On a beautiful early spring Saturday morning, April 9th, activists from across the 7th District filed into Caroline High School to hear from prospective Congressional candidates and to vote for 7th District Chairman. This would determine the new chairman for the next two years, following the formation of the newly drawn 7th District, which absorbed parts of 5 other Congressional Districts from last decade, now stretching from Woodbridge to Caroline County and out west to Greene County.
Campaigns lined up several hours before the convention started to greet voters
Heading into the convention, Ben Hazekamp from Woodbridge – formerly the 11th District Vice-Chairman and current National Committeeman for the Virginia Young Republicans – was considered the frontrunner. A late entrant into the race was James Manship of Fairfax County, who claimed residence in Spotsylvania County for the purpose of running for District Chairman.
The convention convened at 11:00 a.m. on the dot with 179 credentialed delegates. Outgoing Chairman Jeff Sili was nominated for Convention Chairman, a typical honor for an incumbent chairman who isn’t a candidate on the ballot. Manship allies sought to replace Sili by nominating former Greene County Chairman Ed Yensho. The convention body voted between the two options with a weighted vote of 66.7% for Sili, confirming that the pro-Hazekamp vote had a dominant showing at the convention.
Chairman Jeff Sili addresses the convention body
After Sili resumed the convention’s business, the Rules Committee then moved to adopt the rules as written, which were posted on the District’s website, made available to all, and even copies were printed out for all delegates at the Convention. Nevertheless, some Manship voters protested, claiming they never received a copy, that they weren’t handed the rules on the way in, and that it wasn’t emailed to them directly. This led to another round of debate and discussion over how the convention rules were disseminated, followed by a request to delay the convention proceedings to provide time for everyone there to read the rules.
At this point, it became clear that the convention was likely to result in a Hazekamp win, leading to last-ditch stalling and delay tactics from Manship allies to disrupt the process and set up grounds for appeal to SCC. The motion to adopt the rules as written carried, despite the Spotsylvania contingent yelling “No!” and demanding a roll call vote, a request denied by Chairman Sili as unnecessary as the “Yes” votes clearly had the majority.
The Nominations Committee Report
Finally, the Nominations Committee reported their findings, and this is where things get tricky.
The Chairman of the Nominations Committee announced that two candidates had filed: Ben Hazekamp and James Manship. However, they determined that only one candidate was a properly filed candidate: Hazekamp. Moreover, they stressed that this decision was unanimous among the Nominations Committee, who even took the unusual step of briefing each of the Unit Chairmen who were present at the convention before issuing their report to the convention body.
The issue is that Manship, who up until very recently lived in Fairfax County, didn’t become a registered voter in Spotsylvania County (and thus, in the 7th District) until February 22, 2022. However, Manship filed for Chairman earlier, on February 14, 2022, as confirmed by his posting about it on social media. The rules state that a candidate for Chairman of the District must be a registered voter of the district, and Manship wasn’t one when he filed.
Manship, speaking to the issue, stated that he had submitted his change of registration prior to filing, and that it must have been a bureaucratic delay on the part of the Spotsylvania County registrar that caused him to not be registered until the 22nd. However, the committee had nothing concrete to go off of other than the date given by the registrar; and moreover, no one is an official voter in a district until the registrar confirms you are.
The Chairman allowed for discussion and debate. One Manship ally spoke up and shouted “Rules be damned!” as to why Manship should be allowed as candidate. Another convention delegate responded that if Republicans say we believe in the rule of law and election integrity, then we should follow the rules of our own conventions.
Ultimately, the convention body voted on a motion to Amend the Report of the Nominations Committee to add Manship as a candidate. This would require a 2/3rds vote to carry. On a weighted vote, 52% voted not to amend and just 48% voted to amend, far short of the 66.7% required.
Following the vote, Chairman Sili determined that Ben Hazekamp is the only properly filed candidate and is the new 7th District Chairman.
What Happens Next
It is possible that Manship will appeal the convention outcome to the 7th District Committee, and then again to the SCC. For many, it seemed obvious that the various disputes over temporary chairman and over the distribution of the rules were all intended to set up grounds for appeal, facing a certain defeat in the vote. This was a factor in the consideration of the Nominations Committee, according King George County Chairman Jeff Bueche. The best way for the convention result to stand on appeal was for the Committee to follow the rules as closely as they could.
Regardless, the 7th District has a new Chairman for the next two years, Ben Hazekamp. Congrats, Ben!
RPV Chairman Rich Anderson and 7th District Chairman Ben Hazekamp