Jack Wilson, The Republican Party and “The Last Straw”

Reprinted with permission of Peter Churins, editor, The Charles City Conservative Newsletter

At first glance the title is rather deceptive in that it has elements of ambiguity that could be construed from a number of perspectives, especially the meaning of “The Last Straw.” In a chaotic world of fake news, guile and deceit, it could imply a number of things. Two immediately come to mind. The first could allude to “the last straw” being finally vanquished by the Democrats and AOC in their attempt to save the world from imminent destruction and climate change. The second could allude to the phrase, “The straw that broke the camel’s back.”

My choice is the later. I define “Republican Party” as an organization comprised of multi-faceted individuals with different opinions and beliefs. However, the “Party” can also be divided into two groups: established-types and conservatives. Both have been at war with each other for control for years.

Jack Wilson has been chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) for a number of years when he ascended to there from the position of chairman of the 4th Congressional District (4th CD).

As chair of the Charles City County Republican Committee (CCCRC), I have been privy to his behavior at both positions.

To say the least, I am neither impressed with his fairness nor honesty towards conservative Republicans. For me “The straw that broke the camel’s back” came when he used his position as RPV chair to attempt to steal an election from a conservative republican who had won “fair and square” the nomination to Virginia’s 97th District House of Delegates. The reason? The outcome was probably not to his liking.

Jack Wilson is a strongly partisan, establishment Republican who will do anything to maintain his and the establishment’s power, even after losing the Virginia House and Senate to the Democrats.

The battle for this seat went on for over eleven months to the detriment of keeping Virginia Republican.

This article will provide some history, academic reasoning, and analysis.

Demise of ”The Incumbent Protection Act”
My first encounter with Jack Wilson’s divisive behavior came in 2018 when a Virginia judge ruled against the ability of an incumbent to choose the method of their nomination process; primary, convention, or firehouse primary. The inability for an incumbent to predetermine their method of renomination just made their reelection more difficult and theoretically shortened their longevity in office. In a primary, the incumbent receives many benefits. They already know the ropes, have established contacts, name recognition and generally more campaign funds. Hence, this privileged former practice of choice was dubbed, “The Incumbent Protection Act (IPA).”

Once the IPA was removed, both sides, established and conservative, came to a mutual agreement that the method of selection would alternate between elections – primary one year and convention the next. Primary was to be the first and a convention would follow in the next cycle. However, guess what? It never happened.

Jack Wilson, chair of the 4th CD at the time, marshaled his State Central Committee (SCC) associates and voted the agreement down. In an open 4th CD meeting, three unit chairs were disturbed by his action and pressed for an explanation of why he shot the agreement down.

At first, he just casually sloughed it off as “too difficult to do.” But then, when further pressed, he stated with an air of defiance, “I never had any intention of abiding by the agreement!” A game changer? No, but an admission to his own lack of allegiance to anything to which he might swear. It was also a harbinger to his future behavior regarding the 97th House of Delegates nomination process and an explanation to how he could so easily allow himself, without authority, attempt to change the outcome of a valid nomination that he did not agree with. This is not good for the Party.

“Deja Vu All Over Again”
What happened to Chris Peace in his loss to Scott Wyatt in 2019 directly mirrors Eric Cantor’s loss to Dave Brat in 2014. Cantor had lost sight of his constituency because he was off to bigger and better things. His political territory? The 7th Congressional District which was a solidly conservative district full of hardcore voters who had grown tired of not being served or even listened to. So, they mounted a grassroots effort to replace Congressman Cantor, and succeeded.

The 7th CD entirely encapsulates the much smaller 97th House of Delegates District comprised of Hanover, New Kent and King William Counties. Chris Peace’s voters were the same voters that that removed Eric Cantor from office. So when Chris Peace was also off to bigger things, or so he thought, he never had a chance of being reelected. The big elephant in the room was Medicaid expansion. Let’s revisit the Brat-Cantor contest and glean some wisdom.

Going Back in Time, A Cautionary Tale
Dave Brat was a giant killer. A 2016 Washington Post (6/15/16) article succinctly describes with candor and an uncommon truthfulness what occurred in that 2014 primary election. It provides some common wisdom that needs to be heeded in relation to the 97th delegate district.

“Two years ago, he [Cantor] was the rising star of the Republican Party, the presumptive heir to the speakership of the House, until he was humiliated in a primary election by a political novice. Cantor was the first sitting House majority leader in history to lose his congressional seat, a defeat so unexpected that it shocked the un-shockable political establishment, which called it one of the greatest political upsets of modern times…”

It also stopped, the very next day, the Gang of Eight’s proposed legislation to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. As the article states, “It was also, as it turns out, a cautionary tale.”

“In hindsight, that contest wasn’t just a GOP primary election, Cantor says. It was a referendum on establishment politics, broken promises and angry voters’ growing distrust of Washington. He was at the epicenter of a populist uprising, the target of every disenfranchised voter in America.”

And for what purpose?
This is why one has to question the actions of both Jack Wilson and Chris Peace in their attempt to take the Republican nomination of the 97th away from Scott Wyatt. Their actions only soiled their reputations when there was little chance of success. Also, why would they choose such an inhospitable political environment in which to do battle?

The 97th delegate contest had already been decided before it began. The 97th was situated at the heart of the original 7th CD, a staunchly conservative area. The people and their attitudes had not changed since Dave Brat, only the name of the district due to redistricting.

Chris Peace, for whatever his beliefs, was not going to win. He supported and promoted Medicaid expansion that was as lethal to his reelection as amnesty had been to Cantor’s. Regardless of his neglect of his constituents, the Medicaid expansion was what doomed him.

My sense is that the failure laid squarely at the feet of an immature politician who could not accept defeat; an RPV Chairman who would cheat to get what he wanted; and an outnumbered group of die-hard establishment types who “could not see the forest for the trees” as well as their inability to graciously accept defeat. The term, “bitter-enders” immediately comes to mind.

Medicaid expansion
The “burning” issue for conservatives in the 97th was Medicaid expansion. It was promoted by the Virginia House of Delegates Chairman, Kurt Cox, and spearheaded by Delegate Chris Peace. Fifteen Republican delegates followed Peace’s lead as well as three Republican state senators who also voted to pass Medicaid expansion. The Democrats were thrilled. Expanding Obamacare by adding Medicaid expansion was former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s priority and what he could not accomplish in four years. It was provided by the Republican Party after his departure.

“Slip Slidin’ Away”
From the beginning Peace could not see the signs of his power eroding. He was being challenged in the local press and media. In 2019 one incensed constituent from New Kent stated that Chris Peace defended his vote on Medicaid expansion to him by describing it as “conservative welfare reform.” That certainly was not how his constituents would have defined it.

Delegate Nick Freitas claimed that Peace had demanded his endorsement before he would bring a piece of Freitas’ legislation to the House floor – a form of quid quo pro.

In 2018 Peace was given a rating by Middle Resolution of 23 out of 100 pertaining to the strength of his conservative voting record. A score of 23 ranks with the Democrats on the other side of the fence.

And then, along came his Republican challenger, Scott Wyatt, who was a well-known and well-liked county supervisor from Hanover. It is important to note that Hanover had a 62% voting weight by population, whereas Peace’s “somewhat” power bases of New Kent and King William Counties had only 21% and 16% respectively. As they know in Texas, “You Don’t Mess With Hanover.”

A Three-man Team
Chris Peace’s loss may not have affected only one person. This was a three man game with Chris Peace, Kurt Cox and Jack Wilson all joined at the hip. Everybody had something to gain or lose. Peace another two years in office; Cox the same except that the extension probably made him more appealing to the left-leaning voters in his district. For Wilson, he essentially gained control of the House without having to run for any office. He had two politicians who were malleable and were willing to violate their constituents’ values.

When Peace lost, both his and Wilson’s dreams went up in smoke. This is why I believe they both continued to fight so long and violate the rules to get those dreams back (illusions). Two additional factors may shed some light on their bizarre behaviors – the Politician’s Disease and risk aversion and loss.

The Politician’s Disease
Politicians are often afflicted with a narcissistic perception of their own importance that blinds them to the desires of their constituents. Kurt Cox furthered that notion in Chris Peace by giving him two powerful committee positions for his work in passing Medicaid expansion. The committees involved the distribution of incoming lobbyist contributions and the gatekeeping of bills coming to the House floor. For a politician who was rumored to never rise about the level of delegate, these incredibly powerful assignments signaled an open avenue to further advancement in the Party. Governor? Who knows what was inside his head? But, they certainly signaled a “green light” for his ascendancy for bigger and better things to come. The research of two liberal university professors explains further a lot of the craziness that surrounded the 97th.

The Research of Risk Aversion and Loss
In attempting to understand the emotions of Chris Peace, the research findings in the late 60’s becomes important. The research goes far to explain how the basic tenets of risk aversion affect a person. They state, “When directly compared or weighted against each other, losses loom larger than gains.” and “Evaluation is relative to a neutral point,…the usual reference point can be the outcome you expect, or perhaps the outcome to which you feel entitled.” (Thinking Fast & Slow, Kahneman, 2011, pp 282,284) My sense is that this fits Peace’s pattern. He had lost his imagined world and now he had no job at all.

For Jack Wilson, the motivation becomes less clear. Granted, he lost control of his vision for the established branch of the Party and maybe he felt entitled to take whatever he wanted due to his high position in the Republican Party. Whichever candidate received the nomination, Peace or Wyatt, would still be elected in November and the seat would remain solidly in Republican hands. I don’t understand Jack’s motive. A risk-reward analysis just doesn’t add up.

In a Nutshell
On January 19, 2019 the 97th Legislative District Committee approves a convention as the method for nominating a Republican candidate for delegate to run in the General election on November 5th. Both parties agree and begin to gather convention delegates for their prospective sides. Mass meetings are held in all three counties and over 1,500 delegates are certified. Only when Chris Peace figures out that he can’t win does he cry foul and wants a do-over. Months beyond the thirty-day appeal period his request clearly violates both Robert’s Rules of Order and the Party Plan. In essence, once the process begins it cannot be stopped. On April 26, the Delegates – not the Legislative District Committee (LDC) – was the overriding authority.

On another tack, Dale Taylor sets in motion an alternate process whereby a second nomination process in the form of firehouse primary would be held on June 1st, 2019. A doctored video of an invalid committee hearing is submitted as evidence. It has no credence. For her efforts Dale is removed as chairwoman by the Hanover County Republican Committee by a vote of 80 for and 1 against.

Three days prior to the long-scheduled May 4th convention, Chris Peace demands that it be cancelled and that his proposed firehouse primary scheduled for June 1st be the official one.

Incredulously, Jack Wilson without authority and in clear violation of The Party Plan denying partisanship by an RPV chairman declares the May 4th convention invalid and that Chris Peace is the official nominee. Wilson directs the May 4th convention notice be taken off the RPV website. Radio Station, WRVA, is informed by an unidentified RPV staff member that there is no information about the convention schedule available.

On May 4th, the convention proceeds. It is well run with over 400 delegates in attendance. They vote overwhelmingly to elect Scott Wyatt as the Republican nominee for the 97th District. Chris Peace directs his own delegates to not attend as he claims the May 4th convention to be illegal. Peace continues to proclaim his own canvas as the rightful one.

At this point Wyatt appeals Peace’s claim to the next higher authority, the 1st Congressional District Committee (1st CDC). They rule:

  • “the May 4th House of Delegates Nominating Convention was valid;
  • the certification of the nominee (Wyatt) elected at the convention to the State Board of Election was valid and proper; and
  • the Call by the 97th LDC for the Party Canvass scheduled for June 1, 2019 is null and void.

Following on;

  • On May 30th, the Executive Committee of the State Central Committee (SCC) rules exactly the same.
  • On June 1st Chris Peace’s personal firehouse primary is conducted in defiance of the rulings of the rulings of the 1st CDC and the Executive Committee of the SCC.
  • On June 22nd, the full SCC Committee votes 66 to 17 in favor of the nomination of Scott Wyatt,
  • On November 5th, Chris Peace continues to run as a write-in candidate in the 97th, but claims no responsibility for the process. He refuses to request his supporters stop their write-in efforts on his behalf.
  • On November 5th, Scott Wyatt is elected to the 97th District House of Delegates He wins with 55.73% with 18,279 votes. His Democrat challenger receives 8,717 while an additional 5,803 write-in votes were cast.

Unfortunately, Virginia Republicans did not fare as well in elections state-wide on November 5th. The Republican Party lost its majorities in both the House and Senate and can now be considered a solid blue state.

  • On November 18th, in an apparent act of sheer vengeance Jack Wilson vacates Mark Daniel’s status as Chairman of New Kent County as well as his certification as a SCC member.
  • Ironically, Mark Daniel had received the RPV award as unit chair of the New Kent County Republican Committee for the largest increase in Republican committee membership in the State of Virginia in 2019.

Peter Churins is the editor of the Charles City Conservative Newsletter and Chairman of the Charles City County Republican Committee. The opinions stated are his alone.