Op-Ed by Joshua Huffman, writer of The Virginia Conservative and former employee of the Republican Party of Virginia
By now I’m sure that most, if not all, of the readers of The Bull Elephant have heard about the controversy surrounding the expulsion of Delegate Mark Berg (R-29) from the Republican Party as well as the explanation from RPV Chairman John Whitbeck, Delegate Berg’s rebuttal, and 10th district ChairmanJo Thoburn’s recent remarks. However, after wading through these articles, there are two important points that need to be addressed.
First, is the grounds for Delegate Berg’s removal (or deemed resignation). Yes, according to the RPV Plan, “a member of an Official Committee is deemed to have resigned his Committee position if he (a) makes a reportable contribution to and/or (b) allows his name to be publicly used by and/or (c) makes a written or other public statement in support of a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee in a Virginia General or Special Election.” And yes, quite a few people I know planned to write-in Delegate Berg’s name for the 2015 election in the 29th district. However, although I am on Delegate Berg’s email list and speak with him personally on occasion through email and phone, never once did I hear him endorse this write-in campaign created by his grassroots supporters.
Although the Winchester Star reported that Berg is “not supporting or endorsing anything to support a write-in campaign”, that statement was not enough for GOP leaders as prior to the election both RPV Chairman Whitbeck and 10th District Chair both demanded that Berg denounce this write-in campaign publicly. This demand is ridiculous and absolutely absurd. If Delegate Berg’s supporters wished to organize a write-in campaign for him, assuming he did not actively support or endorse it, of which no one has presently any evidence thus far, then, as far as I can tell, he did not violate the RPV party plan. Heck, in the 2015 Harrisonburg elections for sheriff someone wrote in former Republican delegate Glenn Weatherholtz while a handful wrote in former Republican sheriff candidate Kurt Boshart. To the best of my knowledge, neither was running an active campaign against the Republican nominee. In the 2013 election for governor some of my more establishment Republican friends planned to write-in Bill Bolling as a way to express their displeasure with Ken Cuccinelli. For the sake of consistency, following the same logic applied to Berg, shouldn’t all of these men be expelled from the party too for “allowing” their supporters to use their name? How stupid and petty can the Republican Party leaders get?
Second, once a person has been deemed to resign, according to the RPV Plan, that person can petition for re-instatement into the Republican Party. At least that is what Article VII, Section C claims. “Such member may be re-instated by a majority vote of the other members of the Committee.” However, from reports that I read the 10th district did not allow Berg the opportunity for such an appeal and instead installed a replacement for him on the State Central Committee. This kind of strong-arm tactics reminds me of my own removal from the Republican Party in February of 2014. Although I requested an appeal from my committee, my local chairman informed me that I would not be allowed to attend the next meeting of my city unit and would be physically barred, if necessary. That idea is a violation of Article VII, Section G that declares, “All Official Committee meetings shall be held in a building appropriate for public use and shall be open to the public.” I protested to both my district chair and the RPV but neither would lift a finger to reverse this injustice. Although Berg was allowed in the door of his committee, by not allowing him to address the charges against him and moving forward by electing a new SCC member in his stead, he was deemed guilty until proven innocent and they wouldn’t even give him the chance to refute these absurd charges against him.
Let’s examine the situation another way. Since winning federal office in 2015, Barbara Comstock (R-10) has arguably been the least conservative Republican representing Virginia in Washington D.C. What if, after voting to raise the debt ceiling, joining the Democrats to fund the Department of Homeland Security, or a host of other troubling votes, the RPV Chair and the 10th District Chair approached Representative Comstock and said to her, “Look. We are a party of limiting government and fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, it is obvious that you are not in accord with the principles of the Republican Party of Virginia Creed. Therefore you have been deemed to have resigned your membership in the Republican Party.” Wouldn’t that be something? However, I have never heard of the Republican Party taking such a bold stand for principle. Unfortunately, as the Berg affair illustrates, the sad truth is that the most important aspect of being a Republican these days isn’t being steadfastly conservative or libertarian, but meekly submitting to whatever the party leadership demands of you and supporting the party and her candidates even if they hold positions in stark contrast to their supposed values.
For many years I was proud to call myself a Republican and strongly encouraged my likeminded brothers and sisters to join the party so that we could work together to make the government smaller and more accountable. We used to say that we were “Republican for a reason”, but I have to wonder what is the purpose of the Republican Party of Virginia anymore? It is to be a strong advocate for constitutional government? Or it is to simply elect and re-elect as many Republicans as possible…even if they do the opposite of what we want? Is the desire for power the main factor that drives the Republican Party these days? What does it matter which party controls the General Assembly if the Republican leaders are virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats?
What are conservatives and libertarians supposed to do when their elected officials sell them out time and time again? Meekly submit and remain quiet? That seems to be the harsh lesson that the RPV is trying to teach. I’ve been told that more of my conservative and liberty-minded brothers and sisters in the Winchester area will soon fall in this Republican bloodletting. The civil war continues as the establishment is once again working to stamp out and silence the grassroots.
I strongly disagree with the actions taken by Republican leaders such as John Whitbeck and Jo Thoburn. Yes, I’ve heard that Delegate Berg wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with and that he was a pain to the establishment in Richmond, but I never had to worry that he would sell-out his constituents or abandon his principles because the Republican leadership demanded that he do so. Is the only purpose of the RPV Plan to keep us subservient? This unjust removal of Delegate Berg is yet another troubling example of the Republican Party headed in the wrong direction, placing unquestioned party loyalty ahead of everything else.