Hagen: A Message to the Republican Committee for Fifth Congressional District of Virginia
By Nick Hagen
For the purposes of full disclosure, I do not live in the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia. I have not donated money, time, or services to either candidate for the Republican Nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Fifth District. I am merely an impartial outside observer.
With my disclosure out of the way, I am writing this article because I am concerned about some of the attacks on Congressman Denver Riggleman. Some readers may dismiss my view because I do not live in the Fifth District; however, I have seen the path which the Fifth District has set itself on and it is not pretty for the party.
In 2018, I addressed a number of ethical discrepancies that certain members of the Republican Committee for the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia had. Basically, it was revealed that a number of members of the Congressional District Committee had been paid by one of the eight candidates seeking the nomination. The reason why this is unethical and should be addressed is because committee members would directly benefit finically from their votes, something which Robert’s Rules of Order specifically states the member should recuse themselves from doing.
However, none of the members who were on the payroll of candidates recused themselves from further votes about our convention. This lack of trust among the members of the committee, in part, has spawned a number of strained relationships within the Sixth District that has resulted in a weaker party that puts down-ballot candidates at risk.
So what does all this talk of the Sixth have to do with the Fifth District? It is well established that at least three members of the Fifth District Committee are on the payroll for Mr. Bob Good. Rather than being representatives of the people these committee members are supposed to represent, they are beholden by financial means to their employer, Mr. Bob Good. This creates a very simple system where the process of a “fair” election can be decided by whoever pays committee members the most money. To be blunt, this is not the way that our elections, nor our country should be run.
The main argument of these individuals seems to be that there is a history in Virginia of these pay-to-play political arrangements. The reason that does not inherently work is very simple; just because it is a common practice does not mean it is not corrupt. I called out the unethical behavior when campaign staff were on the Sixth District Committee when there was a contested convention and I am calling it out now. This behavior is not ethical in the past, it is not ethical now, and it is not going to be ethical in the future.
To the members on Mr. Good’s payroll’s credit, their conflicts were disclosed to the committee in writing. However, the members who were on the payroll did not recuse themselves from voting on matters which would affect their employer and thus them financially. Robert’s Rules is clear that these members should have recused themselves, but failed to do so. Since these votes affect the location of the Fifth District Convention and these three members, if they abstained, would have changed the outcome of the location of the Convention, the vote should be null. This is not saying anything about the individual’s right to have a vote, but rather on what should occur now that we know that their votes materially affected the outcome of this vote.
If 2020 were a normal year, I would actually agree with Mr. Good’s supporters on the issue of changing the convention. The Fifth District Committee decided to have a convention on a specific date with specific standards and, come hell or high water, there is going to be a convention. However, the proverbial hell did come. With the COVID-19 crisis, all of our lives changed dramatically. The very basic premise of having a fair and just convention has been uprooted by the pandemic. The Fifth District Committee even recognizes this by changing the date and the process to hold a drive-thru convention.
This drive-thru convention process does not appear to have as many equitable protections that a traditional convention would have. The use of a drive-thru convention will likely not be able to have as many observers from either candidate, it prevents the delegates from voting on the rules of the convention, it prevents people whose credentials have been challenged from defending their right to be able to vote, and it breeds a shadowy underbelly where corruption and backdoor deals can take place. To be frank, it is not fair to either candidate and will only breed animosity after the convention from the supporters of whoever is not declared the winner at the convention.
On May 26, 2020, the Fifth District Committee took up the question of if there would be any repercussions to the impact that these committee members voting had on the deciding votes. Rather than be the leaders that many voters in and outside the Fifth know they can be, the Committee overwhelmingly voted against holding anyone accountable for their failure to recuse themselves. To many members’ credit, there were a number who voiced their concern over the lack of oversight the Party Plan or the Fifth District Rules provide, but still elected to vote in a way that does not hold the offending parties accountable. This is a dereliction of leadership which should have been handled at the district level.
With that said, in times of crisis it is a time for leadership and ethical behavior. I have not had the opportunity to meet Mr. Good; however, I have heard from supporters of his that he is an ethical man. If Mr. Good is indeed ethical, I would think that he would want to call out the shady and corrupt actions that people who he employs have been carrying out in his name. If Mr. Good cared about the people he hopes to represent he would seek a better process than something which breeds corruption and puts people at risk of disease. The time for leadership is now. Congressman Riggleman has called out the corruption he has seen. I, for one, think that this speaks volumes as to the Congressman’s character and integrity.
Ultimately, the purpose of this article is to serve as a warning to the Fifth District Committee. We have seen the impact that pay-to-play politics has spawned in the Sixth District. I understand that the Fifth District is not the Sixth District, but the Fifth has a more recent history of going Democratic than the Sixth District does. With upcoming redistricting, it is important to take stock of who will be best to serve the interests of the Fifth in what will likely be a highly competitive seat. I just hope and pray that the Fifth District makes the correct decision.
Nick Hagen is a practicing attorney based in Roanoke, VA. He is a graduate of the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University. He has previously served as Chairman of the Roanoke Valley Young Republicans as well as having previously done work for a number of Republican campaigns.