Op-Ed By Del. Mark Berg (R-Winchester)
John Whitbeck, Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, has deemed me to have resigned from the official committees on which I serve because he alleges that I refused to disavow a write-in campaign against our Republican nominee Chris Collins, who was unopposed on the ballot on November 3rd.
I am told
second hand that there will be an Appeals Committee hearing on this issue to be held tonight tomorrow night via phone conference. Executive Director of RPV John Findlay sent instructions to committee members that there will be limited debate, this is simply a yes or no vote.
I am puzzled as to why Chairman Whitbeck has taken this course of action without even calling me to discuss it. And I’m confident once my fellow members of the State Central Committee review the facts, this confusing action by Chairman Whitbeck will be overturned.
John Whitbeck was quoted in the Winchester Star on October 17th stating that I had not mounted a write-in campaign and was “staying completely out of it.” He added, “My 10th [Congressional] District Chairman Jo Thoburn spoke with Del. Berg, and he’s not supporting or endorsing or doing anything to support a write-in campaign.” The Winchester Star again reported the same facts the following week on October 24, 2015: “…[S]tate Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck said that Berg told 10th Congressional District Chairman Jo Thoburn that he is not endorsing the write-in campaign.”
Party leaders went on record unequivocally stating that I was “staying completely out of it.” And they also stated that I did not violate any of the three actions that would trigger my automatic resignation under Article VII Sec C of the Party Plan when they were quoted as saying “he’s not supporting or endorsing or doing anything to support a write-in campaign.”
You can imagine my surprise when just a few days after the Winchester Star articles were published I received a certified letter from Whitbeck stating there was a crisis and a deadline and if I didn’t respond to his demand that I disavow a write-in campaign against Chris Collins, he would deem me to have resigned my official committee positions. This bizarre turn of events seemed to appear out of nowhere and was in stark contrast to what Whitbeck had previously stated on the record.
Since we are so close to the election, we unfortunately have to act now if we are to rectify this situation. Therefore, I need you to agree to publicly repudiate the write-in effort and ask for the organizers to stop using your name by Saturday October 31st, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, you will be deemed to have resigned from the State Central Committee, the Tenth District Republican Committee and the Frederick County Republican Committee under Article VII, Section C.
Where was the crisis when I had made it clear that I had nothing to do with the write-in campaign and Chris Collins didn’t even have an opponent on the ballot?
With no communication from the Chairman before the October 28th letter, I wanted to understand the charges against me so I sent an email to RPV General Counsel Chris Marston to ask if he had issued a ruling to the Chairman. Whitbeck had referred to an official ruling in his letter stating, “It is the opinion of our legal counsel that allowing your name to be used in a write-in campaign constitutes a violation.” If there was a ruling, it had not been posted on RPV’s website and distributed in accordance to Article X, Sec. A, sub. 4 of the RPV State Party Plan.
I received the original call for the 10th District Committee via email on October 31st (even though the call was dated October 30th).
I happened to hear from a fellow 10th District State Central Committee member that a revised call had been issued on November 6th—just four days before the meeting—and a new item had been added: an election of my replacement on State Central. This violates the 7-day notice requirement.
I did not receive the revised call, so I emailed Chairman Jo Thoburn for a copy of it. She replied:
Mark, You have been deemed removed from the State Central Committee and therefore are no longer a member of the 10th District Committee. If there is an appeal, it would have to go through State Central Committee not the 10th District Committee.
I finally received via email the revised call the day of the meeting.
Not only is Thoburn incorrect on the fact that the proper place for appeal is through State Central, she gave 10th District Committee members inaccurate information which precluded them from making a properly informed decision. Under Article VII of the Plan, the proper course of action would have been to allow the 10th District Committee to reinstate me by a simple majority vote, something that would not have required notice. Instead, Chairman Thoburn rushed to have an election to fill a vacancy—a vacancy that should have existed only if the Committee had refused to reinstate me—and informed the Committee members they had to elect a “replacement” for me, all without the required notice of a new election and without giving me any opportunity whatsoever to appeal the decision.
And regardless of how one may view the issue of the write-in campaign, I’m confident that the State Central Committee will find that in issuing a revised call to include an election just 4 days before the meeting, Chairman Thoburn violated the 7-day notice requirement, which therefore invalidates the election of any successor.
This is chaos. The facts as laid out, taken in concert with my not receiving the revised call until the day of the 10th District Committee meeting, is enough to bring these actions into serious question.
What I am most disappointed in is Chairman John Whitbeck misinforming people that he sent me notification on November 5th that he deemed me to have resigned. Let me unequivocally state that I did not receive a copy of that letter until it was emailed on November 10th – the day of the state central meeting. And I did not receive a paper copy of his letter until it arrived via certified mail on November 14th. What’s even more troubling is the packet I received contained a copy of a letter dated November 4th which was clearly a different letter than the letter Whitbeck had circulated dated November 5th. The letter had a sticky note on it that RPV had tried mailing it to me but it had bounced back.
Whitbeck sent the October 28th letter certified and the November 12th letter certified but didn’t certify the November 4th letter?
As you can see, I had little time to prepare a defense or appeal because I didn’t even have the material facts until the afternoon of the meeting. I nevertheless did attend the meeting and I tried to address the issue before the committee that night– which per the Party Plan was allowable—but Chairman Thoburn said, “you are no longer a member of this committee. All appeals would go through State Central.”
10th District Committee members were given incorrect information by Chairman Thoburn and they made their decisions that night based on false instruction.
I’ve worked diligently with John Whitbeck and other Republicans to elect people to office who will fight for Republican principles. I myself fought very hard to represent those Republican principles while I’ve had the honor to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
I wanted to make sure my fellow Republicans knew exactly where I stood. The afternoon of the 10th District Meeting, I emailed my fellow Committee members stating: “Let me be clear — I did not allow my name to be used, I did not publicly endorse nor did I affirm any other campaign against the Republican nominee.”
After I emailed that statement, after I was removed from my official committees and after my replacement was elected, John Whitbeck wrote a response on November 11th to the statement I had emailed to the 10th District Committee. He said,
Pursuant to the letter I sent him on October 28, 2015 this [statement] would have absolutely been sufficient for Del. Berg to maintain his position on all three Official Committees as one of the options he was given to correct the situation was an email to Party officials.
This is – again – another conflicting statement by Chairman Whitbeck because per his letter to me on October 28th he said,
I need you to agree to publicly repudiate the write-in effort and ask for the organizers to stop using your name by Saturday October 31st, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, you will be deemed to have resigned from the State Central Committee, the Tenth District Republican Committee and the Frederick County Republican Committee under Article VII, Section C.
At best this is a series of unfortunate and confusing events. I have confidence in our Party process and believe that once the State Central Committee reviews these facts, the decision to deem me as having resigned from my official committees will be overturned. I also encourage SCC to correct the ambiguity of what it means to “allow” your name to be used, as well as address the self-execution of a provision that is subject to interpretation.
Finally, as we move forward, let us reach out to one another and discuss our concerns before we “purge” or kick people out of the party. We’re on the same team and we have the same goal to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and elect a Republican to lead our great nation. I look forward to continuing the fight alongside my fellow Republicans for the liberty our party holds dear.