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.

An Open Letter to the Gillespie Campaign

Ed Gillespie at a campaign event in Staunton on November, 2014

As some of my readers may recall, on Thursday, February 9th, I attended a campaign event for Ed Gillespie in Staunton.  During the gathering, I thought of a question I wanted to ask Mr. Gillespie but didn’t get the chance to do so.  Afterward, I spoke to several of his staffers and they recommended that I send them an email with my query.

After fleshing out my thoughts, I penned the following letter on February 10th:

Good afternoon, Mr. Cooksey.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me last night.  
As mentioned, one important issue to me concerns political competition and political freedom.  Unlike many states, Virginia is one of the most politically repressive in the region, requiring 10,000 signatures from candidates to make the statewide ballot and giving special privileges to nominees of the Republican and Democratic Parties such as: listing their candidates first on all ballots as required by law, allowing their nominees to forgo collecting signatures simply by virtue of being nominated by these two parties (assuming they aren’t facing a party primary), and setting unreasonably high thresholds in statewide contests for other political parties to be recognized.  
As one example, in Virginia, a party’s candidate needs 10% of the vote to be a recognized political party in future elections while in neighboring West Virginia it is only 1%.  However, despite this vast disparity, West Virginia is not overwhelmed by political parties; presently they have four while Virginia only has two.  The Republican and Democratic Parties should have to work to earn the conservative and liberal vote and constantly strive to improve themselves, their positions, and their outreach, not always capturing a large block of voters without any effort simply due to being complicit in a state-supported monopoly.  
In addition, it is unfortunate that some politicians, such as your former boss and my state senator, are proposing registration by political party, thus hindering competition even more and further embroiling the state government in the affairs and subsidization of the activities of private political organizations.  It is becoming apparent to me that increasingly here in Virginia the Democratic Party has become the party of political rights and freedom as they work to make ballot access and recognition easier while those in the Republican Party are unfortunately trending in an anti-free market politics direction.  It is my hope that Mr. Gillespie will firmly stand against these folks in the GOP who are hostile to political liberty. 
Lastly, when Mr. Gillespie ran for US Senate in 2014, he did not stand up for the rights of all who qualified for the ballot to participate in the debates, in fact threatening to boycott an event if all of the candidates were invited.  According to an email, I received from James Madison University in July of 2014, ” In my communications with the campaigns of the two major political party candidates, the question of whether or not Mr. Sarvis [the Libertarian candidate] would be invited was a point of discussion. Both campaigns had stated that if Mr. Sarvis were to be invited to participate in the debate their chances of agreeing to accept the invitation was unlikely and actually committing was even less likely.”  Hopefully, this campaign has a different attitude.
My questions to Mr. Gillespie are as follows:  If, as limited government conservatives, we believe that competition in business, education, and health care produces better results, lowered costs, and spurs innovation, why do we not translate this thinking into the political arena as well?  How much has the average citizen and our political health been disadvantaged by a political system which served to primarily benefit, not the average voter, but the two largest political entities at the expense of free market competition?  As governor, what will Mr. Gillespie do to push the needle toward greater political freedom or will he work with some of his colleagues in the GOP to squelch it further?  And, should another candidate or candidates make the ballot in this election cycle, whether they are Libertarian, Constitution Party, Green, Socialist, independent, or something else, will Mr. Gillespie take a stand to permit all legitimate candidates the equality of opportunity to allow voters the chance to decide which candidate best represents their values?
Attached, please find an article I wrote in 2015 on the subject that was published the Valley Business Front based in Salem, VA.
Thank you for your time.
Sincerely,
Joshua Huffman

 

After ten days, as I hadn’t received a reply, I tried again.  Unfortunately, there was nothing but silence, so I tried another staffer.  I’m happy to report he offered a rapid response saying: “Thanks, Joshua.  I will look into this matter.  I do not think this is an item that we would take a position on, but, nonetheless, I will run it up the flag pole.  Also, we will conduct further research on our end.  Thanks again for coming to our Staunton event.”

Eight days later, I realized I still didn’t have an answer, so I tried this staffer again and was greeted by an automated response.

“Thank you for reaching out to me.  I am no longer a member of the campaign staff, as I am pursuing another opportunity in Washington.  Please contact Generra Peck (generra@edforvirginia.com) for all campaign policy matters.”

Going off this suggestion, I tried contacting this new staffer, but there was nothing.  Based on the recommendation of one of my Facebook friends who supports Mr. Gillespie, I sent the campaign a Facebook message too and although there was an automated response saying that they would get back in touch soon, I have heard nothing.

As regular visitors to this website know, political freedom and open and fair elections are exceedingly important to me.  I firmly believe that everyone should face the same legal hurdles to make the ballot and that all of those who jump through these hoops deserve the same chance to be heard, and not silenced or marginalized simply because they aren’t running under the banner or blessing of the two largest political parties.  Looking back, I would say it was the most important reason why I didn’t end up supporting Ken Cuccinelli for governor four years ago.

As it has been almost a month since my first email, I decided to share my letter here.  Perhaps someone on their campaign staff will feel compelled to answer.  It is my sincere hope that the Ed Gillespie campaign will get back in touch with me concerning this matter before the June Republican primary, though I am starting to have my doubts this will happen.  Unfortunately, when Ed Gillespie ran in 2014, I wrote an email to his campaign about another campaign issue and although Mr. Gillespie himself promised a reply, I never got an answer to my question.  Elected officials and potential elected officials ought to be responsive to their constituents.

If and when I get a response, I’ll post it here.

Gillespie Excels in Staunton

On Thursday evening, the Ed Gillespie campaign held another gathering in the Shenandoah Valley, this time at the Holiday Inn right off of Interstate 81 in Staunton.  The advertised guest of the evening was Matt Bevin, the governor of Kentucky.  Curiously, the room was set up with a stage against the middle wall with three padded chairs and a couple of tables.  Unlike other events, I didn’t recognize a majority of the folks in the crowd.

The Commonwealth Attorney for Augusta County, Tim Martin, gave a welcome, Travis Witt, the former leader of the tea party federation, offered the prayer, and Augusta County Supervisor Marshall Pattie led the group in the pledge of allegiance.

Next, Pete Snyder, who many folks know from his 2013 run for lieutenant governor, took the stage.  After a few moments, Ed Gillespie and Matt Bevin joined him.

 

Ed Gillespie and Matt Bevin with Greene County GOP Chairman Ed Yensho

The three of them spoke amongst themselves about Gillespie’s campaign for governor as well as Bevin’s experiences as governor of Kentucky.  Afterward, they took a series of pre-submitted questions from the audience.  While this was going on, I thought of a question I wanted to ask regarding political freedom and spoke with the staffer handling such things, but, unfortunately, weren’t able to take it.

In conclusion, Governor Bevin invited all of the attendees to put a Gillespie bumper sticker on their cars as well as get their photo taken with Mr. Gillespie to which Ed Gillespie suggested that the governor ought to join in as well.

Overall, the event was well attended for a Thursday evening as pretty much every seat was filled.  Governor Matt Bevin expressed strong support for Ed Gillespie which helps bolster Gillespie’s credibility.  Snyder, Gillespie, and Bevin all added some humorous moments to the gathering.  And, perhaps most importantly, unlike their last event in Harrisonburg, several people in the crowd had an opportunity to participate in the discussion.

Compared to his 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate, Ed Gillespie’s campaign for governor seems significantly improved, spending more time discussing substantive issues, and bringing impressive political figures, like Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin onboard.

Gillespie Comes to Harrisonburg

On Tuesday, January 17th, Ed Gillespie made a campaign stop in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  To the best of my knowledge, he is the first candidate of any political party to come to the city.  He spoke in front of a rather impressive crowd of about 60 or so individuals during the mid-afternoon at the Agrodolce restaurant.

Personally, I though Mr. Gillespie gave a great speech, much improved from any of the speeches I heard him give during his run for U.S. Senate in 2014.  He spoke of the need for limiting government and, as opposed some members of the Republican Party these days, seemed to speak against crony capitalism.  Unlike many first-time candidates, although Ed Gillespie spoke about his personal story, it wasn’t the central focus of his talk.  My only real disappointment was that I wish he would have taken questions from the audience, but his campaign seemed to be in a bit of a time crunch, clearing out of the restaurant soon after the speech was over.

The biggest concern I had about the event had nothing to do with Mr. Gillespie or his campaign, who again put together a quality campaign stop on his kickoff tour, but rather some the individuals who attended.  One could label quite a few of them as establishment Republicans and, while I’ve known some of them for a decade or more, many have unfortunately proven themselves untrustworthy and, just as troubling, more desirous of accumulating power and demanding loyalty to the GOP than advancing any other political principle.  I know that some good, honest, principled people are supporting Ed Gillespie too, and there were some at the Harrisonburg event as well, but I have to say I sensed I was out of place.  Borrowing a line from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I felt like a pilgrim in an unholy land.

But, if Ed Gillespie and his campaign can hold more events like the one in Harrisonburg today, it will likely solidify his status as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Obenshain Out? Gillespie In?

Senator Obenshain
Senator Obenshain

In a move that surprised many political activists, yesterday Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), widely considered to be the Republican front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor of Virginia in 2017, announced that he would not be seeking that office.  With Obenshain’s decision, it now seems likely that Ed Gillespie will not only seek the nod, but also be the new presumptive front-runner.  Gillespie, as one may recall, narrowly lost the race for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Although some people in the Republican Party are enthusiastic about Gillespie being their standard-bearer in 2017, others have expressed dismay.  Rewinding the clock to the last election, I spoke to many liberty activists in Virginia who were opposed to Gillespie, viewing him as yet another establishment, big government Republican.  As the 2014 election drew close, a vast majority of liberty-minded Republicans told me that they would be casting their ballots for Libertarian Robert Sarvis as opposed to the official Republican nominee.  A few others stated that they would write-in Shak Hill or simply not vote.  At one point, I could only find one member of the liberty movement statewide who openly supported Gillespie.  Even though that number has grown slightly, a vast majority of the liberty activists in Virginia seemed to be opposed to a Gillespie candidacy in 2014 and have remained that way today.

Does that mean that Gillespie cannot win in 2017?  Certainly not.  After all, even without the support of many traditional Republican voters he came remarkably close to knocking off Senator Mark Warner.  Now, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that Warner has far better name id and favorability than likely 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam.  Therefore, one would assume Gillespie’s chances couldn’t get any worse.  However, if the Republican Party of Virginia nominates Gillespie again, it will likely widen the rift and civil war currently plaguing the party.

For one example, last night one of my liberty-minded friends posted a piece on Facebook in support of Ed Gillespie’s candidacy.  Although several people were quick to respond, denouncing Gillespie publicly, I was told that even more expressed their disapproval of him privately.  As another activist wrote, “Anyone who wants to challenge Gillespie for the 2017 gubernatorial nomination in VA – please get in touch with me about helping your campaign.”

Even though I would argue that Obenshain is in a weaker position than he found himself in 2013, yesterday’s announcement was still unexpected.  Given the relationship between Obenshain and Gillespie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the state senator throws his support behind the former RPV Chairman.  However, unless Gillespie discovered and articulates the principles of liberty, I assume that one or more conservative challengers will rise up to oppose him.  And, meaning no disrespect to Ed Gillespie, as he seems like a decent person outside of politics, if Gillespie is the nominee again then I hope that the Libertarians nominate a strong candidate so that the liberty vote within the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, and elsewhere has someplace to make itself heard.

Northam v. Obenshain?

IMG_2732
Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam presiding over the Virginia Senate January 19th, 2015

Are the 2017 gubernatorial elections in Virginia beginning to take shape?  Rumors of candidates and potential candidates for a contest still two years away have been swirling these last several months.

On the Democratic side of things, it appeared likely that there would be a showdown between Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring in much the same way that then Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli fought over the Republican nomination back in 2012 and 2013.

Moving on to the Republicans, State Senator Mark Obenshain from Rockingham County seems to be the most likely choice as he lost his 2013 statewide race by a razor-thin margin.  However, there are other possibilities too.  Some of the possible candidates being mentioned include: Representative Rob Whittman from the 1st district and 2014 Republican senatorial candidate Ed Gillespie.

As for the Libertarians, although I would be surprised if they didn’t run a candidate for governor, I haven’t really heard any names bandied about; their 2013 nominee, Robert Sarvis, seems like a possibility.

Well, now the 2017 picture has become at least a little more clear.  Attorney General Mark Herring has announced his plans to seek reelection to his current post, which leaves Ralph Northam as the likely Democratic nominee.  Personally, I think this a wise move for the Democrats as I believe Northam would be the stronger candidate for governor.

Right now, my prediction is on a Northam v. Obenshain contest, but a lot can happen in the next year or so.  Who will be the next candidate to officially announce his or her plans for 2017?

(Campaign) Fiscal Responsibility

A few moments ago, I received an email from the Ed Gillespie for Senate campaign.  Entitled “a last request”, the campaign makes one more pitch for funds asking, “Will you click here to contribute a suggested donation of $10 to help our campaign pay our final bills?”

Yes, campaigns are certainly expensive endeavors.  Each one seems to demand greater resources than the previous cycle.

Looking at it from my own personal experience, my run for city council always seemed to press me for more cash.  Did I want more money?  Of course!  With additional funding I could have done so much more, such as placing ads in the newspaper or on the radio or perhaps creating a few yard signs that some people seem to think are absolutely necessary.  But, at the end of the day, I allocated my resources the best I knew how and avoiding spending money I didn’t have.  My reasoning was that if a person is unable to exercise fiscal responsibility in his or her campaign, why should we entrust them with such power in local, state, or national government?

The Gillespie campaign came amazing close to victory and campaign deficit spending is certainly not unique to their effort.  Nevertheless, I’d recommend that campaigns exercise a little more discretion in their spending.  After all, who wants to send out an email after the election is over asking for money?  And who is willing to donate at this point, especially to a candidate that didn’t win?

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XVII)

After a two month hiatus, I (Joshua Huffman) have returned to 550 AM WSVA.  Together with Andy Schmookler we discuss the political issues of the day.

The big topics up for consideration today were: reflections about running for political office (as I ran for Harrisonburg City Council this year and Andy ran for House of Representatives in 2012) and thoughts about the surprisingly close U.S. Senate race between Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie, and Robert Sarvis.

In case you missed it, you can find the program here.

Sarvis Steals Another One!

Ed Gillespie the day before the election
Ed Gillespie the day before the election in Staunton, VA

I’m sure that many of you were shocked by the closeness of the U.S. Senate race here in Virginia.  After all, who would have predicted that Democrat Mark Warner, who beat Republican Ed Gillespie by at least nine percentage points in every poll but one, would emerge victorious by only about half a percentage point?

Also in the race was Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.  Sarvis, as many will remember, ran last year for governor capturing 6.5% of the vote in a race where only about 2.5% separated the Republican and the Democrat.  As such, a number of Republican activists blamed Sarvis for that outcome, claiming that he siphoned enough votes from Ken Cuccinelli to allow Terry McAuliffe to claim victory.

Given that Libertarian Robert Sarvis won almost 2.5% of the vote in this election, some Republicans are claiming, once again, that Sarvis stole another election from them.

Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU
Robert Sarvis at a recent stop at JMU

The theory behind this argument is that without Sarvis in the race, most of his supporters would instead choose the Republican candidate.  In 2013, exit polls showed that a greater percentage of Sarvis voters would have selected the Democrat over the Republican if he were not in the race.  After all, he captured more liberals than conservatives, more young than old, and more college graduates than graduates.  These are groups that typically trend toward the Democratic Party.

Although I haven’t seen the exits polls for 2014, I believe the opposite happened this time.  A larger percentage of typical Republican voters cast their ballots for Sarvis than the Democrats.  Almost all self-identified liberty-minded Republicans that I know either cast their ballots for Sarvis or simply left it blank.

“Ah ha!” The Republican establishment shouts.  “So you admit that Sarvis stole the 2014 election!”

My answer is no.

Stealing something implies that you have taken something that doesn’t belong to you.  I would argue that no candidate or party has an automatic right to any person’s vote regardless of their previous voting history or ideology.  Votes are always earned and must be re-earned each and every election; they never should be taken for granted.  We aren’t political slaves!

Let’s rewind the clock to the 2002 U.S. Senate election in Virginia.  That was John Warner’s last election.  You remember John Warner, don’t you?  He was the long-serving Republican Senator from Virginia who recently endorsed Democrat Mark Warner for Senate.  As a result, some people now consider him a traitor.  But this recent revelation conveniently overlooks the fact that he rarely fought for the supposedly Republican principles of restraining the power of the federal government.  In addition, he supported gun control and abortion, two positions in stark contrast to a majority of Virginia Republicans.    And then there is Warner’s proclivity to oppose the “Republican team” as he did when he denounced Ollie North in 1994 and Mike Farris in 1993.

Even though John Warner and I shared the same political party back then, I could not bring myself to vote for him and thus left that portion of the ballot blank.  Did sticking to my principles make me a “bad Republican”?

As stated, this year many conservatives and libertarians who consider themselves Republicans did not feel that Ed Gillespie shared their principles and thus either cast their vote for Sarvis, wrote in Shak Hill, or didn’t vote at all.  Who can blame them?  After all, the last time I spoke to Ed Gillespie, I asked him which unconstitutional federal agencies would he work to eliminate, his response was that he would “check with his advisers and get back in touch with me”.  For someone who believes the federal government has grown too large, that answer was unacceptable and showed, much like Warner over a decade earlier, that he and I disagreed on the most important and fundamental principles of our constitutional republic.  Like 2002, if I didn’t have an acceptable option, I simply would not have voted for any of the candidates for Senate.

So, yes.  If Robert Sarvis had not been in the race, Gillespie might have ended up winning.  But regardless of my opinion of Sarvis, I’m glad that voters had a third choice so they didn’t have to simply vote for the lesser of two evils.  The Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, as well as independents have as much of a right to run candidates as the Republicans and Democrats.  And, if voters believe that their candidates are better than one or both of the major party candidates, then perhaps they ought to solve this problem by running better candidates.  Or, given that Sarvis used to be a Republican, perhaps they ought to work harder to grow the party and stick with their supposed principles as opposed to driving folks away or simply kicking people out of the party as they did in my case.

Just don’t complain that the election was “stolen”.

Gillespie Stumps In Staunton

IMG_2693A guest post by Drew Massengill

Tweed jackets and seasonal sweaters began to fill up the side dining room of Rowe’s Family Restaurant. The windblown and rose-cheeked cautiously chose their seats, ensuring they were near others with whom they were sufficiently familiar. They came from all over. Some wanted to see, and others wanted to be seen. Some came to voice their opinion, while some had yet to form one.

“He’s running a smidge late. Just mingle amongst yourselves.”

Like all politicians, Ed Gillespie was running the ubiquitous twenty minutes behind schedule. An older man mused why he and his wife even showed up; they had voted early, fearing an imminent death might cost them the chance to cast their ballot for the man they hoped could wrest control of the Senate from the iron grip of Mark Warner.

Gillespie wasn’t the only one to benefit from the impressive turnout of the Republican base in Augusta County and beyond. Blue blazers and bow ties swirled around the room as state representatives and Republican personalities took advantage of the lull to make connections and garner support for their own political ambitions.

Conversations quickly ceased and gave way to applause once the Senate hopeful walked into the room. The crowd had grown tired of its pie and pleasantries. They were ready to hear from the man on whom many have placed their hope for a Red Virginia.

Capitalizing on the momentum of his well-received entrance, Gillespie started rousing the troops. Amidst the typical campaign boilerplate, there was bit of call and response. Like a preacher of old-time religion, his fervor and confidence seamlessly spread amongst the crowd until whoops of assent echoed through the restaurant. Cheering and rounds of applause followed each vague promise of policy change as if it was tribute to the modern State of the Union.

Sensing the end of the speech, the crowd entered into rhythmic clapping and offered a standing ovation. And, as quickly as it began, Mr. Gillespie’s time in Staunton was finished. A customary “God bless the United States of America”, some glad-handing, and he was gone.

Trailing by near double-digits in every major poll, Ed Gillespie’s enthusiasm and energy defy reality. He ostensibly believes that, though out-spent, his supporters have out-worked Warner’s campaign machine. In a little over twenty-four hours, we will find out if all that hard work will have paid off.