George Allen Returns!

Today former Governor and Senator George Allen announces his bid for Virginia’s Senate seat in 2012.  For most of those following the election, the question was not if he would run, but rather when he would run.  I’m glad to hear both through this video and his visit during the Americans for Prosperity tour last week that he is central message thus far seems to be the same kind of limited government conservatism that so many people in the Commonwealth support.  And so fellow Virginians, our front runner has arrived.  The GOP nomination should be interesting, so stay tuned!

Behaving Badly on TV

Expanding my reach and audience of this blog has been one of my central focuses these last couple of months.  To rehash, in late December I had my first radio spot on The Schilling Show.  For readers of The Daily News Record, another of my pieces appears in the opinion section of Monday’s newspaper.  But what about television?  With the exception of a brief segment during the 2006 campaign, I’ve never been on TV.  Therefore, I decided that I should take the time to learn more about this medium.

This most recent Friday, January 14, I drove up to Arlington to participate in one of The Leadership Institute’s training sessions.  This particular one was called “Television Workshop, On-camera”.  Unfortunately, due to the more or less complete urbanization of Arlington, parking was proving to be a bit of a challenge until the folks at LI directed me to a public parking garage.  All in all, the workshop lasted a little over three hours.  We did cover quite a bit of material including: what to wear, how to present yourself, and what to say.  I’m not going to address those topics here.  If you want to learn more about those issues, I would highly recommend attending the workshop yourself.

What I do want to talk about, however, is the tone they recommend adopting for TV.  I can only describe the attitude as the worst aspects of political television.  If asked a question that you don’t care to answer, simply steer the conversation in a different direction or ignore the point entirely.  When you debate one or more people, you don’t have to wait your turn to speak.  Just interrupt the other person whenever you feel you can get away with it.   Civility is overrated and can even be a hindrance.  The rules are simple; whoever gets in the most words, and thus the most airtime, wins.

Now whom should we blame for these displays which are quite frankly disrespectful and childish?  I believe it rests primarily with the host or interviewer of the program.  A good host can keep his or her guests in line and on topic.  A poor host doesn’t restrain his or her guests, or, worse yet, treats them with open contempt.  Upon further reflection, there is a strong comparison between the host of a political program and an elementary school teacher.  A worthy host or teacher must be both a taskmaster and disciplinarian, motivated and fair.  If you allow your guests or students to be disrespectful or constantly wander off topic, then no one will learn anything of value.

Of course, these days political TV is not really about education, but instead shouting trivial and meaningless talking points.  The market and the audience have become oversaturated with emotion and devoid of facts.  Without a meaningful exchange of ideas, the American public treats politics as fairly irrelevant.  It is merely another form of entertainment to be spoofed on Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live.  Therefore, we must reject the concept of no holds barred political television.  It is detrimental to our political health and weakens the fabric of society.

In closing, I encourage you to explore the wealth of training options available at The Leadership Institute.  My first experience with their learning opportunities was excellent and last week’s was quite good as well.  I just take exception to one particular technique that they suggested.  Although rudeness and political demagoguery is all the rage on TV these days, that doesn’t mean we should follow down this well-worn path.  I know that I won’t.  If that means I’ll never be successful in the medium, at least I can hold my head high knowing that I didn’t help trash the American experiment for a quick buck and to further my own selfish ambitions.

Tucson Rhetoric

Since the tragic events in Tucson on Saturday, political rhetoric continues to flare.  Everyone is looking for someone to hold responsible.  Some people on the far left fault Sarah Palin, the tea party movement, and private gun ownership for the calamity while some on the far right see it as justice for Representative Giffords’ support of liberal policies or punishment from God for increasing immorality in our nation.  In their mad rush to play the blame game, these groups have missed the point.  As far as I can tell, the fault for this terrible deed rests solely with the gunman, Jared Loughner.  No one else pulled the trigger, no one else handed him the gun, and no one else urged him to enact his plan.  It wasn’t the natural result of having too many freedoms…or too few.  It was not some grand political statement, but the act of a single coward.

Unfortunately, some political groups in the nation try to use any misfortune, be they natural or man-made, to push their agenda.  For them, the end justifies the means and they will exploit any opportunity.  I call upon all Americans to resist this temptation and rebuke any person or organization that seeks to profit from this terrible moment.

As they are similar to many of my own thoughts, I’d like to share with the words of Representative Steve Israel, the new Chairman of the DCCC:

Friend —

In the wake of last Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, the thoughts and prayers of the DCCC remain with our colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, the other victims of this horrifying attack, their families, and the people of Southern Arizona.

Today, the House of Representatives formally honored them with a resolution expressing the condolences of our entire nation. But since Congresswoman Giffords is both a colleague and a close friend, I wanted to share some additional thoughts.

Congresswoman Giffords is a rising star and I am always touched by her compassion and drive. She was simply doing what she loves to do – talking with and serving her constituents.

We mourn and honor the lives of nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, her congressional outreach director Gabe Zimmerman, her friend and Chief United States District Court Judge John Roll, and the other people who were senselessly murdered while simply meeting their representative in their neighborhood.

In Gabby’s spirit of thinking about others, I wanted to pass along the suggestion of her husband, Captain Mark Kelly who encouraged people to pray for the victims and their families, and for those who want to do more, consider making a contribution to two organizations that she has long valued: Tucson’s Community Food Bank or the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross.

Please join the DCCC in continuing to send your thoughts and prayers to the victims of this horrific attack and your wishes for Gabby’s recovery and return to the House of Representatives.

Thank you,

Steve Israel
Rep. Steve Israel
DCCC Chairman

Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee | 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 | (202) 863-1500 | | Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

I too ask that you please remember the dead, the families of the victims, and Representative Giffords.  There is a time and a place for politics, but it is not right here and it is not right now.

Metal Bell

About a week ago, I received a pretty troubling email from another political activist.  It concerned a pre-filed bill for the upcoming legislative session, HB 1528 sponsored by Dickie Bell of Staunton.  According to the email, this bill “requires every dealer to prepare a daily report” of precious metal transactions.  Furthermore, these reports would be available to both government and law enforcement agents.  As you would imagine, I found this news to be particularly troubling.  I would assume that more and more Virginians would look toward investing in precious metals given the continued weakness of the U.S. Dollar.  Isn’t it just a little bit disconcerting that the government would take such a keen interest in these transactions?  What do they plan to do with this data now or in the future?

Resisting the temptation to hastily write a letter to Delegate Bell regarding my concerns, I thought it prudent to do a bit of research first.  The most interesting point that I discovered is that the Virginia Code  (54.1-4101) already requires precious metal or gem dealers to keep a written record of both their transactions and customers that are available on request.  Delegate Bell’s bill would primarily change two points:

  1. “Every dealer shall prepare a daily report containing the information required by 54.1-4101 sold to him each day and shall file such report by noon of the following day with the chief of police or other law-enforcement officer of the county, city or town where his business is conducted designated by the local attorney for the Commonwealth to receive it.”  The dealer can submit his or her report electronically as opposed to mailing or delivering them in person, which is the current norm.
  2. Dealers can charge their customers a small service fee to cover the added costs associated with these filings.

As you can see, some of the most onerous parts of the law are already in place.  Delegate Bell’s bill just enhances them and provides a much closer and daily link to law enforcement.  As you can imagine, with this new information I was still against HB 1528 and looked for an opportunity to speak with the Delegate about it.  That opportunity came on Friday when Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Republicans gathered for lunch at our typical First Friday meeting.  All of the Delegates and Senators who represent any portion of the city and/or the county were invited.  Once I got to the gathering, I discovered that neither Senator Hanger could not attend nor could most of the Delegates.  Fortunately, both Delegate Bell and Senator Obenshain were there.

After the meal and a short speech by the Senator and Delegate, I patiently waited my turn to ask about HB1528.  Senator Obenshain moderated the questions from the audience and several times he passed over my outstretched hand.  Amazingly, after just about everyone else’s questions had been answered, the Senator ended the meeting, thus denying me my opportunity and primary reason for showing up to the meeting in the first place.  Although it would be easy to assume such a move as an intentional slight, I really hope it was merely an oversight.

As the crowd began to trickle away, fortunately Delegate Bell stuck around to speak with some of the guests and so I kept my eye on him.  Once the line dwindled, I finally got my chance.

The first thing Delegate Bell said to me was that he noticed that I had been waiting patiently for quite some time. I agreed and pulled out my printed copy of HB 1528 and asked him why he was proposing that bill.  He responded that local law-enforcement officials suggested the bill as an effort to further crack down on illegal trafficking of stolen goods.  However, after speaking with a number of interested parties, Delegate Bell stated that he no longer supports this bill and would be removing it from consideration very soon.  In addition, given the potential privacy violations already present in the law, he mentioned that he would be speaking to the Attorney General about deleting (or at least modifying) 54.1-4101 from the Virginia Code.

It is difficult to find the balance between security and liberty.  Although I’m sure that HB 1528 would aid Virginia police in catching criminals, is the added bureaucracy, hassle, and loss of privacy worth is?  I would say no.  In our post 9-11 world, far too many conservatives and liberals alike are willing to sacrifice just about every right in order to gain even the slightest feeling of security, even if doing so provides no tangible benefits.  For another example one needs look no further than the ridiculous nature of airport security.  First, why do we allow the federal government to look after airport safety?  Shouldn’t that role be the responsibility of the independent airport authorities or at least the states or the localities in which they are located?  Second, aren’t these body scanners and aggressive pat-downs a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment rights?  Must we give up our Constitutional protections in order to fly the not so friendly skies?  I could go on, but the simple fact is that once we surrender liberty in one facet, like travel, it will be that much easier to surrender it in another, like commerce, all in the false and misguided hope of greater security.

Now some activists might be upset by Delegate Bell’s HB 1528 proposal, but I think we should look at this event in a different light.  After all, Delegate Bell freely admits that HB 1528 is a blunder that he intends to correct immediately.  I believe that gesture shows volumes about his character.  He could have ignored the concerned letters and phone calls.  He could have not taken responsibility for this lapse in judgment.  After all everyone makes mistakes and the easiest and most widespread response is to simply deny their existence.  A true mark of strength is when we recognize missteps and correct them before the damage becomes irreversible.

Even though we share many conservative values, I’m sure that Delegate Bell and I will disagree on a few points in the future.  I’m just glad to know that the 20th district has a Delegate who listens to the people and will change course when he discovers he is in error.

The End of Primaries In Virginia?

With Virginia’s legislative session beginning next week, Delegates and Senators are busy getting all of their affairs in order.  If you check the Legislative Information System, you can find a wealth of pre-filed bills and resolutions from General Assembly members across the state.  A few moments ago, I received an email from my State Senator, Mark Obenshain.  In what promises to be the first part of his previews, he discusses some of his legislative priorities.  It reads as follows:

Perhaps January 12 isn’t circled on your calendar, but it is on mine – it is the first day of the General Assembly Session.  I know that what takes place in Richmond matters to you too, which is why I want to use the coming days to tell you about the bills I plan to introduce and some of the big issues facing the General Assembly this session.

Today, I would like to take the opportunity to outline some of my proposals for a leaner, smarter government. Honestly, we don’t have much of a choice: although the economy is starting to recover, state revenues remain low and need remains great. We have to prioritize, to come up with more efficient ways of doing the work of government, and to ensure that the true agents of recovery – individual Virginians – aren’t hampered by overbearing regulation.

If ever there was a time for government reform, this is it. Here are a few of the bills I will be introducing this year designed to change the way the Commonwealth governs for the better.

Creating a Transportation Lockbox

Here’s an idea: revenues specifically raised for and dedicated to transportation should be spent on … transportation!

Time and again, legislators have raided transportation revenues to pay for other projects. Often, less important functions are funded by revenues designated for far more important ones, on the theory that when the more essential program experiences a budget crunch, there will be no choice but to appropriate new monies to cover the shortfall.

No more: it’s a poor way to govern, and it’s bad faith with the people of Virginia. That’s why I’m proposing the creation of a “transportation lockbox” to ensure that revenues specifically raised for transportation are only spent on transportation projects. The time for dallying on fiscal responsibility is over – indeed, it ended long ago. It’s time to put transportation funds in a lockbox to help ensure the funds we need to make critical infrastructure improvements.

Getting a Better Deal on Government Contracts

When the Commonwealth puts a project or purchase order out to bid, it doesn’t always take the best deal – or anything close. Due to an entrenched system of preferential procurement, 40% of all requests for proposals are submitted to qualifying small businesses and women- and minority-owned (SWaM) businesses alone.

Whatever you think of preferential contracting, this is an incredibly bad way to go about it. Some states “score” bids on various factors – price, specifications, reputability – and include a preference component. Virginia, on the other hand, simply sets aside 40% of contracts exclusively for SWaM vendors, and we have no idea much it costs us since we have no other bids by which the contracts can be compared.

Under my proposal, bidding would be open to all vendors, and agencies will be permitted to enter into as many SWaM-preferred contracts as they wish so long as total project costs are not increased by more than 3% off the low qualifying bids. The question is this: can we really justify unquantifiable cost overruns at a time when we are asking so many to do more with less?

Ending Subsidies to Political Parties

Virginia is in a somewhat unique situation: we don’t allow voter registration by political party, but we still pay for party primaries. And the truth is, we pay through the nose, sometimes as much as $20 per voter.

There are perfectly good alternatives. Parties often choose to nominate via convention or party canvass, or through a “firehouse primary,” in which a limited number of polling places are opened in each locality, usually for fewer hours than in a government-run election. All of these methods are common, all are relatively affordable – and all are paid for by the political parties themselves.

If a political party wants a conventional primary, fine – but they can pay for it. Our localities are burdened enough as it is. If a party cannot or will not put up that much money, they can always go with a cheaper option. Our localities can ill afford it – and under my proposal, they wouldn’t have to.

Studying Options for a Fiscally Sustainable Future

It’s easy for an entity as large as state government to get stuck in the past, and sometimes the way forward is less than obvious. But we can’t just keep spinning our wheels; at very least, we should always be looking for ways to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I’m introducing legislation instructing Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study proposals for making state government smarter and more efficient.

As you probably know, federal health care legislation requires a massive expansion of state Medicaid programs by 2014, with substantial new financial burdens falling upon already cash-strapped states. Here’s what you probably don’t know: state involvement in Medicaid is optional.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and no, of course I would never support repudiating our obligations to low-income families in Virginia. I simply point out that we don’t necessarily have to provide these services through Medicaid, especially with a raft of new regulations and eligibility changes on the way.

Several states are looking at the possibility of running their own programs independent of the federal Medicaid program – and it wouldn’t be the first time. Some states ran their own programs into the 1980s, when changes in federal funding ended the cost-effectiveness of such alternatives. With the nature of Medicaid set to change, it’s time to give that option another look to determine if Virginia could meet the needs of the Medicaid population more cost-effectively outside the federal Medicaid program.

The second study I am requesting deals with state employee pay. Recently, several studies have demonstrated that federal employee compensation routinely exceeds that of comparable private sector positions, raising the question of whether state pay scales are similarly disproportionate – something we should wish to know for future hiring.

Going beyond the value of compensation packages, moreover, we need to give a good long look at how we provide retirement benefits. The Virginia Retirement System’s default choice is a defined benefit plan which looks a lot like the pensions of the 1950s – ’70s, but bears little resemblance to the more cost-effective defined contribution plans and 401(k)s common in today’s workplace. If being behind the times is costing us, things need to change. That’s part of what my bill would instruct JLARC to study.

Of course, these are just a few proposals to make government more efficient and responsive. I will be carrying a number of other bills with similar themes, and look forward to working with my colleagues on further reform proposals, a number of which have emerged from the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, of which I am a member.

In coming days, I will be sharing more with you about my legislative priorities, and about major issues facing the General Assembly this coming session, and as always, I welcome you to share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns with me now and throughout session.

With best regards, 

Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator
Authorized and paid for by Friends of Mark Obenshain

Now there is quite a bit of meat in this email.  However, one particular issue that stands out to me concerns political primaries.  As I’ve stated before, I believe primaries are a poor method to nominate party candidates.  Not only are they an added expense to the Virginia taxpayer, but they often create weaker nominees and ones less wed to their party’s supposed ideology.  Given that the costs of holding a convention falls squarely on the parties, I understand why political parties might choose a primary, but is it fair to defray these costs to average Virginians?  That doesn’t sound very fiscally responsible.

I was greatly disappointed when state Republicans decided upon a primary to select our 2012 Republican nominee for Senate.  Given that the decision has been thrown open to every Virginia voter, we will likely end up with a nominee that is not the most conservative (and some may argue not the most Republican), but rather the one who best panders to the liberals and the moderates.  After all, they will have as much of a say in choosing the Republican nominee as Republicans will.  What a great idea ladies and gentlemen!  Let’s let the Democrats pick the Republican candidate.  What could possibly go wrong?


Well, I’m glad to hear that Senator Obenshain is working to correct this issue.  If political parties still insist on holding primaries, it is high time that they cover the bill themselves.  Once the RPV and the DPVA have to front the cost of their own nomination process, if only for financial reasons, maybe they will come to realize that conventions (or canvasses) are a better method.  After all, as they say, “It’s the money stupid.”

Worse Than Ignorance

We live in strange times, at least from a political perspective.  On one hand, we have a massive federal government that seeks to dominate the states and the citizens regardless of any supposed restrictions set forth by the Constitution.  Deficits and spending are recklessly multiplied ensuring the economic slavery of future generations.  But on the other side of things, states are beginning to reassert their power through rejection of nationalized health care, sovereignty resolutions, and the push for nullification.  More and more ordinary American citizens are starting to take a keen interest into both domestic and foreign policies.  For far too long, politicians assumed that the indifferent silence of the average voter equated to tacit consent of beltway policies.  And all the while, conservative and liberal pundits temper the news with their particular brand of spin.

Obviously we all have to get our political news from some source or another.  Ideally, the well-rounded person will have several avenues of information.  Regrettably, some folks are content to rely on a single pundit.  Now don’t get me wrong, there many good commentators out there.  Unfortunately, a great many of them do not advance political dialogue, but hinder it instead.  They treat politics like a kindergarten argument where the person who is the loudest, most disagreeable, interrupts constantly, and hurls the cruelest insults is considered the winner.  You cannot refute this kind of pundit without being declared stupid, brainless, or otherwise mentally incapacitated.  These kinds of antics strip politics of any sort of dignity and warp it to be more like an unpredictable circus comparable to the Jerry Springer show.

Don’t think that either the right or the left holds a monopoly on civility; both conservatives and liberals are guilty of dumbing down and stifling discourse.  Talk show hosts on the television and the radio, bloggers, writers, and even politicians can all fall prey to this sort of rubbish.  Oh, you’re just a “libtard”, a “teabagger”, or a “nutjob”.  Therefore, we can’t trust your opinions on any issue and your thoughts are equally worthless.  They don’t confront and refute contrary opinions, but rather attack their opponent’s credibility and basic human decency.  Ultimately, I believe these tactics display the shortcomings of the argument of those who employ them because it shows that their own evidence is weak, exhausted, or likely both.  Their listeners, watchers, or readers are no more enlightened than they were prior to reading their rude drivel, but instead falsely empowered with the worst aspects of political rhetoric.  Although a few people may claim otherwise, I try to hold my writing and this blog to a higher standard.

In the first few pages of his First Discourse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau laments the earlier understanding of mankind.  “A nondescript scientific jargon, even more despicable than ignorance, had usurped the name of knowledge, and opposed an almost invincible obstacle to its return.  A revolution was needed to bring men back to common sense”.  Today, some residents fill their heads solely with the vulgar prattling of some pundit or other, holding their petty rudeness as sacrosanct as the writings of the prophets of old.  This advice may sound strange coming from an unapologetic conservative, but I encourage you to listen to the words of conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and statists alike.  Of course, you do not have to agree with them all (and obviously you cannot for their ideologies are diametrically opposed).  Nevertheless, in order to be good citizens and also informed, we must explore and discuss thoughts contrary to our own.  By doing so, we increase our political intelligence and bolster our beliefs without denying the right of others to disagree.  We must avoid the common pundit’s snare of propagating a political environment devoid of rationality and proof, but one that is rich in slander and childishness.  If we fail to do so, then we will never escape our current state of discourse that, for many, is even worse than ignorance.