Guest article by Steven Latimer
On December 19th, I had the opportunity to meet Virginia gubernatorial candidate Tareq Salahi over lunch in downtown Charlottesville. Salahi is a winery owner and businessman best known for crashing a White House state dinner in November 2009 while his (now former) wife Michaele was on the cast of Real Housewives of D.C.
Having lunch with Tareq and having the chance to quiz a Republican candidate for governor was truly a coincidence and chance meeting: I was casually strolling up and down the Downtown Mall, since I had about an hour to kill before my shift at work was to begin. I ran into Joe Oddo, who I have known for a few years, and who is chairman of the Independent Green party in Virginia. (“More trains, less traffic”) Joe asked me if I’m interested in meeting Tareq Salahi, who was in Charlottesville for the day to be interviewed by the media, and conduct his “listening tour,” and I expressed my interest.
After shaking Tareq’s hand, he asked me what’s on my mind and what my concerns are, and I told him I want the federal government to get off our backs, and we want to pursue our own industry here in Virginia. Salahi said that he agrees, and said something almost identical earlier in the day, on a morning radio show.
I learned that as part of his listening tour Salahi plans to travel to every place in the commonwealth. Salahi lives in Warren County, and owns vineyards in Fauquier County. He adds that we’ve got it made in Virginia because we have beaches, ski resorts, and great wine.
I asked Tareq if he is a self-made man. He said yes, that every business he has owned he built from the ground up, and that he and his father planted some vines that were previously new to Virginia. When I asked if “you built it,” a sly reference to what President Obama said in Roanoke, Salahi said yes, he built his business.
Tareq Salahi spoke favorably of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (who suspended his own campaign for governor last month), and does not particularly care for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Salahi was very critical of the Republican Party of Virginia’s decision to hold a convention rather than a primary because it moves up the deadline for candidates to file to seek the Republican nomination from March or April to January, perhaps reducing the candidate pool. Salahi feels this is hypocritical, since Cuccinelli supported Virginia law earlier this year when only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified to be on the Virginia presidential primary ballot.
Cuccinelli has sued Salahi for violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, concerning wine tours that were allegedly paid for, but never given, or for which no refund was given. Salahi accuses the attorney general of “grandstanding,” adding that Cuccinelli views this as another opportunity to get in front of the camera and be seen doing something.
I asked Tareq Salahi if he likes Chris Christie. After pausing for a few seconds, Salahi told me he likes Governor Christie, the things that he is doing in New Jersey, and that Christie was able to work together with Barack Obama following Hurricane Sandy to help out the people of New Jersey.
I asked Tareq what concerns he has heard from Democrats and independents as he travels Virginia. And Salahi said that jobs and the economy is the number one issue for Democrats, but women’s issues are a close second. Salahi said that the ultrasound bill from last year’s General Assembly session could have been handled better, and while he despises abortion, Salahi struck a tone that is somewhere in between pro-life and pro-choice. I offered to compromise that good people can disagree, but we should agree that government should not be in the business of funding abortion, and Salahi said that is a reasonable compromise.
I am very happy that Salahi expressed his support for industrial hemp. He does not see a reason why hemp should be illegal.
Unfortunately, Salahi wants to use Virginia government to promote Virginia wines – he says that tax dollars from wines sold help fund the General Assembly, and that tax revenues can go to fund mental health, to prevent atrocities from happening to Virginians, such as the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I asked Salahi if he feels government promotion of products should be limited to wines. Should the state government also promote Virginia peanuts? Tareq Salahi says “absolutely”, because it brings in more revenue for the commonwealth. I disagree with Salahi. Helping the private sector do their marketing is not a core function of government, and if Virginia wines and peanuts really are superior, they can stand on their own strengths, without assistance from Richmond.
Tareq Salahi hopes to be in a town near you.
About the Author: Steven C. Latimer is a lifelong Virginian, holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Virginia Commonwealth University, and is the Vice-Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia. He lives and works in Charlottesville.