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Monday, May 20, 2013
“Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” Reality mirrored fiction on May 14 at the Roanoke County Administration Center. The Roanoke County Republicans looked just as cartoonish as Bullwinkle when choosing their candidate to run in the general election for the Hollins District seat on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
The May 11 firehouse primary ended in a rare 389-389 tie between Al Bedrosian and Mike Bailey. In case of a tie, Rule 12 of the Official Rules of the Hollins Supervisor Republican Canvass goes into effect:
“If two or more persons have an equal number of votes . . . the Roanoke County Republican Executive Committee shall proceed publicly to determine by lot which of the persons shall be declared elected.”
Several days later, Don Huffman, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, reached deep into the metaphoric hat (really a maroon pillowcase) and . . . presto . . . pulled out a rabbit (in actuality a labeled tongue depressor) to determine the Republican Party candidate is Bedrosian.
There are several lessons to learn from this cartoonish escapade by the Roanoke County Republican Committee. First, the results are not as problematic as the process. Both men — while differing in policy preferences — are worthy candidates, as reflected in the tie for votes. It is a shame that a decision was not made.
Bailey embodies Rocky in this cartoonish tale, saying aloud, “not again.” After learning of a tie — well before the drawing occurred — he was on record as opposing a winner by lot. “You’re talking about the future of the county being determined by chance,” he said. He raises a valid point. People care about how decisions are made, not just the outcome. For example, nobody would want a trial verdict reached by flipping a coin. Process matters, and Roanoke County voters deserve better.
Second, the canvass rule is symptomatic of a larger problem — a lack of leadership. The canvass rule to conduct a lot in case of tie was not controversial in the past because an electoral tie is exceedingly rare. Hence, the Republican Party was “kicking the can down the road,” taking a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” mentality. That kind of thinking by Republicans and Democrats has placed our society in the predicament it is in now, particularly with the burdensome national debt. When postponing decisions, they will eventually need to be made — often when the stakes are higher. In this case, an unnecessary and divisive problem has arisen within the Republican Party of Roanoke County. The local party is fractured going into a general election.
Third, this cartoonish episode shows us why few qualified candidates choose to run for political office. Can you imagine spending hundreds of hours — often away from your family — doing research, performing interviews and meeting potential voters to serve your community only to have the outcome decided by fate? Why bother?
On a positive note, this firehouse primary shows us that every vote counts. If only one more person voted, there would be no tie.
Fourth, perceptions are important. A legitimate political party choosing its candidate by chance does not bolster public confidence. If a political party cannot make a clear decision to choose its candidate, how can that party be expected to lead — especially during difficult times? Choosing a candidate by lot can create a perception of indecision, which does not bode well for Republicans going into the general election.
The Republican Party may have identified its candidate for the Hollins District. Yet, like Bullwinkle, it may have pulled something else out of its hat entirely. Congratulations to Bedrosian for winning a hard-fought primary. Unfortunately, his own party may have hurt his chances going into the general election.
I urge the committee to re-examine its canvass rules to find a selection alternative that treats its candidates equally and equitably. While both candidates were treated equally, neither candidate was treated fairly. The moral of this cartoonish cautionary electoral tale: The public would be comfortable knowing that a decision was made.
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