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Friday, May 24, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsV.I. GOP Announces Senate Candidate, Welcomes Texas Congressman for Trump

V.I. GOP Announces Senate Candidate, Welcomes Texas Congressman for Trump

Congressman Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, left, with among others Derrick Callwoodand former Sen. Adlah "Fonzie" Donastorg Jr. at the Republican Party's Commit to Caucus reception on Friday on St. Thomas. (Submitted photo)
Congressman Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, left, Derrick Callwood, second from left, and former Sen. Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg Jr., right, speak with a voter at the Republican Party’s “Commit to Caucus” reception on Friday on St. Thomas. (Submitted photo)

With its Feb. 8 caucus less than two weeks away, the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands hosted a Texas congressman stumping for former President Donald Trump at a private “Commit to the Caucus” reception Friday night on St. Thomas and announced that Derrick Callwood will run for V.I. Senate on the GOP ticket in November.

First-term Congressman Wesley Hunt, who flew in Friday to court V.I. Republicans at the soiree at the home of Dr. David Weisher on St. Thomas and then traveled to St. Croix on Saturday for a reception with party faithful at the Palms at Pelican Cove, declined to speak to issues specific to the Virgin Islands — including parity in federal programs and a 100-plus year legacy of racist Supreme Court rulings that to this day deny the territory’s residents the vote for president or full representation in Congress — telling the Source he didn’t want to put words in Trump’s mouth.

Instead, he focused on the issues of immigration, the “war on oil and gas” and the economy, which he characterized as the worst he’s ever seen, despite economic indicators that inflation is down, employment is up, and the GDP has grown exponentially under President Joe Biden compared to Trump.

Hunt, a West Point graduate, Army captain and Apache helicopter pilot with tours in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories.

“Joe Biden sucks!” he began his speech, to laughter from the crowd of about 30. “It’s been a rough four years in our country, and it’s time for us to get back to what it means to put our priorities first as a country. That’s what America first means. It means we and our territories are ‘numero uno,’ and right now we have a president that’s putting America, and Americans and our territories second. It’s unacceptable. That’s not what I fought for,” said Hunt, who said Trump is the de facto GOP nominee.

“For those of you who may not like President Trump, or he may not be your cup of tea, you’ve got to get over it. He is going to be the nominee,” said Hunt. “So get through your stages of grief, get to acceptance right now, cause the faster you do this, the faster we can work together to get our country back. That’s why I left my three kiddos in Houston, Texas, to be here to spread that message to you,” he said.

Regarding Trump’s legal troubles — four indictments and 91 felony charges — Hunt said the former president told him, “‘They’re not coming after me. They are coming after you, I’m just standing in the way.’ So, as the Republican Party, we cannot afford to spend another dime, or waste another vote, on anyone else. We have to ensure that we have the strong man that we need to preserve our country and our way of life on day one,” he said.

As for convincing people to join the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands — as of December there are 20,059 registered Democrats, 940 registered Republicans and 7,767 independents in the territory, according to active voter registration numbers — Hunt suggested focusing on issues that impact everyday Americans. “Talk about how inflation is bad for everybody, a porous border is bad for everyone, high taxes are bad for everyone, a bloated federal government is bad for everyone, overregulation is bad for everyone,” he said.

Hunt zeroed in on immigration during his speech and after his visit to the territory, posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, that what he learned on the ground here “is that the islanders are now being impacted by the same illegal immigration invasion that impacts the U.S. mainland.”

Weisher — a neurologist and former Democrat who said he “left the Democratic Party because Democratic Party values left me,” and now have become “so extreme” that he feels vindicated in his choice — said he sees evidence of undocumented immigrants every day at Schneider Regional Medical Center. There are so many patients with Social Security numbers of 999-99-9999 that “it’s getting to be a crisis” and very expensive for the hospital, he said.

“We cannot survive another four years. We have now, coming across the border, the equivalent population of Pittsburgh. This usurps every American citizen’s vote. We cannot afford to lose this election. That’s my number one concern,” he said.

Others noted that China is making inroads in the Caribbean, offering financial support to small island nations, in part to undermine Taiwan, which historically has invested heavily in the region. All of which makes the U.S. Virgin Islands an important strategic location for American border security, they said.

To attract more support, however, the Republican Party needs a “kinder, gentler” approach, said Weisher. “I see it moving in that direction and I have to say I’m very, very encouraged.” However, as a physician, the idea of a white politician coming between a young girl and her doctor over abortion just makes no sense, he said.

“It looks so extreme. It doesn’t make us look good; it doesn’t make us look intelligent. I would like to see a more compassionate Republican Party,” and a more logical, medical approach to abortion, he said.

“If we do that, I think the Republican Party will just soar tremendously. We cannot afford to lose. We’re losing our country. Four more years we will not survive, it’s over,” he said.

Callwood, 44, the St. Thomas businessman and veteran of the V.I. Police Department who on Friday announced he will run for the V.I. Senate as a Republican this fall, said he has always been interested in politics but decided to throw his hat in the ring after talking with former Sen. Adlah Alphonso “Foncie” Donastorg Jr. and national committeewoman candidate April Newland, who both attended Friday’s gathering.

A local taxi operator, boat captain and proprietor of the café at the ferry terminal in Red Hook, Callwood said he is focused on the economy, having “experienced the economic hardship” of the Bryan administration and questioned why more progress hasn’t been made on rebuilding the territory’s infrastructure, considering the federal money that has poured into the islands after the 2017 hurricanes and then again during the pandemic.

Before the November election, however, come the primaries and caucuses.

The local GOP is hoping to leverage its national political influence by holding its caucus on Feb. 8, after Iowa and New Hampshire but ahead of Super Tuesday on March 5, when the greatest number of states hold their primary elections and caucuses. It will also, for the first time, use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner. The candidate that gets 50 percent will get all the delegates.

The date change and voting method are against Republican National Committee rules, which has penalized the V.I. GOP by reducing its number of delegates to the presidential nominating convention in July in Milwaukee.

By how much depends on which faction of the party you talk to, with those who opposed the changes — and earlier sought to oust Gordon Ackley as party chair — saying the V.I. will now have as little as one delegate as a result. Dennis Lennox, executive director of the party, said on Sunday that the total is nine.

“The penalty if it’s applied is 50% of 6 which is 3 + 3 automatic or superdelegates for a total of 6,” Lennox said in a text message when asked about the discrepancy. “Many have incorrectly applied the penalty using bad math, basing it on 50% of 9, which is 4. As we’ve said, we’ll send nine delegates to the convention. We’re confident we’ll have a full delegation of nine.”

Voting locations and hours for the Feb. 8 caucus are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the La Reine Chicken Shack in Christiansted on St. Croix; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lovango Rum Bar in Cruz Bay on St. John; and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Bluebeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. And election night results party will be held starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas.

Visit the party website for more information.

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