Bedford mass meeting keeps chairman

Wendell Walker
This is Suzanne Obenshain, candidate for national committeewoman. Oops — that’s not Suzanne.  Ahh — Dolores Switzer was going to speak on Suzanne’s behalf but had stepped outside so 6th Congressional District Chairman Wendell Walker stepped in to represent Suzanne.

Joe Whited
Joe Whited, military veteran and pragmatic candidate for congress (5th District).

Trixie Averill
Trixie Averill filled her 45 seconds of speaking time with her longtime participation in the party she loves.

Saturday’s Bedford GOP mass meeting took place at Brookhill Wesleyan Church in Forest outside Lynchburg where participants spent hours inside on a gorgeous Virginia spring day. There was no internet so, unable to live-blog, I resorted to live updates on Facebook using my phone. Interestingly, a sign at the door said no recording was allowed.

The showdown for chairman was between long-time Republican Lee Walker who was instrumental in getting several supervisors elected last fall, and far right incumbent Nate Boyer who has a flair for turning out his church and others for these events. (For background on the candidates, see Lee Walker for chair of Bedford Republicans.)

After the mass meeting, irregularities began to come to light that I will elaborate on shortly. On a personal note, I would just like to say that the meeting being held in a church sanctuary was uncomfortable. Politics is a dirty business so it did not feel right to be in the Lord’s house for such an event.

The meeting’s temporary chairman was new State Senator David Suetterlein. Remarks from speakers running for public office and various grassroots leadership positions began addressing the crowd including 6th Congressional District Chairman Wendell Walker, and former 6th District Chairman Trixie Averill who spoke about running for State Central Committee, 6th District Committee, and national delegate.

Quoting the Founding Fathers
As the speakers stood one by one in front of the church to talk about their candidacies, a woman that I had heard of but had never heard speak was Cynthia Dunbar who is running for national committeewoman. She was animated and full of platitudes about liberty and freedom that included the obligatory drumbeat against the establishment and incumbents, and then — I kid you not — she recited Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” speech. Not that there’s anything wrong with that speech but it indicated that she obviously knew her crowd.

Candidates for Bedford Republican Committee chairman
The candidates for chairman spoke, first Lee Walker whose remarks were about unity and working together. He favored “a ‘big tent’ philosophy for the party, [and] said he believed most of the people in the room generally agreed with one another and that intraparty disputes over ’10 percent’ of issues allow Democrats to win.”

Walker was followed by Boyer who fired up his followers with what he knew they would respond to and what they had come out to vote for, as reported in the Roanoke Times (see Bedford County Republicans re-elect uncompromising chairman):

Nationwide, the Republican Party is seeing conflict between those who see themselves as principled and those who consider themselves pragmatists.

In his speech prior to the voting, Boyer retraced a hard line on issues regularly contested at the state and federal level, including abortion policy and Second Amendment rights.

“If we want to keep winning, we must disregard the calls to water down what makes us great. We must never apologize for our foundational values. They’re the reasons we do what we do,” Boyer said.

He said the GOP should “never surrender on the institution of marriage,” although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled laws banning same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.

“Some tell us we have to surrender to win elections. We must not,” Boyer said in a speech that received extended and assertive applause.

The speeches continued and as time dragged on, some folks left. Finally after two hours, Suetterlein said the hold-up was the credentials committee and that he would go check on them. Everyone milled about until he returned about 10 minutes later to gavel in the meeting and announce that voting would begin.

The results
By this time many had been there for several hours (arriving early to register and now more than two hours into the meeting) so after they voted, they walked right out the door. The once-full sanctuary emptied leaving about 50 folks waiting for the vote result to be announced. And they waited … and waited … and waited. After almost four hours, results were known and Nate Boyer had been reelected. Congratulations to him. We commend Lee Walker for throwing his hat in the arena.

A member of the credentials committee — the committee that everyone was waiting on before voting could begin — posted the following on Facebook:

I was on the credentials committee. The reason we were so long is because David Seutterlein did not close registration until 1:45! And so we didn’t even get to start our work until after 2 pm. I’ve never seen anything like it. And Nate did not have a separate Nominating committee. .. so we had to clean up all the District, State and Unit lists.

When I responded, “How can registration remain open 45 minutes past the deadline unless all those people were already in line?” she responded:

NO! They were not in line. It was a ruling David made based on the Call. I protested very loudly, I’ve truly never seen anything like it. .. of course no one listened.

So the question would be what in that particular Call said to close registration 45 minutes late … and why? In all the years I’ve attended mass meetings, this was a first.

Some final thoughts
* Not only do I find it unseemly to hold mass meetings in a church sanctuary but it seems as if it would be more reasonable and fair to meet on neutral territory like a public school or meeting hall.

  * Whenever I have attended any meeting, political or otherwise, if the results were extremely lopsided they were not released. It is disappointing that someone released Saturday’s results to the local newspapers. Smacks of bad sportsmanship.

  * Before the meeting began, I stood in the usual line outside the ladies room surrounded by women wearing Nate stickers who obviously knew each other and were carrying on a friendly banter among themselves. Someone asked who was in the 5th District and who was in the 6th (Bedford is a split unit with members from both). The lady standing beside me said she had no idea, that she was only there because she was told she had to be.

  * Mass meetings are often boring, drawn-out affairs that are sometimes full of drama and always long on speeches from an extended list of candidates for grassroots positions as well as elected office. I have observed for years people who show up to vote because they have been asked to do so but they don’t know what to expect. Certainly sitting in a church sanctuary for four hours on a sunny spring day was not necessarily in their plans, and there are always those who get up and leave before the voting even takes place. By delaying the vote, everyone gets to speak whether the audience is interested or not. I dare say most in the audience haven’t a clue what each of those speakers are even talking about because it’s kind of insider baseball for the political crowd. Granted, some speakers are heard when committees meet but they usually don’t take very long (unlike the Bedford experience). Most of the folks sitting in that room are there for one purpose only: to vote for chairman. It is always hoped they will sign up for the various conventions but, in reality, that is usually a small percentage.

  * Mass meetings are basically a smaller version of a convention. Proxies are not allowed. Voters have to show up in person. If you are out of town that day, as many were Saturday because it was spring break — another tactic — then it’s too bad. If your children have soccer games or birthday parties, you’re out of luck. Many units demand prefiling; that is, forms have to be filled out and turned in by a deadline usually a week — and in some instances much further out — before the actual meeting. This allows the insiders to gather the forms they need while those who are not familiar with the process are left out in the cold. Both mass meetings on Saturday allowed participants to sign up at the door. It was a fair process and allowed everyone the opportunity to participate.

  * Firehouse primaries are the way Chesterfield County Republicans do it. For years they have held firehouse primaries which are similar to an abbreviated primary. One location is picked — maybe a school or other public place — for voting during predetermined hours, say 10am-6pm, or maybe 4-8pm. It offers voters the opportunity to stop by at their convenience, even if they have the kids with them, to run in and vote. It is a much fairer process on many levels but is used too little, in my opinion. But I believe politics is all about addition, not subtraction.

You may also be interested in:

* The thoughtful conservative conundrum News Leader editorial

* Rockbridge mass meeting: ‘I heard you used to be a conservative’

* Live-blogging Rockbridge Area GOP mass meeting

* Our View: A mind-boggling fight among 6th District Republicans – Roanoke Times editorial

* What to call a do-something conservative – op-ed by former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling

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