Rep. Cline at First Friday

Earlier today, Representative Ben Cline (VA-6) was the featured speaker at First Friday in Harrisonburg. Republican City Council candidate Dr. Kathleen Kelley also spoke. Although I missed the first 30 seconds or so of Cline’s speech, I recorded the vast majority of it including the question and answer part that followed. The photo of Rep. Cline in the video is not current but rather is from an event in 2016.

Obenshain’s Hypocrisy

Yesterday, Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26) sent out a highly partisan email lambasting Democrats for supposedly doing away with “free, open and fair elections” in the Commonwealth. For those who subscribe to his messages, it is typical of his current tactics. He rails against Democrats as enemies of freedom by spreading fear and deception while encouraging his readers to support the Republican Party and to “vote Red” regardless of any ideological consideration. As one example of this behavior, in February he made a Facebook post claiming that Virginia Democrats sought to ban “livestock, cars and airplanes”. Although I asked for him to share a bill from the 2020 General Assembly session which actually would outlaw any of these things, there was no response.

The truth is that Mark Obenshain doesn’t care at all about promoting “free, open and fair elections.” How do I know this? Back in 2014, I ran for Harrisonburg City Council. I found it surprising that, in order for my name to be listed on the ballot, I had to collect the signatures of 125 registered voters in the city. Neither my Republican nor Democratic opponents had to do likewise. As unequal ballot access is not the mark of “free, open and fair elections” after the race was over I drafted a bill for the Virginia General Assembly which declared that all candidates, regardless of partisan affiliation, had to jump through the same hoops to be listed on the ballot. I presented the bill to my state senator, Mark Obenshain. However, Obenshain told me that he was strongly opposed to my idea, declaring that only Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to run for office.

To further drive this point home, in the following 2015 General Assembly session, Obenshain sponsored a bill to enact party registration. His bill would require all voters to declare themselves as Republicans, Democrats, or independents. No other choices were allowed. Furthermore, Virginia taxpayers would continue to have to foot the bill for Republican and Democratic primaries, but a good portion of them would no longer be allowed to participate in these state-sponsored contests. As Senator Petersen (D-34) pointed out, “I understand that the purpose of the gentleman’s bill is to restrict participation in the primaries.” Fortunately, Obenshain’s bill was defeated. Senator Obenshain tried his bill again in 2017 and I diligently lobbied as many of the members of the General Assembly as I could against it. This time, the bill died in committee.

Senator Obenshain’s email also decries the governor’s suggestion to move local May elections to November due to concerns over the Coronavirus. There is considerable evidence to suggest that moving local elections to November would help Democratic candidates at the expense of Republicans. A majority of Virginians will almost certainly vote for the Democratic nominee for president, and it is likely that, when voters cast their vote against President Trump, they will also vote against any candidate who shares his partisan affiliation. By contrast, if a Democrat were in the White House, I assume that Obenshain would support moving local elections to November in order to improve the chances of his party’s nominees.

The only aspect of Obenshain’s email that I agree with is his desire for citizens to be required to present some form of identification in order to vote. We have to present ID in order to engage in a multitude of activities such as buying alcohol, flying in a plane, or renting a car. However, does it have to be a photo ID as Obenshain insists? Not necessarily; any ID which can be used to verify a person should be sufficient. And just because an ID has a photo, that doesn’t necessarily make it valid. For example, sometimes students create fake driver’s licenses in order to purchase alcohol underage. Would individuals also use fake IDs in order to vote? It is certainly possible though I would expect the number of people who would do so to be a very small amount.

Although Obenshain may sound sincere in his email, given his actions over the last several years, I don’t believe that he cares at all about “free, fair and open elections” and, in fact, has shown that he is happy to undermine the concept of “free, fair and open elections” should it serve his political interests. He’s willing to support rigging the political game if it benefits himself and the Republican Party but is upset when the Democrats employ similar tactics. This behavior is hypocritical.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXXVIII)

On the morning of February 12th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA to discuss the political issues of the day. The biggest topic was the results of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary. However, we also discussed the aftermath of the impeachment and acquittal of President Trump.

Our next show should be taking place after the Virginia Primary in March.

If you missed the show live, you can catch it here.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXXVII)

On January 15th, Andy Schmookler and I had, according to my count, our 77th hour on 550 AM, WSVA. The main topics of the day included Trump’s impeachment and trial in the Senate, goings-on in the General Assembly, and the ongoing Democratic presidential primary.

If you missed it live, you can listen to it here.

Our next show is planned for 9:15 AM EST on February 12th, the day after the New Hampshire primary.

Virginia In Chains

At the beginning of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, the author makes the provocative statement that “man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains”.[1]  Although some theorists argue that we ought not take Rousseau’s idea of chains literally, but rather as the ties that bind us together in society, [2] when considering politics in the state of Virginia, one can find political activists and politicians weighed down considerably by the demands of their political associations. 

Unlike most other states in the country, the two, state recognized, political parties in Virginia often dictate that citizens of the Commonwealth pledge loyalty to the party as a precondition for participation.  For example, during the 2016 Republican Party presidential primary, the Republican Party intended to make primary voters sign a document pledging to support whoever won their party’s nomination in the general election that followed.  However, under public pressure they ended up scrapping this plan.[3]  Nevertheless, the party continues to maintain its right to use such requirements and declares that anyone who violates this legally unenforceable oath “shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.” [4]

It isn’t merely the GOP who uses loyal oaths; the Democratic Party employs them as well.  Perhaps the most well-known rejection of these tactics comes from former Democratic U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr.  He considered loyalty oaths intolerable and ended up leaving his party and declaring himself an independent when he was pressed to pledge support for the 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate without first knowing who he or she was and what principles he or she advocated.  “‘The course I am taking is an uncharted one,’ Byrd said in announcing his decision on statewide television on March 17, 1970. ‘But I would rather be a free man than a captive senator.’”[5]

According to my understanding of Rousseau, I believe he would approve of Byrd’s actions arguing that this kind of loyalty oath to a political party would be corrupt given that one side demands unquestioned loyalty to itself without offering anything in return except for the pittance of participation in a process which the state forces each taxpayer to fund.  As Rousseau explains, “to say a man gives himself for nothing is an absurd and incomprehensible statement; such an action is illegitimate and void”[6]  He goes on to add that “Whether made by one man addressing another, or by a man addressing a nation, this statement will be equally senseless: ‘I make a covenant between us which is entirely for my good, which I will observe as long as I please, and which you will observe as long as I please” [7] 

In the Old Dominion, a person may begin his or her political life free but, perhaps even without realizing it, soon find him or herself chained to a political party, a party which ironically declares itself as a party promoting liberty.


[1] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1994. The Social Contract. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 45.

[2] Kaplan, Joshua. 2006. Codes of Power: Political Thought from Plato’s Cave to Game Theory.

[3] Vozzella, Laura, and Antonio Olivo. 2016. “Virginia GOP Drops Plan for Loyalty Pledge, but Maybe Too Late for Some Voters.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/virginia-gop-drops-plan-for-loyalty-pledge-but-maybe-too-late-for-primary/2016/01/30/2c65d7a8-c799-11e5-a4aa-f25866ba0dc6_story.html (October 8, 2019).

[4] “MEMBER RESOURCES.” Republican Party of Virginia. https://virginia.gop/member-resources/ (October 8, 2019).

[5] Schapiro, Jeff E., and Richmond Times-Dispatch. 2013. “Byrd Shaped Politics in Va. for Many Years.” Roanoke Times. https://www.roanoke.com/news/politics/byrd-shaped-politics-in-va-for-many-years/article_7bba3fa0-e7f0-57db-b2b2-8ef85e37432e.html (October 8, 2019).

[6] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1994. The Social Contract. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 50.

[7] Ibid. 53.