Pyles questions Michael’s motives
Story by Chris Graham
The camera is trained on Tracy Pyles.
It is Sept. 19, 2001, and Pyles, a Democrat and five-year veteran of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, is preparing for a candidate debate with Republican Chris Saxman.
Pyles and Saxman are locked in a battle for the newly created 20th House District seat in the Virginia General Assembly.
A campaign tete-a-tete scheduled to take place at Buffalo Gap High School is but a few days away.
Off camera sits Frank Nolen, the chairman of the Augusta County Democratic Committee.
Nolen, a 22-year member of the Virginia Senate before being unseated by Republican Emmett Hanger in November 1995, is sitting in as Saxman in a mock debate preceding the real deal designed to prepare Pyles, who is sitting comfortably by a fire at the moment, for the pending political chaos.
A voice – of another person who is also off camera – reads the first question to Pyles and Nolen, as the pseudo-Saxman.
“Given the events of the past seven or eight days, the people of the 20th District want to know where you stand on gun-control issues such as proposals to put more restrictions on buying guns?”
“That’s Don Michael’s voice,” Pyles said Tuesday, playing a copy of the video from the mock debate for The Augusta Free Press.
Pyles, who is running for a third term in the Pastures District, said Michael, his Republican challenger, was part of the Pyles’ campaign inner circle when he ran for the House of Delegates two autumns ago.
In addition to hosting a fund-raiser for the Pyles for Delegate campaign, Michael served in an advisory role behind the scenes, Pyles said.
Michael, for his part, told the AFP on Monday that he is a “lifelong Republican,” repeating a statement that he offered to The News-Leader over the weekend.
The issue came to a head after a letter to the editor from Churchville resident Sheri Smith that appeared in the Oct. 15 edition of the AFP was published in the Leader on Oct. 25.
In the letter, Smith brought up an Oct. 14, 2001, fund-raiser hosted by Michael for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner.
The Leader asked Michael about the fund-raiser – and he admitted that he had supported Warner over Republican standard-bearer Mark Earley in the 2001 campaign.
That didn’t bother Pyles. What did was Michael’s insistence that he is a “lifelong Republican.”
“If he is a lifelong Republican, what was he doing working with us?” Pyles said. “Was he there just putting on a front to get information about us and then going back and reporting to somebody?
“Let me just say that I don’t believe at all that that’s the case. I have a lot of friends in the Republican Party. My two best friends on the board of supervisors are (Republicans) Orvin Kiser and Kay Frye. I’ve never had a problem with one person in the Republican Party.
“What I’m saying is, he was there because he wanted to be,” Pyles said.
Pyles then challenged the assertion made by Michael that the fund-raiser hosted at the Michael home on Oct. 14, 2001, was originally scheduled as a Warner event – that Pyles subsequently “horned in” on.
Pyles produced a series of e-mails exchanged by his campaign manager, Becky Corns, and Nolen with Michelle Gueydan, a scheduler for the Warner for Governor campaign.
One e-mail from Nolen to Corns and Gueydan spelled out the agenda for the campaign event.
“As we decided at the meeting,” Nolen wrote, “it will be billed as a Warner/Pyles event, and not a Democrat or BBQ event. Don and Betty Michael are the hosts, and they will decide the menu.”
A little later in the e-mail, Nolen provided Gueydan with background information on Michael.
“Don is a former DMV headquarters employee and liaison from the DMV to the General Assembly,” Nolen wrote.
In a follow-up e-mail, Gueydan asked for more information on the Michaels.
“I know I wrote it down somewhere, but I don’t remember whose refurbished barn you mentioned would be ideal for this event,” she wrote.
“This event was coordinated by my campaign and by the Democratic Party. Don Michael was never in contact with Warner’s staff at any level. You can see for yourself in those e-mails that they didn’t even know who Don Michael was,” Pyles said.
“And for him to say I was horning in on this event because my campaign was sinking is ludicrous. My campaign was sinking long before this fund-raiser. I knew the challenges I faced from the get-go. There was no mystery that it was going to be an uphill battle.
“The point of this is that this event was coordinated by my campaign. There was no communication between Don and the governor’s office. The e-mails prove that,” Pyles said.
The AFP asked Pyles why he didn’t bring this issue up sooner – given that Michael announced his intentions to run as a Republican for the Pastures District seat more than six months ago now.
Pyles said supporters encouraged him to share his previous relationship with Michael publicly back as early as the days following Michael’s April announcement that he intended to seek the GOP nomination to run for the Pastures seat.
“I didn’t because I figured that it is his right to change parties. And he wouldn’t be the only one to do that. People leave the Democratic Party for the Republican Party for obvious reasons. They think it will help them politically. I don’t question that,” Pyles said.
What riles up Pyles is that Michael is insisting that he is a “lifelong Republican.”
“It’s important because at this point, his main qualification is his party affiliation. He has no record of local-government service. He doesn’t have a record of service in the Republican Party. He has no record to stand on, so his party affiliation is it, basically,” Pyles said.
“He has presented himself to the voters as a Republican,” Pyles said. “People need to know that he isn’t who he says he is. They have a right to know that he has denied his past.
“To me, this is a trust issue,” Pyles said.