Voting & Polling in Harrisonburg

Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.
Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.

At about 1 PM, I visited my polling place, Keister Elementary, to cast my ballot in the 2016 election.  The drive leading up to the school was blanketed with signs for the various candidates.  Outside of the building, there were people handing out both Republican and Democratic sample ballots.  The fact that the Republicans openly encouraged voters to cast their ballots for Independent City Council candidate George Hirschmann seemed to further prove that he is not, in fact, an independent, but rather a Republican who is trying to obscure his party status.  In addition, a woman stood outside conducting an exit poll, which I thought was quite exciting!  More on this issue in a moment.

I expected that there would be quite a long line inside, but was surprised that I only had to wait for a minute or two.  Apparently, traffic had been particularly heavy earlier and many people had already voted, but I just happened to be there during a lull.

Voting was actually fairly difficult this year.  I knew my vote for president, of course, but hadn’t decided upon the names for my write-ins for various offices where I either didn’t know or care much for the candidates listed.

Anyway, when I got back outside, the pollster asked for whom I cast my ballot for president and whether I had voted in the 2012 presidential election.  I told her that I voted for the same candidate in 2016 that I did in 2012.  I then asked if she could tell me the results of her poll thus far.  Although I expect that Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg, given that Keister is one of the most Republican precincts in the city I assumed that Donald Trump would be winning the exit poll or that it would be very close.  However, that was not the case.  Of the multitude of respondents, about 60% said they voted for Clinton, 30% were for Trump, and Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, and write-ins split the remaining approximate 10%.  Yes, in this exit poll Clinton had about twice the votes that Trump had.  The pollster theorized that perhaps Trump voters were far less likely to admit that they cast their ballots for Trump, but I thought this unlikely.  What it told me is that if these numbers hold, Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg by a far larger margin than I anticipated and will likely perform even better in Virginia than what people say.  If she wins Virginia by a sizable factor, then it might end up being a very quick election night reminiscent of 1996 when Bill Clinton bested Bob Dole.

Yes, Keister is only one of many polling places in Harrisonburg, but the exit poll doesn’t seem to bode well for Mr. Trump and the Republicans.  It will be fun to discover if this poll is accurate or not!

No Republicans for Harrisonburg?

img_0646-1In recent elections for the Harrisonburg City Council, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have fielded a full slate of candidates for office.  Most years independents run as well, and, for the first and so far only time, in 2014 the Libertarian Party had a candidate too.

However, 2016 is proving to be an odd year.  Three council seats are up for election and the window for candidates to file is now closed.  Two sitting members, Kai Degner (a Democrat) and Abe Shearer (an independent) are not running for re-election, while a third member, Richard Baugh (a Democrat) is seeking office again.  As is typical, the Democratic Party has three candidates for these three seats, Deanna Reed and Paul Somers join Mr. Baugh.  George Hirschmann is running as an independent.  However, in a previously unheard of move, the Harrisonburg Republican Party has nominated zero candidates for city council.

I cannot recall the last time the Republican Party didn’t nominate at least one candidate for city council, let alone a full slate of two to three candidates.  It does beg the question, has the Harrisonburg Republican Party given up?

Back in 2003 and 2004, I lived in the city of Charlottesville.  During that time, they held an election for city council, but curiously none of the Republican candidates ever made mention of their Republican label.  If I recall correctly, in the ensuing election the Democratic candidates won easily.  Throughout that election the mood of Charlottesville Republicans was one of inevitable defeat, as you might imagine it was a very depressing scene.  Has this same realization hit the Harrisonburg Republicans?  After all, only one Republican candidate has won in Harrisonburg when facing a Democratic opponent since the 2009 elections.

I am reasonably certain that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will not win the city of Harrisonburg.  Therefore, running under the same banner of Trump will likely drag Republican city council candidates down in much the same way that Mitt Romney hurt the 2012 Republican city council candidates.  If we saw a bunch of independents in this cycle, that reasoning could very well explain the lack of Republican candidates.  However, as mentioned, there is only one independent this time.  Conversely, has the Harrisonburg Republican Party jettisoned any and all semblance of political principles so that no self-respecting conservative or libertarian would consider taking up their mantle?  Although I believe that the Harrisonburg Republican Party doesn’t really have any interest in advancing the ideals of limiting government, that still doesn’t explain why there are only four candidates running for the three seats.

Unfortunately, I believe that Harrisonburg is transitioning into a single-party city, much like the Byrd machine of last century.  Although not insurmountable…at least yet, I would argue that affiliation with the Democratic Party gives a candidate an instant advantage.  Given the growing voting JMU student population and the far more effective Democratic college outreach than Republican, coupled with a weak, ineffective, and often surrendering Republican leadership at the Congressional level, and that the GOP at the local, state, and national level have nominated some candidates over the years that are virtually indistinguishable from their Democratic opponents when it comes to policy has created an climate where the Democratic Party now thrives and the Republicans have found themselves on the brink of extinction.

Some people theorize that 2016 might spell the end of the Republican Party as a major, national political party in the United States.  Much like the demise of the Whigs in the 1850s, a new or existing political party will rise up to take its place.  Well, whether it survives nationally or not, does the lack of Republican candidates in the 2016 elections for city council coupled with a Facebook page which hasn’t been updated in over six months and a dead link to their seemingly defunct website mean that the Republican Party is no longer a factor in Harrisonburg politics?

A New Law For Harrisonburg!

img_0646-1Everyday we read stories of the government expanding its power.  Little by little, the government continues to grow.

On Monday, May 16th, the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia, sent out a press release regarding a new ordinance which takes effect on June 1st regarding dog tethers, specifically how long tethers must be and how often they can be used.

As their press release states:

This ordinance, city code section 15-2-1, states that dog owners may not tether an unattended dog for more than one hour continuously or for four hours cumulatively within a 24-hour period. The tether must be at least three times the length of the dog, as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail. The tether should not be too heavy and not exceed 10% of the dog’s body weight and only one dog should be attached to a single tether.

The only dogs that should be tethered are those six months of age or older and if female, a dog that is sterilized or not is estrus.

Some alternatives to tethering a dog are to bring your dog indoors or to install yard fencing, a dog run, or electronic fencing.

This ordinance will be monitored and enforced by the Harrisonburg Police Department’s (HPD) Animal Care and Control Unit.

Now, at first glance, you might think that this new ordinance is great.  After all, I’m sure many of us have a furry friend and would like to think that all dogs in the city are treated well.

However, as the ordinance states, this law gives the Harrisonburg Police Department additional authority of enforcement.  Think about it.  Would you want police officers or your neighbors constantly monitoring your property to see if you are following this law?  Furthermore, do we really want our tax dollars and our police time going toward this effort?  Wouldn’t the community be better served if the police spent their efforts catching criminals who pose a danger to society as opposed to measuring the length and weight of tethers and using stopwatches to determine how long a dog has been tethered?

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, government exists to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Unfortunately, since the time of the birth of our nation, this basic lesson of civics has been forgotten as both elected and unelected officials continue to expand the power of the government at all levels.  I assume that the Virginia General Assembly grants localities to create such ordinances, but that doesn’t mean that city and county governments ought to interfere in every private matter.  With these thoughts in mind, could someone please explain how a person who chooses to use a dog tether in the city of Harrisonburg affects the life, liberty, and/or pursuit of happiness of either the dog owner or his neighbor.  And, if it does not, how is this matter any business of the Harrisonburg City Council?

Reading this new ordinance, I was reminded of a quote from the film Jurassic Park.  I assume city council was “…so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  After all, if we really cared about the wellbeing of dogs within the city, wouldn’t it also be a good idea to mandate what brand of tethers they can use.  While we are at it, why doesn’t the government decide what kind of food dog owners should provide?  Where does the limit of their power end?

Every year local, state, and federal government power grows with new laws and regulations, often for well-intentioned, but misguided reasons.  Although this local tether ordinance might sound good at first glance, ultimately these kinds of decisions are best left with private individuals and not simply surrendered to the whims of five elected officials. The government doesn’t always know what is best for our pets, for our children, for ourselves, for our property, or for our society; thus the best course of action is to keep the government as small and as limited as possible.

A Bittersweet Anniversary

Photo taken by Jason Lenhart.  Image from the from page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014
Photo taken by Jason Lenhart. Image from the front page of the Daily News Record, April 25th, 2014

On this date last year, I announced to Facebook and the Harrisonburg community that I would be seeking a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council that November.  In that election, I ran as an independent.  Although I had associated with the Harrisonburg Republican Party since the age of fifteen, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with the party over the years as they and their elected officials often endorsed candidates and legislation which stood in stark contrast to their supposed principles.  As a result of our growing rift between what they said they believed compared to what they actually did, I was expelled from that organization in February of 2014.  Once you couple that issue with open hostility from the Harrisonburg Libertarian Party, running as an independent seemed to be the logical choice.

However, that’s not to say that I didn’t have friends in both the Republican and Libertarian camps.  As such, my first official campaign event, taking place on April 24th of 2014, was a signature collection drive on the campus of JMU alongside U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis and 6th district House of Representatives candidate Will Hammer.  An article and photo featuring the three of us appeared the following day in my local paper, The Daily News Record.

In the weeks and months that followed, I learned much, met many new people, picked up new friends, and unfortunately discovered a few enemies.  Having been involved in politics for so long, I’ve certainly seen and faced a lot.

Prior to this campaign, one of my worst experiences centered around a death threat I received while working for Dr. Ron Paul in 2007.  However, soon after making my announcement for council, I received a phone call from some who used to call me the best of friends who promised a barrage of unyielding personal attacks against me if I continued in my effort to seek elected office.  Although I decided to press onward, as you might imagine, this blackmail cast a dark cloud of uncertainty over the campaign, making my effort all the more difficult, and did much to crush my enthusiasm for this project.  As I have been reminded consistently over the years, and last year’s race for city council was no exception, politics often attracts the worst elements of humanity.  However, I should add that while there are certainly those that sought to destroy me, there are others who came forth that evening to lift me up.

April 24th of 2014 was marked by unbridled hope while the following day brought crushing disappointment.  Therefore, even one year later these two days remain a bittersweet memory of the beginnings of my foray to seek public office.

The Council Candidates on WSVA

Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio
Chris Jones, D.D. Dawson, and Joshua Huffman in studio

This week, the six candidates for Harrisonburg City Council took to the airwaves of 550 AM WSVA to share their thoughts regarding policies for the city as well as their political principles.

On Wednesday, Ted Byrd (R), Alleyn Harned (D), and Helen Shibut (L) spoke.  This morning, D.D. Dawson (R), Joshua Huffman (I), and Chris Jones (D) had their turn.  In case you missed either show, you can listen to them on the links provided above.

IMG_0119IMG_0120On a personal note, I have to say that I appreciated the opportunity to speak about the race from WSVA and enjoyed today’s conversations with Ms. Dawson and Mr. Jones both on and off the air.  Although we certainly have our similarities and differences, it has been great journey, exploring and discussing a variety of topics.

Less than two weeks until Election Day!

125 to 1

As many of you may have heard, I will be on the ballot for Harrisonburg City Council this November.  There will be six candidates and I am the only one running as an independent.

In order to qualify, I needed to collect the signatures of 125 registered voters in the city.  It was a task that required a number of hours spread over several days.  Although it isn’t that difficult to garner 125 signatures, I discovered that a fair number of people aren’t registered to vote even though they think they are, are registered someplace else than where they think, or their penmanship is so poor that their information is unreadable.   Thus, although I turned in around 150 signatures originally, I was required to go out again and collect more.

By comparison, how many signatures did the Republican and Democratic candidates need in order to make the ballot?  Well, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections, the answer is only one, the signature of their respective city party chairman.  This difference might leave you scratching your head.  It doesn’t really seem fair that independents and third party candidates require a signature drive but Republicans and Democrats do not, does it?

Now, I have no objections to requiring candidates to collect signatures in order to make the ballot.  After all, doing so shows that he or she has at least some element of support or campaign structure.  But to have this system where the Republican and Democratic candidates get a leg up on their competitors seems a bit off to me.

Now you might say, sure, it might not be right that there is this system whereby some candidates are required to jump through extra hoops and are treated as second class, but 125 signatures isn’t all that much.  Well, hold on to your hats because it is about to get worse.

Besides our local races, we are also electing members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate this year.  Assuming you are a Republican or Democratic candidate and you are not nominated via a primary, you only need the signature of the appropriate party chairman according to the State Board of Elections.  Independent and third party candidates need 1,000 signatures to make the ballot for House and 10,000 in order to make the Senate!  This high threshold discourages folks from running as acquiring as much as 10,000 signatures requires significant campaign structure, party backing, and/or money in order to meet the mark.  Again, the rules are strict, but they wouldn’t be that bad if they were applied equally to all candidates irrespective of party; unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m of the opinion that more choices creates a richer and more dynamic political system where voters have a greater opportunity to support and elect candidates who are more in line with their values.  Regrettably, as the system has been set up and maintained by the two major parties, there is a strong incentive to squelch competition to preserve their own power base.

So, let me ask you this question:  Is it simply too much to ask that everyone be treated fairly and equally?

The Harrisonburg Budget

Letter to the editor submitted to the Daily News Record on May 14th and published on May 21st.

On Tuesday, a multitude of citizens spoke, listened, and watched as the Harrisonburg City Council debated the budget for 2014-2015.  At the end of the evening, I’m sure that many of us, like the older folks who spoke against the proposal, were disappointed with the result.   Unfortunately, the council decided to raise a multitude of taxes, including: the real estate tax, the personal property tax, the motor vehicle tax, and the water and sewer rates.

At a time when so many Harrisonburg residents struggle with fiscal uncertainty and an increasing number live on a fixed income, it is worrisome that the city decided to place such an increased burden on the people.  Yes, budgeting is a difficult process as many groups and agencies vie for dollars alongside critical responsibilities.  Nevertheless, like many of you, I wish that the council had instituted a few more cuts to keep taxes lower.

Reclaiming Kids’ Castle

IMG_1953As someone who grew up in Harrisonburg, I spent many a childhood afternoon and weekend enjoying the public parks the city offered.  However, around the age of ten, the city constructed a new structure in Purcell Park called Kids’ Castle.  Made primarily of wood, with a few bits of metal and rubber, the place was absolutely fantastic.  Without a doubt, it was one of my favorite spots and so I often begged my parents to take me there.

Several weeks ago, I got together with a friend who lives near Purcell Park and so I suggested taking a walk through the area.  Although I had visited the park several months prior, this time I took the opportunity to return to my childhood destination of Kids’ Castle.

Unfortunately, what I discovered was very distressing; the wooden structure was falling into disrepair.  Many of the metal surfaces had begun to rust, some of the boards were exceedingly worn, a few nail ends were visible, ready to pierce the hands of unaware children, a tire bridge was actively disintegrating, and a handful of weeds grew up through the gravel.  Although it was beginning to rain, I toured a bit of the castle and nearly fell on an exceedingly slippery piece of wood.  It was as if Kids’ Castle had been more or less forgotten, abandoned these last 22 years.

I brought up this matter during the public forum of the next meeting of the Harrisonburg City Council.  Reaction from the council was mixed.  For example, Council Member Chenault mentioned that a newer park, A Dream Come True, over on the west end of the city was built to replace Kids’ Castle and given the sorry state of the facility, it might be best to tear it down.  After the meeting, I received an email from Council Member Degner and a phone call from Council Member Shearer; due to these contacts, I also spoke to the manager of Harrisonburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Yesterday, I was featured on WHSV TV-3 to briefly speak about the matter.  That segment, which aired at 11 PM last night, can be found at this link.

It is my great hope that Kids’ Castle can be repaired so that the present and next generation of children can treasure it as much as I once did.  And, assuming I ever experience the joy of children of my own, I’d very much like for them to have a wonderful and nearby place to play outside, a recreational option that is much healthier than the hours of television or video games that parents increasingly rely upon these days.

So what will happen next?  Well, as a result of the city council meeting and the reporting of WHSV, I’ve been told that the city is planning to repair much of Kids’ Castle by the end of July.  It is excellent news.  It is time to reclaim Kids’ Castle!

A City Council Surprise

Harrisonburg City CouncilLast night, the Harrisonburg City Council held their bi-monthly meeting.  As I sat in my chair waiting for the 7 PM start time, one of the regular attendees leaned across the aisle and told me that he saw me on the TV speaking about the city owned golf course.  He went on to say that the golf course was here to stay and that city parks and recreations were not in the business of making money.  I agreed that parks weren’t designed to turn a profit and asked him if he knew of any privately run parks in the area.  Neither of us could name one.  However, I then countered that golf courses can be a source of revenue and asked if he knew of any privately run courses.  He said that he didn’t know of any and, at that point, I realized discussing this point further with him would not be particularly useful.

Anyway, as for the official council meeting itself, most of the event was business as usual, such as the time for public discourse and discussing tax exemptions for a charity.  However, things got a bit more interesting when the subject shifted to energy efficiency in the city.  Recently, the city has been considering the idea of improving energy efficiency in its buildings, a commendable idea as it will likely provide a significant savings to city taxpayers.  As a result, Council Member Kai Degner crafted a deal with a company who specializes in this kind of work to make these improvements.  However, the city manager declared this action was quite irregular as normally these issues are typically explored by the city staff, bids are accepted from a number of companies, and then the council picks the option that they feel best suits the city.  Although it is good to see Kai Denger working hard on this issue, given that neither the majority of council nor the Harrisonburg staff seemingly had a hand in this company’s selection, if the idea moved forward, it could bear the stain of crony capitalism.

Harrisonburg Mayor Ted Byrd argued that in the interests of the free market, the council should not simply accept the company of Degner’s choosing without considering other avenues.  When Degner proposed going ahead with the desired company, it seemed quite likely that the vote would fail.  This fact is significant because, of the multitude of council meetings that I have attended over the last six months, not a single proposal had failed nor had the vote been anything but unanimous.  Cognizant of such a possibility, Council Member Degner revised his proposal to allow other companies to bid for this contract as well.

At this point, Council Member Abe Shearer raised a new point.  Why should the council only allow companies who offered a money back guarantee for their work to bid for this project?  If the council could find a company with a good reputation who did not have such a guarantee, and at a considerable savings, shouldn’t they have the same chance to offer their services as well?  Vice Mayor Charlie Chenault seemed to disapprove of that idea.

In the vote that followed, Degner and Chenault approved the revised plan, as did Council Member Richard Baugh who declared that he was satisfied with this compromise.  Although clear that the measure would pass despite their objections, both Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer voted no.

As mentioned, I’ve attended quite a few council meetings as of late.  However, last night marked a first, the first time that I was proud of my council for voicing my shared concerns about a fair and open process, for supporting the ideals of the free market, and for demonstrating that they are more than a monolithic group, a rubber stamp for any and every proposal that is presented to them.  Returning to an earlier subject, last night gave me hope as well that the council might one day jettison the golf course, realizing that its public ownership is not a proper function of local government.

I appreciate Council Member Baugh for not simply accepting the first proposal as stated.  However, I write this post especially to praise Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer for their firm stands at Tuesday’s meeting.