Republicans in Virginia’s 97th House District will decide their nominee in a June 1 firehouse primary, following a Wednesday evening vote by a supermajority of the legislative district committee (LDC) in the highly-contentious race between Delegate Chris Peace (R-New Kent) and his GOP challenger, Hanover Supervisor Scott Wyatt.
Balloting for the firehouse primary, also known as a party canvass, will take place at one voting location in each of the district’s three counties. As the committee has opted for a party-run process, voters will not be headed to their usual precinct locations.
The move comes amid a turbulent process marred by accusations of bad faith, rules violations, and poor planning, following the failure of the now-cancelled convention which was without a confirmed location three days before delegates were set to vote.
Another LDC Meeting Goes off the Rails
On Wednesday, the LDC met for the fourth time in two weeks to move forward with the nomination process before the certification deadline in mid-June.
What should have been a short meeting to ratify preparations for the upcoming vote quickly descended into chaos, after Chairman Tom Miller and committee member Mark Daniel — both supporting Wyatt’s campaign — attempted to obstruct planning efforts by a supermajority of voting members on the LDC.
Throughout the meeting, both Miller and Daniel clung to the notion that the nomination had already been decided in favor of Wyatt, putting them at odds with the RPV Party Plan and state Chairman Jack Wilson, who earlier had confirmed last Saturday’s event had no bearing on the nomination process.
“To summarize, the May 4th convention has been cancelled by the 97th Legislative District. Any event to be held this Saturday will be a Scott Wyatt event, NOT a Party-sanctioned election,” wrote Wilson, in a May 3 email to Republican delegates.
Despite this, Miller has already sent the certification paperwork to the Virginia Department of Elections on behalf of Wyatt, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch, potentially setting up a showdown in court with the LDC itself. Previously, a majority of the committee had written to the state board, saying that any such certification offered by Miller was without the authority of the committee.
In the end, the delay tactics failed to win. Following a short recess, the parliamentary bickering ended, allowing the majority to adopt several needed motions before scheduling another meeting for next week, to determine the ballot order and finalize logistical preparations for June’s balloting.
What Comes Next
Throughout the meeting, committee member Mark Daniel repeatedly invoked his right to appeal, suggesting that Wyatt’s campaign remains unwilling to accept the vote of the committee, and may seek relief through RPV’s appeals process.
As RPV Chairman Wilson explained last week, the authority to determine the method of nomination is vested in the LDC, according to the Party Plan.
“Under the Party Plan, the Legislative District Committee, not the Chairman of the Committee, has jurisdiction over the Party nominating process in the 97th House of Delegates district,” he wrote.
Without the committee’s authority, Miller’s certification to the state is invalid.
Frustrated by breaches of rules, including this certification, opponents of Miller began the process of removing him as chairman, serving him with the required notice on Monday. Pursuant to the Party Plan, 30 days notice is required for this action, leaving Miller in as chairman though early June, but not through the state-imposed certification deadline.
Wyatt’s next step appears to be an appeal.
Any such appeal must first be heard by the LDC as a matter of procedure. From there, any appeal of the appeal would be heard in turn by the First District Committee and the State Central Committee, respectively.
Given the well-documented problems with Wyatt’s handling of the venue preparations, and countless breaches of party rules by his supporters, his campaign appears unlikely to overturn the final result — even though he and his boosters remain vehemently committed to spreading false information about the failed process, as part of a deliberate and divisive campaign messaging strategy. Throughout the ordeal, Wyatt’s camp has avoided honest discussion of the problems with the venue or lapses in the orderly functioning of the committee.
Those efforts have sparked a backlash among party leaders around the state, who privately worry that Wyatt’s divisive messaging strategy is not helping the GOP in a critical election year, where control of the General Assembly is on the line.
Many party leaders are also extremely frustrated at Wyatt’s efforts to strip Republicans of their ability to vote, through a process known as “slating.” Given RPV’s history of slating controversies, his efforts to exclude Republican voters will not find many friends among party leaders outside the district, many of whom have witnessed slating controversies tear their units apart.
And lest there be any confusion over who began the slating, which culminated in hundreds of Hanover Republicans being stripped of their right to vote at an April mass meeting, RPV Chairman Wilson weighed in last week, explaining how Wyatt’s campaign disregarded RPV’s advice to seat all the delegates, suggesting bad faith on the part of Wyatt’s campaign from the beginning.
“The 97th committee went against RPV advice and set a delegate limit too low,” he wrote. “The committee’s decision is why over 350 people out of roughly 1700 are ‘alternates’ and may not have been able to vote if the convention were held. Due to the actions the 97th district committee, the 97th House district would be the only location in the ENTIRE country in the past 7 YEARS where you could be a qualified Republican voter, have made plans to attend a nominating event, and STILL not be able to vote in Republican nominating process at the legislative level.”
“While it is legal under the Plan, it isn’t right and could have been avoided. The 97th district, under the leadership of Chairman Miller voted to create a process which voters were disenfranchised.”
Unlike the failed convention, all Republicans will be allowed to vote in the firehouse primary on June 1.
By every indication, Wyatt’s campaign is fighting hard to make sure that won’t happen.
Only time will tell whether his strategy pays off in the end.
In the meantime, 97th district Republicans are preparing for their canvass.