Powhatan GOP’s Overturned Mass Meeting Going to State Central
[UPDATE: Jean Gannon won her appeal to the overturned mass meeting at the State Central Committee meeting on August 27, 2016. See all the details here.]
At the April 5, 2016, Powhatan County Republican Committee mass meeting, Jean Gannon won the chairman position with 131 votes. Pat McSweeney lost with 99 votes. In the world of McSweeney and Friends, that meant appeal, and his allies on the 7th Congressional District Committee handed the lost chairman’s seat back to him.
For the past few years there has been a steady stream of longtime Virginia Republican volunteers purged from committees on one pretense or another because they were not in favor with those in charge. On July 16, the purging of Republicans continued as members of the 7th Congressional District voted after a four-hour meeting to overturn the April 5 Powhatan County Republican Committee mass meeting.
It was yet another case of someone disgruntled because they lost an election but, lacking solid grounds for reversing the results, challenged it on the basis of something they did themselves. In this case, the appeal has been a moving target ever since McSweeney began the process, including a missed deadline to file the appeal. The entire process has been a complete corruption of the system. This is the Republican Party, not Al Gore constantly trying to figure out how voters intended to vote. Mr. McSweeney should have been honorable about his loss, as Ms. Gannon was in 2014, and he should have planned to run again in two years. These games are beneath the dignity of the GOP.
Unfortunately, the 7th Congressional District did what committees should not do. McSweeney’s allies made their decision based on who they wanted — an ally as unit chair — not on the facts.
The July 16, 2016, appeal meeting
By a vote of 11-4 (with 3 abstaining), the 7th District: 1) overturned the April 5 mass meeting; 2) handed the chair position back to Pat McSweeney who had appealed his 131-99 loss to Jean Gannon; 3) reinstalled committee officers under McSweeney — vice chair, secretary, treasurer; 4) instructed Powhatan GOP to conduct another mass meeting.
Jean Gannon abstained in the final vote after Susan Lascolette pointedly objected, proclaiming Jean should recuse herself because it was a conflict of interest. Lascolette, allied with McSweeney, won that vote, 11-5, so Jean’s vote would not have made a difference.
The chair ruled that Jean, as chairman of Powhatan GOP, should have a voice unless there was objection. Another member objected and said it wasn’t fair to McSweeney. It was a moot point so it made no sense for McSweeney’s allies to make it an issue and made them look petty when the final vote was 11-4 (3 abstained).
Those voting in favor of Pat McSweeney were Ron Hedlund, Chuck Duncan, Mark Hile, Susan Lascolette, Jordan Marshall, (Proxy) King/Nightengale, Dewey McDonnell, (Proxy) John Meyers/Buddy, Bill Outlaw, Nancy Smith, Torrey Williams.
Those voting in favor of Jean Gannon were Jerry Baldwin, Ben Dessart, Eddie Whitlock, Karen Wooten.
Those who abstained were Jean Gannon, Graven Craig, Ben Slone.
No win is safe
McSweeney’s appeal and the overturn of the mass meeting results should make every Republican in Virginia squirm because it is basically demanding a purity test over and beyond the requirements of the party to determine who should and should not be allowed to participate in Republican mass meetings.
An important point needs to be made that no parliamentarian was provided for the appeal meeting even though Jean had been assured beforehand by Slone that a parliamentarian would be present.
Shell game of meeting locations
The meeting was to be held in Powhatan since that was where the appeal centered. However, a Call sent out by Chairman Slone noted the meeting would be held at the Goochland Public Library. But wait … less than 24 hours before the Saturday meeting a new location was emailed out changing the meeting to Slone’s church in Goochland.
McSweeney missed the appeal deadline
It was established at the meeting that McSweeney missed the filing deadline for his appeal, something he passed off as the fault of RPV. His reasons for appealing changed from the time of the Powhatan unit meeting to the 7th District appeal. Even at that, when Slone requested of both sides that the meeting continue, despite the fact Jean could have stopped it at that point, she graciously agreed to continue.
The April 5, 2016, mass meeting
The night of the mass meeting, McSweeney, a lawyer, former RPV state chairman, and former RPV legal counsel, announced that he would appeal his 131-99 loss. Meanwhile, Jean Gannon was ready to build her committee and work for Republican candidates in this important election year.
Mrs. Gannon, who is a local appraiser, is active in the community, and a long-time GOP activist, had been encouraged by many in the community to run for Powhatan chair two years earlier but lost to McSweeney by 16 votes. Instead of looking for faux excuses and appealing to the 7th District committee to overturn the loss, she remained a member of the committee.
In 2016 even more Powhatan Republicans asked Jean to run for chair including a number of those who had voted for McSweeney in 2014 but had been pushed out of the committee because they didn’t agree with the my-way-or-the-highway direction he was taking it.
As a result, Jean won, solidly defeating McSweeney by 32 votes.
McSweeney, who was endorsed by Ken Cuccinelli, appealed the loss which brought about the four-hour July 16 meeting. The sunlight touted by McSweeney and Friends, sometimes known as the “keep it small, keep it all” group, disintegrated into a power play to keep the unit chairmanship.
McSweeney had tried to write into the mass meeting rules that he as chairman could appoint the temporary chairman of the mass meeting, an undisguised grab for power, but was overruled by RPV general counsel Chris Marston. The temporary chair position — the person who leads the mass meeting — is voted on by the body of attendees.
Lest anyone think McSweeney and his remaining supporters represent the grassroots in Powhatan, one of the first things he tried to do was put a requirement into the Call that voters had to prefile just to show up at the mass meeting to vote. That was ruled in conflict with the Party Plan by RPV’s General Counsel and, consequently, wasn’t enforced.
Additionally, another provision that was placed into the Call by McSweeney in order to control the mass meeting would have blocked the grassroots attending the meeting to work under GOP rules and Robert’s Rules Of Order. It instead would have allowed McSweeney to put in a temporary chairman, and choose members of the committees with no input from the mass meeting body. However, it was stopped when RPV General Counsel determined it to be in conflict with the Party Plan. Even at that, McSweeney and his supporters maintained their position about it through the early stages of the appeal before switching to something else.
Mass Meeting registration
Registration was a quagmire, a dismal example of frustration for those in a long line waiting to reach the registration table, some as long as 30 minutes, only to be told they needed to go to the registrar’s table to be checked against the registered voter list. After receiving the okay from the registrar’s table, they had to then move back into the long registration line to continue the process. As a result, the mass meeting that should have started at 7:00 could not get started until 7:30 even though people had begun showing up two hours earlier. From all appearances the registration process was thorough and individuals were required to sign a Statement of Intent, which they did.
Keep in mind it was not Jean Gannon’s supporters who ran registration. McSweeney and his supporters were in charge; indeed, if there had been any doubt, it was quickly erased by all the registration workers wearing “McSweeney” lapel stickers so it made a McSweeney gauntlet of sorts to pass through before entering the auditorium of Powhatan High School.
The mass meeting experience should have been a contest, not a personality battle or divisive event. It should not have been a negative experience for the many new people who showed up to participate. However, rather than being an efficient process that would get people registered if they were qualified and make sure only qualified people were registered, it was a process designed to delay and to discourage people from participating due to the sheer frustration of it all. Some actually did leave early before the business of the meeting was completed.
Indeed, the stall tactics kicked into high gear when McSweeney ally Barry Hodge insisted that the Call — a long, legal publication that runs in newspapers and online — be read out loud to the crowd. In my many years of mass meetings, the Call has been read only once or twice.
Because RPV had overruled McSweeney’s attempt to self-appoint a temporary chair, the mass meeting body got down to business by electing Kirby Burch to lead the proceedings. Mr. Burch is a former chairman of the Powhatan County Republican Committee, a native of Powhatan, a long-time GOP activist, and a strong Second Amendment activist. He was elected temporary chair over a McSweeney-picked ally, a member of the State Central Committee who lived outside Powhatan County and outside the District. There were additionally several other McSweeney allies helping him that night who lived outside the District. Jean Gannon had supporters from next-door Chesterfield County who were part of the 7th District, and a couple from the 4th.
Kirby Burch took over as temporary chair and things looked as if they may have a chance to go smoothly. The Credential Committee was appointed and approved, and they left to meet in an adjoining room … and they met and met and met and met. For well over an hour they met. Some attendees left during that long lull in the meeting since it was going on 9:00 and still no vote had been held for unit chair.
Inside the meeting with the Credentials Committee, McSweeney’s out-of-district operatives began challenging various voters and at one point they wanted to challenge 120 names. The reasons ran the gamut but most were challenged because McSweeney and Friends said participants were required to sign Statements of Intent, but the Credentials Committee didn’t have those statements because they were still at the registration tables in the hallway with McSweeney’s people.
The center of McSweeney’s argument for overturning the mass meeting was the “Statement of Intent” forms and the three questions on them. The night of the mass meeting, McSweeney wanted to interview those 120 of the 248 who had registered because he questioned their answers on the Statements of Intent but his request was denied by the Credentials Committee. The mass meeting body voted 117-76 to accept the Credentials Committee’s report.
By the time of the appeal on July 16, McSweeney had lowered the number from 120 to 46 but no list was produced and no reasons were given for challenging their eligibility to vote at the mass meeting. Then during the appeal meeting the number, for some unknown reason, dropped from 46 to 16. That number rose to 17 when Delegate Lee Ware was included. Yes, the sitting Powhatan Republican delegate’s credentials were questioned by McSweeney and Friends.
An essential question is while there is no evidence that anyone was allowed to participate who shouldn’t have, why did McSweeney’s supporters give them credentials in the first place? If they thought they weren’t qualified, why did they credential them at registration? Was it because McSweeney and Friends thought they would win so didn’t have a reason to question credentials? McSweeney also had the opportunity to challenge people on the floor the night of the mass meeting but declined.
Statement of Intent
The mass meeting sign-up form was a “Statement of Intent Prescribed by the Plan of Organization of the Republican Party of Virginia.” Article I, Section A(I). It stated, “I am in accord with the principles of the Republican Party and intend to support all of the Party’s nominees for public office in the ensuing election.”
That was followed by three questions:
1) Have you voted in a Democratic primary during the past 5 years?
2) Have you participated in a mass meeting of the Powhatan Republican Party during the last four years?
3) Have you publicly supported a candidate running against a candidate nominated by the Republican Party during the last 4 years?
McSweeney’s claim that the GOP is ignoring its principles by not interviewing mass meeting participants is ludicrous and falls into the purity category. Powhatan’s mass meeting lasted three hours; if 120 participants had been interviewed, the meeting could have run well past midnight.
If McSweeney is trying to make the statement of intent retroactive, that would appear to be setting a precedent. Is he also saying voting in a previous Powhatan mass meeting is a requirement to participate in the 2016 meeting?
And is McSweeney suggesting that voting in Democratic primaries would disqualify Republicans from participating in his mass meeting? Many may remember Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” from 2008 when he issued “a political call to action with the initial plan to have voters of the Republican Party temporarily cross over to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Hillary Clinton, who at the time was in the midst of losing eleven straight primaries.” In January 2016 Limbaugh threatened to call for “Operation Chaos 2” which would have added a new layer of crossovers. McSweeney would seek to disqualify those who listened to a conservative talk radio host’s call to vote in Democratic primaries, thinking they were helping Republicans.
By McSweeney’s interpretation of the rules, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who donated large sums of money to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, would not qualify.
Questioning legality of April 20 follow-up unit meeting
McSweeney claimed that Chairman Jean Gannon, elected at the mass meeting, was not a member of the committee because the original Call cited members were to be elected at the mass meeting, but there was nothing in the prefile or at the mass meeting to elect members.
McSweeney tried to blame that lapse on the temporary chairman Kirby Burch but McSweeney and his committee were in charge of setting up the mass meeting and forms. His claim was that, because Jean was “not a member of the committee” (even after being elected chairman), she did not have the right to call a unit meeting on April 20 and, therefore, did not have the right to sign up new committee members, truly stretching credibility but the 7th District bought it.
Since Jean was the only member elected at the mass meeting, she called the April 20 meeting to elect members and officers. At that meeting she reasoned that any Powhatan resident present who completed a membership form would be eligible and, therefore, elected a member. McSweeney contested it.
Jean’s advisory committee accepted his contest and remedied it by determining anyone who filled out a membership form on April 20 and had been credentialed at the April 5 mass meeting would have met party plan requirements for membership. As a result, 49 new members were voted in plus Jean made it a total of 50. But she wasn’t yet finished growing her committee.
Committee of 67 new members dissolved by 7th District
Part of GOP leadership is to grow the party, frowned on by a segment of the party because they lack control over members who don’t tow their line. Jean hit the ground running. After 50 members joined in April, they voted in 13 more members at the next meeting, and in July received four more membership forms. Those four would have been voted in at the August meeting for a total of 67, more than double the committee’s numbers under McSweeney’s chairmanship.
Instead, the 7th District committee voted all that null and void, and stripped everyone of their membership.
In his reach for appeal issues, McSweeney brought up a local Powhatan tax issue that involved a five-cent tax rate increase, proposed to help build a new middle school, that some residents agreed with and others disagreed. Those who supported the increase because they wanted the new middle school were not considered conservative enough to participate in the mass meeting.
Delegate Lee Ware
As an example of how ridiculously rigid McSweeney is with his purity tests, Republican Delegate Lee Ware has had his GOP creds questioned by McSweeney and Friends. Powhatan’s long-time stalwart, conservative, and popular member of the General Assembly is not considered to be qualified to participate in Republican events. During the 7th District Convention in May, two McSweeney allies, Bob Marcellus and Barry Hodge, challenged Delegate Ware and tried to block him from participating — not because Ware had supported any candidate running against a GOP nominee, but because he wouldn’t allow his name to be used by nominees whom he had not endorsed. That is absolutely amazing considering that some of the same people who are McSweeney’s allies are the first to jump in and call others RINOs while refusing to support certain Republicans they don’t agree with.
Powhatan Supervisor Larry Nordvig
Powhatan Republican supervisor Larry Nordvig, who told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he had been a Republican all his life and had been viciously attacked on social media, left McSweeney’s committee in May 2015, saying it had been hijacked. He added there were those who ” ‘try to maybe run this county’ although they are not elected officials,” and “gave the example of being reprimanded for ‘being in error’ in his decision to compliment Pat Weiler, county administrator, during a meeting, saying, ‘She has been doing a great job,’ ” according to the Times-Dispatch.
Historically, the standards for overturning a meeting should include clear evidence that the outcome would have been or would likely have been different. That is not the case here to the extent that the 17 were eligible to participate but, if they weren’t, they were credentialed by McSweeney’s allies at the meeting.
While the reasons given were not valid for why 17 people who were contested at the appeal meeting, they wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of the chairman contest.
If this is not rectified by State Central, it could become a license for future factions that have control of a unit or district to intentionally foul up part of a convention or mass meeting so they can claim that it made no difference, but if they lose they can say it was flawed even though they themselves were responsible for it being flawed. That’s what McSweeney claimed at the 7th District appeal, and they rewarded him with an overturn of the mass meeting results. These types of games don’t speak well for an open, vibrant Republican Party or respectful treatment of grassroots conservatives. McSweeney and Friends have tried to create an elitist, exclusive club.
Jean Gannon’s response
Jean is appealing the decision by the 7th District to RPV’s State Central Committee where it is hoped the members will see this for what it is and return the chair position to Jean Gannon.
Appeals are time-consuming, defeat purpose of GOP units turning out the vote
Going through the process of unnecessary appeals, a particularly favorite pastime of the McSweeney and Friends crowd, is counterproductive to the purpose of Republican units. We are in the final months of this presidential and congressional year in a state that has gone blue the past two presidential elections, and that has not seen a Republican statewide candidate winner in at least five years.
While committee members could have spent four hours on July 16 making phone calls, recruiting volunteers, and going door-to-door working for candidates, they were instead sitting in a meeting in Goochland after spending hours preparing for the appeal.
Current-again chair McSweeney unexpectedly canceled Brat meet-and-greet set up by then-chair Jean Gannon
One week after the 7th District’s decision to overturn the mass meeting results, a Dave Brat meet-and-greet became a casualty of the fallout. McSweeney, who had been given back his chairman position by the 7th District committee, unexpectedly cancelled the event two days before it was to take place with no reason given. It had been organized by Chairman Jean Gannon whose committee had the venue, caterer, insurance coverage, and had advertised in the newspaper. With McSweeney’s cancellation, it left the Powhatan GOP out $600. Interestingly, Rep. Brat apparently did not step in to suggest the event go on as planned.
Consequences of 7th District Committee’s overturn decision
The result of the 7th District Committee’s decision to overturn the April mass meeting election was to remove Jean Gannon as chairman, put Pat McSweeney back in as chairman, cancel a congressman’s event with voters which was a waste of hard-earned committee money and time, and shrink the party.
Welcome to Pat McSweeney and Friends’ Republican Party of Powhatan County.