Obenshain v. Dunbar

In just a handful of days Republicans across the state will gather in Harrisonburg, my hometown, for their state convention. There they will be voting for a new committeewoman. The two choices for this position are Suzanne Obenshain and Cynthia Dunbar. Having had the opportunity to get to know both women, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

The Obenshains in Richmond in late 2012
The Obenshains in Richmond in late 2012

I’ve known Suzanne Obenshain for well over a decade. While I was growing up in Harrisonburg we both attended the same church and were both quite active in local Republican Party politics. She’s a person whose opinion I’ve valued. For example, when in 2013 I started to consider running for local office in the 2014 elections, speaking to Suzanne Obenshain was of prime importance. To highlight some of my activism, I was a bus captain for the Obenshain for Attorney General campaign at the 2013 Virginia Republican convention and later the campaign asked me to serve as her chauffeur, though I only ended up driving her once and it was just around Harrisonburg.

My last meaningful conversation with Suzanne Obenshain was a little over two years ago. However, as I’ve written in previous pieces, after about 19 years of activism I was kicked out of the Harrisonburg GOP in February 2014. Given that I had been a loyal supporter and volunteer for the Obenshains since Senator Obenshain first declared his intent to run for office in late 2002 or early 2003, the first person I called looking for assistance with this matter was Suzanne Obenshain. In the moment I needed her help the most she refused to provide aid. During the call she asked me if I knew what a “good Republican” was. I explained that I thought it was someone who held fast to principle and advocated the values found in the Virginia Republican Creed. Instead, Ms. Obenshain explained that being a good Republican had nothing to do with ideology, but instead a good Republican was a person who supported all the Republican candidates. I was shocked when I heard these words, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been.

After all, after the 2012 Republican National Convention, which screwed over the Ron Paul delegates, I presented a resolution to the local Harrisonburg GOP from the Virginia Republican Liberty Caucus that condemned both John Boehner and Reince Priebus for their role in this matter. However, it was Suzanne Obenshain herself who scuttled any attempt to either discuss it or bring it to a vote.

Also, during the 2012 Harrisonburg City Council elections, much to my disappointment I discovered that one of the Republican candidates promoted a lot of big government policies, more so than even the Democratic candidates. Given this realization, there was no way I could bring myself to either support or vote for this person. After the election, when all three Republican candidates went down in defeat, I spoke with Suzanne Obenshain, as she was the person who recruited our local candidates. I asked why the local GOP would nominate a person who couldn’t be called a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. She responded by telling me that no one else wanted to run. However, wouldn’t it have been better to have one fewer nominee than running a full slate if that meant rallying behind someone who was antithetical to our principles? Does being a Republican actually mean anything?

Getting back to 2014, although no longer a member of my local committee, I still requested to attend the state convention. Both the chairman and Ms. Obenshain told me that I could go as a voting delegate. However, I was dismayed to discover that the call for the convention included a strict loyalty oath to the party and her candidates, declaring that all delegates from Harrisonburg would support all of the Republican candidates that year. Neither knowing who they were nor whether or not they would uphold the principles of the RPV Creed I felt could not honorably sign such a document. I asked who decided to include this oath in the call, which was considerably more stringent than other local calls, such as the one from Waynesboro, and was told that it was Suzanne Obenshain who did so.

One of my relatives asked Suzanne Obenshain why the Republicans had treated me poorly and I was told that she responded saying that the Republicans were afraid of me, in part because I was unwilling to compromise on most principles and because I openly criticized my representative, Bob Goodlatte when he voted against what I always assumed were supposedly Republican values.

After the convention I spoke to a local friend who was also a Shak Hill supporter and convention delegate. At the time Shak Hill was running as the more conservative option for Senate. However, my friend told me that several Ed Gillespie supporters, including Suzanne Obenshain, attempted to intimidate him on the voting floor into supporting their preferred candidate.

I still ran for local office but I did so as an independent since I wasn’t a member of the Republican Party any longer; I felt someone needed to represent my principles. I ran on a platform of limiting the power and scope of the city government and to the best of my knowledge, I was the only candidate who mentioned the Creed of the Republican Party of Virginia or sought to advance the values which it advocated. Party labels aside you’d think that limited government Republicans would be happy that at least one of the candidates actually advocated limiting the government. Nevertheless, several of my friends told me that Suzanne Obenshain was furious with me because I had the audacity to run for office against the Republican nominees. When I went door-to-door for my campaign I stopped by the houses of several friends who had signs for the Republican council candidates in their yard. When I asked them about it, I was told that they had not requested the signs but instead Suzanne Obenshain placed them in their yards simply because they were members of the Harrisonburg Republican committee. By comparison, due in part to my principles, many Libertarians supported my campaign either through time or money as did some disaffected local Republicans.

Photo of Cynthia Dunbar with Suzanne Curran and Mark Berg. Image from the Dunbar campaign.
Photo of Cynthia Dunbar with Suzanne Curran and Mark Berg. Image from the Dunbar campaign.

On the other hand, I first spoke to Cynthia Dunbar on New Years Eve of 2015. She called me while I was picking up a few pizzas for a party that was taking place that evening. Although I wasn’t a member of the Republican Party and had no plans of rejoining, we spoke about her candidacy, the GOP, and political principles. I met her in person on Saturday at a meeting of the Shenandoah Valley Constitutional Conservatives in Mt. Jackson.

Over the last several months, I’ve had the chance to listen to Cynthia Dunbar on a handful of occasions.   She seems to be a person guided by conviction that promises to stand up to the party bosses and elected officials who betray their principles and/or the grassroots activists who elected them in the first place. In addition, she’s picked up endorsements from a number of good Virginia political activists and elected officials I respect including: Delegate Brenda Pogge, Delegate Bob Marshall, Senator Dick Black, Suzanne Curran, Anne Fitzgerald, Steven Thomas, and Ed Yensho. However, the most exciting endorsement comes from my former boss, the godfather of the modern liberty movement, Dr. Ron Paul.

Some of her detractors have attacked Dunbar for the fact that she has lived in Virginia for only a handful of years. But don’t we all have to come from somewhere? One of my Republican opponents for city council used this issue against the Democrats and the Libertarian candidate because they lived within the city limits for only several years. Although I am a native of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, that was as a result of the choices my parents made, not my own. Honestly, what should matter more, political principles and character or something transient like geography? I’d like to think this is an easy question and we should not treat people as outcasts simply because their roots are not as deep as our own.

Let me offer you a few fun facts. Since 2009, only one Republican candidate has beaten a Democratic candidate in Harrisonburg. If Senator Mark Obenshain had won our hometown in 2013, he would be Virginia’s attorney general. Here’s another fact. In 1995, at the age of 15, I was the youngest Republican activist in Harrisonburg. In January of 2013, at the age of 32, I was still the youngest person who regularly attended monthly meetings of the Harrisonburg Republican Party.

The facts and experiences I’ve mentioned might leave you with several important questions. Why don’t Republicans win Harrisonburg? Although I don’t know their current membership, when I was a part of the party why did the Harrisonburg GOP fail to recruit newer, younger members? Well, when you have leaders of a political party which values loyalty to the party over principle, what do you think happens? When you have a local unit, which forces its members to sign onerous loyalty oaths to the party and her candidates, it is possible that the members begin to build up resentment? When you have a political party that is more concerned with pleasing elected officials and party bosses at the expense of the volunteer grassroots activists, why in the world would anyone choose to join such a group? When a local party recruits candidates who are indistinguishable from the Democrats, why wouldn’t voters select the genuine article? When the local leaders of the Republican Party treat conservatives and libertarians who are outside of the party as hostile enemies, should there be any wonder why Republicans no longer win Harrisonburg and the local unit is so dreadfully small and ineffective? Lastly, I have to ask you, are these kinds of values ones that Virginia Republicans want at the national level?

It should be obvious that this election for Republican National Committeewoman is one of important contrasts. Like my hero Ron Paul, if I were a delegate to the Virginia Republican Convention, given my experiences and knowledge of the two candidates, I would have no hesitation in casting my vote for Cynthia Dunbar.

Bloggers’ Day 2012

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling invited bloggers from across the state to join him for his annual Bloggers’ Day.  Beginning at 10:15, the all day event gave us an in-depth opportunity to explore the recent activities of the state government as well discuss the upcoming 2012 and 2013 elections.  Carpooling with fellow blogger Rick Sincere, I enjoyed a lot of insightful commentary on the path to and from Richmond.

Lt. Gov. Bolling flanked by Randy Marcus and Tucker Martin

First on the docket, as had been in years past, was a roundtable meeting with Lt. Gov. Bolling as he outlined the state of the Virginia economy in terms of the increase in jobs, capital investment, and the like.  Although Virginia continues to pull out of this recession, it was disappointing to see that the Shenandoah Valley is progressing slower than the rest of the state.  Nevertheless, I do believe that our leaders are making important strides to encourage businesses to come to the commonwealth.

Afterward, I walked over to the capitol to see the Senate and House in session.  However, due to a massive influx of students, supporters of Americans for Prosperity, and other political groups, a policeman blocked the entrance until the crowds has dissipated.  I grabbed a sandwich and ate alongside fellow bloggers Charles Young of Newport News and Brian Bridgeforth of Waynesboro.

Virginia's House of Delegates

Once the way was clear, we headed to the House of Delegates chamber.  The issue under discussion was the so-called “Tebow bill” which would allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sporting events.  Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County, the patron of the bill, and Delegate Brenda of James City County encouraged the members to allow the bill to come up for a final vote while Virginia Beach Republican Bob Tata moved to have the delegates “forget” the bill.  Nevertheless, by a voice vote, the members chose to engross the measure.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to the Senate doors, that body had already gone into recess.

Starting at 2:30, a panel of various folks in the know spoke more about Virginia politics.  First up was Bob Holsworth, followed by Boyd Marcus.  Both spoke on the state of the 2012 and 2013 elections.  Each seemed to think that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee for president although they admit that he faces considerable hurdles to win the election in November.

Senator Obenshain and Randy Marcus

Next up was Senator Mark Obenshain.  His primary focus centered on his various legislative proposals including the imminent domain amendment.  Personally, I would have liked to hear him speak a little on his race for Attorney General in 2013, but I suppose that there is still a considerable amount of time before that issue comes to the forefront.

After waiting several minutes for Delegate Rob Bell to arrive and speak with the group, I ducked out to find a fellow Ron Paul supporter who worked in one of the legislative offices on the same floor.  Not surprisingly, we both were very disappointed that the Ron Paul campaign seems to be more or less ignoring the state.  It seems odd given that he has a very real opportunity to win Virginia as only he and Romney are on the ballot and coupled with the fact that many Gingrich and Santorum supporters here are encouraging their likeminded brethren to support Paul.  Given Paul’s fairly lackluster performance in the primaries and caucuses so far, one does have to start to wonder if his national campaign is going to pull out a first place finish anywhere.

When I returned to the conference room, I discovered that Del. Bell had already come and gone.  The next speakers were Mike Thomas and Dan Allen, campaign advisors for George Allen.  All day, I had been looking forward to asking them about the Allen campaign; specifically how George Allen would answer his critics on the right and prove that he will be the conservative senator that Virginia needs.  Unfortunately, this presentation did very little to answer my concerns.

First of all, as one blogger and I agreed, it was a particularly dull presentation.  Just about all of the points that the two speakers made, I already knew.  Second, and far worse in my mind, was the news that they plan to more or less ignore the Republican primary.  George Allen, they said, did not have either the money or time to waste with his lesser Republican challengers.

They spent a good portion of time highlighting Allen’s accomplishments as Governor.  Only when questioned by another of my fellow bloggers did they made the briefest of mentions of his potentially troubling votes while he was in the Senate.  Defeating Barack Obama and Tim Kaine is key, and, although they did not say this point specifically, despite any objections, reasonable or otherwise, Republicans and conservatives should just get in line and support George Allen.  This kind of thinking doesn’t sit well with me nor do I think it will do so with the majority of the Tea Party crowd.  Who likes having either themselves or their principles taken for granted?  And no, just in case you are wondering, I was not called upon to ask my question.

The Governor's Mansion

At the end of the day, we attended a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.  I first spoke with fellow blogger Jason Kenney who is advising the Allen campaign.  Unlike the two previous speakers, I was able to engage in a dialogue and thus addressed some of my specific issues.

Although I was unable to capture much of the Governor’s time, I did enjoy a good conservation with Lt. Governor Bolling regarding Virginia’s presidential primary.  While he is an ardent supporter of Romney, as I am with Paul, we both agreed that neither of our respective campaigns should overlook the Commonwealth.

Governor McDonnell and the First Lady

In closing, I want to shout out a big thanks to the Governor and especially the Lt. Governor and his staff for hosting this event.  I wish more leaders would take a cue from Bill Bolling and reach out to the blogosphere.  Whether a big site or small, every day citizens from Virginia and across the whole nation read our material and pass it on to others.  Therefore, if you either hold a position in government or planning to run for public office, don’t you think it is important to know what is being written and who is saying it?

If you wish to join the conversation, wait no longer.  Start your blog today!

I’m already looking forward to Bloggers’ Day 2013.

Constitution Day!

Today, ladies and gentlemen, is Constitution Day.  It has been 222 years since the Constitutional Convention adopted our Constitution.  Despite the massive (and unconstitutional) growth of the federal government since that time, we would do well as free citizens to take a bit of time to reflect on the document.  As such, if you’ve never visited The 10th Amendment Center, I strongly encourage you to clink on the link today.

Now, although the day may pass with little fanfare in many parts of the country, I’m pleased to say that citizens of the Virginia Peninsula are marking the occasion.  Tonight, at Merchants Square in Colonial Williamsburg, citizens will gather to celebrate this founding document.  It pleases me to know that at The College of William & Mary, my alma mater, students from the College Republicans will be in attendance.  But what’s this?  You don’t have your own copy of the Constitution?  Find Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96) who freely gives them out or visit either the James City County, York County, or Newport News Republican Party headquarters.

So tonight your task is threefold.  Reread the Constitution, reclaim your rights, and (if there is a gathering in your area) party like its 1787!

Why Vote for Bob McDonnell?

Recently a reader of this blog asked me, “Josh – If you’re a Ron Paul conservative, why in the world are you supporting Bob McDonnell?  Dr. Paul is hardly enthused w/ McDonnell…”  It is certainly a fair question to ask. Why should I, as a constitutional conservative, support Bob McDonnell? Some might say that I should because he is the Republican candidate.  Although I typically support Republicans over Democrats, it is because of their principles, not simply their party affiliation.  We all know Republicans, like Arlen Specter (formerly a Republican) or Lincoln Chafee, with whom we agree little politically.  Principles and principles alone must be our guiding factor.  That having been said, what principles link both Bob McDonnell and myself?

Both the abortion issue and the second amendment are very important to me.  While one defends the lives of the most defenseless among us, the other protects our property and very freedom against the potential tyranny of our neighbors and the government.   I believe that Bob McDonnell upholds these same values and I’ll share with you a video clip about these issues.

How about taxes?  Obviously, in order to shrink the size of government we must exercise fiscal restraint.  Bob McDonnell has demonstrated his resolve on many occasions throughout his political career.  When I spoke to Delegate Brenda Pogge (Yorktown-96) about conservative support for Bob McDonnell, she pointed out, “Bob was also the Chief sponsor of legislation to kill the death tax.  Bob is definitely a conservative who believes in less govt.  He led the legislation in the house on most of the reforms initiated under George Allen.  Welfare to work comes immediately to mind.  His record will reflect that he voted over 50 times to cut taxes and has never voted to increase them.”

Need more? Try checking out the NetRoots Supporters’ Debate at Common Sense for Virginia on September 12.