The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLX)

On Wednesday, September 20th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for the 50th time.  We started off talking about the upcoming election for the governor of Virginia.  I offered several reasons why I believe that liberty-minded folks should not vote for Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, in November.  From there, we spoke about efforts to revive the Obamacare repeal and the possible brewing conflict with North Korea.

If you missed the show live, you can find it here.

The Equality of Opportunity Myth

Growing up, I was often told that Republicans believed in the idea of equality of opportunity, that everyone, regardless of his or her beliefs, ethnicity, or circumstances ought to have the same chance for opportunity and success.  Unlike the socialists, who I was told promote equality of results, Republicans desire a fair and level playing field.

I first began to question Republican support for equality of opportunity during the 2013 general elections in Virginia.  During that election, we had three choices for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis. In case you didn’t know, making the ballot in Virginia isn’t an easy task.  Two of the three candidates for governor had to collect the signatures of 10,000 registered voters across the state.  Terry McAuliffe needed to do so to be in the Democratic primary and Robert Sarvis needed to do so in order to make the general election ballot.  However, Ken Cuccinelli didn’t need to meet this signature requirement because he was nominated in the Republican convention.

Even though we had three candidates on the ballot for governor, as the election went on the debate organizers consistently excluded  Robert Sarvis.  Whether you liked Sarvis or not, given the efforts he had to make, he had as much a right to be on the debate stage as McAuliffe and Cuccinelli did.  If one believed in liberty and equality of opportunity, then he or she would fight to allow all voices to be heard, not merely the candidate he or she preferred.  Clearly, Ken Cuccinelli would agree, right?

Well, in October of 2013 I had the opportunity to find out in person as Ken Cuccinelli invited a handful of activists, including myself, to speak with him in Lynchburg.  I should add that at this time I liked Ken Cuccinelli as a person and supported much of what he did when he was in the Virginia Senate and as attorney general.  Heck, I still like Mr. Cuccinelli and believe he is still a positive force in Virginia politics though, of course, I don’t agree with everything he does (such as his efforts at the 2016 Virginia Convention), and I’m sure there is quite a bit I have done that he has disagreed with.  I didn’t think that the Cuccinelli for Governor campaign had been going that well as it had been horribly nasty and negative and, by speaking personally to Mr. Cuccinelli, he might be able to reverse course.

However, when we sat down in Lynchburg, it became obvious that the Cuccinelli campaign would not change its direction.  One of the attendees suggested that Mr. Cuccinelli should welcome Mr. Sarvis to the debates, but that idea was rejected.  As such, when I returned to Harrisonburg, I wrote a piece in my local paper encouraging folks in the Shenandoah Valley to support Robert Sarvis due to Ken Cuccinelli’s apparent rejection of the idea of equality of opportunity for Mr. Sarvis.

After about a year of refusal for contact, in late 2014 or early 2015, I spoke to my state senator, Mark Obenshain, about this same matter and about crafting legislation to make ballot access fair and equal for all candidates regardless of party affiliation.  As Senator Obenshain ran on his father’s slogan that “The most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving and expanding the realm of personal freedom in the life of this country,” surely you would think he would support the equality of opportunity for all political candidates regardless of political party.

As many of you already know, instead he told me that he thought no one should be on the ballot except for Republicans and Democrats.  Having just finished running for local office as an independent, I took that news as a personal affront and particularly hypocritical especially given that he sent me a letter right after the election time thanking me for running.  Sometime before this incident, someone who knows my state senator far better than I ever will told me that he wasn’t much of a conservative, he just pretended to be one.  I didn’t believe it at the time though looking back I think it was because I didn’t want to believe it.  But, in that moment, I remembered those words and realized my state senator wasn’t an ally in the fight for liberty, limited government, and equality of opportunity, but rather an adversary.  I felt as if I had been lied to and, unwittingly through my actions, I had helped promote that lie to others.

This year, much like 2013, Virginians will see three candidates on the ballot for governor in November:  Democrat Ralph Northam, Republican Ed Gillespie, and Libertarian Cliff Hyra.  And, like 2013, one candidate, the Libertarian, has been excluded from the debates.  Ralph Northam states he favors allowing all candidates on the stage.  So far, Ed Gillespie refuses to comment on the matter, though in 2014 when he ran for U.S. Senate, I received word that his campaign would not participate in a debate that included the Libertarian nominee.  At this point, as far as I can tell, he still maintains a similar viewpoint.

What if Ed Gillespie weren’t allowed to participate in the debates because he is a Catholic.  Certainly, many people would denounce such a move as being against religious freedom.  What if Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax weren’t allowed to participate in a debate because he is black?  Wouldn’t that rightly generate outrage and cries of racism?  Or what if Jill Vogel, the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, were discriminated against simply because she is a woman?  Would you remain silent in the face of sexism?  Aren’t these all wrong?  I am neither Catholic, nor black, nor a woman, but I would be upset at these policies even though as a white, Protestant male I would personally benefit from this kind of discrimination.  Why then should political affiliation be any different?  Why should Cliff Hyra be excluded simply because he isn’t part of one of only two legally recognized political parties in Virginia?   Whether a candidate runs as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Constitutionalist, independent, or something else,  if he or she jumps through the necessary hoops to make the ballot, shouldn’t he or she be treated with the same respect and dignity as any other?  When we support discrimination when it benefits us, then we have surrendered the moral argument and it becomes logically inconsistent if we later declare discrimination unfair when groups of what were formerly minorities seize the majority and decide to return the favor by treating us unjustly.  Although we may not look the same and we think differently, aren’t we all made in the image of the same God?

Although Republicans claim that they promote the idea of equality of opportunity, it is clear that some of them don’t really adhere to these principles.  They seek to maintain a monopoly on power and political access at the expense of freedom, healthy competition, and the rights of the average citizen.   However, it is important to remember that there are some good and principled Republicans and Democrats who do.  If people don’t enjoy political freedom, then, over time, using the lesser of two evils conundrum, it is much easier to chip away at their economic, personal, and religious liberties as well.

Adhering to the principles I was taught, I believe that everyone should have the same chance to succeed in all areas of life, including the political realm, regardless of age, sex, religion, race, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation.  If any candidate, politician, judge, or bureaucrat opposes this equality of opportunity and seeks to use the law to bully or discriminate against one of these groups, not only should they be defeated, but for the sake of liberty and a free society, they must be defeated.

That Troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley

Ed Gillespie at a campaign event in Staunton on November 2014

Last week, while speaking to one of my friends about Virginia politics, he mentioned that one member of the Ed Gillespie for Governor campaign referred to me as “that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley who is trying to split the vote.”

When I first heard this news I thought to myself, gee, it’s nice to know that I’m so loved by a statewide campaign.  However, when I thought about it more, I now consider the title a mark of pride which I shared at our local tea party meeting late last week.

This event reminded me of a passage in the Bible in which King Ahab calls Elijah a troublemaker because Elijah questioned many of Ahab’s actions.  He didn’t do so out of malice, but because he wanted what was best for the people of Israel.  His loyalty was not to a king or a political party, but rather to God and the welfare of his people. Therefore, “When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, ‘So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?’  ‘I have made no trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘You and your family are the troublemakers…'” 1 Kings 18:17-18 (NLT)

I don’t know about yourself, but I want the governor of Virginia to be a strong, principled, honest individual who shares many of my most important values of promoting liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government.  Does Ed Gillespie share my convictions?  At this point, although I hope I’m proven wrong, I honestly don’t think he does.  As I’ve discussed with one Republican, it is troubling that we’ve heard more about Ed Gillespie’s parents’ supermarket than where he stands on the issues.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I believe that political competition and liberty are important ingredients to the health of our republic.  Where does Ed Gillespie stand on these issues?  Although his campaign has repeatedly refused to answer my questions, based on his silence and efforts in 2014 to squelch open, fair, and honest debates, the answer seems to be no.  On one issue of personal responsibility important to many, Ed Gillespie is the only candidate for governor who opposes medical marijuana and again, he refused to respond to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Another important issue to me is access to my elected officials.  According to my count, my Facebook friends include nine members of the Virginia House of Delegates, three Virginia senators, and three members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Most are Republicans but a few are Democrats.  I appreciate the fact that when I reach out to these folks on matters of state and federal government, many of them take the time to speak with me.  After all, isn’t communication necessary to the proper functioning of a representative government?  Earlier this year, when I contacted the office of current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (who I didn’t vote for), his staff took the time to talk to me.  Why would they do so?  Well, it is because he is the governor of all Virginians, not simply the ones who donated to his campaign.

Speaking of such things, the Gillespie campaign bills itself as “for all Virginians”, but as far as I can tell, Ed Gillespie only speaks to people who he knows already support him and only attends events with friendly crowds. Yes, the Gillespie campaign has given me the runaround this year, but it isn’t all that shocking as they did the very same thing when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2014.  Heck, I’ve had an easier time reaching out and connecting with Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor in 2013, than Ed Gillespie.  My last conservation with Mr. Cuccinelli was several years ago, and yet it was still more recent than the last time I could speak one-on-one with Ed Gillespie in early 2014.

Believe it or not, this issue raises a serious concern.  What if I have an issue that only the governor of Virginia and his staff can solve?  Much like his campaign, will they choose to ignore me and others if it doesn’t suit their purpose?  Could we be looking at a four-year term where the governor doesn’t serve all the people, but rather the select few he deems worthy? Think it can’t happen?  Well, I assure you it can.  Back in 2014, I repeatedly asked my state senator’s legislative assistant for a meeting with my state senator.  However, he constantly refused, declaring that sharing my ideas with my elected official would be a waste of his time.  Until my state senator hired a new legislative assistant after his old one left, I could not schedule an appointment, a period encompassing almost an entire year.  And, to make matters worse, many of these Gillespie staffers who refuse to answer my questions now also previously worked for my state senator, Mark Obenshain.

I appreciate the fact that, so far, when I have asked the Libertarian, Cliff Hyra, a question, he has responded in less than 24 hours.  I’ve spoken with him several times as I do like asking questions.  And, when I asked my latest question to the campaign of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, his campaign politely answered within a few hours.  And then we have Ed Gillespie, too busy to be bothered to answer the questions of ” that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley.”

This weekend, Denver Riggleman hosted an event for Ed Gillespie and the Republican Party at his distillery.  When asked about the race for governor, Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), the only member of the General Assembly to block me on Facebook, (which a judge has recently ruled might be a violation of the 1st Amendment) said, “I think we want to win. You know, some folks are going to have to swallow hard if they have to.”   I’m sorry to say it Delegate Bell, but I’m not going to “swallow hard” and support a candidate that doesn’t share my values and refuses to speak with me simply because his campaign has branded him the lesser of two evils.

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, yes, I want to win too.  My victory isn’t achieved simply by electing the nominee of a particular party, but rather by electing a man or woman who shares my values and isn’t afraid to speak with anyone and tackle the tough issues of the day.  And, to answer the Gillespie campaign’s other criticism, I don’t plan to split the vote but rather direct my fellow conservatives and liberty-minded folks to the candidate who most closely shares our principles.  If Mr. Gillespie proves himself to be that candidate, then I’ll be happy to support him.  But, if he isn’t that candidate, then he would actually be the person who is trying to split the vote.  I urge you not to be afraid to ask questions of your elected officials and those seeking office.  At least these are my thoughts on the matter, but everyone knows that I’m that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley.

Excluding the First Debate

Several weeks ago, the Virginia Bar Association announced that they would be hosting the first gubernatorial debate for the 2017 election season.  As such, on July 22nd, the first debate will take place at the Homestead Resort in Bath County.  Declaring that the event is free and “open to the public”, they have invited the Democratic candidate, Ralph Northam, and the Republican, Ed Gillespie.  However, they have excluded the third candidate, Libertarian Cliff Hyra.

Virginia has one of the toughest ballot access requirements of any state in the country.  In order to appear on the ballot in November, a candidate must collect the signatures of 10,000 registered voters including at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.  As you might expect, given these barriers no more than three candidates have been listed in races for the last 40 years.  Nevertheless, having a third choice is surprisingly common, as Virginians have had a third party or independent candidate in every gubernatorial election since 1989 with the notable exception of 2009.

On July 7th, I contacted both the Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie campaigns to see if they would be open to including their Libertarian opponent.  I couldn’t find a direct phone number for the Northam campaign and I called the Democratic Party of Virginia with my question.  Within an hour, I received a call from the Northam campaign saying that they would welcome Cliff Hyra on the debate stage.  By comparison, over a week later, I still have not heard back from the Gillespie campaign on this matter.  I posed this hypothetical question to a Gillespie staffer back in February of Mr. Gillespie debating a third party or independent candidate and they were unwilling to answer at that time.  To me, it seems exceedingly hypocritical for Mr. Gillespie to rail against Ralph Northam for not wanting to have ten debates, and yet, as was the case in 2014, Mr. Gillespie refuses to engage in a debate that includes all of his opponents.  In the words of Ed Gillespie, I would say that attitude is “insulting to the voters across the Commonwealth.”

Given this exclusion, the Virginia Bar Association’s debate is a disservice to all Virginians who would like to learn more about all of their choices on the November ballot.  It is especially curious given that Mr. Hyra is also apparently a member of the Virginia Bar Association.  Although they state “The Virginia Bar Association is a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse, support or oppose political candidates. It is the intention of the VBA that its debates in no way promote or advance one candidate over others,” that is obviously a false statement given that they refuse to invite all of the candidates who have qualified for the ballot and thus are supporting two of the candidates over the third.  As it doesn’t include all of my choices, I have no plans to watch this first debate.  Hopefully, this season’s other debate organizers will learn from the VBA’s failure.

Vote For Jerry Mandering?

Image from OneVirginia2021

Every ten years, Virginia goes through a process of redistricting based on the results of the latest U.S. Census.  The goal is to create legislative districts for both the General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives that are relatively equal in population.  Unfortunately, often times district are drawn in such a way to aid or hinder the reelection of incumbent politicians, enhance or dilute the voting strength of minority groups, or draw districts that virtually guarantee the victory of a political party.  This sort of behavior is called gerrymandering, named after former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry.

During the last redistricting following the 2010 census, as the Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate, each group drew some rather oddly shaped parcels of land in an attempt to maintain or enhance control of their respective bodies.  However, when the Republicans later gained the majority in the Senate, some called for new districts to be drawn prior to the next census.  Although I’m not a fan of Speaker of the House of Delegates Howell, fortunately, he declared such an attempt to re-gerrymander the state at that time as improper and wouldn’t let it proceed.

After the 2020 census, Virginia lawmakers will once again redraw our districts. and, barring some surprise, the Republicans will have control of both of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate.  However, the House of Delegates map, the Virginia Senate map, and the House of Representatives map will all have to be approved or vetoed by the governor.

So far, conservatives in Virginia don’t have a whole lot to be excited about with the candidacy of the Republican nominee Ed Gillespie.  However, last month one of my fellow activists announced that he would be supporting Gillespie simply due to the issue of redistricting.  As he explained, “Whoever is elected governor in November will be signing the redistricting bill this next time. As fast as Virginia is going blue, it is imperative that that person be a Republican. That buys us ten more years before the Democrats can gerrymander the districts in the legislature. If you don’t think that matters, you aren’t paying attention.”

Although couched in anti-gerrymandering rhetoric, given the current makeup of the General Assembly, it is highly improbable that the Democrats will end up drawing the maps in 2021.  The Republicans presently enjoy a slim control in the Virginia Senate and a massive 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates.

He goes on to add, “I have plenty of reasons not to trust most Republicans for their principles.  But one thing a Republican Governor assuredly will do is sign a Republican-friendly redistricting bill.”  What the argument here is that we need to elect a Republican governor so that the Republicans can gerrymander the state after the next census to forestall an increasingly Democratic-leaning state from representing the will of the citizens of Virginia by electing more Democrats.  Doesn’t it seem odd that Republicans control the state government even though every Democrat has won the statewide vote since the 2009 elections?  Could gerrymandering be one of the reasons why?

Imagine for a moment if the roles were reversed if the Democratic Party controlled the General Assembly and sought to suppress the Republican vote.  Wouldn’t these very same activists be outraged, declaring that such a move was undemocratic and an affront to the principles of our republican form of government?  Shouldn’t we promote a system where voters get to choose their elected officials rather than elected officials choosing their pool of voters who they know will vote for them year after year regardless of their principles or job performance?

Until 1996, the Democratic Party controlled both houses of the Virginia General Assembly nearly uninterrupted for a hundred years.  During that period, how often did they use gerrymandering to thwart the shifting attitudes of Virginians who longed for a government not under single party rule?  Wouldn’t any advocate of liberty and personal responsibility be horrified if our elections were manipulated in such a fashion?  Or would they be okay with this plan so long as it was “their guys” reaping the political benefit?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but after 2021 redistricting I don’t want a Republican-friendly map, a Democratic-friendly map, or any map that treats Virginia as a pie to be carved up for the benefit of a political group.  Preventing gerrymandering might be an argument in favor of a government divided between two or more political parties.  Don’t we want a governor that will oppose partisan redistricting, not one who is aiding and abetting in it?

It is my sincere hope that all three of the candidates for governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and Republican Ed Gillespie, will pledge to oppose any and all partisan redistricting, instead working to make sure that all districts are as compact as possible, cutting across few county and city lines so that the will of Virginia’s citizens can be more accurately reflected in our state government and elections can be fairer and maybe even competitive.  If a candidate refuses, he shouldn’t be considered an acceptable option for governor.  Don’t vote for a candidate who is good friends with Jerry Mandering!

For more information, check out this video from One Virginia 2021.

Constitution Party of Virginia Endorses Hyra & Adams

Today, July 3rd, John Bloom, the chairman of the Constitution Party of Virginia, sent out a press release regarding the 2017 elections.  In it, he “urges all conservatives to vote for the Libertarian candidate for governor, Cliff Hyra, and the conservative Republican candidate for attorney general, John Adams.”

Delving into his position for governor, the release states, “Mr. Bloom encourages those that are Pro-Life to consider supporting Mr. Hyra, not because he is Pro-Life, but because he and the Libertarian Party do NOT support State Funding of abortion, and in the age of Roe v Wade, that is the best Pro-Life supporters can get which is better than the LIP SERVICE Republicans offer.”  Furthermore, he states, “To those that support the 2nd Amendment, there is a very good reason the VCDL endorsed Corey Stewart in the Republican Primary; Ed Gillespie will NOT defend your 2nd Amendment Right.”  Later in the piece, he adds, “Though it is highly unlikely that Mr. Gillespie will get elected Governor, for Conservatives to support the former Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, would be championing the defeat of their own values.”

Explaining how voting for Mr. Hyra could be of future benefit to the Constitution Party, he states, “Anyone who believes Ed Gillespie has any chance of defeating Ralph Northam is sadly mistaken and would be wasting their vote. Voting for Mr. Hyra, if he receives 10% of the vote will gain political party status for the Libertarian Party and then there will be REAL Competition across the state, and neutralize the UNDEMOCRATIC practice of GERRYMANDERING, which is [the] only effect when there are two political parties. The Libertarian Party would be the Trailblazer that could open the door for the Constitution Party of Virginia to gain political party status in future years.”

When it comes to the race for attorney general, “Mr. Bloom also encourages ALL Conservatives and Libertarians to support and vote for the only CONSERVATIVE running on the Republican Party line, John Adams for Attorney General. Not only does he have a name that ALL PATRIOTS can remember, but was a Law Clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Lastly, in the lieutenant governor contest, the Constitution Party sought to offer Charles Kraut as a candidate this year.  However, as he did not meet the 10,000 signature requirement for ballot access in Virginia, the Constitution Party Chairman “will be seeking to provide a WRITE-IN candidate for LT Governor, as LIBERAL Republican Jill Vogel, is totally UNACCEPTABLE for Conservatives. Mr. Bloom would also consider Ms. Vogel’s Primary Opponent Bryce Reeves to run as a write-in candidate for the Constitutional Party should he have the POLITICAL COURAGE to do so.”

Presently, Constitution Party is the fifth largest political party in the United States, at least in terms of party registration.  What sort of an impact will Mr. Bloom’s press release make?  And will Virginians start to see Constitution Party candidates on the ballot in the coming elections?

And Then There Were Three

According to an email sent out today from the Cliff Hyra campaign, Mr. Hyra has qualified to be on the November 2017 for Virginia governor.  At this point, Virginians will have three choices for a new chief executive in the fall.  As they will be listed on the ballot, there will be Democrat Ralph Northam, Republican Ed Gillespie, and Libertarian Cliff Hyra.  While both Mr. Northam and Mr. Gillespie won their respective party’s primaries on June 13th, Mr. Hyra received the Libertarian Party nomination at a convention on May 6th.  However, before he could make the ballot, he needed to submit at least 10,000 valid signatures from registered voters across the Commonwealth.

If you’d like to learn more about your three choices and determine which most agrees with you, I encourage you to check out the links to their official websites as listed above.  In addition, I’ve spoken with the folks who run ISideWith.com and they said that they will be creating a new quiz soon so that Virginia voters can see a side by side comparison of all of their options.

The End of First Friday?

E.W. Jackson speaking to the First Friday group in 2013

Although I cannot recall when it began, First Friday has been a regular political event in Harrisonburg for quite a while.  Over the years, it has hosted a variety of candidates, politicians, and leaders of various groups.  It has served not only as a monthly gathering for local activists but also as a way to reach a wider audience of folks from Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, and sometimes Greene Counties.

First Friday is not a local Republican unit, but it typically hosts Republican speakers.  They’ve had Corey Stewart recently, and had a bit of a dust-up when Cynthia Dunbar ran for Republican National Committeewoman last year.  Suzanne Obenshain, who also sought the committeewoman position and was the longtime leader of First Friday, also spoke to the group last year.   Although he attended when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, Ed Gillespie has been a no-show this election cycle.  When I ran for local office in 2014 as an independent candidate, I was allowed to attend but not to address the crowd.  Nevertheless, the event was valuable; after my Republican opponents addressed the group, one attendee declared they were both socialists and wrote a check to my campaign.  Donna Moser, the former head of the Rockingham County Republican Party leads the gathering.

However, things have been a bit rocky for First Friday these last several months.  Several months ago Ms. Moser broke a bone while visiting relatives out of state and thus was unable to attend the May meeting.  Nevertheless, First Friday still took place with Senator Bryce Reeves, who is running in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, as the speaker.  Ms. Moser had the leader of the local tea party hold First Friday in her absence.  But, the meeting was very sparsely attended.  In fact, I cannot recall a First Friday with such a low turnout.  Usually, two factions attend; the conservative grassroots folks and the so-called establishment Republicans.  But, almost none of the establishment people were in the audience.  I asked the senator about this absence and he pointed out that although he is arguably the most conservative candidate running for the position, many of the establishment had endorsed his opponents and thus did not attend.

Shortly before the June meeting of First Friday, I’m told that Ms. Moser received a phone call from the chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Party letting her know that the party had selected a replacement to host First Friday in her stead.  However, as she had returned to the area, she stated she was able to resume her duties in this capacity.  Delegate Ben Cline was the speaker, but, as with the previous month, the establishment Republicans boycotted the event.

After most folks left, Greg Coffman, the Harrisonburg GOP Chairman, sat at a table with Donna Moser.  Afterward, I asked her about the conversation and she said that the three local chairmen (Harrisonburg, Rockingham, and Republican Women), had decided among themselves that Ms. Moser would no longer be leading First Friday.  As none of these chairmen had elected her to her position, nor did any of these chairmen attend First Friday on a regular basis, my opinion was that none either individually or as a group would have the power to make such a decree.  However, the story does not end there.

Late last night, the Harrisonburg Republican Party sent out an email declaring that future First Friday lunches have been cancelled.  As the message states:

Consequently, the Committees’  leadership has decided to terminate the First Friday Luncheons program. The goal is to examine other venues that can provide more relevant opportunities for our members, community leaders, and political leaders to interact.  This was the original intention in starting the First Friday Luncheon program, but we’ve seen a continuous decline in participation and support to the extent that the program is no longer fulfilling its purpose.

Due to the upcoming election season and the demands on everyone’s time, no decision on alternatives to First Friday will be made until after the election.  Therefore, the County and City Committees are no longer endorsing, sponsoring, or supporting activities similar to or calling themselves “First Friday”  until further notice.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no vote or discussion among the attendees of First Friday or even the local Republican committees of such a course of action (according to those who attend these meetings), but rather a dictatorial decree from the local party chairman.  Perhaps this authoritarian push shouldn’t be all that surprising given that the Harrisonburg Chairman will not allow individuals to make any announcements at the city GOP meetings unless they have been submitted in writing at least five days prior to the meeting.

After speaking with Donna Moser, she has stated that First Friday will continue, whether the GOP chairmen support the idea or not.  Given my experiences in local politics, the Republican Party strives for strict control of political events and guards who have access to their candidates and elected officials.  Given this attitude and several other factors, it shouldn’t be surprising that every candidate except for one who has run under the Republican banner in the last seven years has lost to a Democrat in Harrisonburg.

I would expect that local activists will continue to gather at the Woodgrill Buffet in Harrisonburg for First Friday with or without the blessing of the local GOP chairmen.  True, it will be a smaller affair as most of the establishment Republican crowd likely won’t attend, but perhaps First Friday will become a gathering for conservative activists and candidates of all stripes, not only those who bind themselves with the increasingly rigid rules of the Republican Party.  If so, the local chairmen’s declaration of disavowing First Friday is a blessing in disguise for the citizens of the central Shenandoah Valley.

The Conservative Kobayashi Maru

Photo by Steve Helber of the Associated Press

In two weeks, on June 13th, the Republican Party of Virginia will be holding a statewide open primary to determine their nominee for governor.  On the ballot will be three choices: former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors Corey Stewart, and State Senator Frank Wagner.

Typically, at least one authentic conservative runs for the Republican nomination in statewide contests.  For example, in 2014, Shak Hill sought the GOP nod.  However, all of the choices for governor are poor this year.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a moment to go through each option.

Besides being the former RNC chairman, Ed Gillespie has also been the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, a lobbyist for companies such as Enron,  a counselor to the Bush White House, and the 2014 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.  Seen by some as the consummate Republican insider, he is in many ways a milquetoast candidate, reciting typical Republican talking points while not providing many details of how he wishes to accomplish anything and avoiding saying anything controversial or of much substance.  According to reports, he has avoided attending a variety of candidate forums and events.  It seems he is coasting through the nomination process by trying to say as little as possible.  Even worse, when he served as RNC Chairman, he repudiated limited government conservativism.  According to National Review, “Gillespie basically said that the Republicans’ long-time war against big government has now ended.  Government won.”  and “the party’s new chairman, energetic and full of vigor, said in no uncertain terms that the days of Reaganesque Republican railings against the expansion of federal government are over.”  And, despite my repeated requests, the Gillespie campaign refuses to state where Mr. Gillespie stands on political freedom and third party rights, leading me to believe that he opposes them.

Next, we have Corey Stewart, certainly the most controversial of the three candidates.  Last year, he served as the Virginia chairman for the Donald Trump campaign until he was fired for insubordination.  No stranger to controversy, he has relentlessly attacked Ed Gillespie for not being sufficiently pro-Trump and for Mr. Gillespie’s refusal to take a stand on a number of issues.  As I’ve told some people, I think Mr. Stewart is the most dishonest person I have met in Virginia politics.  This opinion took form in 2011 when Mr. Stewart toured the state denouncing former Senator George Allen for being a poor conservative and a poor senator.  However, once Corey Stewart decided he was no longer interested in running for Senate, he endorsed his former rival.  That stunt earned him a flip flop from PolitiFact.   In addition, there was the 2013 campaign for lieutenant governor when Corey Stewart hired Senator Obenshain’s former campaign manager who was supposedly fired due to theft from a rival campaign who then tried to extort $85,000 from Pete Snyder in what has been colorfully called “The Richmond Screwjob“.  These incidents show that Mr. Stewart will do or say just about anything to gain political power and thus one cannot be sure if he is elected what his true intentions are.

Last, there is Frank Wagner, who has been in elected office since 1992, first serving several terms in the House of Delegates before joining the Virginia Senate in 2001.  Curiously, unlike his Republican opponents, Mr. Wagner is currently advocating raising taxes on Virginians.  In addition, he supported the largest tax increase in Virginia, when he voted for the 2013 transportation tax hike.  In 2015, he authored a bill to keep the earnings of Dominion Power, the state-supported energy monopoly, secret.  Amusingly, in early 2014 a Republican activist added me to a Facebook group called “Primary Frank Wagner” after Mr. Wagner supposedly employed a tactic known as slating to disenfranchise those who oppose him.   Frank Wagner supports higher taxes, government monopolies and more secrecy, and silencing opposition.  Are these conservative values?

Image from http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru

In Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, Starfleet officers are presented with the Kobayashi Maru, an intentionally unwinnable scenario which serves to test the character of those who participate in it.  Unfortunately, this year, conservatives who participate in the Republican primary for governor face a similar dilemma. Which do you think will uphold the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia?  Dodgy, establishment Ed Gillespie? Talking-out-of-both-sides-of-his-mouth, populist Corey Stewart?  Or liberal, big government-loving Frank Wagner?  It’s a tough pick, isn’t it?  None of the three choices, Gillespie, Stewart, or Wagner, are desirable, and each has exhibited principles or character flaws which ought to disqualify all of them from the Republican nomination.  As one elected official who is supporting Ed Gillespie told me, it is unfortunate that there isn’t a better candidate to head the Republican ticket this year.  Are you looking for a consistently conservative candidate who is trustworthy and will work to reduce the size and scope of the state government?  If so, you better hope a third party or independent candidate makes the ballot because none of the three Republican candidates come anywhere close to that standard.

How will you react to this conservative Kobayashi Maru?  If I end up voting in the Republican primary, I’ll be leaving the ballot for governor blank as I think none of them are acceptable nor do I plan to vote for whoever wins the Republican nomination in the November general election.

The Gillespie Runaround

Before I get into the meat of this article, let me preface this piece saying that I neither voted for nor supported Ed Gillespie when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.  Early in his last campaign, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Gillespie and asked him, if elected, what specific agencies or departments in the federal government would he work to eliminate if he were elected to the Senate.  He couldn’t give me an answer when I asked him in person, so I emailed his campaign seeking a response.  Despite my repeated inquiries, I never received any reply.  Given this experience, along with what else I discovered about him, I did not believe that Mr. Gillespie shared my philosophy on the proper role of government.

This year, Ed Gillespie is running to be the governor of Virginia.  Rather than simply dismissing his campaign out of hand based upon his previous attempt, I thought in fairness I ought to try again to learn about him and his ideas for Virginia.  In February, I attended a well-run event in Staunton and, although I didn’t get to ask my question in person, afterward I spoke with several of his staffers about my desire for greater political freedom and more open and fair elections in Virginia.  Based upon their suggestions I emailed my questions to them.  A week passed with no response…and then another.  I reached out to them again and was greeted with silence.  In this way a month passed.  Only after I wrote about their failure to communicate did the Gillespie campaign finally reply to me.

For about an hour or so I spoke with one of his staffers on the phone.   He apologized for the delay and declared it to be unconscionable. However, during this conversation, I didn’t get any sort of tangible answers to any of my questions. Instead, he encouraged me to send them specific pieces of legislation that I feel would advance political freedom in our Commonwealth.  Although frustrated, I did as the staffer asked and sent them text and links for several possible laws asking if Mr. Gillespie would support or oppose these pieces of legislation.  They included: making ballot access requirements equal for all candidates regardless of party affiliation, lowering signature requirements, making it easier for other political parties to be recognized, and doing away with legislation that some candidates be listed first on the ballot simply due to their party ties.  The idea is to adopt free market principles in Virginia’s political system.   And, as was the case previously, the campaign did not respond.  Now, almost two more months have passed without any sort of communication.  As they say…fool me once…I assure you that I shall not try a third time.  I cannot help but feel as if they have wasted my time.

I do have to wonder, is this how the Ed Gillespie campaign operates?  Do they have no intention of answering open and honest questions about their campaign?  Do they enjoy giving voters the runaround, confident that they have already secured the Republican nomination and the general election victory and thus have no need to be truthful or upfront about what their candidate stands for?

As a former campaign staffer myself for several election cycles, the way a campaign acts can either elevate or degrade a candidate.  So far, the Gillespie campaign has behaved shamefully.  If they would like a bit of free advice, I would recommend hiring a new political director, one that actually believes in honoring his word.

Back in 2013, I had the opportunity to speak, one-on-one, with several statewide candidates such as Jeannemarie Davis, Pete Snyder, and Ken Cuccinelli.  In fact, I would argue that all ten Republican campaigns that year were more open and responsive than the Gillespie campaign has been in 2017.  Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts, I cannot get a straight answer from the Gillespie campaign which leads me to believe that they are being led by deceivers and cowards, running a campaign that doesn’t deserve to win.

So far, Mr. Gillespie and his campaign have been quite vague on their platform and what he hopes to accomplish if he is elected.  However, I can tell you, not even considering policy positions and based on nothing more than my experiences these last several months, that if the Republican primary were held today, I would not cast a vote for Ed Gillespie.  Nor would I cast a vote for him in the general election this year or in any future year.

It is my sincere hope that in the months that remain the Gillespie campaign will do a much better job of responsive and timely answers when it comes to reasonable inquiries.  Otherwise, I expect that many conservatives and libertarians that I know who often vote for the Republican candidate will reject him as they did in 2014.  And, in that case, I assure you I won’t shed a tear when Mr. Gillespie loses this election.