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.

A First Friday Fracas

Photo from Cynthia Dunbar's Facebook page
Photo from Cynthia Dunbar’s Facebook page

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.

Booking Photo of Cole Trower from the Republitarian.com website
Booking Photo of Cole Trower from the Republitarian.com website

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.

A Convention for the 24th

Earlier this week, a number of local Republican leaders got together to discuss the party’s nomination process for Virginia 24th senate district.  And, perhaps surprisingly, they have decided upon a convention.

In previous contests, the incumbent was allowed to choose the nomination method, presumably picking which ever one favored him or her.  As such, it was a primary in 2007.  Nevertheless, challenger Scott Sayre from Rockbridge County gave Senator Hanger a good run for his money.  But times are changing.

As previously mentioned, presently there are three candidates are seeking the Republican nod in the 24th.  Longtime Senator Emmett Hanger is squaring off against Marshall Pattie and Dan Moxley.

Given his higher levels of name identification, fundraising capacity, the fact that Emmett Hanger is viewed favorably by a number of Democrats, and that the two other candidates would likely split the anti-Hanger vote, smart money would dictate that a primary would result in a victory for the Senator.  However, as most of these advantages are mitigated by a convention, this decision means that both Moxley and Pattie now have a greater chance of victory.

In my opinion, this could very well be the most exciting state senate race in 2015.

Pattie Announces

State Senate candidate Marshall Pattie on left
State Senate candidate Marshall Pattie on left

In Waynesboro yesterday, Marshall Pattie announced that he is running for the 24th District seat in the Virginia Senate.  A little over thirty people attended this brief conference.  Presently, Mr. Pattie serves on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.

Since 1996, the 24th district has been represented by Emmett Hanger.  However, his support of a handful of tax increases over the years and his recent push for Medicaid expansion has drawn the ire of some conservative groups and voters.  He last faced a Republican challenger in 2007, when he bested businessman Scott Sayre by less than a thousand votes.

The timing of Dr. Pattie’s announcement might seem curious given that the Republican primary is almost a year in the future, but considering the rumors of two other candidates potentially challenging Senator Hanger, presumably Dr. Pattie wished to get a jump on his possible opponents and possibly clear the field for a one-on-one showdown between himself and the incumbent.

The 2014 elections may be far from over, but the 2015 election season has begun in the 24th.

 

Welcome to the Party

Good evening.

Thanks to all readers for bearing with me.

Recently some members of the local tea party have become involved with the local Republican Party. Personally, I welcome their involvement. So many of their ideals mirror my own and the stated goals of the Virginia Republican Party that their addition seems like a natural fit. As stated on the tea party website, they support: “fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally-limited government, and adherence to free-market principles”. Don’t they sound like my kind of people? With their help, I hope we will compel our representatives and leaders to faithfully uphold our supposedly shared principles.

Unfortunately, their arrival heralded a bit of mistrust and confusion. Rumor spread that tea party members sought to take over the Rockingham County Republican Party. I was baffled. I don’t understand how anyone could honestly accuse David Huffman and the Rockingham County GOP of not advocating constitutional conservatism. After all, I believe that the Shenandoah Valley represents the true heart and soul of conservatism in both the state and the nation. Thankfully, the potentially problematic crisis turned out to be only a misunderstanding and miscommunication and was therefore quickly defused. I hope that more tea partiers will follow the example of the handful of members who attended our First Friday. In addition, traditionally conservative Republicans should follow Scott Sayre’s example and welcome these new allies with open arms.

And so I offer a hardy welcome to the tea party members. I respect your principled stand. I hope that the GOP and the tea party movement can work hand in hand. Together we can and must reform local, state, and federal government before they continue to grow into a nanny state, an unconstitutional sprawling leviathan.

With that being said, I want to alert you that the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party is holding two similar events on April 15 from 5:30 to 7:30. One is at the Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton while the other is at Court Square in Harrisonburg. Both events feature former RPV Chairwoman Kate Obenshain, Americans for Prosperity Virginia chapter’s Ben Marchi, and former Governor and Senator George Allen. I strongly encourage you to attend. Assuming that I’m not working, you should find me downtown on Thursday evening.