Yesterday I posted  about Stafford County GOP Chairman Steve Albertson endorsing Susan Stimpson for the GOP nomination in House of Delegates District 28. While the district spans several communities, both Stimpson and the incumbent, Speaker William Howell, belong to the Stafford County Republican Committee; so, Albertson’s endorsement – even while he considers it his own personal endorsement – has significance.
The significance is not that it will necessarily affect the outcome of the race to be decided by a primary on June 9th, but to the larger cohesiveness of the Republican Party of Virginia. In other words, it’s not just about what’s going on in Stafford, but how it will affect party politics in Martinsville, Bedford, Arlington, Chesapeake and every unit throughout the commonwealth.
Back in January 2014, Albertson wrote a very strong opinion  of then-Chairman Pat Mullins decision to endorse now-Rep. Barbara Comstock in her bid to gain the GOP congressional nomination:
“It’s clear, to me anyway, that Chairman Mullins did nothing against the rules. But, this question about whether sitting party officials should endorse candidates for the nomination is an old one, and goes back at least as far as the perennial convention vs. primary debate. The question is particularly tricky for unit chairmen, as other officials simply don’t carry as much sway. Many chairmen have a policy of never endorsing. That’s probably the best thing to maintain cohesion and unity. But not all chairmen see it that way, and many choose to endorse as an extension of the will of the people who elected them.” (ed. his emphasis)
I’m inclined to agree with him. As are others.
“In Virginia Beach our party bylaws prohibit me as the chairman from endorsing a candidate if they both are members of our party,” wrote Ken Longo, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach. “My personal feelings are that no sitting unit chairman should endorse a candidate if they are both members of their local party.”
Chesapeake GOP Chairman Pete Burkhimer also said that it has been his practice to not endorse if there are two or more candidates from within the unit competing against each other.
But Albertson did provide a caveat: should a chairman deem it to be the will of those who elected him, endorsing is acceptable.
Which begs the question, did the unit put Albertson up to this?
Unfortunately, that would be a tough case to make given Howell’s continued popularity in the district and within the committee. There are certainly strong voices calling for Howell’s exit from political service, but they are not the only voices that can be heard in the din of a Stafford County GOP meeting.
The reasons why Albertson made the endorsement against his own advice is a bit confusing, but are irrelevant. The fact that he did endorse, in his words, “when acting in my personal capacity–not on behalf of the Stafford GOP” sets a precedent. And shows a chasm present in today’s current Virginia GOP.
This fracturing has been simmering for a long time (ousting of McSweeney in the ’90s, party registration being struck down by the courts, the removal of Jeff Fredericks, and accelerating with the bait-and-switch of primary to convention in 2012, and being inflamed by slating in 2014), but we might be entering a brave new world if unit leaders are comfortable acting unilaterally and not at the behest of a clear majority of the grassroots.
Having party leaders independently acting to pick and choose who they feel best represents their district will destroy grassroots confidence in the system. With the rash of endorsements – beginning with Mullins, to Whitbeck for Guevara, to now district and unit leaders for Stimpson – we’re past the slippery slope and in the midst of the avalanche.
“We Republicans come in so many different varieties these days, and our frequent inability to come together once a candidate is selected is really keeping us from winning more elections,” said Burkhimer “A fair and even-handed approach by the unit chair can, I believe, set a tone for future unity.”
The question is: How many Pete Burkhimer’s are out there still serving as unit chairs?