Ben Cline Calls Out the ‘Rigging of 6th District Convention’

Republicans in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia have a big controversy on their hands. Delegate Ben Cline called it the rigging of the 6th District Convention in a Facebook post, and it spread like wildfire on social media across the Commonwealth.

On January 6, the 6th District Republican Committee met to decide on the nomination method and other details for a candidate for the seat being vacated by Congressman Bob Goodlatte who will not seek re-election.

The committee decided to hold a convention. No one was surprised because the current leadership in the 6th District is rabid about closed conventions that are tilted to benefit party insiders. With a convention, noted the Roanoke Times, “fewer people participate, so a handful of devoted activists can rule the day. Right now, the 6th District Republican apparatus is controlled by Tea Party types. Curiously, for as much as they rail about ‘the establishment,’ they now constitute the true party establishment in the district.”

James Madison University was chosen for the location. A bid to hold it in Lynchburg failed when the committee “voted overwhelmingly to reject the Vines Center at Liberty University as the site of this year’s convention—even though it is an outstanding facility and was available at a much lower cost than the location that was chosen,” wrote Lynchburg GOP Chair Brian Keith Triplett in an email posted on his committee’s Facebook page (see the email here).

Date chosen is same day as Liberty University graduation
Saturday, May 19 — the same day that Liberty University’s graduation will take place — was voted as the date even though the committee had been informed of the conflict.

May 19 disenfranchises not only a very active LU College Republican group but also faculty, staff, graduates, and families who would otherwise participate. (For conventions there are no absentee ballots, unlike primaries. Those who cannot be physically present at a convention cannot vote.)

Cynthia Dunbar is a former employee so one would have thought she would want that community of former colleagues and Republican supporters at the convention.

In November LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Ben Cline.

Method: Plurality Vote
The 6th District is famous for springing new information on members at the district meeting without advance notice. That is exactly what happened with the plurality vote. A plurality is when the winner simply receives the most votes, not a majority.

Committee vice chair Matt Tederick was videoed as he gave his reason for springing a plurality vote at the last minute, spinning a conspiracy theory about some lawyers out of D.C. and some group called “ABD” — Anyone But Dunbar — who supposedly had plans to steal the convention from Dunbar after one ballot. In order to circumvent that mysterious group, Tederick sold the committee on his reason for a plurality vote.

Using plurality is very uncommon, a fact picked up by the Roanoke Times: The committee also voted through a rule so unusual it might be the first of its kind: The convention will have just one ballot, with only a plurality required for nomination.” [emphasis added]

Seems kind of hypocritical that this method of voting is being employed by the very same people who have battled primaries in the past because, they claimed, a candidate could possibly be nominated by plurality.

Lynchburg’s Triplett was the lone dissenting vote against the Call (the published agenda for the convention). When contacted afterward by phone, he told me, “I am open to any nominating process allowed by the State Party Plan but I would have rather had a primary than the convention Call the district committee passed.”

There’s more revelations from that meeting including a January 17 deadline if anyone wants to challenge Scott Sayre for district chairman (see below for details).

Cline calls out 6th District
Ben Cline publicly objected to the committee’s decision with his post on Facebook:

In case you missed it, last Saturday the Sixth District Republican Committee chose a Convention as the official method of nomination for the Congressional seat being vacated by Bob Goodlatte this November. The Convention will be held on Saturday, May 19, at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg.

I firmly support the right of the Committee to choose whatever method of nomination they see fit, and I fully support their decision to hold a Convention. Conventions allow grassroots conservatives the opportunity to have their voices heard, and I have supported conventions as a method of nominating our candidates for elections here in Virginia.

But in a divided vote, several members of the Committee made a push to change the rules and nominate our candidate by a single ballot plurality vote rather than a multi-ballot majority vote. This is unprecedented in Virginia political history. They are attempting to rig the convention to help their chosen candidate because they do not believe their candidate of choice is strong enough to win a majority of delegates under the standard Convention rules. In fact, the Vice-Chairman of the Committee boldly admitted to this fact in his statement at the meeting.

The Committee had a tremendous opportunity last Saturday to vote for strengthening our Republican Party, increasing the number of volunteers and activists involved in our process, and putting on a convention where the majority of attendees have a chance to vote for the eventual nominee – one of the main reasons to hold a convention in the first place. This would ensure our Party comes out of the convention stronger and united for the November election.

Instead, by changing the rules, there is a strong possibility that a vast majority of the convention attendees will have only voted for someone other than our nominee – something that defeats the purpose of having a convention.

Fortunately, the Committee does not have the final say in this process. But YOU do – if you sign up for and attend the convention. The convention delegates can then adopt regular rules and STOP this attempt to rig the process in favor of their preferred candidate.

The Roanoke Times was bolder in their editorial:

The committee also voted through a rule so unusual it might be the first of its kind: The convention will have just one ballot, with only a plurality required for nomination.

That rule was clearly designed to benefit Cynthia Dunbar, a former Liberty University law professor from Forest who has established herself as the favorite among hard-right types. She’s hoping that Republicans split their vote among more conventional candidates — there are seven in all. That would enable her to win a plurality — and the nomination — on the first and only ballot.

This is a clever and audacious power play. Her forces have now enacted rules that allow for the smallest number of people possible to pick the Republican nominee — a plurality of a convention. In theory, with seven candidates, that means the winner might just need 14.3 percent of the votes.

Under Virginia law, only a plurality is required to win a primary, as well (we don’t have run-offs) but at least there many more people are involved. There were 13,500 delegates at the party’s 2013 state convention, but 325,782 came out to vote in the 2017 Republican primary for governor. The one theoretical advantage of a convention is that it requires a majority of delegates to agree on a candidate. Now the forces that run the 6th District Republican Committee have tossed that aside.

The state party’s general counsel says the committee may have exceeded its authority — the convention can always set its own rules. But for now, this is what was done.

January 17 deadline to file for 6th District Chairman position
In what could definitely be termed an underhanded move, the committee voted for a January 17, 2018, deadline to file for 6th District Committee chairman and vice chairmen.

If anyone wants to run against Scott Sayre they have until Wednesday to pay a $500 fee and fill out this form (see form here). This is a position that will not even be voted on until May 19 yet it has to be filed four months out. Same for Regional Vice Chair positions (North, Central, South) — January 17 deadline with $100 filing fee (see form here).

Cracks in the 6th?
There are some interesting background dynamics occurring in the 6th. Sayre and former Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Vance Wilkins have been practically inseparable since working together in 2007 when Sayre unsuccessfully ran against State Senator Emmett Hanger. Now, however, Wilkins is backing Cline while the majority of Sayre’s committee is backing Dunbar.

So who is this barely-known Cynthia Dunbar? The Roanoke Times editorial fills in some of the blanks:

So just who is this candidate favored by those hard-right Republicans? A resident of Forest in Bedford County, Dunbar once lived in Texas, where she was on the State Board of Education.

There, she was part of a hard-right majority that engaged in a controversial rewrite of social studies standards.

Among the highlights: Dunbar sponsored an amendment to remove Thomas Jefferson from a list of “revolutionary thinkers,” apparently because he was considered too secularist. Her amendment also cut references to the Enlightenment, the 18th century movement that emphasized science over religion.

Dunbar is not exactly a mainstream thinker. Her 2008 book, “One Nation Under God,” says that public schools are a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion,” that public schools are “tyrannical” and possibly even unconstitutional.

Do Republicans really want to nominate a candidate who is anti-public schools and anti-Thomas Jefferson? Some apparently do, and have tried to jigger the rules to try to make that happen.  [emphasis added]

Filing fee is $5,000
The filing fee that is paid to the 6th Congressional District Republican Committee is $5,000 for congressional candidates.

For more information:
Roanoke Times editorial
Agenda for convention (“The Call”)
District Chair Prefile Form (due January 17) – $500
Regional Vice Chair Prefile Form (due January 17) – $100
Congressional Candidate Prefile Form (due January 17) – $5,000

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