Eric Phillips secured the GOP nomination for the 48th District in a contest against Will Pace, a former Chatham mayor, in a hastily scheduled mass meeting in Chatham.
Noting that the district that includes the City of Martinsville and portions of Henry and Pittsylvania counties, Phillips was concerned that the location and day – a Thursday afternoon – would keep some voters from participating.
Phillps, a local businessman, also is the chairman of the Henry County-Martinsville Republican Committee.
Pace is chairman of the Pittsylvania County Republican Committee.
Because of that, both men selected a proxy to attend the GOP’s Legislative District Committee (LDC) meeting to decide the nomination process, Phillips said, adding that he learned about the mass meeting a little more than 24 hours before it was to take place.
“We were handed a letter, called ‘A Call,’ and we find out at 1 p.m.” the day before the meeting was to be held, he said.
Phillips rented two Motorcoach buses and three 15-passenger vans to provide transportation from Martinsville and Henry County to Chatham for local voters who wanted to participate.
Removing himself and Pace from the equation, Phillips asked, “Is this a fair process for the voters in Henry County and Martinsville … It is an absolute travesty and people ought to be ticked off about it.”
Phillips said his feelings had “nothing to do with who’s running. This has to do with fundamental fairness.”
The process, he said, must be changed.
After the meeting concluded, Pace congratulated and pledged to support Phillips.
“While I didn’t have the money and resources to win this election, I know that I had the people’s support and for that, I am grateful, especially to those from Pittsylvania County,” Pace wrote and also addressed the scheduling of the mass meeting.
“As for the timing and location of the mass meeting, I will say these two things. The law only allows us a certain time to select nominees in a special election and the Republican Party of Virginia Plan of Organization is very flexible of when it can be held within that short time frame,” Pace wrote.
“I also have found that in the many years I have been involved in the Republican Party, there are two types of campaign consultants,” he wrote. “The first kind are your campaign consultants who care about their candidates and want to see our candidates and the Republican Party and the Conservative Cause to be successful. The second kind are those consultants who care about wealth and power and are willing to throw fellow Republicans under the bus to obtain such wealth and power. I will let my fellow Republicans draw their own conclusions to this.”
Phillips said, “There’s got to be some updates that do not allow for people who are power hungry to manipulate a process” in a way “that solely benefits themselves.”
For those in Henry County and Martinsville to “go to a singular spot” on a Thursday afternoon to cast a ballot represents a hardship, Phillips said, adding that a party canvass, also known as a firehouse primary, would have been a fairer alternative because votes could be cast at sites in multiple locations.
It also is the process often used in special elections held outside of a general election in November.
Holding a mass meeting in a more central location, like Brosville, or scheduling it for a Saturday when more people would be off work and could participate, would have been more acceptable options than the one selected, Phillips said.
“It’s totally unfair,” Phillips said, of the process selected. This has been a Chatham seat for a long time. I want to represent the whole area. I don’t know why we couldn’t have a fair process.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin set the special election for January 9. Candidates had until December 18 to file the necessary paperwork with the state Board of Elections.