Shenandoah County represented at RNC
The Shenandoah Valley-Herald
Tuesday’s decision by the Republican National Convention to adopt changes in the rules for candidacy was made, Valley delegates say, without most of Virginia’s delegation.
Joseph Sonsmith, a delegate from Shenandoah County, said he barely made it to the floor in time for the vote, and many other Virginia delegates didn’t.
In a change that takes effect in 2016, delegates will be bound to vote at the convention for the candidates they are pledged to support according to primary or caucus outcomes.
A second change, however, allows the party to change its regulations between conventions, a move many activists believe will be used to adopt delegate-selection procedures that will strip grass-roots movements at the state level of any power.
This, according to Wendell Walker, committee chairman for Virginia’s 6th District, is a “stricter, top-down type of nomination process” that was not supported by the Virginia delegation.
“We are a grass-roots state. That’s what has made us a great conservative state,” Walker said Tuesday before the vote. “No, Virginia is not willing to make those changes.
“Keeping the rules as they [were] allows the folks like the Ron Paul groups to come in and have their candidates. We [in Virginia] are a little more open-minded and a little more sensitive to grass-roots concerns.”
He said the top-down approach is an effort by the party’s leadership to streamline the nomination process.
“There are certain people in our party that like to control, but we don’t take too kindly to that as far as Virginians,” Walker said.
Sonsmith, who owns a building contracting and timber framing firm in Woodstock, echoed Walker’s statements, but said that he and the other delegates from Virginia ran into some “trouble as a delegation” Tuesday morning.
He said the Virginia delegation met Tuesday morning at breakfast, and after a presentation by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, decided to spend the day working the party floor, talking to other delegates from other states and gathering opposition to the rule changes.
“[The changes] are completely in the face of the grass-roots movement,” said Sonsmith, one of three 6th District delegates. “As a delegation we were all, I think, completely decided on what this rule change would be.”
But, when it came time to leave for the convention, the trouble began.
The bus scheduled to transport the delegates from the hotel to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the convention site, was two hours late, Sonsmith said. The convention floor opened at 2 p.m., and with a lengthy security process, Sonsmith said the group already was cutting it close.
Next, the bus ferrying the delegates got lost several times.
“We ended up over the course of about an hour and a half doing circles around the Tampa Bay Times [Forum]. The bus driver supposedly didn’t know where he was,” Sonsmith said. “We went around the streets about 12 times. At one point we were headed 20 minutes out of town and had to come 20 minutes back in.”
Finally, “We basically forced them to stop” and some delegates walked about eight blocks to reach the building entrance, he said.
By the time he reached the convention floor, Sonsmith said he had missed the rules committee meeting and the vote was just minutes away. Several delegates, he said, were unable to make it in time.
“It’s still a really big mystery in everyone’s mind and the Virginia delegation is feeling used. … We really feel like something was planned there,” he said. “The Virginia delegation did not have a chance to talk to the other delegates. This change was completely ramrodded through.”
Walker said Wednesday that the rule changes created a lot of unpleasant feelings among delegates.
“It’s something that I think can be changed in the future. The rules can be amended in a couple of years when the leadership of the convention comes back together, you can propose some amendments that may help,” he said. “There was such a controversy with the decision yesterday that I’m sure that the RNC will have to go back and look and see what is going to work best.”
Sonsmith had been a supporter of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, during the primary campaign and hosted several meetings on his behalf in Shenandoah County.
Now that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney officially secured the Republican nomination on Tuesday, Sonsmith said he plans to support Romney and “work hard for my party.”
“Certainly, Romney was never the candidate of Ron Paul supporters, and I’m sure there are people who support Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich who don’t call themselves Romney supporters,” he said. “But once again, we are all in the same party.”
Sonsmith, 38, did say that some of the changes adopted in the Republican Party platform on Tuesday, such as those having to do with Internet freedom, support for a gold commission and limitation of domestic drones, may help warm more Paul supporters to Romney.
“We did have some really nice changes to the platform,” he said.