No Republicans for Harrisonburg?

img_0646-1In recent elections for the Harrisonburg City Council, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have fielded a full slate of candidates for office.  Most years independents run as well, and, for the first and so far only time, in 2014 the Libertarian Party had a candidate too.

However, 2016 is proving to be an odd year.  Three council seats are up for election and the window for candidates to file is now closed.  Two sitting members, Kai Degner (a Democrat) and Abe Shearer (an independent) are not running for re-election, while a third member, Richard Baugh (a Democrat) is seeking office again.  As is typical, the Democratic Party has three candidates for these three seats, Deanna Reed and Paul Somers join Mr. Baugh.  George Hirschmann is running as an independent.  However, in a previously unheard of move, the Harrisonburg Republican Party has nominated zero candidates for city council.

I cannot recall the last time the Republican Party didn’t nominate at least one candidate for city council, let alone a full slate of two to three candidates.  It does beg the question, has the Harrisonburg Republican Party given up?

Back in 2003 and 2004, I lived in the city of Charlottesville.  During that time, they held an election for city council, but curiously none of the Republican candidates ever made mention of their Republican label.  If I recall correctly, in the ensuing election the Democratic candidates won easily.  Throughout that election the mood of Charlottesville Republicans was one of inevitable defeat, as you might imagine it was a very depressing scene.  Has this same realization hit the Harrisonburg Republicans?  After all, only one Republican candidate has won in Harrisonburg when facing a Democratic opponent since the 2009 elections.

I am reasonably certain that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will not win the city of Harrisonburg.  Therefore, running under the same banner of Trump will likely drag Republican city council candidates down in much the same way that Mitt Romney hurt the 2012 Republican city council candidates.  If we saw a bunch of independents in this cycle, that reasoning could very well explain the lack of Republican candidates.  However, as mentioned, there is only one independent this time.  Conversely, has the Harrisonburg Republican Party jettisoned any and all semblance of political principles so that no self-respecting conservative or libertarian would consider taking up their mantle?  Although I believe that the Harrisonburg Republican Party doesn’t really have any interest in advancing the ideals of limiting government, that still doesn’t explain why there are only four candidates running for the three seats.

Unfortunately, I believe that Harrisonburg is transitioning into a single-party city, much like the Byrd machine of last century.  Although not insurmountable…at least yet, I would argue that affiliation with the Democratic Party gives a candidate an instant advantage.  Given the growing voting JMU student population and the far more effective Democratic college outreach than Republican, coupled with a weak, ineffective, and often surrendering Republican leadership at the Congressional level, and that the GOP at the local, state, and national level have nominated some candidates over the years that are virtually indistinguishable from their Democratic opponents when it comes to policy has created an climate where the Democratic Party now thrives and the Republicans have found themselves on the brink of extinction.

Some people theorize that 2016 might spell the end of the Republican Party as a major, national political party in the United States.  Much like the demise of the Whigs in the 1850s, a new or existing political party will rise up to take its place.  Well, whether it survives nationally or not, does the lack of Republican candidates in the 2016 elections for city council coupled with a Facebook page which hasn’t been updated in over six months and a dead link to their seemingly defunct website mean that the Republican Party is no longer a factor in Harrisonburg politics?

Writing-In Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.
Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.

In general, the November 3rd elections in the city of Harrisonburg were a rather dull affair.  Although citizens had the opportunity to vote for six different contests, only one office, state senator, was contested.  As you might expect, this lack of choices inspired a handful of folks to write-in candidates.  Fellow blogger Rick Sincere often pens an article about the write-in votes in Charlottesville, but what names do people write-in in Harrisonburg?  Well, I decided to visit the local registrar’s office to find out.

In case you are wondering, once the election results have been certified they are made available to the public.  Unfortunately, they aren’t listed on a nice, neat, printed sheet, but rather each write-in vote is printed on a long piece of narrow paper, which resembles a register receipt.  Having previously worked as an election official in Rockingham County, I know that some voters write-in made up or fictitious characters, like Mickey Mouse or “anyone else”, but how many real people could be identified?  For the record, I only went through the data once, so it is possible the numbers I list below aren’t quite right.  Nevertheless, if you live in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County, I think you’ll find them of interest.

In the race for the 26th Virginia Senate seat, there were only 14 write-in votes in Harrisonburg, likely low because voters had at least two choices.  April Moore, the Democratic candidate, won Harrisonburg and Republican Mark Obenshain got second.  However, there was a three-way tie for third place between Christopher Runion, Lowell Fulk, and yours truly as we each had two write-ins.

Moving on to the 26th House of Delegates seat where Republican Tony Wilt ran unopposed, there were almost 11% write-ins, the highest for any of the seats in play.  Harrisonburg City Council member Kai Degner took second with 19 votes, followed by Rockingham County School member Lowell Fulk with 14 votes.  Both Degner and Fulk had each previously been the Democratic nominee for this office in earlier elections.  Other write-ins of note included:  Harvey Yoder with three votes, my partner on the radio Andy Schmookler with two votes, local political activist Dale Fulk with two votes, and Harrisonburg Democratic Party Chair Deb Fitzgerald also with two. Many people received one write-in vote including: former Harrisonburg City Council members Dorn Peterson and George Pace, Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones, the Virginia Libertarian Party Vice-chairman Dr. James Lark III, State Senator Creigh Deeds from Bath County, former Harrisonburg Republican Party Chairman John Elledge, the 2015 Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate April Moore, 2014 city council candidates Alleyn Harned and Joshua Huffman, and several of my Facebook friends such as: Jeremy Aldrich, Shammara Blanchard, and Matthew Phillippi.

Finishing in second in the race for sheriff with seven write-in votes was Harvey Yoder.  Third was former sheriff candidate Kurt Boshart with five and fourth was Chris Monahan with three.  Other names with one or more votes include: Kai Degner, Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, local TV anchor Bob Corso, former sheriff Glenn Weatherholtz, 6th District Democratic Party Chair Joe Fitzgerald, former sheriff candidate CM Hess, City Council member Richard Baugh, Greg Nesselrodt (one of my good friends in high school), and again one vote for me.  I’m not quite sure why someone would think me as being qualified for sheriff, but that is another issue.

For Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court, Renee Evans Haywood captured nine write-ins.  Other names of note included: Kai Denger, Dale Fulk, former treasurer candidate Penny Imeson, former council member Charlie Chenault, school board member Andy Kohen, local TV producer Channing Frampton, Joe Fitzgerald, Chris Jones, Lowell Fulk, a previous clerk candidate Diane Fulk, local political activist Dave Briggman, former HHS classmate W.O. Brown III, and a vote for me.  I assure you that someone wrote me in, but I didn’t do it.

Moving on to Harrisonburg/Rockingham Commonwealth Attorney, many people tied for second with two votes: Dale Fulk, Tricia Nesselrodt, John Elledge, and former House of Delegates candidate Gene Hart.  Other names with a vote include: Lowell Fulk, Andy Kohen, radio personality Karl Magenhoffer, attorney Bob Keefer, attorney Roland Santos, high school friend Edward Panchari, and me, Joshua Huffman.

In the special election for Harrisonburg School Board to replace Dany Fleming, Mr. Fleming captured the most write-in votes with ten.  Other candidates of interest with one or more votes include: Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, Steve Nesselrodt, Tricia Nesselrodt, Mark Finks, former school board member Tom Mendez, Erin Phillippi, Matt Phillippi, Charlie Chenault, Violet Allain (who hosted a city council meet-and-greet for the candidates at her house last year), Channing Frampton, and another vote for me.

Lastly, there weren’t too many write-in votes for Soil & Water Conservation Director.  Dale Fulk had two, radio personality Jim Britt had one, several of my friends had one such as Tristan Flage, Joe Rudmin, and Matt Phillippi, and, again, one person decided to write my name in for this office.

Although some write-in votes are nonsensical or vulgar, for others write-ins are a way to show dissatisfaction with the possible choices, or in the case of the 2015 elections in Harrisonburg, the lack of choices.  And, to the handful of people who decided to write me in, I certainly appreciate your vote, but I’m not running for anything right now.  I hope I can earn your support when and if the time comes again.

Yes, writing-in might be annoying for those election officials counting the ballots, but it can be a fascinating insight into the minds of the disaffected voter.  Hopefully the citizens of Harrisonburg will have at least two choices for every elected office in 2016, in which case we should see a dip in write-in votes in the next election.

A City Council Surprise

Harrisonburg City CouncilLast night, the Harrisonburg City Council held their bi-monthly meeting.  As I sat in my chair waiting for the 7 PM start time, one of the regular attendees leaned across the aisle and told me that he saw me on the TV speaking about the city owned golf course.  He went on to say that the golf course was here to stay and that city parks and recreations were not in the business of making money.  I agreed that parks weren’t designed to turn a profit and asked him if he knew of any privately run parks in the area.  Neither of us could name one.  However, I then countered that golf courses can be a source of revenue and asked if he knew of any privately run courses.  He said that he didn’t know of any and, at that point, I realized discussing this point further with him would not be particularly useful.

Anyway, as for the official council meeting itself, most of the event was business as usual, such as the time for public discourse and discussing tax exemptions for a charity.  However, things got a bit more interesting when the subject shifted to energy efficiency in the city.  Recently, the city has been considering the idea of improving energy efficiency in its buildings, a commendable idea as it will likely provide a significant savings to city taxpayers.  As a result, Council Member Kai Degner crafted a deal with a company who specializes in this kind of work to make these improvements.  However, the city manager declared this action was quite irregular as normally these issues are typically explored by the city staff, bids are accepted from a number of companies, and then the council picks the option that they feel best suits the city.  Although it is good to see Kai Denger working hard on this issue, given that neither the majority of council nor the Harrisonburg staff seemingly had a hand in this company’s selection, if the idea moved forward, it could bear the stain of crony capitalism.

Harrisonburg Mayor Ted Byrd argued that in the interests of the free market, the council should not simply accept the company of Degner’s choosing without considering other avenues.  When Degner proposed going ahead with the desired company, it seemed quite likely that the vote would fail.  This fact is significant because, of the multitude of council meetings that I have attended over the last six months, not a single proposal had failed nor had the vote been anything but unanimous.  Cognizant of such a possibility, Council Member Degner revised his proposal to allow other companies to bid for this contract as well.

At this point, Council Member Abe Shearer raised a new point.  Why should the council only allow companies who offered a money back guarantee for their work to bid for this project?  If the council could find a company with a good reputation who did not have such a guarantee, and at a considerable savings, shouldn’t they have the same chance to offer their services as well?  Vice Mayor Charlie Chenault seemed to disapprove of that idea.

In the vote that followed, Degner and Chenault approved the revised plan, as did Council Member Richard Baugh who declared that he was satisfied with this compromise.  Although clear that the measure would pass despite their objections, both Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer voted no.

As mentioned, I’ve attended quite a few council meetings as of late.  However, last night marked a first, the first time that I was proud of my council for voicing my shared concerns about a fair and open process, for supporting the ideals of the free market, and for demonstrating that they are more than a monolithic group, a rubber stamp for any and every proposal that is presented to them.  Returning to an earlier subject, last night gave me hope as well that the council might one day jettison the golf course, realizing that its public ownership is not a proper function of local government.

I appreciate Council Member Baugh for not simply accepting the first proposal as stated.  However, I write this post especially to praise Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer for their firm stands at Tuesday’s meeting.

Addressing The Council

Harrisonburg City CouncilLast night, the Harrisonburg City Council assembled for their bi-monthly meeting.  Although I had attended several of their gatherings over the last few months, tonight I went for a specific purpose; I planned to speak with the council regarding pedestrian safety in the city.

When the mayor motioned for me to approach the podium, my heart became a jackhammer in my chest.  For those who know me, this reaction might seem rather strange.  After all, I love speaking about politics with anyone and everyone who cares to listen (as well as many people who don’t).  However, this experience brought back a rather harsh memory, a reminder of the last time that I spoke before the council.

If we rewind the clock, 2006 marked both the first and only time that I stood before the Harrisonburg City Council.  Back then, the council held a public forum regarding selling the Harrisonburg High School building to James Madison University.  As it turned out, the hearing was little more than a formality.  Looking back, it seemed that the deal was more or less made and whatever the public opinion happened to be, it mattered little to the members of council.  As I recall, they weren’t a particularly receptive or sympathetic group and offering my opinion to them was a waste of time.

However unreceptive that council happened to be, the Harrisonburg School Board was far worse.  Arguing that the city schools shouldn’t forgo any usable classroom space, I informed the board about my experiences in 8th grade at Thomas Harrison Middle School; where I spent a good chunk of my days in one of those trailer units and how, when we got a heavy rain, I had to place a trashcan on my desk to collect the rainwater which dripped through the leaky roof.  Once I relayed my thoughts, I left the meeting.  I was told that after I did so, one of members of the school board stated that I was a liar.  As you might imagine, news of this allegation made me so incensed that I located my 8th grade homeroom teacher, a woman that I had not seen in many years, to see if she would either deny or confirm what I had said.  Yes, she told me that my memory was correct.  Another bitter pill to swallow was the fact that most of the councilmen and school board members, including the one who claimed I was deceptive, were fellow Republicans!

So, getting back to last night, with all of these thoughts in my mind as I spoke before the council, I felt that my words were horribly nervous and disjointed and, although I had planned what I wanted to say beforehand, nothing came out right.  It was an important issue, but, at that moment, I thought I was a poor spokesman.  I tried to remedy the situation in my mind by reminding myself that all but one of these men were not the same as the ones from 2006, that I had spoken to each previously and, with the possible exception of Mr. Chenault, each knew me and presumably we had some measure of respect for each other.  In fact, in mid 2012, Mayor Byrd told me that he read this blog.  But the memories from over half a decade ago gone by proved to be too strong.  Hopefully, they will lessen in time, but I believe that I must force myself to go before the council again, (once I have something important to discuss) so that these newly rediscovered demons from the past can be put to rest.

My take-home message to you, the reader, is as follows.  No one should ever be afraid to talk with their elected representatives, be they local, state, or federal.  Don’t ever be tricked into thinking that you exist to serve the government; the government exists to serve you.  And so friends, I encourage you once again to study the important political issues of the day, speak out when the time calls for it, and never be cowed into silence, as I was for many years in local matters.

In liberty, now and always!

The 2012 Elections Postmortem

In the days leading up to the November 6th elections, predicting the outcome of the presidential seemed a bit murkier than one would expect.  A few polls, like Gallup, had Mitt Romney ahead, while others, like Rasmussen, showed a very close race, and some, like Huffington, heralded another strong victory for President Obama.  It seemed to me that a lot of news outlets reported on the outcome that they hoped would occur rather than what would actually happen; Republican pundits predicted a solid Romney victory and their Democratic counterparts made similar claims.  Fellow Republicans were critical, but in 2008 I wrote about Barack Obama’s victory on the day prior to Election Day, as I believed the results were already a foregone conclusion.  However, I wasn’t quite as certain this time around.

In the end, however, Mitt Romney stood no chance of becoming our next President.  In the electoral count, he faired only slightly better than John McCain did in 2008.  He won the tradition Republican states of North Carolina and Indiana unlike McCain, but failed to capture key battlegrounds like Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.  Curiously, both Romney and Obama failed to garner as many votes as the candidates did in 2008.  It seems obvious that Obama’s numbers would decline as his presidency has not been particularly popular and the great excitement (or novelty) generated from electing our first black president in 2008 is gone.  But what about Romney?  Although some activists have been urging people to resist resorting to the “blame game”, ultimately I believe that voters had a hard time supporting a rich New England liberal who had difficulty relating to the plight of the average American.  In addition, the actions taken by the RNC and the Romney campaign, which can only be described as unnecessary and spiteful, to exclude Ron Paul and his supporters at the Tampa convention tore open the growing rift in the Republican Party between the establishment and the liberty movement.  As stated earlier, a majority of Paul supporters I know either voted for Gary Johnson, wrote in Ron Paul, or simply stayed home on Election Day.  Speaking of the other party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson finished in third with almost 1%, Green Jill Stein was fourth with .35%, and Virgil Goode was fifth with .1%.

Moving on to Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest, as we approached Election Day it became increasingly obvious that George Allen would lose to Tim Kaine.  The conventional wisdom was that an Allen victory hinged heavily upon Romney’s coattails.  If Romney won Virginia by a large margin, then it was likely that Allen would also be victorious.  However, if the election was close or if Romney lost the state, Allen would be defeated.  Although the crossover wouldn’t have influenced the outcome, it is still important to note that Romney had the support of 37,766 more Virginians than did George Allen.

The House races in Virginia were not particularly exciting.  Each incumbent won re-election with a comfortable margin with the exception of Scott Rigell in the 2nd who won by 24,000 votes.  In the 6th, Republican Bob Goodlatte easily dispatched Democrat Andy Schmookler.  However, Schmookler did best Goodlatte in the more urban areas of the district, capturing the cities of Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Roanoke, and boasting a fairly close contest in Staunton.

Given that Harrisonburg voted Democratic for president, senator, and representative, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats faired well in the city council election.  With eight candidates on the ballot, three Republican, three Democratic, and three independent, Democrats Kai Degner and Richard Baugh were re-elected along with newcomer independent Abe Shearer.  Only Degner and Shearer cracked the 6,000-vote mark.  All but one of the other candidates was in the 4,000-vote range; Roger Baker finished in last place with less than 2,500 votes.  Political newcomer Christine Johnson finished at the top of the Republican office seekers, missing out on third place by only 202 votes.

So what does the future hold politically for Harrisonburg, the 6th congressional district, Virginia, and the nation as a whole?  Well, it depends on a number of factors including the strength of the candidates and the overall political climate.  Will the GOP learn anything from the 2012 elections?  It is obvious that they didn’t figure anything out from 2008.  Without strong conservative candidates that can clearly articulate the merits of a constitutionally limited government, the Republican Party will continue to suffer nationally, statewide, and locally.  Let me end this article with a bit of advice: Past big government Republicans who lost in a previous election don’t somehow miraculously transform themselves into either conservatives or winners.  So don’t retread on me.  Don’t retread on me!

Tea With The Council Candidates: Part II

Council Candidates Christine Johnson, Roger Baker, Anthony Bailey, and Richard Baugh

Last month, the Harrisonburg chapter of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party played host to four of the eight candidates seeking election to the Harrisonburg City Council.  Last night, the remaining four candidates took the stage to offer their ideas and plans for the city.

These candidates were: Christine Johnson, a local business owner and a Republican, Roger Baker, the former city manager and an independent, Anthony Bailey, the local assistant commonwealth attorney and a Republican, and Richard Baugh, the current Harrisonburg mayor, an attorney, and a Democrat.  Although not on stage, Abe Shearer was present as well.  As was the case with last month’s meeting, the audience attendance was a good bit smaller than expected.

Each candidate was allotted a ten-minute window to speak followed by a question and answer period.  Although hoping to offer his thoughts due to his early departure last month, Abe Shearer was not allowed to comment on the issues raised.

Like last month, I took this opportunity to present the same question regarding the city owned golf course.  Johnson, Baker, and Bailey each seemed to support the idea of the course, although admitted that it could have been run more efficiently.  Mayor Baugh did not have a chance to reply due to time constraints.  After the meeting, Abe Shearer mentioned that, despite the financial failings of the course, the council ought to strongly consider whether it is the proper role of government to operate the course.  Given his comments, I believe that if he were on the council when the decision was made, he would have opposed the idea of a city golf course.

After the question and answer period, I took the microphone to remind everyone to vote on November 6th and encouraged them to learn about all of the candidates running prior to the election so that they will make an informed decision.  After all, that concept was one of the key reasons why I pushed for and helped organized these two forums with the city council candidates.  I wanted tea party members to get to know the candidates so that they could gauge each based upon his or her principles and not merely rely on party labels.

Next, the leader of the tea party took the stage to remind everyone that the tea party does not endorse candidates.  However, in what came as a bit of a shock, she then proceeded to more or less remind everyone to vote for George Allen for Senate.  In addition, she recommended that attendees should not “throw their vote away” by voting for either Virgil Goode or Gary Johnson for president given that neither of these two candidates will be listed on the ballot of every state.

The meeting concluded with a reading of Angie Williams’ Vote Your Conscience, which reminds the listener to “put partisan politics completely aside, and let your conscience be your guide.”

The Council Contest

Besides the three federal positions that Virginians will elect in November, citizens of Harrisonburg, Virginia will also choose members to serve on city council.  This year, three of the council’s five seats are up for grabs.

There are eight candidates vying for these positions.  The three Democratic candidates are: two current council members Richard Baugh, who also serves as the current Mayor of Harrisonburg, and Kai Degner, a realtor, as well as Deb Fitzgerald, an associate professor of economics at Blue Ridge Community College.  The three Republican candidates are: Christine Johnson, the owner of the University Outpost Bookstore, Anthony Bailey, the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Rodney Eagle, owner of Eagle Carpet and former Harrisonburg Mayor.  The two independents are: Abe Shearer, a math teacher at Skyline Middle School, and Roger Baker, the former City Manager of Harrisonburg.

Now, unlike most federal or state elections in the Shenandoah Valley, city council seats are not a virtual lock for any particular political party or individual.  For example, on November 4th, 2008, the three Democratic candidates swept all of the seats besting three Republicans and two independents including both Rodney Eagle and Roger Baker.  One should note that Barack Obama also won the city that day.   In 2010, the next time seats were available; there were six candidates running, two Republicans, two Democrats, and two independents.  In that election, one Republican and one independent emerged victorious.

However, as was the case in 2008, I would expect the outcome of the city council race to hinge heavily upon the up-ticket races, especially the presidential.  Left untouched, there will be a large number of voters who will be heading to the polls solely to vote for or against Barack Obama.  I assume that they will know little, if anything, of the council candidates and will end up voting for all of the Democratic candidates if they support Obama or for all of the Republican candidates if they oppose him.

As a result, I would argue that the two party candidates enjoy a significant advantage, but also a distinct disadvantage, when it comes to their independent opponents.  If their presidential candidate does well, then that result should bolster their chances of victory.  Conversely, if their candidate does poorly in the city, then it will make their success all the more difficult.

At this point, any of the candidates should have a reasonable chance of being elected.  But a strong campaign is a critical element that ought not be neglected.  Should a candidate surround him or herself with competent advisors, have a strong organization for fundraising, a base of volunteers loyal to the candidate, and a coordinated plan for voter contact and organization, he or she should do well.  On the other hand, as stated earlier, should a council candidate rely heavily upon the outcome of the presidential race and party activists, trouble could be in store.  If the winds of fortune favor his or her party’s presidential nominee, he or she ought to do reasonably well.  But, if national current runs contrary, and the candidate makes little independent effort on his or her own, he or she shall be destroyed.

All voters in Harrisonburg owe it to themselves and their fellow citizens to educate themselves about their eight choices for city council.  Sure, it might not be as glamorous or high profile as the well-known races, but I assure you that the men and women we select to help run the government of our city will make a tremendous impact, either for good or ill, upon all of us.