Is former Loudoun County sheriff Steve Simpson the only candidate dealing honestly with the Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC) pledge?
Long-expected and now about to become reality, Simpson is almost certainly running again as an Independent for sheriff, weeks after pledging to support the Republican nominee for that office.
Like the Irish walking stick that helps you get from point A to point B, serves a head smack to someone in the way, and holds seemingly magical powers, the pledge provides access to the LCRC institution, is invoked to threaten and sanction opponents, while projecting the committee’s faux-authority to intimidate neophytes and rubes.
Can you get from point A to B without a shillelagh? Of course you can, and when needed you can toss it aside – or simply wink at it and it will disappear. Because it is magical, and essentially fake. Just like the LCRC pledge.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I am here today not to bury Steve Simpson but to praise him, because in a political arena of mushmouthed lies, Simpson is unapologetically realistic.
All that matters is the office and who holds it. As you get further up the government hierarchy the two-party system dominates, but at the end of the day the parties are merely devices for getting to an actual place of power.
Oh, you might not know that from listening to the parties. They have principles and platforms and pledges and creeds. That’s all a load of hooey aimed at capturing market segments, as “principled” as the red of a soda can or the blue of a corporate logo.
The LCRC pledge takes on poignance in Simpson’s case for a few reasons. He supported Eric Noble prior to the LCRC convention, and Noble used the pledge as a club to hit his GOP primary opponent, Mike Chapman, repeatedly. Noble and his supporters online goaded Chapman about keeping the pledge, presumably under the expectation Noble would prevail at the convention and Chapman would be tempted to run as an Independent. Shortly after Noble lost, those supporters seemed rather positive about the possibility of Simpson breaking the pledges he took (in order to join the LCRC and then vote at the convention) and run for the office himself.
Disclosure: When I argue the LCRC pledge is a sham, I should point out, I do so as someone who has a 100 percent perfect record keeping the LCRC pledge. I have never failed to vote for an LCRC nominee on any ballot since I moved here in 2004, despite not being an LCRC member most of that time, and my loyalty includes 2007 when I supported the LCRC nominee for sheriff, Greg Ahlemann. That last item – if my calculations are correct – places me higher atop the pinnacle of LCRC perfection than the majority of Republicans who were on the committee in 2007.
Does that make me some kind of great Republican? No, in fact what it makes me is a rube. But let’s take a quick look the texts comprising the so-called pledge.
Here are the relevant sections of the official LCRC documents:
LCRC Membership Form says membership is open to anyone eligible to vote who is
…. in accord with the principles of the Republican Party and who express in open meeting, if requested, their intent to support all of its nominees for public office in the ensuing election, may participate as members of the Republican Party of Loudoun County, Virginia in its Mass Meetings, Party Canvasses, Conventions, or Primaries in their respective Election Districts.
2015 Republican Party Delegate Filing Form states
I hereby declare that I intend to support all of the nominees of the Republican Party of Virginia for public office in the ensuing elections. I am in accord with the principles of the Republican Party of Virginia and have not participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party in the last five years, but if I have, I now renounce affiliation with any other political party.
2015 Republican Party Candidate Filing Form states
I hereby declare I intend to support all of the nominees of the Republican Party of Virginia for public office in the ensuing elections.
I am in accord with the principles of the Republican Party and have not participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party in the last five years, but if I have, I now renounce affiliation with any other political party.
Simpson broke the pledge after the 2007 convention and took a large share of LCRC members with him, reportedly. Voting that November was private, of course, but it was common knowledge afterwards that many of Simpson’s convention delegates voted for him in the general election. (A friend and longtime LCRC member told me years later that “everyone supported Simpson” from the LCRC – which is likely an exaggeration but does give the basic picture.)
For Simpson to break his membership and delegate pledges in 2015, therefore, should surprise no one in the real world. From what I have seen in Loudoun County, the key section of the texts above is the word “intend” in each: The pledge is understood as a momentary statement of intention which can be abrogated as circumstances change.
Steve Simpson was welcomed back onto the LCRC, and allowed to vote at the convention, and there are strong suggestions he has LCRC supporters. He said himself:
The outpouring of support for a run has been huge from sheriff’s employees, as well as activists in both the Republican and Democratic parties …. The recent Republican convention where Sheriff Chapman won by only 5 or 6 votes shows that many Republicans are not happy with Chapman as sheriff. Many of those people have contacted me asking me to run….
Is there a chance those “activists” who are urging him to run were not LCRC delegates – if not LCRC members – and “pledged” to support the GOP ticket? Technically there is a chance, but in reality, of course not: Simpson is saying he has a block of LCRC supporters.
Simpson saw the lay of the land, with a Republican in the race and no sheriff candidate even listed on the Loudoun Democrats’ Web site.
I won’t be supporting Steve Simpson, but I will say he understands political reality like Jaws understood the beaches of Amity Island. The LCRC pledge, in this analogy, is chum.
To explain the reality of the pledge to an outsider, I would say something like this: The person who wrote the pledge, the person who approved the pledge, and the person who hands the pledge to the GOP newcomer, all regard it from the standpoint of situational ethics. It is only that person at the end of the chain – the LCRC initiate – who faces the moral quandary prior to signing the application to be a delegate.
(I also think candidate newcomers face the same quandary – I think Republican candidate Eric Noble was sincere in stating the importance of the pledge and his commitment to adhering to it. I am also guessing he was a little taken aback by the sanguine response to Simpson’s intention to break the pledge Noble had been championing for so long.)
Isn’t that a sad statement? In today’s world the average person does not encounter a lot of pledges, or oaths, or creeds. Apart from church or television courtrooms, most of us never see one at all. When the neophyte takes in the pledge and the supposed moral authority it carries, you can imagine a voice like Perry Mason’s in the poor initiate’s head: “Let me remind you that you are under oath….”
But let’s not kid ourselves: The LCRC’s cynical application of the pledge exemplifies the organization’s true moral authority. When certain power aims are served by it, the pledge will be brought to bear. When the power players need to go outside the party, the pledge will be strategically set aside.
One of the Christian writers said the lowest form of evil is to use someone’s morality against them: Appeal to their virtue to gain a tactical opening. Exploit their moral code as a weakness, cajoling them to adhere to principles, unilaterally, that will be their undoing.
In a contest of power, morality is just another club in the arsenel of clubs to beat your opponent over the head with, as circumstances require.
Luckily for the LCRC – in the morals department – the organization does not actually use the pledge to keep people out, as far as I know. The laxness with Steve Simpson is how everyone is treated.
It is bad enough the pledge is used, hypocritically, to threaten, intimidate and mislead: If it were actually used to screen participants that would be some major-league hypocrisy, which would render the LCRC laughable, or worse.
Such a pledge implies some overriding tradition of rectitude in the institution demanding the signature, and in this instance I think the tradition is so checkered the LCRC should go in a new direction.
If there must be any such “pledge” from the LCRC in the future, it should be directed from the LCRC to every person who signs on as a delegate or candidate or member, along the lines of:
We hope you will support all of the Republican candidates, and we pledge to you we will try to keep our own house in order and convince everyone else in the LCRC to support our candidates.
Such a commitment would be honest, it would restore faith in the institution, it would take away the pledge as a cudgel, and it would remove the stain of hypocrisy.