The 82nd House of Delegates District Republicans are holding a firehouse primary on June 5th, and one candidate’s leveraging of the rules has her opponent crying foul. The seat is currently held by the Republican nominee for Attorney General, Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach).
Per the code of the Commonwealth, Virginia allows candidates to run concurrently for both statewide office and the General Assembly, but if elected, they cannot serve in both offices. Per the Miyares for Attorney General campaign, Delegate Miyares has chosen to focus on his race for Attorney General and not run for his House of Delegates seat at the same time. This means the seat is up for grabs and Republicans will choose between Anne Ferrell Tata and Kathy Owens for the next Delegate from the 82nd District.
Anne Ferrell Tata is seen by many as the establishment pick for this race, due to her father-in-law, Bob Tata’s, long history as the Delegate from Virginia Beach. According to her bio, she is a medical sales representative, author, and political fundraiser.
Kathy Owens is also running for the 82nd District and is seen as the outsider candidate. Owens is a former Naval Aviator with experience flying planes off of aircraft carriers. She also has served as an appointee for the Virginia War Memorial. Owens secured the endorsement of fellow Navy veteran and former Congressman Scott Taylor (R-VA-02) and Virginia Beach City Councilman Michael Berlucchi. The former pilot currently works in real estate.
Owens took to the John Fredricks Show recently to make her case while chastising her opponent and criticizing the Republican Party of Virginia Beach for the timing and location of the nominating contest. Owens told Fredricks, “I think shenanigan is a great word that you used for that…the location of Galilee Church is all concerning for us…It is a Saturday, it is peak tourist season. The location of the church is at the absolute fringe of the district.” Owens also criticized the Virginia Beach Republican Committee for not putting the Call in the local newspaper.
The official announcement, dubbed “the Call,” states that the Firehouse Primary will be held June 5th, 2021 from 10 am to 3 pm at Galilee Church in Virginia Beach. A Firehouse Primary is a nomination method that allows any registered voter in the district can vote in the primary, but there is a limited number of polling locations. The polling location for the early June nomination contest is off of Virginia Beach Boulevard, 1.2 miles south of the historic Cavalier Hotel.
The Virginia Star confirmed that Tata is a member of Galilee Church, and their family has been attending the church for years.
Strategic polling place selection is a recent trend in the Republican Party of Virginia. Per the Republican Party of Virginia Party Plan and recent case law from the US District Court of the Western District of Virginia and the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Legislative District Committees (LDCs) have complete control of the method of nomination in a legislative district.
According to the Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the method of nomination will be determined by the state party of each political party. Per Virginia Code § 24.2-509:
Party to determine the method of nominating its candidates for office; exceptions.
A. The duly constituted authorities of the state political party shall have the right to determine the method by which a party nomination for a member of the United States Senate or for any statewide office shall be made. The duly constituted authorities of the political party for the district, county, city, or town in which any other office is to be filled shall have the right to determine the method by which a party nomination for that office shall be made.
B. Notwithstanding subsection A, the following provisions shall apply to the determination of the method of making party nominations. A party shall nominate its candidate for election for a General Assembly district where there is only one incumbent of that party for the district by the method designated by that incumbent, or absent any designation by him by the method of nomination determined by the party. A party shall nominate its candidates for election for a General Assembly district where there is more than one incumbent of that party for the district by a primary unless all the incumbents consent to a different method of nomination. A party, whose candidate at the immediately preceding election for a particular office other than the General Assembly (i) was nominated by a primary or filed for a primary but was not opposed and (ii) was elected at the general election, shall nominate a candidate for the next election for that office by a primary unless all incumbents of that party for that office consent to a different method.”
In Article V, Section 1, the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Party Plan states that the Unit Committee Chairman of the localities in the legislative district will serve on what is called a Legislative District Committee (LDC). The LDC is constituted in order to nominate candidates for the House of Delegates and State Senate, meaning the members of the LDC get to choose the nomination method and if a candidate is eligible for nomination. Also, the LDC votes are proportional to the size of the locality in one district.
This process has also changed drastically over the past few years because of a case in front of the US 4th District Court of Appeals, 6th Congressional District Republican Committee v. Alcorn. The basis of this case was that in 2016, the 6th Congressional District was seized from establishment control by grassroots insurgents. Those insurgents had two targets, one of which was moderate Republican State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) and then-Republican Congressman Robert “Bob” Goodlatte (R-VA-06).
However, at the time of the grassroots ascendency in 2016, the Virginia code still allowed incumbents to pick how the method of nomination. Conventional wisdom was that primaries favored more establishment picks, while conventions and mass meetings favored the more conservative base of the party.
The 6th District Republican Committee then took the State Board of Elections to Federal Court, arguing that this was unfair to non-incumbents and violated their 1st Amendment Right of Free Association. US District Court Judge Michael F. Urbanski agreed with the 6th District Republican Committee, striking the “Incumbent Protection Act” from the Virginia Code. Urbanski ruled:
At bottom, the act provides express statutory benefits to incumbents at the expense of political parties’ associated rights. Defendants have not shown any state interest that justifies such an intrusion into the 6th Congressional Committee’s constitutional protections. Virginia law allows political parties to conduct a variety of nomination methods, and the Constitution does not permit a state to grant incumbents power to take away that authority to further their individual interests. The act fails constitutional muster.”
After the ruling, many establishment Republican figures continue to argue that Judge Urbanski – a 2011 Obama appointee – was biased in his ruling, complaining that he did this to cause harm to Virginia Republicans.
But the case was then upheld by the 4th District US Court of Appeals, in which the Court ruled:
Our decision is a narrow one. It is directed at a discrete constitutional imbalance created by permitting single office holders to negate the associational rights of political parties in an area central to the party’s very reason for being. Our ruling in no way limits 3 The third sentence applies in the relatively rare situation where there is more than one incumbent for the same office. In that situation, the statute requires incumbents’ consent for any method of nomination other than a primary. § 24.2-509(B). 24 the ability of states to enact “reasonable regulations of parties, elections, and ballots.” Timmons, 520 U.S. at 358. The associational rights of political parties are, after all, not absolute. Laws that impose a slight or lesser burden on associational rights are owed deference, especially when justified by the need “to reduce election- and campaign related disorder.” Id. But our constitutional responsibility, set forth so plainly by the Supreme Court, requires us to ensure that this “deference does not risk such constitutional evils as, say, permitting incumbents to insulate themselves from effective electoral challenge.” Nixon v. Shrink Mo. Gov’t PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 402 (2000) (Breyer, J., concurring). The Incumbent Protection Act reflects precisely that infirmity, and it is precisely why we cannot allow the Act to stand.”
What this means is that if someone wants to run for office in Virginia and obtain their chosen political party’s nomination, it would be in their best interest to be connected to their Legislative District Committee (LDC). Per the code of the Commonwealth, the RPV Party Plan, and the 6th District v. Alcorn case, the LDC and the Chairman of the LDC control everything related to the nominating contest. The LDC leadership of a district can choose the method of nomination, the location of the nominating contest, schedule the date of the chosen nomination method, and even how the votes are counted.
This tactic appears to have been implemented as recently as 2020, when some members of the 5th Congressional District GOP – frustrated with incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman’s performance in office – backed Bob Good. Using the RPV rulebook, the grassroots activists defeated Denver Riggleman in a convention held at the far end of the 5th Congressional District, at a local church near Good’s home.
One GOP operative who was connected to the Riggleman convention told The Star that “until [the Party] starts picking primaries, the elite will continue to choose the party’s nominees…They are picking this nomination at someone’s church so that she can get her fellow congregants to vote for her, tipping the scales in her direction.”
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