On the morning of Wednesday, April 4th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for our monthly radio hour.
The main topic of the day was Neil Gorsuch and his appointment to the Supreme Court. As the confirmation vote draws near, more Democratic Senators, including Virginia’s own Tim Kaine, have announced they will not support Mr. Gorsuch. Will he be confirmed? Is this payback for what happened to Merrick Garland last year? Will Senate Republican use the nuclear option?
The next subject we briefly tackled concerned a speech that Andy Schmookler gave outside of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s Harrisonburg office the previous day. At that time, he challenged Goodlatte to a debate or for him to investigate the possible unethical and illegal actions taken by President Trump both before and after he was elected.
Back in 2007, while finishing up my work in Tennessee with Students for Life of America, I began to think about what I ought to do next. One idea that was particularly appealing, especially considering I very much enjoyed working with college students, was to go to grad school in the hopes of one day teaching my knowledge and passion in political science. However, before I did so, I wanted to reach what I saw as the zenith of campaign work by getting a position on a presidential campaign. During this time, I discovered Ron Paul and, after several months of concentrated effort, secured the position of grassroots director for the state of South Carolina on his 2008 presidential run.
After the campaign concluded, I began to study for the GREs and contacted several of my former professors at the College of William & Mary for letters of recommendation. In 2009, I applied to a half a dozen schools in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. I was surprised when I didn’t get accepted at any of these institutions. I reasoned that perhaps there were too many people seeking too few positions. Undeterred, after I finished my work for Delegate Phil Hamilton in Newport News, I applied to these same schools again the following year. And, once again, none accepted me. As you might imagine, I was quite confused. According to their posted data, both my GRE scores and my GPA from my undergraduate studies were more than acceptable for all of the schools I applied (with the lone exception of UNC-Chapel Hill).
Curious, I contacted all of the grad schools in the hopes of getting an answer of what happened. After a multitude of phone calls, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville finally offered a clue. They told me that one of my professors wrote a negative letter of recommendation. I could scarcely believe it. Why would a professor agree to write a letter of recommendation and then use it to sabotage one’s efforts? I traveled to William and Mary to see if I could figure out what had happened. After I explained what UT-K told me, the first professor I spoke with was quite cordial and offered to write another letter should I desire it. The second professor acted in the same manner. However, I was shocked when the third treated me brusquely and told me that he wasn’t particularly interested in writing me another letter. As you might imagine, the whole affair was quite disheartening. I left campus feeling dejected, not knowing if I would ever be able to accomplish my goal of getting a graduate degree in political science. At the time, I felt that this incident was the greatest betrayal I had suffered in politics, but, as the years went by, I realized that it was merely a prelude for the greater treacheries that were to come.
Although I continued my work in politics, I worried that I would be forever stuck in the rut of campaign work and partisan politics. Although folks told me that I was quite good at what I did, the work became increasingly less fulfilling and fellow campaign workers and politicos became increasingly nasty.
And so the years passed. My dream had been crushed but not completely destroyed.
In late 2015, I thought about applying to grad school again after having the opportunity to serve as a political science tutor for a JMU student. However, given some personal and financial difficulties arising partially from being blacklisted from a number of employment opportunities, I thought it best to wait another year.
Then, in 2016, I resolved to give it another try. While visiting my aunt who lives in Tennessee, I took the GREs in Knoxville. I then visited several campuses, found a new recommender while retaining the other two, and sent my applications to four schools.
This time, I was accepted everywhere I applied: the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, West Virginia University, George Mason University, and Virginia Tech. While West Virginia and VA Tech were new to me, it was my third attempt at UT-K and GMU.
One of the schools has made an offer for a graduate assistantship which comes with a tuition waiver. As you might imagine, it is presently my top choice. However, as another school has hinted at the possibility of funding too, it is also still in the running. One of my professor friends told me that grad schools like to play games with their financial aid, so I suppose it is possible that one of the other schools could come back with an offer of their own. Either way, the deadline for a decision for three of the four schools is April 15th, so my decision will be announced in the coming weeks.
It took eight years and two previous attempts, but, as the saying goes, it seems that the third time’s the charm. The dream is deferred no longer! Grad school here I come!
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had launched on a mission to find a draft of the House GOP’s bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock and key, in a secure location, and not available for me or the public to view,” he tweeted, and then he went into action.
Paul went to a Capitol meeting room with staff and a photocopier to surprise members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that were rumored to be discussing the ACA. “In my state, in Kentucky, it’s illegal to do this,” he said, beckoning to a door where he was told there was no bill. “This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this were a plot to invade another country.”
Paul held a press conference on the spot and told a dozen or so reporters that “We’re here today because I’d like to read the Obamacare bill. If you’d recall, when Obamacare was passed in 2009 and 2010, Nancy Pelosi said you’ll know what’s in it after you pass it. The Republican Party shouldn’t act in the same way.”
Later on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Paul said reports claim, “It keeps the Cadillac tax but renames it. It starts a new entitlement program with refundable tax credits, and it also keeps the individual mandate.”
Paul is concerned that a cloak and dagger routine is being employed to hide parts of the bill that would run counter to many wanting to see the ACA repealed, and he fears this maneuvering may be a ploy to force Senate Republicans into a “take it or leave it” mindset when the legislation gets to them. Whatever someone’s position is on this issue Paul should be applauded for bringing focus to an important issue, namely healthcare and the backroom deals that too often accompany legislation.
Paul produced a reaction not only from the media, but also from establishment politicians with Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan saying, “…I like Rand, but I think he’s looking for a publicity stunt here”, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger called Paul “the master of theatrics“, and former Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi posted a twitter picture with two dogs with the caption “Just helping out @RandPaul. #ReleaseTheHounds #WheresTheBill,”. However, Paul wasn’t alone in his concern as some Democrat members of the House were also going to different rooms on a quest to find the bill and the Washington Post quoted Rep. Thomas Massie as saying “We asked for the score and all that. We were told we’ll have that by the time it gets to the floor. We need to have that now! You can’t have a discussion about this proposal independent from costs. It’s ridiculous. That’s kind of like, just ‘vote for it to see what’s in it.’”
Paul has introduced his own ACA replacement bill allowing people to:
Choose inexpensive insurance free of government mandates;
Buy insurance across state lines;
Save unlimited amounts in a health savings account (HSA) and expanding options for using said funds; and
Join together in voluntary associations to gain the leverage of being part of a large insurance pool.
It remains to be seen if Paul’s bill will pass but Senators Cruz and Lee are joining with him voicing similar concerns, backing by the House Freedom Caucus, and his tech savvy team continue to capitalize on all of the media attention by creating a Twitter account @randpaulcopier posting pictures of a photo copier with a sign “SHOW ME THE Bill” in front of numerous landmarks in front of the Capital.
It’s tough to disagree with his main message: “This should be an open and transparent process…This should be done openly in the public…”. Paul continues to be the most interesting person in the Senate and we all are better for him being there!
Philip lives in Harrisonburg with his wife, son, & two cats: Swirl and Rand Paul. He has worked on political campaigns ranging from his city council run to the presidential level. He is the co-editor of the book “Ron Paul Speak”.
Earlier today, Cathy Copeland kicked off her campaign for the 26th district House of Delegates seat. She is seeking the Democratic nomination. To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in over 30 years, there will be a fire house primary to determine the Democratic nominee for this seat as Brent Finnegan is vying for the position as well. Mr. Finnegan kicked off his campaign on Saturday in Broadway.
Ms. Copeland made this speech regarding her candidacy at the Pale Fire Brewery in downtown Harrisonburg.
Unlike most years, where a majority of the elections in the central Shenandoah Valley are uncontested, we now have: 2 Democrats and 1 Republican running in the 26th, a Democrat and a Republican in the 58th, a Democrat and a Republican in the 25th, and a Democrat, a Libertarian, and a Republican in the 20th.
Where do these candidates stand on the important issues of the day? Will the Democrats and Libertarians field additional candidates? Will there be any Republican nomination fights? And will any of these challengers unseat an incumbent? So far, this election year is shaping up to be far more interesting than usual!
Today, on the steps of the Augusta County Courthouse in Staunton, Virginia, Michele Edwards announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 20th district seat in the House of Delegates. Below is a video of her announcement. Sorry that it is a bit shakey. In retrospect, I should have worn gloves as it was cold outside.
Republican Dickie Bell has represented the 20th district since 2010. He has not had a Democratic opponent since 2011 when Laura Kleiner challenged him. This year, he is facing Libertarian Will Hammer and now Democrat Michele Edwards.
On the morning of March 15th, Andy Schmookler and I, Joshua Huffman, appeared on 550 AM WSVA for our monthly radio hour. The topics for discussion included: Obamacare and Paul Ryan’s attempts to craft his own health care law, the 2017 Virginia elections including the increasing number of contested elections for the House of Delegates in the central Shenandoah Valley, and President Trump’s connections with Russia and whether this issue creates a massive conflict of interest with his duties to the Constitution and the American people.
For the last several weeks, I have been wondering if anyone would seek the Libertarian Party nomination for governor. Robert Sarvis ran in 2013, but that was only the second time in Virginia history that the LPVA fielded a candidate for this position. Although Mr. Sarvis did run for the Virginia Senate in 2011, he was not well-known statewide before the 2013 Virginia Libertarian Convention in Waynesboro. When I asked if anyone would run this year, I was told that there were several prospective candidates but nothing was public yet.
As my search continued, I was given a name, Jason Carrier. Being the curious fellow I am, I sought him out and sent him a Facebook message hoping to learn more. Most importantly, I asked him why he was running. His response was, “The party needs a candidate to keep momentum up. I’ve been preaching Libertarian values to anyone who would listen for years, so I figured I would quit bitching and try and do something about it. It is about forcing the other two parties to compete in the arena of ideas, pulling them to a pro-liberty agenda.” As you might imagine, given my beliefs and support for political competition, I thought his answer was a good beginning.
On Saturday, March 11th, the 6th district Libertarian Party held a convention in Staunton, Virginia. I ended up sitting next to a fellow in a red button-up shirt and tie who turned out to be Jason Carrier. After the main business of the meeting, such as the election of officers and Will Hammer gaining the Libertarian nomination for the 20th district in the House of Delegates, Mr. Carrier took the floor.
Mr. Carrier spoke of about himself and his experiences but, unlike many other office-seekers, especially first-time candidates, his life wasn’t the central focus of his talk. Instead, he discussed a number of issues of importance to his campaign such as reducing taxes, regulatory reform, and even privatizing the roads in the Commonwealth. Perhaps surprisingly he had favorable things to say about one of his opponents, Republican candidate Denver Riggleman, who he said shared many principles with Libertarians. As a self-identified jarhead, occasionally Mr. Carrier would pepper his speech with some mild language that you wouldn’t expect from your average politician. After his remarks, he fielded a multitude of questions from the audience on a variety of topics. As one example, although most Libertarians are pro-choice, it was a pleasant surprise to hear a statewide candidate advocating for life.
Although brief, I have to say that I am impressed with Jason Carrier thus far. He seems authentic and not a typical politician willing to say whatever he thinks will earn your support. He spoke with conviction and didn’t waffle or appear dazed like some people do when they are caught in the high-beams of public attention. He didn’t avoid tough questions by shifting the discussion to other topics and was quite open and approachable. One interesting idea he proposed, and although I’ll admit I am ignorant of the subject, I’m not sure of the present viability of solar power producing roadways. Lastly, unlike some third-party candidates, he did not promise certain victory if given the party’s nomination, which is a pretty tough task given numerous legal hurdles, press barriers, and mindset of voters who are constantly told that supporting a third party or independent candidate is akin to “wasting their votes”. If he does not win, he seeks to capture at least 10% of the vote. Doing so would make it much easier for Virginia voters to routinely have a third choice in future elections. In addition, he hopes that his run will inspire more candidates to run under the Libertarian Party banner.
I’m looking forward to learning more about Jason Carrier as the campaign continues, but, as I’ve said, my first impressions were quite positive. If you’d like to meet him in person and you live in the Harrisonburg area, I’m told he’ll likely be stopping by the next meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians on the evening of March 21st.
Delegate Bell emerged victorious in the 2015 contest, but today Hammer has announced his plans for a second go at the office.
In his press release, Mr. Hammer states, “I believe that my strong showing in 2015 and growing distrust and distaste for the two major parties, specifically incumbents, represents a great opportunity to go to Richmond as a third party candidate.”
Will Hammer highlights some of his campaign issues adding, “When elected, I will fight against the Dominion pipeline because property rights are sacred, to end gerrymandering and corruption, bring transparency to Richmond and publish a reasoning for every vote that I place. I will hold online and in person public forums for my constituents. I will protect your gun rights as I was given an A grade from Gun Owners of America and “very pro-gun” rating from Virginia Citizens Defense League. I will fight for judicial reform and marijuana legalization, which will reduce government expenditure and create a booming new industry which means thousands of jobs. I will walk the walk, not talk the talk. If you are tired of business as usual and the duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats, join me and let’s seriously drain the swamp known as Richmond.”
Presumably, Mr. Hammer will be able to collect the signatures of 125 valid and registered voters in the 20th district to make the ballot. Assuming he is the Republican nominee once more, Delegate Bell will not be required to collect signatures. The 20th district includes the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro as well as all of Highland County and parts of Augusta and Nelson Counties. Right now, there are no other candidates in this race and Will Hammer is the only Libertarian candidate running in the Shenandoah Valley.
If you’d like to learn more about either of the two candidates, you can find information about both Bell and Hammer on their respective websites.
As some of my readers may recall, on Thursday, February 9th, I attended a campaign event for Ed Gillespie in Staunton. During the gathering, I thought of a question I wanted to ask Mr. Gillespie but didn’t get the chance to do so. Afterward, I spoke to several of his staffers and they recommended that I send them an email with my query.
After fleshing out my thoughts, I penned the following letter on February 10th:
Good afternoon, Mr. Cooksey.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me last night.
As mentioned, one important issue to me concerns political competition and political freedom. Unlike many states, Virginia is one of the most politically repressive in the region, requiring 10,000 signatures from candidates to make the statewide ballot and giving special privileges to nominees of the Republican and Democratic Parties such as: listing their candidates first on all ballots as required by law, allowing their nominees to forgo collecting signatures simply by virtue of being nominated by these two parties (assuming they aren’t facing a party primary), and setting unreasonably high thresholds in statewide contests for other political parties to be recognized.
As one example, in Virginia, a party’s candidate needs 10% of the vote to be a recognized political party in future elections while in neighboring West Virginia it is only 1%. However, despite this vast disparity, West Virginia is not overwhelmed by political parties; presently they have four while Virginia only has two. The Republican and Democratic Parties should have to work to earn the conservative and liberal vote and constantly strive to improve themselves, their positions, and their outreach, not always capturing a large block of voters without any effort simply due to being complicit in a state-supported monopoly.
In addition, it is unfortunate that some politicians, such as your former boss and my state senator, are proposing registration by political party, thus hindering competition even more and further embroiling the state government in the affairs and subsidization of the activities of private political organizations. It is becoming apparent to me that increasingly here in Virginia the Democratic Party has become the party of political rights and freedom as they work to make ballot access and recognition easier while those in the Republican Party are unfortunately trending in an anti-free market politics direction. It is my hope that Mr. Gillespie will firmly stand against these folks in the GOP who are hostile to political liberty.
Lastly, when Mr. Gillespie ran for US Senate in 2014, he did not stand up for the rights of all who qualified for the ballot to participate in the debates, in fact threatening to boycott an event if all of the candidates were invited. According to an email, I received from James Madison University in July of 2014, ” In my communications with the campaigns of the two major political party candidates, the question of whether or not Mr. Sarvis [the Libertarian candidate] would be invited was a point of discussion. Both campaigns had stated that if Mr. Sarvis were to be invited to participate in the debate their chances of agreeing to accept the invitation was unlikely and actually committing was even less likely.” Hopefully, this campaign has a different attitude.
My questions to Mr. Gillespie are as follows: If, as limited government conservatives, we believe that competition in business, education, and health care produces better results, lowered costs, and spurs innovation, why do we not translate this thinking into the political arena as well? How much has the average citizen and our political health been disadvantaged by a political system which served to primarily benefit, not the average voter, but the two largest political entities at the expense of free market competition? As governor, what will Mr. Gillespie do to push the needle toward greater political freedom or will he work with some of his colleagues in the GOP to squelch it further? And, should another candidate or candidates make the ballot in this election cycle, whether they are Libertarian, Constitution Party, Green, Socialist, independent, or something else, will Mr. Gillespie take a stand to permit all legitimate candidates the equality of opportunity to allow voters the chance to decide which candidate best represents their values?
After ten days, as I hadn’t received a reply, I tried again. Unfortunately, there was nothing but silence, so I tried another staffer. I’m happy to report he offered a rapid response saying: “Thanks, Joshua. I will look into this matter. I do not think this is an item that we would take a position on, but, nonetheless, I will run it up the flag pole. Also, we will conduct further research on our end. Thanks again for coming to our Staunton event.”
Eight days later, I realized I still didn’t have an answer, so I tried this staffer again and was greeted by an automated response.
“Thank you for reaching out to me. I am no longer a member of the campaign staff, as I am pursuing another opportunity in Washington. Please contact Generra Peck (email@example.com) for all campaign policy matters.”
Going off this suggestion, I tried contacting this new staffer, but there was nothing. Based on the recommendation of one of my Facebook friends who supports Mr. Gillespie, I sent the campaign a Facebook message too and although there was an automated response saying that they would get back in touch soon, I have heard nothing.
As regular visitors to this website know, political freedom and open and fair elections are exceedingly important to me. I firmly believe that everyone should face the same legal hurdles to make the ballot and that all of those who jump through these hoops deserve the same chance to be heard, and not silenced or marginalized simply because they aren’t running under the banner or blessing of the two largest political parties. Looking back, I would say it was the most important reason why I didn’t end up supporting Ken Cuccinelli for governor four years ago.
As it has been almost a month since my first email, I decided to share my letter here. Perhaps someone on their campaign staff will feel compelled to answer. It is my sincere hope that the Ed Gillespie campaign will get back in touch with me concerning this matter before the June Republican primary, though I am starting to have my doubts this will happen. Unfortunately, when Ed Gillespie ran in 2014, I wrote an email to his campaign about another campaign issue and although Mr. Gillespie himself promised a reply, I never got an answer to my question. Elected officials and potential elected officials ought to be responsive to their constituents.
Last night, Andy Bakker, Will Hammer, and Joshua Huffman gathered online for the twentieth Freedom Gulch podcast. Topics for the nearly hourlong discussion included: President’s Trump’s plan to “rebuild” the United States military, an unusual candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, additional discussion of the 2017 Virginia campaigns, and more.
If you missed the podcast live, you can find it below.