April 11, 2008
Thursday night's Augusta County Republican mass meeting was a real circus, from start to finish. (Actually, the adjournment itself was disputed, and for all I know the losing side may still be in there, doing who knows what.) It was quite a contrast to the dignified way that the Staunton Republican mass meeting unfolded on March 29.
I could tell from the beginning that there would be trouble. Unlike the Staunton GOP mass meeting, which was chaired by a more-or-less neutral outside person (Andy Ashby of Bath County), Kurt Chairman tried mightily to retain control over the proceedings. He lost his bid to Jim Bailey, a Republican who used to serve on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors (BOS). Bailey got off to a difficult start as Kurt and others on his side raised several objections, and I grew quite uncomfortable as they whooped and hollered. Well, he sure does "energize the base."
The big dispute came when it was moved to revert to the Party Plan and bylaws rather than the rules that had been approved at the prior Augusta County GOP Committee meeting. (It wasn't until later in the evening that I learned what that fuss was all about. Phil Lynch, a.k.a. "Yankee Philip" told me (if I understand correctly) that his side wanted to have each magisterial district vote separately, weighted in proportion to the number of registered voters. Instead, it was a one-person-one-vote setup, countywide, regardless of district. Phil seemed to think that it mattered that the chairs of five of the seven districts were pro-Sayre people, as if the members of those districts were going to take orders from their respective district chairs. That's not a very democratic way of looking at it, but I guess democracy is not necessarily the highest virtue for some Republicans.) It took forever to get all the procedural issues resolved. The Rules Committee had to retire from the chambers for a second time to get certain things straight. At about 9:32 P.M. Lynn Mitchell, who was standing a few feet away from me, made a call on her cell phone: "Dan? ... They're voting us out of office. ..."
Next came time for the candidates to speak. As expected, four of the declared candidates withdrew and threw their support for Dr. Larry Roller, a retired college professor and long-time Republican Party activist. First, Steve Kijak, then David Beyeler, then Sharon Hanger, and then Vickie Parkinson. Then Dr. Roller used their allotted time, speaking for over 20 minutes about the friendly way things used to be, and about how pleased he and others were when the "young bloods" such as Kurt Michael joined the party a few years ago. Then things turned sour about two years ago, when Lynn and Kurt started manipulating meetings, reducing the frequency from monthly to quarterly (I remember that episode, and the dubious explanation for it), and withholding information from other party members. Clearly, something was gravely amiss. Dr. Roller stressed that he only wanted to serve the party and bring it together, echoing the main theme of my speech on March 29. He was a true class act.
Then Dr. Kurt Michael spoke, and it was the Main Event of the evening. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Kurt left the podium, and walked up and down the center aisle in the middle of the audience, almost reminding me of the Jerry Springer show. He told people about his strong support of the Marriage Amendment, Weekday Religious Education, etc. He too talked about the need to unify the party, but he did not respond to the complaints about his tenure that Dr. Roller had raised. Mr. Bailey said that Kurt could have as much time as Dr. Roller had had, but Kurt finished his speech within 5-7 minutes or so.
Next came the balloting procedure, which took a long time to get straight. Finally, they called out the names, and one by one the participants walked forward to drop their ballots in the box. While the votes were being counted, Congressman Bob Goodlatte talked for a few minutes about the need to stay united, emphasizing that "we are all Republicans in here." Delegate Ben Cline spoke a few words as well.
Some time around 10:00 the vote counters returned to the room, and the results were announced. All along I had been expecting a tight race, but in the end, it wasn't even close: Larry Roller 141, Kurt Michael 103. With 58% of the vote, it might not be considered a landslide, but it was still pretty decisive.
What happened next will be argued about for years to come. Right after Dr. Roller was declared the victor, Tom Nelson, one of the tellers who counted the votes, registered his objection to the propriety of the election. As grumbles grew louder, Jim Bailey declared that the mass meeting was adjourned sine die (that means without setting a future date, for you folks in Rio Linda). Kurt Michael then loudly objected, and as people started filing out of the room, he declared unilaterally that he was taking over the meeting. (Now there's a take-charge kinda guy!)
On strictly procedural grounds, I would agree that the meeting was not properly adjourned. After all, the very same thing happened in the Staunton Republican meeting last May (scroll down), when amidst an uproar, Chairwoman Anne Taetzsch declared adjournment without taking a vote.* But as I wrote last June with respect to the ugly aftermath of the Hanger-Sayre race, "There are proper ways of handling disputed elections, and creating a public scandal is not one of them." Well, folks, we've got one doozy of a scandal now!
* I pointed out this obvious parallel to Mr. Michael, Ms. Mitchell, and Ms. Taetzsch, but none of them acknowledged the similarity. Lynn said, "You mean the meeting without a quorum?" and walked away. She should know better than that: Our records clearly indicate that we had a quorum at the March and May meetings last year, and on the latter occasion I declared that to be the case to a packed room when I was serving as secretary sitting next to Ms. Taetzsch. No one said otherwise, because it would have been a ridiculous claim to make.
On the equally-important substantive grounds, however, it became crystal clear which of the two candidates would really live up to the widely-agreed-upon goal of unifying the party: Dr. Roller. He is a decent and capable man, and I heartily congratulate him for having the guts to stand up in defense of the Party of Lincoln and Reagan.
As more and more people left the room in confusion, I told Congressman Goodlatte that the elected officials should huddle and exert their influence to resolve matters in a mutually-agreeable way, but he didn't want to get involved. I guess I can't blame him.
At 10:30 or so Kurt Michael walked up to David Beyeler and, in his inimitable sneer, called the Augusta County Supervisor "a clown." I took exception to that remark as being inconsistent with the goal of party unity. Mrs. Beyeler was sitting right there, and I can imagine how mortified she must have felt. (It was a pleasure to meet her for the first time, even if it was in trying circumstances.)
After that, I went over to talk to Scott Sayre to see what we could do to reunify the party in the wake of this fiasco. Then I asked Tom Nelson, one of the tellers who counted the votes, what the basis of his objection to the validity of the election was. All he said was that he wanted the objection to be on the record, but he could not give me any specific reason.
While the rump session was proceeding to hold a second election, I chatted with a number of folks outside, including some I hadn't talked to in over a year, and it was clear that even folks whom I considered to be on "the other side" of the GOP were dismayed at what was taking place. They could all see, at long last, what terrible damage he was wreaking to party unity. There is no way on God's green earth that any reasonable person could consider a second vote without broad consent to be valid, so I assume they were just going through the motions in preparation for filing a grievance later on. Some time around 11:00 I went home.
I don't mean to brag (OK, I do), but I think it is worthwhile and instructive to point out the clear difference in the way that the losing candidate from the recent Staunton GOP mass meeting (moi) handled defeat to the way the losing candidate from the Augusta County GOP mass meeting did. If our side had really wanted to make a stink about it, we could have raised all sorts of procedural objections. In our view, the damage that would have done to the party's image far outweighed any benefit we might have gained. But for some people, ego gratification is everything, and damn the consequences to other people or to the public interest. We all knew that Kurt would go out kicking and screaming like a moonbat, and that's just what happened. "We wuz robbed!" As far as losers go, Kurt Michael makes Al Gore look like Wendell Willkie.
Now you might think that a 141-103 margin is a decisive outcome, but you wouldn't be a die-hard "SWAC Job." As John Belushi said in Animal House, "Was it over after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? NO! It's not over!" (Or something like that.) And so, this result will make Republicans look even sillier than before, and the dispute will no doubt be taken up at the Sixth District Republican Convention early next month.
The way the meeting transpired is deeply regrettable, but it's not the end of the world. A quote from Winston Churchill is perhaps appropriate:
Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
NOTE: This account of the evening's events is truthful and as complete as I can make it for now. It is only a "first draft" of history. After I have time to go over the audio and video recordings I made of the mass meeting, I may make a few clarifications or corrections to the sequence of events. I expect to post a YouTube video by Friday evening, possibly with a separate audio clip or two.