Chair Explains Why VIGOP Has Only A Few Republican Candidates In Coming Elections
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CHRISTIANSTED — In an interview on WTJX-Channel 12 with the ICM, Democratic and Republican chairs, V.I. GOP Chairman John Canegata defended his party for not running a candidate against Democrat Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett or Republican-turned-Independent Gov. Kenneth Mapp.
Canegata was specifically asked why the GOP wasn’t running anyone. The St. Croix gun shop owner said last September’s hurricanes put his small party’s members in rough shape.
He added that Plaskett, who joined the #Resistance movement and called President Donald Trump racist, has done a good job.
What Canegata didn’t say is the GOP hasn’t had a single committee meeting since March 2017. The lack of action in the party is so bad that Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes almost de-recognized the party’s officers by holding an election for GOP leadership in the August primary election. Canegata had to get St. Croix attorney Mark Eckard to intervene and threaten a lawsuit if Fawkes proceeded, as Canegata rival Herb Schoenbohm, Holland Redfield and Bruce Cole were poised to takeover as they were only candidates on the ballot.
Instead of running candidates for the territory’s top offices, Canegata says his main focus is the territorial Republican Party’s influence on the mainland.
Canegata spoke about a highly controversial political action committee called VIGOP. The PAC has drawn criticism both in the Virgin Islands and the mainland, as many accuse of it of being a scam that does nothing but line the pockets of Canegata and a small group of Washington political consultants.
“We have been building relationships with other senators and congressmen from across the nation,” Canegata said. “We have a very healthy fundraising, uhm, organization and we’ve given to more minority, Hispanic and black, candidates across the United States — more than any other political party. This little party right here, the VIGOP. Uhm, Tim Scott, Mia Love, uhm, Will Hurd from Texas, uhm, and we gave, uhm, Alex Mooney from West Virginia. These individuals stay in contact with us.”
The GOP chairman also said the party has a lot of influence with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke has drawn fire for his coziness with the VIGOP and other alleged scam PACs.
Responding to a direct question about whether the party is more focused on the U.S. mainland, Canegata said:
“Absolutely — absolutely. Within 48 hours [inaudible], we received some type of communication after the hurricane. We were, you know, in direct connection with the Department of Interior. Secretary Zinke, happens to be, I wouldn’t say a personal friend, but a close friend. Uhm, prior to him being the secretary of Interior, we spent some time in Washington, we spent some time here in the Virgin Islands. We supported him when he was a congressman and, behold, he becomes the secretary of Interior. So, we built this relationship and we share, behind the scenes. There’s no really, no reason to try and get any credit for anything at this point. Obviously, we have our congresswoman, our governor doing their job. But behind the scenes, trust me, a lot of telephone calls, a lot of maneuvering was going on because, I think, some of the relationships we built.”
The Republicans are only fielding three candidates for a major public office in 2018.
In the St. Croix Senate race, Robert Moorhead and former Senator Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal are running; while in the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections race Harriet Mercer is on the ballot.