On a Personal Note: Proud Of The Work the Young Republican Federation of Virginia Has Accomplished This Year

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

I have been trying to write something over the past few days but everything has fallen short. Either I was too mean in my approach, or too frustrated with the topic I was writing about to make my point.

However, I got on my Timehop App yesterday (an application on your phone that shows posts on your social media from the previous years on that specific day) and saw a post that reminded of where I was a year ago today. I want to tell that story because it’s one of hard work, determination, love, and political intrigue.

It is, most of all, a story about three friends who, in the most unlikely circumstances, faced odds and struggles they didn’t really know how to face, and came out on the other side of that fight closer than ever and victorious in their efforts.

Before I tell the story of a year ago, I have to go back further in time, to around March 2016. The former leadership of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia was pushing the “Grand Compromise” of 2016.

For those unfamiliar with that compromise, basically we would have gotten a presidential primary for 2016 and a gubernatorial convention for 2017. I endorsed that plan publically because, at the time and with the makeup of the Republican Party of Virginia State Central Committee, it was the best deal for all parties involved.

However, the political winds began to shift. The common sense side of the Republican Party of Virginia started to win more seats on State Central. We were gaining ground, which was encouraging.

However, Corey Stewart was again starting to rear his ugly head. Knowing that a convention would be advantageous to Stewart or someone like Stewart, I knew we had to do something to get a primary for 2017. But our leadership wouldn’t listen. They stuck to their Compromise Deal. They didn’t care that more Young Republicans would be disenfranchised by a convention and we would be stuck with someone like Corey Stewart for our Republican nominee for Governor.

[At this point I realize when the former leadership reads this post, they are probably going to call me and yell at me. In the words of the famous Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”]

I was frustrated, and had reached the end of my rope, both as an activist and as a person. Wanting to do something, I strategized for days on what to do. At one point, I entertained the thought of launching my own candidacy for the YR State Central seat, or running for YR Chairman. I literally thought about everything.

Finally, after about a week of frustration and coming up with really poorly thought-out ideas, I decided to call someone who was smarter than me and ask for advice. My first call was to then-CRFV Chairman Benjamin Dessart. I didn’t know Ben well, but we had talked about how we wanted a different direction for YRFV. He gave some good advice, and then said to call Kishore Thota. Kishore was on State Central, they had shared similar thoughts to those I had, and he knew that Kishore would be willing to listen.

So I called Kishore. I barely knew him but I spilled my guts. I griped, I moaned, I lamented and, for lack of a better word, b**tched about the state of the YR leadership and RPV. Young Republicans needed leadership. We needed a voice. We needed someone who would understand our hopes and our dreams. After about thirty minutes of my gripe-fest, Kishore finally got a word in. What I discovered was that he felt exactly like I did. He wanted a YRFV that would listen to Young Republicans.

Kishore and I talked on the phone for over two hours that day. I kid you not. We talked so long that the conversation began while I was at my house and, before I knew it, we had talked long enough for me to leave my house, go to the grocery store, stop to pick up lunch, drive back home, and we still talked for at least 20 more minutes.

We started to form this idea to run a ticket for YRFV leadership in 2017. We didn’t really know who would run for each office but we had a general idea of who we wanted to run, so we decided to have a summit of the brain trust of the Young Republicans from Virginia. We were going to get everyone in a room, hammer out the details, and put a team together to implement our plan.

That’s where this day a year ago comes into play. We had decided to meet in Richmond but kept it hush-hush. I told my parents and my wife where I was going that day but didn’t tell another single soul involved in politics (except for my Bearing Drift cohorts Lynn, Shaun, and Brian) that I was going to Richmond. If you know anything about me, that’s a political miracle.

After getting up early and driving from Roanoke to Richmond, I met up with everyone for our meeting that lasted almost two hours. It was the meeting of the political minds like I had never experienced. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had politically. For the first time my thoughts mattered. I wasn’t just the loud kid from Southwest Virginia or that YR who was complaining about leadership. I was an advisor, I was trusted, and able to add my two cents. For the first time, I felt like I was at home. I had found my place in the crazy world that is the Republican Party of Virginia.

I left Richmond that weekend and posted on my Instagram this sentence, something that I will always remember and something that is still true today: “Thank you for making the political ugly duckling I thought I was into the political swan I always wanted to be.” 

Of course, the phone calls started. People wanted to know what we were up to and what we were doing. Frankly, I posted that on purpose. I wanted to rattle people’s cages. I wanted to set the Republican Party of Virginia on fire and get everyone talking. I didn’t really care what anyone thought. I wanted to put people on notice and let the RPV political world know that I had something up my sleeve.

The next few months brought challenges, heartache, headaches, and the craziest stuff I have ever seen. The person I had originally wanted to be YR Chair didn’t even run at all; however, she’s doing a fantastic job as the Republican nominee for the 64th District House of Delegates seat. Some of the people we brushed off as maybe not being able to help us were the most helpful people in the process. Hell, one of the people who was in that meeting in Richmond ended up running against us.

Eventually, everyone and their mother heard about our plans and that Richmond strategy session. We had to change course something short of 500 times. People who had started the process running for one office ended up running for completely different things.

In the end, it became Elevate YRFV, the most politically, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse ticket ever created for YRFV. We had Indian Americans, women, Asian Americans, African Americans, convention supporters, primary supporters, Richmond people, NOVA people, Tidewater people, and a couple of Southwest Virginia people.

We had a crazy diverse ticket who all had this wild idea that our leadership should care about more young people getting involved in the political process. That YRFV should be a political force, not the group who just got together to drink beer and complain about Democrats. YRFV should be an active political group inside the YRFV, not just State Central seat benchwarmers.

This past April, we won big. We swept every single office. We won. I’ve never felt more victorious in my life. WE DID IT. As my mother would say, I showed my rear end when we won that day. I got in trouble for it. For those who have an opinion about that, refer to the Rhett Butler quote I used previously.

However, in the words of the great political mind of  Governor Mario Cuomo, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” We campaigned on all these big ideas and we had to implement them.

Kishore and the team hit the ground running. We started raising money. The YRFV website got a much-needed update. We planned 2017 election strategy. The YRFV leadership led us to a resounding victory for a 2018 Senatorial primary. We resumed holding regular quarterly meetings. It was everything we wanted.

Reflecting on last year’s events, this article began as a Facebook post but then I decided to turn it into a Bearing Drift post to share how proud I am of the work from the Young Republican Federation of Virginia. We came back from a time where no one would listen to us to a time of being a political force in Virginia.

We will help drive Ed Gillespie, Jill Vogel, John Adams, and the Republican House of Delegates candidates to victory this year. The Young Republican Federation of Virginia has gotten back to regular order and, in the process, we have gained respect.

I made a lot of good friends, and ended up closer to friends I already had. Most important of all, I made two best friends in Kishore and Ben. They didn’t have to listen to me. They didn’t have to help me. All they did was listen, care, take me seriously, and respect me. I can’t write words to express how they made me feel, and am so proud to call them my best friends in the Republican Party of Virginia. I love them like brothers.

Which is why I will end this, which is probably the longest article I’ve ever written, with this story. I think it’s not only true for Kishore, Ben, and myself, but the Young Republican Federation as a whole.You see, after that first trip to Richmond, I started taking a picture of myself, Ben, and Kishore every time we were together. I always called us the Three Musketeers. I’ll never forget what Congressman Tom Garrett commented on that first picture when I called us the Three Musketeers: “But that we could see the future… three great life stories to unfold there … you guys represent a lot of what is right with Virginia.” I don’t think that quote was just about myself, Kishore, and Ben. I think that’s about the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.

Thanks for letting me get a little personal to tell a story that is true and means the world to me. I hope those who are mentioned in this article know I love them with all my heart. I also hope that Ben and Kishore know how much this loudmouth, smart-aleck, annoying, political hillbilly RINO from Southwest Virginia respects and loves them.

Cover photo: Elevate YRFV Ticket 2017 — (Front row, left to right) Stacy Gordon, Secretary; Tucker Obenshain, Treasurer. (Back row, left to right) Thomas Turner, First Vice Chair; Kishore Thota, Chairman; Aaron Spradlin, Second Vice Chair.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing, sky and outdoor

Ben Dessart, Matt Colt Hall, Kishore Thota