After former Delegate Rich Anderson surprised the Commonwealth on Thursday with his bid for Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, I called him up and invited him to breakfast this morning to discuss his candidacy. The transcript of our conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity:
SPIKER: Let’s get straight to it. Republicans haven’t won statewide in 10 years, and we’re coming off consecutive losses in state legislative elections. How realistic is it that things will change as a result of your Chairmanship at RPV?
Anderson: I think the strength I have and would try to leverage is to unify some major elements of the party. Will we be completely united and sing kumbaya? Of course not. There’s forever going to be people that will not like my leadership style, or my decisions, or the direction I’m attempting to lead the party on the State Central Committee.
Democrats are fairly well unified. They tend to have a “sheeple” work ethic. I don’t want to be surrounded by sheep bleating in unison; I want independent thinkers. I want independent ideas. But we need to be unified, we need solidarity. That’s a nice Democratic term, but it’s a good term. We need solidarity. It was Solidarity that let Poland throw off the yolk of a dictator and establish a free society in Poland.
But what specifically do you think you’ll be in a position to do?
I’m a results-oriented person, and the results have been nil, for a whole number of reasons that’s not exclusively Jack Wilson’s fault. And he has my respect for presenting himself in the position where he’s the punching bag, whoever is Chairman is going to be a punching bag. We have a diverse party, we have independent thinkers, moreso than in the other party. I get that, so my hat is off to Jack.
I think what we’ve gotta do is focus results on simple arithmetic: we gotta go where voters are and we have to register them. Much like in the military who have professional recruiters, we need professional recruiters. Someone raised this question, and it’s a valid point: who’s going to be on the VCDL buses en route to Richmond next Monday on Lobby Day for the 2nd Amendment Day on Capitol Square and harvesting voters, like-minded people. I don’t think someone’s going to be there. And that’s not on the VCDL, who is focused on their message. But if on those buses, we had the right manpower in place, we could go up and down the aisles with a clipboard and sign people up.
Honestly, I think the numbers will bear out, and I’ve heard this anecdotally: for all the energy we’ve had over the 2nd Amendment, there’s a hell of a lot of people with that energy who aren’t even registered to vote, or don’t show up.
You’ve mentioned the Chairman being a punching bag as a role of the Chairman. How would you handle that?
I can sustain punches pretty well, and when they’re unreasonable, I can return them. That’s a side of me not everyone has seen. You know, as a legislator I represent my whole district, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, you name it. You have to be more approachable to all people and have to comport yourself that way.
If elected Chairman, I would be the chief partisan. I can handle criticism, but what I would do for those levying complaints: those are the first people I would gently take them by the lapel and say, “We’re putting you to work, buddy. You’re gonna help me shape this message. You’re going to help me apply some sweat and grit to get things done. Don’t talk, do.”
You were elected here in Prince William County. What connections do you have to other parts of the state – Southwest, the Valley, Hampton Roads, etc.?
If you couldn’t tell by my accent; I was born and raised in Roanoke and know that area very well. I went to school at Virginia Tech, and I know that area very well. In ’79 when I graduated from Tech, I go off to a 30-year Air Force career, but of my 30 years I spent exactly half of that in Virginia. I didn’t plan that, but I did it.
I ended up in Hampton Roads at United States Atlantic Command, a joint position, at Norfolk for four years. I got to know Hampton Roads, then went off to Hawaii for three years (a real hardship, I know), then I came back here to the Pentagon about three months before the 9/11 attacks. I got to know Northern Virginia very well, and retired to Lake Ridge and got elected to the state legislature. And after I got elected, I was down in Richmond and that completes my Virginia education.
I now know Richmond, along with Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Southwest. I know the different personalities of those regions, and I like to think I can unify huge groups of Republicans from those different areas.
You have an extensive resume, but you’ve never been on a District Committee before, and you’ve never been in leadership on a unit committee before. Is your lack of involvement in the party apparatus an advantage or a disadvantage?
I see it as an advantage, for both me and the party. No one comes to the RPV Chairmanship or any other position of leadership from one precise path. Why is it a strength? There seems to be widespread dissatisfaction with RPV, particularly among local units and some of our Congressional District committees. I know, because they’ve called me.
I didn’t seek this campaign out. It’s not on my bucket list. But as one of them told me, you don’t get to choose where you serve, and I believe Virginia needs you to serve here. I’ve heard that from others as well. So I agreed to do it, and announced yesterday.
I bring to this a fresh perspective, no preconceived notions, owing nobody in the party apparatus (either employed or volunteer). That’s a strength. But I can also leverage those people for an education on how to navigate and operate, and adjust that to my own style and move through this just fine. But I bring a fresh, unmolested perspective.
It’s come up before where there are debates inside SCC on specific policies and legislation, in the form of resolutions that say “we celebrate those who vote a certain way; we condemn those who voted a way we don’t like.” Medicaid expansion is the most prominent recent example, but it’s come up on others where we haven’t had 100% unity.
From your perspective as a legislator, what is your view of the role the state party should play in instructing or advising elected officials on how to vote?
First of all, I don’t think it’s the role of the party to instruct legislators. These legislators who run under the Republican label understand the Republican Creed and the platform on an array of issues, or they shouldn’t be there. Last night, I spoke to [House Minority Leader] Todd Gilbert and told him one of my priorities was to achieve a partnership between RPV and the House and Senate Caucuses. I’m going to visit both caucuses next week. I want to hear their thoughts, and I want them to be able to examine me.
The Republicans in Richmond know me very well, and I know them. There is mutual trust there. I think I can develop a partnership where we speak with one unified voice. That has to be the case.
What do you see as the ideal role ancillary groups – women’s clubs, Young Republicans, College Republicans – that have voting power on district committees and on SCC?
I see them as absolutely indispensable. They are an integral part of RPV organization, just like SCC, with a vital and central role. This goes back to what I said before about unity and solidarity. We can’t achieve that if we don’t have those groups with us. I think it’s particularly important that we continue to “refresh the blood of the tree of liberty” by bringing in new and young people and putting them in positions of leadership now. And from there, we grow state chairmen, District chairmen, SCC members, future candidates, and a whole wide array of leadership opportunities. They have the skillset and the drive. We need to especially bring in more members of the YRs and bring them into the mainstream of the party.
You keep bringing up these terms like unity and solidarity, bringing disparate groups together. Here in Northern Virginia, we have the Fairfax County Republican Committee and the SUV GOP. If you ask them directly, they will say they’re not in competition with each other, but they are commonly perceived to be an offshoot or separate brand from the official party apparatus. What do you see as the best way to handle that?
As chairman, any chairman should be able to sit down with the leadership of both and forge ways in which they can work as a unified whole. In the end, they have the same goals: to put elected conservative Republicans in positions of elected leadership throughout the Commonwealth to achieve the best policies for Virginia.
To be honest, I’ve been impressed with both of the groups you named. FCRC – you think we’re operating under a challenge here? They’re operating under almost impossible circumstances there. For SUVGOP, they occupy a unique niche, as they’re focused exclusively on how to win elections not just in Northern Virginia, but also in the suburbs of Richmond and Hampton Roads. I’ve been impressed with the support they’ve brought to candidates in both local and state races across the board.
One of my top priorities would be to sit down with those groups and move towards a unified relationship. As a military guy, there are principles of war that are timeless – hundreds of years old. One of those principles is Unity of Command. That’s what we need here.
You’ve been on the ballot five times in the past ten years. As a candidate, what have you identified as the greatest deficiency of the state party to help candidates for office and how would you fix that?
For the better part of a decade, the only real value that I derived and other candidates have derived from RPV was the use of a non-profit mailing label permit to keep our mailing costs down. And that was a substantial help, but I believe the party can do much more by unifying the party. Again, solidarity.
One of the things we have to do is get engaged in attracting and training viable candidates. A big part of that belongs to the two caucuses in Richmond, but RPV can play a role in recruiting but also in training for these new candidates. It was staggering if you look at the number of seats that went uncontested. We should never permit a Democrat anywhere in Virginia to go uncontested.
I’ve argued with people on this particular point. I see value in offering voters a choice, regardless of where the district is. No one should get an uncontested path to re-election when you’re representing people. But realistically speaking, the outcome of November would not have changed if Alfonso Lopez and Patrick Hope had a no-chance-in-hell Republican on the ballot or not. That wouldn’t have changed your outcome, or Tim Hugo’s outcome, or the State Senate outcome.
What do you see as the value of investing resources and contesting 140 races?
Not all campaigns are equal, so not all campaigns will receive the same amount of resources. There has to be some very realistic decisions, intelligent business decisions made by the caucuses on where to put their resources.
But I believe we need to engage in every district. We’re in an unusual period in Virginia where that’s a big challenge. But I’m telling you, as daunting as the challenge has been the past few election cycles, this is a cyclical business. It’s defined by a pendulum that swings to and fro. It’s not a massive realignment of the electorate. Our job, and my job at RPV, would be swing the pendulum as quickly as it can and as far as it can. There is only one mission for RPV: electing conservative Republicans and defeating liberal Democrats.
Talking about candidate recruitment – what would be the top two or three things for first-time candidates to know and understand?
That’s a great question, and that’s really more candidate-centric.
Well, you’re well-suited to answer that as a former candidate yourself.
I would want them to understand as they make a decision, if you’re going to present yourself as a candidate for public office. Number one, it is totally and completely all-consuming. It will take up every waking moment. They will have to be devoted body, mind, and spirit to that and little else. You can’t neglect family and work requirements, but nonetheless devoting tremendous amounts of your time. This is not Tiddlywinks, and the other side is energized and working hard.
Second, candidates should understand they and their campaign team are within a broader team of local units and RPV itself. That plays into my belief of the absolute necessity of a unified effort. We have to work together. Within that, of course, there has to be room for differences of opinion.
Speaking of differences of opinion – how do you as a Chairman deal with a situation like Senator Amanda Chase, who has publicly distanced herself from the Senate Republican Caucus?
I know Amanda very well. I love Amanda. There’s room in our party for folks who want to be more independent – and that’s a main difference between us and Democrats. There’s not a lot of independence, they’re more in lockstep with using the same words and talking points, and less room for folks think on their own. That’s actually an advantage for us.
At the end of the day, this situation is for the Senate Republican Leadership to deal with, but I would want to be part of that conversation. I love the spit-and-fire that comes from her. There’s going to be a real challenge for incumbents in both chambers, who are in the minority for the first time in thirty years. That may result in more unified efforts between Amanda even with her independent streak and the established leadership; we’ll see. I plan on visiting with Amanda when I’m down in Richmond next week.
I’ve argued on Bearing Drift that RPV should be doing less, not more –
How can RPV be doing less? [laughing]
Well, that leads people to try and fix it with great plans for RPV to do more, and the greater power that folks believe RPV has makes it and SCC something for the different factions to jockey over. You mentioned the only help the state party gives is the mailing label and that’s it – I say let’s make that official, because it’s not a useful or efficient tool for anything else. You seem to have plans that would go beyond that. Change my mind.
RPV doesn’t need to be in the business of micromanaging. RPV needs to be sculpting the party as a unifying combat organization in the arena of public ideas and get as many Virginian voters with us as possible. But before we can do that, we have to discipline ourselves and create an effective organization. We can’t do the work of the committees without it.
There’s a military principle of centralized planning and decentralized execution. The real work has to be done at the district and unit level. Rich Anderson, Jack Wilson, John Whitbeck – none of us can do this alone. It’s a partnership with RPV staff and the SCC, but the most critical elements are the district units and the local units. But we need a unified plan and a unified effort.
Any final thoughts?
There’s a lot of Republican talent out there. There are dozens of folks who would be effective leaders of RPV – so it’s humbling that so many people have come to me and ask me to do this. This wasn’t on my bucket list. I never imagined getting involved in RPV, let alone chairing it. But I intend between now and the convention at May 1st at Liberty University in Lynchburg to put every degree of energy into the effort to win this campaign, then harness the efforts of the real people to get this job done and bring back the Republican Party as a competitive element in Virginia politics, so that we get good public policy passed.