Sell Out!

Image from the film, The Sellout (1952)
Image from the film, The Sellout (1952)

VC Note:  I wrote this piece on November 15, 2015, though I decided against publishing it until recently.

 

In the world of politics, a person is often faced with the decision to sell out one’s principles in order to further his or her own ambitions.  I dare say that every activist has faced this choice sooner or later and if you haven’t yet, that likely means that you are still quite new to the arena.

In 2014, while running for local office, I had the opportunity to sit-in on several of the meetings of the JMU College Republicans.  If you are new to this website, you might not know that student activism has been an interest of mine ever since I began my political journey as a high school student and so I try to encourage students any chance I get.  Unfortunately, I was told that my presence at the JMU CRs upset some of the local establishment Republicans, given that I wasn’t wed to their partisan banner anymore, and they were pressuring the CRs to get rid of me.  As a result, one evening a student came up to me and flatly said that I was no longer welcome at their gatherings.  However, if I were to tell you that the JMU CRs hosted an event honoring Bill Bolling during that semester, that likely tells you all you need to know about the values of that organization at that time.

Anyway, before my exclusion, I appreciated the chance to listen to several of their speakers.  One week it was Delegate Ben Cline of Rockbridge County with whom I had a very positive interaction after the meeting.  However, it was a speech from my own state senator, Mark Obenshain, that sticks most strongly in my mind…even over a year later.  During his talk, he extolled several former JMU Republicans who went on to successful careers in politics, such as a few of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s past and current employees.  Unfortunately, each and every person he mentioned that night shared a common trait; they either sold out their principles or never really had any principles to begin with, and all were more than willing to step on anyone who gets between them and power.  I had more than my share of nasty run-ins with many of these folks.  Although these names were likely foreign to many of the students around me, I knew them all well and to hear this rogue’s gallery listed as a group young political activists ought to aspire to emulate was dismaying indeed.  It made me think.  Is selling out is the ticket to success?

Over my twenty years in politics, I have had a chance to meet a lot of liberty-minded activists.  Some have remained faithful to their ideals while others have not, choosing to support and work for candidates and politicians of dubious moral character who willingly jettison their principles when the leadership tells them to do so…or the price is right.  Some activists have been willing to use any tactic, without respect to morality, if they think it will achieve their goals, knowing that elected officials and party leadership will defend their actions.

As you might imagine, hearing cases of this corruption or watching it unfold firsthand has been profoundly disheartening.  Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  Yes, having power is important.  Being able to support yourself in the political world is certainly important too.  But, at the end of the day, if the eager and wide-eyed novice you once were has been replaced by a callous, manipulative, and immoral professional, don’t you have to ask what was the point of getting involved in politics in the first place?  Isn’t it written, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”  (Mark 8:36 NLT).  It pains me to say that I’ve crossed paths with many individuals who have apparently sold their souls and, despite any superficial claims to be godly and attempts to cosy up to the religious right, face the very real danger of damnation.

So, my friends, whatever your political leanings, I urge you to remain grounded and faithful to your principles.  Never lie, cheat, or steal in order to gain glory, money, fame, or power nor should you ever knowingly follow anyone who acts in this fashion.  Shouldn’t we work to instill values such as honor, courage, honesty, and steadfastness in the next generation of activists?

But, then again, what do I know?  After all, there are many activists and politicians who have advanced much further than I have by stabbing others in the back, bowing down to the lobbyists, and deceiving the folks back home.  And, if you asked them behind closed doors, here’s the advice they would likely give:

Griego & The Libertarians

Photo from Harry Griego's Facebook page
Photo from Harry Griego’s Facebook page

On Tuesday, March 15th, the Rocktown Libertarians will be holding their monthly meeting at O’Charley’s in Harrisonburg.  The social gathering begins at 6 PM, but often attendees don’t arrive until about 6:30 or 7.  This month, Harry Griego will be a guest at the gathering.  Mr. Griego is challenging Representative Bob Goodlatte for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 6th district.

Looking back on my time growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, I realize that it is a very toxic place politically.  Activists, politicians, and party leaders often reinforce the idea that those in a differing political party are the enemy and should always be treated as such.  Much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, each side has developed a hatred of the other and loyalty to their family or party which often supersedes reason, logic, principles, and even understanding.

As I wrote last year, I was encouraged when in 2011 the local Democratic party offered, and Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson accepted, a speaking slot at their meeting.  Unfortunately, the local Republican party bosses leaned on Hutcheson and he ended up declining the invitation.

When I ran for city council in 2014, I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the JMU College Republicans alongside the Republican nominees.  Unlike the other candidates, I didn’t focus too much on myself, but rather talked about the principles for which the Republican party supposedly stood.  However, I was told that the local Republican Party leaders castigated the JMU CRs for allowing me the speaking slot and was later informed that I was no longer welcome even to attend their weekly public gatherings.

Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians
Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians

In 2013, when Senator Mark Obenshain ran for Attorney General of Virginia, I strongly and repeatedly encouraged his campaign to reach out to the Libertarians as there was no Libertarian candidate running for that office.  However, they refused declaring that it would look bad for party unity for him to do so.  I still wonder that if he did, would Obenshain have picked up 166 additional votes and thus would have been elected attorney general?  In addition, if he were to make such a gesture, that would mean Senator Obenshain would be recognizing the right for the Libertarian Party to exist and to run candidates.  In early 2015, I asked him about the matter and was both shocked and dismayed when my state senator informed me that he opposed the idea of any candidate, except for Republicans and Democrats, being listed on the ballot.  Shortly thereafter, in mid 2015, April Moore, Senator Obenshain’s Democratic opponent, reached out to the Rocktown Libertarians and ended up speaking to them.

In late 2015, Nick Freitas, now the Republican Delegate for Virginia’s 30th district, was the featured speaker at JMU’s Madison Liberty group.

11206029_10152900151181915_7531848474274651375_nAs you might imagine, I am very encouraged that Harry Griego will be speaking to the Rocktown Libertarians tomorrow night.  Not only does it give Mr. Griego the chance to speak to some likely receptive voters, it sends a message to the Shenandoah Valley that the Libertarians have the same rights and privileges as both the Republican and Democratic Parties.  In addition, I’ve been informed that some regional liberty-minded Republican leaders will be attending the event too.  Despite what some may think, this isn’t an attempt to convert Libertarians to the Republican Party or Republicans to join the Libertarians (although given the decline of the GOP that might end up happening), but rather to spread dialogue, understanding, and discover issues of mutual importance.  I suppose it is likely that some establishment Republicans will declare Mr. Griego’s visit as disloyalty to the Republican Party, but you should bear in mind that any elected official or candidate should be beholden to and reach out to all of his or her constituents, not simply the party bosses and big donors who keep him or her in power.  We cannot reclaim our country so long as legislators are allowed to ignore large groups of voters and run on mere party labels and nothing of any substance.  Is there any wonder why a supposed outsider like Donald Trump leads the Republican field for president?

Here’s the link to the Facebook event if you’d like to learn more about what is going on tomorrow night.  Hope to see you there!

Photos from Dukes Debate

IMG_3038Twice a year, the James Madison University SGA plays host to a tri-partisan political debate between the James Madison College Democrats, the College Republicans, and Madison Liberty.  One of these discussions takes place in the spring and the other in the fall.  Tonight was the 2015 autumn debate.

Here are a few photos from the event:

If you are interested in reading the audience commentary of the debate from the live Twitter feed, it can be found here.

2014: In Political Review

UntitledAs today is the last day of 2014, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon my political adventures over the previous 365 days.

I suppose the most monumental event for me, at least politically, was running for city council.  Although involved in more elections than I can count, that race marked my first time as a candidate.  It was a unique experience and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of folks that I may not have otherwise encountered.  It also gave me an insight into my fellow candidates, viewing them from an angle that most voters would never know.  Yes, the voters preferred other choices, but I’ve said that one win or loss isn’t as important as advancing the liberty movement.  Taken as a whole, running was both rewarding and discouraging.

2014 marked the end of my 19 year involvement with the Republican Party as I was expelled from my local unit in February.  It was disheartening to see the party place blind loyalty over their principles, but for far too many people in politics, values are a mere smokescreen to advance their own power.  A few months later, about a decade after attending my first meeting, I joined the Libertarian Party.  Although I am keenly aware of the potential pitfalls of political parties, it is difficult to promote and advance your ideas by yourself and have discovered a number of good people who call themselves Libertarian.  I especially appreciated the opportunity to meet Will Hammer, the Libertarian candidate for House in the 6th, and Paul Jones, the Libertarian candidate in the 5th.  Thanks also to Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian senatorial candidate, as well as John Buckley, the West Virginian Libertarian senatorial candidate and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates who helped my campaign.  Also, I don’t want to forget Josh who created a fine website for me and Jonathan who crafted a bunch of campaign literature; thank you too to my friends that are still within the GOP.  Before moving on, let me offer another big thanks and shout-out to Marc Montoni, the LPVA Secretary, whose assistance, advice, and friendship were valuable to me in so many ways.

I feel I should mention that earlier this year I faced a pretty significant political threat.  Although I’ve been bullied by a variety of sources previously, this particular threat had a rather nasty sting to it especially considering it was done by someone who once declared me a good friend.  I shouldn’t be surprised that some people in politics will say or do almost anything to try and achieve their goals, but that doesn’t make the encounter any less disappointing.

On a lighter note, I had the opportunity to learn a little bit firsthand about Guatemalan politics during my mission trip with my church to that country.  Comparative politics is usually interesting.

I was glad that the radio show with Andy Schmookler on 550 AM WSVA continued and am grateful to Karen Kwiatkowski for filling in for me on two shows I could not participate due to my run for council.

I’m pleased to say that this website, The Virginia Conservative, still is going strong; it’s a little amusing that it continues to accumulate more fans that my run for council did.  Not seeking to garner praise from any particular group or person, I pledge to continue to offer my candid thoughts and news into my seventh year.

Moving on to politics at JMU, I wonder if I am the first person to be refused entry to a meeting of the JMU CRs.  I’ve been active in trying to promote college activism for years, but several months ago, like George Wallace enforcing segregation, a leader of that group blocked the door to their meeting and requested that I not come in.

Although I’m disappointed that Nick, the former leader of Madison Liberty, has graduated and left the area, I’m looking forward to seeing how Emery advances the group next year and plan to aid him however I can.  I also hope that Students for Sensible Drug Policy continues to be a force on campus.  Although my time with the JMU CRs was brief, I must I was glad for the opportunity to meet Christian, a like-minded activist, and hope he presses that group in a more principled direction.

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment and recognize two of my fellow former candidates for city council.  Although we certainly disagreed on a number of issues, both Republican D.D. Dawson and Democrat Alleyn Harned showed themselves to be particularly worthy opponents and I appreciated their warmness and decency in a field that sorely needs it.

Have I missed something or someone?  I have no doubt that I have.  But please forgive me; after all, it’s hard to condense an entire year into a single post.

Best wishes to you all in 2015.  Let’s see where the next year takes us!

JMU Debates The 2014 Election

The debaters on stage
The debaters on stage

Last night, the James Madison College Democrats, College Republicans, and Madison Liberty took to the stage to discuss the 2014 Senate race and current political topics.  Representing the Democrats was President Megan DiMaiolo and a fellow named Kevin, for the Republicans it was First Vice-Chair Jake Lee and Political Director Cole Trower, and for Madison Liberty it was President Emery Siegrist and Vice President Nicholas Farrar.

10557097_10152448318451915_2111471234507948077_o
A view of the crowd

About seventy five people came to watch the debate.  Most were students, though there were a handful of local residents.  I was a little disappointed to discover that I was the only candidate for local office this year that attended.

Although the debate was designed to center around the three candidates for U.S. Senate: Mark Warner (D), Ed Gillespie (R), and Robert Sarvis (L), these names weren’t mentioned all that often.  However, this switch also meant that the forum had a heavier focus on the issues of the day rather than simply rehashing repetitive partisan attacks.  In addition, there was a live Twitter feed from the audience which allowed folks the opportunity to express their thoughts of what was transpiring on the stage.  Each group has their share of supporters and detractors, with some tweeters going back and forth depending on the issue.  I found it interesting that all three groups opposed the Harrisonburg Police Department’s ownership of an MRAP.

As student political activism is extremely important to me, I have been attending these twice yearly events for the last three years.  In previous semesters, I recorded a portion or all of the debate as was done in 4/3/13 and 4/19/2012.  Unfortunately with the extreme age of my video camera, I am unable to do so anymore.

I’d like to take a moment to offer my gratitude to each of the students who took to the stage last night.  I know firsthand that it isn’t always easy to express your opinions publicly, but it is an important way to help advance political dialogue, which is sorely needed.  I’d also like to commend those who took time on a Monday evening to listen to this discussion.  Lastly, thanks to JMU and the Student Government Association for hosting the event.  Every semester has been great and I appreciate the fact that you don’t discriminate against any of the three groups.

For those who weren’t able to attend Monday’s gathering, I hope you’ll consider coming in April 2015 when the JMU Dems, JMU GOP, and Madison Liberty take to the stage once more.  I’ll see you there!

The JMU CRs Picnic

IMG_2629Earlier today, the James Madison College Republicans hosted a picnic at Purcell Park in Harrisonburg.  More than a dozen students along with a handful of activists gathered together in the warm spring day to socialize and discuss politics.  The featured guest was Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg.  Two other elected officials also made an appearance: Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court Chaz Evans-Haywood and Delegate Tony Wilt of Broadway.

In part, given my considerable involvement in politics during my time at the College of William & Mary, I very much appreciate political interest and involvement among university students.  After all, who knows whom among us will be our future leaders?  Many of the principles students learn during these years along with their civic involvement will go a long way toward crafting great citizens.