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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although this might be a controversial statement to some activists, I firmly believe that not all endorsements are beneficial to a political campaign.
For example, in this cycle in Virginia races, former Representative Ron Paul has endorsed Cynthia Dunbar for the 6th district in the House of Representatives and Nick Freitas for U.S. Senate. I see these as positive endorsements given that not only is Dr. Paul my former boss, I respect Ron Paul due to our shared principles and I believe he is an honorable man. Over the years have I supported everyone he endorses? No. Nevertheless, I believe Paul’s endorsement is particularly positive.
For comparison, the present representative for the 6th district of Virginia, Bob Goodlatte, also has made endorsements (though none in this cycle as far as I know). Given that we do not share much in the way of ideology when Representative Goodlatte endorses a candidate that fact makes it less likely, but certainly not an automatic disqualifier, that I will also support him or her. His endorsement, in my mind, is negative.
Recently, the campaign of 6th district candidate Ben Cline announced that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has endorsed Cline. As someone who both likes and respects Delegate Cline, I ended up speaking with a member of the Cline campaign regarding it. Given Falwell’s unwavering support for Donald Trump despite the overwhelming evidence of Trump’s sexism, authoritarianism, and his flippant attitude toward religion, I believe that Mr. Falwell is leading otherwise good Christian men and women astray. I wrote about the matter in late 2016 when I penned “The Fall of the Religious Right“. Therefore, the staffer and I had a brief exchange about Mr. Falwell, respectfully disagreed about the value of his endorsement to the Cline campaign, and that was the end of the matter.
That dialogue, in my opinion, is how political disagreements ought to be discussed and resolved. Obviously, no two people do nor ought to agree on every political matter. That doesn’t mean that one side or the other is necessarily stupid or evil. However, there are those who disagree.
Last week, the Nick Freitas campaign announced that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has endorsed his candidacy. As regular readers know, I have a great admiration for Mr. Freitas. However, I don’t think much of Bob McDonnell. Although I voted for him for attorney general in 2005 and governor in 2009, he demonstrated that he neither shared my political principles, by signing the largest tax increase in Virginia nor supported my values through his unethical conduct in the governor’s mansion, later revealed during his corruption trial and his conviction. Although his sentence was later vacated (though he was not acquitted), as Chief Justice Roberts wrote,“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.” As a result of his actions, whenever I hear of McDonnell, I am reminded of the image below.
Therefore, when the Freitas campaign announced Bob McDonnell’s endorsement to a private group of which I am a part, I expressed my concern stating, “I’m not sure this is a positive.” Although the first response was to offer a counterclaim, to which I explained why many Virginians might view McDonnell unfavorably (for the reasons listed above), the resulting conversation got rather nasty.
For example, here are some things that were said to me and about me:
“There are also some people who think bigfoot is real.”
“No, some opinions are quite literally BS.”
“The entire Supreme Court of the United States agree on very little, but they agree those people are morons.”
“‘I disagree with a few bills he signed into law. Therefore, we should pervert the law and arrest him.’ How very libertarian…”
“Thankfully libertarians and us liberty lovers consider folks innocent until proven guilty.”
“There are some people who think the moon landings were faked.”
“‘I only want endorsements from pure libertarians.’ is my favorite political posturing.”
One of Freitas’ staffers called for restraint after initially making a negative comment, but it went unheeded; it seemed that the rest sensed blood in the water. So, apparently, because I believe that Bob McDonnell that is sleazy and not someone I would want to associate with, according to some staffers and diehard supporters of Freitas that is a BS opinion of a moron akin to believing that Bigfoot is real, the moon landings were faked, and is also an example of political posturing. Given that the last comment was made by an out of state staffer who I’ve never met, there was a part of me who really wanted to tell the guy to go **** himself. Those who know me know that that this something that I’ve never said, but he made me so irate I didn’t know at that moment what else to do. Afterward, the same staffer mentioned above contacted me to apologize for what had transpired but, by that point, the damage had already been done.
Good heavens! After reading these comments you’d think that I was a bitter critic of Nick Freitas, not one of his ardent supporters! And yet, despite having a different opinion of Bob McDonnell, so many of them treated me with utter contempt and disrespect. If this kind of behavior is indicative of how they interact with their volunteers who have differing opinions, they won’t have to worry about running against Tim Kaine in November because they will have already lost the Republican primary in June, having driven away all of their supporters!
Yes, there are good people who think that Bob McDonnell is pretty scummy but there are also decent people who still support him. I think the Freitas campaign touting his endorsement is a mistake, but I’d like to believe such an opinion, especially expressed in a closed Facebook group wouldn’t result in such nastiness.
As you might imagine, this exchange upset me quite a bit, for about the next 24 hours actually. On Wednesday afternoon, while still feeling dejected, I spoke to one of my fellow grad students about what transpired, and he said it demonstrated the dangers of groupthink. As someone who prided himself on cultivating and maintaining mutually rewarding volunteer relationships whenever I served on a campaign, to call the behavior I witnessed appalling is an understatement. Although I still plan to vote for Freitas in June and encourage every other registered voter in Virginia to do likewise, I am sorely tempted to throw up my hands and refuse to lift a finger to help the campaign further.
Nick Freitas is a good and principled man and he ought to be represented by a good and principled campaign. That is why I believe the Freitas campaign needs to do something to prevent this sort of thing from happening to someone else and they need to do it now.
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:
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.
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.
Earlier today, Ron Paul, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives (and my boss in 2007 & 2008), endorsed Cynthia Dunbar for the House to represent the 6th district of Virginia. In addition, Dr. Paul ran for president three times, once as the Libertarian nominee in 1988 and also sought the Republican nod in 2008 and 2012.
If I am not mistaken, this is only the second time Dr. Paul has endorsed in a Virginia race, the first being for Ken Cuccinelli in the 2013 election for governor.
As Ron Paul states:
“I have given my life to fight for liberty. It is always refreshing to encounter others with the same passion, conviction, and understanding necessary to defend our Constitution. Cynthia not only encapsulates these traits, but also has the integrity and fearlessness to stand up to politicians who wish to expand our government and infringe upon our rights. I have known Cynthia for over a decade now and she has always proved herself to be a stalwart defender of the freedoms guaranteed to us as Americans. Her voice will be heard loudly and clearly across the nation in defense of liberty, and she is the best candidate to represent our shared values in Congress. I am pleased to give her my endorsement and full support in her campaign to represent Virginia’s 6th district.”
Ms. Dunbar faces a somewhat crowded field for the Republican nomination, with four or five likely opponents. In addition, several Democrats are vying for the position as is at least one independent and a potential Libertarian candidate as well.
The Republican convention to determine the party’s nominee will take place on May 19th in Harrisonburg.
Although I cannot recall when it began, First Friday has been a regular political event in Harrisonburg for quite a while. Over the years, it has hosted a variety of candidates, politicians, and leaders of various groups. It has served not only as a monthly gathering for local activists but also as a way to reach a wider audience of folks from Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, and sometimes Greene Counties.
First Friday is not a local Republican unit, but it typically hosts Republican speakers. They’ve had Corey Stewart recently, and had a bit of a dust-up when Cynthia Dunbar ran for Republican National Committeewoman last year. Suzanne Obenshain, who also sought the committeewoman position and was the longtime leader of First Friday, also spoke to the group last year. Although he attended when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, Ed Gillespie has been a no-show this election cycle. When I ran for local office in 2014 as an independent candidate, I was allowed to attend but not to address the crowd. Nevertheless, the event was valuable; after my Republican opponents addressed the group, one attendee declared they were both socialists and wrote a check to my campaign. Donna Moser, the former head of the Rockingham County Republican Party leads the gathering.
However, things have been a bit rocky for First Friday these last several months. Several months ago Ms. Moser broke a bone while visiting relatives out of state and thus was unable to attend the May meeting. Nevertheless, First Friday still took place with Senator Bryce Reeves, who is running in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, as the speaker. Ms. Moser had the leader of the local tea party hold First Friday in her absence. But, the meeting was very sparsely attended. In fact, I cannot recall a First Friday with such a low turnout. Usually, two factions attend; the conservative grassroots folks and the so-called establishment Republicans. But, almost none of the establishment people were in the audience. I asked the senator about this absence and he pointed out that although he is arguably the most conservative candidate running for the position, many of the establishment had endorsed his opponents and thus did not attend.
Shortly before the June meeting of First Friday, I’m told that Ms. Moser received a phone call from the chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Party letting her know that the party had selected a replacement to host First Friday in her stead. However, as she had returned to the area, she stated she was able to resume her duties in this capacity. Delegate Ben Cline was the speaker, but, as with the previous month, the establishment Republicans boycotted the event.
After most folks left, Greg Coffman, the Harrisonburg GOP Chairman, sat at a table with Donna Moser. Afterward, I asked her about the conversation and she said that the three local chairmen (Harrisonburg, Rockingham, and Republican Women), had decided among themselves that Ms. Moser would no longer be leading First Friday. As none of these chairmen had elected her to her position, nor did any of these chairmen attend First Friday on a regular basis, my opinion was that none either individually or as a group would have the power to make such a decree. However, the story does not end there.
Late last night, the Harrisonburg Republican Party sent out an email declaring that future First Friday lunches have been cancelled. As the message states:
Consequently, the Committees’ leadership has decided to terminate the First Friday Luncheons program. The goal is to examine other venues that can provide more relevant opportunities for our members, community leaders, and political leaders to interact. This was the original intention in starting the First Friday Luncheon program, but we’ve seen a continuous decline in participation and support to the extent that the program is no longer fulfilling its purpose.
Due to the upcoming election season and the demands on everyone’s time, no decision on alternatives to First Friday will be made until after the election. Therefore, the County and City Committees are no longer endorsing, sponsoring, or supporting activities similar to or calling themselves “First Friday” until further notice.
To the best of my knowledge, there was no vote or discussion among the attendees of First Friday or even the local Republican committees of such a course of action (according to those who attend these meetings), but rather a dictatorial decree from the local party chairman. Perhaps this authoritarian push shouldn’t be all that surprising given that the Harrisonburg Chairman will not allow individuals to make any announcements at the city GOP meetings unless they have been submitted in writing at least five days prior to the meeting.
After speaking with Donna Moser, she has stated that First Friday will continue, whether the GOP chairmen support the idea or not. Given my experiences in local politics, the Republican Party strives for strict control of political events and guards who have access to their candidates and elected officials. Given this attitude and several other factors, it shouldn’t be surprising that every candidate except for one who has run under the Republican banner in the last seven years has lost to a Democrat in Harrisonburg.
I would expect that local activists will continue to gather at the Woodgrill Buffet in Harrisonburg for First Friday with or without the blessing of the local GOP chairmen. True, it will be a smaller affair as most of the establishment Republican crowd likely won’t attend, but perhaps First Friday will become a gathering for conservative activists and candidates of all stripes, not only those who bind themselves with the increasingly rigid rules of the Republican Party. If so, the local chairmen’s declaration of disavowing First Friday is a blessing in disguise for the citizens of the central Shenandoah Valley.
In just a handful of days Republicans across the state will gather in Harrisonburg, my hometown, for their state convention. There they will be voting for a new committeewoman. The two choices for this position are Suzanne Obenshain and Cynthia Dunbar. Having had the opportunity to get to know both women, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
I’ve known Suzanne Obenshain for well over a decade. While I was growing up in Harrisonburg we both attended the same church and were both quite active in local Republican Party politics. She’s a person whose opinion I’ve valued. For example, when in 2013 I started to consider running for local office in the 2014 elections, speaking to Suzanne Obenshain was of prime importance. To highlight some of my activism, I was a bus captain for the Obenshain for Attorney General campaign at the 2013 Virginia Republican convention and later the campaign asked me to serve as her chauffeur, though I only ended up driving her once and it was just around Harrisonburg.
My last meaningful conversation with Suzanne Obenshain was a little over two years ago. However, as I’ve written in previous pieces, after about 19 years of activism I was kicked out of the Harrisonburg GOP in February 2014. Given that I had been a loyal supporter and volunteer for the Obenshains since Senator Obenshain first declared his intent to run for office in late 2002 or early 2003, the first person I called looking for assistance with this matter was Suzanne Obenshain. In the moment I needed her help the most she refused to provide aid. During the call she asked me if I knew what a “good Republican” was. I explained that I thought it was someone who held fast to principle and advocated the values found in the Virginia Republican Creed. Instead, Ms. Obenshain explained that being a good Republican had nothing to do with ideology, but instead a good Republican was a person who supported all the Republican candidates. I was shocked when I heard these words, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been.
After all, after the 2012 Republican National Convention, which screwed over the Ron Paul delegates, I presented a resolution to the local Harrisonburg GOP from the Virginia Republican Liberty Caucus that condemned both John Boehner and Reince Priebus for their role in this matter. However, it was Suzanne Obenshain herself who scuttled any attempt to either discuss it or bring it to a vote.
Also, during the 2012 Harrisonburg City Council elections, much to my disappointment I discovered that one of the Republican candidates promoted a lot of big government policies, more so than even the Democratic candidates. Given this realization, there was no way I could bring myself to either support or vote for this person. After the election, when all three Republican candidates went down in defeat, I spoke with Suzanne Obenshain, as she was the person who recruited our local candidates. I asked why the local GOP would nominate a person who couldn’t be called a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. She responded by telling me that no one else wanted to run. However, wouldn’t it have been better to have one fewer nominee than running a full slate if that meant rallying behind someone who was antithetical to our principles? Does being a Republican actually mean anything?
Getting back to 2014, although no longer a member of my local committee, I still requested to attend the state convention. Both the chairman and Ms. Obenshain told me that I could go as a voting delegate. However, I was dismayed to discover that the call for the convention included a strict loyalty oath to the party and her candidates, declaring that all delegates from Harrisonburg would support all of the Republican candidates that year. Neither knowing who they were nor whether or not they would uphold the principles of the RPV Creed I felt could not honorably sign such a document. I asked who decided to include this oath in the call, which was considerably more stringent than other local calls, such as the one from Waynesboro, and was told that it was Suzanne Obenshain who did so.
One of my relatives asked Suzanne Obenshain why the Republicans had treated me poorly and I was told that she responded saying that the Republicans were afraid of me, in part because I was unwilling to compromise on most principles and because I openly criticized my representative, Bob Goodlatte when he voted against what I always assumed were supposedly Republican values.
After the convention I spoke to a local friend who was also a Shak Hill supporter and convention delegate. At the time Shak Hill was running as the more conservative option for Senate. However, my friend told me that several Ed Gillespie supporters, including Suzanne Obenshain, attempted to intimidate him on the voting floor into supporting their preferred candidate.
I still ran for local office but I did so as an independent since I wasn’t a member of the Republican Party any longer; I felt someone needed to represent my principles. I ran on a platform of limiting the power and scope of the city government and to the best of my knowledge, I was the only candidate who mentioned the Creed of the Republican Party of Virginia or sought to advance the values which it advocated. Party labels aside you’d think that limited government Republicans would be happy that at least one of the candidates actually advocated limiting the government. Nevertheless, several of my friends told me that Suzanne Obenshain was furious with me because I had the audacity to run for office against the Republican nominees. When I went door-to-door for my campaign I stopped by the houses of several friends who had signs for the Republican council candidates in their yard. When I asked them about it, I was told that they had not requested the signs but instead Suzanne Obenshain placed them in their yards simply because they were members of the Harrisonburg Republican committee. By comparison, due in part to my principles, many Libertarians supported my campaign either through time or money as did some disaffected local Republicans.
On the other hand, I first spoke to Cynthia Dunbar on New Years Eve of 2015. She called me while I was picking up a few pizzas for a party that was taking place that evening. Although I wasn’t a member of the Republican Party and had no plans of rejoining, we spoke about her candidacy, the GOP, and political principles. I met her in person on Saturday at a meeting of the Shenandoah Valley Constitutional Conservatives in Mt. Jackson.
Over the last several months, I’ve had the chance to listen to Cynthia Dunbar on a handful of occasions. She seems to be a person guided by conviction that promises to stand up to the party bosses and elected officials who betray their principles and/or the grassroots activists who elected them in the first place. In addition, she’s picked up endorsements from a number of good Virginia political activists and elected officials I respect including: Delegate Brenda Pogge, Delegate Bob Marshall, Senator Dick Black, Suzanne Curran, Anne Fitzgerald, Steven Thomas, and Ed Yensho. However, the most exciting endorsement comes from my former boss, the godfather of the modern liberty movement, Dr. Ron Paul.
Some of her detractors have attacked Dunbar for the fact that she has lived in Virginia for only a handful of years. But don’t we all have to come from somewhere? One of my Republican opponents for city council used this issue against the Democrats and the Libertarian candidate because they lived within the city limits for only several years. Although I am a native of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, that was as a result of the choices my parents made, not my own. Honestly, what should matter more, political principles and character or something transient like geography? I’d like to think this is an easy question and we should not treat people as outcasts simply because their roots are not as deep as our own.
Let me offer you a few fun facts. Since 2009, only one Republican candidate has beaten a Democratic candidate in Harrisonburg. If Senator Mark Obenshain had won our hometown in 2013, he would be Virginia’s attorney general. Here’s another fact. In 1995, at the age of 15, I was the youngest Republican activist in Harrisonburg. In January of 2013, at the age of 32, I was still the youngest person who regularly attended monthly meetings of the Harrisonburg Republican Party.
The facts and experiences I’ve mentioned might leave you with several important questions. Why don’t Republicans win Harrisonburg? Although I don’t know their current membership, when I was a part of the party why did the Harrisonburg GOP fail to recruit newer, younger members? Well, when you have leaders of a political party which values loyalty to the party over principle, what do you think happens? When you have a local unit, which forces its members to sign onerous loyalty oaths to the party and her candidates, it is possible that the members begin to build up resentment? When you have a political party that is more concerned with pleasing elected officials and party bosses at the expense of the volunteer grassroots activists, why in the world would anyone choose to join such a group? When a local party recruits candidates who are indistinguishable from the Democrats, why wouldn’t voters select the genuine article? When the local leaders of the Republican Party treat conservatives and libertarians who are outside of the party as hostile enemies, should there be any wonder why Republicans no longer win Harrisonburg and the local unit is so dreadfully small and ineffective? Lastly, I have to ask you, are these kinds of values ones that Virginia Republicans want at the national level?
It should be obvious that this election for Republican National Committeewoman is one of important contrasts. Like my hero Ron Paul, if I were a delegate to the Virginia Republican Convention, given my experiences and knowledge of the two candidates, I would have no hesitation in casting my vote for Cynthia Dunbar.
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.
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.
On Saturday morning, while watching the snow continue to fall in the central Shenandoah Valley, I read something on the internet that caught my attention. My state senator, Mark Obenshain, wrote a Facebook post in support of his wife. For those who don’t know, Suzanne Obenshain is running to be Virginia’s next Republican Party National Committeewoman. There is another candidate running too, Cynthia Dunbar.
Anyway, as a way to bolster support for Suzanne, Senator Obenshain listed what he thought were some of her important qualifications:
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? After all the idea of electing a Virginian who has been active in conservative politics for decades is appealing, right? However, are these points really important to Senator Obenshain?
If we rewind the clock to the 2014 Harrisonburg City Council elections, although all of the candidates had ties to Virginia, to the best of my knowledge only one (or perhaps two) could have been considered a conservative grassroots leader. Only one of the candidates had been involved in over a dozen campaigns for conservative (or at least Republican) candidates in Virginia and only one had attended the 2008, 2009, and 2013 state Republican conventions along with the 2012 6th district convention. And, to top it off, this candidate was active in politics for the past 19 years.
If the qualifications Senator Obenshain listed on Saturday morning were so important, one would assume that he would support all candidates who meet them. However, that is not the case as he ended up endorsing two candidates for Harrisonburg City Council, neither of which had nearly the same level of involvement as his wife, Suzanne Obenshain. How can I know these things? Well, it is because I was the “only candidate with these qualifications” listed above in the 2014 city council elections.
Yes, it is exceedingly important to have standards and principles, but shouldn’t a person, especially an elected official, be consistent in their application? If Senator Obenshain values a steadfast principled activist who has been toiling in the Virginia trenches for years, including one who regularly volunteered for his campaigns, as both Suzanne Obenshain and I have, wouldn’t logic dictate he would stand behind both of us?
Therefore, you have to wonder if any of the points listed in the Facebook post truly matter or are they merely talking points to rile up an “us against them” mentality against someone like Cynthia Dunbar who moved to Virginia about half a dozen years ago? I could be wrong, but being “one of us” is more an issue of unashamedly fighting for causes we believe in rather than what city, state, or country one happens to call home. Being a good and true Virginian is less about transitory things, like geography, and has more to do with a person’s code of conduct, honor, and morals.
I don’t plan on voting at the 2016 RPV convention, but, as is the case in any election, I think principles ought to be of utmost importance and being dedicated to them ought to matter. To do otherwise seems darned hypocritical to me.