On Friday, the local Republicans held their monthly First Friday gathering at the Woodgrill Buffet in Harrisonburg. The featured speakers were Ralph Smith, who is running for 6th district Republican Chairman, and Cynthia Dunbar, who is seeking to be the next Virginia Republican committeewoman.
Although not quite every seat was filled, the room was almost full. After both Smith and Dunbar spoke, they took questions from the audience. As a few examples, Laura Logie asked Mr. Smith about party primaries and the fact that although Senator Emmett Hanger isn’t popular with valley Republicans and often votes against the wishes of his constituents, he continues to get re-elected due to fact that the senator, and not the party, gets to select the party nomination process. Mr. Smith seemed to indicate that he preferred the current system of open primaries as opposed to conventions.
I pointed out that although the Republican Party demands loyalty from its members, it doesn’t hold its candidates and politicians to the Republican Creed and asked Ms. Dunbar what she would do about this issue. She agreed that the party leaders needed to create some system to keep rogue or unprincipled politicians in check.
Then, Cole Trower, an employee of Representative Bob Goodlatte, got up. He started off by declaring that Cynthia Dunbar was wholly unqualified to serve as national committeewoman and furthermore that she had no understanding of the position for which she was running. It wasn’t so much a question, but rather a hostile accusation. Another fellow at Mr. Trower’s table added that Dunbar was “a smooth talker”. Dunbar offered a rebuttal to this accusation, but Cole continued which led the organizer, Donna Moser, to ask Cole to stop. He refused. Then, Scott Sayre, another candidate for 6th district chair, said that Cole was a plant of the Obenshain campaign, Dunbar’s opponent. Nevertheless Cole was not deterred. At this point, Ms. Moser asked Bryan Hutcheson, the Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County who was in attendance to remove Cole Trower. The sheriff thought such an action wasn’t called for, and fortunately Cole finally sat down, ending the matter. However, a local JMU student spoke next saying that Ms. Dunbar was new to Virginia and questioned how much she had helped out the Virginia Republican Party, one of the main talking points of the Obenshain campaign.
After that, things got less heated as several of the candidates who are running for spots as delegates to the national convention spoke along with individuals seeking positions on the Republican State Central Committee.
Then, at the very end of the meeting, a fellow asked if he could say something, which was granted. He declared that although he had supported Bob Goodlatte for many years, he could no longer do so because he considered Bob Goodlatte to be a liar. He pointed out that although Goodlatte pledged to only serve three terms in the House of Representatives when he first ran, he is now in his eleventh term and is presently seeking his twelveth.
As I left the meeting I realized I hadn’t seen anyone treat a guest speaker with such disrespect as Cole Trower had to Cynthia Dunbar since several years before when Cole interrupted and berated Bob Goodlatte, the man he curiously now works for. Even though I had no hand in it, I felt it necessary to apologize to Ms. Dunbar for Cole’s behavior. Unfortunately, Mr. Trower has been acting more and more thuggish as of late, bullying people as he did me at the Rockingham County GOP mass meeting on February 17th.
When I got home, I pulled up VPAP and found that in late 2015 Cole Trower had been paid over ten thousand dollars by the Obenshains, hardly making him either an objective or an impartial observer in the Suzanne Obenshain vs. Cynthia Dunbar contest. Later that day, Dave Briggman, who sat across the table from me at First Friday, wrote a piece on his website, The Republitarian, about Cole Trower. It detailed Cole’s arrest in 2014 for destruction of private property, assault and battery of a young woman, and other charges.
This matter brings up a lot of important questions. Did Mark Obenshain and Bob Goodlatte know of Cole’s conviction before hiring him? Once they found out about it, why would they keep him on their staff? Why didn’t the media report it either when the event transpired in 2014 or when he was found guilty in 2015? Did Cole’s powerful political connections help keep his arrest out of the public spotlight before it was revealed on Friday by Mr. Briggman? With this knowledge, why would any politician who considers himself to be a defender of the family and the individual bring Cole Trower on his staff? Now that these events are in the public spotlight, will he continue to serve as Bob Goodlatte’s northern field director on his re-election campaign?
It is unfortunate that Cole Trower treated both Cynthia Dunbar and Donna Moser, the leader of the group, with such contempt at the Republican First Friday gathering. Disagreement is natural in politics, but not such incivility. Let us hope that that kind of disrespect will not happen again.