Sarvis on Ballot

In a bit of breaking news, I have just received word that the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, was certified by the Virginia State Board of Elections today.  As such, he will be one of at least three candidates on the ballot this November at this point alongside Democratic Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie.

The Rise of the LPVA

Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention
Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention

The Libertarian Party of Virginia stands on the brink of political history as they look to certify a candidate for U.S. Senate and all eleven congressional districts in the state.

In order to understand the significance of this event, I think it useful to reflect back on my experiences with the LPVA.

In 2004, I found myself living in Charlottesville.  As most political activists in Virginia know, Charlottesville is one of the more liberal cities in the Commonwealth.  Being a Republican, I attended many of the meetings of the Charlottesville Republican Party while living there.  However, I found the group so demoralized and so fragmented that after a few gatherings I began to seriously question why I should offer my time and energy to them.

About this time, I heard of another organization, the Jefferson Area Libertarians.  They met at a place called the Mellow Mushroom.  For several months I simply sat and listened to their discussions.  Although I didn’t agree with everything they stood for (and who agrees with anyone 100%?) I thought the group was far more spirited than the local GOP.  As such, at one point I asked them about the candidates they were running for office.  The response was unexpected.  They seemed to think I was crazy for asking such a question.  To me, although philosophical discussion is great, without a plan to turn your vision into reality, it is of little tangible value.  I found that many of Libertarians around the state weren’t particularly interested in getting involved in campaigns and elections and thus I became critical of the LPVA.  To me, if a party doesn’t recruit candidates and work to help them, they aren’t really a political party, but rather little more than a debating society.

Although the LPVA did run candidates, such as for governor and senator, they were a rarity, especially in my corner of the state.  That began to change in 2010 with Stuart Bain who challenged Representative Bob Goodlatte in the 6th district.  Then, in 2013, the party not only ran Robert Sarvis, a candidate for governor, but also over half a dozen candidates in House of Delegates races.  This year, as mentioned at the beginning of the piece, the Libertarian Party has a candidate in every congressional district as well as for Senate.  Now, will all of the Libertarians make the ballot?  We’ll find out soon, but I would be surprised if they did.  Nevertheless, it is certainly amazing to watch what is happening.

Taking the entire picture of Virginia politics, although in control of the state legislature, the Republican Party is fractured between the grassroots and establishment, still reeling from a successive string of statewide losses.  At the same time, the Democratic Party has fared well in statewide contests, but is not challenging every Republican Representative in the November election and recently lost control of the Virginia State Senate in unusual circumstances which has left many of their supporters crying foul.

One shouldn’t expect some sort of radical outcome in the November elections, although yes, as Dave Brat showed us recently, anything is possible.  After all, the smart money in American politics is maintaining the status quo.  The more exciting questions revolve around the future.   With this multitude of Libertarian candidates this year, what will 2015 look like?  Bolstered by their activity, will dozens seek positions in Richmond next November?  Will a Libertarian claim office in the near future?  Could more than one emerge victorious?

Like them or hate them, it is hard to refute the claim that the Libertarian Party of Virginia is making waves.  Will 2014 herald the beginnings of a new era in Virginia politics?  Or will it merely be a high-water mark for the Libertarian Party, a footnote in history?   Right now it is too early to tell.

Republicans for Warner?

John Warner (image from wikipedia)
John Warner (image from Wikipedia)

One big headline before the 2014 Virginia Republican convention was former Republican Senator John Warner’s endorsement of Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  In 1996, the Warners faced each other in a Senate race with Mark Warner finishing surprisingly well for a first-time candidate 47.4% to 52.5%.

However, as fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell and the Roanoke Free Press report, since that time more former Republican elected officials have come out in support of the Democratic Senator including a handful of former delegates, state senators, and even a former governor.

I must confess, at first glance this news seems rather curious.  After all, one could argue that the establishment candidate (Ed Gillespie) won the convention.  If the more conservative Shak Hill had emerged the nominee, then this result would be less of a surprise; one could label it a establishment backlash against the grassroots.

What can we make of this situation?  Does it signal a terribly weakened Virginia Republican Party?  Does the GOP have little ideological cohesion where loyalty to the party, even from former elected officials, is not a certainty?  Or is it the case that Mark Warner is simply that popular with a multitude of demographics across the state and/or Ed Gillespie is that unpopular?

Former State Senator Brandon Bell seems to think the last option when he stated, “You know what you’re getting with Mark Warner – someone who works with both sides of the aisle and forges consensus. On the other hand, Ed Gillespie was national party chair when I served in the Senate. He was not willing to take a stand on either side of the important issues we were facing. Gillespie did not seek solutions when he had the opportunity.

So what does all this mean?  Will there be additional Republican endorsements in the days to come?  And will the grassroots rally behind Gillespie even though some consider him insufficiently conservative or will they launch a protest vote with Robert Sarvis?

Most pundits already predict a Warner victory and so the more interesting question to ask is, what will this situation do to the Republican Party in Virginia?

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XII)

Well, today’s hour marked the twelfth appearance of Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman on 550 AM WSVA.  That means that we’ve been on the air for one year!

Anyway, if you haven’t heard today’s show, you can find it here.

The major focus of discussion was Dave Brat’s win over Eric Cantor in the 7th district yesterday.  We also briefly touched on the subject of Virginia Senator Puckett’s resignation.


Thoughts From a Veteran

A Guest post from Robert Short Sr.

Photo from Wikipedia
Bowe Bergdahl. Photo from Wikipedia

I know this isn’t what this blog normally posts, but I felt that this should be written.

Recently I was asked on Facebook, by someone who had never  served, why would Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl want to commit suicide. It made me realize that there was this huge disconnect between what we  soldiers who were there experienced and the mythos of our experience that the civilian world believes. I completed two tours in Iraq, 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, so some of these experiences might not apply to other times, such as the initial invasion; however, many veterans have fairly similar experiences.

We never see the enemy. I don’t mean ‘never’ like I never see the Skins win a Super Bowl.  I mean “never” as in I never knowingly laid eyes on someone who I was sent there to fight despite having spent two years looking for them. Sure we were attacked repeatedly, people were hurt, trucks were destroyed, but never in all the miles we patrolled (~30,000 over two years) did I ever actually see any bad guys. And that’s the problem: for years I drove around waiting to be killed, without any way to stop it. It wasn’t about being better at your job, you could be sleeping or wide awake, it was all about how good the bad guy was.  Just take a moment and imagine spending a year or more doing your job, surrounded by people, knowing that people were trying to kill you and your comrades, but having no way to identify them.  It’s not something that you ever get used to, and you certainly don’t just leave that there when you return home either.

We love it over there, when we’re not on mission. Other than a few mortar attacks on post, only about a hundred or so out of the 600+ days I was in country, the base was pretty nice. Yes it was a half mile walk to eat and an eighth of a mile to the latrine, but you know how nice it is not to have to do laundry? Just drop it off and pick it up, washed dried and folded, a few days later? We would go work out for an hour, go play Call of Duty at the MWR and watch illegally downloaded movies. No bills, no responsibility, except for missions, it was nice.

Everyone wants out. But you’re stuck. You can’t leave and the gym, the MWR and the PX are the extent of your entertainment options. None of your loved ones are there, there is no sex, there’s no hanging out with friends or any actual time by yourself. This becomes especially hard when a significant life event happens, such as the birth of a child (my two oldest were born while I was in country), their first steps, or negative ones like a girlfriend/wife leaving you/cheating on you, or a death in the family.  One of the three suicide attempts I saw while in the service happened when a guy waited in line for two hours (a pretty standard wait time) to call home and talk to his fiancé. She then told him that not only was she leaving him, but that she was pregnant by one of his friends back home whom she had been with since he had left the US five month prior. He walked out of the phone booth, pulled out his M9 and put it to his head; only the quick action by a passing soldier prevented him from doing it.

PTSD isn’t something weak soldiers get, it’s something every soldier gets. If someone tells you they were in combat and they don’t have any touch of PTSD then they are either lying or they view their symptoms as normal. The problem is that for a long time, going back to before Patton slapped that soldier, PTSD was viewed as a weakness. One thing about a soldier, he would rather die than be thought of as ‘weak’. So instead of getting help, soldiers will try to self-medicate, which is part of the reason alcohol abuse is so common. Some other percentage will try to remove themselves from the situation; maybe they go AWOL before the deployment or they injure themselves. Two cases of the latter that I personally experienced: one soldier refused to drink any water for a couple of days and took a diuretic till he finally went down and almost died of heat stroke; the other was a ‘tough’ guy who finally couldn’t handle being at the mercy of an enemy we never saw and slammed his head into an armoured door, fracturing his skull and getting him a one-way ticket home.

It’s hard to connect to people outside the veteran community. No one else understand us, or gets our dark humour. In the military you learn to laugh at things that ‘normal’ people would never laugh at, videos showing insurgents being killed or IEDs, or at jokes, like coming upon a blown-up convoy and how it was “raining Iraqi policemen”. If you don’t then you focus on the very real fact that you are only an instant away from being on the next video. Unfortunately, there isn’t an off switch, and like everything else, you have to relearn that it’s not appropriate to tell jokes about people being killed and the like. We end up hanging around with other vets, even before we know the other guys are vets, just because they’re the only ones who laugh at our jokes. In most of my college classes by the second week of class every veteran in the class was sitting on the same section of the room, it makes for interesting group discussions like, Normal Student: “We should invade Russia.” Veteran: “That is a stupid idea, why shouldn’t my kids have a father?” Normal Student: “What? I’m not talking about us going, I’m saying we should send the Army.” (By the way, that is a verbatim exchange between myself and another student in class.)

It’s hard to readjust to civilian life. Humour is not the only aspect of life that is difficult to readjust to. It’s simply hard for veterans to get a job. A recent Labor Department study said that young veterans had an unemployment rate of 25%, a Depression-era level. When you consider the two to three year wait time for the VA to process a disability claim, you end up with a huge group of veterans who need medical care, but can’t afford to drive up to two hours away to see a doctor and who can’t find work, basically living on welfare waiting for the services promised to them. It’s demoralising.  Is it any wonder that every sixty five minutes a veteran decides it would be better to die than to fight on?

We live in fear of ‘The Question’ “So,” the guy says in a hushed tone, “Did you ever, you know, kill anyone?” It is the most feared question a veteran will ever encounter, if he never was forced to take another human life, you might think his service wasn’t as important. If he was forced to kill someone, then no matter what he says you have forced him to relive one of the most painful experiences of his life. Please just never ask this question.

We really do love Ron Paul, or we don’t care. Mainly because we want to come home, and because we saw the millions of dollars wasted, seemingly without purpose or reason on the wars. We were assigned multimillion dollar trucks, only to have them taken away weeks later, and replaced with new multimillion dollar trucks. Often they would have huge design flaws that were obvious to everyone on the ground and to the enemy, but those flaws seemed to escape whoever approved the truck. For example, one truck took 6 bottle jacks to change a tire, but it only came with one jack. The situation was complicated further by the fact that on a standard mission only five trucks would go out. Not that the lack of jacks truly mattered, since we weren’t issued any spare tires. If we were attacked and lost a tire we would have to call for a recovery, which meant sitting outside the wire for hours waiting. The response to this was either, “Who cares, there’s nothing we can do about it” or “We have to elect someone who will do something about it.”

Back to the  Sgt. Bergdahl situation.  From everything that has been reported I think he decided to kill himself but instead of using a gun he decided to use the Taliban. It doesn’t make sense that he wanted to join the Taliban to fight America, since he left millions of dollars of easily carried equipment behind, left his equipment in neat piles, and then left in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a reflective belt. As for why he would want to end his life? Only he knows the exact reasons, but it’s an understandable one. Remember, in the time it took me to write this at least one other veteran made the same choice.

R.W.T. Short, Sr. is a US Army veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. He is a civil libertarian and Veteran’s Rights activist, as well as a political consultant. He lives in Lynchburg, Va. with his wife of seven years, their three children, their dog Bellum, and a colony of former stray cats his daughter adopted. He can be reached via email at and on Twitter at @RobertShortSr.

An Open Letter to Virginia Republican Delegates

Good afternoon delegates to the Virginia Republican state convention.

In just a few short days you will be heading to Roanoke to select a candidate to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate to face Mark Warner in the fall.  I must confess that I’m disappointed that I won’t be joining you this year as I did in 2013 and 2008.  As you may have heard, unfortunately the Republican Party of Virginia now requires a signed loyalty oath to participate.  Now, this isn’t a loyalty to our shared principles and the Republican Creed of Virginia, but rather a blind loyalty to the party and her candidates, regardless of their positions.  It is a troubling sign of the times and one reason why the party continues to falter, but I’m not going to delve any further into that matter here.

Anyway, at the convention, you will choose between four men, Tony DeTora, Ed Gillespie, Shak Hill, and Chuck Moss.  Each, of course, has their benefits and drawbacks.

First, I must confess that I know little of Mr. Moss and Mr. DeTora.  Although I have been heavily active in Virginia politics and have attended a lot of Republican events, I have not met either of these two men.  A big part of campaigning, as they say, is simply showing up and, as either have made zero visits to my corner of the state, or have not publicized such trips, I would recommend against both.  Again, they may have great principles or they may not, but when you don’t make a concerted effort to reach folks, you shouldn’t be running in a statewide contest.

With that thought in mind, that leaves but two choices, Ed Gilllespie and Shak Hill.  I have appreciated the fact that I have had several opportunities to speak with both men.  Let me outline what I see are the main upsides of each.  Mr. Gillespie is well-connected and is an excellent fundraiser and has proven that fact once again with this campaign.  Mr. Hill has been advocating a set of principles that is in general more conservative and more detailed than Mr. Gillespie.  I can tell you without a doubt that if I were a delegate this weekend, I would be casting my vote for Shak Hill.

As I’ve written previously, I tried on several occasions to discover where Ed Gillespie stands on the issues.  Although his website contains a multitude of well-crafted videos in a variety of languages, there is very little substantive information of what he will actually do if elected.  For example, I know far more about his family history than I do about his stance on foreign policy.  To me, this deficit is a major problem.

Recently, I asked both Ed Gillepsie and Shak Hill what federal agencies and programs would he work to eliminate if elected.  It is the same question that I asked of the 2012 Republican Senate candidates several years ago.  The question harkens back to the 1996 Bob Dole for president campaign where he pledged to eliminate three federal departments.  You’d be hard-pressed to call Bob Dole a constitutional conservative, but at least he understood that the federal government has grown well beyond its authorized roles.  By comparison, Mr. Gillespie’s response was that he didn’t have the answer and would need to speak with his advisors about the issue.  In reply, several Gillespie supporters in the audience shouted their own suggestions, such as the Department of Education.  Although I would prefer a little more detail, Shak Hill’s response was far and away much better, declaring that he would get rid of “those not authorized by the constitution.  Which is most”.

Now, one major strike that Gillespie supporters use against Hill is that due to lack of funding he cannot win the general election.  And do you know what?  I think they are likely right.  Although thankfully money by itself does not win elections, it is exceedingly difficult to win these days without a lot of it.  I do not believe that he will be able to raise the kind of funds that Gillespie can.  If Hill is the nominee, it seems probable that many of the establishment Republicans won’t back him financially.

However, I would also argue that due to his either undefined or mushy principles, the divided nature of the Republican Party in Virginia, and the fact that the Democratic nominee is Mark Warner, the most popular elected official in the state, Ed Gillespie cannot win the general election either.  Even though the most stalwart Gillespie supporters I have spoken with claim he is more electable, they all have rated his victory as highly doubtful.  Need I remind you that in both 2008 and 2012, Republicans nominated the supposedly “most electable” candidate and both times that candidate was in no danger of winning once the votes were counted?  And, even if Gillespie did win, except for a few social issues, how would he  be much different from Mark Warner?  I still don’t know the answer to that question.  Now, if anyone thinks that I’m wrong and would care to wager on the outcome of the Senate race in Virginia, please let me know.

So, if the Republican nomination isn’t likely to lead to victory in November, what is it about?  The answer is the future of the Republican Party in Virginia.  If that is true, the question each delegate must ask him or herself is, what direction do I want to see the party take?  As I see it, there are two options:  Do I want it to see the party regress into a plutocracy, where the well-funded and well-connected rule?  Or do I want a party grounded on principles, such as obeying the Constitution, shrinking the size of the government, and fiscal and personal responsibility?  After all, I thought that idea was supposed to be a central belief of the Republican Party when I first got involved in 1995.  Yes, Gillespie can spend a lot of money to improve the party infrastructure but, without solid principles, it matters little.  Only with Hill do I see a chance to make the state GOP something more than a party filled with an increasing number of big government Republicans.

Therefore, I would encourage delegates to cast their votes for Shak Hill on Saturday.