The End of Primaries In Virginia?

With Virginia’s legislative session beginning next week, Delegates and Senators are busy getting all of their affairs in order.  If you check the Legislative Information System, you can find a wealth of pre-filed bills and resolutions from General Assembly members across the state.  A few moments ago, I received an email from my State Senator, Mark Obenshain.  In what promises to be the first part of his previews, he discusses some of his legislative priorities.  It reads as follows:

Perhaps January 12 isn’t circled on your calendar, but it is on mine – it is the first day of the General Assembly Session.  I know that what takes place in Richmond matters to you too, which is why I want to use the coming days to tell you about the bills I plan to introduce and some of the big issues facing the General Assembly this session.

Today, I would like to take the opportunity to outline some of my proposals for a leaner, smarter government. Honestly, we don’t have much of a choice: although the economy is starting to recover, state revenues remain low and need remains great. We have to prioritize, to come up with more efficient ways of doing the work of government, and to ensure that the true agents of recovery – individual Virginians – aren’t hampered by overbearing regulation.

If ever there was a time for government reform, this is it. Here are a few of the bills I will be introducing this year designed to change the way the Commonwealth governs for the better.

Creating a Transportation Lockbox

Here’s an idea: revenues specifically raised for and dedicated to transportation should be spent on … transportation!

Time and again, legislators have raided transportation revenues to pay for other projects. Often, less important functions are funded by revenues designated for far more important ones, on the theory that when the more essential program experiences a budget crunch, there will be no choice but to appropriate new monies to cover the shortfall.

No more: it’s a poor way to govern, and it’s bad faith with the people of Virginia. That’s why I’m proposing the creation of a “transportation lockbox” to ensure that revenues specifically raised for transportation are only spent on transportation projects. The time for dallying on fiscal responsibility is over – indeed, it ended long ago. It’s time to put transportation funds in a lockbox to help ensure the funds we need to make critical infrastructure improvements.

Getting a Better Deal on Government Contracts

When the Commonwealth puts a project or purchase order out to bid, it doesn’t always take the best deal – or anything close. Due to an entrenched system of preferential procurement, 40% of all requests for proposals are submitted to qualifying small businesses and women- and minority-owned (SWaM) businesses alone.

Whatever you think of preferential contracting, this is an incredibly bad way to go about it. Some states “score” bids on various factors – price, specifications, reputability – and include a preference component. Virginia, on the other hand, simply sets aside 40% of contracts exclusively for SWaM vendors, and we have no idea much it costs us since we have no other bids by which the contracts can be compared.

Under my proposal, bidding would be open to all vendors, and agencies will be permitted to enter into as many SWaM-preferred contracts as they wish so long as total project costs are not increased by more than 3% off the low qualifying bids. The question is this: can we really justify unquantifiable cost overruns at a time when we are asking so many to do more with less?

Ending Subsidies to Political Parties

Virginia is in a somewhat unique situation: we don’t allow voter registration by political party, but we still pay for party primaries. And the truth is, we pay through the nose, sometimes as much as $20 per voter.

There are perfectly good alternatives. Parties often choose to nominate via convention or party canvass, or through a “firehouse primary,” in which a limited number of polling places are opened in each locality, usually for fewer hours than in a government-run election. All of these methods are common, all are relatively affordable – and all are paid for by the political parties themselves.

If a political party wants a conventional primary, fine – but they can pay for it. Our localities are burdened enough as it is. If a party cannot or will not put up that much money, they can always go with a cheaper option. Our localities can ill afford it – and under my proposal, they wouldn’t have to.

Studying Options for a Fiscally Sustainable Future

It’s easy for an entity as large as state government to get stuck in the past, and sometimes the way forward is less than obvious. But we can’t just keep spinning our wheels; at very least, we should always be looking for ways to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I’m introducing legislation instructing Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study proposals for making state government smarter and more efficient.

As you probably know, federal health care legislation requires a massive expansion of state Medicaid programs by 2014, with substantial new financial burdens falling upon already cash-strapped states. Here’s what you probably don’t know: state involvement in Medicaid is optional.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and no, of course I would never support repudiating our obligations to low-income families in Virginia. I simply point out that we don’t necessarily have to provide these services through Medicaid, especially with a raft of new regulations and eligibility changes on the way.

Several states are looking at the possibility of running their own programs independent of the federal Medicaid program – and it wouldn’t be the first time. Some states ran their own programs into the 1980s, when changes in federal funding ended the cost-effectiveness of such alternatives. With the nature of Medicaid set to change, it’s time to give that option another look to determine if Virginia could meet the needs of the Medicaid population more cost-effectively outside the federal Medicaid program.

The second study I am requesting deals with state employee pay. Recently, several studies have demonstrated that federal employee compensation routinely exceeds that of comparable private sector positions, raising the question of whether state pay scales are similarly disproportionate – something we should wish to know for future hiring.

Going beyond the value of compensation packages, moreover, we need to give a good long look at how we provide retirement benefits. The Virginia Retirement System’s default choice is a defined benefit plan which looks a lot like the pensions of the 1950s – ’70s, but bears little resemblance to the more cost-effective defined contribution plans and 401(k)s common in today’s workplace. If being behind the times is costing us, things need to change. That’s part of what my bill would instruct JLARC to study.

Of course, these are just a few proposals to make government more efficient and responsive. I will be carrying a number of other bills with similar themes, and look forward to working with my colleagues on further reform proposals, a number of which have emerged from the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, of which I am a member.

In coming days, I will be sharing more with you about my legislative priorities, and about major issues facing the General Assembly this coming session, and as always, I welcome you to share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns with me now and throughout session.

With best regards, 

Banner
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator
Authorized and paid for by Friends of Mark Obenshain

Now there is quite a bit of meat in this email.  However, one particular issue that stands out to me concerns political primaries.  As I’ve stated before, I believe primaries are a poor method to nominate party candidates.  Not only are they an added expense to the Virginia taxpayer, but they often create weaker nominees and ones less wed to their party’s supposed ideology.  Given that the costs of holding a convention falls squarely on the parties, I understand why political parties might choose a primary, but is it fair to defray these costs to average Virginians?  That doesn’t sound very fiscally responsible.

I was greatly disappointed when state Republicans decided upon a primary to select our 2012 Republican nominee for Senate.  Given that the decision has been thrown open to every Virginia voter, we will likely end up with a nominee that is not the most conservative (and some may argue not the most Republican), but rather the one who best panders to the liberals and the moderates.  After all, they will have as much of a say in choosing the Republican nominee as Republicans will.  What a great idea ladies and gentlemen!  Let’s let the Democrats pick the Republican candidate.  What could possibly go wrong?

Sigh.

Well, I’m glad to hear that Senator Obenshain is working to correct this issue.  If political parties still insist on holding primaries, it is high time that they cover the bill themselves.  Once the RPV and the DPVA have to front the cost of their own nomination process, if only for financial reasons, maybe they will come to realize that conventions (or canvasses) are a better method.  After all, as they say, “It’s the money stupid.”

Wilt Wins!

Note:  News courtesy of Senator Mark Obenshain and hburgnews.com.

A little while ago, Tony Wilt was declared the winner of the Republican nomination for the 26th district House of Delegates.  Although the official vote totals will not be released to the public for the sake of party unity, in total, 1597 votes were cast.  Being a numbers kind of guy, I would be greatly interested in seeing the percentages, especially how they differed in the city and the county, but I can appreciate the desire to end any potential divisiveness.

With this win, Mr. Wilt will face the Democratic nominee, Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner, in the June 15 special election.  With less than two months to go, I’m sure both candidates will be campaigning hard in order to claim the open seat.

So congratulations Mr. Wilt.  I expect many great and conservative things of you.  I also want to say congrats to both Mr. Elledge and Mr. Byrd.  Although I’ve never been a candidate myself, I know full well that campaigning is not an easy task.  It requires a will and a resolve that only a select few can muster.

I’ll post more news as it becomes available.

And on to June we go!

The 26th Decision

Can you believe that the day has arrived so quickly?  Tomorrow, we will be selecting the nominee for the Republican Party here in the 26th district.  When I got home from work tonight, my inbox was stuffed with emails from the three candidates (The count stands at ten from 12:30 to 10:40 PM).  Believe it or not, I’m still undecided.  I haven’t had sufficient time to study the candidates and I still think the process was rushed.  Nevertheless, I’ll continue to read about them this evening and tomorrow morning so hopefully when 4:00 PM comes, I’ll be able to make an informed decision.

I plan to support whichever candidate I believe is the most conservative in the three key areas:  socially, fiscally, and constitutionally.  Of course I want a delegate who shares our valley values, but, in addition, I want a leader who will boldly patron conservative legislation.  So then, who is the best candidate?  To help with our decision, I’d like to share with you the responses the three candidates gave to the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party.

SPECIAL EDITION–CANDIDATES FOR 26th House of Delegates District Answer Tea Party Questions

1. John Elledge

2. Tony Wilt

3. Ted Byrd

Please scroll down to read all answers.    Information Only.  The SVTPP Does Not Make Endorsements.

John Elledge Answers SVTPP Nine Questions


1. Please provide a short essay that introduces you and your background?
I am John Elledge and I am running to represent the 26th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.  Delegate Matt Lohr, re-elected this past November, will be vacating his position, leaving the seat open less than halfway through the term.  I am determined to fill his position because the citizens of the 26th District need a Delegate who can hit the ground running.  I know that I am the right man for the job.

I know the institution of the Virginia General Assembly because I worked ten years as a Legislative Assistant to former Delegate Glenn Weatherholtz.  I am the only candidate who knows the procedures and processes of the legislature.  I have drafted bills, monitored them, and developed a strategy to pass important legislation over those ten years.  I am aware of the ins and outs of the committee structure, and the tricks and setbacks that legislators face.  I know the players in Richmond and in the District, and I know the mysteries of the budgeting process.

My political values were developed under the guidance of Delegate Weatherholtz, who had a distaste for politics as usual.  He served 24 years as Rockingham County Sheriff.  During those years and during his service in the General Assembly, he made it a point of genuine pride to never spend his entire budget.  He was also a tough man who knew his own mind and did not give in easily to the pressures of the insiders in the political class.  It is my goal to emulate Glenn Weatherholtz in all these ways.

2. Please describe the three most important achievements that you would like to accomplish for the citizens of the 26th District?
I will consider it an achievement every time I successfully work for the failure of government-expanding legislation proposed by a Democrat or a Republican.

I will consider it an achievement if I can make a dent in the status of the 26th District as a net exporter of resources.  I want to bring our fair share back home to be spent in our communities, not in the district of those who cater to expansive local governments in their districts.  I will work to fund core services of Education, Public Safety and Transportation, to relieve upward pressure on our local tax system.

I will proudly limit the amount of legislation I introduce each session.  Not every idea needs to become law.  What legislation I do introduce will have a priority of reducing the size of government.

3.  If elected, will you hold frequent town hall meetings and tele-town hall meetings for the 26th District citizens?
Yes, I will employ the latest technology to stay in touch with my constituents, to be as responsive and accessible as possible.

4. What are your three top concerns for the Commonwealth of Virginia?
That we eliminate services that are not the core role of government.

That we resist the intrusion of the federal government into the province of the government of the Commonwealth, and that we demand that the federal government lives up to its obligations to all the citizens, like protecting our borders, and spend on core infrastructure like Interstate highways, rather than expansive social programs.

That we fund core services in a focused and efficient manner: Education, Public Safety, and Transportation.

5. Is the size of Virginia government and the Virginia 2010-2012 Budget: adequate, too large, or too small?
It is too large.  Much of what makes it too large is the result of the imposition of unfunded mandates, like Medicaid and spending.  The current budget takes the Commonwealth back to the 2006 spending level, which were prosperous economic times.  We must prevent the budget from swelling back to its size before the recession.  We also need to see that a significant portion of revenue growth from the recovery goes to a Rainy Day Fund, and to repaying the frequently-raided Transportation fund.

6. Will you sign a “no-new taxes” pledge?
Yes.

7. What are your three top concerns at the Federal level?
Runaway spending
The imposition of mandates on states, especially unfunded mandates.
The Federal government’s failure/refusal to seal our borders.

8. Do you vigorously support Virginia 10th Amendment legislation such as, H.B. 10 (Virginia Health Care Freedom Act) and H.B. 69 (Virginia Firearms Freedom Act)?
I absolutely support both these legislative efforts, and further support sound legal challenges to the Federal government’s imposition of its healthcare rules and firearms regulations on Virginians, recognizing that success in these challenges will probably require the Supreme Court’s reversal of bad precedent in terms of its Commerce Clause jurisprudence (Wickard vs, Filbrum) and the extension of its good decision in U.S. vs. Lopez, which found the Gun-Free School Zones Act unconstitutional as an application of the Commerce Clause.

9. If you believe that Virginia must cut spending in state government, what spending category would you cut first?
This goes hand-in-hand with my views on question # 8.  The primary and fastest growing segment of the budget causing the explosion in spending has to do with unfunded mandates, especially Medicaid spending.  A forceful resistance to these impositions with the efforts of strong organizers and activists like the Tea Party groups working to change the makeup of Congress could do wonders to reduce this forced area of state spending.

Apart from that, I am generally supportive of Governor McDonnell’s approach to the planned cuts he offered before the General Assembly.

Tony Wilt Answers SVTPP Nine Questions

1. Please provide a short essay that introduces you and your platform?

My name is Tony Wilt and I’m vying for the Republican nomination to run for the 26th District House of Delegates seat.  I’ve never run for public office.  However, I’m excited about the prospect of representing the people of the 26th District.  Vickie and I have been married for 25 years and have a grown daughter and son.

I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.  I am pro-life.  I believe the 2nd Amendment gives each qualifying citizen the right to keep and bear arms.  I was born, raised, and lived in the 26th District all my life, except for two brief times in California and North Carolina, while my dad served in the U.S. M.C.  I urge you to seek out those who know me.  My actions will speak out louder and truer than my words.  I trust that you will find that my actions and words are one in the same.

I’ve worked at Superior Concrete, Inc. for 30 years and am the President/General Manager.  I stand firm against any new taxes, regulations, mandates, and entitlements, and will fight to lessen or repeal current ones.  I believe in limited government intrusion in every aspect of our lives.  But along with that, I demand personal responsibility.

2. Please describe the three most important achievements that you would like to accomplish for the citizens of the 26th District?

Greater freedom of government intrusion in our lives.

Re-evaluate the state budget for what is supported, and for how much.

Secure alternative sources of revenue, instead of raising taxes on hard-working Virginians.

3. If elected, will you hold frequent town hall meetings and tele-town hall meetings for the 26th District citizens?

Yes.

4. What are your three top concerns for the Commonwealth of Virginia?

Out of control Federal government.

Efficiency of state and local governments.

Stagnant economy.

5. Is the size of Virginia government and the Virginia 2010-2012 Budget: adequate, too large, or too small?

Too large.

6. Will you sign a “no-new taxes” pledge?

Yes.    (This candidate submitted a signed and witnessed Taxpayer Protection Pledge with Americans for Tax Reform, that pledges he will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.)

7. What are your three top concerns at the Federal level?

Disregard for the Constitution.

Ignoring national security and sovereignty.

Mandates passed on states and locales.

8. Do you vigorously support Virginia 10th Amendment Legislation such as H.B. 10 (Virginia Health Care Freedom Act) and H.B. 69 (Virginia Firearms Freedom Act)?

Yes.

9. If you believe that Virginia must cut spending in state government, what spending category would you cut first?

This is a tough one, I believe two-fold.  Every agency must strive for efficiency, but I don’t know if that will do the trick.  We must prioritize just what the government should be involved in, and cut the rest.  That definitely means operations within each agency, but maybe the agency itself.
Ted Byrd Answers SVTPP Nine Questions
1. Please provide a short essay that introduces you and your platform?
I am running for the Republican nomination for the 26th District of the House of Delegates, because I believe my experiences in Agriculture, Economic Development, Business, Transportation, and Local Government enable me to have a balanced perspective and will represent our community’s interest in Richmond.  I am committed to listen carefully to constituents and make decisions that will best address our local and state concerns.

2. Please describe the three most important achievements that you would like to accomplish for the citizens of the 26th District?
I would be a Champion of our local Family Farmers.
I would work hard to ensure we have a business climate that encourages the creation of jobs.
I would continue to strive for fair funding for our local schools to enable children to compete for future jobs.

3. If elected, will you hold frequent town hall meetings and tele-town hall meetings for the 26th District citizens?
Yes.

4. What are your three top concerns for the Commonwealth of Virginia?
We need to return to prioritizing state funding for our core services which are: public safety, education, and maintaining our road infrastructure.

5. Is the size of Virginia government and the Virginia 2010-2012 Budget: adequate, too large, or too small?
It is still too large.

6. Will you sign a “no-new taxes” pledge?
Yes.

7. What are your three top concerns at the Federal level?
National Debt.
National Security.
The massive size of the Federal government and its reach into each of our lives.

8. Do you vigorously support Virginia 10th Amendment Legislation such as H.B. 10 (Virginia Health Care Freedom Act) and H.B. 69 (Virginia Firearms Freedom Act)?
I do support the state of Virginia Federal lawsuit to uphold Virginia’s Health Care Freedom Act and await the ruling from the federal court.  I was unable to get information on H.B. 69.*

* Newsletter Editor’s note:  While H.B. 10 passed in the recent legislative session, H.B. 69 was sent to an unfavorable committee where the legislation died for this session.

9. If you believe that Virginia must cut spending in state government, what spending category would you cut first?
Non-core services.  Through the years there has been pork or special interest funding inserted into the state budget and that would be the first place I would look to make cuts.

For some more information, I’d recommend that you read a recent article provided by hburgnews.com.

Remember that polls will only be open from 4 to 8 PM tomorrow.  If you are in the city, you vote at Keister Elementary, 100 Maryland Avenue.  If you are in the county, you vote at Lacey Spring Elementary School, 8621 North Valley Pike.

Be an informed voter!

Update: Assuming you lived in the 26th District (which of course many of you do not), based upon the above information which of the candidates would you support and why?  Please feel free to comment.

The Primary Cost

In today’s issue of The Daily News Record, Jeff Mellott’s Primary Price Tag:  $32,000 discusses the cost of the recent Democratic primary and it isn’t pretty.  In Harrisonburg and Rockingham County alone, the bill to local taxpayers was around $32,000.  Now I know that there are certainly a lot of fixed costs with holding such a contest, nevertheless, given the low voters turnout, the average cost per voter in Harrisonburg was $9.38, while the cost in Rockingham was even higher…$17.50!  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have paid $9.38 to vote in the Democratic primary, much less $17.50.  However, given that this bill is widely dispersed among the taxpayers, no one complains.  On the other hand, a convention costs non-participating voters nothing.  But, Joshua, you say, you spent well over $100 to join fellow Republicans in Richmond.  Wouldn’t you have preferred to pay less?  Sure I would have, but, then again, I care enough about the future of the RPV to make such an expenditure.  Should I force my friends and neighbors to defray that cost?

I believe that the high cost to turnout ratio, coupled with the relatively low voter interest (4.2% turnout in the city and 3% in the county) and potential crossover voting, make a strong argument in favor of nominating conventions (like the Republicans did) as opposed to primaries (like the Democrats did).  After all, who should foot the bill for party nominations?  Should it be the party faithful who willing give up both their time and money to participate in these functions?  Or should it be the average Virginia taxpayer, most of who don’t give 2¢ about whom the parties nominate?

So fellow Virginian, just speaking in terms of money, what should it be, the primary or the convention?  The choice is clear.