By Lynn R. Mitchell
Members of the Campbell County Republican Committee filed suit late Tuesday afternoon, September 30, 2014, in Campbell County Circuit Court against the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) and former Campbell County chairman Leslie Williams for declaring null and void the results of a Mass Meeting held in Campbell County on March 20, 2014. (See Campbell County GOP leadership in dispute by Alicia Petska at the News & Advance and County GOP files lawsuit by Tina Barbour in the Altavista Journal).
Plaintiffs in the suit are John Ferguson, former Timberlake District Supervisor Charles Falwell, retired Commonwealth’s Attorney Neil Vener, and Lt. Col. Rayburn (Gene) Smith (USA ret.) filed the suit
Campbell County, one of the most Republican voting counties in the Commonwealth, carried Ken Cuccinelli in 2013 with 70 percent of the vote, and in 2012 Mitt Romney received 69 percent of the vote.
Local Republican Party units reorganize every two years using either a Mass Meeting (mini-convention) or a Party Canvass (mini-election) and on March 20, 2014, 581 Campbell County registered voters were certified as eligible to participate in the Mass Meeting, making it the largest in county history. Concerns by county residents and employees of a radical right-wing takeover of county government, putting extreme austerity ahead of quality of life, was credited with the record turnout, along with fears that public schools and county services would suffer.
The night of the March Mass Meeting, anyone who wished to participate was required to sign a loyalty statement pledging “an intention to vote for the Republican candidates in November.” However, the loyalty pledge had been abolished in January 2012 by RPV Chairman Pat Mullins who wrote at the time, “I’m very pleased to let you know that the Republican Party of Virginia has informed the State Board of Elections that the ‘loyalty oath’ will be rescinded” (see State Republicans to drop loyalty oath requirement for Mullins’ entire statement).
Yet the March 20, 2014, mass meeting that had been organized by then-Chairman Leslie Williams and his committee illegally required the loyalty oath in order for attendees to participate. The high attendance of that night included many who were involved in their first ever political event and had questions about the loyalty pledge. Some left rather than sign it.
Some who observed the proceedings that night felt it was obvious to the astute observer that Rick Boyer, a former county Supervisor, unsuccessful candidate for Clerk of the Court in 2010, and a well-known political operative, was in charge. Boyer was not a delegate. He had moved out of the county and votes in the City of Lynchburg.
At the Mass Meeting, candidates for Committee Chairman were Leslie Williams running for re-election, and John Ferguson. Each campaign nominated their candidate for Temporary Chairman of the meeting. The Williams campaign nominated Travis Witt of Bedford County and the Ferguson Campaign nominated retired Campbell County Commonwealth’s Attorney Neil Vener. In the balloting for Temporary Chairman, Neil Vener received 308 votes and Travis Witt received 240.
Neil Vener then appointed the various committees, such as Credentials, Rules and Nominations. The rules, based on the RPV Party Plan, were adopted. In the final balloting, John Ferguson was elected Chairman of the Campbell County Republican Party for the period 2014-2015 by a vote of 301 to 189.
Losers challenge results
That prompted two challenges from the losers of local Unit Chairman elections, one from Fauquier County and one from Campbell County. In both cases, the challengers claimed, “Democrats may have participated.”
State Central Committee, the governing body of RPV, met on August 16, 2014, in Richmond to hear the challenges. In a bizarre ruling from State Central, the results of the Fauquier County canvass were overturned because Fauquier did not require a loyalty pledge to participate (in accordance to RPV rules as of 2012). Meanwhile, the Campbell County Mass Meeting was overturned despite the fact that a loyalty oath was required.
State Central’s rulings made no sense and left the Committees with no recourse. Fauquier County has already filed a law suit against RPV (see Fauquier GOP sues RPV and 1st District over tossed-out election).
The Williams/Boyer complaint was based on a list Boyer produced of 87 attendees of the Mass Meeting who he claimed should not have been allowed to participate, accusing them of being either “Democrats” or members of a PAC named the Independent Conservatives of Campbell County. However, careful scrutiny of Boyer’s list revealed that the vast majority (65 percent) were incorrectly identified. Additionally, membership in the PAC is not a disqualifying activity as it is not a rival political party as Boyer claims. It does not nominate candidates, only supports them.
Plaintiffs’ reasons for lawsuit
The plaintiffs have each expressed their reasons for participating in the lawsuit. Kicked-out chairman John Ferguson commented, “This ruling by RPV’s State Central committee has been just devastating. We got off to a roaring start. We built the membership from about 10 to 98. We had a table at the Thomas Road Baptist Church ‘Celebrate America’ event, participated in the annual Concord 4th of July parade, hosted our first annual Great American Cookout with about 200 turning out for Robert Hurt and Ed Gillespie, and partnered with the Lynchburg GOP in establishing a regional Victory Center. Now our legs have been cut out from under us by false accusations from sore losers. In a critical election year, we now have no officially functioning Republican Party in our County. That is not how you win elections.”
Neil Verner noted, “The huge turnout at the Mass Meeting clearly showed that the citizens of Campbell County wanted a change of leadership in the Republican Party. By their overwhelming votes, they made it clear they wanted new leadership that actually reflects the values of Campbell County’s citizens. The citizens of Campbell County want their county governed by a Board of Supervisors that shares their concerns about the need for excellence in public education and the continuation of the high quality of government services Campbell has always provided while having just about the lowest taxes in the region. We followed the rules of the Virginia Republican Party at the Mass Meeting, and the actions of the State Central Committee in disregarding the rights of Campbell County’s citizens to have their votes respected is unconscionable.”
Charles Falwell explained, “The intent was to win at the Mass Meeting on 3-20-14 and then concentrate on getting more people involved in the local Republican Party. We were off to a great start until we were notified that the old unit committee was appealing the results of the Mass Meeting. This process has taken valuable time and effort away from what we should be doing, getting Robert Hurt and Ed Gillespie elected to office. Because of a personal vendetta, Rick Boyer has set back the C.C.R.P. for decades. I hope the court will look at this and see we did nothing that was outside the party plan. Then we can get back to the work that is necessary to save our country.”
Gene Smith added, “I served as Chairman of the Campbell County Republican Party for many years and served on the State Central Committee. I never thought I would see the day when we would have to file a lawsuit against RPV because they exceeded their authority and stepped outside the State party Plan. When I lost the election for Chairman in 2010, the last thing I would have thought of doing is file a protest. That is not the way we do things in the Republican Party. The protest was based on absolutely false information compiled by Rick Boyer. His Chicago-style politics has no place in the Republican Party. We now have no official functioning Republican Party in Campbell County, but we are still working hard to elect our Republican candidates, Robert Hurt and Ed Gillespie. The sad result of all this silliness is that we are wasting precious time that should be used working to get Robert Hurt and Ed Gillespie elected.”
The 31 page lawsuit filed by the Rustburg, VA, law firm of Overbey, Hawkins & Wright claims that the 581 registered voters who attended the March 20th meeting were disenfranchised by having the meeting declared null and void. It states, “The decision of the Defendant RPV, acting through the State Central Committee, was …, arbitrary and capricious, and … It contravened the plain language of the State Party Plan and longstanding RPV practice and precedent.”
“As such it constitutes a breach of contract between RPV and its members.”
The legal expenses of the lawsuit are being paid for by private donations.