Lobby Day 2015

IMG_2729Today, in an annual tradition, citizens from across Virginia converged at the state capitol in Richmond for Lobby Day.  The morning and afternoon consisted of rallies, protests, sitting in on sessions of the state government, and meeting with elected officials.

The day started relatively early as I traveled from the Shenandoah Valley with two local Republicans, Kaylene and Laura.  My first stop was to the General Assembly Building.  As I walked through the grounds, the Virginia Citizens Defense League was preparing for an event at the bell tower, passing out their traditional orange stickers proclaiming that “guns save lives.”  Many in the gathering crowd also wore stickers in support of Susan Stimpson, as she is seeking to unseat Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell.

After making my way through security, I came across several local faces, such as Delegate Mark Berg (R-Winchester) as well as Dan Moxley and his daughter, Hannah.  Mr. Moxley is challenging Senator Emmett Hanger for the Republican nomination in the 24th district.

One of my first stops was to see Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke).  He has proposed a bill that lowers the threshold for a political party to achieve official status in Virginia from 10% of a statewide vote to 4%.  As I believe doing so would allow for greater choices in elections, I wanted to learn more.  While there, I discovered that he has sponsored another bill that would change redistricting so that legislators would no longer be able to choose their voters.  It is a bill which requires further study.

Although many of the delegates and senators were not in their offices, I did set up an appointment to speak with Delegate Gordon Helsel (R-Poquoson).  I very much enjoyed my conversation with his aide, Ashley.  In addition, I ran across Virginia Libertarian Party Chairman Bill Redpath and later Virginia Republican Liberty Caucus Chairman Robert Kenyon.

IMG_2730When I approached the capitol entrance, a group marched outside protesting student loans.

Inside, both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates were in brief sessions.  I found it curious that one had to go through security a second time in order to watch the Senate; it seemed completely unnecessary.

After briefly speaking with a number of legislators including: Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Senator Vogel (R-Fauquier), and Senator Hanger (R-Augusta), I made my way back to the General Assembly Building.  Outside stood a group advocating greater food and farming freedom.  There I ran across additional legislators including: Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham), Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), and a second brief encounter with Delegate Berg.

Although I was tempted to visit the office of recently re-elected and convicted Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico), I decided against it.  I would have also liked to speak to Delegate Pogge (R-York).  Even though I saw her outside, I could not find her in the building, instead meeting with her legislative assistant.  I also said hello to Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) and his aide, Savanna.

Next, I spoke with Delegate Helsel.  I sought him out as I was interested to learn his opinions of the proposed changes in the party plan of the Republican Party of Virginia.  Now serving as a Republican delegate, in 2009 Helsel ran as an independent against the Republican nominee.  If the proposed changed had been in place at that time, Delegate Helsel would have been ineligible to run as a Republican in 2011 or participate in any of their party politics until the year 2017.  We also discussed the surprisingly differing responses from Republicans regarding former Delegate Phil Hamilton and freshly sentenced former Governor Bob McDonnell.

Afterward, I visited my state senator’s office to try and understand why he would push for party registration as well as to voice my objections and concerns about doing so.   I firmly believe that registration would lead to disenfranchisement and would further erode political freedom in Virginia.  I’m told that I should have a response from his office within a day.

Lastly, I met up with Robert Sarvis and a handful of fellow Libertarians who also came to Richmond for Lobby Day.  Apparently they spoke in a Senate committee in favor of a bill that would decrease signature requirements for ballot access, but I’m told the bill was killed 2-4 along party lines as all of the Republicans in the committee voted against it.

I must say that as I walked through the halls of the capitol today, I felt a return of excitement and enthusiasm that I first experienced during my early days of political involvement.

All in all, Lobby Day 2015 was another fun event here in Virginia and I was glad to be a part of it.

The “New” GOP Senate

During the election, you may recall the heated rhetoric on the need to “flip” the Virginia Senate so that conservatives would finally control that body.  Well, earlier today the Republican Party announced the new leadership team now that the GOP has once again claimed control of the Virginia Senate.  Personally, I’ve been looking forward to hearing if Senators would put strong conservative fighters in charge.

Starting off from lowest position to highest, we begin with the caucus whips, Senators Bill Stanley, Jeff McWaters, and Jill Holtzman Vogel.  According to the newly released data from The American Conservative Union, these three Senators have conservative ratings of 100%, 92%, and 85% respectively.  Not too bad, I would say.

Moving on, we have the Majority Leader’s deputies, Senators Ryan McDougle and Steve Newman who have ACU ratings of 92% and 100%.  Again, they are both quite high.

Photo from SenatorNorment.com

But who is the new Majority Leader?  Senator Tommy Norment of James City County.  And what is his conservative ranking with the ACU?  62%.  62%!  You might be disappointed to discover that he is ranked the least conservative of any of the Republican members of the Virginia Senate.

To get a better picture, let’s look at the bills where Senator Norment has not voted conservatively according to the ACU.

“1. Amend Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayer Act. SB 831. This bill would have limited the attorney general’s authority to investigate fraud by state agencies and institutions and their wasting of taxpayer dollars on any number of dubious practices. ACU opposes limiting the accountability of state government to its taxpaying citizens. The Senate voted to pass this bill 24-16 on February 3, 2011.” Norment supported.

“2. Special Rights Based on Sexual Orientation. SB 747. This bill would have created a protected class for homosexuals in state government employment. ACU opposes creating special rights or new classes of people based on their personal behavior. The Senate passed this bill 22-18 on February 2, 2011.” Norment supported.

“4. Expand FAMIS Plan Eligibility. SB 978. This bill would have increased the threshold for eligibility for the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan (state version of CHIP) from at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to at or below 225 percent. ACU opposes the expansion of government-run insurance programs. The Senate voted to approve this bill 33-7 on February 7, 2011.” Norment supported.

“9. Defunding Public Broadcasting. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #17, Item 123. Governor Bob McDonnell offered an amendment to the General Assembly’s budget proposing the elimination of funds to Virginia’s Public Broadcasting stations. ACU supports eliminating funding non-core functions of government. The Senate killed the amendment by a vote of 13-27 on April 6, 2011.” Norment opposed.

“13. Reform The Virginia Retirement System. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #86, Item 5.  This budget amendment from Governor Bob McDonnell would put in place reforms to the Virginia Retirement System, including authorizing an optional defined contribution plan for newer employees—ACU supports efforts to reform unsustainable state retirement systems. The Senate, on April 6, 2011, rejected the amendment by a 14-26 vote.” Norment opposed.

But let’s not rely solely on the opinions of the American Conservative Union.  How about another conservative measurement device?  Before each General Assembly election, The Family Foundation releases their report card detailing how “pro-family” each member of that body happens to be.  Going through the same list of Senator leaders this year, we find the following scores: Stanley 100%, McWaters 100%, Vogal 100%, McDougle 100%, Newman 100%, and finally Norment with 65%.  Scanning through the rest of the list, are there any Republicans in the Senate with a lower score than Norment?  Not only is the answer no, there is even one Democrat who ranks higher, Senator Puckett.

For comparison sake, let’s see where Senator Norment ranks poorly according to the Family Foundation:

“2. Non-Discrimination for Sexual Orientation (same as with the ACU above).” The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“3.  Redirect Pro-Choice License Plate Funds SB18 amendment-Would have redirected the pro-choice license plate funds from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

“10. FLE Required SB967-Would have required localities to teach family life education and would have added anti-abstinence language to FLE law.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“11. Expanded Horse Gambling SB1347-Would have expanded gambling in Virginia by redefining simulcast horse racing to included live or pre-recorded horse races.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“13. State Domestic Partner Benefits SB1122-Would have allowed the state government to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried relationships.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“14. Just Compensation HB652-Would have required the government to pay property owners for the total loss of value when property is taken eminent domain.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

What about gun rights?  Is the second amendment important to you?  After a phone call earlier today, I discovered that in 2011, the National Rifle Association graded him a B- and would not endorse him for reelection.  Going back further, the NRA grades Senator Norment as follows: 2007-B, 2003-D, 1999-B, and 1995-B.

As I mentioned back on November 9th, I do not want a Senate Republican leadership in the mold of former Senator John Chichester who gave Virginians what has been billed as the “largest tax increase in Virginia history”.  Well, with a little help (thanks to The Family Foundation), I’ve discovered that only six of the Republican Senators who supported that measure are still in office.  They are: Harry Blevins, Emmett Hanger, Fred Quayle, Frank Ruff, Walter Stosch, and, you guessed it, Tommy Norment.

Although there many different definitions of conservative and thus many stripes of conservative, given Norment’s voting record as shown by the ACU, The Family Foundation, and the NRA, just about every flavor should be concerned by this news.

What I want to know is why in the world is the Republican Senator who is arguably the least conservative of them all given the top spot as Majority Leader in the Virginia Senate?  And, just as importantly, will Senator Norment use his  powerful position to either block conservative legislation or promote laws contrary to conservative ideals?  Is this situation a case of meet the new Senate (2011-2015 under Norment), same as the old Senate (2003-2007 under Norment)?

Photo from newscom.com

So has the GOP learned from the mistakes of 2003-2007 when they last controlled the Virginia Senate?  Or with rewarding the not very conservative Norment as Majority Leader once more, have conservatives been led down the primrose path?

I guess we will find out.