A Toast to Bob Goodlatte

Today, Virginians across the 6th district have received excellent news.  Bob Goodlatte, the area’s legislator in the House of Representatives since 1993, will not be seeking reelection.

Since moving out of state and beginning my Ph.D. work, I have not had a drop of alcohol.  But tonight, after more than seven years of false starts and rumors, hoping and waiting for this news, I thought a celebration is most certainly in order.

Here’s a toast to the end.

Here’s to the end of your more than two-decade-long reign.

You have claimed to be a limited government conservative, but your record in Washington speaks otherwise.

You speak of liberty and limited government and then write and vote for bills which curtail freedom and enlarge the state.

You have left a legacy of debt which will no doubt cripple our nation for generations to come.

You have expanded government programs to suit your needs and the desires of your donors.

You have ruled the Shenandoah Valley with an iron fist, crushing those who question your edicts.

You have meddled in political affairs throughout the 6th, installing or attempting to install elected officials and party chairmen, not based upon good political principles, but rather loyalty to you and your minions.

You have sought to smash the careers of fine people in the Shenandoah Valley who refuse to kiss your ring.

In these last few years, you have ignored and purposely dodged your bosses, the people of the 6th district.

You have hired some of the most unsavory of characters, giving both power and protection to those of low morals.

Soon, so very soon, it will finally end.

So may your successor be just and fair.

May he or she promote liberty, honor, and honesty in all facets of public service.

May he or she reverse many of the policies you helped enact and actually defend the Constitution you swore an oath to protect.

May the people of the 6th shout “never again” when they think of your time in office.

And may your legacy be forgotten.

Tonight, I raise my glass to you, Representative Bob Goodlatte.

Finally, at long last, the end is in sight.

Partisan Hypocrisy

On Friday afternoon, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out an email entitled “Longer Than They’ve Been Alive.”  Here’s what it said:

Hey there –

Some things you can just count on. Fireworks on the 4th of July. Turkey at Thanksgiving Dinner. And if there’s an election being held, Tim Kaine is probably running for some political office.

Tim Kaine is giving two commencement addresses this weekend: Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Sunday at Northern Virginia Community College. And to celebrate, the NRSC is debuting a new Snapchat filter, reminding 2017 graduates that Kaine’s political career has been going on longer than most of them have been alive! Over the past 23 years, Tim Kaine has run for every political office imaginable. City Council, Mayor, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, Senate, and Vice President. As these new college grads head out into the world, there’s always one thing they can count on – Tim Kaine will always be out there looking to collect a taxpayer funded salary!

So happy snapping! And be sure to send your pics to the NRSC on Snapchat (theNRSC) and Twitter (@NRSC)!

As the email mentions, it also includes the graphic that you see to your left, comparing the amount of time Tim Kaine has either held or run for office and the average age of a college graduate.

The message of the email is obvious.  Tim Kaine has been in politics a long time.  He is a career politician and, by phrasing it as “longer than they’ve been alive”, the NRSC is saying that being a career politician must be a bad thing.

Given that the NRSC is saying that Tim Kaine is a career politician and that that is a bad thing, I thought I should ask them if they have created a similar graphic about my representative, Bob Goodlatte, who has been in the House of Representatives even longer than Tim Kaine has held or run for any office.

Hello.  Do you have one of these for my congressman, Representative Bob Goodlatte, who has been in office since 1993 or 24 years?

Thanks!
No, in case you are wondering, I don’t actually expect the NRSC to reply to me.  However, if we rewind the clock, in early April the NRSC sent out another email attacking Tim Kaine.  This one centered on the confirmation hearing of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  It read:

Hey there –

Failed Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine joined Chuck Schumer’s ill-fated filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch today, attempting to block an up or down vote for the Supreme Court nominee.

Kaine is guilty of the most egregious flip-flop on filibustering Supreme Court nominees (no small feat considering the blatant hypocrisy coming from Senate Democrats this week). During the 2016 campaign, Kaine said that Democrats would change the rules if Republicans attempted to filibuster Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees, but now says if the minority party won’t agree, the President must change the nominee. We’re sure his change of heart has nothing to do with the fact that he lost the election.

“Tim Kaine is among the most transparent hypocrites in his conference,” said NRSC Spokesman Bob Salera. “By ignoring voters and attempting to deny a qualified Supreme Court nominee an up or down vote, Kaine is proving his only concern is staying on the good side of liberal activists ahead of the 2020 presidential primary.”

Given that the Senate Democrats attempted to block Mr. Gorsuch in a similar fashion to how the Senate Republicans blocked then President Obama’s appointment of Mr. Garland, I felt like I had to send them an email.

Good afternoon, Mr. Salera.

I agree that Mr. Gorsuch should get an up-or-down vote by the Senate.  I’m wondering though, did you similarly call out Senate Republicans when they refused to have an up-or-down vote on Mr. Garland last year?
Thanks.
Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Salera actually replied to me.
Is your question whether the National Republican Senatorial Committee called out Republican Senators?
To which I answered:

I suppose you could say that, yes.  If not, would you consider such behavior to be hypocritical?  If not, why not?

Thanks!

It shouldn’t be too shocking that Mr. Salera didn’t respond to that message.  In fact, I didn’t get any more messages from the NRSC for several weeks which led me to assume that I had been removed from their email list.  However, later that month, the emails resumed.

Is holding one or more political offices for decades a bad thing?  If so, the NRSC should call out all politicians who have been there too long, regardless of party.  Are Senator Kaine and the Senate Democrats hypocritical for condemning the Republican blocking of Garland and then working to block Gorsuch?  And are the Senate Republicans and the NRSC hypocritical for preventing an up-or-down vote on Garland and then complaining when the Democrats tried to do likewise?

Personally, I find that this behavior of the NRSC and others of promoting partisanship regardless of principles to be grossly hypocritical.  However, in today’s hyperpartisan political environment, I’m sure that the NRSC reaches a lot of folks who don’t even realize that they are engaging in this kind of political doublespeak.  And, although I don’t subscribe to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, I wouldn’t be surprised if they engaged in partisan hypocrisy too.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLVI)

On the morning of May 3rd, Andy Schmookler and I appeared for our 46th time on 550 AM, WSVA.  For the first time, neither of us were live in the studio today as Andy lives a good distance away and although I presently live in Harrisonburg, unfortunately, my car repairs are taking longer than anticipated.

Today, we spoke about Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) and his lack of accessibility to the average person in the Shenandoah Valley, as well as President Donald Trump, his various proposals, and whether what he is doing is constitutional.  We also briefly touched on the recent Democratic primary for the 26th district House of Delegates race.

Our next show will be at 9 AM on June 14th, the day after the Republican and Democratic primaries.

In case you missed the show live, you can find it here.

WSVA EARLY MORNINGS , 5/03/17 -TALKIN’ POLITICS WITH JOSH & ANDY

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLV)

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.

If you missed the show this morning, you can find it here.

Sell Out!

Image from the film, The Sellout (1952)
Image from the film, The Sellout (1952)

VC Note:  I wrote this piece on November 15, 2015, though I decided against publishing it until recently.

 

In the world of politics, a person is often faced with the decision to sell out one’s principles in order to further his or her own ambitions.  I dare say that every activist has faced this choice sooner or later and if you haven’t yet, that likely means that you are still quite new to the arena.

In 2014, while running for local office, I had the opportunity to sit-in on several of the meetings of the JMU College Republicans.  If you are new to this website, you might not know that student activism has been an interest of mine ever since I began my political journey as a high school student and so I try to encourage students any chance I get.  Unfortunately, I was told that my presence at the JMU CRs upset some of the local establishment Republicans, given that I wasn’t wed to their partisan banner anymore, and they were pressuring the CRs to get rid of me.  As a result, one evening a student came up to me and flatly said that I was no longer welcome at their gatherings.  However, if I were to tell you that the JMU CRs hosted an event honoring Bill Bolling during that semester, that likely tells you all you need to know about the values of that organization at that time.

Anyway, before my exclusion, I appreciated the chance to listen to several of their speakers.  One week it was Delegate Ben Cline of Rockbridge County with whom I had a very positive interaction after the meeting.  However, it was a speech from my own state senator, Mark Obenshain, that sticks most strongly in my mind…even over a year later.  During his talk, he extolled several former JMU Republicans who went on to successful careers in politics, such as a few of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s past and current employees.  Unfortunately, each and every person he mentioned that night shared a common trait; they either sold out their principles or never really had any principles to begin with, and all were more than willing to step on anyone who gets between them and power.  I had more than my share of nasty run-ins with many of these folks.  Although these names were likely foreign to many of the students around me, I knew them all well and to hear this rogue’s gallery listed as a group young political activists ought to aspire to emulate was dismaying indeed.  It made me think.  Is selling out is the ticket to success?

Over my twenty years in politics, I have had a chance to meet a lot of liberty-minded activists.  Some have remained faithful to their ideals while others have not, choosing to support and work for candidates and politicians of dubious moral character who willingly jettison their principles when the leadership tells them to do so…or the price is right.  Some activists have been willing to use any tactic, without respect to morality, if they think it will achieve their goals, knowing that elected officials and party leadership will defend their actions.

As you might imagine, hearing cases of this corruption or watching it unfold firsthand has been profoundly disheartening.  Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  Yes, having power is important.  Being able to support yourself in the political world is certainly important too.  But, at the end of the day, if the eager and wide-eyed novice you once were has been replaced by a callous, manipulative, and immoral professional, don’t you have to ask what was the point of getting involved in politics in the first place?  Isn’t it written, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”  (Mark 8:36 NLT).  It pains me to say that I’ve crossed paths with many individuals who have apparently sold their souls and, despite any superficial claims to be godly and attempts to cosy up to the religious right, face the very real danger of damnation.

So, my friends, whatever your political leanings, I urge you to remain grounded and faithful to your principles.  Never lie, cheat, or steal in order to gain glory, money, fame, or power nor should you ever knowingly follow anyone who acts in this fashion.  Shouldn’t we work to instill values such as honor, courage, honesty, and steadfastness in the next generation of activists?

But, then again, what do I know?  After all, there are many activists and politicians who have advanced much further than I have by stabbing others in the back, bowing down to the lobbyists, and deceiving the folks back home.  And, if you asked them behind closed doors, here’s the advice they would likely give:

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.

 

The Power of a Name

Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio
A Democratic, Republican, and independent candidate walk into a radio studio…

While reading online last night, I was reminded of an encounter from mid 2012.  To set the scene, it was a Republican gathering in Harrisonburg shortly after a primary where Representative Bob Goodlatte fended off a challenge for the Republican nomination for the 6th district seat from Karen Kwiatkowski.  As many of you may know, I was a volunteer for her campaign.  Although I had been an ardent supporter of Representative Goodlatte from 1995 to 2010, I no longer believed that he represented my values in Washington while Kwiatkowski articulated a much better message.  Anyway, at this meeting Bob Goodlatte saw me, came over, and stated that he hoped that I would now support him as much as I supported his opponent.  It may sound strange at first reading, but I found his statement quite offensive.

You see, leading up to the primary, Bob Goodlatte seemed to do his best to try and ignore Karen’s challenge.  He steadfastly refused to debate her and, to the best of my knowledge, he never mentioned her by name.  On the scant times he referenced her, she was always identified as “my opponent.”  Then, even after the election was over, she still wasn’t worthy of being called by her name.

Using the term “my opponent” isn’t something novel for Goodlatte or his campaign.  For example, in 2006 I was an employee of the Republican Party of Virginia.  I’m sure many of you will remember the “macaca moment” when then Republican Senator George Allen called one of Jim Webb’s staffers “macaca”, apparently a racial slur which likely cost Allen the election.  However, I’d like you to listen to the recording of this incident once more.

Notice what Senator Allen says.  Not once does he mention Jim Webb by name, instead calling him “my opponent” or rather curiously “your opponent” in reference to the Webb staffer, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Also, Allen doesn’t call S.R. Sidarth (the Webb staffer) by his name and instead makes up a name for him.  Even if the word macaca wasn’t a Portuguese word for a monkey, in this video Allen seems to suggest that Sidarth’s name isn’t important.  Apparently some Allen staffers called Sidarth “mohawk” based upon his hairstyle at the time.  But really, is using that term all that much better?  Rather than taking the time to learn who this fellow is who has been following him around to various campaign stops, by inventing a name for him Allen and his crew seem to suggest that Sidarth is simply a nameless replaceable staffer for the Webb campaign who doesn’t have much value.

With either of these two examples I’m not claiming that it is only Republicans who refuse to reference their opponents by name.  I’m sure politicians of all stripes do likewise.  However, as a former Republican staffer and political activist, these are two examples I personally remember.

This subject reminds me of a scene from the movie Fight Club.  If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend doing so.  Anyway, at one point the characters create a plan called Project Mayhem.  When a person is part of Project Mayhem, he is stripped of his name and becomes an undistinguished and replaceable cog in the plan.  But, when Robert Paulsen is killed and it is suggested that they secretly bury his body in the garden, Edward Norton’s character objects to calling his fallen friend a nameless and disposable object.  Here’s the scene.  (Please pardon the language and violence from the movie).

As you might imagine, I find this tactic of refusing to call one’s political adversaries by name very demeaning.  After all, a person is more than a mere political opponent, an obstacle to be overcome, or an annoyance to be brushed aside.  Be it for better or worse he or she is much more than a candidate for an election or even a series of elections.  He or she has a unique personality, has a collection of experiences, an abundance of hopes, dreams, and fears.  He or she is someone’s mother…or brother…or niece…or son.  He or she is someone’s friend, possible lover, potential mentor, or perhaps an eager pupil.

I am of the thought that everyone has at least enough human dignity to be worthy of being called by his or her name, not degraded as an “opponent” or slurred based upon their appearance.  I’d like to think that our elected officials should be at the forefront of embracing this philosophy, instead of deriding those who dare challenge their misguided perception of a divine right to rule.  In an open and fair political system especially, everyone should at least have the power of his or her name, his or her right to run for office, and the ability to express his or her opinions.

Kai Degner in Staunton

Scan 6Earlier today, the Kai Degner campaign held a gathering in downtown Staunton, Virginia.  Mr. Degner, a member of the Harrisonburg City Council, began his campaign about two weeks ago after the unexpected departure of Tom Howarth, the previous Democratic Party nominee.  The event, held in a local coffee shop, attracted about fifteen or so individuals, most of whom came from either Staunton, Waynesboro, or Augusta County.  The meeting also included one full-time staffer for the Degner campaign and a regional employee of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

During the meeting, Degner outlined his three major policy goals: criminal justice reform, sustainable energy policy and climate change, and various election improvements including campaign finance reform and tackling gerrymandering.  In an unusual twist, he asked of the attendees to introduce themselves as well and explain what motivated each to take an interest in this race.

IMG_3170One goal of the Degner campaign is not simply to activate the traditional Democratic base, but also reach out to conservatives and libertarians who have either voted for his opponent in the past, or have not been involved.  As he pointed out, the 6th is a very Republican district.  For example, in recent elections, when Democrat Sam Rasoul ran in 2008, he captured 37% of the vote and Andy Schmookler won 35% in 2012.  With this thought in mind, Degner hopes to draw additional interest in what has been to this point a fairly noncompetitive, safe Republican seat.  He will face Republican Bob Goodlatte, the 23-year incumbent in the fall election.

The campaign had another another event later in the day in Harrisonburg.

You can learn more about Kai Degner and his campaign at KaiForCongress.com.

Considering The Lives of Others

Image from The Lives of Others from theguardian.com

On Sunday evening, I joined several friends in watching the German film, The Lives of Others or, as it is called in German, Das Leben der Anderen.  The movie portrays life in East Germany, with a heavy focus on the activities of the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. It is a bleak existence where anyone and everyone can be placed under surveillance without warrant or probable cause and unquestioned loyalty to the state and her leaders is demanded of all.

The Lives of Others serves as an important reminder of what happens when a people surrender their civil liberties in the name of security.  It isn’t hard to see the United States drifting in this direction with the creation of the TSA, warrantless wiretaps, unlimited detentions of terrorist suspects without trial, and related activities.  However, what I found particularly impactful was a personal connection.

In the film we meet a character named Albert Jerska.  Although a theatrical director, he fell out of favor with the party leaders for expressing anti-government opinions and thus was blacklisted, unable to continue to work in his field.  Looking back, for me my blacklisting likely began with my support of Karen Kwiatkowski in the 2012 Republican primary over Representative Bob Goodlatte.  Although Goodlatte hasn’t been a particularly principled legislator during his several decades in office, there is no doubt that he has amassed considerable power and influence, especially in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Unfortunately, over the years I’ve had several nasty run-ins with some of Goodlatte’s staffers.  One memorable example was in March of 2012.  Another took place in the fall of 2014 when I was harassed by one of his local goons who he later promoted to his Washington D.C. office.

I was surprised when I was expelled from the Harrisonburg GOP in early 2014.  However, what was even more surprising was that when I asked the local chairman why I was kicked out, he told me it was done at the request of Bob Goodlatte’s staff.  This revelation spawns several questions.  Why would Bob Goodlatte take such an interest in the affairs of a local unit and an activist such as myself?  Why would a local chairman kick out a member based upon the request or demand of a legislator?  Based upon this event, has Bob Goodlatte and his staff been working behind the scenes to blacklist me from future political employment as one local GOP leader seemed to hint?  And, does it concern anyone else that a member of Congress seems to wield enormous power over the lives of others in a fashion disturbingly reminiscent of a Stasi official?

In The Lives of Others, when Stasi Captain Wiesler discovers that a writer in East Germany is questioning the actions of the government, he is faced with a difficult choice.  Does he turn the writer in for subversive activities?  Or does he keep it secret because he realizes that both the Stasi and the government are corrupt and trample upon the liberty of the people, even though he knows revealing this truth puts his career, liberty, and even his very life at risk?

Bob Goodlatte speak at the Rockingham County Republican mass meeting
Bob Goodlatte speaking at the Rockingham County Republican mass meeting

Earlier this year Bob Goodlatte’s people attempted to install city and county party chairmen up and down the 6th district whose primary loyalty would be, not necessarily to Republican ideology, but to Goodlatte.  Surprisingly, they were largely unsuccessful.  Am I wrong in thinking that in a free society one should be judged according to his or her merits and not simply rewarded or punished based upon loyalty to party bosses?  Step by step I worry we are becoming more like the now defunct East German government, complete with their network of informants and secret police.

I wish that more people would stand up for principle rather than unquestioningly siding with a party or a political official, especially when they know that that person or group is engaging in morally questionable or hypocritical behavior.  Unfortunately, doing so is the riskier path that many avoid which is one big reason why the power of the government expands and political leaders grow more and more unresponsive and dictatorial.  The Lives of Others is a stark portrayal of what happens when the government and its officials stop viewing themselves as servants of the people and instead treat the public as their vassals.  If we wish to remain a free people, we must resist this kind of thinking at every turn and not be afraid to speak out boldly whenever we hear of it.