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.

Replacing Goodlatte: Republican Candidates for the 6th Congressional

A Guest post by Kevin Stiles

Bob Goodlatte will not be the 6th Congressional district representative for the first time since 1992. Hardly news, but since I was two years old when he took office, this is a brave new world for me and many others. The 6th is considered one of the safest Republican seats in the country, and as such, it is very likely that the Republican convention decides who gets the seat. As of the time of writing, there are currently eight Republican candidates. However, given the candidate is selected by convention, I highly doubt the five least connected candidates: Ed Justo, Mike Desjadon, Elliot Pope, Doug Wright, and Kathryn Lewis really have a chance for a Congressional seat. Let us then consider the three main candidates:

Cynthia Dunbar

Photo from the Dunbar for Congress Facebook page

Cynthia Dunbar is probably the most well known outside of Virginia. Dunbar rose to prominence during her controversial tenure on the Texas Board of Education winning a seat in 2006 and serving from 2007 to 2010. While serving on the Board, Dunbar came under criticism for comments she made regarding religion and its place in education; government’s role in education; and pushing for textbooks on Mexican-American studies that were labeled Anti-Mexican. Dunbar continues to monitor the education situation in Texas and has worked closely with her mentor, David Barton. Dunbar recently ran against Suzanne Obenshain for National Committeewoman to the RNC from Virginia and won an upset in a narrow vote. Dunbar served as a professor of law at Liberty. Dunbar has claimed that Constitutional law can be superseded by religious affiliation and various interpretations of the Christian Bible. The form of the primary seems to favor her (see below). While Scott Sayre, 6th district chair for the RNC, hasn’t made it clear if he supports her, Deputy chair Matt Tederick has been publicly supportive of Dunbar. However, Dunbar’s political baggage could prove costly. Her radical stances on many issues may strike a chord with many Democratic voters, as the Dems continue to see larger than expected turnouts for off-year elections and special elections. Dunbar may prove the most vulnerable to what some are calling the “blue wave”  that may follow Trump’s victory in 2016.

Chaz Haywood

Photo from the Haywood for Congress Facebook page

Mr. Haywood is the current Rockingham-Harrisonburg Clerk of Court. Mr. Haywood seems to be the establishment choice, having gotten the Obenshain endorsement, as well as the endorsement of Georgia Long (former 6th District RPV State Central Representative). Unfortunately, not much is known about Mr. Haywood. He hasn’t had a whole lot of public activity to really flesh out his positions beyond campaign platitudes. He served as a representative for both Mr. Goodlatte and former Governor George Allen. His website is full of well-worn phrases about “putting people first” and “standing with veterans.” Predictably, he plans to “stand with President Trump in his efforts to improve business and job growth, protecting our manufacturing jobs here and working to bring back jobs lost overseas.” However, substantive policy issues are noticeably lacking.

Ben Cline

Photo from the Cline for Congress Facebook page

Mr. Cline has been a member of the House of Delegates since 2002. This extensive political background gives Cline the most well-defined policy positions. He is co-chair of the Virginia Joint Legislative Caucus and House Chairman of the Conservative Caucus.  Cline has sponsored several more libertarian-leaning pieces of legislation such as the recent medical marijuana bill and his proposed limit on Law Enforcement drone usage. He also pushed for recorded votes in committees in the General Assembly. Cline has called for defending Confederate statues and has an A+ rating from the NRA, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League. He’s received low marks from the Sierra Club for his stance on the environment and mixed results from the Virginia Education Association. He has also received multiple endorsements from several Trump staffers such as the national field director Stuart Jolly and Mike Rubino, Trump’s Virginia State director. Cline earned the endorsements of Delegate Nick Freitas and Denver Riggleman as well.

The convention will be held May 19th at the JMU convocation center in Harrisonburg. At the moment the convention will be single ballot plurality, rather than a multi-ballot majority. This is subject to change, but this seems to favor Dunbar. Dunbar, seen as an outsider, could mirror Trump’s own rhetoric of “draining the swamp.” The plurality would mean she would not need to go through the strenuous process of deal-making that normally goes into finding a majority approved candidate. The convention process also lends itself to more conservative candidates. The 6th district is, by-and-large, Trump country. Predominantly Caucasian, with lower rates of higher education, large numbers of unemployed and underemployed blue-collar workers, and a sizeable evangelical population all seem to point towards an advantage for Dunbar. However, as we’ve seen in Alabama and other elections, the independents and conservatives that have traditionally voted for the GOP candidates are not turning out for radicals such as Dunbar. Additionally, they inspire Democrats to vote in near-record numbers. We do not know for certain if this trend will continue, and even if it does, the 6th is notoriously safe and the Democrats are fielding two new-comers to challenge for the seat. But the GOP should be wary before unleashing a firebrand like Dunbar.

Kevin Stiles is a resident of the Shenandoah Valley in Luray, VA. He attended Bridgewater College where he got a degree in History and Political Science.