Mich. native wins contentious bid for GOP delegate seat

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

A scathing new report to the Republican National Committee rules in favor of a veteran Michigan GOP political operative’s bid to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands at next month’s national convention while issuing blistering criticism of the “abhorrent behavior” surrounding a months-long delegate fight.

Grand Rapids native John Yob sat for an interview “The Daily Show's” Jordan Klepper.

Grand Rapids native John Yob, his wife Erica and three of their allies in the U.S. territory should be seated as delegates at the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the RNC's Committee on Contests ruled Thursday.

The Committee on Contests ruled in favor of Yob and his slate of delegates, rejecting a challenge to their qualifications by U.S. Virgin Islands Republican Party Chairman John Canegata that led to multiple lawsuits, infighting and national media attention.

Yob’s battle for delegate seats was entangled in his longstanding feud with former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who has done fundraising work for Canegata.

Northern Michigan Republican operative Dennis Lennox, a close ally to Anuzis, moved to the Virgin Islands this winter to seemingly get involved in battling Yob at Canegata’s behest.

Doyle Webb, chairman of the committee and head of the Republican Party of Arkansas, was especially critical of Canegata in a nine-page report published Thursday.

“As became obvious in reading the parties’ venom-full submissions to this committee, this contest arises out of the months of contentious, unprofessional infighting that has been going on between some in the Virgin Islands party’s leadership, including its chairman, and certain contestants,” Webb wrote. “Seemingly every week, news arises of more alleged misbehavior by both factions — including acts of assault, threats, defamation, fraud, subterfuge and misuse of party rules.”

Webb appeared especially irked that Canegata and Yob each sat for interviews on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” a satirical news program that lambasted the Caribbean kerfuffle in a territory where votes don’t actually count in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Grand Rapids native John Yob, shown, and U.S. Virgin Islands Republican Party Chairman John Canegata each sat for interviews on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

“This is no laughing matter,” Webb wrote. “The soap opera is a blight on the U.S. Virgin Islands Republican Party. This continual mischief from the Virgin Islands must end, immediately — starting at the top of the party.”

Yob, a prominent Michigan Republican political strategist, has said he and his family moved to the Virgin Islands in mid-November with the intentions of becoming permanent residents. Yob’s main political consulting business, Strategic National, remains headquartered in downtown Grand Rapids and he still owns a home in Kent County.

Shortly after claiming residency in the Virgin Islands, the Yobs and Lindsey Eilon — the wife of one of John Yob’s business associates from Virginia — campaigned for national convention delegate seats and were among the top votegetters in a March 10 caucus. John Yob’s 131 votes were the most of the 18 candidates. His wife, Erica, finished fourth with 123 votes and Eilon won 117 votes to capture the sixth and final delegate seat.

Canegata moved quickly to disqualify the Yobs, Eilon and three others who had beat out more established Republicans in the chain of Caribbean islands.

The newcomers, Canegata ruled, didn’t follow the party’s rules and were supposed to confirm in writing to him their election as delegates within five days of the caucus.

The RNC’s Contests Committee overruled Canegata and concluded John Yob and the other five top delegates “were wrongly disqualified” and “the undisputed winners,” Webb said.

“I am pleased they are being held accountable for their actions and will continue to stand up to those who try to break the rules to get their desired outcome,” Yob said Saturday in an email to The Detroit News.

Canegata said he would appeal the Contests Committee ruling on grounds that the Yobs and Eilon were not eligible to vote in the March 10 caucus, much less be elected to delegate seats.

"The facts are clear: John Yob, Erica Yob and Lindsey Eilon committed election fraud by being registered to vote and domiciled in multiple jurisdictions," Canegata said in a statement.

The Contests Committee's ruling could still be overturned at the RNC's July 12-14 summer meeting in Cleveland.

Yob’s power struggle with Canegata this spring triggered lawsuits, local court intervention, insult-hurling in the media and a raucous party meeting that nearly came to blows between members of Yob’s faction and Lennox, who helped Canegata run the meeting. Lennox is now executive director of the U.S. Virgin Islands Republican Party, Canegata said Saturday.

During the spring, Anuzis was working for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign to corral as many delegates as possible while the GOP presidential nomination appeared headed for a contested convention. Yob previously worked for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s failed candicacy.

Canegata and Yob’s opponents in the Virgin Islands labeled Yob a “carpetbagger” seeking to hijack the territory’s tiny delegation for political and business purposes, The Detroit News reported April 19.

Yob had published a book this winter predicting “chaos” at the Cleveland convention and spelling out how delegations from territories could play a critical role in deciding the nominee.

Webb’s report ended with another statement of the Contest Committee’s “displeasure with the abhorrent behavior in recent months of some individuals within the Virgin Islands Party’s leadership.”

“Their petulant, and at times seemingly devious, conduct has cast a stain on the Republican brand in the Virgin Islands and must stop before even more damage can result,” Webb wrote.


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Twitter: @ChadLivengood