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Heaton leaves contest
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Democrat Anthony Flaccavento likely will oppose 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith in the November election as a result of Jeremiah Heaton’s withdrawal from the race on Tuesday.
Ninth District Democrats will select their nominee at a convention May 19 in Dublin.
Flaccavento is a farmer and community economic development consultant who lives near Abingdon.
At the start, he faced two opponents for the nomination. In addition to Heaton, Dr. Jim Werth of Floyd County sought the nomination. He left the race earlier.
Heaton notified 9th District Democratic Committee Chairman Jon Bowerbank on Tuesday that he was suspending the Heaton for Congress campaign at 6 p.m. that day.
“Unfortunately for my campaign, party rules have created a barrier that limits access to only the most politically connected and wealthy candidates,” Heaton wrote to Bowerbank. “I encourage the 9th District Democratic Committee to re-evaluate the need for a $1,000 filing fee and other processes designed to limit access to average citizens of the 9th District.”
On Tuesday night, Heaton said he considered the $1,000 fee “a bit excessive,” considering the economy.
But more disturbing, he said, was that when delegates were chosen at local caucuses, they had to select a candidate they would support on the first ballot at the convention.
“It’s one thing to list (a candidate) as preferred, or tend to lean (toward that person),” Heaton said. But “this was the first vote pledge. They are obligated to vote for that candidate at that time.”
Even if he had known that was the procedure, Heaton said, he would not have known the likely delegates so he could have met with them and sought their support before the caucuses.
“There is only one candidate in a position to do that: Mr. Flaccavento. He has two (former 9th District U.S. Rep. Rick) Boucher staffers who are familiar with who those delegates traditionally are,” Heaton said.
Instead, Heaton said he had thought he could meet with and court delegates after they were chosen at the caucuses and before the convention.
“This thing was sealed up almost behind closed doors before I had a chance to meet with anyone,” he said. “The way it was constructed almost seemed like it was done that way on purpose.”
Heaton said he was given information on the nomination process but only when he asked for it, not when it was given to other candidates as would have been appropriate under a “spirit of commonality.”
Also, he said he felt the nomination process was virtually impossible to navigate for someone who works full time. He is an underground coal miner and said he works 50 to 60 hours a week.
“I’m not placing any blame. I just wish the system had been constructed in a fairer manner,” he added. “I readily admitted they (Flaccavento and his supporters) played the system better than I did. ... They outmaneuvered me.”
Heaton ran in the 9th District congressional race two years ago as an independent when Griffith beat long-time incumbent Boucher, a Democrat. This time, Heaton said, he felt more aligned with the Democratic Party, but he said some party leaders were skeptical of his sincerity. He added that he would have to overcome that before he would run for office again.
For now, Heaton bemoaned the fact that the Democratic Party would have only one candidate eligible to participate in the convention, and he is concerned that Flaccavento will not run an aggressive campaign against Griffith, the Republican incumbent, in November.
Bowerbank said Tuesday night that party officials chose the $1,000 filing fee because it is the lowest in Virginia. A few years ago, the fee typically was 2 to 3 percent of a congressman’s salary, he said, adding that because Heaton ran two years ago, Bowerbank expected that Heaton “would have been familiar with those numbers.”
He also said delegates chosen at the caucuses do not have to commit to vote for a candidate on the first ballot.
“We’ve researched the rules and regulations extensively, worked with the DPVA (Democratic Party of Virginia, of which he is vice chairman), and our policies and procedures are in line with any requirements put forth by the DPVA,” Bowerbank said.
He added that he believes all candidates were given the same information at the same time.
Asked if the party would consider Heaton as a candidate for future races, Bowerbank said, “The Democratic Party is the big tent party. We give anyone an opportunity to participate in government ... and encourage them to do so.”
Flaccavento could be reached for comment Tuesday night.