Organizers and participants at a meeting of Republicans Saturday on St. Thomas disregarded charges leveled by Republican state chairman John Canegata that the meeting was an “illegal” gathering organized by “rogues,” running their meeting by strict rules and claiming they were the true representatives of the Republican Party on the Virgin Islands.
And after taking care of organizational details, in their first action of the day the group declared "vacant" the office of state chairman that Canegata presumes to hold and elected Warren B. Cole to that position.
A total of 28 registered as delegates to the convention, and they carried with them 17 written proxies to enable them to vote for 17 Republicans who could not attend.
The Virgin Islands has about 1,700 registered Republicans, but there is the possibility that the local nine delegates that will be sent to the Republican National Convention could play a role if that convention doesn’t coronate Donald Trump and falls into chaos, as some have predicted.
Most of the votes taken during the Saturday Convention held at the Windward Passage on St. Thomas were 45 to 0.
The only sign of harsh disagreement occurred outside the conference room, in the courtyard of the hotel.
Robert Max Schanfarber, who has sided with Canegata in several lawsuits and who is the secretary of the Canegata faction, delivered to Herbert Schoenbohm and this reporter in the courtyard a court order from Judge Harold Willocks, signed on Friday, that said the group meeting was “enjoined from using the “Republican Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands” name and from using “the red, white and blue elephant logo upholding stars across its back.”
After delivering copies of the court order and saying he did not plan to participate in the proceedings, Schanfarber retreated to a far end of the courtyard, away from the conference room. Several organizers went over to talk to him, including Holland Redfield, a former V.I. Senator and leader of the opposition to Canegata. The exchanges appeared to be heated, but could not be heard.
Those attending the Saturday meeting, at least five of whom are attorneys, were aware of the ruling by Willocks. It did initiate some concerns.
James Oliver, one of the organizers and longtime Republican Territorial Committee member, said he had received phone calls from Republicans worried that if they attended the Saturday convention they could be held in contempt. Oliver, Redfield, and Cole pointed out the court order did not say they could not meet. One of them pointed out that “free assembly” is guaranteed in the United States Constitution.
Nowhere in the conference room or on material distributed was the elephant logo seen.
Getting around the court order about the name was more tedious. The convention called itself the “Republican Party of the Virgin Islands of the United States.” Cole, who is an attorney, pointed out that the court order, did not say that “we could not call ourselves Republicans or Virgin Islanders, which we are.”
Canegata referred to the Saturday convention as “a gathering of the Schoenbaum (sic) party – not the Republican Party."
Schoenbohm had called the convention in his role as vice chairman of the local party. Schoenbohm stood for no offices selected at the Saturday convention, nor did he say much on the floor during the convention. Schoenbohm had been removed from his position as vice-chairman by the Canegata faction by rules adopted in May that a felon could not hold office in the party. Schoenbohm, a long-time Republican Party member, was convicted in charges concerning telephone fraud about 25 years ago.
The legality of the May 6 meeting at which that rule was adopted, along with rules that might have later contributed to expulsion of Oliver, Redfield, and Cole from the party by Canegata, is being questioned by those representing the party Saturday.
The convention did contain debate. When it came to putting in a replacement for Canegata, Jodi Hodge was given strong support by Vincen McClendin and Krim Ballentine. Although Cole prevailed after a ballot vote, support appeared unanimous that Hodge should be given the position of vice-chairman of the party organization. However, after a discussion of the rules for the convention, it was decided that should be done in an emergency session of a Territorial Committee that would be called next week.
This convention elected 28 members to the Territorial Committee. However, the Canegata faction maintains it is the Territorial Committee. It will have its own convention next Saturday.
It is not apparent whether the court or the Republican National Committee will decide which group is the real Republican Territorial Committee. The split between the two factions became complete when it was disputed whether the winners of the March caucus would represent the Virgin Island Republicans at the national convention or whether those winners should be disqualified and replaced by alternatives, but other issues also separate them.
In the Saturday convention, Redfield was selected as national committeeman, surviving a challenge from Ballantine. Alissa Runyon was unopposed and selected national committeewoman.
In accepting his election as state chairman, Cole said, “I did not anticipate running for office, but circumstances required that there be a change in leadership.”
Cole has been a member of the Territorial Committee since 2008.
In a break during the convention for voting, Schoenbohm told the Source, “See how this meeting is being conducted, no one thrown up against the wall and beaten up.” His obvious reference was a recent meeting chaired by Canegata where participants were allegedly assaulted.