97th District GOP Loses Venue for Saturday’s Convention, Voting Location Unknown
With the vote in the 97th House District GOP’s nominating convention just four days away, failures of preparation are amplifying the chaos in an already divisive process marred by accusations of slating, delegate disenfranchisement, bad faith, and conflicts of interest, following a Monday meeting of the 97th Legislative District Committee.
The convention, scheduled for Saturday, May 4, will choose a Republican nominee for the House of Delegates seat in Virginia’s General Assembly. Incumbent Republican Chris Peace faces one challenger, Hanover Supervisor Scott Wyatt.
In the race’s waning days, plans have fallen apart, leaving the committee scrambling to secure an alternate location, and also wondering why Wyatt’s campaign was charged with preparations, as well as listed as the only point of contact for the failed venue contract.
Botched Preparations Leave Convention Without a Venue
On Monday, Hanover High School informed the committee that it would be unable to host Saturday’s convention. At the meeting, Republicans learned that no contract has been signed to secure the venue, even with the vote just days away.
“So we have not, as the 97th Legislative District Committee, signed a contract with either Hanover County High School or the Hanover County Public Schools?” asked committee member Mike Reynold. “Today is Monday night and we don’t have a contract with the school? Wow.”
“That’s correct,” responded the committee’s chairman, Tom Miller. “I don’t know about the ‘wow’ but that’s correct.”
The move left committee members scrambling to secure an alternate venue.
According to the school, this last-minute cancellation of an unsecured reservation was prompted by higher than expected student interest in taking the SAT on that day, preventing it from renting space to an additional group with unfinalized plans.
When SAT numbers swelled, they said, the GOP’s unconfirmed reservation could no longer be held open.
According to one committee member, the failed reservation was made in the name of a candidate, Scott Wyatt, whose campaign took no action, before the process of securing a venue was turned over from one campaign to the committee itself.
“On April 17th, we still had the reservation, while we were at Hanover High School, before that was ripped from us today, this reservation was in the name of ‘Friends of Scott Wyatt’, according to the Hanover County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent, and then the point of contact for the LDC was listed as Scott Wyatt himself for this,” explained Reynold.
Earlier, Chairman Miller had confirmed Wyatt’s team to be in charge of the preparations for his own convention, writing “Scott Wyatt is also working this,” in a Monday email to the committee.
Peace’s team had also been left off a planning email concerning alternate venues, an omission which Miller called a “mistake.”
The uncertainty also prompted newer committee members to reassert control over the process, passing a motion requiring committee approval of all contracts and disbursements associated with the convention.
The move was seen by many in attendance as limiting the authority of Chairman Miller, who has been criticized for his handling of the process and who controversially stormed out of last Saturday’s LDC meeting, after he improperly declared the meeting adjourned, without the required vote from others on the committee.
At the time, Miller’s abrupt exit was criticized as a dilatory tactic, intended to shut down discussion by other committee members concerned by the botched preparations and impending deadlines.
A Chaotic and Divisive Convention Process
The controversies began when Scott Wyatt, who at the time served on the LDC, sent his proxy to vote in favor of a nominating convention, prompting Hanover Chairwoman Dale Taylor to remove him from the committee. According to Taylor, Wyatt never signaled his intention to run, a claim he disputes.
The move raised accusations of unethical conduct.
“When Scott Wyatt appointed his own proxy to carry his vote for a convention without duly notifying me in writing that his plans were to become a candidate, Wyatt failed to abide by the Republican Party’s Plan Article VII, Section 3, parts 1 and 2 that dictates how conflicts of interest must be managed,” Taylor said in a press release.
Further controversy erupted following a slating maneuver at the mass meeting in Hanover County.
Back on April 11th, Wyatt supporters seized control of the meeting, using a parliamentary tactic to elect a group of delegates favorable to his campaign, while relegating known Peace supporters to a non-voting “alternate” status.
Slated off were elected GOP officials, Peace’s legislative assistant, dozens of first responders, and hundreds of loyal, committed Republicans.
At Wyatt’s behest, these Peace supporters would be allowed to attend the convention, but would not be allowed to vote. Hanoverians could only cast ballots if they were on the list of delegates approved by operatives with Wyatt’s campaign.
The slate was applied in a biased manner, granting convention voting rights to prospective delegates based on who they supported, rather than an objective metric, such as a first-come, first-serve order.
Disenfranchisement wasn’t the only problem leading Republicans to criticize the meeting and its tactics as heavy handed.
To loud boos from the crowd, Wyatt’s lieutenants ordered the sergeant at arms to forcibly remove a man in a wheelchair, without his consent, for asking a question of the meeting’s chairman. As he was being wheeled out, the victim loudly challenged the chairman, showing his frustration at being taken away against his will.
The incident was captured on video, which soon went viral.
Republicans Compare it to Last Year’s Messy Convention
The course of events left many Republicans comparing the process to last year’s nominating convention in the Sixth Congressional District, which began with rules biased in favor of one candidate and ended with attempts at slating and delegate disenfranchisement which “alarmed” the chairman of RPV, prompting intervention by the state party.
Disenfranchisement efforts in the Sixth District were ultimately halted when Jack Wilson, who now chairs RPV, stepped in as convention chairman and ran a process in which all properly filed delegates were allowed to vote.
“Moreover, excluding a properly filed delegate from voting should only occur in truly extreme conditions,” wrote Chairman John Whitbeck at the time.
“Rest assured, the Republican Party of Virginia will not expend resources to defend anyone who seeks to disenfranchise delegates.”
That precedent has many Republicans looking towards higher levels of the party for help, hoping Wilson can also save their vote.
Desperation by Wyatt’s Campaign?
Since the beginning, Wyatt’s choice to hold a convention was seen by other Republicans as an attempt to tilt the field in his favor. Conventions are long, complex, and often confusing to voters not active in the party. Wyatt believed that his smaller base of more motivated supporters might prevail over Peace’s larger base of support.
When it became clear that Peace had pre-filed more delegates, Wyatt’s campaign engineered a slating maneuver in Hanover, stripping hundreds of Republicans of their ability to vote.
Even that appears insufficient.
With the vote just days away, the committee’s two Wyatt supporters, Tom Miller and Mark Daniel, appear unwilling to fully cooperate with the rest of the LDC in fixing a problem created by Wyatt’s own failure to take action as the point-of-contact and sign a contract with Hanover High.
That left disgruntled Republicans furious, prompting chatter that Wyatt must be struggling if he can’t book a location for the convention he wanted.
What Comes Next
The rapidly-developing situation has left full delegates and slated-out alternates without certainty as to where they must go on Saturday.
On Tuesday morning, the LDC was scheduled to walk through a potential alternate location, Atlee High School, to assess whether the smaller facility is a suitable replacement capable of holding as many as 2000 people.
The LDC is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, no plans had been announced to notify delegates and alternates of the change in location. At this late hour, sending mail to every delegate would be impossible, forcing the committee to fall back on telephone calls and email, even though it may not have electronic contact information for every participant.
It remains unclear what efforts will be taken to inform participants of the last minute change.