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.
There is usually excitement surrounding a new addition to the Virginia political blogosphere. Such was the case in mid-2017 when I heard the announcement of something called The Republican Standard. However, after it has published a number of pieces in the first few weeks, it quickly became apparent that The Republican Standard was something different from your typical blog. Rather than a blog which mixed factual reporting and opinion pieces, from the beginning it seemed to have a specific agenda, doing whatever it could to promote the candidacy of then Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. Instead of posting articles based on factual evidence, it seemed The Republican Standard would heavily distort the facts or post outright misinformation in order to promote the Gillespie campaign. As someone who enjoyed a friendly relationship with the senior editor of this website, it became increasingly painful to read their articles as they were not based on truth, but rather what they wanted the truth to be. As such, I began to hate seeing new articles posted on The Republican Standard because they consistently reminded me of propaganda.
On September 18th, Constitution Day, I attended a panel presentation at the law school of West Virginia University concerning political journalism. During the question and answer period that followed the talk, I asked the panelists about the tactics of The Republican Standard, mentioning that I saw their editor as a friend, and what I could do to help the situation. The response I got was that it might be best to simply ignore the site as we have seen a rise in fake news since the 2016 elections. As more and more articles from TRS entered my Facebook feed, I thought the only solution was to defriend the editor in the hopes that would put an end to me seeing this steady stream of disinformation. But, given my Facebook friends and groups to which I belonged, The Republican Standard continued to pop up with its outlandish headlines, declaring that the Northam campaign was failing and that Gillespie was all but certain to win the November election.
Sometime later, I found an article from the Chicago Tribune entitled, “GOP Governors Launch ‘News’ Site Critics Call Propaganda”. In it, they specifically mention The Republican Standard.
“The first test is in this fall’s Virginia governor’s race pitting Democratic nominee Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie. Virginians already have seen another site, The Republican Standard, that is run by Virginia Republican operatives with ties to Gillespie, a former state and national party chairman, and to a firm that has been paid by the RGA. The Free Telegraph and its social media accounts frequently link The Republican Standard.”
Doing a bit of fact-checking on VPAP, the claims made in the Chicago Tribune were verifiable; as of early October, The Republican Standard had received $10,000 in outside contributions, $5,000 from something called the Colonial Leadership Trust PAC (tied to the likely future Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox) and $5,000 from the Ed Gillespie campaign. According to VPAP, the sponsorship money came from Gillespie and the PAC about the same time that The Republican Standard went online. However, I was unable to find any statement on their site that their content had been paid for by these outside groups, thus although giving the appearance of honest blogging, in fact being driven by the Gillespie campaign and others. Suddenly, it all made sense why The Republican Standard wrote misleading pieces about the 2017 Virginia Governor race: they were paid to do so which is why, like the Soviet-run newspaper, the Northam campaign declared that the Gillespie campaign and the Virginia Republicans were “creating their own Pravda.”
Shortly before the November elections, one of my Facebook friends declared the Gillespie campaign was most likely going to win and shared a piece from The Republican Standard which said as much. In response, I told him to remember the source; The Republican Standard could hardly be considered objective as they were paid by the Gillespie campaign. A few moments later, the editor and my former friend responded to my post by saying that I needed to show the VPAP filings backing up my claim or to contact a lawyer. In retrospect, I realized later that he was threatening me, but as I had the proof, I posted it. The editor didn’t reply further, but instead immediately blocked me.
I have to say in my nine and a half years writing this blog, I have never seen a campaign or a politician sponsor another blog nor have I seen a campaign spend $2,500 on advertising on one of these sites.
I spoke with the writers at The Bull Elephant about this issue, but at the time they didn’t want to write an article exposing what The Republican Standard was doing as it could very well ruin the Gillespie campaign’s chance of success in the election. Although I believed that a Gillespie victory would be detrimental to the liberty of the people of Virginia, I refrained writing anything in the hopes that a larger and more prestigious site than mine would pick up the story. However, as no one has done so, I felt it my duty to share this information before the matter was completely forgotten.
I firmly believe that there is something dishonest and wrong when campaigns, interest groups, and/or political parties clandestinely sponsor websites in order to improve their public image or to bolster their chances of electoral success. Although I have collected a paltry sum accumulated through ads, which isn’t sufficient for the yearly hosting costs, it has never altered or affected the content of this website. Even though some have tried, no campaign has successfully paid for any favorable coverage on this site. And, whenever a blog includes a piece from a campaign, a disclaimer ought to accompany it, letting the reader know that someone else sponsored the content.
When political groups can pay for stories and opinion pieces under the guise of objective reporting, the blogosphere as a whole suffers for then all of us will be viewed with suspicion, that we are not offering our honest thoughts, but ones paid for by the highest bidder. I’d like to think that our purpose is to inform, entertain, and/or convince our readers of the merits of our reporting and thoughts and spread the truth, rather than serving secretly as a mouthpiece for some well-funded political group much like the Soviet-era Pravda.
On the heels of a historic election in the state of Virginia, Andy Schmookler and I returned to 550 AM, WSVA to discuss the results. Although a majority of the polls predicted a victory for Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, few pundits thought that the Democrats would make such massive gains in the House of Delegates. As one might expect, it was the focus of our discussion today.
This morning, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for our 51st show. The main area of interest is the upcoming elections in Virginia. Recent polls are all over the place for governor. In less than 24 hours, one poll declared Ed Gillespie up 1 point, while the latest poll shows Ralph Northam up by 14.
Toward the end of the show, we spoke briefly about Harvey Weinstein and the problem of sexual misconduct in politics.
In less than a month, Virginians will head to the polls to cast their ballots for three statewide contests as well as to vote for all 100 members of the House of Delegates. The most-watched contest is the race for governor, which features three candidates: Democrat Ralph Northam, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and Republican Ed Gillespie.
As regular readers of this website know, I believe the worst outcome for the long-term future of liberty in Virginia would be the election of Ed Gillespie. Unlike Mr. Gillespie, I feel it is important to do whatever we can to prevent further gerrymandering and work to expand political choices. However, I do know good people who support each of the candidates. Nevertheless, the purpose of this piece isn’t to delve into that topic, as I’ve done so elsewhere. If you’d like to rationally discuss this idea, please send me a message.
From time to time, I post something on Facebook regarding the governor race. Along these lines, on Thursday of last week, I shared a poll, the first of October, which shows Ralph Northam with a 13 point lead. Although it is a considerably wider margin than any other poll (and thus I’m assuming is inflated), like other polls it maintains that Northam has a winning percentage greater than the margin of error.
However, when it comes to discussing the matter on Facebook, it has become a rather nasty affair for some people. The conversation often goes something like this. I post something which I think demonstrates Ed Gillespie’s hostility to promoting liberty in Virginia. In response, one or more of his Republican supporters declares that Gillespie is the only way to stop Northam, that Gillespie is the lesser of two evils, and that half a loaf of bread (Gillespie) is better than none (Northam). I replied suggesting that this half of a loaf they think they will be getting from Gillespie won’t materialize in the way they expect and offer a few examples of his positions to offer proof of my claims. You would think that they would present evidence to rebut what I had said, but instead, they often launch into personal attacks against me. To the best of my memory, not once has anyone offered proof or even made the claim that Ed Gillespie is, in fact, the pro-liberty candidate in this race.
Let me give an example. As I’ve written previously, I think that Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) is one of the best members of the Virginia House of Delegates. However, in this election cycle, he is supporting Ed Gillespie for Governor. Obviously, in this matter, he and I disagree. However, last week when I got into a discussion with a now-former Facebook friend, that person declared that if I didn’t support Ed Gillespie I would be betraying Freitas and stabbing him in the back. I decided the best course of action was to block this person rather than deal with these kinds of insults. Unfortunately, this incident was only the first.
In one of the many political Facebook groups of which I am a part, this week a fellow posted a statement from Cliff Hyra stating that Ed Gillespie favors increasing state spending by $2 billion, hardly a fiscally conservative position. I asked if he could share the video of Gillespie making that statement, which he did. However, in the interim, a former staffer for a member of the House of Delegates began making some very rude statements about me. Rather than attempting to refute some negative attributes about Gillespie’s positions, he instead began attacking me (it seemed odd, especially given that I don’t really know the fellow). As a result, I told him I didn’t have any interest in engaging him in conversation which led him to declare that he must have the superior argument and reasoning. I stated that no, my reason for not debating him wasn’t due to his victory, it was because he didn’t actually debate the issues and decided to attack me instead of trying to refute my argument. One of his friends sprang to his defense, but as I had already defriended this other fellow some months before due to his history of rudeness, I said I had no interest in engaging him either. On Thursday afternoon, while sitting in my political statistics class, I was reminded of a saying about playing chess with a pigeon, but, instead of sharing it at the time and stooping to the level of insults, I just hoped the situation would end without further confrontation.
Am I wrong here? Do you all find personal insults to be a persuasive and effective strategy to winning an argument? Do you think to yourself, I should change my position, not based upon logic or reasoning, but because this person was disrespectful toward me? I would assume it would be more likely that it would only harden your previously held conviction, now convinced that the other side had nothing substantive to counter your claims. It reminds me of a moment in the early part of this year when I disagreed with something Denver Riggleman’s campaign manager said. Rather than trying to convince me of his position, he instead chose to belittle me. When I decided it was best not to speak with him further, he continued to insult me. Do you think this action by his staff would make it more likely that I would support Mr. Riggleman’s candidacy or less? I assume the answer is obvious. I asked a fellow blogger about it and her recommendation was to ignore the Riggleman campaign.
Getting back to the previous matter, both of the two fellows remained silent for the rest of the day, which I assumed was the end of the conversation. However, on Friday morning, the first guy tagged me in a post declaring that unless I agreed 100% with a candidate or political party I was supporting, I must be a hypocrite. As you might imagine, this led to his blocking. Shortly thereafter, his friend chimed in to declare that I was an insane hypocrite which resulted in his blocking as well. Both of these folks previously were involved on the Moxley for Senate campaign. One might think that activists would act more cordial to folks with a similar outlook, but unfortunately, the exact opposite can be true.
So far, in the last several months I have blocked three people on Facebook; all of them are Republican activists as mentioned above. In case you were wondering if I am block-happy, during my approximate decade of time on Facebook, I’ve blocked less than 10 people, but they all have been for similar behavior. Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I suspect that I’ll end up blocking a few more people (or at least defriending them) before this election cycle has concluded.
Why is it that politics brings out the worst in people? Why can’t people engage in civil debate, sticking to differences on issues and policies instead of diving into the gutter of ad hominem attacks? It seems that is it hard for some people to say that although I disagree with your opinion, that doesn’t mean I should treat you like human garbage. Getting back to an earlier point, although I think Delegate Freitas is mistaken for supporting Ed Gillespie (and I assume he thinks likewise of my position on that matter), should we toss aside the fact that we agree on a vast number of issues and instead brutally insult each other, taking turns declaring that the other is a fool and a traitor to the cause of liberty? I should certainly hope not. And yet some political activists have publicly engaged in this kind of behavior!
Although the goal is to create an environment where we can focus on political disagreements and not devolve into personal attacks, in a moment of frustration or anger likely we have all insulted someone who thinks differently than ourselves. I’m sure I have. But, we should be mindful of this kind of behavior and do our best to curb it, otherwise, our discourse will morph into an exchange of insults and degradations.
I’ve stated that no matter how the 2017 elections go, I am looking forward to them being over and working together, even with those who preferred a different gubernatorial candidate, to expand liberty in our Commonwealth. But even that sentiment has been met with hostility from certain individuals. Remember, no matter which of the candidates you support, if any, that opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are smart or dumb, a patriot or a traitor. Each individual is more than the value of one or two of his or her political preferences.
I’ve found one great aspect about attending grad school is that I am afforded the opportunity to believe whatever I wish so long as I can back it up with evidence and that I can engage in civil dialogue on a host of political topics without concern about being insulted. By comparison, even when you present evidence on social media, it often will be dismissed as “fake news”, not because it isn’t true, but because it doesn’t conform with the reader’s preconceived beliefs. Even worse, it is likely that they will attack you viciously for not accepting their groupthink mentality.
You wouldn’t think that civility would be that difficult, would you?
On Wednesday, September 20th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for the 50th time. We started off talking about the upcoming election for the governor of Virginia. I offered several reasons why I believe that liberty-minded folks should not vote for Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, in November. From there, we spoke about efforts to revive the Obamacare repeal and the possible brewing conflict with North Korea.
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.
Last week, while speaking to one of my friends about Virginia politics, he mentioned that one member of the Ed Gillespie for Governor campaign referred to me as “that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley who is trying to split the vote.”
When I first heard this news I thought to myself, gee, it’s nice to know that I’m so loved by a statewide campaign. However, when I thought about it more, I now consider the title a mark of pride which I shared at our local tea party meeting late last week.
This event reminded me of a passage in the Bible in which King Ahab calls Elijah a troublemaker because Elijah questioned many of Ahab’s actions. He didn’t do so out of malice, but because he wanted what was best for the people of Israel. His loyalty was not to a king or a political party, but rather to God and the welfare of his people. Therefore, “When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, ‘So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?’ ‘I have made no trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘You and your family are the troublemakers…'” 1 Kings 18:17-18 (NLT)
I don’t know about yourself, but I want the governor of Virginia to be a strong, principled, honest individual who shares many of my most important values of promoting liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. Does Ed Gillespie share my convictions? At this point, although I hope I’m proven wrong, I honestly don’t think he does. As I’ve discussed with one Republican, it is troubling that we’ve heard more about Ed Gillespie’s parents’ supermarket than where he stands on the issues.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I believe that political competition and liberty are important ingredients to the health of our republic. Where does Ed Gillespie stand on these issues? Although his campaign has repeatedly refused to answer my questions, based on his silence and efforts in 2014 to squelch open, fair, and honest debates, the answer seems to be no. On one issue of personal responsibility important to many, Ed Gillespie is the only candidate for governor who opposes medical marijuana and again, he refused to respond to the Marijuana Policy Project.
Another important issue to me is access to my elected officials. According to my count, my Facebook friends include nine members of the Virginia House of Delegates, three Virginia senators, and three members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Most are Republicans but a few are Democrats. I appreciate the fact that when I reach out to these folks on matters of state and federal government, many of them take the time to speak with me. After all, isn’t communication necessary to the proper functioning of a representative government? Earlier this year, when I contacted the office of current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (who I didn’t vote for), his staff took the time to talk to me. Why would they do so? Well, it is because he is the governor of all Virginians, not simply the ones who donated to his campaign.
Speaking of such things, the Gillespie campaign bills itself as “for all Virginians”, but as far as I can tell, Ed Gillespie only speaks to people who he knows already support him and only attends events with friendly crowds. Yes, the Gillespie campaign has given me the runaround this year, but it isn’t all that shocking as they did the very same thing when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2014. Heck, I’ve had an easier time reaching out and connecting with Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor in 2013, than Ed Gillespie. My last conservation with Mr. Cuccinelli was several years ago, and yet it was still more recent than the last time I could speak one-on-one with Ed Gillespie in early 2014.
Believe it or not, this issue raises a serious concern. What if I have an issue that only the governor of Virginia and his staff can solve? Much like his campaign, will they choose to ignore me and others if it doesn’t suit their purpose? Could we be looking at a four-year term where the governor doesn’t serve all the people, but rather the select few he deems worthy? Think it can’t happen? Well, I assure you it can. Back in 2014, I repeatedly asked my state senator’s legislative assistant for a meeting with my state senator. However, he constantly refused, declaring that sharing my ideas with my elected official would be a waste of his time. Until my state senator hired a new legislative assistant after his old one left, I could not schedule an appointment, a period encompassing almost an entire year. And, to make matters worse, many of these Gillespie staffers who refuse to answer my questions now also previously worked for my state senator, Mark Obenshain.
I appreciate the fact that, so far, when I have asked the Libertarian, Cliff Hyra, a question, he has responded in less than 24 hours. I’ve spoken with him several times as I do like asking questions. And, when I asked my latest question to the campaign of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, his campaign politely answered within a few hours. And then we have Ed Gillespie, too busy to be bothered to answer the questions of ” that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley.”
This weekend, Denver Riggleman hosted an event for Ed Gillespie and the Republican Party at his distillery. When asked about the race for governor, Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), the only member of the General Assembly to block me on Facebook, (which a judge has recently ruled might be a violation of the 1st Amendment) said, “I think we want to win. You know, some folks are going to have to swallow hard if they have to.” I’m sorry to say it Delegate Bell, but I’m not going to “swallow hard” and support a candidate that doesn’t share my values and refuses to speak with me simply because his campaign has branded him the lesser of two evils.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, yes, I want to win too. My victory isn’t achieved simply by electing the nominee of a particular party, but rather by electing a man or woman who shares my values and isn’t afraid to speak with anyone and tackle the tough issues of the day. And, to answer the Gillespie campaign’s other criticism, I don’t plan to split the vote but rather direct my fellow conservatives and liberty-minded folks to the candidate who most closely shares our principles. If Mr. Gillespie proves himself to be that candidate, then I’ll be happy to support him. But, if he isn’t that candidate, then he would actually be the person who is trying to split the vote. I urge you not to be afraid to ask questions of your elected officials and those seeking office. At least these are my thoughts on the matter, but everyone knows that I’m that troublemaker from the Shenandoah Valley.
Several weeks ago, the Virginia Bar Association announced that they would be hosting the first gubernatorial debate for the 2017 election season. As such, on July 22nd, the first debate will take place at the Homestead Resort in Bath County. Declaring that the event is free and “open to the public”, they have invited the Democratic candidate, Ralph Northam, and the Republican, Ed Gillespie. However, they have excluded the third candidate, Libertarian Cliff Hyra.
Virginia has one of the toughest ballot access requirements of any state in the country. In order to appear on the ballot in November, a candidate must collect the signatures of 10,000 registered voters including at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. As you might expect, given these barriers no more than three candidates have been listed in races for the last 40 years. Nevertheless, having a third choice is surprisingly common, as Virginians have had a third party or independent candidate in every gubernatorial election since 1989 with the notable exception of 2009.
On July 7th, I contacted both the Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie campaigns to see if they would be open to including their Libertarian opponent. I couldn’t find a direct phone number for the Northam campaign and I called the Democratic Party of Virginia with my question. Within an hour, I received a call from the Northam campaign saying that they would welcome Cliff Hyra on the debate stage. By comparison, over a week later, I still have not heard back from the Gillespie campaign on this matter. I posed this hypothetical question to a Gillespie staffer back in February of Mr. Gillespie debating a third party or independent candidate and they were unwilling to answer at that time. To me, it seems exceedingly hypocritical for Mr. Gillespie to rail against Ralph Northam for not wanting to have ten debates, and yet, as was the case in 2014, Mr. Gillespie refuses to engage in a debate that includes all of his opponents. In the words of Ed Gillespie, I would say that attitude is “insulting to the voters across the Commonwealth.”
Given this exclusion, the Virginia Bar Association’s debate is a disservice to all Virginians who would like to learn more about all of their choices on the November ballot. It is especially curious given that Mr. Hyra is also apparently a member of the Virginia Bar Association. Although they state “The Virginia Bar Association is a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse, support or oppose political candidates. It is the intention of the VBA that its debates in no way promote or advance one candidate over others,” that is obviously a false statement given that they refuse to invite all of the candidates who have qualified for the ballot and thus are supporting two of the candidates over the third. As it doesn’t include all of my choices, I have no plans to watch this first debate. Hopefully, this season’s other debate organizers will learn from the VBA’s failure.
Every ten years, Virginia goes through a process of redistricting based on the results of the latest U.S. Census. The goal is to create legislative districts for both the General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives that are relatively equal in population. Unfortunately, often times district are drawn in such a way to aid or hinder the reelection of incumbent politicians, enhance or dilute the voting strength of minority groups, or draw districts that virtually guarantee the victory of a political party. This sort of behavior is called gerrymandering, named after former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry.
During the last redistricting following the 2010 census, as the Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate, each group drew some rather oddly shaped parcels of land in an attempt to maintain or enhance control of their respective bodies. However, when the Republicans later gained the majority in the Senate, some called for new districts to be drawn prior to the next census. Although I’m not a fan of Speaker of the House of Delegates Howell, fortunately, he declared such an attempt to re-gerrymander the state at that time as improper and wouldn’t let it proceed.
After the 2020 census, Virginia lawmakers will once again redraw our districts. and, barring some surprise, the Republicans will have control of both of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. However, the House of Delegates map, the Virginia Senate map, and the House of Representatives map will all have to be approved or vetoed by the governor.
So far, conservatives in Virginia don’t have a whole lot to be excited about with the candidacy of the Republican nominee Ed Gillespie. However, last month one of my fellow activists announced that he would be supporting Gillespie simply due to the issue of redistricting. As he explained, “Whoever is elected governor in November will be signing the redistricting bill this next time. As fast as Virginia is going blue, it is imperative that that person be a Republican. That buys us ten more years before the Democrats can gerrymander the districts in the legislature. If you don’t think that matters, you aren’t paying attention.”
Although couched in anti-gerrymandering rhetoric, given the current makeup of the General Assembly, it is highly improbable that the Democrats will end up drawing the maps in 2021. The Republicans presently enjoy a slim control in the Virginia Senate and a massive 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates.
He goes on to add, “I have plenty of reasons not to trust most Republicans for their principles. But one thing a Republican Governor assuredly will do is sign a Republican-friendly redistricting bill.” What the argument here is that we need to elect a Republican governor so that the Republicans can gerrymander the state after the next census to forestall an increasingly Democratic-leaning state from representing the will of the citizens of Virginia by electing more Democrats. Doesn’t it seem odd that Republicans control the state government even though every Democrat has won the statewide vote since the 2009 elections? Could gerrymandering be one of the reasons why?
Imagine for a moment if the roles were reversed if the Democratic Party controlled the General Assembly and sought to suppress the Republican vote. Wouldn’t these very same activists be outraged, declaring that such a move was undemocratic and an affront to the principles of our republican form of government? Shouldn’t we promote a system where voters get to choose their elected officials rather than elected officials choosing their pool of voters who they know will vote for them year after year regardless of their principles or job performance?
Until 1996, the Democratic Party controlled both houses of the Virginia General Assembly nearly uninterrupted for a hundred years. During that period, how often did they use gerrymandering to thwart the shifting attitudes of Virginians who longed for a government not under single party rule? Wouldn’t any advocate of liberty and personal responsibility be horrified if our elections were manipulated in such a fashion? Or would they be okay with this plan so long as it was “their guys” reaping the political benefit? I can’t speak for anyone else, but after 2021 redistricting I don’t want a Republican-friendly map, a Democratic-friendly map, or any map that treats Virginia as a pie to be carved up for the benefit of a political group. Preventing gerrymandering might be an argument in favor of a government divided between two or more political parties. Don’t we want a governor that will oppose partisan redistricting, not one who is aiding and abetting in it?
It is my sincere hope that all three of the candidates for governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and Republican Ed Gillespie, will pledge to oppose any and all partisan redistricting, instead working to make sure that all districts are as compact as possible, cutting across few county and city lines so that the will of Virginia’s citizens can be more accurately reflected in our state government and elections can be fairer and maybe even competitive. If a candidate refuses, he shouldn’t be considered an acceptable option for governor. Don’t vote for a candidate who is good friends with Jerry Mandering!
For more information, check out this video from One Virginia 2021.