The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XCI)

Yesterday, Andy Schmookler and I spoke about politics on 550 AM, WSVA for the 91st time. The biggest topic of the day concerned the Republican Party of Virginia and their continued struggles with how to nominate their statewide candidates this year. If you were unaware, the Republican Party has voted repeatedly on this issue with some of them favoring a convention and others a primary. It is a dispute that they fight most years though this year has been more contentious than usual. Although they have selected a convention, it seems that their venue at Liberty University in Lynchburg did not approve the location. In addition, Andy and I also spoke about continuing issues with COVID and the government response.

If you missed the show live, you can listen to it here.

Independents in the General Assembly?

Photo of Delegate Wilt and Senator Obenshain. Used with permission from The Citizen https://hburgcitizen.com/

For much of the recent history of the Virginia General Assembly, the House of Delegates has been comprised of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. In fact, the longest-serving member of the body, Lacey Putney, was, for most of his time in office, an independent. The same doesn’t hold true for the Virginia Senate, however, as independents and third-party candidates have been unable to win any seats in the upper house. But, due to circumstances as a result of the 2020 elections, it is possible that we will see at least one independent in both the House and Senate of Virginia.

Before you ask, no, you haven’t missed a special election where independents won office. Instead, this outcome centers around another election, the 2020 Harrisonburg City Council elections. How could a city council race change the makeup of the General Assembly in Richmond? Let me explain. In that race, six candidates sought three seats on the council. Three ran as Democrats, one as a Republican, and one as an independent. Two members of the General Assembly, Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Tony Wilt, both Republicans from Rockingham County made donations to the independent candidate as opposed to his Republican challenger. According to VPAP (the Virginia Public Access Project), Obenshain made two donations to George Hirschmann, one in June and one in August totaling $586. His campaign chipped in another $250. Wilt also made two donations to Hirschmann, one in June and one in September totaling $500. In addition, Wilt’s business, Superior Concrete contributed $500.

Why does this matter? According to Article I, section 2, part A of the Republican Party of Virginia Party Plan,

“A voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.”

In addition, there is Article 7, Section C of the Party Plan.

A member of an Official Committee is held to a higher standard of support for nominees of the Republican Party than an individual who merely participates in a mass meeting, party canvass, convention or primary. Therefore, a member of an Official Committee is deemed to have resigned his Committee position if he (a) makes a reportable contribution to and/or (b) knowingly allows his name to be publicly used by and/or (c) makes a written or other public statement supporting the election of a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee in a Virginia General or Special Election, and/or (d) becomes a member or an officer of or makes a reportable contribution to any other political party. A majority of the elected officers of an official committee are charged with recognizing when this provision is in effect.

Although such statements seem fairly clear, when I learned of this matter prior to the November election, I spoke to the chairman of the RPV, Rich Anderson, to see if my understanding is correct, that if a Republican supports a candidate who is running against a Republican, he or she would be expelled from the party.

Here is the exchange.

Good morning, Mr. Anderson.

I think you may have misunderstood my message to you on Facebook.  This fall, the city of Harrisonburg is holding elections for city council.  As such, the Harrisonburg Republican committee has nominated Dr. Kathleen Kelly as their candidate.  However, there is also an independent candidate running for re-election to the council.  Quite a few local Republicans are openly supporting the independent and, according to VPAP, have donated to his campaign.  My understanding of the RPV Party Plan is that such an action would expel this person from the Republican Party.  As section A, paragraph 2 states “A voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.” Is that not the case?

As such, I am curious about what actions the RPV will take about this matter.

Thank you for your time.

Here is the chairman’s reply:

Thanks for emailing, and your interpretation of the RPV State Party Plan is correct.

This involves members of a local Republican committee, so I think that this is the purview of the local party. I’m copying our RPV General Counsel for his comments.

Many thanks, Joshua.

     Rich

RICHARD L. ANDERSON

Chair, Republican Party of Virginia

Member, Virginia General Assembly (2010-2018)

Colonel, United States Air Force (1979-2009)

In addition, here is what the RPV General Counsel Chris Marston added:

Two provisions of the plan are implicated. For anyone who is currently a member of the Harrisonburg City Committee, they are subject to immediate removal if a majority of the elected officers of the committee find that they have supported a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee. That’s in Art. VII.

The provisions in Art. I relate to subsequent nominating events. If any of the folks supporting the independent participated in the nominating process that made Kathleen Kelly the nominee AND as part of that process were required to sign a statement of intent, those folks can be prohibited from participating in future Republican nominating events. There’s not a central list of folks subject to that prohibition maintained by RPV. It’s up to the unit committee when administering subsequent nominating processes to enforce that prohibition.

Hope that helps.

Thanks
Chris

Given the information which is publicly available, this matter seems rather straightforward, doesn’t it? Senator Obenshain and Delegate Wilt, through their donations during the Summer of 2020, supported an independent candidate who was running against a Republican. As such, both are no longer members of the Republican Party and thus would be serving as independents in the General Assembly. Clearly, if any rank and file member of the party engaged in this behavior the party would be quick to remove them, right?

For example, this is an issue with which I have had personal experience. In early February of 2014, I received a phone call from the Harrisonburg Republican Party chairman who told me that I had been expelled from the party due to my support of a candidate who ran against a Republican in the 2013 election cycle. He stated that I was to have considered having resigned from my position. I would not have an opportunity to appeal this decision and if I attempted to attend a meeting of the Harrisonburg Republican Party I would be physically barred from doing so. Afterward, I called the Obenshains about this matter and was told “a good Republican” was someone “who supported all the Republican candidates.”

Unfortunately, however straightforward the rules might be, I’ve found during my decades in politics that they are often bent, skirted, or outright violated based upon the position, power, and connections of those involved. In this case, as both Delegate Wilt and Senator Obenshain are members of the Rockingham County Republican Party, you would assume the local unit would follow the RPV Party Plan and be quick to release them from the bonds of the party. However, it seems unlikely that the party will do anything about this matter. I know this because according to VPAP the Rockingham County Republican Party also donated to the independent candidate over the Republican. The local unit could not take action without revealing their own violation of the Plan and expelling both Wilt and Obenshain from their ranks without castigating themselves would be gross hypocrisy.

So, although if the rules were followed fairly and uniformly when the General Assembly starts tomorrow, we would have at least two independents in the chamber, instead it is almost certain that the political party will sweep this matter under the rug and take no action as these kinds of prohibitions only apply to the little people.

The Virginia Republican Throwback Pledge

In the last several days, a number of Virginia activists, bloggers, and the Donald Trump campaign are up in arms about a pledge the Republican Party of Virginia is insisting on voters signing.  They want all voters in Virginia’s March 1st Republican Presidential Primary to sign a document indicating that they are Republicans.  It certainly makes sense to have only Republicans choose the Republican nominee.  However, despite this worthless pledge, there is no way to tell who is a Republican because the party’s principles are ill-defined and ill-enforced.  In addition, the fact that the party is making all Virginia taxpayers pay for this primary should be reason enough to shoot down this foolish pledge.

However, this isn’t the first time that the Republican Party of Virginia has tried to compel Virginia voters to give them their loyalty.  Although many likely don’t remember, the RPV created a pledge prior to their 2012 primary.  This was was far more odious as it read, “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.”  Why anyone would agree to such a blanket statement without knowing who the nominee would be and what he or she stands for is baffling.

TTIn response, on December 30, 2011, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard urged his readers to boycott the Virginia primary if the RPV insisted on this pledge.  I discovered this piece after he had included a link in the article to my website.  As I wrote four years ago, “A few moments ago, I was surprised to find that well-known neo-conservative analyst and editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, wrote a piece yesterday linking to my blog, The Virginia Conservative. Even though we disagree on quite a few issues, (and I don’t think that boycotting is the best solution to the problem) I’m glad to see that we both believe that the loyalty oath in the upcoming VA GOP primary is folly.”  As a result of massive public outcry against it, the party dumped the pledge shortly thereafter and it was soon forgotten by almost everyone.

However, here we are four years later and again the Republican Party of Virginia is pushing its pledge and, just like last time, the public is rising up against it.

As Shaun Kenney of Bearing Drift wrote recently, the party can either hold a convention, which is privately funded by the party in which they get to choose who participates, or they can choose an open primary that is and ought to be open to any voter that helps fund it.  As a party supposedly devoted to fiscal responsibility and liberty, they shouldn’t suckle at the public teat for funding of their private inter-workings, try and fail to restrict participation, then complain when they end up with another terrible candidate in the mold of John McCain or Mitt Romney.

You have to wonder if the leaders of the RPV remember their history at all.  Are they doomed to making the same mistake every four years, using tax dollars to fund their private party contests and then trying to restrict which of these taxpayers can participate?  Will this ugly issue resurface in 2020 (assuming the GOP loses the presidency again) or 2024?

It is profoundly frustrating the Republican Party and their State Central Committee continually demand unquestioned loyalty to their party and their elected officials especially given that neither one is held to any sort of ideological standard.  Is there any wonder why more people, like Franklin Graham, have left their party and become independents?

Well, if history is any guide, we’ll discuss this issue again four years from now as we work to shoot down another RPV pledge.  Enjoy your Throwback Thursday.

The RPV Needs…

Graphic from bvbl.net
Graphic from bvbl.net

This morning, the Washington Post announced that Shaun Kenney, the executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, is stepping down from his position.  Reactions from my fellow bloggers have been mixed with some praising Mr. Kenney’s efforts, a few questioning them, and others declaring that the extreme right wing has taken over the party.  As someone who has known Shaun for a number of years, I’m of the opinion that he is a good fellow; I’ve always enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to speak with him and I certainly wish him well in his future endeavors.

But what’s going on with the Republican Party of Virginia?  According to fellow blogger Black Velvet Bruce Li, the party is in a dire financial situation.  Apparently, the net worth of the party has been in rapid decline in recent months and is now less than -$200,000.  Yes, you read that number correctly, negative two hundred thousand.  Certainly that could spell a lot of trouble for the party, no?  So what is the RPV planning to do about this issue?

Well, on Wednesday night as I arrived in downtown Staunton to meet with a fellow activist, I received a call from the Republican Party of Virginia.  The man on the other end of the phone noted that I had been a long-time supporter of the party and requested a donation of $350.  I could have simply said no, but instead I told him that although it is true that I had supported the party for many years, including working for the RPV, I had been expelled from my local party last year.  In addition, both before and after that time, I had gotten into several disagreements with my Representative, Bob Goodlatte, who I felt has not been doing a particularly good job representing either my values or the values of the RPV as stated in the creed.

The caller seemed a little disturbed, declaring that we ought to have the right to question our leaders when we think they go astray and that dialogue is an important aspect of the process.  I agreed and so he asked if I would “let bygones be bygones” and donate $250 to the party.

I responded by telling him more of my experiences, that in 2014 I ran as a candidate for local office.  Although I was arguably the most conservative or libertarian candidate and the only one who ever mentioned the RPV creed (to the best of my knowledge), I was maligned by the local GOP.  They did so because I was an independent and had the gall to run against the anointed party’s nominees.  Every elected Republican official representing Harrisonburg, including ones that I had volunteered countless hours for in previous elections, publicly opposed my candidacy, regardless of any supposed shared ideological mooring.  With those thoughts in mind, I asked him why in the world would I donate money to the Republican Party of Virgina?  At that point, he decided to terminate the phone call.

I should add that several weeks ago I appreciated the opportunity to speak with newly elected RPV chairman John Whitbeck.  Although I don’t think we reached any sort of resolution, I argued that the RPV ought to do a far better job of insisting its candidates and elected officials hold to some sort of ideological standard.  I still hope that they will.

Getting back to the original point, yes, signs seem to indicate that the RPV is in trouble financially.  But they shouldn’t ask me to help.  I’m happy to support good, individual candidates who believe as I do whether they run as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, independents, or something else.  However, until and unless the party and its leaders decides to actually adhere to anything approaching limited government principles, I assure you that they won’t be receiving support of any kind from me.  From my conversations with my fellow activists, more and more of us seem to be reaching this same conclusion.  Or, to put it another way, if they think we should support the Republican Party based merely upon nice sounding rhetoric and our past associations, to borrow a lyric from Judas Priest, “you’re mad.  You’ve got another thing comin'”.

The RPV needs money, yes, but far more importantly it needs principles.

Obenshain vs. Petersen on Party Registration

Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages
Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages

On Tuesday, SB 1060 came to the floor of the Virginia Senate.  Sponsored by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), this bill would bring the state voter registration by political party.  Doing so would create closed or semi-closed primaries where only declared members of a political party (and perhaps independents) could participate in a given party primary.

A fair number of liberty-minded Republicans and Libertarians have taken to Facebook to oppose SB 1060; some of us have contacted Senator Obenshain’s office as well.  I listed my objections to this idea in a piece last week.  In addition, both Deb Fitzgerald, the Chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, and I offered our concerns in Wednesday’s issue of the Daily News Record.

On the Senate floor, Senator Obenshain was the lead proponent of the bill while Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) was the most vocal opponent.  Senator Obenshain declared that by passing party registration, Virginia would conform to a majority of other states.  In addition, doing so would grant political parties the power to “choose who gets to participate in that…process.” As Senator Petersen stated, “there are two winners from this bill.  One is the Republican Party, the other one is the Democratic Party.  The parties are going to get so much more power if this bill passes.  But let me tell you who is going to lose.  It’s going to be ordinary people that just want to participate in elections.”  As Senator Petersen goes on to say, those who are outside the two major parties (such as Libertarians), or others who desire to switch political parties could find themselves completely excluded from the process.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party of Virginia has already moved in this direction, reviving the much reviled loyalty oath and changing their party plan last year by expelling members who participate in the nomination process of other parties.  In addition, Senators John Watkins (R-Powhatan) and Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) also explained why they would not support party registration.

The vote that followed was exceedingly close, 19-21, following mostly along party lines.  Every Republican voted in favor except Senators Watkins and Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) who joined with the Democrats to defeat SB 1060.

HB 1518, Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill also died yesterday as the Privilege and Elections subcommittee failed to recommend reporting it to the floor of the House of Delegates.

Below is the full debate on SB 1060.  Thanks to Blue Virginia for posting this video to YouTube.

No Freedom to Dissent

Photo from Noah Berger of the AP
Photo from Noah Berger of the AP

Last year, the Republican Party of Virginia modified their party plan to restrict who may participate in Republican Party nominations.  Specifically, part 2 of section A reads that “a voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.” and part 4 adds “in addition to the foregoing, to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, unless otherwise stipulated by the appropriate Official Committee, a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party within the last five years.”

So, if you believe the GOP nominates a poor candidate you have no choice but to support him or her.  And although your tax dollars funds both Democratic and Republican primaries, if you decide to exercise your political free will to vote in another party’s contest, you are booted from the GOP.  So much for the freedom to think for yourself and be able to support whichever candidate most closely aligns with your views in both the primary and the general election.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?

Well, now it may get even worse.  According to Race to Richmond, the party is considering yet another restriction on participation adding, “any individual who within the last eight (8) years was a candidate for public office as the nominee of a political party or as an independent in an election for public office where there was also a Republican candidate for said office, shall be disqualified from participating as a candidate, delegate or otherwise in a convention, mass meeting or party canvass of the Republican Party at any level.”

So maybe you run as a Democrat, Libertarian, or independent and later decide that the GOP is the party for you.  Assuming this restriction is passed, you wouldn’t be allowed to join the Republican Party of Virginia or participate in any contests for eight years, even if the only choices available to you in an election were Republicans!

Karen Kwiatkowski, the leader of the Shenandoah County Republican Women and 2012 Republican challenger to Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) was quick to offer her thoughts on Facebook saying, “The GOP is trying to fix a problem that originates in the Party’s noticeable lack of adherence to principle, and its frequent inability or refusal to run solid conservatives under the GOP mantle. This will drive not only those who ‘bolted’ away forever, who will take with them their supporters.  A better approach is to follow Rand Paul’s style of bridge-building, and treat disloyalty to a GOP candidate as a sign of the party itself doing the wrong thing.

So, I have to ask, what comes after this rule?  Expelling a person for ten years for criticizing an elected Republican legislator?  Or how about forcing Virginia citizens to register by party?  Oh…wait…there are two bills coming before the General Assembly that will do just that!

With the exception of the 2009 sweep, no Republican candidate has won statewide in Virginia in a decade.  Rather than running better campaigns, recruiting more principled candidates, or insisting upon adherence to the values found in the RPV Creed, the RPV is instead circling the wagons and heavily restricting who can call themselves Republican.  As Kwiatkowski says, it is an exceedingly poor decision and will only result in further GOP losses and greater exodus from the party.  Shouldn’t you support Republican candidates because they are the best choices and not simply due to the fear that you’ll be kicked out of the party if you do not?

Like the man in the above picture, do you call yourself a Republican and are ashamed of these ideas?  Should the RPV reverse course and allow its members the God-given freedom to say no when it or its candidates stand in opposition to our values without fear of multi-year retribution?  And, if they continue along this path, would liberty be best served if the RPV were allowed to die of this self-inflicted wound in the hopes that a political party bound by principle instead of unquestioned party loyalty could take its place?

After reading this proposed addition to the Republican Party Plan, I was reminded of a verse from the Bible.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.  But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24 (NLT)

A Tale of Two Politicians

On January 6th, 2015, a judge will sentence former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife; the recommended prison term is at least ten years.  Earlier this year, McDonnell was convicted of a number of felonies related to corruption of his office and betrayal of public trust.

However, lately some people have suggested, including the McDonnell attorneys, that his time served should be vastly reduced, instead being forced to perform a certain number of community service hours.  Although I think we ought to explore alternative sentencing for a variety of non-violent crimes, it should never be treated like some kind of political perk, doled out to the rich, famous, or well-connected.

Ham McD
Phil Hamilton & Bob McDonnell

To offer some perspective, let me tell you the story of another Virginia politician who found himself in similar legal trouble.  Back during the 2009 election cycle, Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-Newport News) was accused of selling his office for personal gain.  The charge stemmed from a bill which created a new position at Old Dominion University, a position that was filled by Hamilton.

Many GOP leaders were quick to condemn Hamilton.  Bob McDonnell, who was then Virginia’s Attorney General, said, “Elected officials must keep the highest ethical standards in order to maintain the public trust. From what I have seen of published news accounts containing emails and admissions, it appears that Delegate Hamilton has violated the public trust. Based on this public information it would be in the best interests of his constituents for him to step down, but if he believes that the due process of a full inquiry by  the House Ethics Advisory Panel will clear his name, he should have a full opportunity to present his case. Any such inquiry should be commenced immediately and conducted expeditiously.”  Looking at it from a political perspective, at that time McDonnell was running for Governor of Virginia and the Hamilton situation could very well have had presented negative ramifications for his election chances.

When the story of Hamilton broke and before there was a trial, like McDonnell, the Republican Party of Virginia treated Hamilton like a leper, removing his name as a candidate from their website.  Ken Cuccinelli was the only statewide leader to suggest that Hamilton ought to have his day in court before being hanged by mere public opinion.

In 2011, Phil Hamilton was convicted and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison.  In the ensuing election cycle, the RPV used the news of Hamilton as a political tool, attacking Virginia Senator John Miller (D-Newport News) for supposedly engaging in the same behavior.  They backed up and drove the bus over former Delegate Hamilton.  Unless I’ve missed it, I haven’t seen them apply the same treatment to our former governor.

Shortly after his conviction, I spoke to a member of the House of Delegates about the Hamilton situation.  I was told that Delegate Hamilton didn’t try to hide his actions because he didn’t think he did anything wrong.  Furthermore, other members of the General Assembly had done and continued to engage in the same activities that ended up placing Hamilton in prison.  As one example, I was informed that Virginia Senator Tommy Norment (R-James City County) supposedly acted very similarly to Hamilton regarding his employment with the College of William and Mary.

Now, I didn’t serve on the jury for Delegate Hamilton nor had any hand in his sentencing.  It would be highly improper of me to do so given his status as my former boss.  Although I can say that I never saw Hamilton engage in any unethical or illegal behavior and he treated me fairly well when I was in his employ, I wouldn’t argue that due to this personal connection he should be let off the hook.  Being convicted of bribery and extortion ought to merit considerable punishment and restitution regardless of how nice or evil the person otherwise is.  We must hold our elected officials to some kind of standard and this same standard ought to apply to Bob McDonnell too.  Virginia badly needs to improve its laws on political ethics.

I spoke to Bob McDonnell a number of times while he was in office and I don’t have any personal grievance with him (other than him joining the chorus line of condemning Hamilton before he was tried and convicted and apparently not seeing the hypocrisy in engaging in the same bad behavior he repudiated Hamilton for doing). However, we should not think better (or worse of him) in order to gain some sort of political advantage, due to his political party, or as our result of our relationship with him.

Given that the United States has over 2.2 million people incarcerated and has one of the highest prison population rates in the world, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies, there is no doubt that our country is in desperate need of reform.  But, to argue that Bob McDonnell should be treated much better than former Delegate Phil Hamilton downplays the seriousness of the crimes of which he has been convicted, is unfair favoritism, could encourage further political ethics violations, and would only end up making a further mockery of our legal system.

Republicans for Warner?

John Warner (image from wikipedia)
John Warner (image from Wikipedia)

One big headline before the 2014 Virginia Republican convention was former Republican Senator John Warner’s endorsement of Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  In 1996, the Warners faced each other in a Senate race with Mark Warner finishing surprisingly well for a first-time candidate 47.4% to 52.5%.

However, as fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell and the Roanoke Free Press report, since that time more former Republican elected officials have come out in support of the Democratic Senator including a handful of former delegates, state senators, and even a former governor.

I must confess, at first glance this news seems rather curious.  After all, one could argue that the establishment candidate (Ed Gillespie) won the convention.  If the more conservative Shak Hill had emerged the nominee, then this result would be less of a surprise; one could label it a establishment backlash against the grassroots.

What can we make of this situation?  Does it signal a terribly weakened Virginia Republican Party?  Does the GOP have little ideological cohesion where loyalty to the party, even from former elected officials, is not a certainty?  Or is it the case that Mark Warner is simply that popular with a multitude of demographics across the state and/or Ed Gillespie is that unpopular?

Former State Senator Brandon Bell seems to think the last option when he stated, “You know what you’re getting with Mark Warner – someone who works with both sides of the aisle and forges consensus. On the other hand, Ed Gillespie was national party chair when I served in the Senate. He was not willing to take a stand on either side of the important issues we were facing. Gillespie did not seek solutions when he had the opportunity.

So what does all this mean?  Will there be additional Republican endorsements in the days to come?  And will the grassroots rally behind Gillespie even though some consider him insufficiently conservative or will they launch a protest vote with Robert Sarvis?

Most pundits already predict a Warner victory and so the more interesting question to ask is, what will this situation do to the Republican Party in Virginia?

An Open Letter to Virginia Republican Delegates

Good afternoon delegates to the Virginia Republican state convention.

In just a few short days you will be heading to Roanoke to select a candidate to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate to face Mark Warner in the fall.  I must confess that I’m disappointed that I won’t be joining you this year as I did in 2013 and 2008.  As you may have heard, unfortunately the Republican Party of Virginia now requires a signed loyalty oath to participate.  Now, this isn’t a loyalty to our shared principles and the Republican Creed of Virginia, but rather a blind loyalty to the party and her candidates, regardless of their positions.  It is a troubling sign of the times and one reason why the party continues to falter, but I’m not going to delve any further into that matter here.

Anyway, at the convention, you will choose between four men, Tony DeTora, Ed Gillespie, Shak Hill, and Chuck Moss.  Each, of course, has their benefits and drawbacks.

First, I must confess that I know little of Mr. Moss and Mr. DeTora.  Although I have been heavily active in Virginia politics and have attended a lot of Republican events, I have not met either of these two men.  A big part of campaigning, as they say, is simply showing up and, as either have made zero visits to my corner of the state, or have not publicized such trips, I would recommend against both.  Again, they may have great principles or they may not, but when you don’t make a concerted effort to reach folks, you shouldn’t be running in a statewide contest.

With that thought in mind, that leaves but two choices, Ed Gilllespie and Shak Hill.  I have appreciated the fact that I have had several opportunities to speak with both men.  Let me outline what I see are the main upsides of each.  Mr. Gillespie is well-connected and is an excellent fundraiser and has proven that fact once again with this campaign.  Mr. Hill has been advocating a set of principles that is in general more conservative and more detailed than Mr. Gillespie.  I can tell you without a doubt that if I were a delegate this weekend, I would be casting my vote for Shak Hill.

As I’ve written previously, I tried on several occasions to discover where Ed Gillespie stands on the issues.  Although his website contains a multitude of well-crafted videos in a variety of languages, there is very little substantive information of what he will actually do if elected.  For example, I know far more about his family history than I do about his stance on foreign policy.  To me, this deficit is a major problem.

Recently, I asked both Ed Gillepsie and Shak Hill what federal agencies and programs would he work to eliminate if elected.  It is the same question that I asked of the 2012 Republican Senate candidates several years ago.  The question harkens back to the 1996 Bob Dole for president campaign where he pledged to eliminate three federal departments.  You’d be hard-pressed to call Bob Dole a constitutional conservative, but at least he understood that the federal government has grown well beyond its authorized roles.  By comparison, Mr. Gillespie’s response was that he didn’t have the answer and would need to speak with his advisors about the issue.  In reply, several Gillespie supporters in the audience shouted their own suggestions, such as the Department of Education.  Although I would prefer a little more detail, Shak Hill’s response was far and away much better, declaring that he would get rid of “those not authorized by the constitution.  Which is most”.

Now, one major strike that Gillespie supporters use against Hill is that due to lack of funding he cannot win the general election.  And do you know what?  I think they are likely right.  Although thankfully money by itself does not win elections, it is exceedingly difficult to win these days without a lot of it.  I do not believe that he will be able to raise the kind of funds that Gillespie can.  If Hill is the nominee, it seems probable that many of the establishment Republicans won’t back him financially.

However, I would also argue that due to his either undefined or mushy principles, the divided nature of the Republican Party in Virginia, and the fact that the Democratic nominee is Mark Warner, the most popular elected official in the state, Ed Gillespie cannot win the general election either.  Even though the most stalwart Gillespie supporters I have spoken with claim he is more electable, they all have rated his victory as highly doubtful.  Need I remind you that in both 2008 and 2012, Republicans nominated the supposedly “most electable” candidate and both times that candidate was in no danger of winning once the votes were counted?  And, even if Gillespie did win, except for a few social issues, how would he  be much different from Mark Warner?  I still don’t know the answer to that question.  Now, if anyone thinks that I’m wrong and would care to wager on the outcome of the Senate race in Virginia, please let me know.

So, if the Republican nomination isn’t likely to lead to victory in November, what is it about?  The answer is the future of the Republican Party in Virginia.  If that is true, the question each delegate must ask him or herself is, what direction do I want to see the party take?  As I see it, there are two options:  Do I want it to see the party regress into a plutocracy, where the well-funded and well-connected rule?  Or do I want a party grounded on principles, such as obeying the Constitution, shrinking the size of the government, and fiscal and personal responsibility?  After all, I thought that idea was supposed to be a central belief of the Republican Party when I first got involved in 1995.  Yes, Gillespie can spend a lot of money to improve the party infrastructure but, without solid principles, it matters little.  Only with Hill do I see a chance to make the state GOP something more than a party filled with an increasing number of big government Republicans.

Therefore, I would encourage delegates to cast their votes for Shak Hill on Saturday.

Circling the Republican Wagons

If you look closely, I think you can just make out a Marshall supporter or two.
My first political convention in 2008

In 2014, the Republican Party will select their nominee for U.S. Senate as well as their leaders for congressional chairman at conventions.  Having served as a delegate to the 2008, 2009, and 2013 state conventions as well as the 2012 6th district convention, I’ve enjoyed voicing my opinion when it comes to selecting the most like-minded Republican candidates.  However, I regret to say that I cannot participate this year.

Based upon changes made in the Plan of the Republican Party of Virginia in 2013, the Harrisonburg Republican Party has adopted much stricter rules on who can represent the city at conventions.  They require all delegates to sign a pledge declaring that they have not participated in the nomination contest of another party for the last five years and that each delegate promises to support every Republican nominee.

For the record, the Harrisonburg call reads: “…a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party in the last five years”.  The call ends with the participant signing a pledge declaring, “…I will support ALL the nominees of the Republican Party in the 2014 General Election.”

Unfortunately, I could not sign such a document for a multitude of reasons.

First, I voted in the 2013 Democratic primary for statewide office.  Previously, I voted in the 2009, 2006, and 2004 Democratic primaries.  The fact that I participated in these contests is not some great secret, I’m fairly certain the information is a matter of public record and I am not ashamed that I did so.  In addition, I also attended the 2012 and 2013 Libertarian Party  conventions although I did not cast a vote.  I will make no apologies for any of these political actions.  Although not a Democrat, I want the Democratic party to nominate the candidate most consistent with my values in much the same way that I want the Republicans and Libertarians to do likewise.  Given that the Democratic primaries are funded by Virginia tax dollars, requiring people to not participate in a political process that they helped fund is nothing short of ludicrous.

Second, I cannot in good faith pledge my loyalty to a candidate without knowing who he or she is or what he or she stands for.  Wasn’t America founded upon the principles of political free will?  And, if so, how could the Republican Party require its delegates to support its candidates blindly?  It is a move bereft of both political and logical sense.

Now, as you might imagine, this pledge is completely unenforceable.  The party cannot legally require a person to support anyone.  I must say that when I support a Republican candidate, it should be because she and I hold similar viewpoints, not simply due to a party label (which unfortunately these days can mean a whole multitude of things).  For example, I gladly supported Republican Senator Mark Obenshain in 2013 because he was my preferred candidate in much the same way that I supported Libertarian Robert Sarvis.  Even though the GOP cannot force anyone to abide by this pledge, I feel it is dishonorable for me to sign something I do not necessarily intend to uphold.  Then again, I believe it is wrong of them to make such a request in the first place.

Now, I should point out that not every local Republican Party has adopted such a binding restriction.  For example, the Waynesboro GOP simply states that “all Participants are required to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party as expressed in the Creed of the Republican Party of Virginia.”  This restriction makes sense and doesn’t deprive anyone of his or her political freedom or require a person to support candidates which he or she believes does not uphold his or her values.  A little over a week ago, I wrote to the Harrisonburg GOP stating that, “in order to participate this year, as far as I can tell, I am faced with three options.  Either I can lie to you and the Harrisonburg GOP, signing a pledge I cannot honorably uphold, I can abandon my principles in order to have a chance to voice my opinion, or I can ask the Harrisonburg GOP to change their requirements.”  I could not choose the first two options and it seems the GOP declined to exercise the third.

Although perhaps not widely known, since 2010 only one Republican candidate has won a contested election in the city of Harrisonburg when facing at least one Democratic opponent and no statewide office seeker has captured the majority of the city’s votes since 2009.  Even when Democratic candidates lose elsewhere, they still win Harrisonburg.

I find it incredibly sad that a party that I’ve devoted so much time to in the last nineteen years would surrender to tactics reminiscent of the Radical Republicans of the 1860s.  Rather than encouraging voters to take an active role in deciding who the Republican nominee will be, some cities and counties, like Harrisonburg, have decided to circle the wagons and deny participation to activists who cannot swear complete and utter political fealty to the GOP.  And what will the results of this restrictive action be?  Will they somehow have the effect of increasing Republican victories?  It seems doubtful.