By Billy Moncure
Is there a Republican fox in the Democratic henhouse? Why has the Chair of the Virginia Beach Democrats been trying to put Republicans on the Democratic sample ballot, and why has she been undermining Democratic campaigns? Why did Republicans get on the sample ballot mere days after making $1,000 donations to the committee?
The accusations in this article are strong, but the conclusions are based on mountains of evidence. My sources consist of no fewer than five active members of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee. Additionally, I was sent a 42 page PDF of grievances against the Chair, including a petition signed by numerous members of the VBDC calling for her removal, and dozens of screenshots of online conversations. Finally, I have listened to multiple recordings of conversations that took place regarding the problems with Carla’s leadership, including one where she damaged efforts to help a Democratic candidate facing a scandal.
Carla’s Republican ties have marred her time at chair of the VBDC from the beginning, with multiple Daily Kos bloggers accusing her of being a Republican. Of particular note is her long-running support for Scott Rigell, the Republican who represented the 2nd Congressional District before Scott Taylor. Carla was pictured speaking at a fundraiser for Rigell, and even encouraged him to run for Senate.
Additionally, her public voting history includes votes in the Republican Primaries for both President and Congress in 2016. This was despite claiming to be a “lifelong Democrat” when she ran for Chair. This also means she lied when she became a Hillary delegate and stated that she never participated in another party’s nomination process. More questions regarding Carla’s loyalties soon emerged.
Fighting Democrats; Helping Republicans
At first Carla seemed to get along with most of her Steering Committee. In particular her Vice Chair Lisa, who had run as her ally. However, behind the scenes she was actually working to undermine her own Treasurer, Mike Maskell, in his run for City Council.
Maskell was running against incumbent Republican Jim Wood. It turns out that Carla and Jim Wood have known each other for years, and that Carla is friends with Jim’s mother. Carla actually wanted to have Wood recommended on the official Democratic sample ballot over Maskell, but that idea was shot down during the Summer.
The sample ballot is crucial to a candidate’s success in City Council elections as City Council elections are “non-partisan” and many voters only know who is supported by each party based on the sample ballots.
Selling the Sample Ballot
When the Steering Committee of the VBDC convened to create the sample ballot, they made a questionnaire, which was sent to all candidates, along with a rubric to score it.
However, once the results came in, Carla insisted on repeatedly changing the process, presumably because she wanted different results. It is now known that Carla wanted Ben Davenport — a Republican who took part in a fundraiser with Scott Taylor and has endorsed many Republicans — on the ballot, as well as Wood.
It was at this point that several members of the Steering Committee resigned. One of the key resignations was Emily Hoapili, who had been Outreach Chair. Here is what she had to say:
Eventually the Steering Committee had enough and decided to vote on a ballot guide, regardless of Carla’s wishes, despite the fact that Steering had become more friendly to Carla after the resignations. This vote resulted in a guide that left off Wood and Davenport, but included Maskell and all other Democrats.
However, this is not the end of the story. Another local Republican, Louis Jones, and Davenport, had a trick up their sleeve. Jones wrote a $1,000 check to the Committee, as did Davenport’s parents. A few days later they were both on the sample ballot.
Jones was in direct contact with Carla regarding the donation.
Just how Republican are Davenport and Jones?
Davenport was a guest of honor at a fundraiser for Scott Taylor within a week of being added to the sample ballot. His presence was specifically used to advertise the event and encourage donors to attend so that they could “personally know Councilman Ben Davenport”.
Davenport has endorsed Republicans in the past, including Delegate Jason Miyares. Here are some choice highlights from Miyares’ endorsement list on his site.
Carla’s support for Louis Jones is even more stunning, because he is a well-known right-wing Republican with a history of racially insensitive remarks. On one recent occasion Jones had the temerity to victim-blame an unarmed black woman who had been killed by police in Virginia Beach, even though she did nothing illegal. He also endorsed Scott Taylor.
He is not exactly a new or unknown face, as he has served 36 years on the Council so far. His loyalties are proudly displayed by the Republican Party of Virginia Beach:
It was only at this point that the ballot guide was announced to the whole committee. Jennifer Leister, a member of the committee, explains that the backlash was swift since “the general membership had never been consulted at any point throughout the process, and many knew that Davenport and Jones are Republicans”. Virginia Beach Democrats all over social media were in an uproar. Many demanded a vote, or at least a chance to express opinions, as had been the standard in the past. However, the ballot was announced during the last VBDC meeting before the election, so there was no chance for any general membership input or questions at any point during this process.
Several leaders stepped up at this point to try to democratize the process, creating a petition demanding an emergency meeting so the general membership could comment. One member who signed the petition remarked that “We need to have a true dialogue. We need to have transparency. None of us have all the answers, and the only way we are going to move forward as a party is if we work together as a committee.”
As evidence came forth that both Davenport and Jones are Republicans, some members of Steering realized their mistake and were willing to take them off the ballot. The solution they went with was to only include VBDC members. This unfortunately left off other candidates who were uncontroversial, but not VBDC members.
At this point Carla Hesseltine totally blew up. Although she acted like she would go along with the new ballot at first, that same night she sent out an email to Steering insisting that she had the dictator-like power to unilaterally determine who would be on the sample ballot.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the most important takeaways are that Carla doesn’t care what Steering thinks (let alone general membership), she takes their disagreement as a personal slight, and she is willing to sink literally every down-ballot Democrat to make her point. In the last screenshot, she is in fact threatening to leave off all down-ballot races, basically holding the sample ballot hostage until she gets the Republicans she wants on it. Additionally, several sources told me that Carla’s claim that School Board candidates wanted to be left off the ballot is untrue.
Carla began to stall for time as criticism and petitions started coming in. Eventually, she faced a rebellion within her Steering Committee, and some members sent out an email recommending down-ballot candidates including Mike Maskell. However, Carla stalled for more time by demanding that nothing be put on social media until the following afternoon. It was that afternoon that a new scandal broke, this time in Carla’s favor against Maskell.
Undermining a Member of her own Steering Committee
All of my sources have told me essentially the same story when it comes to how Carla has treated Mike Maskell: She actively tried to undermine him from the moment she became chair.
After her efforts to get Maskell’s Republican opponent Jim Wood on the sample ballot failed, Carla found other ways to undermine him. One example is this odd exchange where she engages in a hostile debate with an elected official who endorsed Maskell. Why would a Chair go out of their way to attack a councilman who had just endorsed a Democratic candidate?
I agree with A.J. Vasta here. “Thank you for your support” would have been the appropriate response. Why did Carla go after Councilman Moss so harshly and get into this protracted debate (which continued beyond what I have included here)? He just endorsed your candidate! Why did Carla feel this conversation needed to happen, and publicly at that? Why did Carla want to drive Moss away at a time when he was reaching out and supporting a member of her Steering Committee?
Carla wasn’t done. Shortly after this exchange a video came out compiling a number of comments Maskell had made privately on Facebook.
What the video comes down to is he made a series of immature jokes, none of which referenced anything non-consensual, illegal, or hateful towards any group of people. For example, he joked that he “sometimes wrecks hotel rooms with [his] penis”. Carla tried to paint this as sexist. For what it is worth, every woman I talked to told me they thought it was absurd that Carla moved to remove him from the sample ballot over this, and none of them were offended. One even said that she “watched the video three times trying to find something offensive. [She] never found anything”.
Former Steering Committee member Emily Hoapili, who resigned in response to Carla’s sample ballot shenanigans, stressed the negative precedent this decision sets. “For Mike to have given so much of his time and talents to the VBDC, it’s unacceptable for them to turn their backs on him after bad jokes that weren’t racist, sexist, or inciting violence…Look at the numbers. If he had been on the sample ballot, he could have closed the margin. And the message this sends to any members considering running for office is just bad”.
I recently gained access to a recording of the conversation where Steering members discussed how to handle the controversy. Mike read a draft of a statement he wanted to release, and members of the committee explained what they thought should be changed and how he should handle questions from the media. They were all business-minded and professional. Except Carla.
Early in the call she said “I’m not interested in your campaign or what you will do in that aspect”. Her other comments throughout the call were limited to saying she would not defend him, she wanted him off the ballot, she thought his comments were gross, and she wasn’t sure how he came up with those jokes. She focused on the personal, rather than the professional. In addition to those talking points, which she repeated multiple times, she compared his jokes to the actions of Kavanaugh and Trump. Here is how the conversation went:
“Carla: I didn’t agree with Donald Trump’s locker room talk.
Mike: The key difference is at no point did I talk about assaulting or harassing anybody.
Carla: I think you’re splitting hairs
Mike: That’s a pretty thick hair
Carla: Oh, ok…hopefully you’ll contain it before anyone in the press gets ahold of it.”
Mike was kept on the ballot at that time. Shortly thereafter the video did, in fact, get to the press.
Regardless of whether one thinks Maskell’s jokes were appropriate or not, comparing jokes to actual assault is not only absurd, but deeply insulting to those who have actually suffered sexual assault. All of the women I have spoken to defend Maskell, so I feel comfortable saying that Carla was using this comparison for political reasons, rather than out of genuine concern.
One member of the VBDC pointed out that “If [Carla] couldn’t get Wood onthe sample ballot, getting Mike off that ballot was the next best thing”. This would explain why Carla was willing to risk having no down-ballot races on the sample ballot at all.
Maskell was eventually taken off of the sample ballot a couple weeks before the election, crippling his campaign, since otherwise Carla would not have allowed any sample ballot. Jim Wood cruised to victory, giving Republicans a key City Council seat.
Representation, Unilateral Leadership, and Leaving Members Voiceless
Representation on the committee is another consistent issue. Jones being on the ballot disturbed people not only due to his Republican ties, but also because of his history of racially insensitive remarks. All of my sources, regardless of race, find it disturbing that Carla only appointed white people to positions on Steering after her election. Several of my sources pointed out that Carla is often in conflict with black members of the VBDC. One black member said she felt Carla’s personal distaste for her was partly connected to race.
Although Carla ignores most complaints, there was a meeting where she called on everyone who wanted to speak, except for one black person. One of my sources, a woman of color, stated that she believes “if a white person brought up these issues in committee [Carla] would have taken it more seriously”. This is essentially what I hear from every person of color I talk to. At best, Carla does not care about diversity or a having committee that represents the community.
This is a part of the larger problem of Carla shutting out voices other than her own. She unilaterally removed the Committee’s 19 year old web designer because he liked a tweet pointing out her Republican ties. She wanted to remove the President of the Virginia Beach Young Democrats, the only remaining person of color on Steering at that time, from her position. Carla was unaware that the Young Democrats are a separate organization, and their President is guaranteed a spot on the committee regardless of what Carla wants.
When Carla came under criticism from over a dozen members of the committee for her unilateral, counterproductive, and poor leadership, she singled out two black women and claimed that they threatened her. This was based on nothing more than these women consistently criticizing Carla and a joke one made about holding a protest outside Carla’s house. No such protest ever happened or was planned. In response to this, Carla tweeted at their employer asking for them to be fired.
Let’s talk about an actual threat.
These screenshots come from an argument Carla got into on the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee page. A former School Board member, Leonard Tengco, accused the Committee (not a particular individual) of selling itself by allowing Jones and Davenport to buy spots on the sample ballot for $1000. This is only part of the argument, which went on for dozens of comments.
People say mean things on Facebook all the time. A Chair can not use the official Democratic Committee Facebook page to engage in such petty arguments. On top of that, they definitely can’t threaten a local politician — or anybody for that matter. Let’s be honest, saying that the men in your family want to meet someone in person who you are arguing with online is a threat. There must be consequences for this, especially since she has done stuff like this before. Carla has no right to complain about other people when she goes around threatening people and trying to get people fired.
These events have set a series of terrible precedents for the VBDC. First, support for Republicans, particularly in the context of the donations they gave shortly before being added to the sample ballot, shows that there is a pay-to-play politics at work within the Democratic Committee. Second, Maskell’s removal from the ballot furthers the perception that Democrats are weak and divided. It shows that if the Chair dislikes you on a personal level, you can’t expect support — even if you are on Steering. Worse still, it is known that a local Republican activist was behind the video. Bowing to this pressure encourages further such attacks in the future.
Most of my sources called Carla a Republican plant, or “probably a Republican”. Yvonne Leonard, a long-time member of the committee said “I think Carla is a Republican plant — a successful Republican plant”. Only one said she did not think this was the case, instead chalking up Carla’s failures to “gross incompetence” and “pettiness”.
Regardless of intent, Carla Hesseltine’s tenure as Chair of the VBDC crippled multiple Democratic campaigns while boosting multiple Republicans. The way she pushes out minorities, young people, and those who criticize her has done lasting damage to the party. This is the exact type behavior that makes people not want to become, or stay, involved in Democratic politics. This is a serious danger to Democratic candidates running in 2019, some of whom have already begun to announce their campaigns.
Carla needs to go. And the sooner the better. Members of the VBDC are attempting to address these concerns, and many are pushing to remove Carla from power. However, this is a difficult process. Whether this means the Democratic Party of Virginia itself needs to step in, or the Second Congressional District Committee, the Democratic Party needs to show that we do not stand for, and do not tolerate, this type of behavior and cronyism.
The original version of this article can be found here: https://medium.com/@WilliamM/the-chair-of-the-virginia-beach-democrats-is-destroying-the-party-3fe0ca1dc8a0