Last night, the Rockingham County Republican Party held their mass meeting to elect a chairman for their committee as well as to elect delegates to the party’s 2016 6th district and state conventions. It was a packed gathering with well over a hundred attendees. Besides the county residents, attendees also included: Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6), Harry Griego (his Republican challenger), Scott Sayre (6th district chair candidate), Ralph Smith (6th district chair candidate), Wendall Walker (current 6th district chair), a variety of individuals seeking to be delegates and alternate delegates to the national convention, the chair of the Staunton Republican Party, the chair of the Waynesboro Republican Party, the chair of the Greene County Republican Party, and likely more individuals I did not recognize.
As mentioned, the main focus of the evening was the race for chair. Donna Moser, the incumbent, was seeking re-election while Dan Cullers, the secretary, was also running. I’ve known both of the candidates for many years as I met Donna through the local tea party and Dan through the 2012 Karen Kwiatkowski campaign. Both had their list of supporters though Donna had the endorsement of both Senator Mark Obenshain and Suzanne Obenshain. Curiously though, neither of the Obenshains attended the Rockingham mass meeting. Given that they live in the Rockingham County and that Suzanne Obenshain is running for National Republican Committeewoman, it seemed quite peculiar that they were not there. Although I assume that it was possible that the senator was tied up with business in the Virginia Senate, around that time Suzanne tweeted a photo of her speaking to a Republican gathering in Arlington.
Gazing around the room, a lot of the people wore stickers in support of Dan Cullers. However, many of them had on lapel white stickers for Suzanne Obenshain and blue ones for Bob Goodlatte too. As people entered the building Cole, one of the Goodlatte staffers and former staffer for the Obenshains, glad-handed people and declared that Dan Cullers was “their guy”.
In retrospect, there were far too many guest speakers for the event as they ended up extending the meeting time significantly.
When Donna Moser got up to give her speech for chair, either she or someone in the audience mentioned that the original plan was that Suzanne Obenshain would introduce her and give a few words of support on her behalf. That news was terribly depressing. If the Obenshains actually supported Donna, wouldn’t at least one of them have been there when they were most needed instead of in Arlington or Richmond? Furthermore, wouldn’t the majority of the multitude of people wearing Obenshain stickers support Donna Moser, their supposed candidate, too?
When people finally started voting they were not allowed to vote in secret, which seemed just plain wrong. However, after an angry complaint, declaring it “soviet style voting”, subsequent voters were allowed at least some small measure of privacy in casting their ballot. During this time, I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Harry Griego. From our first conversation, he seemed like a pretty solid guy.
While we waited for the votes to be counted, I got a drink of water. On the way back to my seat, I walked past the room where they were counting the ballots. I didn’t enter the room nor did I attempt to interrupt the proceedings in any way. I just stood and watched for a few moments. However, Cole, Goodlatte’s staffer saw me and insisted I leave. Afterward, I spoke to one of the Republican leaders who said that Cole had no right to do what he did, but I have found that bullying and intimidation is a prized trait among Goodlatte staffers.
Although the vote totals were not revealed publicly, Dan Cullers was declared the winner.
I spoke to both Donna and Dan and wished them both well. Once the attendees dispersed, Dan worked to put away tables and chairs. I have to tell you that there is something refreshing about seeing the leader of a group staying behind to clean up and not simply leaving this undesirable work to subordinates. Dan did this sort of thing before he was elected chair and so far his new power had not changed him. I gladly volunteered to help and the two of us straightened up.
After the event was over, I spoke to another political activist about what I saw and thought about the evening. This activist told me that if the Obenshains had actually been supporting Donna, she would have won. I was still depressed, not by the outcome, but by the process.
Although there certainly were good folks in the crowd, that night I saw too many people who only cared about advancing themselves and their allies and don’t care at all about trivial things like principles and honor. I left with the sense that others have been trying to use both Donna and Dan as pieces on some grand political chess board; I was reminded of the work, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.