Should Local GOP Units Endorse in Non-Partisan Races?

The question has been raised at the last two meetings of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach City Committee, though a proposal to amend the bylaws and undo the local unit’s policy of not endorsing candidates for City Council and School Board has met with some resistance. In short, it probably won’t come to a vote until January of 2018 at the earliest, which is when the members agreed to revisit the issue, citing the priority of this year’s statewide elections and lack of relevant down-ballot races.

To start with, such an idea is not something new. Indeed, the neighboring Chesapeake GOP takes the hands-on approach with local races that some within the Virginia Beach unit seek to employ. In my home state of New Jersey, endorsing one candidate or another in primary and general elections is simply a routine part of election season for county Republican committees when it comes to races all over the ballot.

Perhaps the most obvious objection to such a policy stems from an aversion to division and a desire for unity. I would counter with a lesson from last year’s Mayoral election in Virginia Beach.

To be clear, I have heard nothing but complaining about Mayor Sessoms from local party members since I arrived a couple of years ago. Sessoms, as you may recall, endorsed Terry MacAuliffe for governor in 2013 in spite of the fact that he had been a member of the local Republican party. Folks in politics have very long memories, and this has been held against Sessoms ever since. When the first chance to unseat him post-MacAuliffe endorsement came along, the local party stayed true to their bylaws and didn’t endorse anyone. As a result, Sessoms faced two candidates well to his right, in addition to a third opponent who spent only $100 and could hardly be described as really putting forth an effort. Sessoms retained his seat with ease, garnering 101,251 votes. His three opponents, absurdly outspent, racked up a combined 85,016 votes.

Of course, this is not to say that any of Sessoms’ 2016 opponents had a shot. On the contrary, none of them had the funds to go one on one with the Mayor, and the second place finisher received only 36,329 votes. But the bigger picture here is that just over 85,000 Virginia Beach residents, about 46 percent of voters, cast a ballot for someone other than the current Mayor.

If the local Republicans want to see a change in that office, they’ll need a process by which to clear the field of anti-Sessoms wannabes and get behind one realistic alternative. Perhaps by officially endorsing one specific opponent, to start with.

That being said, one has to wonder what effect such a change would have when the City of Virginia Beach would still have candidates on the ballot with no party affiliation indicated regardless of what a local party chapter may do. This issue would have to be addressed through other means, and doesn’t bear extensive discussion here, but it is worth mentioning.

Proponents of endorsing local candidates must also consider that the general public, weary of politics after the brutal Presidential election last year, may not have an appetite for even more partisanship, particularly when it comes to local offices. What’s more, a clear threshold of votes needed to earn the party’s support must be set so that a small portion of the membership can’t just grant the party’s endorsement to a fringe candidate with no real shot of winning, merely obligating the party to waste resources on their run.

The Republican Party of Virginia Beach should seriously consider all of the potential positives and negatives of getting involved with local races in an official capacity, and they should consult with the Chesapeake GOP to learn more about their procedures.

Cover photo: Virginia Beach

  • Turbocohen

    Why would anyone want Virginia Beach to succeed like Chesapeake does? This is not what Sheriff Stolle want and damnit his holiness the king of the RPVB does not want this. All hail king Ken and his willing cast of assistants who pack mass meetings.

    • Henry Ryto

      Comments like the two you’ve made, then you wonder why your ilk is shutout of leadership. smh

      • Turbocohen

        My ilk is a growing number of new members who see the tactics of the left and those of Ken Stolles ilk treating members like prisoners. I have been absent lately but came to the last meeting to support Jimmy Frost who has the courage and the integrity to support the membership that leadership ilk have a right to question, Henry.

  • Don Plaster

    “The Republican Party of Virginia Beach should seriously consider all of the potential positives and negatives of getting involved with local races in an official capacity, and they should consult with the Chesapeake GOP to learn more about their procedures” – That is what we are doing!

    • Turbocohen

      That is what the member were told. When asked who is on the committee, we were told is was a deceased woman who founded our local club. For a long time we were told this was being handled by a committee when in fact there is no committee. All BS.


      • Don Plaster

        The precinct org committee chair is researching what other cities are doing, because that is the committee that would need to operationalize any change, and will be making recommendations on what we could/should do. If his recommendation requires bylaws changes, they will go thru the bylaws committee (which is not vacant to my knowledge). This week someone wanted to submit a resolution, which needs to go thru the resolution committee (which is currently vacant due to a death, but which will be filled now that there is a resolution to review). Sheriff Stolle had a valid concern about the way last month’s bylaw change request was structured, and even the submitter agrees it needed some work after his first draft. I am conceptually in favor of acknowledging republican candidates for nonpartisan offices, and argued in favor of it the last time we discussed it a few years ago, which resulted in the current rules of at least letting them talk at meetings and put info on the website and newsletter, but I’m not sure the best way to do more, and am interested in hearing what other cities are doing. Then we have a process to follow to change the rules.

        • Turbocohen

          Ask Pete Burkhimer the former Chesapeake GOP Chair how they crushed Democrats. They did what Ken Stolle lacks the courage and integrity to do.. which requires a membership to stand up and say enough.

      • Henry Ryto

        If you somehow got endorsement, what makes you think Ken Stolle wouldn’t pack the City Committee (like he does Mass Meetings)?

        • Turbocohen

          If he packs with Republicans who are members I will applaud him. He does not do this. He packs mass meetings with employees, many of whom are not Republicans by their own admission.

          Ken Stolle supports incumbents regardless of party affiliation because he needs them to vote for his “stuff”.

          • Henry Ryto

            Ought to ask the old timers: Constitutional Officers have packed the City Committee with their staffers in the past. Then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Humphrey’s was noted for it, and having them vote as a bloc.

    • Jimmy Frost

      Glaciers move at a faster pace……

  • Henry Ryto

    In the Spring of 2001, my motion established a committee that examined the RPVB endorsing in City Council and School Board races. Brian Kirwin sat with me on that committee.

    At that time, all 5 statewide offices were Republican-held. Republicans held all partisan offices in Virginia Beach except Commissioner of Revenue. (Phil Kellam is still there.) Only 3 precincts were represented in Richmond by a Democrat. (The late Yvonne Miller in the 5th Senate District.) City Hall was the last frontier to conquer.

    Today Democrats hold all 5 statewide offices. There’s a deeply divided unit committee. Even if the Democrats lose everywhere, they’ll have their largest volunteer base in Virginia Beach in a generation.

    I look at the contemporary efforts as a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. It’s TEA Partiers seeking to leverage the RPVB to knock Establishment Republicans off City Council. That’s a short-sighted strategy that would heavily damage the RPVB by the midterm.

    In addition, the effectiveness of endorsement would be largely muted if the list of endorsees didn’t appear on the Republican Sample Ballot. Normally Sample Ballots come from 2nd District or the House of Representatives campaign. As the RPVB can bind neither, they could simply leave an undesirable batch of endorsees off the Republican Sample Ballot to boost the upballot candidates.

    IMO the fairest and most equitable way to deal with the matter would be a City Charter amendment permitting political parties to nominate – by Mass Meeting only. Local primaries would only increase the need to raise money. On the contrary, a credible campaign for nomination at a Mass Meeting could be run on a few thousand dollars.

  • John Harvie

    Andrew, just why does the non affiliation issue have to be addressed at all?

    If no party affiliation, field on ballot is blank. Presumably your typical voter here at the Beach (one actually GOING to the polls) is considerably more informed than those in some other local jurisdictions.

    The absence of a label that says Dem is an endorsement per se.

  • mezurak

    Are the state politicians on board with this? What does Frank think?

  • David Lyons

    It’s best for all political groups to stay OUT of school board races.
    Virginia law prohibits any political affiliation for anyone running for a school board, for a reason.

    • Turbocohen

      Bullcrap. Tell the democrats who do not abide by this “law”.. and control the Virginia Beach school board.

  • Peter Foster

    I would never claim that what is best in one Unit is automatically what is best in all Units. There may be unique factor on the ground of which folks outside that Unit are not aware. With that said, I will say that, in my home county of Chesterfield, our Committee has a longstanding practice of endorsing candidates in School Board elections. We have an open process for those who wish to seek the endorsement, including publishing a Call (which we are absolutely not required by law to do) with a filing deadline for those who wish to seek the endorsement, and an open vote by the Committee as to which candidates to endorse. Once those candidates are endorsed, even though they are not officially party nominees in a nonpartisan election, the Committee treats them as nominees in every other way, including participation in all Committee coordinated campaign activities, making financial contributions, including their names on our sample ballots, etc. This has led to a School Board with 5 Republican members instead of CEA/VEA lackeys. I know that the Chesapeake Committee does the same in Mayoral, City Council, and School Board elections, and Republicans now hold every one of those offices except I believe 1 City Council seat. In Fairfax and Prince William, and possibly Loudoun, both parties make endorsements in School Board elections. In Fairfax, that unfortunately usually benefits Democrats, although our individual Republicans are sometimes able to put together their own coalitions on top of the Republican base vote to win those elections. In Prince William and Loudoun, it varies by district. Beyond just which party these endorsements benefit, I believe those endorsements help voters with busy lives who are not able to pay as much attention to politics as those of us here to better understand candidates’ philosophies and which ones are more likely to conduct themselves in office in a way that they would approve of. Like I said, every Unit is different, and there may well be reasons in Virginia Beach as well as other places why it is not a good idea for the Republican Committee to make these endorsements, but, in the places I am familiar with, it has produced mostly positive results.

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