Right-Wing Partisans

The Nonpartisan Charade

Both Meg Scalia Bryce – who is running for the at-large seat on the Albemarle County School Board – and Joann McDermid – who is running for the White Hall seat – have asserted that they are “independent” or running a “non-partisan campaign.” The facts, however, belie these claims. Bryce and McDermid are the de facto candidates of the Republican Party for the Albemarle County School Board.

Let’s get some preliminaries out of the way first. While it’s technically true that no school board candidate in Virginia will appear on the ballot with a partisan label, political parties play a major role in school board races. More than two decades ago, the Washington Post noted that the “Democratic and Republican parties are taking an increasingly active role in … Virginia school board races.” As public education has become politicized by right-wing culture warriors and conservative PACs, this trend has increased. Across the Commonwealth, both Republican and Democratic county party organizations have explicitly endorsed school board candidates this year. And here in Albemarle County, the Democratic party has endorsed school board candidates in past elections. In short, partisan involvement in school board races is now the norm, not the exception.

Now we’ll turn to the evidence. We first examine Meg Scalia Bryce’s connections to the Republican Party. According to the FEC, Bryce made multiple donations in 2020 via WinRed, which is the online fundraising platform for Republican candidates. She also publicly appeared at the White House with Republican Donald Trump in 2019, as shown below. Furthermore, voting records maintained by the Virginia Department of Elections indicate that Bryce voted in Republican primaries in Albemarle County in 2020, 2018, 2017, and 2016. In short, Meg Scalia Bryce donates to and votes for Republicans.

Bryce’s deep connections to the GOP are also apparent from her donors. Bryce accepted money from John Lowry, the current chair of the Albemarle County Republican Committee. Even more telling, Bryce’s largest contributor ($11,000) is Richard Baxter Gilliam, a coal mining baron and Republican megadonor who has donated over $5 million to state and local GOP candidates in Virginia, including $350,000 to Governor Youngkin’s campaign in 2021.

Joann McDermid’s donor base is similar to Bryce’s: it consists almost exclusively of Republicans. McDermid has received reportable donations from Albemarle GOP chair John Lowry ($250) and Republican megadonor Richard Baxter Gilliam ($1,042). Our friends at Forward Albemarle did an even deeper dive into McDermid’s donor base, finding that over 90% of her contributors voted mostly or exclusively in Republican primaries.

Bryce also has campaigned with GOP candidates. In June, she appeared at a campaign event with far-right Republican state senate nominee Philip Andrew Hamilton, who is hostile to COVID vaccines, has pushed legislation that would forcibly out transgender children, and admitted that he attended the January 6 rally at the Capitol which resulted in widespread violence that interfered with the peaceful transition of power. This event was hosted by Albemarle City Elders, which according to its website seeks to bring about a “Biblical model of City Governance.” The event was never publicly disclosed by Bryce’s campaign; it only came to light when Hamilton posted it on his Facebook page. The post then mysteriously disappeared, which begs the question – did Hamilton take it down at Bryce‚Äôs request?

Subsequently, Hamilton endorsed his “fellow conservative” Bryce by publicly announcing his vote for her.

Bryce’s connections to the right-wing ecosystem go even deeper. In March, Bryce attended a training session for school board members and candidates “with conservative values” hosted by the Noah Webster Education Foundation, a far-right organization founded by Melvin Adams, a former chair of Virginia’s 5th District Republican Committee and prominent supporter of extreme GOP congressman Bob Good. (Adams’s spouse is a paid staffer in Good’s congressional office.) One of the keynote speakers at this event was Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin (see picture below). Bryce praised “each session” of this conference.

During early voting at the Albemarle County Office Building, the Bryce and McDermid campaigns have an ostensibly “nonpartisan” tent positioned between the Democratic and Republican tents. But observers have noticed that the supplies for the “nonpartisan” and Republican tents are delivered together, and the same people often set up both tents. Indeed, Bryce and McDermid’s signs outside the polling place are located alongside other Republican candidates, including Hamilton and Steve Harvey, the GOP nominee for state House District 55, further reinforcing their partisan connections.

Bryce’s and McDermid’s allies consider them to be part of a conservative slate alongside Hamilton and Harvey, as indicated in the screenshot below.

On October 14, the Scottsville Republicans released a Facebook post in support of “Republican Meg Bryce” and attacking “Allison Spillman, the Democrat candidate,” only for that post to be edited later the same day to delete all partisan references to the candidates.

There are still more questions that remain unanswered about Bryce and McDermid’s connections with the Republican party, such as:

  • Did Bryce and McDermid vote for Donald Trump in 2020? If so, do they continue to support him for President in 2024?
  • Did Bryce and McDermid seek the support of the Albemarle County Republican Party by appearing at one or more of their meetings, as podcaster Jerry Miller has reportedly suggested?
  • Did Bryce consider running as a Republican for the state House District 55 prior to June, as has been rumored?
  • What communications have the Bryce and McDermid campaigns had with Mr. Lowry, chair of the Albemarle GOP, since announcing their candidacy?

Ultiimately, all this begs the question of why Bryce and McDermid are so terrified to be identified as Republicans, when their opponents, Allison Spillman and Rebecca Berlin, have proudly touted their Democratic support. APPL thinks the answer is clear: the Republican brand is so toxic to voters in Albemarle County that Bryce and McDermid are desperate to hide their partisan affiliation. Their disingenuous attempt to conceal their Republican connections deserves to be called out for what it is: trying to hoodwink the electorate into voting for extreme, right-wing partisans to the Albemarle County School Board.