2016 RPV Convention: State chair drama, elections, hobnobbing

Today is the opening of the two-day Republican Party of Virginia State Convention in Harrisonburg, Virginia — home of my son’s alma mater James Madison University, food trucks, craft beer breweries, cidery, and vineyards, eateries, and scenic vistas from almost anywhere in the city of the surrounding Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains.

I’ll be in the media area representing Bearing Drift and LynnRMitchell.com as well as roaming the arena with my camera so please stop by to say hello. I’d love to get a picture for the blog. Bearing Drift writers will be out in force: Jim Hoeft, Rollin Reisinger, Matt Hall, Susan Sili, J.R. Spiker, and myself.

Some quick facts about Harrisonburg:

  • Population: 50,000
  • Universities: James Madison, Eastern Mennonite
  • County seat for Rockingham County
  • Founded 1779
  • Thirty minutes to Shenandoah National Park
  • Twenty minutes to Massanutten Resort

The Rocktown Beer and Music Festival is taking place Saturday beginning at 3:00pm, and the city also offers many other activities. Temps for the weekend are predicted to be in the 60s with possible showers. See WHSV TV-3 for weather updates.

James Madison’s Convocation Center on University Drive will be the location of the convention. Built in 1982, it seats 6,400 and during the weekend will offer no internet service for those covering the event. Click here for additional info on parking and the convention agenda.

Interesting location for a state convention
A couple of observations that have been mentioned by some delegates: State conventions are generally held in RVA or Roanoke or NoVa where there are venues large enough to hold everything in one building (usually a hotel where delegates can book rooms and attend all meetings and events at the one location).  They are also usually held the end of May or early June. By having it in April, JMU students are still on campus; in fact, tomorrow begins exam week, and district conventions are still taking place throughout the Commonwealth.  RPV-sponsored events this weekend are split between the convocation center and Festival. State Central Committee is meeting this morning in a location south of Harrisonburg which means they will need to hustle to the convocation center for the 2:30 start, and then may have to reconvene afterward if business is not completed. Don’t get me wrong … Harrisonburg is a great location for me — it’s in my back yard — but it’s not exactly the center of the universe for most of the state’s population. Also, having no internet is a biggie for those of us who deal in communications.

No Trump … but protest anyway
After the Washington Post posted erroneously that GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump was going to drop by the convention, later disputed by RPV in this post by colleague Matt Hall, the news was that protesters who had planned to be there because of Trump … decided to protest anyway, just because, as reported by colleague D.J. Spiker. We’ll see if that happens.

Battle for RPV State Chairman
Drama may reign because of a battle that has grown more intense for the state party chairman position. One Facebook poster commented, “Can we just call the Haley/Whitbeck feud within the Virginia GOP what it really is? A lovers quarrel between Ken and Russ….” Well, and a few others.

Incumbent John Whitbeck is running for reelection. In January he received a challenge that was filed on the last day from unsuccessful senate candidate Vince Haley, a Russ Moulton-Conservative Fellowship candidate who was sent into battle after Whitbeck reportedly fell out of favor with Moulton.

A month later Haley withdrew from the race. Bearing Drift noted at the time,  “… his primary reason for entering the race was his opposition to the ‘loyalty oath’ issue, and with it’s recession, the underlying reason for his campaign was over. He also stated that he ‘entered the race to make the case for a Republican party that keeps its promises.’ ”

Campaign over, right? Wrong. About six weeks later, on April 12, Haley announced again, less than three weeks before the convention, that he was “unsuspending” his campaign even though he had not “suspended” it. He said he decided to get back in “after a series of concerns regarding Whitbeck endorsing candidates within State Central Committee and unit chairman contests, reasons which prompted activists to re-approach the former Virginia state senate candidate.”

Problem was … he had not “suspended” his campaign. He had withdrawn, and that fact had been duly noted by RPV. By the time he decided he wanted back in, the deadline had long passed. Enter RPV’s rules committee: “… by a 10-0 vote, the committee still felt that Haley’s withdrawal from the race in February was not a campaign ‘suspension.’ ”

Bearing Drift noted, “To confirm this withdrawal, RPV Executive Director John Findlay emailed Haley stating that Haley’s ‘Declaration of Candidacy’ had been removed. Haley confirmed the email with a simple, ‘Thanks.’ The Haley campaign states that this response was not an assent to Findlay’s email. However, at the time, Findlay construed Haley as ending his campaign and discarded Haley’s filing documentation. That would also appear to be the majority opinion of the nominations committee.”

What to do? Well, for Haley it meant hunkering down and calling in the hatchet men who, with time running out, decided to embark on what has turned into a nasty campaign driven by numerous over-the-top robocalls complimented by unsubstantiated accusation-driven emails, along with rants and name-calling on Facebook, and an endorsement list that was released the day before the convention that listed eight names.

But that wasn’t all. Calls have gone out for all to converge on this weekend’s convention even though it is a private event run by the Republican Party of Virginia for delegates — those who were duly voted in at their mass meetings and caucuses to serve as representatives for their units — and paid guests.

Haley may have a legitimate beef with Whitbeck; indeed, Whitbeck sent out a negative mailer of his own, and is not liked by many that he worked against while still under the Fellowship-Moulton thumb. Unfortunately, the divisive behavior is only fanning the flames of the internal civil war, and the two operatives behind the scenes are not known for unity, unlike the “establishment” that has tried to work with the various sides but has been at the receiving end of vicious Facebook rants. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

The convention will be gaveled in today at 2:30. Stay tuned to see if there are fireworks before we even get into the main business of the weekend. Gird your loins and prepare for more reindeer games….

[With no internet and spotty cell phone service, I may be in the cave for a few hours today if my air card doesn’t work, but will post as soon as possible.]

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