The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXVII)

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.

If you missed the show live, you can catch it here.

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?

Delegate Berg on AG Herring

A few moments ago, Delegate Mark Berg issued the following press release concerning Attorney General Mark Herring and his decision to actively subvert the Virginia Constitution in direct violation of his oath of office.
Berg Calls Herring’s Refusal to Defend VA Marriage Amendment “Inexcusable”
As Attorney General, Mark Herring has an obligation to make
sure the marriage amendment is defended in court.

Richmond, VA | 1/27/2014 On Friday Del. Berg signed a letter from Del. Marshall, along with over fifty members of the House of Delegates, calling on Gov. McAuliffe to appoint a special counsel to defend Virginia’s marriage amendment.  Attorney General Herring swore an oath to defend the VA Constitution.  Within a matter of days he refused to defend a section of the constitution and he and the Governor have yet to appoint a Special Council to defend the measure.  Not only is Attorney General Herring refusing to defend the VA Constitution, but as the lawyer for the state of Virginia he filed suit against the people he is supposed to represent.

Del. Berg stated, “Leaving the state without legal representation is a violation of the law.  If Attorney General Herring feels he can not defend the law in court, he and the governor are still obligated to make sure the law has adequate representation.  It adds insult to injury that Attorney General Herring has decided to join in filing suit against the amendment.  In no other situation does a client’s lawyer file suit against that same client who he represents and who pays his bills.  I hope Governor McAuliffe promptly appoints a special counsel to defend the amendment.  It is inexcusable for the Governor and Attorney General to refuse to uphold their oaths in such a flagrant manner.  If the way for the party in power to kill laws is to refuse to defend them in court, then there is little point for the legislature to vote, and the people to approve them by referendum.  I am committed to standing strong in defense of Virginia’s laws and the democratic process.”
Delegate Berg represents the 29th, which includes parts of Frederick and Warren counties and the city of Winchester.  He currently serves on the Militia Police and Public Safety Committee, and Science and Technology Committee.

Mark Herring, Unfit for Office?

Photo from Mark Herring's Facebook Page
Photo from Mark Herring’s Facebook Page

Newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring recently announced that he would work to fight Virginia’s same sex marriage ban.  However, when taking the oath of office, didn’t Herring pledge uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Virginia?  If so, someone ought to remind him that in 2006 Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution which declared:

Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.

Certainly Virginians ought to revisit their laws from time to time and decide if past decisions ought to upheld or corrected.  Perhaps it is time for the citizens and legislators to address this issue once more.  However, it is deeply troubling to hear news that the attorney general is more or less abrogating his duty for political reasons.  Wasn’t it Herring’s own campaign who declared “The Kind of Attorney General Mark Herring Will Be As Attorney General, Mark Herring will put the law first, not politics.”  If he proceeds down this path, it is clear that Virginians have been deceived.

In response, Senator Mark Obenshain, who narrowly lost last year’s attorney general race, offered the following statement:

Obenshain Statement on Attorney General Mark Herring’s
Decision to Brief Against Virginia in Marriage Amendment Case
RICHMOND — Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) issued the following statement about Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement that his office will not defend Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, and will be filing a brief asking the court to strike down a provision of the state constitution.

“Virginians, like millions of others across the country, are engaged in a robust debate over marriage, one that speaks to an important unresolved constitutional issue. Here in Virginia, the state’s Marriage Amendment is a matter of perennial legislative debate, and that Amendment could well fall: the voters could repeal it or a court may strike it down. But it is emphatically not the role of the Attorney General to make that determination unilaterally, and that may well be the consequence of Attorney General Herring’s decision.

“Fair minded people disagree on the issue of gay marriage, but this is, fundamentally, about the rule of law and allowing the system to work. Whether the Marriage Amendment will survive court scrutiny is clearly an unresolved question, but our system of law does not work when one side of the argument fails to show up. It is manifestly the job of the Attorney General to defend the law and let it rise or fall on it merits in court.”

Attorney General Herring, who on the campaign trail refused to take a clear position on whether he would defend Virginia law in this and other instances, will be filing a brief in support of the plaintiffs, according to spokeswoman Ellen Qualls.

“The Attorney General is the Commonwealth’s lawyer,” said Obenshain. “It is deeply inappropriate for the Attorney General to use state resources to actively oppose a duly ratified constitutional amendment. Through this decision, Herring is effectively seeking to unilaterally reverse the actions of the General Assembly in adopting the Amendment, and the people of Virginia in ratifying it. There are deeply held convictions on both sides of this issue, which is why it is all the more important that the case has its day on court—and that both sides of the dispute are ably and robustly argued.”

In a September interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Herring said that he would “poll the attorneys in the attorney general’s office who have the expertise in the particular subject matter” to help him determine whether or not to defend the Marriage Amendment or other laws in court. At a debate on October 2nd, he pointedly declined to state whether he would defend state laws with which he disagreed.

Obenshain concluded, “I look forward to working with the Attorney General on many important issues for the good of all Virginians, and have no intention of highlighting every possible point of disagreement that may arise throughout Herring’s term in office, but I consider the question of whether or not the Office of the Attorney General is to defend Virginia law a matter of utmost importance, something that goes to the heart of the duties of the Attorney General. This is especially true given Mark Herring’s dissembling comments made over the past six months on the campaign trail.  Virginians should be disappointed that he didn’t display the courage to share his intentions when repeatedly asked during his campaign. Today’s decision sets a disturbing precedent and has the potential to deprive Virginians on both sides of this important issue of the legal scrutiny the matter clearly merits.”

Friends, this issue is about much more than the definition of marriage in Virginia.  One shouldn’t fall into the trap of supporting this action just because he or she happens to support gay marriage.  Should Attorney General Herring attempt to redefine the law outside of the legislative process, should he fail to uphold his oath of office, it seems clear that he is unfit for the position for which he was elected and thus ought to either resign or be removed.

A Troubling Contest

obenshain_headshot
Photo from the Obenshain Campaign

Here in Virginia, the race for our next attorney general is unresolved.  In the days after the election, the totals fluctuated for the candidates with each enjoying the lead at some point.  When the state board of elections certified the official result on November 25th, Democrat Mark Herring led Republican Mark Obenshain by 165 votes out of over two million cast.  As a result, the Obenshain campaign has asked for a recount, which is permitted in races where the percentage difference is one percent or less and paid for by the state in cases where the margin is less than 1/2 of a percent.

Will the recount change the outcome?  The last statewide recount took place in the 2005 attorney general’s race.  Republican Bob McDonnell led before the recount and emerged victorious afterward.  According to a press release sent out from the Obenshain campaign on Tuesday, “There have been four statewide elections in the U.S. since 2000 that finished within a 300 vote margin.  In three of those four statewide elections the results were reversed in a recount.”  Yes, it is possible the outcome could change; Virginia taxpayers shouldn’t grumble about footing this bill.

As we await news of this recount, if Obenshain should fall short some Republican activists have been promoting the idea of something called a “contest”.  In close elections where there are cases of massive voting irregularities, candidates can appeal to the General Assembly to decide the outcome.  The last time a contest took place was in the late 70’s when a Republican candidate contested the result of the election.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the then Democratic-controlled General Assembly decided in favor of the Democratic candidate.  However, as the Republicans control a significant majority of seats in that body, if asked to settle a contest today, presumably they would divide along party lines with Obenshain emerging as the victor.

Although a contest could allow the GOP to salvage some small measure of victory in an otherwise poor election year, without considerable proof of fraud or error, such a move would heavily tarnish any semblance of free and fair elections in Virginia.  Like the troubling decision to allow control of the lieutenant governor’s office to decide the power structure of the Virginia Senate in cases of a tie, I worry that there are elements within the Republican Party which would be willing to take this any methods necessary approach to thwart the will of the voters in the race for attorney general.

Andy Schmookler, my co-commentator and often political adversary on 550 AM, WSVA believes that Obenshain will not ask for a contest.  In the Augusta Free Press he wrote:

“A real conservative would not damage a pillar of the American political tradition by disrespecting the voice of the people expressed through voting.  It is at the heart of American democracy, because it is the means by which we confer power in an orderly and peaceful way.

“And as a matter of honor, a Virginia gentleman accepts the outcome of a duel fairly fought”

Although Andy and I disagree on a multitude of issues, I really hope he is right on this point.

Republican friends, I’m sure that I’d like see Senator Obenshain as our next attorney general as much as any of you.  But absent of proof of fraud, don’t lobby your legislators to overturn the November elections through a contest.  Sure, doing so may result in a short-term victory.  But the long-term consequences could be devastating.   The ends don’t justify the means.  Let’s let the recount and the voters determine the outcome, not 140 legislators in Richmond.

2013 Post Election Thoughts

Vote HereWell, ladies and gentlemen, it has been nearly a week since the election of November 5th.  Perhaps it is time for a little analysis.  Before I begin, I should add that the week before the election, Bearing Drift asked their readers to offer their predictions on how things would turn out.  Therefore, in each race, I’ll start by mentioning my predictions.

Governor

Prediction: McAuliffe 51%, Cuccinelli 43%, Sarvis 6%

Actual: McAuliffe 47.74%, Cuccinelli 45.23%, Sarvis 6.52%

The four November polls in the lead up to Election Day predicted Cuccinelli down by significant percentages, 12%, 7%, 6%, and 7%.  Only one, Emerson College placed him within two points and the margin of error.  As Cuccinelli had not been leading in a poll since mid July, the general thought was that it wasn’t going to be a particularly close race.  However, the Cuccinelli campaign tried two tactics right before judgment day.

The first involved Obamacare.  Given that citizens across the country were having tremendous difficulty signing up on the official website, this frustration and anger proved to be fertile ground for the Cuccinelli camp given that Cuccinelli had been attacking the program within hours of its passage.  If the Cuccinelli campaign had latched onto this message sooner rather than relentlessly attacking McAuliffe, then perhaps they would have stood a good chance of actually winning.

Second, as negativity was their style, the Cuccinelli campaign and their allies attempted last minute smearing of Robert Sarvis, declaring that he was not a real libertarian and that he was secretly funded by Democrats.  Although neither of these claims were grounded in much fact, as they were distributed by both leaders in the liberty movement and a handful of well-known media sources, some voters accepted them as true and passed them on to their friends and neighbors unquestioned.  Although these tactics likely enraged a number of Sarvis supporters and turned them further from Cuccinelli, it did drive others to switch their votes from Sarvis to Cuccinelli.  Although I predicted that Sarvis would pull equally from both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, exit polls show that either his presence didn’t affect the overall outcome or he drew more from the Democratic side than the Republican.  However, this last ditch effort to win Sarvis support likely caused an even deeper fracture within the liberty movement in Virginia.

10% was the hurdle that Sarvis needed to reach and, as I predicted, he fell short.  However, assuming these false attacks were not launched, it would have been interesting to see how close he would have come.

Lieutenant Governor

Prediction: Northam 55%, Jackson 45%

Actual: Northam 55.11%, Jackson 44.54%

If you account for rounding, I hit this one exactly on the mark.  Unfortunately, as I stated upon the conclusion of the 2013 Virginia Republican Convention, by nominating Jackson the Republicans had surrendered the LG race.  If you will recall, in Jackson’s previous attempt at a statewide race the year before, he picked up a scant 4.72%.  Although Jackson strongly resonated with the hard-line social conservatives within the GOP, many of his previous statements regarding alternate religions and lifestyles hurt him tremendously among average Virginians.  Although Ralph Northam did not run a particularly impressive or vigorous campaign, all he needed to do was to air some of Jackson’s more controversial statements and victory was all but a certainty.

Attorney General

Prediction: Obenshain 52% Herring 48%

Actual: Obenshain 49.88%, Herring 49.88% (as of 11/10/13)

The Obenshain/Herring contest turned out to be a real nail-biter, with the results still unknown and likely headed to a recount.  Originally, I expected Obenshain to win based upon the fact that the Democrats had not won the attorney general’s spot since 1989 and that Obenshain had been working hard to capture this office for the last several years.  Although, in my opinion, the Obenshain team ran the best of the three Republican campaigns, they were no doubt hampered by troubles at the top of the ticket.  Once news of a possible recount emerged, I was still under the impression that Obenshain would win, but with the addition of “missing” ballots from Fairfax, the results seem a lot more unclear.  We likely won’t know anything definitive for at least a month.

House of Delegates

Prediction: 1 net seat gain for the Democrats

Actual: 1 net seat gain for the Democrats

With all of the excitement surrounding the three statewide races, the hundred seats in the House of Delegates weren’t much more than an afterthought for many Virginia voters.  Although I didn’t know where, I assumed that the Democrats would pick off a Republican somewhere.  It looks as if the GOP lost in the 2nd district, picked up the previously Republican leaning independent seat in the 19th, picked up the vacant seat in the 78th, picked up the vacant seat in 84th, and lost the 93rd.  Elsewhere, there were a considerable number of close contests.  Prior to the elections and vacancies, the Democrats had 32 seats.  Now they have 33.  Although I’ve written extensively on the 93rd in previous posts, it seems that even with a bit of gerrymandering the seat was too difficult for the GOP to hold for long.

So I guess the question now is, will Obenshain win?  And, especially if he does not, given their string of successive statewide losses since the 2009 election, what will become of the Republican Party of Virginia?

The 2001…I mean 2013 Election

This November, Virginia voters face three interesting statewide races.  On the Democratic side for governor, we find a well-connected, well-funded Democrat who has never held office (though did previously run) squaring off against the Republican attorney general, who previously served in the Virginia State Senate, and a Libertarian from northern Virginia who sought a seat in the state senate several years ago.  The fight for the GOP nod featured the lieutenant governor, favored by the establishment and more moderate wings of the party, against the conservatives, especially religious conservatives, who preferred the attorney general.  Although the attorney general emerged victorious, it seems that wound inflicted to the GOP as a result of this feud has not yet fully healed; some of the supporters of the lieutenant governor have not yet announced their public support for the attorney general and a few are openly backing his Democratic opponent.  For lieutenant governor, the Republican Party nominated an Ivy League graduate who holds some views that pundits and his running mates consider extreme.  And for attorney general, the Republican candidate is a lawyer who hails from the western portion of the state.

Although the above paragraph is an accurate description of the 2013 elections, did you know that each statement could also fit Virginia’s election from 2001?  As another twist, were you aware that only twice in Virginia history did all three statewide Republican office seekers win, in the elections immediately preceding these two, in 2009 and in 1997?  Quite a fair number of coincidences, don’t you think?  They say that elections run in cycles and, as I’m sure you know, they also say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

IMG_2162Currently, as was the case in 2001, the Virginia Republican Party is divided.  Although a college student in Williamsburg back in the early 2000’s, and thus somewhat less informed in the statewide scheme of things, I would argue that the party is more fractured today than it was then.  First, in the early stages, some Republicans worried that some of E.W. Jackson’s statements would drag down the ticket, and some offered him only conditional support.  Now, others are convinced that Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign is weakening the cause.  Many Bolling supporters are still upset.  As proof of this party rift, unlike previous years, I have seen no full ticket literature, yard signs, or bumper stickers.  Each campaign seems to be charting its own course independent of the others.  Now to be fair, from my observation it appears as if the Democrats are focusing solely on the race for governor, presumably hoping that McAuliffe’s coattails will carry both Northam and Herring to victory.  One only need to look to Monday’s parade in Buena Vista to see that the Democratic Party has placed most of their eggs in the McAuliffe basket.  And then there is the Libertarian Sarvis; admittedly under funded, but also the great-unknown factor, currently holding sway with an astounding 10% of voters, assuming the latest poll numbers are accurate.

If we look back to the 2001 election, we find a Democratic victory for governor and lieutenant governor while the Republicans win the attorney general’s race with a huge margin.  For the record, for governor the Democrat got 52%, the Republican 47%, and the Libertarian with .77%.  The LG race was pretty close, but still a Democratic victory 50% to 48% (with 1.5% for the Libertarian), and for AG, the Democrat got 40% to the Republican 60%.

Although at the start of this campaign season I originally predicted that both Cuccinelli and Obenshain would win (Obenshain with a larger margin than Cuccinelli), with two months out, if the election were held today I now believe that November’s result will likely closely follow 2001 (with Sarvis likely outstripping Bill Redpath’s percentage due to considerable recent upswings in his media coverage).  Nothing is set in stone quite yet nor do any of us possess perfect knowledge; for example, in the lieutenant governor contest, if Jackson’s supporters are as out in force throughout the state as they are in the Shenandoah Valley and the Democrats only focus on McAuliffe, a surprise upset is not out of the question.

So, the question of the day is, do you also believe that 2013 will mirror 2001?

Labor Day, Buena Vista, 2013

Yesterday, the city of Buena Vista held their 43rd annual Labor Day parade.  As in previous years, this event serves as the start of the countdown to Election Day.  However, unlike previous years, Monday’s parade was smaller than average in terms of both attendance and sign coverage.  Normally, one can find a thick blanket of yard signs from all of the candidates along Route 60 into the city.  By comparison, signs this year were restricted to the parade route itself.

All seven of the statewide candidates participated in the parade and the speeches that followed.  Besides Ken Cuccinelli, Terry McAuliffe, Robert Sarvis, E. W. Jackson, Ralph Northam, Mark Herring, and Mark Obenshain, other elected officials who attended include: Lacey Putney, the longest serving member of the Virginia General Assembly and grand marshall of the event, Representative Bob Goodlatte, Delegate Ben Cline, and Delegate Dickie Bell.

Much like the overall tone of the governor’s race, there seemed to be more anti-Cuccinelli signs than either pro-Cuccinelli or McAuliffe signs.  In addition, at the start of the parade, a plane flew overhead flying a message critical of the attorney general.  As for the winner of this year’s sign wars, both the Obenshain and Jackson campaigns shined.  Sarvis also did well, outpacing both his Republican and Democratic opponents.  Cuccinelli finished fourth and McAuliffe in fifth.  Neither Northam nor Herring had signs of any appreciable quantity.

Mid Primary Day Update: The 1%

Vote HereAt 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’s Primary

Vote HereTomorrow 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):

Lieutenant Governor

Aneesh Chopra

State Senator Ralph Northam

Attorney General

Mark Herring

Justin Fairfax

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.