Our Friend Freitas

Image from Delegate Nick Freitas’ Twitter page

The 2018 General Assembly session is upon us, kicking off today, Wednesday, January 10th.  In recent years, I’ve written about several important pieces of legislation that either expand or degrade freedom in the Commonwealth of Virginia which have come from both Republican and Democratic legislators, such as Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), and Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).  I’ve noticed that these legislators usually craft one or two exemplary bills that all Virginians who value freedom, regardless of party affiliation, ought to support.

However, this year, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) is sponsoring some truly fantastic legislation.  Not content with one, two, or even three bills, his list of patronage on Virginia’s Legislative Information System is, quite frankly, amazing.

Highlighting some of my favorites, we have HB 534, a repeal of the so-called incumbent protection act (which stifles political competition by allowing incumbents to select the nomination method of their political party).

Next, there is HB 539, which requires political parties to pay for their own nomination contests rather than forcing the Virginia taxpayer to pick up the tab for their primaries.

Then, there is HB 540, which lowers the threshold for the state to recognize new political parties from the rather onerous 10% in a statewide contest to a far more reasonable 3%.  Doing so would likely result in more contested elections and more candidates for voters to choose from.  Thus, it should more accurately reflect the political preferences of Virginians rather than the present system of either being presented only one choice or often choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Following that, we have HB 553, ranked choice voting, which will permit voters to rank their choices on the ballot (assuming they have more than two).  Doing so would eliminate the so-called spoiler effect and mean that voters could actually vote for their preferred candidate without worrying about the idea of “throwing their vote away”.

Lastly, there is HB 900, civil asset forfeiture reform, which means that if you are found innocent of a crime, law enforcement doesn’t get to keep your property that they seized during the investigation.  It seems like common sense, but some politicians and law enforcement agencies support this theft (and it truly is state-sponsored theft) as a way to pad their operating budgets.

That’s a lot of great stuff coming from Delegate Nick Freitas, isn’t it?  The only other issues that I can think that I’d like to see resolved this session are a lowering of the signature requirements for ballot access in both statewide and congressional races and an end to the observance of Daylight Saving Time.

Although I normally don’t feel it necessary to mention this detail, given recent events please note that the opinions expressed in this article are my own and this piece has not been paid for nor authorized by either Delegate Nick Freitas or his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate.

If you value liberty, please thank Delegate Nick Freitas and his staff for these bills!

More Reasons to Oppose Party Registration

Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Bills, Bad Bills in 2017

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

Bills I’d like to see passed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bills I’d like to see defeated

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

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

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

I discuss my opposition to this bill in this article.

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

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

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

Same as my opposition to HB 1429.

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

See HB 1444 above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans & Capulets

Image from 20th Century Fox's Romeo + Juliet
Image from 20th Century Fox’s Romeo + Juliet

Last Friday, Republicans from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County gathered for their monthly First Friday meeting at the Woodgrill Buffet.  The featured speaker was Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) who is facing a Democratic challenger (April Moore from Shenandoah County) in November.  Given the make up of the district he represents, that election is not expected to be terribly close.

Instead of spending much time talking about his race, he mentioned how Republicans across the state need to work to ensure that the GOP continues to hold the Virginia Senate.  Presently, the Republicans enjoy a 21-19 majority in that body and all 40 seats are up for election this November.  Most of the seats are either uncontested or heavily favored for one party or the other.  However, Senator Obenshain identified three seats that could tip the balance of power: The 21st in the Roanoke area, the 10th in parts of Richmond and the surrounding counties, and the 29th in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.  If the GOP wins just one of these contests, then, assuming no surprises, the party will retain control of the Virginia Senate.

Senator Obenshain then went on to explain that it would be terrible if Democrats won the Senate for then they would control the various senate committees.  As one example, he mentioned the agriculture committee, currently headed by Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta County.  Should the Democrats win, he declared that Senator Chap Petersen of Fairfax City would be the new head.  He didn’t really explain why that would be such a bad thing other than these points: Petersen isn’t from the Shenandoah Valley, he is a Democrat, and he is from Fairfax.  Oh the horror of allowing a northern Virginia Democrat (one who opposed the 2013 Republican Transportation Tax hike) to lead the agriculture committee!  However, besides the overarching rallying cry to beat the Democrats, there wasn’t much in the way of policy differentiation discussed.

The next morning, as I reflected on the previous day, I was reminded of a Shakespearean play and, assuming you have any familiarity with the subject, read the title of this article, or, more likely, saw the film with Leonardo DiCaprio, you’ve figured out that that play was Romeo & Juliet.  In case you don’t remember the plot from high school English, in this story there are two feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. We are told from the prologue that they are “both alike in dignity” and that they have some “ancient grudge” against each other that is never really explored or explained in the work.  As such, the reader has no real idea if either family is motivated by some important ideal other than gaining power over the other.  Was there any reason for the hatred?  It is quite likely that none of the characters in the play truly comprehend the point of the struggle either.  Nevertheless, the Montagues, Capulets, and their assorted friends and allies sacrifice quite a lot as they do battle against each other.

Unfortunately, Verona becomes a much worse place for the average citizen as a result of this constant feuding between the two families.  As Prince Escalus, the leader of the town, states in Act I, Scene I, “Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, by thee, old Capulet, and Montague, have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets; and made Verona’s ancient citizens cast-by their grave beseeming ornaments, to wield old partisans, in hands as old, cankered with peace, to part your cankered hate”.

In Act III, Scene I, Tybalt Capulet challenges Romeo Montague to a duel due to a perceived insult against his family.  However, by this point Romeo is smitten by Juliet Capulet, sees no reason to quarrel further, and so refuses to fight her kinsman.  Romeo’s friend Mercutio, although not aligned with either house by blood, considers it dishonorable for Romeo to refuse the challenge.  Romeo attempts to stop the scuffle that follows, but is unsuccessful as Tybalt slays Mercutio.  Although he sought peace, this act rouses Romeo to fight and kill Tybalt.  As Mercutio dies, he curses not only the Capulets who directly cause his demise, but the Montagues as well.

After Romeo is ordered into exile as a result of his deed, Capulet attempts to marry his daughter to one of the leading political figures of the town, despite her protests to the contrary.  Neither, Juliet’s mother nor her father care about her wishes.  Only at the end of the play, when Capulet’s daughter and Montague’s son have fallen, do the two families finally agree to end their seemingly pointless feud.

Could this story from the 1590s mirror our political situation today?  Have many of the Republican and Democrats, much like the Montagues and Capulets, forgotten why they first fought each other, only continuing the battle in order to accumulate power for themselves and their party?  Are the two factions primarily motivated by conservative and liberal values or are these issues merely used as window dressing to convince the grassroots into following them in whatever crusade the leaders deem necessary?  Do the powers that be consider our wishes and desires irrelevant, much like Romeo and Juliet were treated in their world?  If, like Mercutio, you made a supreme sacrifice in the service of a house, would your deed be honored?  Or would you be viewed as a relatively worthless pawn offered on the altar of power?  Perhaps, in his final moments, Mercutio finally realized the folly of the discord between the Montagues and Capulets and how meaningless his death was which was why he declared “a plague on both your houses”.  Could the same thought be applied to our two major political parties, too?11055250_1016461601745975_6011593409906575073_n

To help answer this question, on Saturday a former chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Party shared this image of a t-shirt on Facebook.  What do you think his opinion is on the subject?

Who is JEB Stuart Anyway?

Image by J Gurney & Son from the Library of Congress
Image by J Gurney & Son from the Library of Congress

Written by Virginia Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).  Reposted here with permission.

It’s been a tough summer for Confederate generals. First they lose the Civil War. Then they are dead for 150 years. Then they carry blame for all sorts of social ills in 21st century America.

So let it be with JEB Stuart, the target of an on-line petition to change the name of the Fairfax County high school. But who is he anyway?

To explain JEB Stuart, you have to understand antebellum Virginia and all its faults. After a glorious and historic generation of revolutionary leaders, the Commonwealth fell on hard times after 1820. Soil exhaustion pushed most farms into bankruptcy. The population moved west. The intellectual life was dulled by a defense of slavery, an indefensible institution in a free country.

There really wasn’t much to recommend that era in Virginia. Except for one thing: out of this intellectual and moral lethargy, Virginia spawned the most remarkable group of military leaders in American history. Their success and, yes, bravery made them legends in their time.

You cannot describe that cohort without mentioning James Ewell Brown (“JEB”) Stuart. Born in Patrick County, Virginia, JEB Stuart grew up riding horses. In the 1850’s, he attended West Point and took a commission in the U.S. Army. Once the War began, he resigned his commission and headed south. In 1861, at the tender age of 27, the Confederacy commissioned him a general at Munson Hill, just a mile from the high school that today bears his name.

Unlike the taciturn Stonewall Jackson or the aristocratic Robert E. Lee, Stuart had a flair for the dramatic. He dressed like a 17th century cavalier and endlessly promoted himself in the media, north and south. He also loved to taunt his opponents. During an 1863 raid on a Union telegraph office in Fairfax County, he captured a dozen horses — then sent a wire to the Union War Office in D.C. complaining about their poor quality.

Stuart had some significant triumphs, especially early in the War when his cavalry corps literally rode rings around the Union Army. Besides excellent leadership, his troopers had the advantage of owning their own horses and being familiar with the rolling terrain of the Virginia Piedmont. (ed. note: my great-grandfather’s four older brothers rode with Stuart in the 4th VA Cavalry. None of them survived the war but we still have their letters back home).

However, Stuart failed Lee during the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, when his troops went missing during the critical days of the battle. Meanwhile, the Union Army got stronger and more confident in its own cavalry corps, led by Gen. George Custer (who has his own legacy issues). A year later, Stuart was dead — killed by Union troopers at the battle of Yellow Tavern in Henrico.

After the War, Stuart ascended the pantheon of Confederate heroes, helped by the fact that his widow lived in Richmond (and his death removed him from the taint of post-War politics). Despite a mixed record of battlefield success, Stuart’s youth and daring made him a popular figure in American military history on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. In fact, the U.S. Army named its “Stuart” armored carrier after the young cavalry general. (Is that the next petition?)

Every generation has its heroes. In an earlier era, JEB Stuart was a hero to many Virginians, but certainly not all. He had a great run of positive publicity; maybe it’s only fitting he gets some negative.

I have no idea whether Stuart or anyone else “deserves” to have a school named in their honor. Maybe not. Perhaps his traits of brashness and boldness are no longer desirable in the classroom or on the athletic field. (Where did you go Johnny Football?)

But nobody needs to “apologize” for being associated with JEB Stuart.

AFP Lobby Day

IMG_2799Today, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) held a lobby day in Richmond.  Over 160 activists from all over the state came to the capital to have lunch with Representative Dave Brat (VA-7).  Afterward, attendees could watch the House of Delegates and Senate in session as well as to speak to members of the General Assembly and their legislative assistants.

At 9 AM this morning, I boarded a bus in Harrisonburg that had traveled down I-81 from Winchester.  The bus came equipped with donuts, coffee, and wifi.  After a stop in Staunton to pick up a few more folks, we continued to Richmond, arriving a little after 11:30.  During this trip, I looked forward to meeting Senator Chap Petersen, whom I’ve written about in a handful of recent articles on this website.

Everyone in the group gathered at the Garden Inn Hilton on Broad Street where we were offered a multitude of sandwiches, chips, and cookies.  Surprisingly, there were no chocolate chip available.

Flint Engleman, the AFP regional director for the Charlottesville and Harrisonburg area, spoke and introduced Rep. Brat.  Dr. Brat told the audience about his early days in office, including his opposition to the CRomnibus, the National Defense Authorization Act, and his apparent strong support for term limits.  I would have been interested to hear what punishment (if any) John Boehner gave to him for opposing Boehner as Speaker of the House.

When the next AFP speaker took to the microphone, I left alongside fellow Shenandoah Valley politico Dave Mason to explore the General Assembly building.  Both the House and Senate were still in session, so we ended up speaking to a variety of legislative assistants including: Delegate Wilt’s, Delegate Rasoul’s, and Delegate Helsel’s.  While watching the House of Delegates debate several bills, I received a text from Senator Petersen’s office saying that he would be returning shortly.  Unfortunately, I only had about a minute to speak to the Senator before he had to hurry off to his next committee meeting.  Afterward, we stopped by the offices of Delegate Rob Bell and Senator Dick Black before making our way back to the bus.

As we rode back, we enjoyed sandwiches from Subway and heard stories of the adventures of our fellow compatriots.

All in all, it was an interesting day, listening to Representative Brat and enjoying the company of some like-minded individuals.  I just wish that it was scheduled on a day when the legislators weren’t quite so busy so that we could have had the opportunity to engage in a variety of meaningful conversations.  Nevertheless, I certainly appreciate AFP hosting the event.