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.

2014: In Political Review

UntitledAs today is the last day of 2014, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon my political adventures over the previous 365 days.

I suppose the most monumental event for me, at least politically, was running for city council.  Although involved in more elections than I can count, that race marked my first time as a candidate.  It was a unique experience and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of folks that I may not have otherwise encountered.  It also gave me an insight into my fellow candidates, viewing them from an angle that most voters would never know.  Yes, the voters preferred other choices, but I’ve said that one win or loss isn’t as important as advancing the liberty movement.  Taken as a whole, running was both rewarding and discouraging.

2014 marked the end of my 19 year involvement with the Republican Party as I was expelled from my local unit in February.  It was disheartening to see the party place blind loyalty over their principles, but for far too many people in politics, values are a mere smokescreen to advance their own power.  A few months later, about a decade after attending my first meeting, I joined the Libertarian Party.  Although I am keenly aware of the potential pitfalls of political parties, it is difficult to promote and advance your ideas by yourself and have discovered a number of good people who call themselves Libertarian.  I especially appreciated the opportunity to meet Will Hammer, the Libertarian candidate for House in the 6th, and Paul Jones, the Libertarian candidate in the 5th.  Thanks also to Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian senatorial candidate, as well as John Buckley, the West Virginian Libertarian senatorial candidate and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates who helped my campaign.  Also, I don’t want to forget Josh who created a fine website for me and Jonathan who crafted a bunch of campaign literature; thank you too to my friends that are still within the GOP.  Before moving on, let me offer another big thanks and shout-out to Marc Montoni, the LPVA Secretary, whose assistance, advice, and friendship were valuable to me in so many ways.

I feel I should mention that earlier this year I faced a pretty significant political threat.  Although I’ve been bullied by a variety of sources previously, this particular threat had a rather nasty sting to it especially considering it was done by someone who once declared me a good friend.  I shouldn’t be surprised that some people in politics will say or do almost anything to try and achieve their goals, but that doesn’t make the encounter any less disappointing.

On a lighter note, I had the opportunity to learn a little bit firsthand about Guatemalan politics during my mission trip with my church to that country.  Comparative politics is usually interesting.

I was glad that the radio show with Andy Schmookler on 550 AM WSVA continued and am grateful to Karen Kwiatkowski for filling in for me on two shows I could not participate due to my run for council.

I’m pleased to say that this website, The Virginia Conservative, still is going strong; it’s a little amusing that it continues to accumulate more fans that my run for council did.  Not seeking to garner praise from any particular group or person, I pledge to continue to offer my candid thoughts and news into my seventh year.

Moving on to politics at JMU, I wonder if I am the first person to be refused entry to a meeting of the JMU CRs.  I’ve been active in trying to promote college activism for years, but several months ago, like George Wallace enforcing segregation, a leader of that group blocked the door to their meeting and requested that I not come in.

Although I’m disappointed that Nick, the former leader of Madison Liberty, has graduated and left the area, I’m looking forward to seeing how Emery advances the group next year and plan to aid him however I can.  I also hope that Students for Sensible Drug Policy continues to be a force on campus.  Although my time with the JMU CRs was brief, I must I was glad for the opportunity to meet Christian, a like-minded activist, and hope he presses that group in a more principled direction.

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment and recognize two of my fellow former candidates for city council.  Although we certainly disagreed on a number of issues, both Republican D.D. Dawson and Democrat Alleyn Harned showed themselves to be particularly worthy opponents and I appreciated their warmness and decency in a field that sorely needs it.

Have I missed something or someone?  I have no doubt that I have.  But please forgive me; after all, it’s hard to condense an entire year into a single post.

Best wishes to you all in 2015.  Let’s see where the next year takes us!

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!

The Local Republican Headquarters

Yesterday, the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Republican Party Headquarters celebrated its grand opening.  Local State Senator Mark Obenshain acted as the master of ceremonies as neither the chairman of the Harrisonburg or Rockingham County GOP was in attendance.  Oddly, none of the four delegates representing Harrisonburg or Rockingham County made an appearance.

IMG_2680As a surprise guest, Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) was on hand to speak.  Also talking about their candidacy were D.D. Dawson and Ted Byrd, the two Republican city council candidates.  One remark that the mayor made which stood out in my mind was that he declared that his opponents for city council were fairly new to the city.  Although that statement is true of many of his opponents, it isn’t true for all as I have lived in the city of Harrisonburg almost my entire life.

I was told that one of the organizers of the event wasn’t happy that I was in the crowd, given that I am running as an independent for city council.  However, given my multitude of years of ties to the party and my fellow activists, I wouldn’t be deterred from being there.  Not surprisingly, I wasn’t offered a speaking opportunity nor even officially acknowledged.

Nevertheless, I did end up talking to a sizable chunk of the crowd one-on-one, not really discussing my campaign, but rather the current state of the GOP.  Ms. Dawson pleasantly said hello as she often does and even Bob Goodlatte made it a point to shake my hand.  The mayor also came up to me at one point to offer his greetings and mentioned that his statement about his opponents being from out of town didn’t apply to me.  With that thought in mind, I thought it would have been prudent for him to use the phrase “almost all”.  Then again, technically both Ms. Dawson and Mr. Byrd are opponents for each other given that they could siphon away votes from the other from voters who wish to support one Republican, not both.

The Republican elected officials and candidates at the opening.
The Republican elected officials and candidates at the opening.

Although I was appreciative of the fact that Rep. Bob Goodlatte mentioned what supposedly are the guiding principles of the GOP, such as limiting government and promoting liberty, I’m disappointed that such rhetoric isn’t much in vogue among Republican politicians.  Worst yet, even fewer actually legislate with these thoughts in mind.

Anyway, the local GOP headquarters is now open and should be a hub of activity for Republican activists making phone calls and knocking on doors between now and Election Day.

What is a Republican?

Lately, I’m been mulling over a question in my mind.  What is a Republican?  Having been part of the Republican Party since the age of 15, I thought I knew.

Now, we all know that there is never complete uniformity in any group, but I was under the impression that Republicans stood for a basic set of principles.  That they advocated a relatively small government, one that kept taxes low and let individuals more or less live their lives without too much government interference except if he or she sought to injure his or her neighbor.

Here, let me share with you the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia:

“We Believe:

“That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,

“That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,

“That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,

“That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,

“That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,

“That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.”

Several weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Greene County Republican Party and they opened their meeting by reciting this creed.  I must confess, I cannot recall the last time that I had been to a Republican Party gathering where the creed was read or even acknowledged.

But do all Republicans actually adhere to the principles of limited government conservatism as is found in the creed?  The answer is clearly no.  After all, it was a Republican legislature and Republican Governor McDonnell who passed the 2013 transportation tax bill, dubbed the largest tax increase in Virginia history.  And quite a few of those same Republicans helped pass what was previously known as the largest tax increase under the governorship of Democrat Mark Warner.  Why is it that whenever Republicans take control of the Virginia Senate they choose a leader who has supported these tax increases?  If the GOP was serious about limiting the size of government, don’t you think they would nominate someone other than Senator Norment?

Switching gears to the federal government, which party brought us increased federal government control in education through No Child Left Behind?  Republicans.  Expanded federal involvement in medicine through Medicare Part D?  Again it was Republicans.  What about giving us the civil liberties threatening Patriot Act, or the NSA, TSA, or NDAA?  The GOP controlled Congress and presidency.  And which president got this country embroiled in a Middle East conflict in Iraq which has had lasting repercussions to this day and could result in the formation of a horribly brutal and repressive Islamic state?  Why, it is none other than former President George W. Bush, and yes, I’m sure you know that he is a Republican.  And neither John McCain with his hyperaggressive militarism and disregard for civil rights or Mitt Romney and his RomneyCare would have been any better.

It seems to me, that in general Republicans are far more interesting in holding power than they are electing people that hold any sort of principle.  Personally, I find that sad.  And when grassroots Republicans try to stand on principle, as they did in the 6th district when they unanimously insisted that our representative, Bob Goodlatte, not vote for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, they are ignored.  Some people thought it tantamount to heresy when I suggested to the 2014 Republican Senate nominee Ed Gillespie that he ought to advocate eliminating unconstitutional federal programs in his platform.  In case you are wondering, he isn’t doing so.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party in my home of Harrisonburg is similarly a mess.  In recent times they seem to value a blind adherence to the party rather than a common set of political principles.  Believe what you want, but support the GOP, even if they nominate candidates to whom you have a moral objection.  Is it any wonder then that no Republican has been able to win the city of Harrisonburg when facing a Democratic opponent since 2010?

Although one of the most heavily Republican counties in the state of Virginia, the Augusta County Republican Party seems to be in a continual state of civil war.  Certainly there are many factors involved: the struggle for power and personality conflicts.  However, I’m wondering if what is happening in Augusta isn’t just a never-ending struggle between those who feel electing Republicans is the party’s most important task, compared to those who believe that Republicans ought to nominate people who hold to a certain set of conservative principles as found in the party creed.

This past week, the GOP had a booth at the Rockingham County Fair.  In the past, volunteering there was my absolute favorite political activity, one I looked forward to every year since I was 15.  Given that I am running for office as an independent, was booted from the GOP in the early part of this year, and that I have philosophical differences with some of the Republican nominees, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I did not volunteer for them this year.

6th district Republican Chairman Wendell Walker made an appearance and posted this picture on his Facebook page with the following comment:  10583997_10204312722326836_3587689603352275332_n“Spent time in Rockingham at the county fair, campaigning for Ed Gillespie, Bob Goodlatte, and Harrisonburg city’s next councilwoman, Dede Dalton.”

The problem?  Well, if you know the woman on the left, can read the shirt she is wearing, or can see the signs behind them, you will note her name is D.D. Dawson, not Dede Dalton.  One does have to wonder, does Chairman Walker know anything about Ms. Dawson and her political principles?  Or is the party label all that matters?  Having had several conversations with her myself, I can say there is more to Ms. Dawson than the fact that she is the Republican Party nominee.  I don’t bring this point up to disparage either Ms. Dawson or Mr. Walker, but to further illustrate the dis-functionality of the Republican Party locally, statewide, and nationally.

To tell you a little more about my own circumstances, for over a year I served on the Board of Directors for the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia.  I’m glad to say that there have been victories for the moment, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.  But perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that so many liberty-minded people know what I’m saying to be true and they either can’t admit it, or they feel that there is no other alternative than trying to reform the Republican Party.  Unfortunately, that course of action often leaves us feeling ignored or maligned.  For one personal example, in late 2012 I submitted a RLC-VA petition to my local committee calling for the resignation of John Boehner.  But the group wouldn’t hear of it and it was tabled until the start of the next year and then dismissed.  They welcome our help…so long as we keep our views to ourselves.  Thus, when liberty-minded folks cast our ballots, we are often faced with the ordeal of having to “hold our noses” to vote for a Republican candidate that is diametrically opposed to our principles.

When I first met former Republican Robert Sarvis in mid 2013, he told me that the Republican Party is hostile to liberty.  I didn’t believe him at that time and I have to tell you that it was mainly because I didn’t want to believe him.  But as time pressed onward I began to realize that he was unfortunately right.  This is one reason why the Libertarian Party is seeing growth.  We aren’t leaving the Republican Party so much as we are coming to the realization that the Republican Party has already left us.

I must confess I do have the hope, some may call it a naive hope, that Republicans will stand on shared values, but as long as a sizable segment of the party cares only about power and insists on making participants sign loyalty oaths, not to principle, but rather to the party and her candidates, I know that my hope isn’t really realistic.  Although I opposed many positions held by former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA 11), I have to agree with one point he made in 2008, “Members instinctively understand that the Republican brand is in the trash can. I’ve often observed that if we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

So, how do we answer the question first posed, “What is a Republican?”  It is a question that I wrestled with when I wrote “Some Nights With the GOP” after the Republican losses in 2012.  All I can say is that I don’t know anymore;  there are great Republicans and there are terrible Republicans, but the label itself isn’t particularly meaningful.