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Buckingham GOP nominates recently fired registrar for seat on elections board


Buckingham GOP nominates recently fired registrar for seat on elections board

May 19, 2023 | 4:55 pm ET
By Graham Moomaw
Buckingham GOP nominates recently fired registrar for seat on elections board
Minutes after being fired, former Buckingham County registrar spoke to attendees at an emergency meeting of the county's Electoral Board. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

The chairwoman of the Buckingham County Republican Committee nominated the county’s recently fired interim registrar for a vacant Republican seat on the same election oversight board that terminated him last week for allegedly misrepresenting his job history.

The move is the latest surprising twist for a local election office thrown into dysfunction by right-wing conspiracy theories and suspicions about whether the election system can be trusted.

In a letter to Buckingham Circuit Court Judge Donald Blessing sent the day after former registrar Luis Gutierrez was fired in a bipartisan 2-0 vote, Buckingham GOP Chairwoman Ramona Christian nominated three people for the empty seat on the Buckingham Electoral Board. Two of those three were Gutierrez and his wife, Tambra Riggs-Gutierrez.

In the official nomination letter, which misspelled Gutierrez’s first and last names, Christian listed his recent job history but mentioned nothing about his brief and controversial tenure running the county elections office.

“As the chair of the Republican party, I believe all three nominees will serve the citizens of Buckingham with dignity, fairness and respect,” Christian wrote in a May 10 nomination letter the Virginia Mercury obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the county courthouse.

If Gutierrez’s nomination were approved, it would mean he would be serving alongside the same two board members he just publicly clashed with over his firing. 

The judge had not yet made an appointment for the empty seat as of Friday. Buckingham court records indicate the judge has set a hearing on the board appointment next Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Under state law, Virginia judges appoint members of local electoral boards from lists of nominees recommended by local political parties. The law also requires that the party that won the last gubernatorial election hold two of every board’s three seats, meaning all local electoral boards now have Republican majorities due to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 victory.

Christian did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday.

The move suggests local Republicans are still split over the turbulence in Buckingham’s election office, where the entire staff resigned earlier this year shortly after Republicans took a 2-1 majority on the Buckingham Electoral Board and the office was inundated with unfounded concerns about illegitimate votes being cast.

Gutierrez was hired to step into that void but immediately ran into trouble after several residents, some of them involved in Democratic politics, complained he was clearly unfit for the job. Gutierrez also battled a Democratic county supervisor over a pair of public records requests in which he attempted to charge Supervisor Jordan Miles a $200 “convenience fee” for providing public documents and suggested Miles “get a part-time job at Walmart” to afford the FOIA fees.

In an emailed statement Friday, Miles called the GOP’s decision to re-up Gutierrez for a new role overseeing county elections “absolutely asinine and abhorrent” and said it’s clear the party is “seeking continued chaos.”

“These three nominees clearly are not anywhere near qualified to serve,” Miles said.

Republican Electoral Board member Karen Cerwinski, who oversaw Gutierrez’s hiring in mid-April, also played a leading role in his firing on May 9. Cerwkinski said the reason for the firing was that Gutierrez hadn’t been forthcoming about the fact that he was fired last year from a job at Fork Union Military Academy, but Gutierrez claimed Cerwinski, a local chiropractor, had advised him not to mention that part of his resume while applying for the job.

“Dr. Cerwinski is not a real Republican and she’s not very strong,” Gutierrez said in an interview with the Mercury on the day he was fired after a closed session with Cerwinski and Democratic Electoral Board member Woody Hanes. “In fact I called her a coward in our meeting.”

The local Republican Party’s list of three nominees to serve alongside Cerwinski and Hanes also included Tambra Riggs, Gutierrez’s wife. The nomination for her mostly lists her job background in academia and says she works as a full-time psychology lecturer at Longwood University.

The party’s third nominee is Jose Antonio Breland, whom Christian described as a farrier, a term for someone who specializes in caring for horse hooves, who lives in Yogaville and is “very active in his church and community.”

In his May 9 interview with the Mercury, Gutierrez described himself as a proud Republican and strongly criticized local Democrats whom he claimed had unfairly pushed him out of the job. He also said he believes former President Donald Trump’s narrative that election fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential contest.

“It’s not false. It’s very clear to me that there was election fraud,” Gutierrez said. “It’s very clear to a lot of people a lot smarter than I am that have proven it. See, the Democrats somehow, they have selective hearing, selective reading, selective seeing. They only see what they want to see.”

He went on to say he had “coined a new term” for Democrats, “the EIE network.”

“Experts. In. Evil,” Gutierrez said. “They’re evil. They’re sinister.”