On the morning of Wednesday, February 13th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for our monthly political radio hour. The main topic of the day was the ongoing controversies with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General of Virginia. We also briefly touched on the next potential federal government shutdown and whether President Trump would get his wall funding.
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.
At 1 PM today, I stopped by the Massanetta Springs precinct, the largest and typically busiest precinct in all of Rockingham County. Unlike with most primaries and general elections, the parking lot was sparsely occupied and none of the four Democratic campaigns had volunteers or staff handing out materials to the voters as they went inside. At that time, turnout was exceedingly low, 44, or slightly less than 1% of the registered voting population.
From there, I traveled to the Keister Elementary precinct in Harrisonburg, my polling place. Again, the scene was the same as it was in Rockingham County, rows of empty parking spots and absolutely no one outside asking for my support. At about 1:10, I registered as voter number thirty-two, which is about 1% of their registered voter total. Not only was there no line in front of me, but also there was no one else voting at that same time. I spent a few moments chatting with the various poll workers. Having served as election official in a previous election, I know that they ware in for a particularly long and boring day.
Although I am not a member of any Democratic Party, I did find it curious that none of the campaigns sent me any mailings over the duration of the primary season. After all, my voting history shows that I have voted in a handful of Democratic contests over the years, such as the 2004 Democratic Presidential Primary, the 2006 U.S. Senate Primary, and the previous 2009 statewide contests.
Yes, turnout is low in this part of the state today and given that fact, my prediction for the outcome remains the same. Aneesh Chopra should win the LG race by a small margin over Northam, while Mark Herring will enjoy a convincing victory for AG over Fairfax.
Tomorrow features a number of party primaries across Virginia. In some districts, incumbent members of the House of Delegates are facing challengers from within their own party. For example, in the northern Shenandoah Valley, Delegate Bev Sherwood faces Dr. Mark Berg and Delegate Todd Gilbert squares off against Mark Prince. All in all, about half a dozen Republican delegates have an interparty challenge. In addition, two Democratic delegates also will also have to defend themselves from within their own ranks.
Delegates in a vast majority of the commonwealth are unchallenged. However, regardless of the delegates’ races, in every single polling place there will be a primary; the Democratic Party will be selecting their nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general for the 2013 general election.
Given that Virginia does not have party registration, every voter, regardless of party preference, can vote in tomorrow’s primary. It is not merely a contest for Democrats, but for Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Constitutionalists, and independents. However, with those thoughts in mind, one important exception is that no one can vote in both parties’ primaries. Therefore, if you vote in a Republican contest on Tuesday, you will be ineligible to participate in the Democratic one as well (or vice versa).
Now, many Republicans I know are abstaining from voting tomorrow, claiming that it would be improper for Republicans to participate in a Democratic Party issue. I take a different approach. If the Democratic Party didn’t want outsiders to participate, then they would have held a convention like the Republicans did on May 18th and the Libertarians did on April 21st. In addition, given that the contest is decided by a primary, that means that the Virginia taxpayers pay for Tuesday’s contest. If a party takes my money, either directly or indirectly, then I believe that I am entitled to voice my opinion in that process.
With these thoughts in mind, how can we differentiate among the candidates? After all, the Democratic Party offers two choices for lieutenant governor and two choices for attorney general. They are (with a link included to their websites):
But for which of the candidates should you vote? Well, there are several competing theories, that I discussed more in depth in an article four years ago. You could vote for the candidate who you believe is the strongest (or weakest), in order to give the Democratic Party the best (or worst) chance of victory. However, my recommendation is to support whichever candidate best represents your political principles. After all, if a Democrat does win in the general election in November, I’m hoping we would get the most conservative of the candidates (assuming such a candidate exists).
For me, control of the Virginia Senate is a very important issue in the LG race. Given his openness to creating a power sharing agreement in the Virginia Senate (which is currently evenly split between Democratic and Republican Parties), I will be casting my primary vote for Ralph Northam. Then again, this very same issue may be the driving point which convinces some of my more liberal friends to choose Aneesh Chopra.
Although I know that many of my readers have no plans to vote in tomorrow’s primary, I still encourage you to learn about the various choices and cast a ballot based upon your research. Never go to the polls in ignorance; arrive well informed. Our political system requires a knowledgeable electorate.
Don’t forget tomorrow’s primary!
Thanks to Lowell Fulk for indirectly reminding me to write this piece through his Facebook post.