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HomeNewsLocal newsEarly V.I. Republican Caucus Gets National Attention, But Infighting Continues

Early V.I. Republican Caucus Gets National Attention, But Infighting Continues

While its third-in-the-nation caucus Thursday has gained national attention, the local chapter of the Republican Party is again mired in internal divisions, including a bid to expel three members at a trial by party executives set for March.

Current National Committeewoman Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht, her husband, party treasurer Todd Hecht, and National Committeeman Jevon Williams were notified by letter Jan. 31 that the party seeks to remove them for missing three consecutive state committee meetings, among other charges.

“At its special meeting on January 31, 2024, the Virgin Islands Republican State Committee (‘State Committee’) voted to receive the referral by the Special Committee on Discipline and Privileges and schedule a trial within 45 days to consider your removal and expulsion from any office, position or membership within the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands,” the letter stated. The trial is set for March 9 at 8 a.m.

Gumbs-Hecht is running for national committeewoman on Thursday’s ballot, as is April Newland, a second-generation realtor whose family arrived in the Virgin Islands in 1957 to start a construction and real estate company. Williams was removed from the ballot after Valerie Stiles allegedly filed an objection saying he did not reside in the Virgin Islands. Williams, a member of the National Guard with a home in Texas, has disputed that charge.

A mailer this week to V.I. GOP members, paid for by “the Conservative Battleground Fund,” endorses former President Donald Trump, and John Yob and Newland for national committeeman and committeewoman.
A mailer to V.I. GOP members, paid for by “the Conservative Battleground Fund,” endorses former President Donald Trump, and John Yob and April Newland for national committeeman and committeewoman.

A mailer this week to V.I. GOP members, paid for by “the Conservative Battleground Fund,” endorses former President Donald Trump, and John Yob and Newland for national committeeman and committeewoman. According to Open Secrets, a 501(c)3 nonpartisan organization that tracks money in U.S. politics, the political action committee, or PAC, was formed in 2020 in Wyoming, Michigan, and lists David Dishaw as its treasurer. Yob is also from Michigan, as is Dennis Lennox, the V.I. Republican Party’s executive director. According to the fund’s year-end report to the Federal Election Commission, dated Jan. 31, it had $6,420.13 cash on hand.

Todd Hecht said the infiltration of the local party by wealthy politicos from Michigan — including, he said, Saul Anuzis, president of the 60 Plus Association who was chairman of the Michigan GOP from 2005–2009, a candidate for chairman of the RNC in 2009 and 2011, and according to a 2016 NPR report had a contract with the V.I. Republican Party for fundraising — and the bid to rid it of “grassroots” Virgin Islanders is “a form of ethnic cleansing.”

The situation appears to echo the infighting of 2016 when party members voted to oust John Canegata as chairman. Canegata and his defenders were trying to bar members such as Holland Redfield and Herb Schoenbohm from official duties. The difference now is that the names have changed. Redfield and Schoenbohm have passed, and Gordon Ackley is the local party chairman.

Ackley doesn’t hear the echo; he emailed the Source on Saturday, saying the story is not about infighting but instead how the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands is having the third-in-the-nation caucus on Thursday and has “gone a long way toward rebuilding in about one year’s time.”

The party’s move to employ ranked-choice voting received favorable notice in a Washington Post opinion article last year. It described ranked-choice voting as “different from the traditional ‘first-past-the-post’ election method. Instead of declaring the candidate with the most votes to be the winner, ranked-choice voting asks each voter to place the candidates in order of their preference. If no one gets a majority, the lowest-placing candidate would be dropped from the contest and their votes would be reallocated to their supporters’ next preference. This process is repeated until someone wins a majority.”

Ackley and Lennox have said that changing the caucus date to Feb. 8 — after Iowa and New Hampshire but well ahead of Super Tuesday on March 5, when the greatest number of states hold their primary elections and caucuses — would leverage the territory’s political influence.

“We might not be able to vote for president in a General Election, but our votes count equally in a primary and a caucus, because a delegate is a delegate, whether it’s a delegate from Iowa or a delegate from the Virgin Islands,” Lennox said at a party gathering in October. “And the difference between Iowa and New Hampshire is, they award their delegates proportionately. So, depending on how the math works out, it’s entirely possible that the winner of the third-in-the-nation contest in the Virgin Islands actually gets more delegates than Iowa or New Hampshire,” he said.

Indeed, the presidential hopefuls, including Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Nikki Haley, have all had surrogates appear on their behalf, with DeSantis and Haley also addressing local party members directly via Zoom calls. According to one source, MSNBC plans to cover Thursday’s caucus results, and former RNC chairman Michael Steele, who hosts a weekend morning show on the cable TV channel, will appear in person.

Williams, Gumbs-Hecht and Hecht objected to the changes in both the method of voting and the caucus date, both of which were against Republican National Committee Rules and come with penalties, including reducing the number of the territory’s delegates to the nominating convention in July in Milwaukee, though by how much depends on whom you ask. Hecht said that a majority of the party’s elected State Committee members objected to the new rules when they were put to a vote on June 16, with 11 voting against and five in favor of the changes. Ackley has disputed that assessment.

However, a subsequent bid by 14 party executives — including Williams, Hecht and Gumbs-Hecht — to oust Ackley in November failed after the RNC chief counsel’s office rejected their effort because it did not comply with party rules on meeting notices.

While the meeting was properly called via a petition signed by the requisite number of State Committee members, RNC Chief Counsel Matt Raymer said in a letter later that month that “the petition merely requested that the chairman call a meeting; it would not itself necessarily constitute a call.”

Additionally, while a Zoom link was provided for members to attend the meeting, the V.I. GOP rules stipulate there also must be an in-person location and that at least three members from both districts be physically present before virtual technology may be used, Raymer said in a letter to Vice Chairman Randolph Maynard, who was appointed acting chairman at the Nov. 4 meeting.

As a result, “the RNC will continue to recognize Gordon Ackley as chairman of the VIGOP,” Raymer said in November.

The trial of Williams, Hecht and Gumbs-Hecht is scheduled to occur during a special meeting of the State Committee on March 9, according to the Jan. 31 letter, which was issued a day after a letter to the editor by Gumbs-Hecht, correcting a previous press release from the party that characterized her as a former national committeewoman, when she in fact continues to hold that title. At last week’s RNC winter meeting in Las Vegas, she was endorsed by none other than Harmeet Kaur Dhillon, a National Committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, and the founder of Dhillon Law Group Inc. who was a legal advisor to the Trump campaign in 2020.

Regarding his residency, Williams provided copies of his V.I. driver’s license and his voter identification to Ackley and stated in a letter, “Furthermore, the irony of questioning my residency, considering my consistent adherence to legal requirements and obligations governing residency in the Virgin Islands, is not lost on me. This is especially notable when compared to Mr. Yob, the sole candidate challenging me, who has openly stated in news publications his plans to maintain residences in Washington, D.C., Michigan, and the Virgin Islands.”

Questions about Yob’s residency also arose in 2016, including whether he waited 90 days to register to vote after moving to St. John.

Stiles’ complaint states that in a tax document, Williams claimed a house in Texas as his primary residence. If Williams’ name remains off the ballot, the only contested local office will be between Newland and Gumbs-Hecht for national committeewoman.

The letter from Ackley announcing the March trial also charges Hecht with “failing to perform the duties of treasurer, seizing control of the [Republican Party of Virgin Islands] bank account, and seizing control” of its mailbox. Hecht disputes that characterization, saying that as treasurer, he is legally responsible for protecting the party’s purse, especially given the recent divisions.

“The attempts to oust the elected National Committeeman, National Committeewoman and Treasurer from the Republican Party is yet another “scheme,” Hecht said in an email. “Per RNC Rules, Ackley cannot remove elected RNC Members. And his brazen actions of telling local press that they are not members is a level of malfeasance that will be addressed.”

Though all but two have since dropped out of the race, the candidates for the U.S. presidential nomination on the local GOP ballot are Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Perry Johnson, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Donald Trump because each paid the party $20,000 to qualify.

The voting locations for Thursday’s caucus are:

St. Croix – 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at La Reine Chicken Shack, Christiansted.

St. John – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lovango Rum Bar, Cruz Bay.

St. Thomas – 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Bluebeard’s Castle, Estate Taarneberg, Charlotte Amalie.

Official results will be released during the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands election night party at the Morningstar Buoy House Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Results are expected by 8 p.m.

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