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Kenney: A ‘Convention’ In the Parking Lot?

So the unassembled convention where we would have as many gatherings as unit committees fell through…

… and the primary fell through.

… and the canvass fell through.

… and the firehouse primary fell through.

… and the unassembled convention fell through.

So now we are going to Lynchburg to Liberty University during their convocation weekend to hold a convention in the parking lot. In our own cars and RVs like it was race day at NASCAR.

One small hitch? Liberty University has no idea what the Republican Party of Virginia is talking about [1].

“So far, Liberty has not agreed to any particular plan or contract. If Liberty should reach an agreement for the Virginia GOP to rent off-campus parking areas, Liberty would do likewise on comparable terms if another political party or candidate asked. Excess parking in retail centers controlled by Liberty University have been leased on a temporary basis for years to carnivals, circuses, car dealerships, and the like.”

The statement gets worse.

Here are the true facts.

Liberty University:

  • Has not agreed to any particular plan or contract.
  • Has been clear that using any main campus parking lots would not be an option.
  • Never discussed use of any parking garages, which would also not be an option.
  • Did not agree to a one-location plan where one parking lot would handle all the traffic associated with a convention. The discussions were always about multiple lots that were spread out.
  • Never mentioned a number of parking spaces or square footage to be used.  No details or agreements have been worked out. As of today, there has been no site visit.
  • Has not been notified that the date of the convention has been switched to May 8.
  • The retail center parking facilities that Liberty would offer through its real estate holding companies were only offered at market rent like that charged other users who rent these kinds of parking lots and on comparable terms for such temporary use.

Wait — multiple parking lots?

Only hours after the  [2]Virginia Mercury [2] ran a story on the nebulous state of affairs [2] with the parking lot convention was Liberty University contacted to hammer out some of the finer details — none of them precisely helpful to the argument for an assembled convention by parking lot.

This parking lot convention — which was described as “the last option on the table” before RPV’s State Central Committee took the matter into its own hands — now looks as if its execution is shaky at best. Several different parking lots is not anyone’s definition of an “assembled” convention in the slightest.

Almost as if Dr. Northam were hovering over this process, isn’t it [3]?

Of course, with the governor’s new restrictions on COVID being “relaxed,” there are two options that Rules Committee for the State Convention could adopt [4]… from the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The state is also expanding the number of people who can attend a public or private gathering outdoors, from 10 to 25. The limit will remain 10 people at indoor gatherings.

Entertainment venues currently are capped at 30% capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower. That limit will remain the same for indoor venues, but limits for outdoor venues will go up to 1,000 people or 30%, whichever is lower.

FIRST, go back to an unassembled convention and limit the number of attendees per unit to 25 delegates.

SECOND, limit the number of delegates to 250 delegates minus the number of individuals required to run the convention.

Of course, the first option could be turned into a version 2.0 option of party canvass rather quickly. But that option becomes much more expensive for local units to run. Given that most activists will be invested in actual campaigning rather than counting votes, this may prove problematic statewide.

Which leaves a THIRD option on the table of begging the Virginia Department of Elections to allow Republicans to hold an open primary where State Senator Amanda Chase (I-Chesterfield) holds a double digit lead over her rivals.

What a mess.

I’ll leave you with this one thought, and perhaps it is a sobering one (as I intend it to be). To date, it seems as if the tactics of the minority in any condition is to simply make the entire whole ungovernable. We saw it with BLM/Antifa riots during the Trump era; we have seen it since 2003 during the long history of infighting within the Republican Party of Virginia.

That has to stop.

There have been forces at play who are doing everything in their power to make the December 2020 vote to hold a convention absolutely impossible, using Roberts Rules and the Party Plan as obstacles rather than facilitators of good order.

There are other voices who are threatening others, besmirching their reputations, calling them “liars” and the like over any outcome that does not correspond with their own machinations — it’s cute and it’s adolescent, but it’s terribly stupid politics.

Then there are other voices who actually intend and want to see the Republican Party of Virginia break right in two. Yes, there is money to be made in a so-called “Patriot Party” in Virginia. There is money to be made running third-party candidates if <fill in the blank candidate> wins the nomination. Not out of principle, mind you — but solely for the fact that in any contest, win or lose, paid consultants always win.

I am not terribly interested in the primary/convention infighting per se. But I am very much interested in the voices that continue to think that winning entails destroying Republicans rather than fighting Democrats.

Most folks know that I am a committed conventioneer and have been ever since I was introduced to the Republican Party architecture in 1994 with Oliver North (my first campaign being that of George Allen’s insurgency in 1993). Conventions gave us Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling in 2013; Ed Gillespie in 2014.

Think of a convention like a first date.

You wanna make it a classy thing (but not too classy). Sure, you don’t want to make it a therapy session, but neither does the conversation need to be something cold and calculating. Naturally, you would both love for it to end up on something better than a handshake …

… but not in a damn parking lot.

Given the fact that we have four solid contenders for the GOP gubernatorial nod thus far? Representing four distinct camps of the Republican coalition? We may want to consider that good and lasting marriages typically aren’t made in parking lots.

(My immediate apologies to anyone who has been happily married in a parking lot — and I’d love to hear that story.)

Either way, for a state party that once celebrated itself in the refined conditions of The Homestead at The Advance every year (because Republicans never retreat), to be relegated to an auxiliary parking lot in Lynchburg makes this thing start to feel more like an epic rout.

We can do better than this, right?

Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Photo: 2009 Virginia Republican Convention, Richmond Coliseum, by Lynn R. Mitchell