The Reputation of Bloggers

img_1776
Pete Snyder

When you read a piece written on one of the multitude of blogs out there, do you ever stop to think about the author?  For example, do you ask what motivated him or her to craft the article and what agenda he or she is trying to advance?  Yes, when it comes to politics there are conservative blogs, liberal blogs, blogs that promote a grassroots or anti-establishment point of view, and those who seek to prop up certain elected politicians.

Last weekend I took a good bit of time to ponder this thought.  Several months ago a candidate contacted me as he was considering hiring me for his campaign.  After several abortive attempts I finally I spoke with his campaign manager just recently.  Although I was told that they didn’t have the funds to make an offer at this time, I was informed that I could help them out by writing pieces on this website critical of their opponent.  It was hinted that doing so might improve my chances of future employment.  However, the more I thought about the matter, the more it disturbed me.

One of my primary motivations in writing The Virginia Conservative is to report on political events around the state (especially in the Shenandoah Valley), offer my thoughts about politicians, their staffers, and legislation, and do my small part to promote political dialogue as well as the ideals of liberty and limited government.  The pieces I’ve written here I do so because I think they are important, because there is some matter that ought to be brought to public attention.  Have my opinions shifted and changed with time and new information?  Of course!  If you scroll back, you can find writings from 2008.  Who can honestly say that he or she has remained completely the same in an eight-year period?  However, no one has ever paid me to write anything that you find on this website and all thoughts presented (unless otherwise indicated) are my own at the time that they were written.

In response to this recent suggestion from the campaign, I included this statement in the message I wrote the candidate:

…I was asked to write pieces on my website attacking one of your opponents. If I were to do so, I was told it could improve my chances of getting hired when money became available.  Similarly the Stimpson campaign tried to funnel anonymous attack pieces through me in 2013, but I refused to do so.  Although I have made quite a few enemies these last few years, I always try to write what is true and right, not simply what benefits my point of view.  Given my limited experiences with [your opponent] in 2011, I believe it would be a terrible mistake for the voters of [your] district to choose him and I may write a piece to that effect on The Virginia Conservative.  Nevertheless, I steadfastly refuse to become a political hack, degrading either my honor or my work to do the behind-the-scenes hatchet attacks of others…

I was later informed that this situation arose out of a misunderstanding.  But it did get me thinking.  Is this idea foreign to many political blogs?  Are they merely fronts for various organizations, candidates, and politicians, willing to write whatever makes their clients look good (or calls their enemies into question)?

Let me expand on what I wrote concerning the Stimpson campaign.  Back in 2013 the Susan Stimpson campaign for lieutenant governor contacted me prior to the Virginia Republican Convention.  One of her staffers wanted me to write a piece critical of both Jeannemarie Davis and Pete Snyder, two of Stimpson’s opponents that year.  As such, they provided me with information and quotes from a gathering elsewhere in the state.  I did not personally attend this event, so the only material I had to work from was the information provided from the Stimpson campaign.  First of all, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to attack either Davis or Snyder.  Both Jeannemarie Davis and Pete Snyder had taken time out of their campaign schedule to meet with me personally.  Although the Stimpson campaign repeatedly suggested a similar face-to-face meeting, they never made good on this promise.  However, in the interest of promoting dialogue, I agreed to write up a piece using the material that they sent me provided that I could mention that I had received this information from the Stimpson campaign.  However, they didn’t want their opponents to know that their campaign was behind it and so declined.  As a result, I decided not to run the story.

So are bloggers seen as mere mercenaries for hire these days?  Given some of the seemingly baseless attacks from one of the larger Virginia blogs against a certain legislator, I sometimes have to wonder.  Much like super PACs, do politicians and groups funnel money to bloggers to anonymously attack their foes?  Has that become our reputation?  If so, I would be ashamed to call myself a blogger. I would not want to associate with any writer or campaign that thinks that this kind of behavior is okay.  Yes, I do have an agenda to promote dialogue and liberty, but I feel if others discovered that I were writing thinly veiled behind the scenes attacks (paid or even unpaid), it would completely obliterate my credibility and any chance of even an attempt at objectivity.

Perhaps I am wrong.  After all, donations are few and far between and the costs of running The Virginia Conservative are higher than the monetary gains.  Nevertheless, I hope my readers can rest assured that when they read an article on this site, it isn’t written because I am getting paid to promote a certain cause or candidate. I do it because I’m one of those people who believe in what they say and think that honor is worth more that the lure of a possible job.  Revisiting 2013 once more, I’d like to believe that Ms. Davis and Mr. Snyder approached me because they considered me to be fair and objective, focusing on the issues we have in common, and not simply as someone who can be bought off to support a certain point of view.

So, what do you see as the reputation of bloggers?

The Dangerous Republican Game

For many of us who support the idea of a constitutionally limited government, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a great loss.  Now, that’s not to say he was perfect by any stretch, after all, none of us are and I disagreed with a few of his rulings, but generally his opinions were quite good.  Now that he is no longer with us, the president has the duty to appoint a replacement.

1923690_886161108167069_6937576282551871910_nHowever, some congressional Republicans have announced that they will not consider any appointment by President Barack Obama.  For example, here is a quote shared by one staffer for my representative, Bob Goodlatte (VA-6).  “The voice of the American people should be heard over the opinion of a progressive, lame-duck President.  I continue to oppose the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice under President Obama.”

Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that I’ve disagreed with a lot of the opinions of President Obama’s previous two picks, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  In all cases the Supreme Court ought to determine the constitutionality of a law based upon what the Constitution actually says rather than what the Supreme Court would prefer the Constitution to say.  The Supreme Court is not and should not be in the business of making new laws for the nation.  That was never the intent of the body and no justice should be allowed to do so, regardless of ideology.

Yes, chances are good that President Obama will nominate another candidate who will legislate from the bench and thus ought not be confirmed by the Senate.  Nevertheless, when Republican leaders, like Bob Goodlatte, make blanket statements opposing any and all nominees that this president will offer, irrespective of who they are and what they stand for, it conveys a dangerous message of blind partisanship.  Yes, President Obama is a “lame-duck president”, but so too were George W. Bush from 2004-2009, Bill Clinton from 1996-2001, and Ronald Reagan from 1984-1989.  Does being a lame-duck mean that a president no longer has constitutional duties?  Weren’t each elected to hold the powers and office of the president by “the voice of the American people”?  Didn’t each win a majority of the votes in the Electoral College as prescribed by our Constitution?  Are these powers surrendered once a president can no longer seek re-election?  If so, please point to the article and section in the Constitution where it says as much.

If Mitt Romney had won the presidency in 2012 or if John McCain had been re-elected that year would the congressional Republicans adamantly refuse to consider a Supreme Court nominee of either of these two men?  Or would they happily consider these nominees simply because they happen to be of the same political party?

Now that’s not to say that some Democrats wouldn’t do the exact same thing if they found themselves in this position.  In all honesty, if the roles were reversed and the Democrats controlled Congress and a Republican were in the White House, they would likely use the exact same language and tactics to thwart this hypothetical nominee too.  Although we all know it won’t happen, what would Representative Goodlatte say if President Obama nominated Goodlatte as a Supreme Court justice?  If he chose any path other than demanding an outright rejection from the Senate, he would prove himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite.

Unfortunately, this increasingly blind partisanship is destroying our nation.  Unlike some people, I don’t want to see President Obama or the Congress succeed or fail simply as a ploy to aid or hinder one political party’s election chances.  Looking at it objectively, it doesn’t matter which party controls a specific branch of the government.  What does matter is will they follow the rule of law and the Constitution or not?  Will they work to expand our debt or shrink it?  Do they advocate liberty or statism?  Will they return the power of the bloated federal government to the states, localities, and people or will they continue to concentrate influence inside the beltway?

Let President Obama make his Supreme Court pick and then the Senate should do its job in judging that candidate based upon his or her ideas, merits, and fidelity to the Constitution.  Any politician who has even the slightest desire of following the Constitution should reject the idea of a blanket refusal or acceptance swayed solely by one’s feelings about our president and his political party.  To do otherwise is a dangerous game and an abandonment of the duties of his or her office.

Griego & The Libertarians

Photo from Harry Griego's Facebook page
Photo from Harry Griego’s Facebook page

On Tuesday, March 15th, the Rocktown Libertarians will be holding their monthly meeting at O’Charley’s in Harrisonburg.  The social gathering begins at 6 PM, but often attendees don’t arrive until about 6:30 or 7.  This month, Harry Griego will be a guest at the gathering.  Mr. Griego is challenging Representative Bob Goodlatte for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 6th district.

Looking back on my time growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, I realize that it is a very toxic place politically.  Activists, politicians, and party leaders often reinforce the idea that those in a differing political party are the enemy and should always be treated as such.  Much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, each side has developed a hatred of the other and loyalty to their family or party which often supersedes reason, logic, principles, and even understanding.

As I wrote last year, I was encouraged when in 2011 the local Democratic party offered, and Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson accepted, a speaking slot at their meeting.  Unfortunately, the local Republican party bosses leaned on Hutcheson and he ended up declining the invitation.

When I ran for city council in 2014, I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the JMU College Republicans alongside the Republican nominees.  Unlike the other candidates, I didn’t focus too much on myself, but rather talked about the principles for which the Republican party supposedly stood.  However, I was told that the local Republican Party leaders castigated the JMU CRs for allowing me the speaking slot and was later informed that I was no longer welcome even to attend their weekly public gatherings.

Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians
Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians

In 2013, when Senator Mark Obenshain ran for Attorney General of Virginia, I strongly and repeatedly encouraged his campaign to reach out to the Libertarians as there was no Libertarian candidate running for that office.  However, they refused declaring that it would look bad for party unity for him to do so.  I still wonder that if he did, would Obenshain have picked up 166 additional votes and thus would have been elected attorney general?  In addition, if he were to make such a gesture, that would mean Senator Obenshain would be recognizing the right for the Libertarian Party to exist and to run candidates.  In early 2015, I asked him about the matter and was both shocked and dismayed when my state senator informed me that he opposed the idea of any candidate, except for Republicans and Democrats, being listed on the ballot.  Shortly thereafter, in mid 2015, April Moore, Senator Obenshain’s Democratic opponent, reached out to the Rocktown Libertarians and ended up speaking to them.

In late 2015, Nick Freitas, now the Republican Delegate for Virginia’s 30th district, was the featured speaker at JMU’s Madison Liberty group.

11206029_10152900151181915_7531848474274651375_nAs you might imagine, I am very encouraged that Harry Griego will be speaking to the Rocktown Libertarians tomorrow night.  Not only does it give Mr. Griego the chance to speak to some likely receptive voters, it sends a message to the Shenandoah Valley that the Libertarians have the same rights and privileges as both the Republican and Democratic Parties.  In addition, I’ve been informed that some regional liberty-minded Republican leaders will be attending the event too.  Despite what some may think, this isn’t an attempt to convert Libertarians to the Republican Party or Republicans to join the Libertarians (although given the decline of the GOP that might end up happening), but rather to spread dialogue, understanding, and discover issues of mutual importance.  I suppose it is likely that some establishment Republicans will declare Mr. Griego’s visit as disloyalty to the Republican Party, but you should bear in mind that any elected official or candidate should be beholden to and reach out to all of his or her constituents, not simply the party bosses and big donors who keep him or her in power.  We cannot reclaim our country so long as legislators are allowed to ignore large groups of voters and run on mere party labels and nothing of any substance.  Is there any wonder why a supposed outsider like Donald Trump leads the Republican field for president?

Here’s the link to the Facebook event if you’d like to learn more about what is going on tomorrow night.  Hope to see you there!

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XXXIII)

IMG_0243On Thursday morning, Andy Schmookler and I returned to 550 AM, WSVA, to talk about the political issues facing the state and nation.  The main focus of show was the 2016 presidential contest between the Republican and Democratic contenders.  However, I briefly touched on the Libertarians too.  After we were off the air, the station staff and I had an interesting conversation about Bob Goodlatte, his supporters and employees, local politics, a bit of career advice for me, and other issues.  It would have been great to delve into these additional topics on the air, but there simply wasn’t enough time.

Anyway, if you missed it, you can find yesterday’s show here.

A First Friday Fracas

Photo from Cynthia Dunbar's Facebook page
Photo from Cynthia Dunbar’s Facebook page

On Friday, the local Republicans held their monthly First Friday gathering at the Woodgrill Buffet in Harrisonburg.  The featured speakers were Ralph Smith, who is running for 6th district Republican Chairman, and Cynthia Dunbar, who is seeking to be the next Virginia Republican committeewoman.

Although not quite every seat was filled, the room was almost full.  After both Smith and Dunbar spoke, they took questions from the audience.  As a few examples, Laura Logie asked Mr. Smith about party primaries and the fact that although Senator Emmett Hanger isn’t popular with valley Republicans and often votes against the wishes of his constituents, he continues to get re-elected due to fact that the senator, and not the party, gets to select the party nomination process.  Mr. Smith seemed to indicate that he preferred the current system of open primaries as opposed to conventions.

I pointed out that although the Republican Party demands loyalty from its members, it doesn’t hold its candidates and politicians to the Republican Creed and asked Ms. Dunbar what she would do about this issue.  She agreed that the party leaders needed to create some system to keep rogue or unprincipled politicians in check.

Then, Cole Trower, an employee of Representative Bob Goodlatte, got up.  He started off by declaring that Cynthia Dunbar was wholly unqualified to serve as national committeewoman and furthermore that she had no understanding of the position for which she was running.  It wasn’t so much a question, but rather a hostile accusation.  Another fellow at Mr. Trower’s table added that Dunbar was “a smooth talker”.  Dunbar offered a rebuttal to this accusation, but Cole continued which led the organizer, Donna Moser, to ask Cole to stop.  He refused.  Then, Scott Sayre, another candidate for 6th district chair, said that Cole was a plant of the Obenshain campaign, Dunbar’s opponent.  Nevertheless Cole was not deterred.  At this point, Ms. Moser asked Bryan Hutcheson, the Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County who was in attendance to remove Cole Trower.  The sheriff thought such an action wasn’t called for, and fortunately Cole finally sat down, ending the matter.  However, a local JMU student spoke next saying that Ms. Dunbar was new to Virginia and questioned how much she had helped out the Virginia Republican Party, one of the main talking points of the Obenshain campaign.

After that, things got less heated as several of the candidates who are running for spots as delegates to the national convention spoke along with individuals seeking positions on the Republican State Central Committee.

Then, at the very end of the meeting, a fellow asked if he could say something, which was granted.  He declared that although he had supported Bob Goodlatte for many years, he could no longer do so because he considered Bob Goodlatte to be a liar.  He pointed out that although Goodlatte pledged to only serve three terms in the House of Representatives when he first ran, he is now in his eleventh term and is presently seeking his twelveth.

As I left the meeting I realized I hadn’t seen anyone treat a guest speaker with such disrespect as Cole Trower had to Cynthia Dunbar since several years before when Cole interrupted and berated Bob Goodlatte, the man he curiously now works for.  Even though I had no hand in it, I felt it necessary to apologize to Ms. Dunbar for Cole’s behavior.  Unfortunately, Mr. Trower has been acting more and more thuggish as of late, bullying people as he did me at the Rockingham County GOP mass meeting on February 17th.

Booking Photo of Cole Trower from the Republitarian.com website
Booking Photo of Cole Trower from the Republitarian.com website

When I got home, I pulled up VPAP and found that in late 2015 Cole Trower had been paid over ten thousand dollars by the Obenshains, hardly making him either an objective or an impartial observer in the Suzanne Obenshain vs. Cynthia Dunbar contest.  Later that day, Dave Briggman, who sat across the table from me at First Friday, wrote a piece on his website, The Republitarian, about Cole Trower.  It detailed Cole’s arrest in 2014 for destruction of private property, assault and battery of a young woman, and other charges.

This matter brings up a lot of important questions.  Did Mark Obenshain and Bob Goodlatte know of Cole’s conviction before hiring him?  Once they found out about it, why would they keep him on their staff?  Why didn’t the media report it either when the event transpired in 2014 or when he was found guilty in 2015?  Did Cole’s powerful political connections help keep his arrest out of the public spotlight before it was revealed on Friday by Mr. Briggman?  With this knowledge, why would any politician who considers himself to be a defender of the family and the individual bring Cole Trower on his staff?  Now that these events are in the public spotlight, will he continue to serve as Bob Goodlatte’s northern field director on his re-election campaign?

It is unfortunate that Cole Trower treated both Cynthia Dunbar and Donna Moser, the leader of the group, with such contempt at the Republican First Friday gathering.  Disagreement is natural in politics, but not such incivility.  Let us hope that that kind of disrespect will not happen again.