Thunder in the Hills: A Nomination Fight for a House of Delegates Seat in Coal Country

I have to begin this article by saying that it’s now for sure that fellow Bearing Drift writer Lynn Mitchell and I are certifiably insane. We have decided to skip reporting one political event that is five miles from my house, to cover another that is over two hours away from me and more than three-and-a-half hours from where she lives, to spend a perfectly good, almost-for-sure sunshine-filled, late April Saturday to attend a mass meeting in Richlands, Virginia.

Why?

There’s thunder in the hills. A political rumble for the ages. A true battle royale between an upstart young legislator and a genteel older lawyer. One thinks the other isn’t doing his job. The other thinks he’s on his way to House Leadership. It’s a political battle that will define the Republican power structure of Southwest Virginia for ages to come.

Delegate Will Morefield of Tazewell County was first elected in 2009 to represent the third House of Delegates District at the age of 25. His district encompasses Bland, Buchannan, Tazewell, and parts of Russell County. He serves on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, Counties, Cities and Towns, and the Militia, Police and Public Safety committees. He’s rated 100 percent from the Virginia Realtor’s Association, 96 percent with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, 100 percent with the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, and 93 percent with the NRA. He has been endorsed by 30 local elected officials and the House of Delegates leadership. He could be in House Leadership representing Southwest Virginia in a matter of no time.

However, that’s not good enough for some of his constituents, specifically one Bobby Altizer, a local lawyer and newly announced candidate for the House of Delegates. Alitzer is your normal Republican candidate for House of Delegates in Southwest Virginia. Politically active lawyer, active in the community, comes from a family of coal miners. If there were boxes to check off for candidates from Southwest Virginia, he checks all the boxes.

Also, Altizer has a political base organized by two of the most active Republicans in the coalfields. If you will remember from the 2016 Republican primaries, Donald Trump had a political leadership team in Southwest Virginia led by former Buchannan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tamara Neo and former 9th District Chairman Jack Morgan. Back then, most Ninth District Republicans thought they had lost their marbles endorsing the former casino builder and reality TV star.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of months, Mr. Trump has a new title: President of the United States. Therefore, all those Ninth District Republicans who thought that Mrs. Neo and Mr. Morgan had lost their marbles had to eat a LOT of crow in the process. However, the Trump team became emboldened, ready to take on the next task, and they have set their sights on a fellow Republican: Delegate William Morefield of Tazewell. According to my sources, the Neos and the Morgans are organizing for Mr. Altizer and wholeheartedly supporting his candidacy.

Some of you might be scratching your heads wondering why I took two paragraphs to talk about two activists. There’s a reason why. This nomination fight is not a primary, where the guy with the most money or TV ads wins. No, this is a good old-fashioned Southwest Virginia mass meeting. If you are familiar with Virginia law, legislation allows incumbent elected officials to choose which method of nomination that they wish. Some people don’t care for that legislation, so much so that the 6th District Republican Congressional Committee is currently suing in Federal Court over it. However, two previous lawsuits failed, and the legislation was upheld in Federal Court by the decision of the United States Federal District Judge Elizabeth Dillon. 

Which means, that Mr. Morefield could have used that statute for himself and gotten a primary. However, he chose a mass meeting.

Remember how I said that the two main people who are behind Mr. Altizer are two of Donald Trump’s biggest campaign organizers in all of Southwest Virginia? Think of all that voter data, neatly put together in an excel sheet. It would take less than a few hours to organize by the district. Mrs. Neo and Mr. Morgan each recruit 150 people in Southwest Virginia to a Mass Meeting on a sunshine-filled April day which means 300 people could make the difference of whether Delegate Morefield returns to Richmond or not.

I say all of this because I saw a microchasm of the fight this past Saturday. As most of you know, I attended the Bland County GOP Thomas Muncy Dinner to speak on behalf of Senator Jill Vogel. Being a surrogate, I didn’t take a side in the House race, but I did observe.

Morefield and Altizer almost had a Sharks and Jets routine going on at the event; Morefield supporters wearing large black and gold lapel stickers, with Altizer’s supporters wearing big police car blue stickers. Morefield argued that he needed to be sent back to Richmond because of his seniority and his willingness to fight for his district. Altizer made a veiled argument (by veiled, I mean beating around the bush and not addressing his opponent directly) that Morefield was “not doing his job,” while saying he would attend the meetings, cast every vote, and hold regular town halls.

In the end, Morefield won the straw poll at the event with 79 percent of the vote. Which is great for Morefield that the party faithful support him in one of his localities. But it’s not just the party faithful who get to vote on April 29th. It’s every registered voter in the district. It distinctly comes down to who has the larger Rolodex of committed people, and who is willing to spend an entire Saturday in a high school auditorium to vote for someone.

Some would argue Altizer has this in the bag because many would say only the ones committed to change are going to sit through an entire day of votes and speeches. However, Delegate Morefield is politically connected and can call in favors from all over the district. All thirty of those local elected officials who endorsed Morefield probably have a phone list of 500 people in their district they can call through to gain supporters for Delegate Morefield. Morefield has money in his campaign account to send out mail pieces and can make robocalls into the district.

In the end, Delegate Morefield and Mr. Altizer are almost evenly matched. It is all going to come down to who can get more people to sit through a mass meeting on a late Saturday in April.

There’s thunder in the hills….

  • Peacemaker

    Could be interesting.
    In-between the column and the comments are older, “Related” posts. One says “9th District Convention produces 1 Trump, 2 Cruz…”
    Could be interesting indeed… My prediction is it will depend on the largest demographic present at the mass meeting.

  • Chad Parker

    Could a hidden reason for the challenge to Morefield be driven by homophobia? Mighty coincidental that his first challenge comes in the first HoD race since an early 2016 hit piece by the RVA gay community outed Morefield (well, to be fair, they presented a story about an unidentified Republican in the HoD, but gave enough information that any armchair sleuth with 7 minutes and Google could identify).

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