Election held as appeal is filed

Buckingham County’s Republican Committee is back from the dead. Just a couple weeks after 5th District Republicans voted to dissolve the group, Buckingham’s Republicans have voted and said they are fine with the way things were before. By an 87-81 vote on Saturday, April 13, Ramona Christian was re-elected as chair, beating challenger Jenise McNeal. At the same time, Christian’s appeal of the original decision to dissolve is moving forward, with party members wanting a definite answer as to who was in the wrong. 

“It is going forward,” Christian said of the appeal. “Shenanigans like this have to be stopped.” 

She’s referring to the original vote to dissolve the Buckingham committee, taken back on March by the Congressional 5th District Republican Committee. Christian filed the appeal on Tuesday, April 2, days after that dissolution vote. In it, she asked for a hearing before any vote was taken to reconstruct the dissolved committee. However, the appeal has not been heard yet. 

And we know what you’re thinking. If there’s an appeal of the original decision, shouldn’t that be heard before a vote for a new committee chairman? 

First, let’s explain how this works. In the Virginia Republican Party, there is a hierarchy. It starts with county committees. Then those committees are part of regional congressional district committees, which then report to the overall state central committee (SCC). It was the Congressional 5th District Committee that took a vote and agreed to dissolve Buckingham’s group. To appeal that, Buckingham has to request the SCC to step in and hear the case. That is what happened. So now the SCC has to schedule a date and time for the appeal to be heard. 

WHAT ABOUT THE APPEAL? 

That brings us back to the question. Shouldn’t that appeal have been heard before any votes took place for a new Buckingham chairman? Republican officials say no. 

Will Pace serves as Parliamentarian for the Republican Congressional 5th District Committee. An expert on parliamentary procedure and the party’s rules, he advises the 5th District and also serves as part of the SCC. 

“The appeals process, think of it kind of like the Supreme Court,” Pace said. “It goes from local committee to congressional district committee to state central committee. The SCC is the final jurisdiction. What Ramona Christian did through her attorney is request an appeal of the Fifth District decision.” 

Now they have to wait and get on the SCC’s schedule, Pace said, just like a case being considered by the Supreme Court. The SCC did meet on Saturday, April 13, but the Buckingham appeal was not on their agenda. 

“It’s going to happen at a later date,” Pace said of when the Buckingham appeal will be heard. “I don’t know when. It will go to the appeal committee and they’ll make a recommendation.” 

ISSUES ABOUT THE DISSOLUTION AND APPEAL 

Pace however said he doesn’t understand why Christian is still appealing. 

“There’s a better way to get the results she desires,” Pace said. “I don’t think it’s through the appeals process, especially since she won fair and square. The Fifth District must recognize her as the Buckingham County Chair.” 

Instead, Pace argued, Christian should go to a legal authority. 

“I would go through general counsel,” Pace said. “I wouldn’t go through SCC for that.” 

And yet, that’s exactly what started all of this, asking a question of the Virginia Republican Party’s general counsel and then following what he instructed. 

Each Republican county group has to hold a mass meeting when it’s time to elect a chairperson, recruit new members and choose delegates. Part of the rule is that you have to post the meeting on the Republican Party of Virginia’s (RPV) website and advertise it. 

Everyone acknowledges Christian sent the information to the state party’s staff. The Dispatch has seen those emails. But the call to mass meeting didn’t get posted on the website. Republicans admit that was a mistake by state staff. The issue, Republican officials said, is that the problem was never fixed. 

As a result, members of the 5th District Committee argued the lack of a post disenfranchised some Buckingham Republicans, reducing the number of people interested in being delegates or joining the Buckingham committee overall. 

Christian said when she found out the call to mass meeting hadn’t been published, she reached out to Chris Marston, the Virginia Republican Party’s general counsel. Marston told her unless someone appeals the lack of an advertised call, there’s nothing she needs to do. The Dispatch has seen these emails as well. And so, Buckingham’s Republican Committee took a vote and unanimously decided to follow Marston’s advice, rejecting requests by the 5th District group to reschedule the mass meeting and post the announcement on the website. 

That stemmed from following the general counsel’s recommendation. And now they’re being asked to do the very thing that caused the dissolution vote. Fifth District officials, on the other hand, believe the general counsel might give different guidance this time. 

THE APPEAL ARGUMENT 

The basis of Christian’s appeal is the argument that the 5th District Committee reacted too harshly to the mistakes made. 

“The Call itself contained some drafting errors,” the appeal states, “none of which rose to the level of violation of the Party Plan.” 

Yes, there were errors in how the call to mass meeting was written, the appeal acknowledges, but the group didn’t feel they needed to change anything due to the legal advice given by the general counsel of the Virginia Republican Party. In the dissolution vote, the 5th District Committee majority said that Buckingham’s group “failed to function”. 

The appeal details the ways Buckingham Republicans had worked so far this year for the group, making calls, sending follow up emails to remind people of the upcoming mass meeting, driving around the county to collect forms for those interested in becoming convention delegates. All of these actions, the appeal argues, are not examples of a committee that “failed to function”. 

The appeal also argues that the Buckingham committee isn’t being treated the same as others in similar situations from years past. When the Lynchburg Republican Committee constantly failed to hold meetings, they received a three-month probation period. And yet Buckingham, while just following the statement made by general counsel, gets dissolved. It’s the same advice, the appeal points out, the general counsel originally gave to Campbell County Republicans when they ran into a similar situation. 

Christian also raises the question if Buchanan had the authority to bring up issues with the call in the first place. That question stems from a March 14 email between Christian and Virginia Republican Party Chair Rich Anderson, where Anderson said “the RPV governance model is structured such that neither a state nor district chair can direct a unit chair to recall a call to a unit nomination event.” 

And yet, Christian argues, that’s exactly what happened here. 

A SIMPLE YES OR NO 

But regardless of the questions, the Buckingham Republicans just want a simple answer. Either yes, they handled the situation correctly by following Marston’s recommendations or no, they didn’t. 

“The SCC must resolve this appeal with an unequivocal message: the standard to declare a unit committee must be clear and must be applied consistently,” the appeal says.