March 17 2009
Donna Wiesner Keene
"You will make enemies and never friends in Virginia politics," a Reagan boss advised me.
Conservatives are struggling with a basic principle of democracy: we participate in a fair election process, do our best to influence the outcome, and agree to abide by the result. That isn't easy when McCain becomes the Presidential nominee and Barack Obama the President.
However, instead of working issues, activists in several states are trying to oust the sitting elected Chairmen of their respective Republican Parties. In Virginia, Chairman Ed Gillespie held the position for six (6) months and his opponent John Hager was elected for the remaining nine (9) months. Chairman Jeff Frederick has held office nine (9) months and equaled then exceeded their fund raising, the most important function of the top state volunteer.
Virginia has elections every year. Even years are for federal races for President, Senator, Congressmen; odd for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and the statehouse.
Across the state in households like mine, husbands, wives, and children review finances, schedules and hearts to decide if a legislative race is in the cards this year. This week, primary race methods were decided and next month, April 10, candidates must turn in 125 petition signatures to qualify to run. Timing is short.
Campaigns are similar to the frenetic efforts inside a restaurant's kitchen that diners never see. Elections communicate ideas - a state party may commit consultants, mentors who have been through the process before, problem solvers at every level to support logistics and databases. Party officials were elected recruit candidates this month and to permanently and unequivocally prepare for elections.
But in Virginia, one week before petitions are due, the State Central Committee will not be working against liberals who do not share our values, they will be trying to oust Chairman Frederick on the flimsiest of charges - he kept someone waiting in his office, he canceled a meeting. The charges are supposed to be secret for good reason: they are embarrassingly petty. This is all Republicans are discussing -- will a fourth Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Chairman in two years bring new staff to Richmond, reset priorities, and ignore the promises already made and the directions already taken for this year's crucial state races? If the State Central Committee supports the Chairman, will he be able to work effectively?
The issues facing Virginia are ominous, from more-liberal-than-ever Democratic candidates to the federal government‘s increased regulation, programmatic changes, and massive debt burden. Voters do not know or care about who manages a party. RPV primary rules, the calendar of party elections, and the activities structure are simply three glaring examples of where party officials should be focused:
First, with the internet, cable television, and talk radio, more than one or two candidates can have a significant following for President. The early primary schedule and the winner-take-all state rules doom representative decisions. Virginia Republicans should be leading rules changes, especially when Virginia Republicans were not for McCain (independents were) and a former Governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore, was running for President. Virginia, "the home of Presidents," is sidelined with outdated rules.
Second, the State Central Committee should review the calendar: the national Republican chairman is elected a few months after the Presidential election, when the chairman has had four years to build to a win or loss. Accomplishments are a known factor. The Virginia Chairman is elected the May before a Presidential election. Precisely when political activists should be all-out to ensure victory in November, RPV staff were closing the office to wear Hager for RPV Chairman t-shirts to events. Not surprisingly, the party was split by contested Senate and Chairman's races at a May convention where the logistics were jumbled at best, and remains split.
Third, immediately after elections, self-selected party members gathered at the golf, tennis, spa and horsey set Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. Most attendees do not know that in the midst of elections every year, RPV is asking for donations and volunteers plus arranging the logistics for a post-election annual "Advance." This event should be separate from RPV.
Chairman Frederick was elected in a fair process more than 4,000 attendees at a May convention. The margin of vote was wide and to his credit, my former boss Frederick's opponent former Lt. Governor John Hager asked for unanimous consent to verify the vote. The will of the people is clear and party officials should support that vote in the interest of democracy.