The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XVII)

After a two month hiatus, I (Joshua Huffman) have returned to 550 AM WSVA.  Together with Andy Schmookler we discuss the political issues of the day.

The big topics up for consideration today were: reflections about running for political office (as I ran for Harrisonburg City Council this year and Andy ran for House of Representatives in 2012) and thoughts about the surprisingly close U.S. Senate race between Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie, and Robert Sarvis.

In case you missed it, you can find the program here.

The Death of the Tea Party

Today I have the difficult task of writing the obituary for the tea party movement.  Where do I begin?

Well, the tea party movement was an interesting adventure in American politics.  Chapters grew up seemingly organically around the nation; there was no central organization or leadership.  In the early days, they opposed the big government policies and politicians in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, treating both with suspicion.

For the last several years, the tea party movement has been in decline.  Although supposedly non-partisan, almost all have slipped quietly (or not-so-quietly) into the fold of the Republican Party.

10613072_10204123444679426_6712838461521736272_nAs one example, let’s consider the Hampton Roads Tea Party in Virginia.  On their Facebook page, they proudly declare that they are “A fiercely non-partisan group dedicated to the U.S. (and VA) Constitutions, free markets, community-based solutions, and creating a truth-fed fire for Liberty in future generations. Actus non Verbum (Actions not Words)!”

However, during the 2014 election cycle they posted numerous pieces urging their supporters to get behind Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, providing links to volunteer, and offered a Republican sample ballot created by a group called Friends of the Elephant.

HRTPToday, the Hampton Roads Tea Party took yet another step by encouraging members of their group to officially join the Republican Party of Virginia.  Because of these developments, one would be hard-pressed to call the group “non-partisan” any longer.

Now, this situation isn’t unique to Hampton Roads.  For example, in 2013, shortly before the Virginia Republican State Convention, the leader of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party announced that the group would support whichever candidates won that convention regardless of their political positions.  The next year, during the 2014 July 4th parade, one member created posters saying that everyone should vote Republican.  As I was helping them assemble the float, am a long-time member of the group, and was an independent candidate seeking local office, I was able to persuade them not to offer the citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham a message more or less shilling for a political party.

However, I suppose if we are going to look at the issue objectively, many tea parties these days are shells of their former selves, serving as little more than wings of their respective Republican units.  What a pity!  After all, wasn’t the original objective of the tea party to oppose the excesses of both the Democratic and Republican Parties?  Wasn’t the main purpose to adhere to constitutional limitations and fight against tax increases?

I remember back when I first started getting involved with our local tea party I noticed that the local Republican Party always sent a representative to every meeting, not sent to talk, but to observe what was going on.  But for the last several years they have not done so.  Why not?  Well, because there is no need; the tea party has become one of their closest allies.  As another example, the current leader of the Staunton Tea Party is married to the current leader of the Augusta County Republican Party.  The Republicans and tea party members have become pretty much indistinguishable.  And if the tea party’s mission now is strictly wed to the Republican Party mission, it has made itself both redundant and useless.  The tea party did not take over the Republican Party, the Republican Party took over the tea party.

Although there are likely tea parties that still adhere to the original mission, by in large I think it safe to say that the tea party movement has failed.  It had a good run, but the tea party is dead.

Politics at JMU

Today, students heading to the Commons at JMU were greeted by a warning sign.IMG_2696  Last seen in November of 2011, the Genocide Awareness Project hosted by the Center for Bio-ethical Reform had returned to Harrisonburg.  Like then, one major purpose of this group is to display graphic pictures of abortions to college students with the goal of altering perceptions on the issue.  As their thinking goes, it is far easier to support abortion until you come face-to-face with images of the practice.IMG_2700

IMG_2701Although spur of the moment, one student took issue with the display and staged a quiet counter protest nearby.

IMG_2697In addition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy also tabled at that location.  Offering students free hot chocolate and a more upbeat message, they attempted to draw attention toward their concerns; whether G.A.P. aided or hindered their activities is uncertain.

CBR will be moving on this evening but SSDP will return to the Commons again tomorrow afternoon, this time offering students lemonade.

Love it or hate it, it was another interesting day of politics on the campus of JMU.

Sarvis Steals Another One!

Ed Gillespie the day before the election

Ed Gillespie the day before the election in Staunton, VA

I’m sure that many of you were shocked by the closeness of the U.S. Senate race here in Virginia.  After all, who would have predicted that Democrat Mark Warner, who beat Republican Ed Gillespie by at least nine percentage points in every poll but one, would emerge victorious by only about half a percentage point?

Also in the race was Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.  Sarvis, as many will remember, ran last year for governor capturing 6.5% of the vote in a race where only about 2.5% separated the Republican and the Democrat.  As such, a number of Republican activists blamed Sarvis for that outcome, claiming that he siphoned enough votes from Ken Cuccinelli to allow Terry McAuliffe to claim victory.

Given that Libertarian Robert Sarvis won almost 2.5% of the vote in this election, some Republicans are claiming, once again, that Sarvis stole another election from them.

Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU

Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU

The theory behind this argument is that without Sarvis in the race, most of his supporters would instead choose the Republican candidate.  In 2013, exit polls showed that a greater percentage of Sarvis voters would have selected the Democrat over the Republican if he were not in the race.  After all, he captured more liberals than conservatives, more young than old, and more college graduates than graduates.  These are groups that typically trend toward the Democratic Party.

Although I haven’t seen the exits polls for 2014, I believe the opposite happened this time.  A larger percentage of typical Republican voters cast their ballots for Sarvis than the Democrats.  Almost all self-identified liberty-minded Republicans that I know either cast their ballots for Sarvis or simply left it blank.

“Ah ha!” The Republican establishment shouts.  “So you admit that Sarvis stole the 2014 election!”

My answer is no.

Stealing something implies that you have taken something that doesn’t belong to you.  I would argue that no candidate or party has an automatic right to any person’s vote regardless of their previous voting history or ideology.  Votes are always earned and must be re-earned each and every election; they never should be taken for granted.  We aren’t political slaves!

Let’s rewind the clock to the 2002 U.S. Senate election in Virginia.  That was John Warner’s last election.  You remember John Warner, don’t you?  He was the long-serving Republican Senator from Virginia who recently endorsed Democrat Mark Warner for Senate.  As a result, some people now consider him a traitor.  But this recent revelation conveniently overlooks the fact that he rarely fought for the supposedly Republican principles of restraining the power of the federal government.  In addition, he supported gun control and abortion, two positions in stark contrast to a majority of Virginia Republicans.    And then there is Warner’s proclivity to oppose the “Republican team” as he did when he denounced Ollie North in 1994 and Mike Farris in 1993.

Even though John Warner and I shared the same political party back then, I could not bring myself to vote for him and thus left that portion of the ballot blank.  Did sticking to my principles make me a “bad Republican”?

As stated, this year many conservatives and libertarians who consider themselves Republicans did not feel that Ed Gillespie shared their principles and thus either cast their vote for Sarvis, wrote in Shak Hill, or didn’t vote at all.  Who can blame them?  After all, the last time I spoke to Ed Gillespie, I asked him which unconstitutional federal agencies would he work to eliminate, his response was that he would “check with his advisers and get back in touch with me”.  For someone who believes the federal government has grown too large, that answer was unacceptable and showed, much like Warner over a decade earlier, that he and I disagreed on the most important and fundamental principles of our constitutional republic.  Like 2002, if I didn’t have an acceptable option, I simply would not have voted for any of the candidates for Senate.

So, yes.  If Robert Sarvis had not been in the race, Gillespie might have ended up winning.  But regardless of my opinion of Sarvis, I’m glad that voters had a third choice so they didn’t have to simply vote for the lesser of two evils.  The Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, as well as independents have as much of a right to run candidates as the Republicans and Democrats.  And, if voters believe that their candidates are better than one or both of the major party candidates, then perhaps they ought to solve this problem by running better candidates.  Or, given that Sarvis used to be a Republican, perhaps they ought to work harder to grow the party and stick with their supposed principles as opposed to driving folks away or simply kicking people out of the party as they did in my case.

Just don’t complain that the election was “stolen”.

Gillespie Stumps In Staunton

IMG_2693A guest post by Drew Massengill

Tweed jackets and seasonal sweaters began to fill up the side dining room of Rowe’s Family Restaurant. The windblown and rose-cheeked cautiously chose their seats, ensuring they were near others with whom they were sufficiently familiar. They came from all over. Some wanted to see, and others wanted to be seen. Some came to voice their opinion, while some had yet to form one.

“He’s running a smidge late. Just mingle amongst yourselves.”

Like all politicians, Ed Gillespie was running the ubiquitous twenty minutes behind schedule. An older man mused why he and his wife even showed up; they had voted early, fearing an imminent death might cost them the chance to cast their ballot for the man they hoped could wrest control of the Senate from the iron grip of Mark Warner.

Gillespie wasn’t the only one to benefit from the impressive turnout of the Republican base in Augusta County and beyond. Blue blazers and bow ties swirled around the room as state representatives and Republican personalities took advantage of the lull to make connections and garner support for their own political ambitions.

Conversations quickly ceased and gave way to applause once the Senate hopeful walked into the room. The crowd had grown tired of its pie and pleasantries. They were ready to hear from the man on whom many have placed their hope for a Red Virginia.

Capitalizing on the momentum of his well-received entrance, Gillespie started rousing the troops. Amidst the typical campaign boilerplate, there was bit of call and response. Like a preacher of old-time religion, his fervor and confidence seamlessly spread amongst the crowd until whoops of assent echoed through the restaurant. Cheering and rounds of applause followed each vague promise of policy change as if it was tribute to the modern State of the Union.

Sensing the end of the speech, the crowd entered into rhythmic clapping and offered a standing ovation. And, as quickly as it began, Mr. Gillespie’s time in Staunton was finished. A customary “God bless the United States of America”, some glad-handing, and he was gone.

Trailing by near double-digits in every major poll, Ed Gillespie’s enthusiasm and energy defy reality. He ostensibly believes that, though out-spent, his supporters have out-worked Warner’s campaign machine. In a little over twenty-four hours, we will find out if all that hard work will have paid off.

The Roanoke Poll

Several days ago, I wrote a piece highlighting the fact that after weeks of silence a new poll came out in the Virginia U.S. Senate race.

Some Republicans spoke against the poll.  For example, one doubted the result given that it was conducted over the course of an entire week.  I think that is a reasonable concern.

However, now Roanoke College has released a poll on the election conducted from October 20th to 25th.  Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, these results show an even bigger gap between the Democratic and Republican candidates.  When including those leaning toward a candidate, Democrat Mark Warner clocks in at 47%, Republican Ed Gillespie at 35%, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis at 4%.  However, the poll also shows that a staggering 15% of the electorate are undecided or are for someone else.  The margin of error is listed at 3.6%.

Compared to the CBS poll from a few days ago, Warner sheds 2%, Gillespie loses 4%, Sarvis picks up 2%, and the number of undecideds jumps 4%.

As with every poll, the race is not predicted to be particularly close.  The narrowest margin between the Republican and Democratic candidate was 9% in the Quinnipac poll of mid September.  Since then, the two have fluctuated between 10 to 12%.  Unless something earth-shattering happens in the next day or two, Virginia will be a safe Democratic hold.

To me, the most curious aspect is still the large number of undecided voters.  What accounts for this situation?  Have the candidates failed to bring their message to the people of Virginia?  Is voter apathy high?  Is there a large segment of the population who aren’t happy with any of their choices?  After all, the Roanoke poll says “Likely voters are not enamored of either political party. Many of them hold unfavorable views of both the Democrats (47% unfavorable, 33% favorable) and the Republicans (46% unfavorable, 28% favorable).”

The Latest Poll

For enthusiasts of Virginia politics, I’m sure many of us have been eagerly waiting for the next poll of our U.S. Senate race.  Given that most politicos have predicted that Democratic Senator Mark Warner will easily win re-election, there has not been a lot of national attention paid to the Commonwealth.

I’m pleased to say that finally we have the latest poll.  This one comes from CBS News/New York Times/YouGov.

For the record, their last poll ending on October 1st showed Warner with 51% to Gillespie’s 39% with Sarvis at 1% and 9% undecided.  However, many Republicans have claimed that Gillespie has been gaining ground and that the gap is narrowing.  So what does this poll say as compared to the last?

Well, now Warner sits at 49% with Gillespie at 39% and Sarvis at 1% with 11% undecided.

Given the previous margin of error of 3% and the current margin of error of 4%, this poll seems to indicate that there has been little to no change in the opinions of the electorate over the last couple of weeks.  Warner surrenders a couple of points to the undecided column while Gillespie and Sarvis remain stable.

On November 4th, I would expect the numbers for both the Gillespie and the Sarvis to rise a little as the undecideds finally make their decision.  Nevertheless, as I predicted a month and a half ago, and this latest poll seems to indicate, I still believe that Warner will win by a comfortable margin.

Will there be any new polls that will show that Virginia in is play?

Will the Real Libertarians Please Stand Up?

A guest post by James Curtis.

This article appeared the October issue of Virginia Liberty, the LPVA newsletter.  It has been reposted here with permission.

One of the results of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election has been to demarcate a clear divide between libertarian Republicans and Libertarians. For this discussion, “libertarian Republicans” are defined as members or supporters of the Republican Party and/or its candidates who self-identify as “libertarian” in philosophy. (“Big L”) “Libertarians” are defined here as philosophical libertarians who are members or supporters of the Libertarian Party and/or its candidates.

While there has been talk of “litmus tests” and the measure of one’s “libertarianism,” these discussions have detracted from the real separation between the two groups. One division between the groups seems to be a tolerance, or even acceptance, of bigotry by libertarian Republicans. By any definition of the word, Ken Cuccinelli has demonstrated his belief that homosexuals do not have the same rights as heterosexuals. Examples of such can easily be found through any internet search. These are not just words on his part, either. Cuccinelli has a track record of letting his prejudice affect his performance in public office. Two glaring examples are his support for the Constitutional amendment prohibiting the Commonwealth from recognizing “same sex marriages” and his recent efforts to reinstitute anti-sodomy legislation.

Many libertarian Republicans dismiss or discount these and other efforts and comments. Some have suggested that Cuccinelli would be the “most libertarian” governor in recent Virginia history. They point to such efforts as the lawsuit filed against the federal government in regard to some aspects of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and his general touting of using Amendment X (US Constitution) as a means to thwart other federal abuses of authority. While these efforts may be laudable, they do not adequately demonstrate that Cuccinelli is “libertarian,” especially given his record on social issues. And this is not to suggest that all social conservatives are bigots. While words such as “bigot” or “racist” sometimes get used too freely, there is no denial that such sentiment exists, and has adversely affected Republican policy positions.

Many Libertarians point out that the philosophy is not just an economic model, nor one that values “states’ rights” to the point where the States may tread on civil liberties in areas where the federal government is prohibited. Libertarianism encompasses economic, personal, and even moral aspects of personal liberty that cannot be separated from the others. In these regards, bigotry is simply unacceptable. Ron Paul, the definitive libertarian Republican, dismisses allegations of racism by pointing out it is a form of collectivism that ignores individuality. While this is true, and Paul calls for more liberty with a focus on individuality, he seems to stop short of calling out the immorality of such comments and actions. The true Libertarian challenges the moral failings of bigotry, and challenges those who defend, dismiss, or downplay such sentiments to reexamine their respect for libertarian philosophy. In short, Libertarians reject bigotry, whether involved in public policy or not.

Another division between the groups was the unawareness of, dismissal of, or even hostility towards the “libertarian left” by libertarian Republicans. Many downplayed, or even attacked, Robert Sarvis’ focus on “social issues” during his campaign. Others twisted his responses to economics questions to argue that he was not libertarian at all (or not as much as Cuccinelli). Those arguments on economic issues have been well analyzed elsewhere. The suggestions that Sarvis was a “social liberal,” or that his focus on such issues somehow demonstrated he was not really libertarian, pointed out the failings of many libertarian Republicans. As alluded to above, such arguments place too much emphasis on financial matters at the expense of personal civil liberties. And as some of the vitriol showed, many libertarian Republicans do not apply the libertarian philosophy consistently, by downplaying or dismissing the importance of social issues to many voters, Libertarian or other.

Many Libertarians came to libertarianism through a focus on civil liberties. Subsets of libertarianism such as left-libertarianism or libertarian socialism exist and attract many newcomers to the libertarian movement. Groups such as “LGBT Libertarians” and “Libertarian Democrats” also help spread the libertarian philosophy with a focus on social issues. And we have to acknowledge that just as there are libertarians who choose to work within the Republican Party, there are some who choose to work within the Democratic Party, often citing similar “pragmatic” arguments for doing so. Many Virginians who voted for Sarvis were independents who were at least equally attracted to his positions on social issues as on economic issues.

The most obvious division between libertarian Republicans and Libertarians is the division over which political party to support. Good faith arguments can be made for either approach as the best tactic for promoting libertarianism to Virginians. But, as these other divides may suggest, neither “side” should expect the other to abandon its chosen path.

But I challenge libertarian Republicans to consider these points. Are you really comfortable ignoring, or even defending, the prejudices of some of your Republican colleagues? If not, you either need to work harder to drive such intolerance out of the Party, or quit supporting such an un-libertarian organization. Do you believe enough Libertarians, including the libertarian left, can be persuaded to come and work within the Republican Party to reform it? Even if some voters can be convinced a reformed Republican Party is actually a libertarian party, the Republican “brand” may have been too damaged for many Libertarians to comfortably take up its mantle, or for many independent voters to support its candidates.

For these and other reasons, the Libertarian Party is the best vehicle through which to promote libertarianism and libertarian candidates for office. While there is much divergence of thought within libertarianism (a phenomenon that is dismissed or downplayed by our political opponents or others who wish to demonize our efforts), the philosophy does not allow for the social conservatism that Republicans accommodate nor the economic redistribution that many Democrats call for. The results in this election, coupled with polling data that shows growing numbers of Americans who agree with our positions on so many issues, suggests that the time is ripe for Libertarians to abandon their efforts in other political parties, and for others to get involved in partisan politics, so that we can become a more effective political force.

James Curtis serves as the Treasurer of the LPVA and has been part of their activities since 1996.  He is a Marine Corps veteran and holds two degrees from the University of Virginia.

The Council Candidates on WSVA

Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio

Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio

This week, the six candidates for Harrisonburg City Council took to the airwaves of 550 AM WSVA to share their thoughts regarding policies for the city as well as their political principles.

On Wednesday, Ted Byrd (R), Alleyn Harned (D), and Helen Shibut (L) spoke.  This morning, D.D. Dawson (R), Joshua Huffman (I), and Chris Jones (D) had their turn.  In case you missed either show, you can listen to them on the links provided above.

IMG_0119IMG_0120On a personal note, I have to say that I appreciated the opportunity to speak about the race from WSVA and enjoyed today’s conversations with Ms. Dawson and Mr. Jones both on and off the air.  Although we certainly have our similarities and differences, it has been great journey, exploring and discussing a variety of topics.

Less than two weeks until Election Day!