A Potentially Nasty Convention

On Saturday, May 19th, Virginia Republicans held their 6th district convention in Harrisonburg.  However, before discussing the event itself, I think it is important to discuss some of the events leading up to the convention.

For starters, until last week I wasn’t expecting to attend the convention.  I had signed up to be a voting delegate but had my application rejected as I refused to sign a loyalty oath to the Republican Party and her candidates.  Specifically, they required all attendees to sign a pledge to support all of the Republicans candidates in the 2018 election cycle without knowing who these candidates are and what they stand for.  For a political party who supposedly advocates freedom, liberty, and limited government, one would assume that most of their activists would find such an oath unacceptable and yet they, like Esau and the pot of lentils, presumably bartered away their free will in order to participate.

Second, I had no idea who I would be supporting.  Only one candidate asked for my endorsement by personally calling me on the phone, Delegate Ben Cline.  I came to the conclusion that on the issues Cline was closest to my values of the three most well-known candidates.  Although I had known both Cynthia Dunbar and Chaz Haywood for many years, I was deeply concerned that Dunbar had become far too pro-Trump and worried that her campaign was promoting loyalty to the president over adherence to principles.  And Haywood I saw as the establishment’s choice.  Given my extremely negative opinion of Bob Goodlatte, I was worried that Haywood would fall in with the same people that have worked to squelch liberty in the 6th district these last several decades.

I appreciated Cline’s efforts in the House of Delegates and had previously invited him to speak at a Libertarian gathering.  But, I was particularly concerned about the hiring of one of his campaign staffers, a person I considered unethical who had engaged in dirty tactics in a previous campaign.  As such, I wrote a piece about it for this website (which I have not published) and sent it to Delegate Cline.  In January, he said he would get back to me about the matter “soon” but I never heard anything more, even after I sent another message a month later.  As more time passed, I found myself drifting toward neutrality, wishing I knew more about the other candidates who were running.

Leading up to the convention, the mudslinging against the candidates grew increasingly ugly.  For example, led by the Cline campaign, the others (with the exception of the Dunbar and Pope campaigns) attacked 6th district chairman Scott Sayre saying, “We have concluded that the current plans put forth by Chairman Scott Sayre will not ensure a fair, orderly, and unbiased convention for the Sixth Congressional District.”  In addition, rather than sticking to the issues, often anonymous sources attacked people personally.  One website that popped up a day before the convention was SwampyScottSayre.com, which accused Scott Sayre of rigging the convention in favor of Cynthia Dunbar.  I consider such attacks from the shadows to be unethical and have tried to determine who is behind it.  Given the previous behavior of some Cline staffers, I am worried that they might have had a hand in it.  If you (the readers) are able to tie a person or an organization to this website, I would appreciate hearing of it.  Considering Ginger Burg of Amherst was the first person I saw sharing the site, I would expect that she is either behind it or knows who is responsible.

As mentioned, as I was rejected as a delegate, I didn’t plan to attend the convention.  However, on May 15th, John Fredericks wrote the following on Facebook.

After I read that, I was determined to find out the truth for myself.  I have known Scott Sayre for many years and considered him a decent and fair fellow.  Was he trying to suppress the media?  Was he attempting to rig the convention?  Although I hadn’t covered a Republican convention since 2013, I thought it best to witness it for myself rather than rely on what others said.  After sending a few messages and making a phone call, I secured my press credentials several days before the event.

Even though conventions are harder to predict than primaries, my assumption was that Cline was the most favored candidate, followed by Dunbar, and then Haywood.

It was a rainy Saturday morning and it had been raining in Harrisonburg for the last several days.  The convention was slated to begin at 10 AM.  Although I found myself on Port Republic Road at 9:30, there was considerable traffic at this time and due to some construction at JMU, I ended up parking about a mile away and had to walk to convocation center.  Before I left my car, I decided to wear a Ron Paul 2008 campaign pin in the hopes of reminding some of the delegates that they ought to remember their principles.  In the closest parking lot, I found that one member of the House of Delegates had made his or her own parking space and wondered if he would be ticketed or given a free pass due to his or her status.

I arrived at the convocation center shortly before 10 and picked up my press pass.  Although I didn’t know who I would vote for to replace Bob Goodlatte, I also checked in with the credentials committee to see if they would let me vote as a delegate.  I found Anne Fitzgerald leading the effort and she asked me if I would sign one of two documents pledging that I would not support any non-Republican candidates, specifically Libertarian ones.  I could not honorably sign such a paper and that was the end of the discussion.

I want to pause for a minute to speak about the Fitzgeralds.  For those who don’t know, Matt Fitzgerald is the chairman of the Staunton GOP.  Unlike some other folks in Republican politics in the 6th district, I have found that the Fitzgeralds are friendly, honorable, and principled activists.  If you live in the area, share similar values, and haven’t met them yet, I would encourage you to seek them out.  I’ve always been glad to see them.

The press area at the convention

Anyway, after a few false leads, I found the media section and had a seat reserved next to Bob Stuart of the News Virginian. Despite what Mr. Fredericks stated, there seemed to be ample room for the media and it was nice to be in a spot removed from the noise and the traffic of the general public.  In addition, it was nice to have internet access provided for the press as the building seemed to block out a general signal.  I planned to give live updates throughout the day but was disappointed to find that when my computer went to sleep it had forgotten the internet password and I had foolishly failed to jot down the password on a piece of paper when I had the opportunity.

Scott Sayre handing off control of the convention to Mr. Wilson

One of the first orders of business was the election of the temporary chair.  The Scott Sayre people preferred Mr. Albertson (who runs the Bull Elephant) while the Jennifer Brown people ran Mr. Wilson.  The Brown people combed the convention center holding signs for Wilson declaring that Albertson would rig the convention.  With a break in the action, I took the opportunity to wander around the convention and found some folks I knew in both the areas for Harrisonburg delegates and in Shenandoah County.  I ran into Elliot Pope, one of the lesser known 6th district candidates.  He sounded like a good fellow, but I would need more than a minute to learn more about him.  Hopefully, I’ll run into him in the future.  Also, I asked one of my friends who voted for Wilson why she did so; she repeated that Albertson would rig the convention.  I asked what proof was being offered for these allegations but it seems that none could be offered.  Although Mr. Albertson won several localities (Bedford, Highland, Page, Staunton, Warren, & Waynesboro), the result wasn’t particularly close.  I assumed that this result didn’t bode well for Sayre’s reelection chances.

When lunchtime came I found myself carrying a bag for my friend Laura.  As we approached a staffer for Doug Wright, she asked if we would like a free box lunch.  Apparently, the Wright campaign had ordered a number of lunches for their supporters and had quite a few left over.  I don’t know how much JMU meal services charged for the boxes, but I was certainly appreciative of the Wright campaign’s generosity.

After lunch, I ran into Ed Yensho, the chairman of the Greene County GOP.  Along with several other folks outside the district, he was recruited to help maintain order should the convention grow particularly nasty.

As it came time for the regional candidates to give their speeches, I returned to the press area.  It was good to speak with and spend time with some of my fellow bloggers.  There was Rick Sincere and Willie Deutsch and I also got to meet Mick Staton of The Bull Elephant.

I found it very curious that when the candidates for Central Regional Vice Chairman were supposed to speak, one of the candidates, Wendell Walker was absent.  Given his status as former 6th district GOP chair, I was certain that he knew the proper procedure and the fact that he was absent meant that he did not intend to take the stage.  As a result, his opponent took the opportunity to voice his support for Jennifer Brown.

The two candidates for chair, Scott Sayre and Jennifer Brown, took the stage.  While Sayre spoke of his experiences and what his plans were for the 6th district, Brown spoke of principles instead, not offering any sort of idea what she would tangibly do to put her principles into action.  In addition, when she called Bob Goodlatte the best member of Congress, I was deeply concerned that she represented a return to the same policies as Goodlatte of a top-down approach where the people of the 6th were servants of the congressman and not the other way around as the founders had intended.  Her campaign signs mirrored both the font and colors previously used by Goodlatte.  On the other hand, it seemed to me that perhaps Brown wanted to win more than Sayre, her campaign had stickers and signs throughout the convention hall while, as far as I could tell, he didn’t have any.

The view from the press area

Then it was time for the main event when all of the candidates for the 6th district Republican nomination spoke.  Here I observed something else strange.  While Dunbar’s and Cline’s supporters waved signs for their candidates, not a single person held a sign for Haywood.  It was darn peculiar.  After checking the FEC reports, he had sufficient funds to do so and the few Haywood signs sitting on the tables at the luncheon were of particularly poor quality, looking as if they were printed on a home printer.  I anticipated two or more ballots given that with eight candidates it would very difficult for any candidate to get 50% of the vote on the first ballot.  However, after giving his speech, Haywood announced his withdrawal, instead endorsing Cline.  The timing of his withdrawal didn’t sit right with me.  It felt as if it were staged; given that there were no Haywood signs on the floor, he must have decided to withdraw sometime before the day of the convention.  In addition, like E.W. Jackson at the Republican state convention in 2013, it seemed that Dunbar gave the best floor speech, but would that win the day?

To be honest, at that point I couldn’t come up with an outcome that I was particularly excited about.  Walking to an area with internet access, I wrote a friend in Nevada who has been following the race “I think I might not be voting Republican in November.”

Although I did not endorse any candidate, it was peculiar that I felt more at ease around Dunbar supporters than Cline people (with a few exceptions and, if a particular Cline staffer is reading this, I assume you know who you are).  I guess it was offputting to see some people who I felt had bartered away their honor wearing Cline stickers.  As the votes were being cast and counted, Scott Sayre came by the press table and spoke to me, voicing some similar opinions regarding what had happened with the Central Vice Chairman speeches and Haywood’s withdrawal.

While we waited for the results, the three Republican Senate candidates were given a chance to speak to the masses. None of them, Nick Freitas, E.W. Jackson, or Corey Stewart passed up this opportunity.

I was dismayed to hear that in the 6th district chairman race Brown won 58% of the vote to Sayre’s 42%.  From what I observed, I felt that the accusations of a rigged convention and disreputable conduct leveled against Sayre were false.  I began to wonder if these allegations were possibly been a deflection to try and mask underhanded conduct on the part of his opponents.

Newly minted 6th district Republican nominee Ben Cline

Lastly, with Haywood’s withdrawal, they announced that Cline had won on the first ballot with 52.62% of the vote.  At the time I could not hear how the rest of the candidates ended up because the roar coming from the crowd was far too loud.

During his acceptance speech, Delegate Cline spoke of his support for President Trump and his desire to build a border wall which I found disheartening.

I hoped to leave the convention in good spirits, but I felt despondent instead.  It felt as if the Republican establishment had struck back, that liberty was once again on the retreat in the 6th district Republican Party.  While walking back to my car I thought to myself, after one sees the sausage being made, he starts to lose his taste for it.

I hope that in the coming days we can determine definitively that the Cline campaign had nothing to do with these anonymous attacks.  I still personally like Ben Cline and want to vote for him in November, but the convention left a dark cloud in my mind that has yet to dissipate.

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.

Some Nights With the GOP

Shortly after the November elections, I heard Fun.’s Some Nights and realized that many of the lyrics in this song apply to the current turmoil in the Republican Party stemming both from the nomination of Mitt Romney and his failure to win the general election on November 6th.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; gee, do you always draw ties between politics and pop culture?  Well, I guess that connection is simply programmed in my brain.  For example, when I watched the James Bond film Skyfall yesterday, I noticed a number of interesting theories at work, such as the question of when or if one should surrender his or her own needs and desires to the greater good of the state.  But any discussion of Skyfall will have to wait for another day.

First, if you haven’t heard Fun.’s Some Nights, or if you don’t remember the song, I encourage you to listen to it again here.

For purposes of this article, I’ll quote a line from the song and then explain the current political significance regarding the controversies within the Republican Party.  Is everyone clear on the format then?  Okay.  Let’s begin.

Right off, we have the line “Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck”.

A few Republican pundits blamed the results of the 2012 election on bad luck.  Oh, if only Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit when it did…oh, if only Representative Todd Akin didn’t stick his foot in his mouth when it came to rape, Mitt Romney would have won.  Although bad luck can certainly play a factor in all facets of life, including elections, the Republican Party lost for more important reasons than simply “bad luck”.

The next line of interest is “But I still wake up, I still see your ghost”.

The political ghost for the Republicans is the spirit of Ronald Reagan.  Most Republican activists fondly remember the Reagan presidency in particularly idyllic terms.  Oh, they think, if only we could only find another Ronald Reagan then we could return both the country and the party to some sort of golden age.  Unfortunately, the standard practice is to whitewash history so we tend to forget that despite his greatness, Reagan did have his flaws and the country wasn’t perfect under his rule.  Nevertheless, Reagan was a good president, but we must recognize the simple fact is that he is gone.  The GOP must look to the future, not continually dwell on the past.

Moving on, we find the lines:

“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…”

In these lyrics we find the crux of the GOP dilemma.  What does the Republican Party stand for these days, if anything?  Many conservatives I know would argue that the Republicans stand for a federal government restrained by the constitution, free markets, fiscal responsibility, personal liberty, a strong national defense, and a faith in God (see the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia).  But one does have to wonder, if those principles guide the GOP, why did they select such a poor standard bearer in the form of Mitt Romney? After all, during his political career, he opposed the 2nd Amendment, approved of judicial activism and fought against the right to life by supporting Roe v. Wade, spoke in favor of some aspects of government involvement in healthcare, and believes that government can deny citizens suspected of terrorism their basic constitutional protections.  Are these the values that the modern GOP supports?

Then we have “This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?”

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have been actively working to destroy political dialogue in this country.  Differing political opinions are not tolerated; those who disagree, either domestically or internationally, are treated as enemies that cannot be reasoned with.  Taken in its extreme form, you get thoughts much like President George W. Bush statement in 2001, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  The prospect of any sort of political middle ground is treated with hostility.  Once a people begin to treat their friends and neighbors as enemies based upon mere political disagreements, that country is no longer politically healthy.  As fellow political blogger Rick Sincere stated earlier today, “People with whom I disagree are people with whom I disagree. They are not demons, mortal enemies, or the Antichrist. Disagreements about policy and culture are the lifeblood of representative democracy and pluralist society. They are not signs of the Apocalypse.”

“Why don’t we break the rules already?”

The Republican Party famously chose to modify many of its rules at the Republican National Convention in order to favor the establishment and exclude liberty activists.  But it is okay, because the end justifies the means, right?

“I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white”

Leading up to the election, some political pundits, like Karl Rove or Dick Morris, predicted a victory for Romney, apparently not based upon political reality, but predicated upon the mere hope that Romney would win.  Should we leave objective journalism to the “black and white” newspapers?

“I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked”.

Mitt Romney did work diligently to win the election.  However, far too many voters had a hard time liking a New England liberal elitist who was unable to relate to the plight of the average working man or woman.  Nationally, he claimed less votes than the not particularly well-liked John McCain.

“…but here they come again to jack my style”

Here we have the establishment lament.  Oh, those cursed Ron Paul supporters! If only they would have fallen in line behind the party nominee.  Who cares what principles they may or may not hold?  The victory of the party is of paramount concern.  They only exist to cause trouble or to “jack” the style of the establishment.

“…who I am, who I am, who I am.  Oh, who am I?”

As stated earlier, the GOP is a party with an identity crisis.

“Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again”

In order to survive as a national party, the Republicans will need to attract new voters or “friends”.  A lot of these potential friends are youth associated with the Ron Paul movement but in order to attract these folks, the party must adopt a more pro-liberty slant.

“Some nights, I always win, I always win…”

A repetition of the mistaken belief and/or fantasy that Romney and the Republicans would enjoy a great victory on Election Day.

“Well, that is it guys, that is all – five minutes in and I’m bored again
Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands”

One of the great concerns of the establishment is the acquisition of power.  To many of them, principles are a secondary issue.  Without this power, they grow bored and don’t wish to wait ten long years (or, in this case, four years) to regain influence in Washington.

“So this is it? I sold my soul for this?

Washed my hands of that for this?

I miss my mom and dad for this?”

Some conservative activists are rightly upset that they compromised their principles in order to defeat the supposed greater threat of Barack Obama. The line, “I miss my mom and dad for this?” echoes the fact that many volunteers sacrificed their family life for the pursuit of this political goal.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we don’t have a Republican victory, the GOP doesn’t seem to hold too closely to our principles any longer, and some of our personal relationships have become strained apparently needlessly.

“Who the %&*# wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?”

Unless the GOP returns to its principles and works to attract the new converts, sooner or later the party will die alone or be relegated to political irrelevance.  This line could also refer to the neo-conservative foreign policy of George W. Bush, which was extended by Barack Obama.  These conflicts resulted in many of our soldiers dying alone in the deserts of the Middle East.

“When I look into my nephew’s eyes…
Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from…
Some terrible nights…ahhh…”

I’ve stated this fact over and over again, but the youth are the future of the party.  If we could but understand their concerns and tie them into the greater Republican movement then perhaps some good could come from the terrible night of November 6th.

Although I began writing this article before watching Fun.’s video, the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War is appropriate to the political situation.  After all, the Republican Party is embroiled in its own civil war to determine who will control the party, the establishment or the conservative/liberty wing.  This battle is clearly playing out in Virginia as Lt. Government Bill Bolling squares off against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2013.  One important question is yet to be determined.  Is the modern Republican Party in the mold of Thomas Jefferson, who called for a limited federal government, or has it reverted to the party of Abraham Lincoln who promoted the expansion of federal authority?

Perhaps after reading this article, you might hear something new when Some Nights comes on the radio again.  So what does the Republican Party stand for these days?  Honestly, some nights, I don’t know.  But I do know the direction that I’ll be pushing it.  The GOP must be a strong advocate for liberty at all times.