April 4, 2009
in Virginia Split Sharply Over Leader
By THEO EMERY
When a conservative delegate to the Virginia General Assembly was elected chairman of the state Republican Party last May, he promised fresh leadership and the revitalization of an organization that many Republicans feared had lost direction.
Instead, Republican election losses in November and high-profile missteps have plunged the Republican Party of Virginia into months of ferocious infighting between supporters and opponents of the new chairman, Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County. The dispute will be resolved on Saturday, when the state party’s central committee holds its quarterly meeting on the outskirts of Richmond to decide
whether to remove Mr. Frederick 10 months into his four-year term.
Many state Republican organizations are regrouping after November, but the process has been particularly venomous in Virginia, where Mr. Frederick’s supporters are battling with moderates and also some longtime conservatives as much over the party’s direction and political center as over its chairman.
“By Virginia standards, this is a pretty ugly street brawl,” the chairman of the government department at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, John J. McGlennon, said. Fifty-eight central committee members — the number needed in the 77-member committee to oust Mr. Frederick — have called for his removal or resignation, as have many Republican state legislative leaders and all five of Virginia’s Republican members of Congress. The party’s candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell, who resigned as state attorney general to run, has also said Mr. Frederick should resign.
The basis for Saturday’s vote is 10 grievances brought by members of the party’s central committee, the most serious accusing Mr. Frederick, 33, of failing to promptly turn over contributions his Internet technology company raised on the Web for the party. Other grievances accuse him of exceeding his authority, acting without the central committee’s approval and damaging the party’s reputation.
Mr. Frederick has denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations “totally false.” In a letter to party members, he said he would not step down and accused “party insiders” of trying to nullify his election and regain power.
In an e-mail interview, Mr. Frederick said, “It’s no accident that an overwhelming number of those spearheading and supporting the effort to remove me endorsed my competitor in last year’s contest for chairman.”
“Some have just never accepted my victory, and have discounted the reasons why the grass roots voted for me,” he added.
A former United States representative, Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who has stayed on the sidelines in the dispute, praised Mr. Frederick as a “very able” lawmaker who has been subject to highly personal attacks, but predicted he
would be ousted as “part of the bloodletting that goes on when a party loses.”
Mr. Frederick, among the most conservative General Assembly delegates, was elected at the party convention last May with the support of anti-tax and anti-abortion activists. Many conservative newcomers saw his upset victory over the more moderate incumbent, former Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, as an affirmation of their rising power.
In October during the campaign for the presidency, Mr. Frederick made headlines when he said that then Senator Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden “both had friends that bombed the Pentagon,” a reference to Mr. Obama’s acquaintance with William Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground radical group in the 1960s. The comment drew a rebuke from Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent, Senator John McCain.
The turmoil deepened after Election Day, when Mr. Obama carried Virginia, where the Republicans lost a United States Senate seat and three House seats. Some in the party began calling for Mr. Frederick’s ouster, but the party took no action at its meeting in December. His opponents have now made their efforts to remove Mr. Frederick a centerpiece of Saturday’s meeting. Debate has become so rancorous that some Republicans worry it is overshadowing the governor’s race.
In a letter to party members late in 2008, J. Kenneth Klinge, a longtime Republican activist who was the party’s executive director in the 1970s, argued for Mr. Frederick’s resignation. “Having known personally all the state chairmen we’ve had in the party since the early ’60s, he is the worst,” Mr. Klinge said, accusing Mr. Frederick of divisiveness and refusing to embrace anyone who he feels is less socially conservative than he is.
But supporters of Mr. Frederick, like Willie Deutsch, a sophomore at Patrick Henry College who writes a political blog, are equally passionate. Mr. Deutsch, 19, who began a Facebook page and an online petition supporting Mr. Frederick, said the fight had become vicious. He worries that those who elected Mr. Frederick state party chairman will abandon the party if he is unseated. “These are the people who are going to be working hard for their candidates through the summer and into the fall,” Mr. Deutsch said. “If you want to tell all those volunteers, we don’t care about your vote in the party, don’t expect them to come out and campaign for you.”
If you would like to get involved in the We Support Chairman Jeff Frederick movement, please join us on facebook, or the RPVNetwork, sign the petition, and contact your state central members and theMcDonnell campaign.