Buckingham Republicans set for primary, despite active appeal

Published 12:35 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

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Buckingham Republicans are being encouraged to go out and cast ballots this Saturday, to help form a new Republican Committee for the area. At the same time, however, the original Republican Committee, which was dissolved by a vote of Republicans from around the region, is appealing that decision, saying they shouldn’t have been shut down. 

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 in an appeal filed on Tuesday, April 2. So now the SCC has to schedule a date and time for the appeal to be heard. 

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

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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. Now the SCC does meet on Saturday, April 13, but a look at the agenda shows Buckingham’s case is not on it. 

“It’s going to happen at a later date,” Pace said of when the Buckingham appeal will be heard. “I don’t know when. But no, the canvas (and vote) can proceed.” 

An issue from Saturday’s vote 

And that vote raises another question. Saturday’s firehouse primary, which will run from 9 a.m. until noon at the Buckingham County Public Library, will include a vote to elect a chairman for Buckingham County Republicans. Ramona Christian, the previous chairman, is running again, competing against Jenise McNeal. 

So what if McNeal wins, but then the original committee’s appeal is heard and accepted by the SCC? 

“Let’s say Denise McNeal wins. She wins, she becomes chair,” Pace said. “Ramona goes on with her appeal and there will be a fight over which is the real Buckingham County Republican Committee. SCC would make the final decision there when they hear the appeal.” 

As for Saturday’s primary, it’s not limited just to members of the Republican Party, Pace said. 

“It is open to any voter in Buckingham County who agrees with the principles of the Republican Party and said they’ll support the nominees in November,” Pace said. 

That includes all members of the now dissolved Buckingham County Republican Committee. Pace said the members of that group can vote and can apply again for leadership roles in the county group. 

“Yes, they can,” Pace said. “In this new call to reorganize Buckingham, those Republicans can apply. They are welcome to join again and I hope they do join again.” 

What dissolved Buckingham Republicans group?

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. 

Here’s where the complaint comes in. Everyone acknowledges Ramona Christian, Buckingham’s Republican Committee Chair, sent the information about the mass meeting to the state party’s staff. The Herald has seen those emails. But the call to mass meeting didn’t get posted on the website. The issue, Republican officials said, is that the problem was never fixed. 

The call for mass meeting never got published on the website, which goes against the state Party’s rules. 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. 

But all of that would have been fine, 5th District officials said, if the Buckingham committee had just agreed to make the corrections and then hold another mass meeting, this time making sure it got advertised. But the Buckingham group refused. By a unanimous vote at their March 8 meeting, they declined to make any changes. The reason, Christian said, is she was following advice from the Republican Party of Virginia’s attorney. 

Christian said when she found out the call to mass meeting hadn’t been published, she reached out to the Republican Party of Virginia. Specifically, she got in touch with Chris Marston, the Party’s general counsel. Marston told her unless someone appeals the lack of an advertised call, there’s nothing she needs to do. The Herald has seen these emails as well. 

The appeal argument 

The basis of Christian’s appeal is 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 currently sits in limbo, however, as the SCC does not have a date when it will be considered.