understanding, questioning the effectiveness of a leader does not rise to the legal definition of slander.

I left First Friday with the impression that the 6th District GOP was seriously dysfunctional.  How can a party operate properly when the chairman opposes and attempts to undermine the will of a majority of the committee?  Or if her fiance attempts to bully other members of the committee?  A recent article on The Bull Elephant highlights some of these problems. In addition, as Bearing Drift reports, the Lynchburg Republican Party passed a vote of no confidence against those committee members who vote for representation from the Indiana legal firm.

After witnessing what happened on Friday it seems to me that either the two sides need to reconcile quickly or, more likely, it will result in a civil war for control; if that takes place, my money is that the majority of the committee will end up deposing Ms. Brown before the end of her term.  If I were a Republican candidate running this year anywhere in the 6th district of Virginia, I would be seriously concerned about this state of affairs.  Despite these developments, I don’t expect November’s blue wave to overwhelm the deeply Republican Shenandoah Valley and claim victory for the 6th Congressional seat, but a divided and squabbling committee might spell certain doom for a number of local candidates in the area this year and possibly lead to inroads from Democrats in the 2019 General Assembly elections.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LX)

On Wednesday, July 18th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for our 60th show, marking the 5 year anniversary of our radio hour.  Unfortunately, our time on the air this month was shorter than usual given that the station conducted a surprise interview with the superintendent of the Harrisonburg Public School who recently resigned his position to take a new job elsewhere.

The central focus of the conversation revolved around President Trump’s recent meeting with Russian President Putin in Finland as well as Trump’s attacks against some of American’s traditional allies.  I hoped to speak more on the topic of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, but unfortunately, we didn’t have sufficient time to cover it in much depth.  Hopefully, next month will be better.

If you missed the show live, you can find it here.

The First Sham Debate

On July 21st, the Virginia Bar Association will be holding the first debate for the race for the 2018 U.S. Senate election in Virginia.  However, like the debates they have held in previous years, they will be excluding one of the candidates who will be on the November ballot, Libertarian Matt Waters.  Although the organization claims to be nonpartisan and “the VBA debates are not intended to in any way promote or advance one candidate over another”, it is obvious that through their exclusionary practices they intend to advance the candidacies of two of the options at the expense of their third.

Virginia has one of the most difficult hurdles for statewide candidates to achieve ballot access.  An independent or third party candidate (or a Republican or Democrat competing in a primary but not a convention) needs to submit the signatures of 10,000 registered voters to the Election Board with at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.  After a majority of Republican presidential candidates failed to make the cut in 2012, the Virginia General Assembly lowered the threshold for that office (and that office only) to 5,000 signatures.

If you are tired of being forced to select between the lesser of two evils, you don’t think that the Virginia Bar Association ought to be picking winners and losers in elections, and/or you feel that every candidate who succeeds in making the ballot ought to be given the same equality of opportunity of having his or her voice heard, I encourage you to visit the Facebook page of the Virginia Bar Association and let them know you don’t support their sham of a debate.  I’ve spoken to them already and perhaps if enough of us make our opinions known, then politics in Virginia can become more free and fair.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LIX)

On Wednesday, June 20th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on Early Mornings on 550 AM, WSVA for our monthly political radio show.  We spent a majority of our time speaking about President Trump and the recent issue of children separated from their parents who are seeking to live in the United States.

Although I would have preferred to speak more on the subject, we also touched on the 2018 primaries, the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and the Democratic primary for the 6th district seat to replace Bob Goodlatte.

If you missed the show live, you can find it here.

Thoughts on Tuesday’s Primary

Photo from Corey Stewart for Congress’ Facebook page

Leading up to the primary on June 12th, I asked activists who they thought would win the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Virginia.  As is the case in many elections, most people stated that their preferred candidate would win.  Stewart people assumed Corey Stewart would be victorious while Freitas people thought likewise about Nick Freitas.  Although I supported and ended up casting my vote for Delegate Freitas, I stated that I thought Stewart would win.

Image from the Virginia State Board of Elections

Why? Well, as stated above, it wasn’t because I wanted Mr. Stewart to be the Republican nominee.  At this point, Corey Stewart has almost reached the status of a perennial candidate.  He briefly ran for U.S. Senate in 2011-12, finished third for the Lt. Gov nomination in 2013, and came close to winning the Republican nomination for Virginia Governor in 2017.   However, if you look back the last time that Corey Stewart ran for statewide office, in 2017, he narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Ed Gillespie.  Gillespie won 43.74% and Stewart got 42.5%.  If he had gotten blown out last year, it is unlikely that anyone would have taken him seriously in 2018.  As an example, consider E.W. Jackson, who was the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor in 2013.  He ended up losing the general election by over 10 points thus making it far less likely that the Republican Party would ever give him another statewide nomination.  Stewart, conversely, was close in his last attempt.

Then there is the issue of fundraising.  As of May 23rd, the Freitas campaign had raised $502,784.  By comparison, the Stewart campaign had raised $841,112.  Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps.

Next is the matter of name ID.  Although none of the three candidates were terribly well-known across the state, presumably Stewart was bolstered by his previous runs.  Chances are that activists who had supported Stewart in 2017 would likely do so again.  Therefore, he already had an established base to build from.  Although he traveled the state during the election cycle, Freitas was a less well-known name without a cadre of longtime supporters scattered across the various corners of Virginia.

Another aspect concerned endorsements and the ideology each candidate represented.  While Corey Stewart represents Trump populism, Freitas is part of the liberty/small government movement, and Jackson has the religious right.  Although President Trump isn’t particularly popular with Virginians as a whole, he does seem to command a loyal and active following among a sizable segment of Virginia Republican voters.  Oddly, unlike just about every other year, there wasn’t a candidate from the establishment wing of the Republican Party.  Several months ago, I was told that Representative Barbara Comstock would be entering the race but that never happened.  As such, many in the Republican establishment endorsed Nick Freitas.  At face value, you might think that the establishment combined with the liberty-wing would be enough for a winning coalition in the primary.  After all, the establishment more or less propelled Ed Gillespie to the Republican nomination in 2017 single-handedly.  Liberty-minded folks may have cast a vote for Gillespie, but I doubt many were excited about it.

However, upon further reflection, it is likely that many in the establishment weren’t all that enthusiastic about Freitas, but it was rather a lesser of three evils type of scenario for them.  In 2013, Jackson demonstrated that it would be nearly impossible for him to win statewide and some of his comments derided as bigoted or closed-minded could hurt the GOP in other races.  As for Stewart, his ties to the alt-right with to the Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, his previous false or misleading statements about Ed Gillespie in 2017, the fact that he represented the same Trump faction that lost Virginia in 2017, and that he was likely seen as an uncontrollable force resulted in some of them viewing his nomination as an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party of Virginia.  Given some of Freitas’ outstanding bills in the General Assembly which would curb the power of the party bosses, my assumption was that the establishment ended up supporting Freitas out of perceived necessity, not desire, and thus I assumed that their level of support would be far lower than it would be for someone like Gillespie.

The night before the primary, I stopped by my local polling place in Harrisonburg to see which campaigns had placed signs at the precinct.  Although signs don’t win elections, they are one way to gauge levels of campaign activism.  When I arrived, I found Brent Finnegan, the 2017 Democratic candidate for the 26th House district placing signs for Jennifer Lewis.  There were also signs for Peter Volosin, but none for any of the Republican Senatorial candidates.  However, when I went to cast my vote for Nick Freitas around noon the next day, several of his signs had appeared in the interim.

Image from the Virginia State Board of Elections

Once polls closed at 7, I sat in front of my computer, watching the results on both the VPAP and NY Times websites.  To my surprise, Freitas took an early lead…but could it last?  Were my predictions wrong?  At one point, E.W. Jackson jumped out in front with a commanding lead due to results from Virginia Beach.  However, upon closer inspection, I discovered that one precinct had erroneously given Jackson several tens of thousands of extra votes, likely the result of a few misplaced additional zeros in his totals.  When it was corrected, Jackson did not come close to leading for the rest of the night.  As results continued to come in, the difference between Freitas and Stewart began to tighten.  At around 85% of the vote reporting, Freitas was still leading.  But I thought it prudent to check where the bulk of the outstanding votes were left to report.  Most were either in Prince William County (where Stewart is the chairman of the board of supervisors) or Fairfax County directly to the north.  Although Freitas was still leading, I realized at that point that Stewart had almost certainly won the election once all the votes were in.

During the evening, I wondered if either the Stewart or Freitas camps would deride E.W. Jackson as a spoiler, declaring that his candidacy cost them victory.  If he weren’t in the race, I assumed that a majority of his votes would have gone to Stewart, but without seeing the exit polls, it is difficult to say with any measure of certainty.  Jackson won about 12% of the vote.  If asked, I would have recommended that Jackson not run as I believe it would only hurt his future prospects of holding elected office (if any).  Nevertheless, I believe he had every right to run (just like anyone else) no matter how slim his chances happened to be and that it is unfair to call him a spoiler.

In November, Virginia will likely have three candidates on the ballot, Republican Corey Stewart, Democrat Tim Kaine, and Libertarian Matt Waters.  At this point, I would assume that Kaine will best Stewart by at least 10 points.  However, regardless of my predictions, I recommend to you, dear reader, to research all three of your choices and vote for the one who best embodies your values.  I know I will.

The Shocking Dunbar Gambit

Photo from the Dunbar for Congress Facebook page

For those who follow Virginia politics, I’m sure many people were stunned to recently hear that Representative Tom Garrett (VA-5) would not be seeking re-election this year as a result of alcohol issues.  As such, it was announced that the 5th district Republican committee would be selecting a candidate to replace him.

Immediately, candidates threw their names in for consideration.  Within an hour or two of Garrett’s announcement, Denver Riggleman was the first announcement I saw.  Other names for consideration (or potential consideration) included: Martha Boneta, Senator Bill Stanley, Senator Jill Vogel, and Michael Del Rosso.

When Bearing Drift reported on June 1st that Cynthia Dunbar would be seeking the nomination, I didn’t believe it.  After all, she had lost the nomination in the 6th district convention a few weeks before.  In addition, although not a requirement for office, she lives in the 6th district, not the 5th.  Nevertheless, I needed to find out for myself if what was reported on Bearing Drift was true.  I wrote to a Dunbar supporter seeking an answer but did not receive a reply.

On Saturday morning I hopped on Facebook, hoping to learn more about what was going on in the 5th.  Fortunately, one of my friends offered regular updates on what was taking place in Nelson County.  Much to my surprise, Bearing Drift was right and Dunbar was indeed a candidate.

At first, I was disturbed by this news.  Why was Dunbar running a stealth campaign in the 5th?  More importantly, why was Dunbar running in the 5th at all?  As I wrote at the time, “I feel like this move damages her credibility statewide.”  The final list of candidates for consideration was: Martha Boneta, Michael Del Rosso, Cynthia Dunbar, Denver Riggleman, Michael Webert, and Joe Whited.

After the first vote, Dunbar led the pack with 15 votes.  Riggleman and Whited had 6 and Del Rosso had 5 with the rest of the field eliminated.  A candidate needed 19 votes to get the nomination.  Not only was I surprised by Dunbar’s strong performance, I was also shocked that Senator Stanley didn’t end up running and, after her growing list of endorsements, the fact that Martha Boneta didn’t make it to the next round.

The second round of voting resulted in Dunbar losing a vote with Dunbar 14, Riggleman 13, Del Rosso 9, and Mr. Whited not making the cut.

The third round found Dunbar still leading with 16, Riggleman with 15, and Del Rosso eliminated.  Looking back to the rather nasty Garrett/Del Rosso fight from 2016, I assumed that Del Rosso would direct his supporters to Dunbar and that she would win on the final ballot.   Given my experiences and what I knew of the candidates as well as the fact that I respected many of the members who spoke in favor of her if given the choice I would have voted for Dunbar over Riggleman.

Nevertheless, on the final ballot, Riggleman won the nomination 19-18.  According to the Washington Post, “During a fourth and final vote, Riggleman’s team used control of the House as a negotiating tactic, telling members that if Democrats win the majority they will impeach Trump.”  I wouldn’t have predicted it, coming remarkably close, Dunbar’s gambit came within one vote of success.

Although the 5th district of Virginia is a Republican district, without an incumbent in what I believe will be an impending blue wave for the Democrats, I believe that Riggleman and the Republicans can still win, but it won’t be nearly as easy as they would like.  If Mr. Riggleman is elected, I sincerely hope that he distinguishes himself as one of the most pro-liberty members of the House as his supporters claim he will be.

A Potentially Nasty Convention

On Saturday, May 19th, Virginia Republicans held their 6th district convention in Harrisonburg.  However, before discussing the event itself, I think it is important to discuss some of the events leading up to the convention.

For starters, until last week I wasn’t expecting to attend the convention.  I had signed up to be a voting delegate but had my application rejected as I refused to sign a loyalty oath to the Republican Party and her candidates.  Specifically, they required all attendees to sign a pledge to support all of the Republicans candidates in the 2018 election cycle without knowing who these candidates are and what they stand for.  For a political party who supposedly advocates freedom, liberty, and limited government, one would assume that most of their activists would find such an oath unacceptable and yet they, like Esau and the pot of lentils, presumably bartered away their free will in order to participate.

Second, I had no idea who I would be supporting.  Only one candidate asked for my endorsement by personally calling me on the phone, Delegate Ben Cline.  I came to the conclusion that on the issues Cline was closest to my values of the three most well-known candidates.  Although I had known both Cynthia Dunbar and Chaz Haywood for many years, I was deeply concerned that Dunbar had become far too pro-Trump and worried that her campaign was promoting loyalty to the president over adherence to principles.  And Haywood I saw as the establishment’s choice.  Given my extremely negative opinion of Bob Goodlatte, I was worried that Haywood would fall in with the same people that have worked to squelch liberty in the 6th district these last several decades.

I appreciated Cline’s efforts in the House of Delegates and had previously invited him to speak at a Libertarian gathering.  But, I was particularly concerned about the hiring of one of his campaign staffers, a person I considered unethical who had engaged in dirty tactics in a previous campaign.  As such, I wrote a piece about it for this website (which I have not published) and sent it to Delegate Cline.  In January, he said he would get back to me about the matter “soon” but I never heard anything more, even after I sent another message a month later.  As more time passed, I found myself drifting toward neutrality, wishing I knew more about the other candidates who were running.

Leading up to the convention, the mudslinging against the candidates grew increasingly ugly.  For example, led by the Cline campaign, the others (with the exception of the Dunbar and Pope campaigns) attacked 6th district chairman Scott Sayre saying, “We have concluded that the current plans put forth by Chairman Scott Sayre will not ensure a fair, orderly, and unbiased convention for the Sixth Congressional District.”  In addition, rather than sticking to the issues, often anonymous sources attacked people personally.  One website that popped up a day before the convention was SwampyScottSayre.com, which accused Scott Sayre of rigging the convention in favor of Cynthia Dunbar.  I consider such attacks from the shadows to be unethical and have tried to determine who is behind it.  Given the previous behavior of some Cline staffers, I am worried that they might have had a hand in it.  If you (the readers) are able to tie a person or an organization to this website, I would appreciate hearing of it.  Considering Ginger Burg of Amherst was the first person I saw sharing the site, I would expect that she is either behind it or knows who is responsible.

As mentioned, as I was rejected as a delegate, I didn’t plan to attend the convention.  However, on May 15th, John Fredericks wrote the following on Facebook.

After I read that, I was determined to find out the truth for myself.  I have known Scott Sayre for many years and considered him a decent and fair fellow.  Was he trying to suppress the media?  Was he attempting to rig the convention?  Although I hadn’t covered a Republican convention since 2013, I thought it best to witness it for myself rather than rely on what others said.  After sending a few messages and making a phone call, I secured my press credentials several days before the event.

Even though conventions are harder to predict than primaries, my assumption was that Cline was the most favored candidate, followed by Dunbar, and then Haywood.

It was a rainy Saturday morning and it had been raining in Harrisonburg for the last several days.  The convention was slated to begin at 10 AM.  Although I found myself on Port Republic Road at 9:30, there was considerable traffic at this time and due to some construction at JMU, I ended up parking about a mile away and had to walk to convocation center.  Before I left my car, I decided to wear a Ron Paul 2008 campaign pin in the hopes of reminding some of the delegates that they ought to remember their principles.  In the closest parking lot, I found that one member of the House of Delegates had made his or her own parking space and wondered if he would be ticketed or given a free pass due to his or her status.

I arrived at the convocation center shortly before 10 and picked up my press pass.  Although I didn’t know who I would vote for to replace Bob Goodlatte, I also checked in with the credentials committee to see if they would let me vote as a delegate.  I found Anne Fitzgerald leading the effort and she asked me if I would sign one of two documents pledging that I would not support any non-Republican candidates, specifically Libertarian ones.  I could not honorably sign such a paper and that was the end of the discussion.

I want to pause for a minute to speak about the Fitzgeralds.  For those who don’t know, Matt Fitzgerald is the chairman of the Staunton GOP.  Unlike some other folks in Republican politics in the 6th district, I have found that the Fitzgeralds are friendly, honorable, and principled activists.  If you live in the area, share similar values, and haven’t met them yet, I would encourage you to seek them out.  I’ve always been glad to see them.

The press area at the convention

Anyway, after a few false leads, I found the media section and had a seat reserved next to Bob Stuart of the News Virginian. Despite what Mr. Fredericks stated, there seemed to be ample room for the media and it was nice to be in a spot removed from the noise and the traffic of the general public.  In addition, it was nice to have internet access provided for the press as the building seemed to block out a general signal.  I planned to give live updates throughout the day but was disappointed to find that when my computer went to sleep it had forgotten the internet password and I had foolishly failed to jot down the password on a piece of paper when I had the opportunity.

Scott Sayre handing off control of the convention to Mr. Wilson

One of the first orders of business was the election of the temporary chair.  The Scott Sayre people preferred Mr. Albertson (who runs the Bull Elephant) while the Jennifer Brown people ran Mr. Wilson.  The Brown people combed the convention center holding signs for Wilson declaring that Albertson would rig the convention.  With a break in the action, I took the opportunity to wander around the convention and found some folks I knew in both the areas for Harrisonburg delegates and in Shenandoah County.  I ran into Elliot Pope, one of the lesser known 6th district candidates.  He sounded like a good fellow, but I would need more than a minute to learn more about him.  Hopefully, I’ll run into him in the future.  Also, I asked one of my friends who voted for Wilson why she did so; she repeated that Albertson would rig the convention.  I asked what proof was being offered for these allegations but it seems that none could be offered.  Although Mr. Albertson won several localities (Bedford, Highland, Page, Staunton, Warren, & Waynesboro), the result wasn’t particularly close.  I assumed that this result didn’t bode well for Sayre’s reelection chances.

When lunchtime came I found myself carrying a bag for my friend Laura.  As we approached a staffer for Doug Wright, she asked if we would like a free box lunch.  Apparently, the Wright campaign had ordered a number of lunches for their supporters and had quite a few left over.  I don’t know how much JMU meal services charged for the boxes, but I was certainly appreciative of the Wright campaign’s generosity.

After lunch, I ran into Ed Yensho, the chairman of the Greene County GOP.  Along with several other folks outside the district, he was recruited to help maintain order should the convention grow particularly nasty.

As it came time for the regional candidates to give their speeches, I returned to the press area.  It was good to speak with and spend time with some of my fellow bloggers.  There was Rick Sincere and Willie Deutsch and I also got to meet Mick Staton of The Bull Elephant.

I found it very curious that when the candidates for Central Regional Vice Chairman were supposed to speak, one of the candidates, Wendell Walker was absent.  Given his status as former 6th district GOP chair, I was certain that he knew the proper procedure and the fact that he was absent meant that he did not intend to take the stage.  As a result, his opponent took the opportunity to voice his support for Jennifer Brown.

The two candidates for chair, Scott Sayre and Jennifer Brown, took the stage.  While Sayre spoke of his experiences and what his plans were for the 6th district, Brown spoke of principles instead, not offering any sort of idea what she would tangibly do to put her principles into action.  In addition, when she called Bob Goodlatte the best member of Congress, I was deeply concerned that she represented a return to the same policies as Goodlatte of a top-down approach where the people of the 6th were servants of the congressman and not the other way around as the founders had intended.  Her campaign signs mirrored both the font and colors previously used by Goodlatte.  On the other hand, it seemed to me that perhaps Brown wanted to win more than Sayre, her campaign had stickers and signs throughout the convention hall while, as far as I could tell, he didn’t have any.

The view from the press area

Then it was time for the main event when all of the candidates for the 6th district Republican nomination spoke.  Here I observed something else strange.  While Dunbar’s and Cline’s supporters waved signs for their candidates, not a single person held a sign for Haywood.  It was darn peculiar.  After checking the FEC reports, he had sufficient funds to do so and the few Haywood signs sitting on the tables at the luncheon were of particularly poor quality, looking as if they were printed on a home printer.  I anticipated two or more ballots given that with eight candidates it would very difficult for any candidate to get 50% of the vote on the first ballot.  However, after giving his speech, Haywood announced his withdrawal, instead endorsing Cline.  The timing of his withdrawal didn’t sit right with me.  It felt as if it were staged; given that there were no Haywood signs on the floor, he must have decided to withdraw sometime before the day of the convention.  In addition, like E.W. Jackson at the Republican state convention in 2013, it seemed that Dunbar gave the best floor speech, but would that win the day?

To be honest, at that point I couldn’t come up with an outcome that I was particularly excited about.  Walking to an area with internet access, I wrote a friend in Nevada who has been following the race “I think I might not be voting Republican in November.”

Although I did not endorse any candidate, it was peculiar that I felt more at ease around Dunbar supporters than Cline people (with a few exceptions and, if a particular Cline staffer is reading this, I assume you know who you are).  I guess it was offputting to see some people who I felt had bartered away their honor wearing Cline stickers.  As the votes were being cast and counted, Scott Sayre came by the press table and spoke to me, voicing some similar opinions regarding what had happened with the Central Vice Chairman speeches and Haywood’s withdrawal.

While we waited for the results, the three Republican Senate candidates were given a chance to speak to the masses. None of them, Nick Freitas, E.W. Jackson, or Corey Stewart passed up this opportunity.

I was dismayed to hear that in the 6th district chairman race Brown won 58% of the vote to Sayre’s 42%.  From what I observed, I felt that the accusations of a rigged convention and disreputable conduct leveled against Sayre were false.  I began to wonder if these allegations were possibly been a deflection to try and mask underhanded conduct on the part of his opponents.

Newly minted 6th district Republican nominee Ben Cline

Lastly, with Haywood’s withdrawal, they announced that Cline had won on the first ballot with 52.62% of the vote.  At the time I could not hear how the rest of the candidates ended up because the roar coming from the crowd was far too loud.

During his acceptance speech, Delegate Cline spoke of his support for President Trump and his desire to build a border wall which I found disheartening.

I hoped to leave the convention in good spirits, but I felt despondent instead.  It felt as if the Republican establishment had struck back, that liberty was once again on the retreat in the 6th district Republican Party.  While walking back to my car I thought to myself, after one sees the sausage being made, he starts to lose his taste for it.

I hope that in the coming days we can determine definitively that the Cline campaign had nothing to do with these anonymous attacks.  I still personally like Ben Cline and want to vote for him in November, but the convention left a dark cloud in my mind that has yet to dissipate.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LVIII)

On the morning of May 16th, Andy Schmookler and I returned to 550 AM, WSVA for our monthly radio hour.  Given my time away at grad school, this show marked my first recording in the studio in quite some time.

The main topic of the day was the 6th district Republican convention, which will be taking place in Harrisonburg this Saturday, May 19th.  Although it is difficult to predict the outcome, given the current acrimony and allegations of wrong-doing by many parties, it should be entertaining to watch.

In addition, we also spoke of the Mueller investigation which is entering its second year.  I wish we could have gotten into a discussion about the current state of the Middle East, but unfortunately, we ran out of time.

If you missed it live, you can listen to it here.

Until next month!