Wendell Walker out, Ralph Smith in as candidate for 6th District chair

Wendell Walker 1By Lynn R. Mitchell

After years of attempting to hold a fractured 6th Congressional District GOP committee together for common purpose, District Chairman Wendell Walker has announced he will not run for re-election.

Former State Senator Ralph Smith, whose term recently ended (see Ralph Smith announces retirement from state senate, annoints Suetterlein), has been asked by Congressman Goodlatte, among others, to run against Rockbridge businessman Scott Sayre, whose entry into the 6th District chairman’s race came at perhaps one of the most fractured and raucous meetings the district committee has known.

The handwriting was on the wall after Vance Wilkins and Sayre, through their surrogates, hijacked the 6th District meeting at the December Republican Advance in Hot Springs in what was described as a nasty hours-long confrontation (see Shaun Kenney’s live-blog commentary, Virginia 6th District GOP meeting). At that point, despite Walker’s best efforts and the presence of RPV General Counsel, he had lost the tug-of-war between the tea party faction seeking to unseat Goodlatte, and the establishment conservatives.

A long-time conservative, Walker fell out of favor with the tea party after backing a 2016 presidential primary for Virginia at a contentious State Central Committee meeting held in June (see Live-blogging RPV State Central Committee meeting in Staunton). Walker, who attends Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, has a strong conservative Christian base connected to Liberty University and the Falwell community — both deeply conservative strongholds.

At the December meeting, Walker had proposed a mid-April date for the 6th District convention, to be held in Staunton which is located mid-district in a region that runs from just south of Winchester along the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke in an effort to include College Republicans.

Wilkins/Sayre forces, however, chose May 21 at a location in Roanoke and ramrodded it through with the precise intent of watering down CRFV support. By holding the meeting at the latest possible date allowed by RPV, all College Republicans have finished school for the year and returned to their hometowns. Liberty University CRs, whose graduation is the previous weekend, have been a consistent base for Walker so the late date essentially removes them from the equation — an interesting use of politics considering Sayre has an online degree from Liberty.

Weeks prior to the Advance, the Wilkins/Sayre faction met in Rockbridge County to finalize plans that would undermine the upcoming meeting by nailing down an alternate date and location (business as usual for Sayre who has been playing footsie with the district for years). Sources reported the following attended:

  • Matt Tederick (6th Vice Chair, Warren County GOP)
  • Gene Rose, who reportedly secured the location (SCC congressional seat, Roanoke County GOP)
  • Donna Moser (Rockingham County GOP chair, former head of Harrisonburg tea party)
  • Al Tucker (6th Treasurer, Lexington-Rockbridge-Buena Vista GOP)
  • Ann Taetzsch Fitzgerald (SCC, Staunton City GOP)
  • Ken Adams (Waynesboro County GOP chair and driving force behind lawsuits against State Senator Emmett Hanger’s 24th District)
  • Matt Fitzgerald (Staunton GOP chair)
  • Chris Green (former Libertarian Party, 6th regional vice chair, Lexington-Rockbridge-Buena Vista GOP).

Sayre posted a video announcing his candidacy for chairman 24 hours before the Advance meeting, and urged supporters to attend “the district convention in May.” Ironically, in his announcement, he emphasized refocusing efforts and support for College Republicans, the very ones who will be disenfranchised.

In such an environment, it’s not difficult to see why Wendell Walker could no longer play the role of bridge builder to which he had been accustomed. Unfortunately, the battle over database development (specifically rVotes) and personalities was too much. Walker joins others such as Congressman Robert Hurt, Congressman Scott Rigell, and countless others who are declining public office due to the current political environment.

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