The Harrisonburg School Board 2016

SBBesides electing three members of city council in November, voters in Harrisonburg will also be picking school board members.  Unlike most years, the school board races seem to be more competitive than city council.  There are three, four-year seats available and one, two-year seat up for grabs.  As the school board is nonpartisan, none of the candidates will have a party affiliation listed on the ballot.

The five candidates for the three, four-year seats are: Nick Swayne (current vice chair of the school board who is seeking reelection), Tom Domonske (who is also hoping to be reelected), Deb Fitzgerald (the chair of the Harrrisonburg Democratic Party), Kaylene Seigle (the leader of the local Young Republicans), and Dany Fleming.  Mr. Fleming, as you may recall from an earlier article, previously served on the school board, but lost his seat for representing a part of the city that he was not legally eligible to represent.  When Kelley Rooney (who was elected in 2014) resigned her seat earlier this year due to relocation, the school board appointed Mr. Fleming to fill-in until a special election could be held.  As mentioned, that seat with two years remaining is also up for election with Lauren Penrod and Bill Wilson vying for the one opening.  Curiously, at one point Dany Fleming was apparently running for both the school board and also seeking a seat on city council.  When I visited the local registrar’s office recently, I asked if it is legal for one candidate to run for these two offices at the same time, because it certainly isn’t permissible to serve on both city council and school board concurrently.  However, Mr. Fleming did not win the Democratic nomination for city council at their meeting on June 13th and thus he ended his bid for that office.

Although school board races are typically low-key races and often uncontested in Harrisonburg, this year could prove considerably more interesting, especially given that we have both a Democratic and a Republican Party leader seeking office.  It should be interesting to see what happens.

Writing-In Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.
Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.

In general, the November 3rd elections in the city of Harrisonburg were a rather dull affair.  Although citizens had the opportunity to vote for six different contests, only one office, state senator, was contested.  As you might expect, this lack of choices inspired a handful of folks to write-in candidates.  Fellow blogger Rick Sincere often pens an article about the write-in votes in Charlottesville, but what names do people write-in in Harrisonburg?  Well, I decided to visit the local registrar’s office to find out.

In case you are wondering, once the election results have been certified they are made available to the public.  Unfortunately, they aren’t listed on a nice, neat, printed sheet, but rather each write-in vote is printed on a long piece of narrow paper, which resembles a register receipt.  Having previously worked as an election official in Rockingham County, I know that some voters write-in made up or fictitious characters, like Mickey Mouse or “anyone else”, but how many real people could be identified?  For the record, I only went through the data once, so it is possible the numbers I list below aren’t quite right.  Nevertheless, if you live in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County, I think you’ll find them of interest.

In the race for the 26th Virginia Senate seat, there were only 14 write-in votes in Harrisonburg, likely low because voters had at least two choices.  April Moore, the Democratic candidate, won Harrisonburg and Republican Mark Obenshain got second.  However, there was a three-way tie for third place between Christopher Runion, Lowell Fulk, and yours truly as we each had two write-ins.

Moving on to the 26th House of Delegates seat where Republican Tony Wilt ran unopposed, there were almost 11% write-ins, the highest for any of the seats in play.  Harrisonburg City Council member Kai Degner took second with 19 votes, followed by Rockingham County School member Lowell Fulk with 14 votes.  Both Degner and Fulk had each previously been the Democratic nominee for this office in earlier elections.  Other write-ins of note included:  Harvey Yoder with three votes, my partner on the radio Andy Schmookler with two votes, local political activist Dale Fulk with two votes, and Harrisonburg Democratic Party Chair Deb Fitzgerald also with two. Many people received one write-in vote including: former Harrisonburg City Council members Dorn Peterson and George Pace, Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones, the Virginia Libertarian Party Vice-chairman Dr. James Lark III, State Senator Creigh Deeds from Bath County, former Harrisonburg Republican Party Chairman John Elledge, the 2015 Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate April Moore, 2014 city council candidates Alleyn Harned and Joshua Huffman, and several of my Facebook friends such as: Jeremy Aldrich, Shammara Blanchard, and Matthew Phillippi.

Finishing in second in the race for sheriff with seven write-in votes was Harvey Yoder.  Third was former sheriff candidate Kurt Boshart with five and fourth was Chris Monahan with three.  Other names with one or more votes include: Kai Degner, Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, local TV anchor Bob Corso, former sheriff Glenn Weatherholtz, 6th District Democratic Party Chair Joe Fitzgerald, former sheriff candidate CM Hess, City Council member Richard Baugh, Greg Nesselrodt (one of my good friends in high school), and again one vote for me.  I’m not quite sure why someone would think me as being qualified for sheriff, but that is another issue.

For Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court, Renee Evans Haywood captured nine write-ins.  Other names of note included: Kai Denger, Dale Fulk, former treasurer candidate Penny Imeson, former council member Charlie Chenault, school board member Andy Kohen, local TV producer Channing Frampton, Joe Fitzgerald, Chris Jones, Lowell Fulk, a previous clerk candidate Diane Fulk, local political activist Dave Briggman, former HHS classmate W.O. Brown III, and a vote for me.  I assure you that someone wrote me in, but I didn’t do it.

Moving on to Harrisonburg/Rockingham Commonwealth Attorney, many people tied for second with two votes: Dale Fulk, Tricia Nesselrodt, John Elledge, and former House of Delegates candidate Gene Hart.  Other names with a vote include: Lowell Fulk, Andy Kohen, radio personality Karl Magenhoffer, attorney Bob Keefer, attorney Roland Santos, high school friend Edward Panchari, and me, Joshua Huffman.

In the special election for Harrisonburg School Board to replace Dany Fleming, Mr. Fleming captured the most write-in votes with ten.  Other candidates of interest with one or more votes include: Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, Steve Nesselrodt, Tricia Nesselrodt, Mark Finks, former school board member Tom Mendez, Erin Phillippi, Matt Phillippi, Charlie Chenault, Violet Allain (who hosted a city council meet-and-greet for the candidates at her house last year), Channing Frampton, and another vote for me.

Lastly, there weren’t too many write-in votes for Soil & Water Conservation Director.  Dale Fulk had two, radio personality Jim Britt had one, several of my friends had one such as Tristan Flage, Joe Rudmin, and Matt Phillippi, and, again, one person decided to write my name in for this office.

Although some write-in votes are nonsensical or vulgar, for others write-ins are a way to show dissatisfaction with the possible choices, or in the case of the 2015 elections in Harrisonburg, the lack of choices.  And, to the handful of people who decided to write me in, I certainly appreciate your vote, but I’m not running for anything right now.  I hope I can earn your support when and if the time comes again.

Yes, writing-in might be annoying for those election officials counting the ballots, but it can be a fascinating insight into the minds of the disaffected voter.  Hopefully the citizens of Harrisonburg will have at least two choices for every elected office in 2016, in which case we should see a dip in write-in votes in the next election.

Angela Lynn Withdraws

Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur
Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Angela Lynn, the Democratic candidate for the 25th District Virginia House of Delegates seat, has withdrawn…not from the race, mind you, but from her speaking engagement with the Massanutten Patriots (also known as the Harrisonburg Tea Party).

Although Ms. Lynn was supposed to be the featured speaker at the group’s monthly meeting later today, I have received word that due to another commitment she will not be there. Instead attendees will hear from Will Wrobleski, campaign manager for Delegate Steve Landes, the Republican incumbent for the 25th district.

Now, I’m sure that some Democrats and some tea partiers would be pleased by this news. After all, most tea parties are heavily slanted toward the Republican Party and thus Democrats would argue that Ms. Lynn’s time could be better spent elsewhere. Similarly, some tea party goers likely don’t have much of an interest in hearing from a Democratic candidate. However, I encourage both sides to think differently.

Although it is true that some tea parties are joined at the hip with the GOP, openly endorsing all Republican candidates, encouraging their membership to vote Republican and join the official party, and only inviting Republican candidates and elected officials to speak at their meetings. I would argue that those tea parties have failed in their mission and have become part of the problem that they were originally created to fight against. Therefore, I have pressed for a different agenda during my time as part of the leadership team of the local tea party.

To me, one of the most important skills a person can learn is to think and reason for him or herself. In politics one shouldn’t merely swallow the talking points of a political party or politician whole. So too in religion one should not accept every word of a spiritual leader simply because of his or her title. Even though the tea party isn’t as open-minded as I’d like, I’ve pushed for a variety of speakers representing various political parties and philosophies.

For example, in 2012 I pressed for a speaking slot for a representative from Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. In addition, that year I lobbied for a city council forum featuring all of the candidates: Republican, Democratic, and independent. In 2014, although a candidate for office myself, I sought a similar forum at the tea party including all of my opponents. I had to more or less plead with the Democrats to show up and even then only one of the two did so.

Yes, if we are to consider the situation from a purely selfish perspective, I should have tried to monopolize the tea party for myself. After all, I had spent far more time with the group than all of my opponents combined. They knew me and I think many of them liked me (shocking isn’t it?). And, to the best of my knowledge since that meeting, none of the candidates, including the ones who were elected that November, have returned to visit the tea party. But, I felt there was something more at stake than this one mere election, even though the outcome could very well affect me personally.

Looking back, after the 2012 city council forum, one tea party member came up to me and said that he really liked what Democratic candidate Deb Fitzgerald said that night. And do you know what? I agreed with him. Although I was a member of the Republican Party at that time, at that event Ms. Fitzgerald earned one of my three votes. Of course being a member of the GOP I couldn’t tell anyone as much. But it was a gratifying experience helping my fellow tea party folks see beyond the party labels and get to know the candidates for who they actually are. The same held true in 2013, when I tried to set up similar speaking engagements for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis. I doubted that many had ever heard of a Libertarian…other than the caricature that the Republican and Democrats paint of them. Drawing from my own experience, I had heard my first Libertarian candidate at a tea party meeting back in 2010.

And so, as was the case in 2012, 2013, and 2014, I encouraged the tea party and Angela Lynn to come together, not necessarily so that the members would be enamored with her, but rather so they could understand where she stands on the issues and ask her questions in a one-on-one fashion. In addition, she would have the chance to learn about the tea party too. After all, it is far easier to dismiss or marginalize a person you have never have never met. By comparison, Republican Steve Landes has done a much better job, having spoken to the tea party on a variety of occasions over the years. However, by cancelling her appearance, it is doubtful that any of the tea party folks will ever hear her message.

Again, my purpose isn’t to promote or hinder either Landes or Lynn, but rather encourage folks to explore the tangible differences between the two and discover which of their choices matches most closely with their own ideology. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is a reminder that they are able and allowed to think and reason for themselves. Alas, with Ms. Lynn’s rejection of this offer, it seems that my efforts to continue to spread political dialogue and promote intelligent thinking beyond the tired Republican vs. Democrat rhetoric has hit a snag. As you might imagine, I’m quite disappointed with her decision. At one point we had scheduled a slot for two Democratic candidates at the tea party. With this cancellation, we now have zero. It is frustrating to spend one’s political capital on someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate it. Given the trend this year, I don’t know how much longer the tea party leadership will continue to consider my suggestions to include candidates other than the Republicans.

And so, as the headline of this article proclaims, Angela Lynn withdraws…from speaking to the local tea party tonight.

Obenshain vs. Petersen on Party Registration

Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages
Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages

On Tuesday, SB 1060 came to the floor of the Virginia Senate.  Sponsored by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), this bill would bring the state voter registration by political party.  Doing so would create closed or semi-closed primaries where only declared members of a political party (and perhaps independents) could participate in a given party primary.

A fair number of liberty-minded Republicans and Libertarians have taken to Facebook to oppose SB 1060; some of us have contacted Senator Obenshain’s office as well.  I listed my objections to this idea in a piece last week.  In addition, both Deb Fitzgerald, the Chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, and I offered our concerns in Wednesday’s issue of the Daily News Record.

On the Senate floor, Senator Obenshain was the lead proponent of the bill while Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) was the most vocal opponent.  Senator Obenshain declared that by passing party registration, Virginia would conform to a majority of other states.  In addition, doing so would grant political parties the power to “choose who gets to participate in that…process.” As Senator Petersen stated, “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.”  As Senator Petersen goes on to say, those who are outside the two major parties (such as Libertarians), or others who desire to switch political parties could find themselves completely excluded from the process.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party of Virginia has already moved in this direction, reviving the much reviled loyalty oath and changing their party plan last year by expelling members who participate in the nomination process of other parties.  In addition, Senators John Watkins (R-Powhatan) and Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) also explained why they would not support party registration.

The vote that followed was exceedingly close, 19-21, following mostly along party lines.  Every Republican voted in favor except Senators Watkins and Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) who joined with the Democrats to defeat SB 1060.

HB 1518, Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill also died yesterday as the Privilege and Elections subcommittee failed to recommend reporting it to the floor of the House of Delegates.

Below is the full debate on SB 1060.  Thanks to Blue Virginia for posting this video to YouTube.

Clinton Is Coming to Harrisonburg!

With less than two weeks to go until Virginia holds its gubernatorial election on November 5th, it seems that the Democratic Party has decided to bring in the big guns to promote their candidate, Terry McAuliffe.  As part of his final tour of the state, former President Bill Clinton will be joining Mr. McAuliffe.  According to news from Deb Fitzgerald, Chairwoman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, both Clinton and McAuliffe will be on the campus of James Madison University on Tuesday.

Here are the details:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HARRISONBURG EVENT

WHAT: “Putting Jobs First” Event with President Bill Clinton and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe
WHO: President Bill Clinton, Terry McAuliffe
WHEN: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 10:30 AM EDT
Public Access time: 9:30 AM EDT
Press Access time: To be announced
WHERE: James Madison University, Festival Conference & Student Center – 1301 Carrier Drive, MSC-4201, Harrisonburg, VA 22807

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this is the highest profile event for the city of Harrisonburg since Barack Obama came here during his campaign for president.  I know I plan to be there and hope to get my press pass soon.

Tea With The Council Candidates: Part I

Council Candidates Deb Fitzgerald, Abe Shearer, Rodney Eagle, and Kai Degner

On Thursday of last week, four of the eight candidates vying for a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council spoke to a gathering of the Harrisonburg branch of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party.  In November, city residents will select three members for the five-member council.

The speakers consisted of Kai Degner, a Democrat and current member of Council, Rodney Eagle, a Republican and former member of Council, Deb Fitzgerald, a Democrat and wife of a former Council member, and Abe Shearer, an Independent with no apparent political ties to Harrisonburg’s governing body.  Christine Johnson, a Republican candidate, watched as a member of the audience.  The meeting was sparsely attended with about 25 people there of whom less than half were self identified city voters.  Both WHSV and the Daily News Record had a reporter in attendance.

Each was allotted a ten-minute speaking slot to provide for an introduction and to outline a few thoughts regarding their future plans for Harrisonburg.  They spoke in alphabetical order by last name with Degner first and Shearer rounding out the pack.

Prior to the question and answer period, Mr. Shearer left the meeting explaining that he was late for a meeting at his church. However, he promised the crowd that he would return for the question and answer period for the October meeting.  The questions from the audience that followed demonstrated a general misunderstanding of the power of the city government.  As Mr. Degner pointed out, Virginia is a Dillon rule state, which means that local governments only have power over matters granted to them by the state government.  Or, to put it another way, the Harrisonburg government has only “those powers that are specifically conferred on them by the Virginia General Assembly…those powers that are necessarily or fairly implied from a specific grant of authority… (or) those powers that are essential to the purposes of government — not simply convenient but indispensable“.

Following upon a line from Mrs. Fitzgerald’s speech regarding the proper role of government, I asked if each of the candidates thought the concept of the city operating a golf course fell within the proper role of city government.  Although a decade old issue, the golf course was and remains a sore spot with many city residents.  The idea was fairly unpopular when first implemented and three of the council members that supported the plan were all voted out of office in the following election.  Three “change” candidates who opposed the course won but continued with the plan anyway and were subsequently voted out four years later.  Since that time, the golf course has hemorrhaged money, running a deficit every year it has been in operation.  Mrs. Fitzgerald offered the “phone book test” for any city project stating that the city should not be in any business that is offered by the private sector and is found in the phone book.  Mr. Eagle, who was part of the Council who approved the golf course a decade ago defended the decision stating that at the time the city did not have a privately run golf course and that the course provides valuable programs to some of the younger residents of the city.  Mr. Degner did not get an opportunity to answer the question on stage, but stated later that as the golf course is a city venture, it should be run as efficiently as possible and that the government has taken steps which have reduced the yearly deficit of the course.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed by both the smaller-than-expected turnout and by some of the less-than-helpful questions and comments.  I both lobbied for and helped organize this forum for the Harrisonburg City Council in the hopes of spreading awareness of all eight of the candidates running for office.  After all, although not as glamourous as the high profile races, voters in the city will have far more impact in the race for Harrisonburg City Council than President, Senate, or House of Representatives given the much smaller number of votes cast in that election.  Therefore, it is the civic duty of each city voter to learn about his or her choices so that each can make an informed decision on Election Day.

I’m hoping next month’s meeting will see both a surge in attendance as well as an improvement in the questions asked when the tea party plays host to the remaining four candidates, but we’ll see what happens.

The Council Contest

Besides the three federal positions that Virginians will elect in November, citizens of Harrisonburg, Virginia will also choose members to serve on city council.  This year, three of the council’s five seats are up for grabs.

There are eight candidates vying for these positions.  The three Democratic candidates are: two current council members Richard Baugh, who also serves as the current Mayor of Harrisonburg, and Kai Degner, a realtor, as well as Deb Fitzgerald, an associate professor of economics at Blue Ridge Community College.  The three Republican candidates are: Christine Johnson, the owner of the University Outpost Bookstore, Anthony Bailey, the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Rodney Eagle, owner of Eagle Carpet and former Harrisonburg Mayor.  The two independents are: Abe Shearer, a math teacher at Skyline Middle School, and Roger Baker, the former City Manager of Harrisonburg.

Now, unlike most federal or state elections in the Shenandoah Valley, city council seats are not a virtual lock for any particular political party or individual.  For example, on November 4th, 2008, the three Democratic candidates swept all of the seats besting three Republicans and two independents including both Rodney Eagle and Roger Baker.  One should note that Barack Obama also won the city that day.   In 2010, the next time seats were available; there were six candidates running, two Republicans, two Democrats, and two independents.  In that election, one Republican and one independent emerged victorious.

However, as was the case in 2008, I would expect the outcome of the city council race to hinge heavily upon the up-ticket races, especially the presidential.  Left untouched, there will be a large number of voters who will be heading to the polls solely to vote for or against Barack Obama.  I assume that they will know little, if anything, of the council candidates and will end up voting for all of the Democratic candidates if they support Obama or for all of the Republican candidates if they oppose him.

As a result, I would argue that the two party candidates enjoy a significant advantage, but also a distinct disadvantage, when it comes to their independent opponents.  If their presidential candidate does well, then that result should bolster their chances of victory.  Conversely, if their candidate does poorly in the city, then it will make their success all the more difficult.

At this point, any of the candidates should have a reasonable chance of being elected.  But a strong campaign is a critical element that ought not be neglected.  Should a candidate surround him or herself with competent advisors, have a strong organization for fundraising, a base of volunteers loyal to the candidate, and a coordinated plan for voter contact and organization, he or she should do well.  On the other hand, as stated earlier, should a council candidate rely heavily upon the outcome of the presidential race and party activists, trouble could be in store.  If the winds of fortune favor his or her party’s presidential nominee, he or she ought to do reasonably well.  But, if national current runs contrary, and the candidate makes little independent effort on his or her own, he or she shall be destroyed.

All voters in Harrisonburg owe it to themselves and their fellow citizens to educate themselves about their eight choices for city council.  Sure, it might not be as glamorous or high profile as the well-known races, but I assure you that the men and women we select to help run the government of our city will make a tremendous impact, either for good or ill, upon all of us.

A Political Fourth

For many Americans, the Fourth of July is a day filled with cookouts and family gatherings capped off by a night filled with a colorful fireworks display.  However, given that the date serves as the commemoration for the birth of the nation, it is also steeped in politics.

On Wednesday afternoon, the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia held its annual parade to celebrate the day.  The weather was quite hot and sunny, a marked difference from last year when a virtual monsoon threatened to cancel the affair.

The parade boasted the usual assortment of floats and vehicles: musicians, fire and rescue teams, antique cars, and, of course, political groups.  This year, there were four different sets of folks who entered: the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Tea Party, and Abe Shearer for City Council.

Overall, the candidate who could claim the largest number of visible supporters in the parade had to be Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6).  There was a veritable sea of matching blue Goodlatte shirts among the Republicans.  Other Republican candidates were promoted as well including: Mitt Romney, George Allen, Mark Obenshain, and the various City Council hopefuls.

The Democratic Party had an impressive showing as well.  They waved signs in favor of Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, Andy Schmookler, and two City Council candidates. I spoke with Deb Fitzgerald, one of the Democratic candidates running, to ask if the Democratic Party only fielded two folks for the three seats up in November.  I discovered that although Kai Degner is running for re-election, he apparently had no signs printed to be used in the parade.

Running as an independent for City Council, Abe Shearer also made his presence known.  Even though some might be tempted to disregard independents, recent elections have shown that they offer beat the two party candidates for this particular office.  The outcome for this race will hinge heavily upon the battle between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama at the top of the ticket and the strength of the campaigns of each of the council candidates.

During the trip down Main Street, I walked alongside the Tea Party float handing out copies of the Constitution.  In general, the crowd was very receptive and so I ran out of materials a good distance from the end of the route.

Given that the Fourth is now five days passed, you might find it odd that it has taken me so long to write about it here.  Well, I’m afraid that I didn’t feel much like writing on the evening of the event.  On the drive back to the parking lot, I decided to catch a ride on the Tea Party float.  As we turned onto a side street, the mast holding the tea party sign struck a low-hanging branch and came loose.  Unfortunately, I happened to be in the path of the heavy wooden board as it fell to the ground.  Although it was only a glancing blow, the plank did graze the side of my head and collided with my shoulder.  At the time, I was worried about the severity of the injury, and, as a result of the pain, did very little for the rest of that evening.  However, I’m pleased to say that several days later, only a yellowish bruise and a bit of residual soreness seem to be the only lingering effects.

I suppose that one could see a bit of irony in the idea of a person who opposes the idea of government-run health insurance and also does not presently have health insurance due to the tremendous cost involved, becoming injured himself and possibly in need of assistance.  Nevertheless, if a person does find him or herself in such a state of need, should one demand that the government redress this problem?  Although freely given charity is laudable, the idea of a person compelling his or her neighbors to care for his or her needs through either force or coercion seems to completely reject the basic political tenets of liberty and freedom under which this country was supposedly founded.

Anyway, to sum up, except for the surprise accident at the end, I would say that the parade was a rousing success for all of the parties who choose to participate.  Speaking specifically of the tea party, I hope that I’ll see a few new faces at our meeting later this month.