What The Heck Is Going On With The Virgin Islands Republican Party?

Magens Bay is seen from a hotel in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands. (CP PHOTO - Ryan White)
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When a political consultant from Michigan who has written a book about contested political conventions pops up in the Virgin Islands making a bid to become a delegate to the Republican convention — along with his wife and two of their pals — well, it gets your attention.

John Yob, the owner of Michigan-based consulting firm Strategic National and the former national political director for one-time Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), was on the ballot Thursday in the GOP caucus to be a delegate to the 2016 Republican convention from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Yob, who gained campaign experience working for Paul, John McCain and Rick Santorum, made headlines last September after he was allegedly punched at a Michigan bar by a Marco Rubio staffer.

But, in his peculiar quest to become a Virgin Islands delegate to the Republican convention, Yob and three others hit a roadblock, which has led to a bizarre and messy fight against the supervisor of the U.S. Virgin Island’s Election Board.

On March 4, Caroline Fawkes, the supervisor of elections for the U.S. Virgin Islands ruled Yob, his wife Erica L. Yob, and Ethan Eilon and Lindsey Eilon ineligible to vote. All four of them were on the ballot to be delegates, but delegates must be registered Republican voters. Fawkes’ ruling compromised their eligibility to serve as delegates.

According to court documents, Yob was initially ruled ineligible to vote, according to Fawkes, after he tried to register to vote before he had lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the required 90 days. According to an email that Fawkes sent to state chairman for the Virgin Islands Republican Party, John Canegata, Yob is alleged to have purposely falsified information to gain access to the polls.

“Mr. Yob appeared at the St. John Elections Office in order to register to vote in early January. He was informed by the Elections Assistant, he has to reside in the Virgin Islands for ninety days before he can register. He informed the Elections Assistant, he arrived on the island a week before, which made him ineligible. He then took the information gained and travelled to the St. Thomas Elections offices and provided a falsified date within the parameters to meet the requirement,” Fawkes wrote in an email to the party chairman.

Fawkes also said in the email that her office had attained “a copy of Mr. Yob’s Facebook page, which states they moved to St. John USVI on December 28, 2015.”

Today, at 10:22 a.m. on the day of caucus, Judge Kathleen Mackay of the Supreme Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands issued a restraining order that allows Yob and the others to vote. While it is not a final ruling on their eligibility to vote, it allows them to move forward.That is important as it gives Yob and others the chance to actually become a delegate to the convention.

In a statement, Yob told TPM, “I appreciate the court granting this restraining order against the Board of Elections and look forward to participating in the caucuses and maintaining my rights as a voter.”

“Voting rights is a bigger issue than John Yob or anyone else – it is a fundamental right that should not be infringed upon by biased officials. Board of Elections Chairwoman Lilliana Belardo overstepped her bounds when she utilized her position to benefit her family in the caucuses,” Yob said. “Hopefully this will deter her from abusing her power and protect the rights of other Virgin Islanders into the future.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands sends nine delegates to the Republican convention. Six of them are elected Thursday. If Yob, his wife and the Eilons were all elected, they would have significant pull. That may appear to be a small fraction of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination in Cleveland in July, but in the instance of a contested convention, controlling the majority of delegates from a territory could have an impact.

As it turns out, Yob himself knows about how to muscle a candidate through a contested convention. He recently released a book “Chaos: The Outsider’s Guide to a Contested Republican National Convention,” which according to its Amazon summary promises that “people who read this book will know more than anyone else about the most interesting Republican Presidential nomination in a generation.”

“This outsiders guide demonstrates how and why the Republican Convention is on the verge of chaos. It shows the key players, the important rules, and the critical states that will determine the winner on the convention floor,” the summary reads.

While just a small grouping of islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands has emerged as a major battle ground and opportunity for campaigns. In the event of a contested convention, the islands could play an outsized role in helping pick the next Republican nominee.

According to an October story in Politico, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been strategic about efforts in U.S. territories from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Guam. In part, the islands offer a lot of bang and comes at low cost. Unlike the high profile early states of Iowa or New Hampshire, candidates don’t tend to spend a lot of time campaigning to win the island territories. Yet, as Saul Anuzis told Politico in October, “whether you’re getting Texas, Michigan and Ohio, or the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, each has an equal voice when it comes to nominating candidates to put them on the ballot at the convention.”

Anuzis is another Michigander, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, who has been helping Cruz with the island strategy.

And, as Open Secrets pointed out in a blog post last year, in a contested convention Cruz may have to comply with the so-called Rule 40, which requires that he has won the majority of delegates in eight states or territories to be the nominee. Winning a majority of delegates could help Cruz get one closer to being eligible to be the nominee at a contested convention.

Late Update:

Yob, his wife Erica and LIndsey Eilon were all selected to be unbound delegates to the 2016 Republican Party convention. That gives them power to vote for whoever they like on the floor.

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