As a rule, I typically don’t cover local party races. It’s not really a shock that there’s politics that get played in…well, politics. Every now and again I hear about back-stabbing cliques, coups, or just bad behavior. (PS–yes, I saw that Polk County.)  

Yet when people from various progressive organizations asked me to look into the very recent Virginia Beach election, I decided to make a few phone calls. After all, this is the largest city in a critical state and, in my opinion, the most important swing district in the nation. Don’t get me wrong, Virginia Beach is still a stubborn shade of red: while every other urban area in Virginia has been claimed by Team Blue, the GOP has held the city in a tight red grip. This is due in no small part to an extremely organized and proactive local GOP. They know how to raise money, and every weekend you will see them in a different neighborhood knocking on doors.  

Yet after Trump’s election, things have started to change. In 2017, VA Beach for the first time voted for the Democrat in the governor’s and attorney’s general races. (VA and NJ have off-year elections.)  Two VA Beach delegate seats, HD 21 and 85, flipped from red to blue. There has also been a surge in Democratic registrations in the city.

VA Beach is the key to turning Virginia from purple to permanently blue. More than ever, we need a strong, Democratic chair to lead the charge. 

Who we got is Carla Hesseltine.

To understand who she is, I first need to explain who Scott Rigell is.  He is the rightwing Republican who held a seat for House District 2 (VA Beach, Norfolk, Hampton).  A few facts about him:

  • He is rabidly anti-abortion and went after Planned Parenthood.
  • He is anti-gay. He tried to ban homosexuals from even serving in the military and supported an amendment to ban gay marriage.
  • He supported the repeal of the ACA.
  • One of his final sponsored bills was a condemnation of Obama.
  • He’s a hypocrite. He railed against the wildly successful Obama-era “Cash for Clunkers” program as “reckless” and “out-of-control”–while his car dealership raked in over $400K from it

Apparently, Carla Hesseltine came onto the scene later in 2016, and became an active member after Trump’s election.  That’s fair enough. She got involved and was well-connected.  When she decided to run for chairmanship, she even had the support of the outgoing chair.  

Multiple people have told me that Carla campaigned as a lifelong Democrat”, and allegedly, she repeated that in her final speech before the election that was held just last month. After the election, past posts on her Facebook page surfaced, and Twitter went a little nuts. The posts, to put it generously, showed some pretty odd behavior for a lifelong Democrat:

Carla speaking at the Pat Robertson Foundation Inn, in favor of Republican Scott Rigell 

Between 2005-present, we’ve had four Democratic governors and only one GOP governor—the disgraced Bob McDonnell.  Guess who she has pics with? So yeah, cool. 

Then there’s this nugget. Notice the date…

Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott, who is a progressive icon, was expected to be appointed to the Senate by Terry McAuliffe to fill out the remainder of his term in the event of a Hillary/Kaine 2016 victory. Bobby Scott would have been the presumptive nominee. For her to promote a man like Scott Rigell over Bobby Scott for the Senate seat is just disgusting.

There’s other posts, but you get the gist.

Now, to be fair to Carla, I tried reaching out to her on Facebook Messenger (since she is obviously very familiar with that format). I asked her to explain the pictures, and promised to quote her verbatim if she wanted to make a statement. I also asked what her plan was for the future of the VA Beach Democrats. I gave her a reasonable time to respond, but have not received a response.  

Apparently, she did respond to the admin for Indivisible757, a strong progressive group in the area that retweeted the photos. Beachprogressive, which dives more into this, posted that she lamented “purity tests” and dem-on-dem fighting.  More recently, she put out a statement saying “For the record, I am a strong Democrat and was a Hillary Clinton delegate in 2016”.  (To be clear, she was not a national delegate. She was a local delegate to elect 2nd CD delegates to go to the Virginia State Convention. Those people elected those who went to the DNC in Philly.)

And who knows? Maybe Carla will do a heckuva job. If she truly has “seen the light”, wins elections, and turns VA Beach blue, I’ll campaign for her myself next election. 

(BTW, VA Beach has a very flippable seat in the upcoming Congressional election that the DCCC wants to invest in—CD-2.  You can bet the GOP is going all in for this. We have several strong progressive choices, like this one, that need help—regardless of who the leadership is.)

Unfortunately, Carla’s immediate actions don’t fill me with a lot of hope.  A very active, involved, 19-year old young man, who was asked to develop the VA Beach Democratic website, received an email removing him as admin for retweeting the photos. (screen shot on beachprogressive)

Personally, I have an issue with that for a couple of reasons. If those photos were truly innocent, why punish?  And telling someone who they can and cannot be following on Twitter makes me think that she has not completely put her Republican roots behind her.

Even after all of this, the kid still wants to participate and help elect Democrats, although he’s not sure he’d be welcome. It’s kids like this who we desperately need in our party. 

Here’s the thing. If you want change, you have to get involved. If progressives don’t want Republicans running things, they have to take over the local parties.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do just that.

And OH LOOK, the VA Beach Democrats have their monthly meeting this Monday. I hear there will be representation from the state party. Grab your friends and get started.

Are you in?