And Then There Were Three

According to an email sent out today from the Cliff Hyra campaign, Mr. Hyra has qualified to be on the November 2017 for Virginia governor.  At this point, Virginians will have three choices for a new chief executive in the fall.  As they will be listed on the ballot, there will be Democrat Ralph Northam, Republican Ed Gillespie, and Libertarian Cliff Hyra.  While both Mr. Northam and Mr. Gillespie won their respective party’s primaries on June 13th, Mr. Hyra received the Libertarian Party nomination at a convention on May 6th.  However, before he could make the ballot, he needed to submit at least 10,000 valid signatures from registered voters across the Commonwealth.

If you’d like to learn more about your three choices and determine which most agrees with you, I encourage you to check out the links to their official websites as listed above.  In addition, I’ve spoken with the folks who run ISideWith.com and they said that they will be creating a new quiz soon so that Virginia voters can see a side by side comparison of all of their options.

Thank You, D.D. Dawson

A little over three years ago, six individuals announced their intent to run for two seats on the Harrisonburg City Council. Among them were D.D. Dawson, running as a Republican, and myself, Joshua Huffman, who ran as an independent. Now, if you lived in the area and were paying attention you might have noticed that Ms. Dawson and I have fairly different ideologies. In fact, I would argue after listening to the debates and reading our campaign materials, with the exception of one of the two Democrats, she and I differed the most on our vision for the future of Harrisonburg. However, despite these philosophical disagreements, D.D. Dawson always presented herself with class and style, which are unfortunately becoming particularly rare in politics.

Running for public office can be a particularly nasty adventure. Yes, we may have been vying for the same position, but D.D. Dawson and her husband were always friendly throughout our journey on the campaign trail. Unlike some of our opponents, she never attempted to bully or threaten me into dropping out of the race or not entering in the first place nor did she tell lies about the other candidates.

I have two memories from the campaign regarding Ms. Dawson that I’d like to share. The first took place during a candidate forum on 550 AM, WSVA. The station broke us into two groups and mine included D.D. Dawson. Perhaps surprisingly, she had never been on the radio before and was quite nervous about the experience. Nevertheless, I thought that she handled herself quite well and afterward wore an “I survived being on the radio” sticker.

Another incident that stands out in my mind was an event that took place the night before the election. My church was hosting a fundraiser at JMU called Stop Hunger Now and, in an attempt to bring the six candidates together after a contentious campaign, I invited my fellow office seekers to volunteer at this event. One of our opponents was quite excited about the gathering. Two of them neither showed up nor even bothered to respond to the invitation. Another candidate did appear, but primarily used the opportunity to promote his campaign, thus missing the whole purpose of the event. Afterward, I thanked Ms. Dawson for attending and for not campaigning while it was going on. As she told me, she understood why we were there that night and, given that the election was the next day, the results were now in the hands of God. Given her great demeanor and positive attitude throughout the race, I pledged that if Ms. Dawson were elected, I would stop by the Republican Party headquarters to congratulate her in person for her victory, despite how upset it might make the Republican establishment for me to do so.

D.D. Dawson and I disagreed on many issues during the course of the 2014 campaign. However, if citizens were asked to vote on which candidate exhibited the greatest friendliness, poise, and respect as the six of us sought these two job openings, I think the choice would be quite easy. In a little over a month from now I will be leaving the Shenandoah Valley to pursue my doctorate in political science at West Virginia University, but before I go I’d like to say thanks publicly to D.D. Dawson for being both a good person and worthy opponent when we ran for city council.

The End of First Friday?

E.W. Jackson speaking to the First Friday group in 2013

Although I cannot recall when it began, First Friday has been a regular political event in Harrisonburg for quite a while.  Over the years, it has hosted a variety of candidates, politicians, and leaders of various groups.  It has served not only as a monthly gathering for local activists but also as a way to reach a wider audience of folks from Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, and sometimes Greene Counties.

First Friday is not a local Republican unit, but it typically hosts Republican speakers.  They’ve had Corey Stewart recently, and had a bit of a dust-up when Cynthia Dunbar ran for Republican National Committeewoman last year.  Suzanne Obenshain, who also sought the committeewoman position and was the longtime leader of First Friday, also spoke to the group last year.   Although he attended when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, Ed Gillespie has been a no-show this election cycle.  When I ran for local office in 2014 as an independent candidate, I was allowed to attend but not to address the crowd.  Nevertheless, the event was valuable; after my Republican opponents addressed the group, one attendee declared they were both socialists and wrote a check to my campaign.  Donna Moser, the former head of the Rockingham County Republican Party leads the gathering.

However, things have been a bit rocky for First Friday these last several months.  Several months ago Ms. Moser broke a bone while visiting relatives out of state and thus was unable to attend the May meeting.  Nevertheless, First Friday still took place with Senator Bryce Reeves, who is running in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, as the speaker.  Ms. Moser had the leader of the local tea party hold First Friday in her absence.  But, the meeting was very sparsely attended.  In fact, I cannot recall a First Friday with such a low turnout.  Usually, two factions attend; the conservative grassroots folks and the so-called establishment Republicans.  But, almost none of the establishment people were in the audience.  I asked the senator about this absence and he pointed out that although he is arguably the most conservative candidate running for the position, many of the establishment had endorsed his opponents and thus did not attend.

Shortly before the June meeting of First Friday, I’m told that Ms. Moser received a phone call from the chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Party letting her know that the party had selected a replacement to host First Friday in her stead.  However, as she had returned to the area, she stated she was able to resume her duties in this capacity.  Delegate Ben Cline was the speaker, but, as with the previous month, the establishment Republicans boycotted the event.

After most folks left, Greg Coffman, the Harrisonburg GOP Chairman, sat at a table with Donna Moser.  Afterward, I asked her about the conversation and she said that the three local chairmen (Harrisonburg, Rockingham, and Republican Women), had decided among themselves that Ms. Moser would no longer be leading First Friday.  As none of these chairmen had elected her to her position, nor did any of these chairmen attend First Friday on a regular basis, my opinion was that none either individually or as a group would have the power to make such a decree.  However, the story does not end there.

Late last night, the Harrisonburg Republican Party sent out an email declaring that future First Friday lunches have been cancelled.  As the message states:

Consequently, the Committees’  leadership has decided to terminate the First Friday Luncheons program. The goal is to examine other venues that can provide more relevant opportunities for our members, community leaders, and political leaders to interact.  This was the original intention in starting the First Friday Luncheon program, but we’ve seen a continuous decline in participation and support to the extent that the program is no longer fulfilling its purpose.

Due to the upcoming election season and the demands on everyone’s time, no decision on alternatives to First Friday will be made until after the election.  Therefore, the County and City Committees are no longer endorsing, sponsoring, or supporting activities similar to or calling themselves “First Friday”  until further notice.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no vote or discussion among the attendees of First Friday or even the local Republican committees of such a course of action (according to those who attend these meetings), but rather a dictatorial decree from the local party chairman.  Perhaps this authoritarian push shouldn’t be all that surprising given that the Harrisonburg Chairman will not allow individuals to make any announcements at the city GOP meetings unless they have been submitted in writing at least five days prior to the meeting.

After speaking with Donna Moser, she has stated that First Friday will continue, whether the GOP chairmen support the idea or not.  Given my experiences in local politics, the Republican Party strives for strict control of political events and guards who have access to their candidates and elected officials.  Given this attitude and several other factors, it shouldn’t be surprising that every candidate except for one who has run under the Republican banner in the last seven years has lost to a Democrat in Harrisonburg.

I would expect that local activists will continue to gather at the Woodgrill Buffet in Harrisonburg for First Friday with or without the blessing of the local GOP chairmen.  True, it will be a smaller affair as most of the establishment Republican crowd likely won’t attend, but perhaps First Friday will become a gathering for conservative activists and candidates of all stripes, not only those who bind themselves with the increasingly rigid rules of the Republican Party.  If so, the local chairmen’s declaration of disavowing First Friday is a blessing in disguise for the citizens of the central Shenandoah Valley.