Republicans offered controversy in Coles race

I must confess confusion about a candidate.

Just last week, one of our reporters did a story on a new candidate entering the Coles District race for county supervisor. Given that I had not previously heard of this candidate, I read it rather closely. The gentleman’s name is Tom Burrell.

At first, I was rather happy to see someone else entering the race.

Sometimes, you’re simply glad you don’t have to vote in a race. The Coles District Supervisor’s race presents such a situation for some Republican activists, and some Coles District voters. Until Burrell’s announcement, two candidates had presented themselves.

Neither incumbent Republican Supervisor Mary Hill, nor the challenger who has presented himself, Soil and Water Conservation Board Member Martin Nohe, impress. Hill has damaged herself with controversy over her son’s legal difficulties and a resulting lawsuit by a county police officer and her insistence that the taxpayer foot the bill for her legal defense. Nohe, until recently a resident of the Dumfries District, is credentialed mainly as someone who has labored in the GOP vineyard for a short time.

Many Republicans were desperately searching for another alternative.

I initially thought that Burrell might provide such an alternative. A recent member of the Prince William County Republican Committee, Burrell is a retired Air Force Colonel. But while Hill and Nohe have presented some local Republicans with grave doubts about their candidacies, Burrell has already engendered the enmity of county Republican leaders.

You see, my close reading of the story on Burrell’s candidacy raised a number of questions, primary among them being “What is he running as?” I did not immediately recognize his name as someone I knew. To be sure, I don’t know everyone, but I have been active for 12 years in local politics.

Then, late last week, I received from the secretary of the county GOP an e-mail notice of Burrell’s impending public announcement of his candidacy, at an event held last Saturday at Westridge. Included in the notice was Burrell’s Web site address. I went there to learn more about him.

Again, I was left without a vital piece of information: Burrell’s party affiliation. So I sent him an e-mail (his address was provided), and asked him. He was kind enough to respond fairly promptly, and when I opened my e-mail at the office this morning, he informed me that he was running as an independent.

As a result, I was livid. As a candidate, Burrell is certainly entitled to seek support from wherever and whomever he can find it. But his announcement had been sent on an e-mail list maintained for use by Republicans, for the advancement of the GOP cause. Thus, even though there are some Republicans running for public office whom I find to be unacceptable, I have nevertheless not had objection when they have sent their announcements through that same list. At a minimum, they are Republicans.

But Burrell let me know, and announced on Saturday, that his candidacy was as an independent, one notwithstanding the fact that there will doubtlessly be a Republican nominee for the Coles District Supervisor’s seat in November.

We don’t have many standards in the GOP in Virginia. State law does not provide for registration by party, so Republicans have a Party Plan reflected in the local Party Plan, primarily written by your intrepid correspondent which applies the only real standard that we can: that participants in party activities pledge “their intent to support all Republican nominees for public office in the ensuing election.”

When I forwarded Burrell’s response (with a courtesy copy to him) to the county Republican committee’s secretary and chairman, with a note expressing my opinion that Burrell should not be permitted to use our partisan resources to promote his independent candidacy, I discovered that I was not the only one who was dismayed by his actions.

Burrell’s actions were no more popular among members of the county Republican committee’s executive committee, on which I serve, and which met on Monday night. It seems that, in pursuit of his candidacy, Burrell has obtained a copy of the GOP voter list, which is maintained to advance Republican candidates and causes.

All this, while concealing from Republicans, until his announcement, that he was running as an independent.

As noted above, Burrell has a right to pursue election to public office in any way that he sees fit. But he does not have the right or authority to utilize the partisan resources of the committee to advance his nonpartisan candidacy.

But disturbingly, Burrell seems to have had no qualms about mendaciously making use of resources meant for the GOP and advancing its candidates to advance his personal political ambitions, ambitions which he has scrupulously separated from the GOP. There are a number of words for such behavior; among them is “opportunism.”

Oh, foresoothe! you say. Not opportunism in politics!

Okay, Okay. Maybe, cynical pretensions aside, I’m an idealist. I have this funny notion that an individual should not maintain his GOP credentials if he can’t abide by his pledge. That’s why, a few years back, I was so hard on Republican Dumfries Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, over her support for Democrat incumbent Kathleen Seefeldt over GOP nominee Sean Connaughton. That’s why I respected the decision of Woodbridge School Board Member Steven Keen to resign from the county GOP when he supported Woodbridge Democrat Supervisor Hilda Barg over the GOP nominee. Maybe Keen’s was a bad decision, but at least he was honest about it, and when he couldn’t keep his word, he took the appropriate course, one of integrity.

Burrell, on the other hand, has surrendered integrity for ambition, and maintains his membership, as of this writing, in the Prince William County Republican Committee. It’s a position fundamentally at odds with someone maintaining a candidacy against a Republican nominee, at least when you’ve promised your intent “to support all Republican nominees for public office in the ensuing election.” It means you’ve already established that you can’t keep your word.

It’s an inauspicious start for someone who aspires to a position of public trust.

An attorney, Young lives with his wife and their two sons in Montclair.

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