Joint Elections Board Weighs in on Republican Party Debate

While the two factions of the local Republican Party work out their issues in court, the Joint Board of Elections decided Wednesday not to certify the process proposed by the Republican Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands, headed by State Chairman John Canegata, for submitting the names of candidates running for public office in the upcoming general election.

Members of the Joint Board met with Canegata on St. Croix last week and, at the time, were asked to allow the party to submit its nominations – for offices including Senate, Board of Elections, Board of Education and other slots – after a convention scheduled for June 11.

While Joint Board members each voiced their own concerns about the local Republican debate Wednesday, they also said the decision to not to support the request was based on a late filing.

“The convention that they are proposing to have, based on their submission to the board, is so they can send nominees for public office, which we voted to reject today,” St. Thomas-St. John District Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said after the meeting.

“And that process was rejected based on the fact that it came after the common filing date of May 17,” he added.

Several board members said during Wednesday’s meeting that despite any delays that the party’s infighting might have caused, the Elections System should not make an exception or grant favors that have not been given to anyone else.

“There is a common filing date,” Joint Board member Raymond Williams said. “Primary elections are hosted for public offices and any one running for office had to file by a common date, and the only person that has filed on the Republican side is Robert Moorhead. If the Joint Board sets a policy to accept this proposal, I’m still not going to certify any other names.”

While the board moved on from the discussion after the vote to approve, the subject did come up again at the end of the meeting after board member Lawrence Boschulte made a different motion to recognize Canegata as the party’s state chairman.

Watlington said after the meeting that the board’s approval of the motion doesn’t put it in the middle of the debate between the two party factions, but rather upholds a recent judge’s order for a temporary restraining order against Canegata’s rival group.

On May 18, Canegata filed a complaint in Superior Court against Herbert Schoenbohm, Warren B. Cole, Leigh Goldman, Holland Redfield, Fred Vialet and James Oliver, seeking to prevent them from organizing a territorial convention scheduled for May 28 under the name of “The Republican Party of the Virgin Islands.”

Canegata, who says the real GOP territorial convention is scheduled for June 11, has also sought to block the defendants from using the logo of the Republican National Committee, a red, white and blue elephant with stars across its back. Redfield is currently serving as the party’s national committeeman for the Virgin Islands.

Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks gave Canegata an initial victory last week by issuing a temporary restraining order. Willocks said Canegata is likely to prevail in his complaint based on the fact that “those in control of the Republican Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands may lawfully prevent the appropriation of their name by organizations not functioning under the aegis of the Republican Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands."

The court agreed with the plaintiff that the two separate conventions, both claiming to be officially organized by the local Republican Party, are likely to cause irreparable harm.

During Wednesday’s meeting, several board members said that without knowing all the facts in the case, Willocks’ order should still be complied with.

“The temporary restraining order was issued and, for us, it has to be recognized,” St. Thomas-St. John District board member Carla Joseph said. “I don’t have a fixed position on this matter yet and I would like an opportunity to fully digest it before I can really talk about it, but an order is an order.”

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