Thank You, D.D. Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

A Bittersweet Anniversary

Photo taken by Jason Lenhart.  Image from the from page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014
Photo taken by Jason Lenhart. Image from the front page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014

On this date last year, I announced to Facebook and the Harrisonburg community that I would be seeking a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council that November.  In that election, I ran as an independent.  Although I had associated with the Harrisonburg Republican Party since the age of fifteen, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with the party over the years as they and their elected officials often endorsed candidates and legislation which stood in stark contrast to their supposed principles.  As a result of our growing rift between what they said they believed compared to what they actually did, I was expelled from that organization in February of 2014.  Once you couple that issue with open hostility from the Harrisonburg Libertarian Party, running as an independent seemed to be the logical choice.

However, that’s not to say that I didn’t have friends in both the Republican and Libertarian camps.  As such, my first official campaign event, taking place on April 24th of 2014, was a signature collection drive on the campus of JMU alongside U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis and 6th district House of Representatives candidate Will Hammer.  An article and photo featuring the three of us appeared the following day in my local paper, The Daily News Record.

In the weeks and months that followed, I learned much, met many new people, picked up new friends, and unfortunately discovered a few enemies.  Having been involved in politics for so long, I’ve certainly seen and faced a lot.

Prior to this campaign, one of my worst experiences centered around a death threat I received while working for Dr. Ron Paul in 2007.  However, soon after making my announcement for council, I received a phone call from some who used to call me the best of friends who promised a barrage of unyielding personal attacks against me if I continued in my effort to seek elected office.  Although I decided to press onward, as you might imagine, this blackmail cast a dark cloud of uncertainty over the campaign, making my effort all the more difficult, and did much to crush my enthusiasm for this project.  As I have been reminded consistently over the years, and last year’s race for city council was no exception, politics often attracts the worst elements of humanity.  However, I should add that while there are certainly those that sought to destroy me, there are others who came forth that evening to lift me up.

April 24th of 2014 was marked by unbridled hope while the following day brought crushing disappointment.  Therefore, even one year later these two days remain a bittersweet memory of the beginnings of my foray to seek public office.

Football & Politics

Image from waitingfornextyear.com

Today, like many other Sundays in the autumn, many of us gather together to cheer on our favorite football teams.  For me, that means the New York Giants, who have had a rather dismal season thus far and have already been eliminated from any hopes of a playoff spot.  When you look at it objectively, my life doesn’t really improve if my team wins or diminish if it loses.  The Giants blue and red has no greater value in the great scheme of things than the Redskins burgundy and gold or the Cowboys navy and silver.  Although fun, most of us realize that it is merely a game, a diversion to entertain us every fall and winter.  No team really subscribes to any kind of philosophy or ethic…the only goal is to win.

Are political parties any different?  Are they merely a collection of politicians and activists looking to get “their people” elected and to ensure that “their people” acquire power?  A number of my Republican friends are cheering Saturday’s defeat of Mary Landreau in the run-off race in Louisiana. But how many of us were a part of that campaign?  How many of us can even vote in Louisiana?  I wasn’t involved in either capacity.  Though, on the other hand, I suppose I did have a bit of a hand in the process, working for a pro-life group who supported Bill Cassidy.  Nevertheless, from my research it seemed that from an ideological perspective, Rob Maness would have been a far better choice than Cassidy.

So, next year the Republican Party will increase its majority in the House of Representatives and gain the Senate as a result of the 2014 midterm elections.  The important question to ask is, what does this mean for conservatives and libertarians?  Will Congress now take a firm stand against the unconstitutional overreaches of the president?  Will they work to actually cut the size and scope of the federal government?  Will they try to cut the exploding federal deficit?  And if they engage in the above activities will it be because they actually believe that it is the right thing to do or merely to oppose a Democratic president?  After all, so many of the Republicans in office now were active conspirators in the effort to expand federal power under the presidency of George W. Bush.  The first test will be whether Republicans continue to give the reins of power to people with little ideological principle like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.

I’m very hopeful that at least a few, solid individuals were elected in the Republican wave of 2014.  After all, the GOP needs a heck of a lot more people like Ron Paul and Justin Amash while at the same time rejecting the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams.

I do caution those of us who love liberty that while November 4th was a victory for the Republican Party, it wasn’t necessarily a victory for us.  In the next two years, will the government allow us to keep more of our own money in our pockets?  Will it work to restore our civil liberties here and abroad?  Will it curtail needlessly entangling itself in civil wars and the internal affairs of foreign nations?  Will it actually obey the limits placed upon it by the Constitution and insist the president do likewise?  If the answer to all of these questions is no, then the only thing that happened last month was that the red Republican team defeated the blue Democratic team and the most recent election was as meaningless and hollow as the Giants trouncing of the Tennessee Titans today.

Sarvis Steals Another One!

Ed Gillespie the day before the election
Ed Gillespie the day before the election in Staunton, VA

I’m sure that many of you were shocked by the closeness of the U.S. Senate race here in Virginia.  After all, who would have predicted that Democrat Mark Warner, who beat Republican Ed Gillespie by at least nine percentage points in every poll but one, would emerge victorious by only about half a percentage point?

Also in the race was Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.  Sarvis, as many will remember, ran last year for governor capturing 6.5% of the vote in a race where only about 2.5% separated the Republican and the Democrat.  As such, a number of Republican activists blamed Sarvis for that outcome, claiming that he siphoned enough votes from Ken Cuccinelli to allow Terry McAuliffe to claim victory.

Given that Libertarian Robert Sarvis won almost 2.5% of the vote in this election, some Republicans are claiming, once again, that Sarvis stole another election from them.

Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU
Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU

The theory behind this argument is that without Sarvis in the race, most of his supporters would instead choose the Republican candidate.  In 2013, exit polls showed that a greater percentage of Sarvis voters would have selected the Democrat over the Republican if he were not in the race.  After all, he captured more liberals than conservatives, more young than old, and more college graduates than graduates.  These are groups that typically trend toward the Democratic Party.

Although I haven’t seen the exits polls for 2014, I believe the opposite happened this time.  A larger percentage of typical Republican voters cast their ballots for Sarvis than the Democrats.  Almost all self-identified liberty-minded Republicans that I know either cast their ballots for Sarvis or simply left it blank.

“Ah ha!” The Republican establishment shouts.  “So you admit that Sarvis stole the 2014 election!”

My answer is no.

Stealing something implies that you have taken something that doesn’t belong to you.  I would argue that no candidate or party has an automatic right to any person’s vote regardless of their previous voting history or ideology.  Votes are always earned and must be re-earned each and every election; they never should be taken for granted.  We aren’t political slaves!

Let’s rewind the clock to the 2002 U.S. Senate election in Virginia.  That was John Warner’s last election.  You remember John Warner, don’t you?  He was the long-serving Republican Senator from Virginia who recently endorsed Democrat Mark Warner for Senate.  As a result, some people now consider him a traitor.  But this recent revelation conveniently overlooks the fact that he rarely fought for the supposedly Republican principles of restraining the power of the federal government.  In addition, he supported gun control and abortion, two positions in stark contrast to a majority of Virginia Republicans.    And then there is Warner’s proclivity to oppose the “Republican team” as he did when he denounced Ollie North in 1994 and Mike Farris in 1993.

Even though John Warner and I shared the same political party back then, I could not bring myself to vote for him and thus left that portion of the ballot blank.  Did sticking to my principles make me a “bad Republican”?

As stated, this year many conservatives and libertarians who consider themselves Republicans did not feel that Ed Gillespie shared their principles and thus either cast their vote for Sarvis, wrote in Shak Hill, or didn’t vote at all.  Who can blame them?  After all, the last time I spoke to Ed Gillespie, I asked him which unconstitutional federal agencies would he work to eliminate, his response was that he would “check with his advisers and get back in touch with me”.  For someone who believes the federal government has grown too large, that answer was unacceptable and showed, much like Warner over a decade earlier, that he and I disagreed on the most important and fundamental principles of our constitutional republic.  Like 2002, if I didn’t have an acceptable option, I simply would not have voted for any of the candidates for Senate.

So, yes.  If Robert Sarvis had not been in the race, Gillespie might have ended up winning.  But regardless of my opinion of Sarvis, I’m glad that voters had a third choice so they didn’t have to simply vote for the lesser of two evils.  The Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, as well as independents have as much of a right to run candidates as the Republicans and Democrats.  And, if voters believe that their candidates are better than one or both of the major party candidates, then perhaps they ought to solve this problem by running better candidates.  Or, given that Sarvis used to be a Republican, perhaps they ought to work harder to grow the party and stick with their supposed principles as opposed to driving folks away or simply kicking people out of the party as they did in my case.

Just don’t complain that the election was “stolen”.

The Council Candidates on WSVA

Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio
Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio

This week, the six candidates for Harrisonburg City Council took to the airwaves of 550 AM WSVA to share their thoughts regarding policies for the city as well as their political principles.

On Wednesday, Ted Byrd (R), Alleyn Harned (D), and Helen Shibut (L) spoke.  This morning, D.D. Dawson (R), Joshua Huffman (I), and Chris Jones (D) had their turn.  In case you missed either show, you can listen to them on the links provided above.

IMG_0119IMG_0120On a personal note, I have to say that I appreciated the opportunity to speak about the race from WSVA and enjoyed today’s conversations with Ms. Dawson and Mr. Jones both on and off the air.  Although we certainly have our similarities and differences, it has been great journey, exploring and discussing a variety of topics.

Less than two weeks until Election Day!

Labor Day in Buena Vista

Senator Mark Warner addressing the media
Senator Mark Warner addressing the media

On Monday, a host of political activists made their way to the streets of Buena Vista, Virginia.  Although certainly a small city, Buena Vista plays host to the largest political parade in the state, a decades old tradition.

Although last year was the smallest gathering I had seen in my several years of going, 2014 was more robust.  Republican activists nearly doubled the Democratic crowd.  As is typical, countless yard signs littered the parade route with Mark Warner emerging as the victor in the sign war.  It was unfortunate that some supporters of Mark Warner used their signs to cover the Republican ones, but, then again, Gillespie supporters did likewise.

Ed Gillespie speaks to a reporter
Ed Gillespie speaks to a reporter

After the mile and a half trek through downtown, which culminated at Glen Maury Park, each of the candidates were invited on stage to speak to the crowd.  This group included: Senator Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie, Robert Sarvis, Representative Bob Goodlatte, Will Hammer, and Delegate Ben Cline.  Both the Republican and Democratic activists cheered loudly for their candidate(s).

Robert Sarvis addresses the crowd
Robert Sarvis offers his opinions to the crowd

Interestingly, Bob Goodlatte didn’t speak about his own race, where he faces Libertarian Will Hammer and Independent Green Elaine Hildebrandt (who did not attend the Buena Vista event) but rather the need to elect Ed Gillespie.  Delegate Cline made some critical remarks about Senator Warner which led some of us to wonder if he would be yanked from the microphone.

After Warner and Gillespie spoke, they left the gathering along with Bob Goodlatte before Robert Sarvis took the microphone.  Although that development was disappointing and disrespectful to their Libertarian opponent, what I thought was far worse was that 90% of the Republican crowd walked out as well.  By comparison, a majority of the Democratic activists showed far more decorum, having enough courtesy to listen to what Sarvis and Hammer had to say.

All in all, it was encouraging to see an upswing in Buena Vista this year.  Hopefully, this Shenandoah Valley tradition will continue to thrive.

Curious Events in the 7th

Rep. Eric Cantor's official photo from his website
Rep. Eric Cantor’s official photo from his website

Today, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA-7) announced that he will be resigning his seat before the November election.  As such, he has asked the governor to hold a special election.  Cantor, as you likely know, was beaten in a fairly surprising upset by Dave Brat.

Reactions to this news have been mixed.  Some praise Cantor as doing so would allow whoever won the seat to take office immediately thus having a leg up in seniority over others elected on November 4th.  Others speak harshly of the former majority leader claiming that he is abandoning his constituents and “taking his ball and going home”.  And then there is the response from the Carr campaign.

James Carr is the Libertarian candidate for the House of Representatives in Cantor’s district.  His press release from a few moments ago reads, “There are few maneuvers in politics so blatantly contrary to the best interest of the voters as election manipulation.  I hope the public will take notice of and respond appropriately to this attempt to control their votes in November.” 

But why does Carr make such a claim?  Well, he adds, “The request for a special election to be held clearly is intended to remove me from that ballot.  If the governor grants a special election, not only will the winner be placed in office immediately and gain many of the benefits associated with Mr. Cantor’s seniority in congress, but the ballot qualification process will be reset as this would be a separate election which means I would have to qualify for this one as well.  This is intended to limit the likelihood of a voter choosing one candidate in the special election (which only applies to the remainder of 2014) and another in the general.”

If Carr’s statement is true, switching to a special election would certainly have a negative affect on our electoral process as it could exclude one of the qualified candidates.  To seek out the answer, I called the Virginia State Board of Elections.  They confirmed that if a special election is called, the previous signatures will be ignored for this race and Mr. Carr will have to go through the signature collection process again.

So what do you think?  Is Cantor’s resignation a positive, a negative, or something else?

125 to 1

As many of you may have heard, I will be on the ballot for Harrisonburg City Council this November.  There will be six candidates and I am the only one running as an independent.

In order to qualify, I needed to collect the signatures of 125 registered voters in the city.  It was a task that required a number of hours spread over several days.  Although it isn’t that difficult to garner 125 signatures, I discovered that a fair number of people aren’t registered to vote even though they think they are, are registered someplace else than where they think, or their penmanship is so poor that their information is unreadable.   Thus, although I turned in around 150 signatures originally, I was required to go out again and collect more.

By comparison, how many signatures did the Republican and Democratic candidates need in order to make the ballot?  Well, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections, the answer is only one, the signature of their respective city party chairman.  This difference might leave you scratching your head.  It doesn’t really seem fair that independents and third party candidates require a signature drive but Republicans and Democrats do not, does it?

Now, I have no objections to requiring candidates to collect signatures in order to make the ballot.  After all, doing so shows that he or she has at least some element of support or campaign structure.  But to have this system where the Republican and Democratic candidates get a leg up on their competitors seems a bit off to me.

Now you might say, sure, it might not be right that there is this system whereby some candidates are required to jump through extra hoops and are treated as second class, but 125 signatures isn’t all that much.  Well, hold on to your hats because it is about to get worse.

Besides our local races, we are also electing members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate this year.  Assuming you are a Republican or Democratic candidate and you are not nominated via a primary, you only need the signature of the appropriate party chairman according to the State Board of Elections.  Independent and third party candidates need 1,000 signatures to make the ballot for House and 10,000 in order to make the Senate!  This high threshold discourages folks from running as acquiring as much as 10,000 signatures requires significant campaign structure, party backing, and/or money in order to meet the mark.  Again, the rules are strict, but they wouldn’t be that bad if they were applied equally to all candidates irrespective of party; unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m of the opinion that more choices creates a richer and more dynamic political system where voters have a greater opportunity to support and elect candidates who are more in line with their values.  Regrettably, as the system has been set up and maintained by the two major parties, there is a strong incentive to squelch competition to preserve their own power base.

So, let me ask you this question:  Is it simply too much to ask that everyone be treated fairly and equally?

The Rise of the LPVA

Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention
Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention

The Libertarian Party of Virginia stands on the brink of political history as they look to certify a candidate for U.S. Senate and all eleven congressional districts in the state.

In order to understand the significance of this event, I think it useful to reflect back on my experiences with the LPVA.

In 2004, I found myself living in Charlottesville.  As most political activists in Virginia know, Charlottesville is one of the more liberal cities in the Commonwealth.  Being a Republican, I attended many of the meetings of the Charlottesville Republican Party while living there.  However, I found the group so demoralized and so fragmented that after a few gatherings I began to seriously question why I should offer my time and energy to them.

About this time, I heard of another organization, the Jefferson Area Libertarians.  They met at a place called the Mellow Mushroom.  For several months I simply sat and listened to their discussions.  Although I didn’t agree with everything they stood for (and who agrees with anyone 100%?) I thought the group was far more spirited than the local GOP.  As such, at one point I asked them about the candidates they were running for office.  The response was unexpected.  They seemed to think I was crazy for asking such a question.  To me, although philosophical discussion is great, without a plan to turn your vision into reality, it is of little tangible value.  I found that many of Libertarians around the state weren’t particularly interested in getting involved in campaigns and elections and thus I became critical of the LPVA.  To me, if a party doesn’t recruit candidates and work to help them, they aren’t really a political party, but rather little more than a debating society.

Although the LPVA did run candidates, such as for governor and senator, they were a rarity, especially in my corner of the state.  That began to change in 2010 with Stuart Bain who challenged Representative Bob Goodlatte in the 6th district.  Then, in 2013, the party not only ran Robert Sarvis, a candidate for governor, but also over half a dozen candidates in House of Delegates races.  This year, as mentioned at the beginning of the piece, the Libertarian Party has a candidate in every congressional district as well as for Senate.  Now, will all of the Libertarians make the ballot?  We’ll find out soon, but I would be surprised if they did.  Nevertheless, it is certainly amazing to watch what is happening.

Taking the entire picture of Virginia politics, although in control of the state legislature, the Republican Party is fractured between the grassroots and establishment, still reeling from a successive string of statewide losses.  At the same time, the Democratic Party has fared well in statewide contests, but is not challenging every Republican Representative in the November election and recently lost control of the Virginia State Senate in unusual circumstances which has left many of their supporters crying foul.

One shouldn’t expect some sort of radical outcome in the November elections, although yes, as Dave Brat showed us recently, anything is possible.  After all, the smart money in American politics is maintaining the status quo.  The more exciting questions revolve around the future.   With this multitude of Libertarian candidates this year, what will 2015 look like?  Bolstered by their activity, will dozens seek positions in Richmond next November?  Will a Libertarian claim office in the near future?  Could more than one emerge victorious?

Like them or hate them, it is hard to refute the claim that the Libertarian Party of Virginia is making waves.  Will 2014 herald the beginnings of a new era in Virginia politics?  Or will it merely be a high-water mark for the Libertarian Party, a footnote in history?   Right now it is too early to tell.