A Bittersweet Anniversary

Photo taken by Jason Lenhart.  Image from the from page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014

Photo taken by Jason Lenhart. Image from the front page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014

On this date last year, I announced to Facebook and the Harrisonburg community that I would be seeking a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council that November.  In that election, I ran as an independent.  Although I had associated with the Harrisonburg Republican Party since the age of fifteen, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with the party over the years as they and their elected officials often endorsed candidates and legislation which stood in stark contrast to their supposed principles.  As a result of our growing rift between what they said they believed compared to what they actually did, I was expelled from that organization in February of 2014.  Once you couple that issue with open hostility from the Harrisonburg Libertarian Party, running as an independent seemed to be the logical choice.

However, that’s not to say that I didn’t have friends in both the Republican and Libertarian camps.  As such, my first official campaign event, taking place on April 24th of 2014, was a signature collection drive on the campus of JMU alongside U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis and 6th district House of Representatives candidate Will Hammer.  An article and photo featuring the three of us appeared the following day in my local paper, The Daily News Record.

In the weeks and months that followed, I learned much, met many new people, picked up new friends, and unfortunately discovered a few enemies.  Having been involved in politics for so long, I’ve certainly seen and faced a lot.

Prior to this campaign, one of my worst experiences centered around a death threat I received while working for Dr. Ron Paul in 2007.  However, soon after making my announcement for council, I received a phone call from some who used to call me the best of friends who promised a barrage of unyielding personal attacks against me if I continued in my effort to seek elected office.  Although I decided to press onward, as you might imagine, this blackmail cast a dark cloud of uncertainty over the campaign, making my effort all the more difficult, and did much to crush my enthusiasm for this project.  As I have been reminded consistently over the years, and last year’s race for city council was no exception, politics often attracts the worst elements of humanity.  However, I should add that while there are certainly those that sought to destroy me, there are others who came forth that evening to lift me up.

April 24th of 2014 was marked by unbridled hope while the following day brought crushing disappointment.  Therefore, even one year later these two days remain a bittersweet memory of the beginnings of my foray to seek public office.

Moore with the Libertarians

Last night, April Moore, a Democratic candidate for the 26th district in the Virginia Senate, spoke at the monthly meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians.  Although a slightly smaller than usual turnout, Ms. Moore introduced herself to the attendees with a brief speech.  Afterward, those gathered engaged in a lengthy question and answer session in order to learn more about the candidate as well as to share thoughts with her on ways to achieve greater liberty through reducing the power of government.

Although the background noise at O’Charlies was quite loud and obscured the recording a bit, hopefully this video will provide a little more insight into April Moore and her candidacy.

Reaching Across The Aisle

IMG_2133Sometimes it seems as if the political divide in this country is so great that dialogue with members of other political parties is impossible.  We have our side and they have theirs and damned be he that even thinks about extending his hand across the chasm.

But should that be the case?

Four years ago, local Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson agreed to speak at a Democratic event.  It sounded like a positive idea to me.  After all, the sheriff ought to represent and protect all of the citizens of his or her locality, not simply those within his own party.  In addition, there was no Democratic candidate in that race.  Now, of course there would be political disagreement between a candidate and an opposing party, but who knows?  They might actually find some common ground and give some of them a reason to support him; it is good for people of all political stripes to learn about their choices.  However, when the Republican establishment heard of this idea, they quickly put an end to it.  Nevertheless, facing no major party opposition, Mr. Hutcheson was elected that November.

In 2013, I repeatedly encouraged the Obenshain campaign to speak to Libertarians.  After all, there was no Libertarian candidate on the ballot for that office and thus Libertarians would need to choose between a Republican, a Democrat, or simply leaving the attorney general’s race blank.  However, the Obenshain campaign steadfastly declined to do so.  Once all the votes were counted, Mark Obenshain lost by a scant 165 votes.

When I ran for city council last year as an independent, I put this philosophy in action, speaking to whatever group would host me, be they Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian.  As was the case with the sheriff in 2011, some leaders of these three political camps were quite upset, furious that I would have the audacity to reach out to their members.  How dare I suggest that I might have more in common with their professed ideology than their anointed party nominees?  Unfortunately, I discovered running without a party label created massive hurdles in terms of both funding and a volunteer base and thus was in no danger of winning.

Just recently, I received word that April Moore, the Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate in the 26th district who is challenging Senator Obenshain, has reached out to the local Libertarian community and will be speaking at the next meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians on April 21st.  Whatever your thoughts happen to be regarding Ms. Moore or the Libertarian Party, I see this move as an encouraging sign, an opportunity to expand political dialogue and bring together people who may never associate otherwise.

Are we more than our party labels?  I should think so.  Is there only one kind of Republican…or Democrat…or Libertarian?  Of course not!  Are all Republican candidates conservative?  Or all Democrats liberal?  Or all Libertarians libertarian?  No.  Just like ordinary individuals, they are as varied as grains of sand.

It is easy to ignore and demonize those who follow a different political brand, choosing to simply follow a label without checking the contents, voting for the candidates of the same party year after year.  And I know it may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to do anything else.  But maybe, just maybe, if we reach across the aisle, speaking to those who think differently or attending meetings of a different political party, we just might learn something new about them, expand political dialogue, and find common ground.  And, just as important, by doing so we might learn something new about ourselves.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XXII)

IMG_0196Today, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA, to speak on the political issues of the day.  The major topic, which dominated the program, was the matter of religious freedom laws such as those recently passed by Indiana and Arkansas.  We also talked a little about Senator Rand Paul’s entry into the 2016 presidential race yesterday.

In case you missed the hour, you can find it at this link.

Arthur Announces for the 24th

Ellen Arthur

Ellen Arthur

Today, on the steps of the Augusta County Court House in Staunton, Ellen Arthur officially announced her campaign for the 24th district House of Delegates seat.  Seeking the Democratic nomination, she is challenging Republican Delegate Ben Cline who has represented the district since 2002.  The 24th district includes Bath County, Buena Vista, Lexington, Rockbridge County, as well as portions of Augusta and Amherst Counties.

About two dozen people came out for the event which lasted a little less than half an hour.  Introduced by Augusta Democratic Chairman and former State Senator Frank Nolen (D-24), Ms. Arthur explained a little about her family life and her reasons for running, including her three campaign issues: improving medical care, expanding educational opportunities, and curbing the influence of money in politics.  Along these same lines, she spoke out against the Dominion pipeline, saying that it transported a “obsolete source of energy” and mentioned that Delegate Cline has received over $12,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion.

Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur

Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur

During the brief question and answer period that followed, Angela Lynn, a fellow candidate who is running for House of Delegates in the nearby 25th district, spoke in favor of Ms. Arthur, as did Staunton City Council member Erik Curren, and Staunton School Board member and local Young Democrat leader Laura Kleiner.  Lastly, she was joined on the steps by Angela Lynn for a joint photo.

No Issues In Rockingham

Last night, the Rockingham County Republican Party held their mass meeting at Spotswood High School in Penn Laird to elect delegates to the 24th district convention.  Russ Moulton of Fredericksburg was the temporary chair for this meeting.  The turnout was relatively small, with a few observers from Staunton, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, and other portions of the county.  Dan Moxley was the only candidate for the 24th district GOP nomination who attended.

Although no pre-files were allowed, twelve voters sought to be delegates and the same twelve were elected without any controversy.  Each delegate will split the county’s ninety-nine votes, thus giving each eight and a quarter votes…assuming all of the delegates show up at the convention.

All in all, the meeting took about ten minutes, amazingly quick and without controversy; it was very surprising given the rancor which had developed in previous meetings.

Perhaps the only unfortunate aspect of the mass meeting was the cost.  Should the courts decide the convention will not proceed, the money spent by the county party to rent the high school last night would have gone to waste.

Nevertheless, rumor is that the courts could announce the fate of the Incumbent Protection Act as early as today!

Escaping the Routine Republic

Image from Adweek.com

Image from Adweek.com

Several days ago, Taco Bell released an ad of a dystopian society where everyone is forced to conform, eating the same breakfast day after day, consuming something that looks suspiciously like a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.  The landscape is bleak and harsh featuring elements of a McDonald’s playplace; the residents walled off from everyone else, no doubt “for their own protection.”

Although the video is certainly unusual, it is also thought provoking.  What if we lived in a world where we have no choice in what we eat?  What if the government had the power to make that decision for us?  Reflecting further, how would we like it if our leaders restricted our options in terms of food…our speech…or our political freedom when it comes to who is allowed to participate in political debates or appear on ballots?  Thank goodness we live in a state and country where that doesn’t happen!

Anyway, see what you think of the ad.  I think it is clever.

 

Thanks to Keith Drake for alerting me to this video.

Endorsements Matter

Over the last several years, I have debated the importance of political endorsements with various activists.  Some people argue that endorsements don’t really matter, that they are a mere formality that are doled out without much thought or value.  I disagree.

Endorsements, in my mind, are a strong signal of support, giving a stamp of a approval to a candidate or politician, more or less telling voters and like-minded activists that if you support me you should also support this person that I am endorsing.  Do endorsements make or break campaigns?  Typically not.  But they do say as much about the candidate as they do about the person or group offering the endorsement.

Let me offer some examples.  After Senator John McCain bested Representative Ron Paul in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, did Paul endorse McCain in the general election?  No.  The simple reason for it was that Paul and McCain espoused radically different principles.  While Paul supported the ideas of reducing the size and scope of the federal government and a non-interventionist foreign policy, McCain did not.  The fact that they were both members of the Republican Party was irrelevant.  In fact, Ron Paul went on to endorse Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate in that election.  This scenario repeated in 2012 when Dr. Paul declined to endorse Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for the same reason.  Now, would those of us in the liberty movement have thought considerably less of Dr. Paul if he had endorsed McCain and Romney?  I would think so, because he would be sending a signal that at the end of the day party unity trumps political principles.

Although I obviously wasn’t going to support him given that I was running for the same office, I thought it was impressive that Democratic candidate Alleyn Harned received the endorsement of both Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine.  If I supported the positions of either of these senators, this news certainly would have made an impact on my decisions.

Conversely, endorsements can be negative too.  As one example, when Barbara Comstock ran for the Republican nod in the 10th congressional district, some of her listed endorsers, such as John Bolton, Mitt Romney, and Eric Cantor caused considerable concern.  After all, if she was promoted by the nonconservative establishment, chances are she wouldn’t be a particularly conservative legislator when she arrived in Washington D.C.  Unfortunately, her time in Congress thus far have proven these fears to be correct.

And then there is the curious issue of Senator Mark Obenshain.  Although I endorsed and strongly supported his run for attorney general in 2013 and he bills himself as a pro-liberty conservative, I was shocked and profoundly disappointed when he urged his supporters to rally behind “local conservatives” by endorsing the establishment Republican candidates for Harrisonburg City Council in the 2014 elections as opposed to actual conservatives who didn’t bear the Republican label.  Unfortunately, in a reverse situation of Paul, principles took a back seat to party loyalty.

Anyway, the reason I wrote this piece in the first place concerns the presidential candidacy of Rand Paul in 2016.  Unlike his father, the younger Dr. Paul did endorse Mitt Romney in 2012.  Two years later, he endorsed Mitch McConnell over his conservative challenger.  Now, that’s not to say that Rand Paul hasn’t endorsed good, principled candidates as well, but, along with other matters, such as his support of Senator Cotton’s letter to Iran, it certainly should give liberty-minded activists cause for considerable concern.

Endorsements are not like Halloween candy to be given out freely to every person who shows up at your doorstep, but rather a carefully crafted decision to be rationed out only to those who you believe closely mirror your own values.  That is why I have publicly endorsed only one candidate, Nick Freitas, in the 2015 election cycle so far.

Although endorsements certainly aren’t the end all be all, and, given enough time everyone is prone to make an error from time to time, they are important as a helpful guide for both the endorser and endorsee to show who might be worth a closer look, who will be a constant advocate for liberty, or who might be selling out his or her principles for political gain.

The bottom line is that endorsements matter.

Meeting Donald Sheets

Donald Sheets, the most recent entrant into the race for the Republican nomination for the 24th Virginia Senate district, is a mystery to many in Shenandoah Valley politics.  Who is he?  Why is he running?  And why did he file his last minute campaign?  Although there have been a number of speculations into the answers to these questions, they remained unsolved, little more than rumors.  The News Leader recently wrote a story about Mr. Sheets, but it didn’t really address any of these issues.

Last night, before the monthly meeting of the Harrisonburg Tea Party, I had the opportunity to speak to Donald Sheets for the first time in the hopes of shedding some light on his campaign.

He told me that he had lived in the Shenandoah Valley pretty much his entire life.  In fact, his family has been a part of this community since the Revolutionary War.  He has known both Senator Emmett Hanger and Marshall Pattie for years and that they had been a part of the community for quite some time.  However, his third opponent, Dan Moxley, was a relatively new addition to Augusta County.  Mr. Sheets explained that he thought that Mr. Moxley had only moved to the 24th district in order to run for office and added that many of Moxley’s business ventures were far away from the area.

Mr. Sheets also expressed concern that outside groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, were attempting to wrest control of this seat from the people of the 24th district.  It is no secret that AFP has lobbied heavily against some of Senator Hanger’s proposals, such as Medicaid expansion.

He also opposed the lawsuit against the Incumbent Protection Act filed by the 24th district GOP.  Although Mr. Sheets didn’t seem to think the act was fair, he added that the idea of using the judicial branch to overturn Virginia law wasn’t right and was another way to circumvent proper political processes.

As such, Donald Sheets stated that he filed to run for the convention as a way to expose some of the disturbing injustices that are going on in the 24th district.  Doing so, he declared, was well worth the fees required.

I asked if he planned to run in the primary as well, to which he responded that he hadn’t made up his mind.  However, given that the window to submit the necessary paperwork to be a candidate in that contest closed at 5 PM yesterday, he will not be a candidate in that contest assuming the courts decide in favor of that nomination method.

So, if the convention is the path forward, delegates in the 24th will have the choice of Dan Moxley or Donald Sheets.  Although I don’t know what ideological differences separate the two, it is certainly useful to know more about Mr. Sheets and his motivations.

The Unfortunate Case of Dany Fleming

In 2012, Dany Fleming was a candidate to serve on the city school board representing the west district of Harrisonburg.  Running unopposed, it wasn’t much of a shock that he garnered 98.43% of the vote.

Recently, a surprising fact came to the public attention.  Mr. Fleming does not live in the west district of Harrisonburg as defined in the city code.  It is not that he has moved; he has maintained the same residence since his election.  However, when he ran for the school board in 2012, he ran in the wrong district.

According to the code of Harrisonburg, section 17-1-2:

The Harrisonburg City Public School Board shall consist of six (6) members, four (4) members shall be elected from the east school district and two (2) members shall be elected from the west school district.

Each member elected to the school board shall, at the time of his or her election, be a qualified voter and a bona fide resident of the school district from which that member is elected; and if the member shall cease to be a resident of such school district, the member’s position on the school board shall be deemed vacant.

According to reports, when Mr. Fleming decided to run, he spoke to the Harrisonburg registrar to determine in which district he lived.  Although supposedly told he was in the west, that information was incorrect.  In accordance with city code section 1-1-11, the city is split into two wards divided by Main Street.  As Mr. Fleming lived and continues to live east of Main Street, he is in the east ward.

Earlier this week, an attorney approached me regarding this issue.  He was looking to find Harrisonburg residents to join in filing a petition against Mr. Fleming serving on school board due to his ineligibility.  As such, I decided to learn as much about the issue as I could.  I read through the suit, explored the city code, spoke with leaders in the Harrisonburg community, tried to determine the political ramifications of this issue, and even made a stop in to the local registrar’s office.

Now, I should point out that I don’t really know Mr. Fleming nor do I have any strong feelings about him either positively or negatively.  As far as I could tell, he seemed to be a good fellow trying to do his best to serve the citizens of Harrisonburg.  Although I found nothing that would lead me to believe that Mr. Fleming did anything to deceive the public, the simple fact of the matter was that he is not a resident of the district which he was elected to represent and thus could not legally serve on the school board.  There is no joy in telling someone that he cannot serve in elected office, but the law in this instance was quite clear.  Therefore, after several days of consideration, I agree to include my name of the list of Harrisonburg residents who believed Mr. Fleming was ineligible and thus ought to be removed.

As a result of this petition, which was presented to the Harrisonburg City Council last night, Mr. Fleming has announced his resignation.  This whole affair is tragic and it is unfortunate that Mr. Fleming has to pay the price for this error.

This matter brings up several questions that ought to be addressed in Harrisonburg politics before the next election.  Why is the school board divided into two wards when the city council is not?  Why does the east get four representatives while the west gets only two?  Why do candidates have to live in certain parts of the city even though citizens in both the east and west get to vote for both offices?  Hopefully, some of these curious laws can be addressed and amended before the next school board election in 2016 so that situations like Mr. Fleming’s will not be repeated.