Rasoul at Rocktown

Last night, Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) spoke at the April gathering of the Rocktown Libertarians in Harrisonburg.  He has represented the 11th district in the House of Delegates since winning a special election in January of 2014.  Mr. Rasoul is the second member of the House of Delegates to visit with the group this year as Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) attended the previous month.

Although the attendance last night was higher than meeting in the early party of 2017, it was a little lower than the previous month.  Several folks who had RSVPed didn’t end up making it.  In terms of partisanship, the group was fairly diverse.  Not only were there Libertarians at the table but there was also a contingent of Republicans and a Democrat or two.

After speaking about a number of issues of importance to him, Delegate Rasoul fielded a bunch of questions from the audience.  During this time he mentioned that sometimes he works with Republican legislators, such as Delegate Ben Cline, on issues related to protecting liberty in the Commonwealth.  The audience asked him about a variety of topics including criminal justice reform, political freedom and ballot access, drug policy, hemp, and, given that he is the only Muslim legislator in the General Assembly, about his faith and Sharia Law.  One particularly interesting tidbit was unlike most legislators, Delegate Rasoul was sworn in with his hand on a copy of both the Virginia and the United States Constitution.  As he explained, those were the documents he pledged to uphold.

Although I’ve written some critical pieces about Delegate Sam Rasoul before he was elected, since that time I have appreciated a number of the bills he has sponsored and votes he has taken in the last several sessions of the General Assembly.  Do we agree on everything?  Of course not.  And were there areas of disagreement with him in the audience last night?  Absolutely…but there were also differences of opinions between the regular attendees too.

Some people may be more liberal while others are more conservative, but it is my hope that through dialogue, including with those in other political parties, we can begin to counteract some of this nasty partisan fighting that was especially prevalent during the 2016 elections and find areas where we can work together to promote the cause of liberty.  As Delegate Rasoul indicated, he shared this desire.

Let me close by saying many thanks to Delegate Sam Rasoul for coming to Harrisonburg to speak to the Rocktown Libertarians last night.  Next month, Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) will be in attendance.

The Rise of the Rocktown Libertarians

Photo of the August 2013 meeting by Lisa McCumsey

In the past, the Rocktown Libertarians have hosted a number of candidates seeking office.  In 2012 we had Karen Kwiatkowski, a Republican candidate for House of Representatives.  In 2013, there was Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate for governor.  In 2014, there were many hopefuls: Robert Sarvis again, this time the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, Will Hammer, a Libertarian candidate for House of Representatives, Helen Shibut, a Libertarian candidate for Harrisonburg City Council and me, Joshua Huffman, an independent for Harrisonburg City Council.  In 2015, we had April Moore, a Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate as well as Will Hammer once more, this time as a Libertarian seeking a House of Delegates seat.  Then, in 2016, Chris Jones, the Mayor of Harrisonburg (a Democrat) stopped by as did Harry Griego, a Republican candidate for House of Representatives.

2017 is shaping up to be an even more exciting year.  At the Rocktown Libertarians’ March meeting we will be hosting Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) to speak about this year’s General Assembly session which should be ending in just a few short days.  Then, in April, the Rocktown Libertarians will be joined by Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) to discuss ways to make ballot access more fair for all, including Libertarian Party candidates.  We’ll likely have other special guests as well, but they are still in the works.

Sounds like an interesting group, doesn’t it?

Well, if you’d like to learn more about the Libertarian Party of Virginia, work to promote liberty, and meet fellow activists of a variety of political affiliations, I hope you’ll consider attending an upcoming meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians.  We get together on the third Tuesday of every month starting about 6:30 PM at the O’Charley’s at 101 Burgess Road in Harrisonburg.  Come stop by, say hello, and enjoy some good food and good conversation!

Griego & The Libertarians

Photo from Harry Griego's Facebook page
Photo from Harry Griego’s Facebook page

On Tuesday, March 15th, the Rocktown Libertarians will be holding their monthly meeting at O’Charley’s in Harrisonburg.  The social gathering begins at 6 PM, but often attendees don’t arrive until about 6:30 or 7.  This month, Harry Griego will be a guest at the gathering.  Mr. Griego is challenging Representative Bob Goodlatte for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 6th district.

Looking back on my time growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, I realize that it is a very toxic place politically.  Activists, politicians, and party leaders often reinforce the idea that those in a differing political party are the enemy and should always be treated as such.  Much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, each side has developed a hatred of the other and loyalty to their family or party which often supersedes reason, logic, principles, and even understanding.

As I wrote last year, I was encouraged when in 2011 the local Democratic party offered, and Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson accepted, a speaking slot at their meeting.  Unfortunately, the local Republican party bosses leaned on Hutcheson and he ended up declining the invitation.

When I ran for city council in 2014, I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the JMU College Republicans alongside the Republican nominees.  Unlike the other candidates, I didn’t focus too much on myself, but rather talked about the principles for which the Republican party supposedly stood.  However, I was told that the local Republican Party leaders castigated the JMU CRs for allowing me the speaking slot and was later informed that I was no longer welcome even to attend their weekly public gatherings.

Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians
Photo from the September 2015 meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians

In 2013, when Senator Mark Obenshain ran for Attorney General of Virginia, I strongly and repeatedly encouraged his campaign to reach out to the Libertarians as there was no Libertarian candidate running for that office.  However, they refused declaring that it would look bad for party unity for him to do so.  I still wonder that if he did, would Obenshain have picked up 166 additional votes and thus would have been elected attorney general?  In addition, if he were to make such a gesture, that would mean Senator Obenshain would be recognizing the right for the Libertarian Party to exist and to run candidates.  In early 2015, I asked him about the matter and was both shocked and dismayed when my state senator informed me that he opposed the idea of any candidate, except for Republicans and Democrats, being listed on the ballot.  Shortly thereafter, in mid 2015, April Moore, Senator Obenshain’s Democratic opponent, reached out to the Rocktown Libertarians and ended up speaking to them.

In late 2015, Nick Freitas, now the Republican Delegate for Virginia’s 30th district, was the featured speaker at JMU’s Madison Liberty group.

11206029_10152900151181915_7531848474274651375_nAs you might imagine, I am very encouraged that Harry Griego will be speaking to the Rocktown Libertarians tomorrow night.  Not only does it give Mr. Griego the chance to speak to some likely receptive voters, it sends a message to the Shenandoah Valley that the Libertarians have the same rights and privileges as both the Republican and Democratic Parties.  In addition, I’ve been informed that some regional liberty-minded Republican leaders will be attending the event too.  Despite what some may think, this isn’t an attempt to convert Libertarians to the Republican Party or Republicans to join the Libertarians (although given the decline of the GOP that might end up happening), but rather to spread dialogue, understanding, and discover issues of mutual importance.  I suppose it is likely that some establishment Republicans will declare Mr. Griego’s visit as disloyalty to the Republican Party, but you should bear in mind that any elected official or candidate should be beholden to and reach out to all of his or her constituents, not simply the party bosses and big donors who keep him or her in power.  We cannot reclaim our country so long as legislators are allowed to ignore large groups of voters and run on mere party labels and nothing of any substance.  Is there any wonder why a supposed outsider like Donald Trump leads the Republican field for president?

Here’s the link to the Facebook event if you’d like to learn more about what is going on tomorrow night.  Hope to see you there!

Moore with the Libertarians

Last night, April Moore, a Democratic candidate for the 26th district in the Virginia Senate, spoke at the monthly meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians.  Although a slightly smaller than usual turnout, Ms. Moore introduced herself to the attendees with a brief speech.  Afterward, those gathered engaged in a lengthy question and answer session in order to learn more about the candidate as well as to share thoughts with her on ways to achieve greater liberty through reducing the power of government.

Although the background noise at O’Charlies was quite loud and obscured the recording a bit, hopefully this video will provide a little more insight into April Moore and her candidacy.

Reaching Across The Aisle

IMG_2133Sometimes it seems as if the political divide in this country is so great that dialogue with members of other political parties is impossible.  We have our side and they have theirs and damned be he that even thinks about extending his hand across the chasm.

But should that be the case?

Four years ago, local Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson agreed to speak at a Democratic event.  It sounded like a positive idea to me.  After all, the sheriff ought to represent and protect all of the citizens of his or her locality, not simply those within his own party.  In addition, there was no Democratic candidate in that race.  Now, of course there would be political disagreement between a candidate and an opposing party, but who knows?  They might actually find some common ground and give some of them a reason to support him; it is good for people of all political stripes to learn about their choices.  However, when the Republican establishment heard of this idea, they quickly put an end to it.  Nevertheless, facing no major party opposition, Mr. Hutcheson was elected that November.

In 2013, I repeatedly encouraged the Obenshain campaign to speak to Libertarians.  After all, there was no Libertarian candidate on the ballot for that office and thus Libertarians would need to choose between a Republican, a Democrat, or simply leaving the attorney general’s race blank.  However, the Obenshain campaign steadfastly declined to do so.  Once all the votes were counted, Mark Obenshain lost by a scant 165 votes.

When I ran for city council last year as an independent, I put this philosophy in action, speaking to whatever group would host me, be they Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian.  As was the case with the sheriff in 2011, some leaders of these three political camps were quite upset, furious that I would have the audacity to reach out to their members.  How dare I suggest that I might have more in common with their professed ideology than their anointed party nominees?  Unfortunately, I discovered running without a party label created massive hurdles in terms of both funding and a volunteer base and thus was in no danger of winning.

Just recently, I received word that April Moore, the Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate in the 26th district who is challenging Senator Obenshain, has reached out to the local Libertarian community and will be speaking at the next meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians on April 21st.  Whatever your thoughts happen to be regarding Ms. Moore or the Libertarian Party, I see this move as an encouraging sign, an opportunity to expand political dialogue and bring together people who may never associate otherwise.

Are we more than our party labels?  I should think so.  Is there only one kind of Republican…or Democrat…or Libertarian?  Of course not!  Are all Republican candidates conservative?  Or all Democrats liberal?  Or all Libertarians libertarian?  No.  Just like ordinary individuals, they are as varied as grains of sand.

It is easy to ignore and demonize those who follow a different political brand, choosing to simply follow a label without checking the contents, voting for the candidates of the same party year after year.  And I know it may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to do anything else.  But maybe, just maybe, if we reach across the aisle, speaking to those who think differently or attending meetings of a different political party, we just might learn something new about them, expand political dialogue, and find common ground.  And, just as important, by doing so we might learn something new about ourselves.