A meeting that some members said turned violent and another lawsuit marked a chaotic weekend for the Territorial Committee of the Republican Party.
Committee members offered differing accounts of what transpired on Saturday at a regular meeting held in both districts. The meeting saw multiple resignations and a claim that one member was physically attacked.
Shortly after the meeting was held, local party Chairman John Canegata issued a news release saying the sole item on its agenda had been the ratification of appointments of David Johnson, Jevon Williams and Garfield Doran to vacancies on the territorial committee.
According to a report released with Canegata’s statement, those appointments were ratified by a voice vote in which the ‘ayes’ prevailed. Immediately afterwards, Canegata said, a motion was made to adjourn the meeting and again the ‘ayes’ prevailed by voice vote.
But committee Vice-Chairman Herbert Schoenbohm claimed Saturday that neither vote was done in a procedurally proper way and that the meeting ended with elected delegate Gwen Brady, who is one of the plaintiffs in a law suit filed Friday against Canegata, being ” slammed against the wall and thrown to the floor” by member Fred Espinosa.
Brady is one of seven plaintiffs seeking a declaratory judgement in V.I. Superior Court that would overturn Canegata’s March 21 disqualification of the winners of the local Republican caucus.
Canegata’s statement on Saturday made no mention of any attack on Brady, nor did his report on the meeting, nor did a press release issued on official V.I. GOP letterhead shortly after the report. The only hint of hostilities at the meeting was found in Canegata’s statement, a reference to Schoenbohm and member Warren B. Cole continuing a “well established pattern of behavior and conduct by using uncivil language and trying to disrupt the proceedings.”
“I must, however, praise the overwhelming number of Territorial Committee members for contributing to our party in a graceful, professional and dignified manner,” wrote Canegata.
Schoenbohm and Canegata have traded verbal shots before. Last month on national television, Canegata referred to Schoenbohm as a "convict" and "Nazi sympathizer," among other things, on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC (See Related Link: V.I. Republican Infighting Makes National News.)
Saturday, Canegata mentioned in his statement that at that day’s meeting he had accepted the resignation of Brady and committee secretary Tanya-Marie Singh, with no further elaboration.
When asked by the Source to comment on why Brady and Singh had resigned, the chairman re-sent the meeting report and press release and said “The Republican Party of the Virgin Islands is not issuing further statement at this time.”
Schoenbohm claimed the meeting ended on St. Croix with Canegata ordering everyone to leave the location where it was being held – a shooting range that is his private property.
He said after the meeting was adjourned some of the members of the Territorial Committee reconvened [See report here] to officially pass condemnation on Espinosa for his attack on Brady and Canegata for not following party rules. They also demanded the party send a certification to the RNC of the winning delegation of the V.I.’s March 10 caucus.
Gwen Brady had not responded to a request for comment as of Sunday evening.
Saturday’s meeting followed another round in the Battle to determine who will represent the Virgin Islands at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, this summer. For the second time, the dispute spilled over into V.I. Superior Court due to a new complaint filed Friday by six contested delegates and National Committeeman Holland Redfield.
The six who filed the complaint with Redfield are the six highest vote-getters from the local GOP caucus held on March 10. The would-be delegates, a slate made up of John Yob, Erica Yob, Lindsey Eilon, Gwen Brady, Warren B. Cole and George Logan, were disqualified by the Canegata on March 21.
Canegata said the delegates had not followed a caucus rule stating delegates must accept their positions in writing within five days of winning their bids.
Those delegates now want Canegata to be forbidden by the court from “certifying, directly or indirectly, any persons as delegates to the 2016 Republican National Conventions,” other than themselves “the elected delegates.” They also want the court to authorize the party’s next subordinate officer to act in Canegata’s stead as certifier.
Their complaint alleges that Canegata’s effort to disqualify the elected slate came before the results were officially certified in late March. The delegates claim that they all submitted their willingness to serve in writing within five days of the results’ certification, not the caucus.
The complaint claims that Canegata’s actions in disqualifying the winning delegates were an attempt to substitute “by subterfuge” an alternate slate which he favors.
The complainants also allege the chairman has a “prior history of providing deliberately false or fraudulent certifications to the RNC.” The complaint states that Canegata once certified to the RNC that a territorial committee meeting had been held to adopt caucus rules when in fact it had not.
At the time of their disqualification, three of the elected delegates were already embroiled in a separate court case to determine their eligibility to vote in the territory, and thus to participate in a party caucus. The Yobs and Eilon, who have deep connections to Republican Party politics on the mainland and who recently moved to the territory, are still fighting to have their voting eligibly permanently restored. On March 4, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes struck the Yobs and Eilon from the territory’s registry of voters, saying they had not met a 90-day residency requirement.
In a response to the latest lawsuit, Canegata issued a statement stating, “The law of the land is clear: Republican Party rules – not courts – govern Republican Party procedure, according to established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”
Canegata also called the lawsuit “frivolous” and accused some of the plaintiffs of “failing to follow basic rules and even swearing false oaths in their attempt to cause, in their own words, chaos at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.”
In February, Yob published a book titled "Chaos: The Outsider’s Guide to a Contested Republican Convention," which makes a case that what happens in the U.S. territories, including the USVI, may make the difference between "chaos" and "catastrophe" for the GOP at the national convention.
Fawkes’ disqualification of his voting rights in the territory included an allegation that he had falsified documents at a St. Thomas Elections office after being told on St. John that he did not meet the 90-day residency requirement to register.
So far the Courts have been skeptical that the 90-day requirement exists in the V.I. Code. Both a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction have been issued in favor of arguments made by the Yobs and their co-plaintiffs the Eilons.
In the meantime both the original elected delegation, and its alternates who currently appear as the official delegates on the V.I. GOP website, have met to elect chairmen and convention committee members.
According to V.I. GOP minutes provided by Canegata, he himself was elected delegation Chairman on April 7 with votes from National Committeewoman Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, delegates Valerie Stiles, David Johnson, Andrea Lee Moeekel, Humberto O’Neal, Steven K. Hardy and Robert Max Schanfarber, and four alternates.
Redfield has claimed, in an April 8 letter to Canegata, that it is he who was elected delegation chairman, a decision that took place at an apparently separate meeting attended by the Yobs, Eilon, Gwen Brady, Warren B. Cole and George Logan.