GOP Declares GOP Victory

Every so often I receive political emails that can only be considered a complete waste of electronic ink. Today, after the first senatorial debate in Virginia, I got such a message.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced that they have picked a winner.  Drumroll please…why it is none other that Republican nominee Ed Gillespie. What a surprise! While they are at it, I wonder why they didn’t declare the sky to be blue or that tomorrow the sun will rise in the east.

Who do they get to write these emails and why to they think it is important news for a Republican organization to declare the Republican a winner?

Now, I don’t mean to pick on the Republicans here. I’ve seen Democrats and Libertarians do likewise. But such an action shouldn’t be considered news either.

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors. During the public comment period, dozens of folks got up to speak regarding the issue of illegal immigration. And, if I am being objectively honest, I thought a self proclaimed son of Irish immigrants gave the best speech. Now did I agree with his position? No. Nevertheless, I thought his delivery and arguments were well crafted.

There is a temptation to fall into the trap to declare that the person with whom you agree is the clear victor, but I’m hoping we can aim for a little more objectivity. I must confess, I didn’t watch the debate because the organizers excluded one of the candidates. Therefore, I cannot offer any thoughts as to which of the two candidates performed better. Maybe it was Warner, maybe it was Gillespie. But, I encourage you to figure that out for yourself.

Debating Injustice

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Ed Gillespie

On July 14th, Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie sent out a press release announcing that he has accepted an additional three upcoming debates at JMU, UVA, and George Mason.  As the notice goes on to say, incumbent Mark Warner has only agreed to one debate thus far.

When I saw this email from the Gillespie campaign, the question that first popped into my mind was, will all three of the candidates who will be on the November ballot be allowed to participate?  The answer, unfortunately, is no.  As was the case in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year, at this point the Libertarian Robert Sarvis will be excluded.

I must confess that I think denying a spot to one of the candidates is a great injustice.  After all, how will voters be able to learn about all of their choices if all are not allowed the same opportunity to participate?

Ron Paul's official congressional photo as found on Wikipedia
Ron Paul’s official congressional photo as found on Wikipedia

I was blissfully unaware of these exclusionary policies until I went to work for Ron Paul in 2007.  On January 6th, two days before the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary, my boss, Ron Paul, was not permitted to take part in this final debate.  Despite Fox News’ intentional efforts to erase him from the spotlight, he still managed to win one county in New Hampshire.

Photo from Gary Johnson's Facebook page
Photo from Gary Johnson’s Facebook page

In 2012, it was Gary Johnson’s turn to fall under the thumb of exclusion.  Even though he was the former Governor of New Mexico, he was only allowed to participate in two of the Republican debates.  What was equally curious was that Herman Cain, who has never held elective office and dropped out of the race before any vote was cast, was invited to every single one.  How can anyone make the claim that this is fair?  Given he was so routinely ignored, (coupled with some philosophical differences) who could fault Johnson for leaving the GOP and joining the Libertarian Party?

Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention
Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention

Getting back to my main point, after I heard that Sarvis would be excluded, I contacted a number of the host organizations and venues to voice my disapproval and to discover why they think it is acceptable to only allow certain candidates a voice.  Let me share with you one response:  “In my communications with the campaigns of the two major political party candidates,  the question of whether or not Mr. Sarvis would be invited was a point of discussion.  Both campaigns had stated that if Mr. Sarvis were to be invited to participate in the debate their chances of agreeing to accept the invitation was unlikely and actually committing was even less likely.”  Can you believe it?  Apparently both the Warner and Gillespie campaigns don’t wish to engage with Robert Sarvis.  And should a host allow all of the campaigns an equal place on the stage, apparently the Warner and Gillespie campaigns will boycott, choosing instead to take their ball and go home.  The two words that come to mind to best describe this situation are arrogance and cowardice.

Over a week ago, I contacted both the Warner and Gillespie campaigns seeking an official comment on this issue.  Although both indicated that they would offer a reply, thus far neither has done so.

Let’s set aside our personal opinions about Robert Sarvis for a moment and look at this situation objectively.  What if a debate host decided to exclude either Republican Ed Gillespie or Democratic Mark Warner?  I would assume that a large segment of the population would declare the event a farce and object loudly.  Or what if Gillespie and Sarvis colluded with each other to prevent Warner’s inclusion?  Again, that would be wrong, would it not?  Couldn’t either of these two scenarios easily end up swaying the election in the favor of one of the two candidates who were allowed air time?

Friends, as I pointed out in an earlier piece, Virginia election laws make third party and independent candidates jump through extra hoops.  To make matters worse, they then end up excluding these non two party candidates from airing their political opinions in public forums.  Doesn’t this make you angry?  If not, what would you say if the shoe were on the other foot, if they decided to do the same to your candidate of choice?  What if in 2012 they said no to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?  The ends do not justify the means!

Where is the justice in these exclusionary debates?  I hope that the Warner and Gillespie campaigns will do the right and honorable thing.

Sarvis on Ballot

In a bit of breaking news, I have just received word that the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, was certified by the Virginia State Board of Elections today.  As such, he will be one of at least three candidates on the ballot this November at this point alongside Democratic Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie.

Republicans for Warner?

John Warner (image from wikipedia)
John Warner (image from Wikipedia)

One big headline before the 2014 Virginia Republican convention was former Republican Senator John Warner’s endorsement of Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  In 1996, the Warners faced each other in a Senate race with Mark Warner finishing surprisingly well for a first-time candidate 47.4% to 52.5%.

However, as fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell and the Roanoke Free Press report, since that time more former Republican elected officials have come out in support of the Democratic Senator including a handful of former delegates, state senators, and even a former governor.

I must confess, at first glance this news seems rather curious.  After all, one could argue that the establishment candidate (Ed Gillespie) won the convention.  If the more conservative Shak Hill had emerged the nominee, then this result would be less of a surprise; one could label it a establishment backlash against the grassroots.

What can we make of this situation?  Does it signal a terribly weakened Virginia Republican Party?  Does the GOP have little ideological cohesion where loyalty to the party, even from former elected officials, is not a certainty?  Or is it the case that Mark Warner is simply that popular with a multitude of demographics across the state and/or Ed Gillespie is that unpopular?

Former State Senator Brandon Bell seems to think the last option when he stated, “You know what you’re getting with Mark Warner – someone who works with both sides of the aisle and forges consensus. On the other hand, Ed Gillespie was national party chair when I served in the Senate. He was not willing to take a stand on either side of the important issues we were facing. Gillespie did not seek solutions when he had the opportunity.

So what does all this mean?  Will there be additional Republican endorsements in the days to come?  And will the grassroots rally behind Gillespie even though some consider him insufficiently conservative or will they launch a protest vote with Robert Sarvis?

Most pundits already predict a Warner victory and so the more interesting question to ask is, what will this situation do to the Republican Party in Virginia?

Senate Polling

Currently, the News Virginian, a newspaper based out of Waynesboro, is holding an online poll to gauge support for the various 2014 U.S. Senate candidates.  The poll includes all four of the Republican options, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.

So what does the poll show?  Currently, Robert Sarvis easily tops the voting with 61.3% of the vote. Mark Warner comes in second at 21.8%.  Ed Gillespie leads the Republican field with 13.2% and Shak Hill, the most well-known alternative to Gillespie, is farther behind at 2.5%.  Both Chuck Moss and Tony DeTora do not crack the 1% mark.

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Robert Sarvis at the 2014 Virginia Libertarian state convention.

Although the poll doesn’t display how many people have voted thus far, nor can it be declared scientific and thus accurate by any stretch of the imagination, it still holds some interest.

Looking back to the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012, Ron Paul often won these internet contests with convincing margins, though I don’t recall him with the kind of lead Sarvis has in this poll.  Nevertheless, he fared much better in the online world than the ballot box as liberty-minded voters are typically younger, more technologically connected, and this much more likely to participate in these kinds of polls.

Although it is exceedingly early in the race, if any candidate does reach or exceed the 60% mark on Election Day, it will most likely be incumbent Senator Warner.  After all, the last time he ran in 2008, he crushed former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore 65% to 33.7%.

It is true that we won’t know who the Republican nominee will be until after the Virginia Republican Convention in June.  However, most pundits and pollsters currently rate this race as fairly safely Democratic.  If that trend holds, could Robert Sarvis see a surge in popularity as a protest vote against the major party candidates?  I suppose the answer to that question depends on who the Republicans nominate, the unity or disarray of the GOP, the popularity of Mark Warner, and the strength of the Sarvis campaign over the next several months.   Perhaps a taste of things to come, I have spoken with a multitude of activists across the state and it seems likely that there will be a revolt in the liberty wing of the Republican Party if Ed Gillespie is the party nominee; if that transpires, Sarvis could see a substantial increase in support.

Want to add your voice to the mix?  Click on the link for the News Virginian’s website and cast your vote in this straw poll.

Quinnipac Releases First Poll

Today, Quinnipac released their first poll for the U.S. Senate race in Virginia.  Not surprisingly, Senator Mark Warner currently enjoys a comfortable lead over former RNC leader Ed Gillespie, 46%-31%.  However, it should be noted that Mr. Gillespie is not the Republican nominee at this point given that he faces Shak Hill and two other challengers at the June state convention. Somewhat surprisingly, the poll also includes Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis who currently stands at 6%, close to the vote percentage he won for governor in the 2012 contest.

As the poll indicates, presently Warner enjoys a plurality of support in his reelection effort 49%-36%.  He is viewed mostly favorably by Virginia voters, 49%-30%.  Should he end up becoming the Republican nominee, most voters (64%) don’t know enough about Ed Gillespie.  At the same time, 80% don’t know enough about Sarvis to form an opinion.

You can find the details of the rest of the poll by following this link.

Yes, it is still quite early in the process, but like most of the pundits out there, at this point I would expect Senator Warner to easily win reelection in November.  Can that outcome change?  Of course it can.

Musings on the U.S. Senate Race

Today has been a busy day for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 elections.  Citing fundraising problems coupled with the fact that a good chunk of his campaign staff has gone elsewhere, Howie Lind has withdrawn from the race.  A few moments ago, Delegate Ben Cline declared that he has decided against tossing his hat into the ring.  State Senator (and 2013 Republican AG nominee) Mark Obenshain announced his endorsement of Ed Gillepsie.  Former Republican U.S. Senator John Warner proclaimed his support for Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.

The GOP convention is still several months away and the general election even farther in the future.  It is important to remember that the field, especially the Republican field, has not necessarily settled.  At this time, I do not know enough about either Shak Hill or Ed Gillespie to make an informed opinion of either.

Given his connections as the former head of the RPV and RNC, it is easy to declare Gillespie the strong favorite over Hill.  However, it is exceedingly curious that Gillespie’s website thus far makes no mention on where he stands on any single issue.  Is he a conservative?  A libertarian?  Another establishment candidate?  It is a question that is difficult to answer.

Shak Hill still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of name ID.  Will he, like an E.W. Jackson candidate, claim an improbable victory in Roanoke?  In a convention it is much easier for an underfunded underdog to win.

And will the Libertarian Party nominate a candidate of their own to add an additional  factor to the race?

Given all these thoughts, at this point I remain uncommitted.

The RLC Scorecard

Today, the Republican Liberty Caucus released their scorecard for members of Congress.  Not surprisingly, Republicans generally fared much better than their Democratic counterparts.

Over all, according to the RLC, the Virginia delegation performed well in matters of economic liberty, but not as well in personal liberty.  Representative Morgan Griffith (VA-9), claimed the top overall score in the state with 84%, while Robert Hurt (VA-5) and Scott Rigell (VA-2) both were rated 100% on issues of economic liberty.

Ratings for VA legislators are as follows:

Representatives

Name              Economic        Personal         Liberty Index

Cantor             95                   25                   61

Connolly         20                   35                   28

Forbes            80                   40                   60

Goodlatte        95                   50                   73

Griffith            90                   79                   84

Hurt                100                 53                   76

Moran             0                      55                   28

Rigell               100                 53                   76

Scott                10                   68                   39

Wittman         95                   40                   68

Wolf                85                   47                   66

 

Senators

Name              Economic        Personal         Liberty Index

Kaine              15                   5                      10

Warner           15                   24                   19

 

You may agree or disagree with the RLC and their scoring system, but it seems to me that Virginia is in need of more liberty-minded legislators in Washington D.C.  2014 will provide that opportunity as the state will be electing a senator and all eleven members to the House of Representatives.  Will Virginia voters support more liberty or less in the primaries and in November?  We shall see.

Labor Day in Buena Vista

Although a small city in western Virginia, Buena Vista plays host to an important political event every Labor Day.  Earlier today, politicians, their campaigns, and throngs of grassroots activists descended upon the community to participate in their annual Labor Day parade.  This year, attendees included: Senator Mark Warner, former Governor and Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Kaine, former Governor and Republican Senate hopeful George Allen, former Representative and Constitution Party Presidential candidate Virgil Goode, Representative Bob Goodlatte, and his Democratic challenger Andy Schmookler.

The event had the one of the greatest concentrations of yard signs anywhere; from Interstate 81, the road into Buena Vista was lined.  Along the parade route, signage was even thicker, forming a virtual fence between the spectators and those walking in the procession in many places.  But which campaign was best represented in this aspect?  Of all of the candidates, Tim Kaine easily won the sign war; his total number of signs more than doubled his next closest competitor, George Allen, while Bob Goodlatte placed third.  Curiously, there were relatively few Mitt Romney signs and close to zero for President Barack Obama.  This trend could lead one to think that no one had much of an interest in the race at the top of the ticket.

Unlike previous years where I promoted either a candidate or the GOP, today I walked in the parade on behalf of We rVirginia, a conservative grassroots organization based outside of Richmond.  Although our group was considerably smaller than either the masses of Democratic and Republican volunteers, our folks were quite efficient, carrying our banner down the streets of Buena Vista while distributing hundreds of leaflets explaining both the purpose of the organization and comparing the stances of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

As the Buena Vista Labor Day continues to grow in attendance and importance, it is becoming a virtual can’t miss event for those seeking office in either the 6th Congressional district or statewide in Virginia.  Surprisingly, neither Lt. Governor Bill Bolling nor Ken Cuccinelli attended the gathering this year, but it is all but certain that whichever of these two men captures the GOP nod for Governor will have a huge showing in Buena Vista 2013 along with whoever wins the Democrats nominatation for Governor, as well as the various candidates for Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

See you again in Buena Vista on September 2, 2013!

Can You Protect Me From Yourself?

Although fast tracking the renewal of several provisions of the Patriot Act proved to be unsuccessful, yesterday the House of Representatives voted to extend these constitutionally questionable powers.  The vote on H.R. 514 was 275 in favor, 144 against, and 14 not voting.  Although supporters of the Patriot Act claim that these provisions are a key tool in the fight against terrorism, they also strip away the rights and privacy of citizens.  In the wrong hands, I fear what sort of damage can be caused.

A few moments ago, I contacted my Representative, Bob Goodlatte, and my two Senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner.  From Rep. Goodlatte, I hoped to get an explanation as to why he supported this bill.  From my Senators, I hoped to learn how they were planning to vote on this resolution.  As is typical, I was told I would be receiving a letter in the mail from Representative Goodlatte regarding this issue.  From Senators Webb and Warner, I got no real information other than assurances that my concern would be passed on to them.  Although I know that my Senators represent a whole lot more people than my Representative, is it too much to ask for a letter in reply?  Although I disagree with my Representative on this particular issue, I greatly appreciate his efforts to maintain contact with his constituents.  If only we had Senators who were as responsive as Goodlatte.  I hope Senator Webb’s replacement will be better.

Regarding this issue, earlier today Senator Paul of Kentucky released the following letter to his fellow Senators:

Dear Colleague:

James Otis argued against general warrants and writs of assistance that were issued by British soldiers without judicial review and that did not name the subject or items to be searched.

He condemned these general warrants as “the worst instrument[s] of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever w[ere] found in an English law book.”  Otis objected to these writs of assistance because they “placed the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.”  The Fourth Amendment was intended to guarantee that only judges—not soldiers or policemen—would issue warrants.  Otis’ battle against warrantless searches led to our Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable government intrusion.

My main objection to the PATRIOT Act is that searches that should require a judge’s warrant are performed with a letter from an FBI agent—a National Security Letter (“NSL”).

I object to these warrantless searches being performed on United States citizens.  I object to the 200,000 NSL searches that have been performed without a judge’s warrant.

I object to over 2 million searches of bank records, called Suspicious Activity Reports, performed on U.S. citizens without a judge’s warrant.

As February 28th approaches, with three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire, it is time to re-consider this question:  Do the many provisions of this bill, which were enacted in such haste after 9/11, have an actual basis in our Constitution, and are they even necessary to achieve valid law-enforcement goals?

The USA PATRIOT Act, passed in the wake of the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, is no doubt well-intentioned.  However, rather than examine what went wrong, and fix the problems, Congress instead hastily passed a long-standing wish list of power grabs like warrantless searches and roving wiretaps.  The government greatly expanded its own power, ignoring obvious answers in favor of the permanent expansion of a police state.

It is not acceptable to willfully ignore the most basic provisions of our Constitution—in this case—the Fourth and First Amendments—in the name of “security.”

For example, one of the three provisions set to expire on February 28th—the “library provision,” section 215 of the PATRIOT Act—allows the government to obtain records from a person or entity by making only the minimal showing of “relevance” to an international terrorism or espionage investigation.  This provision also imposes a year-long nondisclosure, or “gag” order. “Relevance” is a far cry from the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause.  Likewise, the “roving wiretap” provision, section 206 of the PATRIOT Act, which is also scheduled to expire on the 28th, does not comply with the Fourth Amendment.  This provision makes possible “John Doe roving wiretaps,” which do not require the government to name the target of the wiretap, nor to identify the specific place or facility to be monitored.  This bears an uncanny resemblance to the Writs of Assistance fought against by Otis and the American colonists.

Other provisions of the PATRIOT Act previously made permanent and not scheduled to expire present even greater concerns.  These include the use and abuse by the FBI of so-called National Security Letters.  These secret demand letters, which allow the government to obtain financial records and other sensitive information held by Internet Service Providers, banks, credit companies, and telephone carriers—all without appropriate judicial oversight—also impose a gag order on recipients.

NSL abuse has been and likely continues to be rampant.  The widely-circulated 2007 report issued by the Inspector General from the Department of Justice documents “widespread and serious misuse of the FBI’s national security letter authorities.  In many instances, the FBI’s misuse of national security letters violated NSL statutes, Attorney General Guidelines, or the FBI’s own internal policies.”  Another audit released in 2008 revealed similar abuses, including the fact that the FBI had issued inappropriate “blanket NSLs” that did not comply with FBI policy, and which allowed the FBI to obtain data on 3,860 telephone numbers by issuing only eleven “blanket NSLs.” The 2008 audit also confirmed that the FBI increasingly used NSLs to seek information on U.S. citizens.  From 2003 to 2006, almost 200,000 NSL requests were issued.  In 2006 alone, almost 60% of the 49,425 requests were issued specifically for investigations of U.S. citizens or legal aliens.

In addition, First Amendment advocates should be concerned about an especially troubling aspect of the 2008 audit, which documented a situation in which the FBI applied to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to obtain a section 215 order.  The Court denied the order on First Amendment grounds.  Not to be deterred, the FBI simply used an NSL to obtain the same information.

A recent report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) entitled, “Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008,” documents further NSL abuse.  EFF estimates that, based on the proportion of violations reported to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the FBI’s own statements regarding NSL violations, the actual number of violations that may have occurred since 2001 could approach 40,000 violations of law, Executive Order, and other regulations.

Yet another troublesome (and now permanent) provision of the PATRIOT Act is the expansion of Suspicious Activity Reports.  Sections 356 and 359 expanded the types of financial institutions required to file reports under the Bank Secrecy Act.  The personal and account information required by the reports is turned over to the Treasury Department and the FBI.  In 2000, there were only 163,184 reports filed.  By 2007, this had increased to 1,250,439.  Again, as with NSLs, there is a complete lack of judicial oversight for SARs.

Finally, I wish to remind my colleagues that one of the many ironies of the rush to advance the PATRIOT Act following 9/11 is the well-documented fact that FBI incompetence caused the failure to search the computer of the alleged 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui.  As FBI agent Coleen Rowley stated, “the FBI headquarters supervisory special agent handling the Moussaoui case ‘seemed to have been consistently almost deliberately thwarting the Minneapolis FBI agents’ efforts” to meet the FISA standard for a search warrant, and therefore no request was ever made for a warrant.  Why, then, was the FBI rewarded with such expansive new powers in the aftermath of this institutional failure?

In the words of former Senator Russ Feingold, the only “no” vote against the original version of the PATRIOT Act,

“[T]here is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America.”

I call upon each of my Senate colleagues to seriously consider whether the time has come to re-evaluate many—if not all—provisions of the PATRIOT Act.  Our oath to uphold the Constitution demands it.

Sincerely,

Rand Paul, M.D.
United States Senator

So now fellow lovers of constitutionally constrained government, we must look to a Senate controlled by the Democrats to defeat this bill.  Like what was attempted in the House, they must find a coalition of liberals and conservatives to defeat the perhaps well meaning, but liberty-quashing middle.

Don’t misunderstand me, the government can and should protect the citizens against terrorism.  I’m just worried that in their zealous pursuit of this war on terror, liberty and the Constitution will fall by the wayside.  What I want to know is when will victory over terrorism be achieved?  Have we bound ourselves to a war without end?  Equally importantly, when, if ever, will the government willingly give up these Patriot Act powers?

After all, if we honestly believed that government could restrain and police itself, would the colonies ever have broken away from Great Britain?  Would this great nation even exist?  Furthermore, why would we need silly things like a Constitution?  Were our forefathers mistaken?  Or are we forgetting what it means to be free?

Fellow conservatives, I’ll end with a quote from our great former President, Ronald Reagan.  “Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.”  So do these provisions of the Patriot Act protect our rights or do they take them away?