Gillespie Comes to Harrisonburg

On Tuesday, January 17th, Ed Gillespie made a campaign stop in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  To the best of my knowledge, he is the first candidate of any political party to come to the city.  He spoke in front of a rather impressive crowd of about 60 or so individuals during the mid-afternoon at the Agrodolce restaurant.

Personally, I though Mr. Gillespie gave a great speech, much improved from any of the speeches I heard him give during his run for U.S. Senate in 2014.  He spoke of the need for limiting government and, as opposed some members of the Republican Party these days, seemed to speak against crony capitalism.  Unlike many first-time candidates, although Ed Gillespie spoke about his personal story, it wasn’t the central focus of his talk.  My only real disappointment was that I wish he would have taken questions from the audience, but his campaign seemed to be in a bit of a time crunch, clearing out of the restaurant soon after the speech was over.

The biggest concern I had about the event had nothing to do with Mr. Gillespie or his campaign, who again put together a quality campaign stop on his kickoff tour, but rather some the individuals who attended.  One could label quite a few of them as establishment Republicans and, while I’ve known some of them for a decade or more, many have unfortunately proven themselves untrustworthy and, just as troubling, more desirous of accumulating power and demanding loyalty to the GOP than advancing any other political principle.  I know that some good, honest, principled people are supporting Ed Gillespie too, and there were some at the Harrisonburg event as well, but I have to say I sensed I was out of place.  Borrowing a line from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I felt like a pilgrim in an unholy land.

But, if Ed Gillespie and his campaign can hold more events like the one in Harrisonburg today, it will likely solidify his status as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Denver Makes it Official

Yesterday, at the Silverback Distillery in Afton, Virginia, Denver Riggleman and his campaign formally launched his bid for governor of Virginia.  Spilling over into another room, about two hundred people or so gathered to learn about this fellow and his plans for the Commonwealth.  In his speech, Mr. Riggleman stressed that unlike his opponents, he is not a politician, but rather a businessman, former intelligence officer, and previously served in the U.S. Air Force.

Rather than highlight everything he said, for those who missed the event, The Richmond Tea Party captured Mr. Riggleman’s speech and shared it on YouTube.

Before and after his announcement, the campaign collected signatures to get Denver Riggleman on the primary ballot.  Each statewide candidate requires 10,000 signatures scattered throughout the various eleven congressional districts.

Inside, several other bloggers were in attendance including Stacie Gordon of Millennial Ascent and Steven Brodie Tucker of The Bull Elephant. Several leaders of JMU’s Madison Liberty group were there too.

Although many liberty-minded folks have coalesced behind the Denver campaign, I need to learn more about this candidate and his campaign before considering such a recommendation.  However, speaking of liberty-minded folks, it was great to see many activists I knew at the event in Nelson County, including several I haven’t seen for years.  In addition, the event served as an opportunity to finally meet some of my Facebook friends in person.

Some of you may be asking if the Denver Riggleman campaign will shake up the race for governor.  Well, given the turnout on Saturday, it seems that it already has.  The real question to ask is what kind of impact will they make between now and the primary?

More Reasons to Oppose Party Registration

Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages

As many regular readers know, I have a strong opposition to registration by political party here in Virginia and, as such, have been rallying others to help defeat SB 902, a bill crafted by my own state senator, Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).  On Friday, while running an errand to and from Dayton, I thought more about the idea.

What if a business wanted the state government to create a database of its customers?  What would be your reaction to such an idea?  Likely, you would decry the plan as a kind of crony capitalism designed to help that business at the expense of others and weaken the free market, right?  How about if a church asked the state to create a database of its membership?  Similarly, many would declare it to be an abridgment of our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and association, no?  So, if it would be against the free market for a business to ask the government for registration and an affront to the freedom of religion for a church to compel the government to create a database, how is it not an attack on our political freedom for a political party to do likewise?

Here’s another thought.  What is the end goal of party registration?  Well, most Republicans I’ve spoken with say it is to keep Democrats from voting in Republican primaries.  Fair enough, but ask yourself these questions.  How can members of a private political party use the power of the state government to keep others out of a publically funded political primary?  How does party registration advance the cause of limiting the power of the government?

In 2015, Senators Mark Obenshain and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) debated this issue on the senate floor.  As Senator Petersen said, “And I understand that the purpose of the gentleman’s bill is to restrict participation in the primaries…to essentially restrict the people that can participate in those primary elections?” Senator Obenshain replied, “Quite the contrary.  That is absolutely not the intention.  The intention is to allow the Democratic Party or the Republican Party to establish its own rules as to how they or we are going to nominate our candidates and it is up to the individual party to make that determination.”

So what does the Republican Party hope to accomplish through party registration?  Does it, as Senator Petersen claim, plan to use party registration to restrict participation?  Well, quickly reading the first several pages of the RPV Party Plan gives us the answer.

Although some people make the argument, as listed above, that the purpose of party registration is to only keep Democrats out of Republican nomination contests (although these contests are funded by the taxpayer and often held in public buildings), according to the RPV Party plan the true goal is to not allow anyone, including independents, to vote in Republican primaries except those voters who have registered with the state as Republicans.  It appears that as Senator Petersen suggested, party registration is indeed a tool for restricting participation.  In addition, as you will note in the picture above, with registration it would allow the party to prevent any individual who exercises their freedom to support a candidate who best aligns with their principles from participation in Republican primaries, assuming that in an election the voter supported a candidate who did not bear the scarlet R.  Nor would voters be allowed to exercise their right to vote in whatever party’s primary they wish during a particular year.  No, as the RPV party plan states, if you vote in a primary or convention for a different party, you would be legally barred from voting in a Republican primary for the next five years.  My goodness!  All this loyalty demanded, not to political principles, but to a political party!  I have to ask, does this sound like fascism to you, because it certainly does to me!

If you are wondering, the party plan of the Democratic Party of Virginia is far less draconian, not including a list of time limits and punishments, but on their website they too list:

With party registration, it is likely that members of other political parties, including independents, would be excluded from participation in Democratic primaries should party registration pass.

It should be perfectly obvious to everyone that party registration hurts the average Virginia voter and hurts political competition.  Would you be happy if the Virginia government created a database for Walmart that told them who shopped at Target so they could keep them out of their stores?  Or how about if the Presbyterian Church used a government created list to determine who could and could not receive communion?  If we wouldn’t allow a business or a church to create a statewide registry with the help of the Virginia government, why is it somehow okay for a political party to do so?  Party registration benefits both the Republican and Democratic Parties while simultaneously greatly hindering other political parties from the opportunity to rise up to challenge them.  Whether in business, religion, or politics, registration kills competition.

Let me close with a quote from Senator Chap Petersen shortly before party registration was last defeated in 2015.

There are two winners from this bill.  One is the Republican Party, the other one is the Democratic Party.  The parties are going to get so much more power if this bill passes, but let me tell you who is going to lose. It’s going to be ordinary people that just want to participate in elections.

You know, not everybody labels themselves as a Democrat or Republican or even an independent.  They might be a Libertarian one day, the next day they wake up a liberal, and the next day they wake up a conservative.

The bottom line is that we live in a free country, God bless it, and we live in a free Commonwealth and people ought to be free to associate.  And political parties, we owe them no favors.  Okay?  We’re not here to put them in power and to give them the maximum power. We’re here to allow people to participate.

If you oppose party registration too, please consider signing this petition (no donations, please, if it asks).

Good Bills, Bad Bills in 2017

January 11th marks the start of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session.  As is typical, there is a whole host of legislation being proposed.  Some that are good for liberty, some are bad, and many that aren’t all that interesting, such as honoring an individual or business, or technical changes to the law that don’t make much of an impact.  Now, as there are thousands of bills, I won’t share them all, (nor, to be fair, have I read them all).  However, I’d like to share some of the ones I find interesting. Please note that the summaries of the bills are provided by the Virginia Legislative Information System.

Bills I’d like to see passed

HB 1578 Rob Bell (R-58) – Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs. Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) receives home instruction; (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two consecutive academic years; (iii) is in compliance with immunization requirements; (iv) is entitled to free tuition in a public school;(v) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current academic year;(vi) is an amateur who receives no compensation but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity;(vii) complies with all disciplinary rules and is subject to all codes of conduct applicable to all public high school athletes; and (viii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, maximum consecutive semesters of high school enrollment, parental consents, physical examinations, and transfers applicable to all high school athletes. The bill provides that no local school board is required to establish a policy to permit students who receive home instruction to participate in interscholastic programs. The bill permits reasonable fees to be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment. The bill has an expiration date of July 1, 2022.

Students of parents who choose to homeschool ought to be afforded the same rights and privileges of parents who send their children to public schools.  After all, if someone is required to pay for public schools whether they use them or not for academic instruction, they should be able to enjoy the same benefits.

HB 1637 Glenn Davis (R-84) – Possession or distribution of marijuana for medical purposes; Crohn’s disease. Provides an affirmative defense in a prosecution for the possession of marijuana if the marijuana is in the form of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil possessed pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner of medicine or osteopathy licensed by the Board of Medicine for purposes of treating Crohn’s disease or alleviating such patient’s symptoms. The bill provides that a practitioner shall not be prosecuted for distribution of marijuana for the treatment of or for alleviating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Individuals who use marijuana as a medicine should be able to do so without fear of prosecution.

HB 1677 Ben Cline (R-24) – General Assembly; introduction of legislation; recorded vote. Requires all legislation introduced by a member of the House of Delegates or the Senate to be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof and receive a recorded vote. All legislation reported from the house of introduction shall be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof in the other chamber and receive a recorded vote.

Citizens ought to know how their elected officials vote, including in committees.  The fact that currently a legislator can kill or promote a bill secretly in a committee without any transparency or accountability is a huge problem.

HB 2028 Nick Freitas (R-30) – Industrial hemp production; authorization. Removes all restrictions on the production of industrial hemp, including licensing and regulations.

There is no reason that I can see why there ought to be any governmental restrictions on hemp.

HB 2265 Ben Cline (R-24) – Concealed handgun permits. Allows any person who is otherwise eligible to obtain a concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun without a permit anywhere he may lawfully carry a handgun openly within the Commonwealth.

Although our right to bear arms is in the US Constitution, lawmakers often try to erode this right.  The right to self-defense among law-abiding citizens isn’t something that should require a permit.

HJ 622 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); General Assembly; term limits. Limits members of the Senate to three full terms (12 years) and members of the House of Delegates to six full terms (12 years). The limitations apply to service for both consecutive and nonconsecutive terms. Service for a partial term does not preclude serving the allowed number of full terms. In addition to any partial term, a person may serve 12 years in each house, or a total of 24 years in the General Assembly. The limits apply to terms of service beginning on and after the start of the 2020 Regular Session of the General Assembly.

The current political system presently heavily favors incumbents and seniority.  Creating term limits would help curtail these abuses and restore the idea of citizen legislators, not create a future class of career politicians.

HJ 629 Rob Bell (R-58) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Competition is good for the economic marketplace and I believe it good for schools as well as it will encourage more innovation and offer more choices and control to parents.

SJ 240 – Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Same bill as Bell’s HJ 629, same reason to support it.

 

Bills I’d like to see defeated

HB 1398 Delegate Richard (Dickie) Bell (R-20) – Hate crimes; acts against law-enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel. Expands the definition of hate crime for the purpose of reporting hate crimes within the Department of State Police to include acts against persons employed as law-enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical services personnel.

Hate crime legislation often means that the lives and/or wellbeing of some individuals are more valued under the law simply based on race, class, gender identity, or, in this case, their profession.  Crime is crime and justice should be blind.  Punishments shouldn’t be more or less severe based upon the status of the victim involved.

HB 1429 Mark Cole (R-88) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

I discuss my opposition to this bill in this article.

HB 1444 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $12.50 per hour effective July 1, 2019, and to $15.00 per hour effective July 1, 2021, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a free marketplace, the government would not set any minimum wage.  In addition, raising it to the levels suggested in this bill will likely hurt small businesses in rural Virginia (who, given the differences in cost of living in their location, cannot afford them).  Lower skilled jobs may also end up disappearing hurting workers as well.

HB 1601 Matthew Fariss (R-59) Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Same as my opposition to HB 1429.

HB 1771 Ken Plum (D-36) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour effective January 1, 2018, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum wage shall be adjusted biennially to reflect annual increases in the consumer price index over the two most recent calendar years. The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

See HB 1444 above.

HB 1776 Ken Plum (D-36) Hate crimes; gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; penalty. Adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense. The bill also adds these categories of victims to the categories of hate crimes that are to be reported to the central repository of information regarding hate crimes maintained by the Virginia State Police.

As with HB 1398, I oppose expanding hate crime legislation and believe that there shouldn’t be special penalties or exceptions for a crime based on the gender, race, creed, or employment status of the victim.

HJ 547 Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) – U.S. Constitution; application for a convention of the states. Makes application to Congress to call a convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution to restrain the abuse of power by the federal government.

Although I would like to see the federal government obey the law, drafting new amendments or even a new constitution seems like a poor idea given that the federal government is not really held accountable to the present Constitution.  Nullification by state governments would likely be a more proper remedy to this problem, rather than a fairly open-ended convention which could lead to a lot of unintended consequences.

HJ 634 Mark Cole (R-88) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); authority of elected school boards to impose taxes. Provides that the General Assembly may authorize any elected school board to impose real property taxes.

This bill would allow another government entity to have taxing authority.  How about no!

SB 837 Amanda Chase (R-11) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Like with Delegate Cole’s electoral vote bill, I explain my opposition here.

SB 902 Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Primary elections; voter registration by political party. Adds party affiliation to the information that an applicant is asked to provide when registering to vote. The applicant may indicate that he is an independent. The bill requires the State Board of Elections (State Board), in September 2017, to notify all registered voters of the new party registration law and send them a return card to indicate their party affiliation or independent status. Any voter who does not state a party affiliation shall be designated as independent in the registration records. Voters may change their party affiliation or independent status by written notice at any time before the registration records are closed in advance of an election. The bill (i) requires the state party chairman to notify the State Board by January 31 of each year whether the party will close or open its primaries, (ii) requires that primary candidate petitions be signed and witnessed by voters registered as affiliated with the party conducting the primary, (iii) sets the required number of petition signatures at one percent of the number of voters registered as affiliated with the party in the election district where the primary is being held, and (iv) allows an official political party to retain that status as long as at least 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s registered voters are registered as affiliated with that party. The provisions of the bill are applicable to primaries conducted after January 1, 2018.

The state government should not create or maintain a list of members of a private political party.  In addition, this list could be used to exclude some voters from primaries even though as taxpayers they still have to pay for these functions.  As an added thought, one could hardly call these additional costs to the state of these databases as fiscally conservative.

SB 925 Chap Petersen (D-34) – Plastic bag tax in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Imposes a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by certain retailers in localities located wholly within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and directs revenues to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. The bill also allows every retailer that collects the tax to retain one cent of the five-cent tax.

Although I don’t approve of littering and I believe that there ought to be penalties for those caught doing so, this bill would unnecessarily increase the cost of business for everyone, including those who do not litter.

SB 978 Rosalyn Dance (D-16) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $13 per hour effective July 1, 2018, and to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2019, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

As mentioned with Delegate Rasoul’s bill, the government shouldn’t set a minimum wage, nor would the wages this bill suggests be proper for some rural parts of the state where the cost of living is lower and thus wages would also be lower.

Well, these are the interesting and important bills to me.  Eight that should be passed and twelve that need to be defeated.  However, given that there are over a thousand bills out there, I’m sure that I haven’t found them all.  Are there any others that you all think ought to be supported or opposed?

Whatever Happened to Senator Obenshain?

Senator Obenshain at the General Assembly in 2015

About six years ago, on January 6th, 2011, I excitedly wrote an article in support of a piece of legislation proposed by my state senator, Mark Obenshain, SB 1203. This proposal would require political parties to pay for their own primaries as opposed to the taxpayers, who shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the nomination process of a private organization.  As Senator Obenshain wrote, “If a political party wants a conventional primary, fine – but they can pay for it. Our localities are burdened enough as it is. If a party cannot or will not put up that much money, they can always go with a cheaper option. Our localities can ill afford it – and under my proposal, they wouldn’t have to.”  During this same General Assembly session, Obenshain also sponsored a bill, SB 1272, to privatize the state government-run ABC liquor stores.  Although unfortunately both bills were killed in committee, I was delighted to see that they were proposed.

I had routinely supported Senator Obenshain since 2003 when I was a volunteer on his first campaign before he even got the GOP nomination.  Sure, some senators in Virginia were pretty good, but Obenshain was mine.  Were there bumps along the way?  Of course, such as when he campaigned alongside Senator Lindsey Graham in 2008, but you can’t find someone with whom you always agree.  In 2009, I strongly encouraged him to seek the GOP nod for Virginia Attorney General.  By 2011, I believed that no other Virginia legislator could hold a candle to Senator Obenshain and I proudly told folks about my senator.  I felt he was making good on his promise that “The most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving and expanding the realm of personal freedom in the life of this country”.  It was a quote that his father made before his untimely death in 1978.

However, when the General Assembly session rolled around the next year, although I didn’t realize it at the time, something had begun to change.  He didn’t advocate the bills he had in the previous session.  Instead, included in his proposed legislation in 2012 were bills that didn’t limit the size of government and expand liberty, but rather ones that had the opposite effect.  For example, there was SB 244 which was an attempt to register voters in Virginia by political party.  It didn’t make sense to me.  How are the ideals of limited government or liberty advanced by getting the state government involved in a party’s membership recruitment and retention?  Fortunately, the bill was defeated and I didn’t pay it much more thought, merely considering it an odd fluke, much like in 2009 when he crafted a bill which would have charged a woman with a crime if she didn’t report a miscarriage to the state police within 24 hours of her child’s unfortunate death.

As we all know, in 2013 Senator Obenshain won the Republican nomination for Attorney General.  I was invited to attend his campaign strategy sessions and, given that I was a board member of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia and had adventures with Libertarian Party members as well, I strongly encouraged his staff to make the message of liberty a center point for their campaign and that they should use this message to reach out to these like-minded individuals.  Unfortunately, each time I made this suggestion, I was ignored, even when I offered to personally take the lead for this endeavor.  As many will remember, Mark Obenshain ended up losing this race by 165 votes.

The following year, I began my run for Harrisonburg City Council.  As mentioned in previous pieces, I was expelled from the Harrisonburg GOP, a unit in which Senator Obenshain was a member, in February 2014, but that didn’t deter my campaign plan.  Throughout 2015 I tried repeatedly to attempt to schedule a meeting with my state senator, but his legislative aide steadfastly refused my request, declaring it to be a waste of the senator’s time.  As such, I was unable to speak with my elected representative for almost an entire year.  I should note that while I was blocked, this aide and Suzanne Obenshain, my senator’s wife, had formed a consulting firm and among their clients was one of my Republican opponents for council.  Although I didn’t expect an endorsement from my state senator, given that we were no longer members of the same party, I was deeply dismayed when, the night before the election, Senator Obenshain apparently intentionally mislead the voters of Harrisonburg by sending out an email declaring that voters should support my Republican opponents because they were the conservatives in the race.  For anyone who paid any attention to the race it was a blatant deception, especially considering one of these opponents supported higher taxes, more government regulation, and taxpayer funded subsidies.

After the election was over and his quarrelsome (and dare I say useless) aide had left his employ did I finally have an opportunity to speak with my state senator once more.  Given my own experiences getting certified, I didn’t think that it was fair that I had to collect 125 valid signatures of registered voters in order to appear on the November ballot while my Republican and Democratic opponents did not have to do likewise.  Therefore, I suggested a bill for the General Assembly which would require all candidates, regardless of political party, to meet the same filing requirements in order to achieve ballot access.  Senator Obenshain flatly refused, telling me that he only wanted Democrats and Republicans to appear on the ballot.

In the 2015 General Assembly session, Senator Obenshain proposed another bill, SB 1060, which would require voters to register with the state by a political party or be declared as independents.  This time, however, I knew it wasn’t some kind of aberration, but rather a deliberate attempt to squelch independents and the rise of third-party options.  Therefore, I fought back, writing blog pieces and speaking with Republican and Democratic legislators against it.  My primary effort during this time was centered around killing this wretched work.  In the end, I’m pleased to say that the bill was narrowly defeated by the Virginia Senate on a vote of 19-21.

2015 was a reelection year for my senator and he ended up hiring a former liberty activist and former friend who had been a harsh critic of our congressman, Bob Goodlatte, and rallied local activists against him for several years.  However, by this time, he had done a complete 180-degree turn, declaring Goodlatte to be “America’s best congressman”.  In addition, this staffer had also been arrested for beating up a woman and other offenses while intoxicated.  Unfortunately, adding this hire to the actions of Obenshain’s previous aide and his second campaign manager in his 2013 bid who had stolen materials from the campaign of Delegate Rob Bell, Obenshain’s Republican opponent, I came to the conclusion that my senator didn’t hire individuals based on their principles, ethics, or their ability to work with the public, but rather for their unquestioned loyalty (or those that could be bribed, blackmailed, or otherwise controlled).  Although I had been a strong advocate for my state senator in his previous elections and re-elections, in the 2015 cycle I found myself sitting on the sidelines.  During that time, I wrote a piece on the matter but didn’t end up posting it.

Although it was good to see a bill curbing the abuses of civil asset forfeiture, which allows the police to take and keep your property even if you are found innocent of committing a crime, I was horrified when I learned that Senator Obenshain voted against the bill in committee.  Even though it passed that particular committee, it died in the next one.

When in mid to late 2016, Senator Obenshain once again declared a seemingly nonconservative candidate to be the conservative choice for Harrisonburg City Council, I found myself very upset still an entire week later.  As a result, I wrote him a letter explaining my almost overwhelming frustration and disappointment.  In it, I added that if he ever tried to enact party registration again or otherwise erode the political freedoms of the people of Virginia, I would do whatever I could to lead the charge to defeat such a bill.

Well, a few months later, Senator Obenshain announced SB 902, his third effort to force registration by political party.  On Friday, January 6th, he spoke at the monthly First Friday gathering and I intended to ask him about the matter, but his wife was leading the meeting and my efforts were either not noticed or simply ignored.  He explained how “we” needed to keep the Virginia Senate in Republican hands due to a special election coming up in several days, but couched it in a message of fear, saying how terrible it would be if the Democrats regained control of the chamber.  It had echoes of his speech from the October 2015 First Friday gathering. Never mind the fact that the Republican Senate continually chooses Senator Tommy Norment, who is a liberal and supports big government, (he helped push through the 2013 transportation tax hike) as their majority leader each and every time they have controlled the chamber in the last two decades.

Although Senator Obenshain has been pushing for the Republican candidate in the 22nd district both at First Friday and in an email sent the day before, there are actually two special elections for the Virginia Senate on January 10th.  While some people and groups like Representative Tom Garrett (VA-5) and the Virginia Citizens Defense League have also come out in support of the Libertarian candidate in the 9th district, Obenshain has remained silent on the second race because, presumably while it is important to support candidates who share your political party, we certainly don’t want to advance the cause of liberty as much as possible because that might mean supporting a candidate of a different political affiliation.  There is a Democratic and a Libertarian candidate in this contest, no Republican ran.

As you might imagine, these last several years have been profoundly discouraging. Although my state senator declared himself a champion of liberty in the mold of his father, he acts as if he no longer cares about the idea.  These days he seems to be far more concerned with protecting and promoting Republican legislators regardless of their principles and maintaining Republican control of as much government as possible.

In response to Senator Obenshain’s party registration bill, I’ve created an online petition in opposition.  Politicians often talk of economic freedom, personal freedom, and religious freedom, but if we don’t embrace political freedom and the choices and competition that that brings, representative government becomes perverted and our representatives become our masters.  Therefore, if you oppose party registration here in Virginia, please join me by clicking on this link and showing your support by signing the petition.  Please note, any donations go to the host site and not this cause.

A month or two before her death in mid-2016, I found myself in Rockbridge County helping Suzanne Curran, the somewhat legendary political activist from Shenandoah County, pack some materials in her vehicle.  While I carried a box outside, she mentioned to me how she thought it might have been a good thing that Senator Obenshain lost his 2013 race for attorney general.  Although I found it a surprising sentiment at the time, unfortunately, it is becoming all too clear what she was saying.

Billing himself as an advocate for liberty, Senator Obenshain seems to have unfortunately morphed into a mouthpiece for the Republican establishment.  My once great pride in my state senator has been replaced by feelings of shame and regret.  Has there been a radical transformation in Senator Obenshain in the last several years or has it always been the case and I was simply deceived?

Whatever happened to Senator Obenshain?

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLII)

On the morning of Wednesday, January 4th, Andy Schmookler and I had our 42nd political radio hour on 550 AM WSVA.  Although I never time it, the show seemed a bit shorter than usual, perhaps starting later and/or with more commercial breaks.

The main topics of the day included: the end of the Obama presidency, his legacy, and the start of the Trump presidency.  We also briefly considered whether and to what extent the Russians may have played in the recent elections.  We planned to discuss Representative Bob Goodlatte’s attempt to dismantle of the independent House ethics committee and the resulting blowback from the public and President-elect Trump but unfortunately didn’t have sufficient time.

As usual, if you missed today’s show, you can find it here.

 

Gerrymandering Their Way To Victory

Image of Virginia’s Congressional districts from Wikipedia

As most people know, Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the vote in the state of Virginia and thus her electors were awarded all 13 of Virginia’s electoral votes.  Well, as you might imagine, some Republicans weren’t particularly happy with this result.  To correct this “error”, Senator Amanda Chase (R-11) has crafted a bill (SB 837) as has Delegate Mark Cole (R-88) (HB 1425) for the 2017 General Assembly Session.  Both bills would award 11 of Virginia’s electoral votes based on the popular vote winner of each congressional district while the remaining 2 would go to highest overall vote-getter as it is presently done.

If this system were in place in 2016, it would have radically altered the outcome in Virginia.  Instead of Hillary Clinton winning all of Virginia’s votes, instead she would be awarded 5 for winning 5 congressional districts (3, 4, 8, 10, 11) and 2 more for getting the highest statewide vote total while Donald Trump would win 6 for congressional districts (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9).

Friends, it is my sincere hope that both of these bills will be defeated.  Although some Republicans will cheer this idea because it would have helped them in the most recent election, in the long run, it only serves to aid whichever political party who controls the General Assembly and marginalize a tremendous number of Virginia voters.

First, consider the 6th district, the district where I live.  In this election, Donald Trump won 59.32% of the vote in the 6th district.  120,596 people here cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, 10,801 voted for Gary Johnson, 2,379 chose Jill Stein, 5,421 picked Evan McMullin, and 2,296 wrote in a candidate.  Under this new system, every vote for a candidate other than Donald Trump would be rendered effectively worthless.  After all, the 6th district leans heavily Republican and it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that any Republican candidate will win the 6th district regardless of who he or she might be and his or her principles.  Why, in this case, would a 6th district Democratic voter be enthusiastic to vote if he or she knows his or her vote won’t change the outcome.  Also, in 2008 Barack Obama visited the 6th district while in 2012 Paul Ryan came and in 2016 it was Mike Pence.  Under this Chase/Cole system, no candidate would waste his or her time to visit the 6th because one could assume it would safely be in Republican hands and therefore working to recruit additional Republican or Democratic votes in the region would be an exercise in folly as at most it would result in a gain of only 2 electoral votes, a total fewer than even the smallest state (which gets 3 electoral votes).  Voters in the 6th district and elsewhere would be completely ignored as campaigns instead focused upon the battleground congressional districts.  However, I should point out that there are very few battleground districts in Virginia because most congressional districts have been gerrymandered to ensure that each is safe for the incumbent representatives.  As the Republicans presently control the General Assembly, they have drawn congressional lines to ensure that Democratic voters are packed into as few safe districts and that a majority of our members of the House of Representatives will be Republicans.  Should the Democrats regain the General Assembly during a redistricting year, it is likely they will act in a similar fashion.

Speaking of gerrymandering, under this new system, if it appears that the balance of power is shifting in congressional districts, cities or counties can be moved into other congressional districts to ensure the outcome remains relatively constant.  Under these present lines, I would argue that a Democratic presidential candidate can be certain of at least 4 electoral votes from the 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 11th districts, while Republicans will pick up at least 5, the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th.

Although I would like to see Virginia move away from a winner-take-all electoral system, this proposed change is likely even worse at marginalizing the average voter than the one we currently have in place.  What if instead Virginia would give her electoral votes proportionally.  Given that Virginia has 13 votes, what if a candidate received one electoral vote for each 7.69% of the statewide vote he or she won?  Therefore, no one’s vote could be gerrymandered into congressional districts and thus into irrelevance (as suggested under this proposed change), and even in a stellar year for one candidate the opposition party (or parties) could still rally their troops and have at least something to show for it.  Under this proposal, very few Virginians would feel like their vote is wasted or their voice went unheard.

In closing, I urge you to contact your delegate and state senator and tell them to oppose SB 837 and HB 1425.  Regardless of whether you support the same presidential candidate who won your congressional district, your opinion matters and it shouldn’t be marginalized by legislators in Richmond or by anyone else!

Joshua, The Tutor

Joshua at a recent trip to the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA

Rather than delve into current politics, I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss some of what I’ve been up to in the last several months (as my posts aren’t quite as frequent as they have been in the past.  Well, as some of my readers might remember, in the spring semester of 2015 I served as a political science tutor for a student at JMU.  It seemed he appreciated my services and hired me again for the following fall semester too.  However, in December he graduated and although I haven’t spoken to him since then, I certainly hope he has found meaningful employment wherever he happens to reside.

Halfway through the fall semester of 2016, I received an email from another JMU student, this time a student was looking for assistance in her world history class.  With the experience from the previous year under my belt along with my knowledge and passion for the subject, I took the position.  I quickly discovered that much of her class was an exploration of political world history, knowing about leaders, peoples, and the relationships between them (which sometimes led to armed conflict).  Given that politics is such a passion of mine, I already knew much about topics such as WWI, WWII, the Shah, the Cuban Revolution.  However, I was surprised to find that the professor explored areas as life in German Southwest Africa, the writings of Mao and Mussolini, and the lives of average women in the Soviet Union.  As such, I ended up spending considerable time in Carrier Library, reading through the assigned texts.  In some ways, it is ironic given my undergraduate degree in government; I felt more confident of the subject matter than the previous political science class I tutored and yet spent far more effort preparing for this one.

Were there frustrating moments?  Absolutely.  For example, I was greatly disheartened to discover that although the third exam covered world history from about 1880 to 1945, the only question on the test was about Afghanistan.  With so many political and societal upheavals going on during this time period, it didn’t make sense to me why the exam would be so narrowly focused.  After all, it was supposedly world history, not merely the history of one country in Asia and their relationship to the British Empire.

Nevertheless, despite this setback, I found this tutoring experience to be particularly rewarding, and I don’t mean monetarily.  Yes, I did receive payment for my efforts, of course, but I really enjoyed learning more about world history and sharing this knowledge with my student.  Sometimes, I would explain more about world events than what was presented in the assigned readings, including details of what happened prior to them as well as how they changed the future.  I began to look forward to our sessions eagerly; sometimes they were weekly, sometimes they were multiple times per week.  We worked hard to get through the textbook and the other articles.

Now that it’s over, I have to say that that I enjoyed this job more than any I have had since I began writing this blog back in mid-2008.  There was something about learning new material alongside my previous knowledge and then imparting this information to aid my student’s success.  Although I wish that I could say that I was able to transform this student’s failing grade into an A, as I did with my first student, given that it was a good bit later in the semester, I’m happy that she ended up passing the class.  And, she told me that if she took another history or political science class, she would be certain to reach out to me again.

At this point, I have no idea when or if the next student will seek me out and my next tutoring opportunity will come along.  But, I hope that it does, because I really enjoyed it.  And, as they say, “find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  One day we will see a return of Joshua, the Tutor, or perhaps even Joshua, the Teacher, or Joshua, the Professor.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLII)

On Wednesday, December 7th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for their monthly political radio hour.  We looked back on 2016, including the surprising presidential election, and spoke about the 2017 elections, which includes the race for the next Governor of Virginia.  After all, there is at least one election in Virginia every single year.

As always, if you missed the show live, you can catch it on the WSVA website.

Thanks for listening!

Donald Trump is…My Fault?

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Usually, when an election is over, especially a highly contentious one such as the 2016 presidential election, tensions run high for months or even years later.  Nevertheless, I was still quite surprised when a local Democratic elected official recently declared that I was one of the people responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

For the regular readers of this website, many of you already know that I am not nor have I been a supporter of Donald Trump.  Ever since he descended that escalator, announced his candidacy for president, and declared that most Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” I became a vocal critic.  As I wrote back in August of 2015, “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appeals to some of the worst elements of our society”.  I called his comments “reprehensible” and, along with his blatant sexism, said that he “demonstrates that he isn’t presidential material”.

A year later, I didn’t view Mr. Trump anymore favorably and called both the Trump and Clinton campaigns, “A Campaign of Fear and Hatred.”  I’m sure it doesn’t come as any surprise, but I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the Virginia Republican primary nor did I cast a ballot for him in the general election.  Yes, I may have declared Marco Rubio was the worst Republican candidate on the Virginia primary ballot, but in that same piece I called Donald Trump “unacceptable”.  However, just because Donald Trump was terrible, that didn’t somehow make Hillary Clinton somehow acceptable by comparison.

I would challenge anyone to point out any of my statements where I encourage any voter to cast a ballot for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  And yet, as this elected official claims, anyone who voted for a third party candidate or chose not to vote is at fault for the election of Donald Trump.  This viewpoint, in my opinion, is quite sophomoric and harkens back to George W. Bush where a third way was inconceivable to him.

Now, this local official isn’t alone in expressing this idea.  For example, about a year ago a Republican leader credited me with electing Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia because I didn’t support either the Republican or Democratic candidate in that election.  As such, because the Democrat won, the only explanation is that it was “my fault” and the fault of everyone who voted Libertarian.  Surely it had nothing to do with the weakness of the campaigns and the lack of issues and substance from both of the major party candidates.

It is important for you to remember that you own your vote and no candidate or party has an automatic claim to it.  They must earn it and if they fail to speak to you, either figuratively or literally, then you are under no compulsion to support them.  And, if one of the major party candidates wins, it is exceedingly foolish to declare that it is the fault of third party voters that your side didn’t win.  If one side is looking for someone to blame for their loss, maybe they ought to blame themselves.  Perhaps the major party that lost shouldn’t have nominated a candidate who the voters found so detestable.  Perhaps they should have run a more competent campaign.  And, if voting for your principles means voting for a third party candidate or an independent, that is your right and that should not be demeaned.  As Penn Jillette says, (warning for language):

Remember, despite what some Republicans and Democrats might say in order to guilt trip you into supporting someone who you don’t believe in, it is not the fault of a third party voter if the lesser (or greater) of two evils wins.  Heck, if we had a level playing field and a multiparty system, like just about every other Western democratic nation, which many Democrats and Republicans have been actively trying to suppress, the only people to blame for electing a bad politician are the people who actually cast a vote for him or her.