Good Bills, Bad Bills in 2017

January 11th marks the start of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session.  As is typical, there is a whole host of legislation being proposed.  Some that are good for liberty, some are bad, and many that aren’t all that interesting, such as honoring an individual or business, or technical changes to the law that don’t make much of an impact.  Now, as there are thousands of bills, I won’t share them all, (nor, to be fair, have I read them all).  However, I’d like to share some of the ones I find interesting. Please note that the summaries of the bills are provided by the Virginia Legislative Information System.

Bills I’d like to see passed

HB 1578 Rob Bell (R-58) – Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs. Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) receives home instruction; (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two consecutive academic years; (iii) is in compliance with immunization requirements; (iv) is entitled to free tuition in a public school;(v) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current academic year;(vi) is an amateur who receives no compensation but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity;(vii) complies with all disciplinary rules and is subject to all codes of conduct applicable to all public high school athletes; and (viii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, maximum consecutive semesters of high school enrollment, parental consents, physical examinations, and transfers applicable to all high school athletes. The bill provides that no local school board is required to establish a policy to permit students who receive home instruction to participate in interscholastic programs. The bill permits reasonable fees to be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment. The bill has an expiration date of July 1, 2022.

Students of parents who choose to homeschool ought to be afforded the same rights and privileges of parents who send their children to public schools.  After all, if someone is required to pay for public schools whether they use them or not for academic instruction, they should be able to enjoy the same benefits.

HB 1637 Glenn Davis (R-84) – Possession or distribution of marijuana for medical purposes; Crohn’s disease. Provides an affirmative defense in a prosecution for the possession of marijuana if the marijuana is in the form of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil possessed pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner of medicine or osteopathy licensed by the Board of Medicine for purposes of treating Crohn’s disease or alleviating such patient’s symptoms. The bill provides that a practitioner shall not be prosecuted for distribution of marijuana for the treatment of or for alleviating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Individuals who use marijuana as a medicine should be able to do so without fear of prosecution.

HB 1677 Ben Cline (R-24) – General Assembly; introduction of legislation; recorded vote. Requires all legislation introduced by a member of the House of Delegates or the Senate to be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof and receive a recorded vote. All legislation reported from the house of introduction shall be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof in the other chamber and receive a recorded vote.

Citizens ought to know how their elected officials vote, including in committees.  The fact that currently a legislator can kill or promote a bill secretly in a committee without any transparency or accountability is a huge problem.

HB 2028 Nick Freitas (R-30) – Industrial hemp production; authorization. Removes all restrictions on the production of industrial hemp, including licensing and regulations.

There is no reason that I can see why there ought to be any governmental restrictions on hemp.

HB 2265 Ben Cline (R-24) – Concealed handgun permits. Allows any person who is otherwise eligible to obtain a concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun without a permit anywhere he may lawfully carry a handgun openly within the Commonwealth.

Although our right to bear arms is in the US Constitution, lawmakers often try to erode this right.  The right to self-defense among law-abiding citizens isn’t something that should require a permit.

HJ 622 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); General Assembly; term limits. Limits members of the Senate to three full terms (12 years) and members of the House of Delegates to six full terms (12 years). The limitations apply to service for both consecutive and nonconsecutive terms. Service for a partial term does not preclude serving the allowed number of full terms. In addition to any partial term, a person may serve 12 years in each house, or a total of 24 years in the General Assembly. The limits apply to terms of service beginning on and after the start of the 2020 Regular Session of the General Assembly.

The current political system presently heavily favors incumbents and seniority.  Creating term limits would help curtail these abuses and restore the idea of citizen legislators, not create a future class of career politicians.

HJ 629 Rob Bell (R-58) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Competition is good for the economic marketplace and I believe it good for schools as well as it will encourage more innovation and offer more choices and control to parents.

SJ 240 – Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Same bill as Bell’s HJ 629, same reason to support it.

 

Bills I’d like to see defeated

HB 1398 Delegate Richard (Dickie) Bell (R-20) – Hate crimes; acts against law-enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel. Expands the definition of hate crime for the purpose of reporting hate crimes within the Department of State Police to include acts against persons employed as law-enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical services personnel.

Hate crime legislation often means that the lives and/or wellbeing of some individuals are more valued under the law simply based on race, class, gender identity, or, in this case, their profession.  Crime is crime and justice should be blind.  Punishments shouldn’t be more or less severe based upon the status of the victim involved.

HB 1429 Mark Cole (R-88) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

I discuss my opposition to this bill in this article.

HB 1444 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $12.50 per hour effective July 1, 2019, and to $15.00 per hour effective July 1, 2021, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a free marketplace, the government would not set any minimum wage.  In addition, raising it to the levels suggested in this bill will likely hurt small businesses in rural Virginia (who, given the differences in cost of living in their location, cannot afford them).  Lower skilled jobs may also end up disappearing hurting workers as well.

HB 1601 Matthew Fariss (R-59) Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Same as my opposition to HB 1429.

HB 1771 Ken Plum (D-36) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour effective January 1, 2018, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum wage shall be adjusted biennially to reflect annual increases in the consumer price index over the two most recent calendar years. The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

See HB 1444 above.

HB 1776 Ken Plum (D-36) Hate crimes; gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; penalty. Adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense. The bill also adds these categories of victims to the categories of hate crimes that are to be reported to the central repository of information regarding hate crimes maintained by the Virginia State Police.

As with HB 1398, I oppose expanding hate crime legislation and believe that there shouldn’t be special penalties or exceptions for a crime based on the gender, race, creed, or employment status of the victim.

HJ 547 Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) – U.S. Constitution; application for a convention of the states. Makes application to Congress to call a convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution to restrain the abuse of power by the federal government.

Although I would like to see the federal government obey the law, drafting new amendments or even a new constitution seems like a poor idea given that the federal government is not really held accountable to the present Constitution.  Nullification by state governments would likely be a more proper remedy to this problem, rather than a fairly open-ended convention which could lead to a lot of unintended consequences.

HJ 634 Mark Cole (R-88) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); authority of elected school boards to impose taxes. Provides that the General Assembly may authorize any elected school board to impose real property taxes.

This bill would allow another government entity to have taxing authority.  How about no!

SB 837 Amanda Chase (R-11) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Like with Delegate Cole’s electoral vote bill, I explain my opposition here.

SB 902 Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Primary elections; voter registration by political party. Adds party affiliation to the information that an applicant is asked to provide when registering to vote. The applicant may indicate that he is an independent. The bill requires the State Board of Elections (State Board), in September 2017, to notify all registered voters of the new party registration law and send them a return card to indicate their party affiliation or independent status. Any voter who does not state a party affiliation shall be designated as independent in the registration records. Voters may change their party affiliation or independent status by written notice at any time before the registration records are closed in advance of an election. The bill (i) requires the state party chairman to notify the State Board by January 31 of each year whether the party will close or open its primaries, (ii) requires that primary candidate petitions be signed and witnessed by voters registered as affiliated with the party conducting the primary, (iii) sets the required number of petition signatures at one percent of the number of voters registered as affiliated with the party in the election district where the primary is being held, and (iv) allows an official political party to retain that status as long as at least 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s registered voters are registered as affiliated with that party. The provisions of the bill are applicable to primaries conducted after January 1, 2018.

The state government should not create or maintain a list of members of a private political party.  In addition, this list could be used to exclude some voters from primaries even though as taxpayers they still have to pay for these functions.  As an added thought, one could hardly call these additional costs to the state of these databases as fiscally conservative.

SB 925 Chap Petersen (D-34) – Plastic bag tax in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Imposes a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by certain retailers in localities located wholly within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and directs revenues to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. The bill also allows every retailer that collects the tax to retain one cent of the five-cent tax.

Although I don’t approve of littering and I believe that there ought to be penalties for those caught doing so, this bill would unnecessarily increase the cost of business for everyone, including those who do not litter.

SB 978 Rosalyn Dance (D-16) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $13 per hour effective July 1, 2018, and to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2019, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

As mentioned with Delegate Rasoul’s bill, the government shouldn’t set a minimum wage, nor would the wages this bill suggests be proper for some rural parts of the state where the cost of living is lower and thus wages would also be lower.

Well, these are the interesting and important bills to me.  Eight that should be passed and twelve that need to be defeated.  However, given that there are over a thousand bills out there, I’m sure that I haven’t found them all.  Are there any others that you all think ought to be supported or opposed?

Positive Outreach

Scan 2These days, most people rely upon email to send all of their messages.  As such, our inboxes are often stuffed both with legitimate correspondence…as well as far too much spam.  Given this reality, except when we are expecting a package, we don’t eagerly wait for the mailman like we did when I was little, as he typically delivers only bills and generic information of sales.  However, sometimes there are surprises.  Today, for example, I found a hand-addressed envelope in the mailbox.  Inside, was a hand-written note from Delegate Bell (as pictured).

To offer some background, on the evening of July 14th Americans for Prosperity-Virginia held an event in Harrisonburg featuring Delegate Rob Bell (R-58), Delegate Ben Cline (R-24), Delegate Nick Freitas (R-30), and a member of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors.  Although I’ve found AFP events to be hit or miss, this gathering was excellent, featuring many great, informative, and inspiring speeches.  In fact, it was arguably the best AFP event I have attended in my years of activism.  Afterward, I spoke with some of the AFP staff and their guests, including Delegate Bell, who informed me that he read The Virginia Conservative (it is amazing how many elected officials tell me that they visit this website).  Nevertheless, I didn’t think much more about the event and didn’t end up taking any photos of it, as it was one of those “you had to be there” kind of occasions to listen to it for yourself.  However, with today’s mail, I am reminded of it once again.

As some of you may know, Rob Bell is seeking to be the Republican nominee for Virginia’s Attorney General in 2017.  Although he already has several declared opponents, sending out personalized, hand-written notes as he did after this recent AFP event is a good way to set yourself apart in a world of slick, colorful, but impersonal campaign flyers.  In addition, I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t some kind of plug for a donation.

I don’t have a preferred candidate for attorney general at this point, but I have to say kudos to Delegate Bell for his efforts at memorable outreach.

The 2013 Convention!

Shortly before 7 AM, a multitude of local Republicans gathered outside of the Harrisonburg GOP headquarters to depart for the 2013 state convention in Richmond.  The Obenshain campaign organized this gathering.  I led one of the two buses of 49 other activists.  We left around 7:15 with the second bus stopping in Staunton to pick up additional supporters.

IMG_1886About two hours later we arrived outside the Coliseum.  The scene that greeted us was daunting.  On both the left and right sides of the entrance, long lines stretched seemingly forever.  Outside, most of the campaigns had a table underneath a tent handing out materials.  The one exception was the Davis campaign which merely had a yard sign where one would expect to find her people.  This development did not bode well for the Davis campaign, which I had previously assumed would survive at least to the second ballot.  In addition, there were a fair number of protesters in pink shirts from Planned Parenthood deriding the candidacy of Ken Cuccinelli.

Inside of the building each of the campaigns had an additional informational table, as did a multitude of other organizations such as The Leadership Institute, Middle Resolution PAC, and others.

IMG_1900In the auditorium itself, each delegate was grouped according to the city or county from which he or she came.  This year, the placement of each locality depended upon the percentage of their delegates who paid the voluntary $35 fee.  This change resulted in Harrisonburg city holding the choicest spot on the convention floor, front and center.  Delegates from Rockingham and Augusta Counties, regions whose delegates also strongly supported Senator Mark Obenshain, flanked Harrisonburg.

After many lengthy speeches from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ken Cuccinelli, and the various candidates running for the Republican nomination, voting could begin.  Although announced ahead of time, it was interesting that neither Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell nor Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling attended Saturday’s convention.  As an additional note, former Representative Allen West spoke on behalf of Delegate Scott Lingamfelter and Ollie North encouraged delegates to support Pete Snyder.

Voting on the first ballot began about 1 PM or so, but the results were not announced until almost four hours later due to either technical difficulties or a recount requested by the Snyder campaign if the rumors circulating were true.  Although the official tallies were not released due to Delegate Rob Bell’s request to withdraw his candidacy, Senator Mark Obenshain became the official nominee for attorney general.  On the race for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson captured an early lead, winning 3,732 votes, about twice as many votes as his closest rival, Susan Stimpson.  Corey Stewart finished third, followed by Pete Snyder, Scott Lingamfelter, Jeannemarie Davis, and finally Steve Martin.  As no candidate received a majority of the votes, Martin and Davis were eliminated and delegates voted again.  Unfortunately, the official numbers for the first ballot were not announced until after many delegates had already cast their second ballot, which likely skewed the next results as we were erroneously led to believe that Stewart placed second instead of Stimpson.  Behind the scenes, the Davis campaign encouraged her supporters to rally behind Jackson.

About two hours later, voting from the second ballot was announced.  Jackson increased his totals to 4,558.38, while Snyder jumped to second with 2066.89.  Stewart finished third while Stimpson and Lingamfelter, with the two lowest totals, were eliminated.  Lingamfelter cast his favor to Snyder while the Stimpson campaign did not recommend any particular candidate.

SOThe results for the third ballot came one hour and forty-five minutes later.  Jackson’s vote total again expanded to 5,934.69 with Snyder second with 3,652.97.  At this point, E.W. Jackson had over 49% of the vote and thus his election on the next ballot was a virtual lock.  The Snyder campaign passed out fliers declaring that Corey Stewart had endorsed Snyder as had Mark Obenshain.  The latter revelation came as a complete shock given that Obenshain had remained silent in this race up until now, coupled with the fact that such an endorsement would be particularly foolhardy given that Jackson’s victory was all but a certainty.  I spoke with both Chris Leavitt, Obenshain’s campaign manager, as well as Suzanne Obenshain, his wife, who denied any endorsement.  In addition, Corey Stewart appeared and walked around the floor with Jackson with raised hands.  It was terribly unfortunate that in a desperate bid to win the Snyder campaign would resort to such dirty and dishonest tactics, ploys that were all too common in the closing days of the campaign.

Update:  Bearing Drift reports the following regarding the actions of the Stewart campaign.

A little after 10 PM, Pete Snyder withdrew his candidacy and thus E.W. Jackson was declared the victor.  With voting finally concluded, we returned to the bus and headed back west to our home across the mountain.

On a personal note, unlike many of the delegates, as I did not have a favorite candidate, I ended voting for three different LG candidates over the course of the day.  I intended to cast my final vote for Pete, but, after his campaign spread their misinformation, I couldn’t reward deception and thus proudly cast my vote for E.W. Jackson.

All in all, it was an exciting and tiring day that went much longer than needed.  However, it was filled with a bunch of surprises and uncertainty, regrettably marred by technical difficulties, a bit of misinformation, and a splash of deceit.

Given that the state central committee has selected a convention in 2014 to choose the Republican candidate for Senate, we’ll do it all again next year.  Hope to see you then!

Tea Party Releases Score Card

TPSCThe Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation released their first ever legislative score cards, ranking the members in the General Assembly based upon their votes in the 2013 legislative session.  As has been the case with special interest groups like the Family Foundation and the NRA, score cards are a useful tool to let voters know how their government officials vote on particular issues of importance.  This new  score card graded based upon 15 different pieces of legislation.

In the House of Delegates, Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15) and Delegate Peter Farrell (R-56) were the only two members in that 100 person body to post a perfect score.  Here in the Shenandoah Valley, most of the other legislators also received high marks with Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) at 95%, Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20) 95%, Delegate Ben Cline (R-24) 95%, and Delegate Steve Landes (R-25) 90%.  My delegate, Tony Wilt (R-26) scored the lowest of any of those in the region with 60%, though he did vote rather curiously in 2013, supporting the implementation of Obamacare in Virginia and the creation of a state-run EPA.  Speaker of the House of Delegates Bill Howell (R-28) was awarded a rather dismal 35%.  You can download and view the entire House of Delegates score card with the link provided. Tea-Party-Patriots-house_scorecard_2013_v2

Moving over to the Virginia Senate, my state senator, Mark Obenshain (R-26), and Bill Stanley (R-20) were ranked the highest among the 40 with 70%.  Elsewhere in the Valley, Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24) got 45% and Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25) was awarded 5%.  By comparison, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3) finished with 30%.  The Senate score card is here. Tea-Party-Patriots-senate_scorecard_2013_v2

As the political landscape in Virginia continually evolves, the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation has been adapting to fit this changing environment.  This tea party score card is one of several new developments that the federation has in the works.  I encourage you to check these cards to see what you think.

Virginia’s Tenth Stand

Here in Virginia we are gearing up for another session of the General Assembly, the legislative body of the state government.  Delegates and senators have begun to showcase the bills they hope to pass in the upcoming year and there is one that should be of particular interest to any person who seeks to curtail the power of the federal government.

The purpose of bill, House Joint Resolution Number 130, is in “memorializing the Congress of the United States to honor state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”  This resolution has attracted a good number of sponsors, currently including: Delegates Randy Minchew of Loudoun County, Dave Albo of Fairfax County, Rob Bell of Albemarle County, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Chris Head of Roanoke, Keith Hodges of Middlesex County, Jimme Massie of Henrico County, Rick Morris of Isle of Wight County, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol, and David Ramadan of Loudoun County.

But what exactly does this resolution say?  Well, it begins by quoting the 10th Amendment.  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  It further notes, “The Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more”.

The resolution goes on to boldly claim that “many federal laws are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” and “that Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states”.

The resolution concludes with the following assertion: “The Commonwealth of Virginia hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States. The Commonwealth by this resolution serves notice to the federal government, as its agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. Further, the Commonwealth urges that all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding shall be prohibited or repealed.”

The full text of Resolution 130 can be found here.

It has become clear that most of the legislators in Congress, the president, the courts, and the federal bureaucracy have little interest in restraining their powers to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution.  Therefore, in order to restore some sense of federalism, it is up to the states and the people to claim the authority that is rightfully theirs.

But lingering questions remain.  Will the delegates and senators in Richmond have the political courage to pass this resolution?  And if they do, are they willing to chart a course that will enforce the federal limitations found in the Constitution and the 10th Amendment?  After all, it would mean an end to federal control of many facets of life including, but limited to: education, healthcare, retirement, and the modern welfare state.

Conservatives, libertarians, and constitutionalists all across Virginia should support House Joint Resolution 130 and ought to write his or her legislators and encourage them to do likewise.  It’s time to make a stand!

Obama Comes to Charlottesville

Earlier today, President Barack Obama visited downtown Charlottesville, Virginia as he continues his campaign for re-election.  In 2008, Charlottesville proved to be one of Obama’s most favorable cities in Virginia, as he garnered 78.35% of the vote.

Prior to Obama’s speech, the Jefferson Area Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity held an “Oust Obama” rally at Lee Park, which began at noon, three or four blocks from the Pavilion where Obama’s event was slated to be later in the day.  Featured speakers at this meeting included: former Republican Party of Virginia Chairperson Kate Obenshain, Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County, and E.W. Jackson, a former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.  The crowd at this event was estimated to be approximately 160 people, most came from either Charlottesville or the surrounding Albemarle County, but there was also a sizable contingent from Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro as well.

Attendance to Barack Obama’s speech was far more tightly regulated that the relatively informal tea party event.  Each person had to have a ticket, which meant filling out a form that requested a name, address, phone number, and email address.  Once the gates opened at 1:00 PM, the line quickly grew to stretch from one end of the downtown mall to the other, a distance of about a half a mile.  As warned, the attendees had to path through “airport style security” which included emptying pockets and passing through a metal detector.  Fortunately, neither full body scans nor removing shoes was required.  However, as no outside beverages were allowed, many people simply threw their trash on the ground as opposed to finding a proper trashcan.

Although it was difficult to gauge a specific number, attendance had to have been in the thousands.  People were packed as tightly as sardines within.  A vast majority of the area was standing room only; ticket holders gathered both inside the structure and on the grassy slopes around.

After a bit of live music and some brief introductions from some of the local Obama field staff, the politicians spoke.  First up was Tom Perriello, the former member of the House of Representatives for the Charlottesville area until he lost his re-election bid in 2010.  Next was former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine who is looking to claim a seat in the U.S. Senate in November.  He made a handful of jabs against George Allen, his Republican opponent.

Around 3:30 PM or so, Barack Obama took the stage for about a half an hour.  He spent quite a bit of time reminding folks of the November election, as well as his accomplishments and plans for the future.  He spoke on an abundance of topics that would please the mostly liberal audience such as: Obamacare, his support for abortion, and his desire to increase fuel efficiency of automobiles.  One surprise, however, had to be his call to begin the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan beginning in about a month’s time.

Although it was not difficult to leave the downtown area via car, the Charlottesville police did close off traffic in or out of Route 29, one of the busiest arteries of the city, for over an hour until the presidential motorcade had passed by.  One does have to wonder how many thousands of citizens had their schedules disrupted by this unexpected delay.

Even though WSLS 10 reports that enthusiasm for Barack Obama has waned from its high water mark four years ago, today’s event in the liberal bastion of Charlottesville showed that there are still a vast number of people in Virginia who are willing to wait for hours on a fairly hot summer day and in a packed crowd to hear him speak.

Statistics show that Virginia will be one of the most important battlegrounds in the November 6th race for the President.  Whether Barack Obama carries the Old Dominion, as he did four years ago, remains to be seen.  However, as we draw nearer to the election, Virginians should expect more visits from Obama and Mitt Romney as well as counterbalancing gatherings of their detractors.

Bloggers’ Day 2012

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling invited bloggers from across the state to join him for his annual Bloggers’ Day.  Beginning at 10:15, the all day event gave us an in-depth opportunity to explore the recent activities of the state government as well discuss the upcoming 2012 and 2013 elections.  Carpooling with fellow blogger Rick Sincere, I enjoyed a lot of insightful commentary on the path to and from Richmond.

Lt. Gov. Bolling flanked by Randy Marcus and Tucker Martin

First on the docket, as had been in years past, was a roundtable meeting with Lt. Gov. Bolling as he outlined the state of the Virginia economy in terms of the increase in jobs, capital investment, and the like.  Although Virginia continues to pull out of this recession, it was disappointing to see that the Shenandoah Valley is progressing slower than the rest of the state.  Nevertheless, I do believe that our leaders are making important strides to encourage businesses to come to the commonwealth.

Afterward, I walked over to the capitol to see the Senate and House in session.  However, due to a massive influx of students, supporters of Americans for Prosperity, and other political groups, a policeman blocked the entrance until the crowds has dissipated.  I grabbed a sandwich and ate alongside fellow bloggers Charles Young of Newport News and Brian Bridgeforth of Waynesboro.

Virginia's House of Delegates

Once the way was clear, we headed to the House of Delegates chamber.  The issue under discussion was the so-called “Tebow bill” which would allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sporting events.  Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County, the patron of the bill, and Delegate Brenda of James City County encouraged the members to allow the bill to come up for a final vote while Virginia Beach Republican Bob Tata moved to have the delegates “forget” the bill.  Nevertheless, by a voice vote, the members chose to engross the measure.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to the Senate doors, that body had already gone into recess.

Starting at 2:30, a panel of various folks in the know spoke more about Virginia politics.  First up was Bob Holsworth, followed by Boyd Marcus.  Both spoke on the state of the 2012 and 2013 elections.  Each seemed to think that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee for president although they admit that he faces considerable hurdles to win the election in November.

Senator Obenshain and Randy Marcus

Next up was Senator Mark Obenshain.  His primary focus centered on his various legislative proposals including the imminent domain amendment.  Personally, I would have liked to hear him speak a little on his race for Attorney General in 2013, but I suppose that there is still a considerable amount of time before that issue comes to the forefront.

After waiting several minutes for Delegate Rob Bell to arrive and speak with the group, I ducked out to find a fellow Ron Paul supporter who worked in one of the legislative offices on the same floor.  Not surprisingly, we both were very disappointed that the Ron Paul campaign seems to be more or less ignoring the state.  It seems odd given that he has a very real opportunity to win Virginia as only he and Romney are on the ballot and coupled with the fact that many Gingrich and Santorum supporters here are encouraging their likeminded brethren to support Paul.  Given Paul’s fairly lackluster performance in the primaries and caucuses so far, one does have to start to wonder if his national campaign is going to pull out a first place finish anywhere.

When I returned to the conference room, I discovered that Del. Bell had already come and gone.  The next speakers were Mike Thomas and Dan Allen, campaign advisors for George Allen.  All day, I had been looking forward to asking them about the Allen campaign; specifically how George Allen would answer his critics on the right and prove that he will be the conservative senator that Virginia needs.  Unfortunately, this presentation did very little to answer my concerns.

First of all, as one blogger and I agreed, it was a particularly dull presentation.  Just about all of the points that the two speakers made, I already knew.  Second, and far worse in my mind, was the news that they plan to more or less ignore the Republican primary.  George Allen, they said, did not have either the money or time to waste with his lesser Republican challengers.

They spent a good portion of time highlighting Allen’s accomplishments as Governor.  Only when questioned by another of my fellow bloggers did they made the briefest of mentions of his potentially troubling votes while he was in the Senate.  Defeating Barack Obama and Tim Kaine is key, and, although they did not say this point specifically, despite any objections, reasonable or otherwise, Republicans and conservatives should just get in line and support George Allen.  This kind of thinking doesn’t sit well with me nor do I think it will do so with the majority of the Tea Party crowd.  Who likes having either themselves or their principles taken for granted?  And no, just in case you are wondering, I was not called upon to ask my question.

The Governor's Mansion

At the end of the day, we attended a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.  I first spoke with fellow blogger Jason Kenney who is advising the Allen campaign.  Unlike the two previous speakers, I was able to engage in a dialogue and thus addressed some of my specific issues.

Although I was unable to capture much of the Governor’s time, I did enjoy a good conservation with Lt. Governor Bolling regarding Virginia’s presidential primary.  While he is an ardent supporter of Romney, as I am with Paul, we both agreed that neither of our respective campaigns should overlook the Commonwealth.

Governor McDonnell and the First Lady

In closing, I want to shout out a big thanks to the Governor and especially the Lt. Governor and his staff for hosting this event.  I wish more leaders would take a cue from Bill Bolling and reach out to the blogosphere.  Whether a big site or small, every day citizens from Virginia and across the whole nation read our material and pass it on to others.  Therefore, if you either hold a position in government or planning to run for public office, don’t you think it is important to know what is being written and who is saying it?

If you wish to join the conversation, wait no longer.  Start your blog today!

I’m already looking forward to Bloggers’ Day 2013.

Bell Announces

In what will be at least the second Republican nomination fight in 2013, today Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County has announced his bid to be Virginia’s next Attorney General.

As a result, currently the field consists of two people, Delegate Rob Bell and Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg.  Personally, I find it rather interesting that two legislators who both represent a portion of Rockingham County are running for Ken Cuccinelli’s position.  This development makes me hopeful that the Shenandoah Valley will receive a little more attention in state politics in the near future.

Here is Delegate Bell’s letter which outlines his ideas for Attorney General:

Dear Friend:

Last week, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that he will not be running for re-election. Today I am announcing my candidacy to be Virginia’s next Attorney General.

 

The Attorney General is Virginia’s chief law enforcement officer, and I would bring substantial experience to the job. I began work as a state prosecutor in Orange County in 1996. During my five years there, I worked with deputies and crime victims to prosecute more than 2,400 cases.  I prosecuted drunk drivers and domestic abusers and held them accountable for their actions.  I worked on horrifying cases of sexual abuse.  I made house calls to crime victims and gave them my home phone number, so they could reach me, day or night.
Since my election to the General Assembly in 2001, I have continued to spearhead the fight against crime. In 2004, we had a case where a sexual predator visited with students at a local elementary school while dressed as Santa Claus.  I wrote the law to keep people like him out of our schools. While serving in the prosecutor’s office, I prosecuted more than 100 DUI cases, including those where people were killed. In Richmond, I wrote laws to mandate jail for drunk drivers with high blood alcohol or who had kids in the car. Last year, after the tragic death of a student at U.Va., I patroned the bill to make it easier for threatened citizens to get protective orders.

 

We have had successes, but there is so much more to do. Every night, there are Virginians who bar their windows and lock their doors to keep dangerous criminals at bay.  I believe that’s backwards – it should be the criminals who are behind lock and key, not our citizens.  Our work will be not done until any Virginian can walk anywhere, anytime, without fear of being assaulted, robbed, or worse.  All Virginians – rich and poor – deserve safe neighborhoods.

 

Writing tough criminal laws has not been my only priority in the House of Delegates. After the Supreme Court stripped property rights away in the Kelo decision, I worked with then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli to pass a law to protect private property from abusive eminent domain. I am proud that this year we stand on the doorstep of enshrining these rights in the Virginia Constitution, and I plan on patroning the Resolution to do this. Like Senator Cuccinelli, my work was recognized by the Virginia Property Rights Coalition, which awarded me the John C. Marshall Award. In 2008, after the shooting at Virginia Tech, I worked with mental health workers and police, and patroned the bill to overhaul Virginia’s involuntary commitment laws.

 

I have been recognized as a conservative leader in the House, fighting against higher taxes and the expansion of government. I am proud that I received a designation from the American Conservative Union as a Defender of Liberty for my 100% score on their targeted votes.

 

I believe my experience as a prosecutor and a conservative lawmaker has given me the background to serve as Virginia’s next Attorney General. As Attorney General, I would continue to fight crime and to promote safer schools and neighborhoods.   I would carry on Attorney General Cuccinelli’s battle to rein in unconstitutional overreach by the federal Government.  I would fight to protect property rights and to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations.

 

But this is not something I can do alone. I will need your prayers and ideas. Ultimately, to be successful, I will need your time and your financial support. Rob Bell Delegate, 58th District

 

I’m a conservative and a crime fighter. I ask for you to help me become Virginia’s next Attorney General.

If you would like to share your thoughts or to join the campaign, you can e-mail me at rob@delegaterobbell.com – I would love to hear from you.
Sincerely,

Rob Bell
Delegate, 58th District

Exciting times.  I’ll provide more news on this race as it becomes available.

Good BBQ, Good Music, Good Folks

On Saturday, the Harrisonburg GOP, the Rockingham County GOP, and the local Republican Women held a fundraiser at the Stone Family Barn in Harrisonburg.  The event featured delicious local BBQ and a wide range of tempting desserts prepared by the Republican Women.  In addition, Dave Kyger and his band provided some excellent bluegrass music.

Harrisonburg’s own State Senator Mark Obenshain was the first of many well-known speakers, which included Susan Allen, the wife of former Governor and U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, and U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6).  The audience brimmed with elected representatives and Republican hopefuls, a virtual who’s who role call in local politics.  The complete list (and I hope I haven’t left anyone out) also included: Karen Kwiatkowski of Shenandoah County (a candidate for Virginia’s 6th district House of Representatives seat), State Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta County, Delegate Tony Wilt of Rockingham County, Delegate Steve Landes of Augusta County, Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County, Bryan Hutcheson (a candidate for Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff), Commonwealth Attorney Marsha Garst, Clerk of Court Chaz Evans-Haywood, Rockingham County Treasurer Todd Garber, Rockingham County Supervisor Pablo Cuevas, Rockingham County Supervisor Fred Eberly, Rockingham County Commissioner of the Revenue Lowell Barb, and Harrisonburg School Board member Greg Coffman.

This event proved to be another excellent opportunity to collect signatures to get both Representative Ron Paul and former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico on Virginia’s ballot for the 2012 Republican primary.  Whether you support Paul or someone else, I encourage you to sign these petitions so that each Virginian can have a great range of options when we go to vote next year.

As the event came to a close, the party held an auction to raise additional funds.  There were a wide variety of items on the block including many of the same desserts we previously enjoyed with our meal.  Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to offer thanks to Chuck Ahrend whose hard work made this experience possible.

Overall, the event seemed to go quite well.  If you are a local Republican who unfortunately missed Saturday’s event, I encourage you to mark your calendars in advance for next year’s gathering.  You shouldn’t let this occasion pass you by.

Rotten in Rockingham

Continuing our series on redistricting, I’d like to focus on the likely new boundaries for the lower house of the  Virginia General Assembly, the House of Delegates.  In today’s segment, we will be looking at my home past and present, the city of Harrisonburg and the surrounding county of Rockingham.

The city of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in western Virginia

The first question we ought to ask is, how are the House of Delegates districts currently drawn?  Well, as of the last Census, they looked as follows:

As you can see, the 26th district (represented by Del. Tony Wilt of Broadway which is a town in Rockingham) encompasses the city and the northern half of the county.  The rest is split between the 20th (represented by Del. Dickie Bell of Staunton city), the 25th (represented by Del. Steve Landes of Weyers Cave, a town in Augusta County), and the 15th (represented by Del. Todd Gilbert of Mt. Jackson, a town in Shenandoah County).

Here’s a modest redistricting proposal.   Because Harrisonburg has a greater population density than the surrounding county, both Harrisonburg and Rockingham County could be represented by two delegates assuming one collected the pieces from the 20th, 25th, and 15th.  Although I believe that all four delegates have done a good job representing our shared Valley values, wouldn’t it make more sense to shave that number to two (or three depending on how the lines break)?  Doesn’t it seem logical to have Rockingham County voters represented by, oh I don’t know, a citizen from Rockingham County?  Instead we have only one Rockingham resident Delegate, as listed above, the rest are from Staunton, Augusta, and Shenandoah.  Nevertheless, even if they aren’t all from Rockingham or Harrisonburg, at least they are all from the Shenandoah Valley.

So what fate will redistricting have on Rockingham County?  The most likely outcome, offered by Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk and passed by the Virginia Senate looks like this:

Del. Jones' Plan

Disappointingly, this map still quarters Rockingham County between four seats.  Like before, the 26th comprises the bulk while the remainder is divvied up between the 15th, the 25th, and a surprising newcomer, the 58th.  As you might notice, the 25th takes an ugly jut through southwest Rockingham County as it swallows up territory formerly in the 20th.  Traveling south and east we see that both the 20th and 25th districts are both heavily gerrymandered under this plan.

Regarding the 25th, does anyone else see a problem with a house district that goes from the West Virginia border to the outskirts of the city of Charlottesville around 50 miles away?  Can you honestly tell me that the citizens of Rockingham have much in common with those living in the suburbs of Charlottesville?  Having personally lived in both localities, I can assure you that they are as similar as night and day.

And what of this 58th district?  That seat is currently held by Delegate Rob Bell of Charlottesville.  Again, I have no complaints against this Del. Bell, but if Rockingham residents can’t be represented by their neighbors shouldn’t they at least be represented by folks in the culturally connected Valley?  Guess what citizens of Rockingham!  In order to visit the office of your new delegate, you’ll have to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains, travel through Greene County and then into Albemarle County.  For some of you, that likely means a forty-five minute drive.  Good luck with that.

All of this discussion begs the question, why is Rockingham split as it is?  Well, both Rockingham County and Augusta County to the south are some of the two most reliably Republican voting areas of the state.  Think back to 2008 when Jim Gilmore was absolutely destroyed in the race for U.S. Senate.  What were two of the measly six localities he won?  Rockingham and Augusta.

2008 Virginia Senate Race

So why has Rockingham County swapped one Delegate Bell (Dickie) for another (Rob)?  The answer may be seniority.  After all, any Republican politician would love to have some rich conservative Rockingham soil in his or her district.  Given that Del. Bell of Charlottesville has been in office for eight more years than Del. Bell of Staunton, I’m guessing padding his district is of greater importance to Del. Jones and whoever else had a hand in drawing this map.  All the while, the voters of Rockingham are mere pawns in this political horse swap.

If for no other reason than for the sake of my friends and family who are spread around Rockingham County, I hope this plan fails.  Sure, it helps conservative Republicans, which is desirable for those who share my ideology, but it does so at the unacceptable expense of undermining our political process.  Rockingham County is more than just a wheel of cheese to be sliced up as is politically convenient.

Anyway, the take home point is this:  For gerrymandering pure and simple this plan ought to be rejected by the General Assembly, the Governor, and the courts.

Something is rotten in Rockingham.  I can’t be the only person who notices this truth!