The Republican National Committee’s Committee on Contests Wednesday stepped into the debate whether John Canegata or Gordon Ackley is the chairman of the Republican Party of the United States Virgin Islands.
Its conclusion, “Neither.”
This was not the only recent development in the controversy that has roiled the local party for four years. Superior Court Judge Kathleen MacKay on Aug. 5 ordered Ackley to quit claiming to be the chairman of the territory’s Republican Party. Ackley, with co-plaintiffs Randolph Maynard and Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht, on the day after the RNC Committee made its recommendation, moved to dismiss its case in Superior Court. On that same day Raymond Williams, chairman of the territory’s Board of Elections, sent a letter to Canegata certifying his election as party chairman.
In other words, each side can point to a document or two and claim victory.
Yohana Manning, the attorney representing Canegata, points to the Superior Court rulings and the letter from the Board of Elections. The Ackley group focuses on the recommendation from the RNC Committee on Contests.
“We are grateful the RNC issued a ruling that allows our party to move forward,” Ackley said in an email to the Source. “We are doing what we can to organize around our candidates on the ballot this November and also adopt a battleground state to help reelect President Trump.”
Manning told the Source that the RNC Committee on Contests report was just a recommendation. He said the committee did not have jurisdiction over who should be chairman of the territory party. He said the important thing was the court ruling.
In an official objection to the RNC committee recommendation, Manning wrote that “the court found that the respondents will suffer irreparable harm if Gordon Ackley, a Yob sycophant, continues to falsely claim to be the chairman.” (Yob is John Yob, a businessman and Republican on St. John, who Manning believes is behind the effort to oust Canegata.)
Republican National Committee on Contests wrote in its report, “Due to the outstanding uncertainties and irregularities surrounding his reelection and the length of his term, including compliance with the 2016 Settlement Agreement, the committee is unable to find that Canegata remains the duly elected VIGOP chairman … Simply because Canegata is not the chairman does not mean that Ackley is either.”
A joint statement from Ackley, Maynard and Gumbs-Hecht said, “We look forward to bringing all Republicans on every island together and partnering with the RNC. Our team is committed to building a real party that gives voters the choice they deserve in a two-party system.”
One of the recommendations by the RNC committee was that neither Ackley nor Canegata is seated at the upcoming RNC convention. It recommends “seating National Committeeman Jevon Williams and National Committeewoman Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal as the only delegates from the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The Republican Convention had been scheduled to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. When the governor of North Carolina, a Democrat, would not guarantee the convention could be held without stringent quarantine precautions, including masks and social distancing, the Republicans yanked it and rescheduled it for Jacksonville, Florida. But then the number of COVID cases shot through the roof in Florida, causing the GOP to rethink their plans once again, canceling the Jacksonville gathering on July 23. Now, most of the activities will take place online, including the acceptance speeches of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The first-day event for delegates will take place on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, with the convention scheduled to run through Aug. 27.
The RNC’s Committee on Contests added about Canegata and Ackley, “There are simply too many irregularities and outstanding questions regarding the propriety of the process by which both contestants and respondents were elected for the committee to recommend that either slate be seated as delegates.”
The report also said, “In 2016, this committee noted that the VIGOP was riddled with ‘venom-full … unprofessional infighting,’” and concluded that the “continual mischief from the Virgin Islands must end, immediately – starting at the top of the party. … Now, four years later, nothing has changed.”
The solution the committee recommends is that the RNC order a new territorial caucus, to be supervised by the RNC Counsel’s Office and carried out following the 2018 VIGOP Rules, to elect a chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman.
Over the years Canegata’s opponents have pointed to what they have called questionable fundraising activities by Canegata and his association with Scott MacKenzie, the treasurer for a political action committee called VIGOP Virgin Islands Republican Party, who pleaded guilty to submitting “a number of materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations” to the Federal Election Commission from 2011 to 2018.
In an apparent response to those concerns, the RNC committee recommends the RNC require the state committee to perform an audit of VIGOP operations, with special attention to the use of the bulk mail permit, organizational spending and related PAC spending.
Warren Bruce Cole, who was active in the territorial party before Canegata became chairman, told the Source, “I am pleased with the recommendation of the RNC Committee on Contests. If it is ultimately adopted, I am confident that the territorial party will follow the guidance of RNC Legal as the recommendation requires.”
Manning wrote, “The caucus held by the VIGOP is an internal function of the VIGOP and cannot be commandeered by this contest committee. Consequently, the contest committee has no authority under the rules governing the Contest Committee to recommend that a new caucus be held for the purpose of electing a new chairman or otherwise.”
The Democratic National Convention will take place this week, from Monday through Thursday. Like the Republican gathering, the Democrats will do most of their business online.