MECHANICSVILLE -- So far, no one is blinking in a continuing battle for the 97th District House of Delegates nomination following a 1st District Committee ruling earlier last week that upheld an appeal by challenger Scott Wyatt.
The 22-member panel upheld an appeal by Wyatt’s campaign, in effect legitimizing the May 4 Convention that declared the Cold Harbor District representative on the Hanover County Board of Supervisors the duly elected nominee, but incumbent Chris Peace’s camp is saying not so fast.
Following the ruling on Monday night, May 20, Peace issued a statement reaffirming his position that the 1st District had no authority to rule on the appeal since the 97th Legislative District Committee has not considered the appeal.
Reactions to the decision were predictable with Wyatt's camp claiming victory and the Peace campaign issuing a statement saying the panel's actions were not proper.
Peace contends the appeal was not resolved by the 97th District Legislative District Committee, and therefore was improperly heard by the 1st District Committee, citing provisions in the Republican Party Plan.
In a statement released on Facebook, the Peace campaign said "The Wyatt rally or fake convention remains without effect as the Wyatt appeal continues before the 97th Legislative District Committee where according to party rules it must be voted on before it can be appealed to the 1st congressional district committee. Any action taken tonight on the Wyatt appeal has no effect on the June 1st Firehouse primary."
The LDC voted Saturday, May 18, to consider Wyatt's appeal on June 5.
Conversely, the Wyatt campaign is viewing the committee's decision as a victory and claiming the decision as affirmation of Wyatt's nomination secured at the May 4 convention.
A post on their campaign site shortly after the Monday ruling read; "Good News! The 1st District Committee upheld the May 4th Convention was valid and Scott Wyatt is the Republican nominee!! On to November. Join our campaign to put a SOLID conservative in the House."
The Peace campaign position was bolstered by a statement by John Findley, Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) executive director, who endorsed Peace’s position alleging the 1st District Committee had acted improperly and stating the June 1 Firehouse Primary will determine the nominee.
Less than 24 hours after the District ruling, RPV general counsel Chris Marston issued a letter to a member of that board clarifying when an appeal could be heard by the 1st District Committee.
In his letter, Marston outlined two instances where the body could hear an appeal like the one presented by the Wyatt campaign.
The body could act on an appeal once the LDC has disposed of or acted upon a matter -- or if the LDC took no action within 30 days of a filed appeal like Wyatt’s, which is dated May 9.
The Peace campaign interpreted that opinion as evidence the 1st District Committee acted improperly when hearing the appeal last week.
“This improper action would be like someone skipping District Court for a traffic violation and attempting to be heard in Circuit first to catch a break when the lower level judge may not rule in their favor,” Peace said in a Facebook post. “The Wyatt attempt to end-run process and the party plan is improper and cannot legally be done.”
The Wyatt camp sees the RPV general counsel ruling differently, and posts on his website claimed the opinion affirmed the 1st District’s decision.
“Nothing scares Chris Peace more than the RPV Party Plan and Robert's Rules of Order,” Wyatt said in a Facebook post.
“Today, RPV General Counsel ruled in OUR favor regarding the 1st District Committee Meeting on May 20, 2019. During this meeting, it was decided that the Party Canvass for June 1st was ‘out of order’ and the Convention was upheld.”
The post continued, “However, it is obvious, facts and rules will not stop Chris Peace from misleading voters. Instead of conceding and working to unite the party, Peace is now trying to further confuse voters to suit his own ends.”
Peace described the Wyatt’s campaign efforts to interpret the ruling saying, “Nothing scares Scott Wyatt more than a real election decided by the voters.”
“Based on this improper action Wyatt's supporters have once again bombarded the internet with fake news that he is the official Republican nominee. This report is totally false and borders on intentional voter suppression and manipulation.”
Peace said the ruling by RPV’s general counsel is clear and definitive.
“The Republican Party of Virginia issued a General Counsel Ruling yesterday that confirms our position that the 1st District was out of order. The 1st District must wait until after the LDC finalizes their process on June 5th to legitimately take up his appeal.”
Peace’s camp continues a beefed-up attempt to contact and inform voters of the upcoming canvass.
“My team is actively connecting with voters via doors, live phone calls, and mail to ensure a decisive victory on June 1st at the Firehouse Primary and put an end to this incessant attempt to limit voter participation and rig the nomination for Wyatt,” Peace said.
Jeffrey Adams, an attorney associated with the Wyatt campaign, outlined the complaints contained in the appeal to the 22-member committee who met last week in Stafford.
Adams’ arguments were focused on the fact that mass meetings were held throughout the 97th District to select delegates to the convention, and attempts made by the Legislative District Committee to cancel the convention were out of order.
Adams contended that Peace supporters on the LDC attempted to change the process after initial delegate counts indicated a Wyatt victory.
Adams also questioned the legitimacy of the 97th LDC’s decision to cancel the convention and said that motion was made after the chair had adjourned the meeting.
Mike Wade, representing the Peace campaign, argued in favor of overruling the appeal and certifying a June 1 canvass. Wade contended that LDC chairman Thomas Miller had no authority to move the convention from Hanover High School to Atlee High School, stating the convention was cancelled long before it was gaveled to order.
Wade said Miller provided no details regarding the funding or insurance arrangements regarding the upcoming convention.
He also confirmed a motion was passed at the May 18 LDC meeting, setting June 5 as the hearing date for Wyatt’s appeal.
King William LDC representative John Hubbard said the scheduling was not an attempt to delay a decision but rather an effort to gather all the pertinent facts surrounding the appeal, including transcripts of the meetings in question.
But, New Kent LDC representative Mark Daniel clearly perceived the move as an attempt to delay the process so reasonable time for appeals would be impossible and described the move as an effort to not hear the appeal at all.
Members of the 1st District Committee heard those arguments and decided they did have the authority to hear the appeal.
The official call for the June 1 canvass is still active on the Republican Party of Virginia’s website, and it’s unclear which set of results will prevail in the final decision.
Complicating the process is an ongoing effort to remove Hanover Republican Committee chair Dale Taylor, who has the sole right of appointing members to the LDC.
A meeting is scheduled for today (Wednesday, May 29) to consider that action, and its outcome could affect changes on the LDC.
And there are other elements at play in the quickly evolving controversy, including an effort by 97th District LDC members to oust their chairman, Thomas Miller.
The back and forth continued throughout the week with each side solidifying its stated positions.
Late last week, 1st Congressional District chair Bob Watson issued a letter reiterating the committee’s ruling and affirming its conclusion that the upcoming Firehouse Primary is “null and void.”
Wyatt’s supporters viewed that ruling as reinforcement of their belief that the Hanover supervisor is the nominee and the appeal was duly heard and decided.
Peace dismissed the letter in an email late last week.
“I don’t see his letter as any more authoritative in this process as the purported actions of his committee which were ruled out of order by the General Counsel,” Peace said.