Whatever Happened to Senator Obenshain?

Senator Obenshain at the General Assembly in 2015

About six years ago, on January 6th, 2011, I excitedly wrote an article in support of a piece of legislation proposed by my state senator, Mark Obenshain, SB 1203. This proposal would require political parties to pay for their own primaries as opposed to the taxpayers, who shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the nomination process of a private organization.  As Senator Obenshain wrote, “If a political party wants a conventional primary, fine – but they can pay for it. Our localities are burdened enough as it is. If a party cannot or will not put up that much money, they can always go with a cheaper option. Our localities can ill afford it – and under my proposal, they wouldn’t have to.”  During this same General Assembly session, Obenshain also sponsored a bill, SB 1272, to privatize the state government-run ABC liquor stores.  Although unfortunately both bills were killed in committee, I was delighted to see that they were proposed.

I had routinely supported Senator Obenshain since 2003 when I was a volunteer on his first campaign before he even got the GOP nomination.  Sure, some senators in Virginia were pretty good, but Obenshain was mine.  Were there bumps along the way?  Of course, such as when he campaigned alongside Senator Lindsey Graham in 2008, but you can’t find someone with whom you always agree.  In 2009, I strongly encouraged him to seek the GOP nod for Virginia Attorney General.  By 2011, I believed that no other Virginia legislator could hold a candle to Senator Obenshain and I proudly told folks about my senator.  I felt he was making good on his promise that “The most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving and expanding the realm of personal freedom in the life of this country”.  It was a quote that his father made before his untimely death in 1978.

However, when the General Assembly session rolled around the next year, although I didn’t realize it at the time, something had begun to change.  He didn’t advocate the bills he had in the previous session.  Instead, included in his proposed legislation in 2012 were bills that didn’t limit the size of government and expand liberty, but rather ones that had the opposite effect.  For example, there was SB 244 which was an attempt to register voters in Virginia by political party.  It didn’t make sense to me.  How are the ideals of limited government or liberty advanced by getting the state government involved in a party’s membership recruitment and retention?  Fortunately, the bill was defeated and I didn’t pay it much more thought, merely considering it an odd fluke, much like in 2009 when he crafted a bill which would have charged a woman with a crime if she didn’t report a miscarriage to the state police within 24 hours of her child’s unfortunate death.

As we all know, in 2013 Senator Obenshain won the Republican nomination for Attorney General.  I was invited to attend his campaign strategy sessions and, given that I was a board member of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia and had adventures with Libertarian Party members as well, I strongly encouraged his staff to make the message of liberty a center point for their campaign and that they should use this message to reach out to these like-minded individuals.  Unfortunately, each time I made this suggestion, I was ignored, even when I offered to personally take the lead for this endeavor.  As many will remember, Mark Obenshain ended up losing this race by 165 votes.

The following year, I began my run for Harrisonburg City Council.  As mentioned in previous pieces, I was expelled from the Harrisonburg GOP, a unit in which Senator Obenshain was a member, in February 2014, but that didn’t deter my campaign plan.  Throughout 2015 I tried repeatedly to attempt to schedule a meeting with my state senator, but his legislative aide steadfastly refused my request, declaring it to be a waste of the senator’s time.  As such, I was unable to speak with my elected representative for almost an entire year.  I should note that while I was blocked, this aide and Suzanne Obenshain, my senator’s wife, had formed a consulting firm and among their clients was one of my Republican opponents for council.  Although I didn’t expect an endorsement from my state senator, given that we were no longer members of the same party, I was deeply dismayed when, the night before the election, Senator Obenshain apparently intentionally mislead the voters of Harrisonburg by sending out an email declaring that voters should support my Republican opponents because they were the conservatives in the race.  For anyone who paid any attention to the race it was a blatant deception, especially considering one of these opponents supported higher taxes, more government regulation, and taxpayer funded subsidies.

After the election was over and his quarrelsome (and dare I say useless) aide had left his employ did I finally have an opportunity to speak with my state senator once more.  Given my own experiences getting certified, I didn’t think that it was fair that I had to collect 125 valid signatures of registered voters in order to appear on the November ballot while my Republican and Democratic opponents did not have to do likewise.  Therefore, I suggested a bill for the General Assembly which would require all candidates, regardless of political party, to meet the same filing requirements in order to achieve ballot access.  Senator Obenshain flatly refused, telling me that he only wanted Democrats and Republicans to appear on the ballot.

In the 2015 General Assembly session, Senator Obenshain proposed another bill, SB 1060, which would require voters to register with the state by a political party or be declared as independents.  This time, however, I knew it wasn’t some kind of aberration, but rather a deliberate attempt to squelch independents and the rise of third-party options.  Therefore, I fought back, writing blog pieces and speaking with Republican and Democratic legislators against it.  My primary effort during this time was centered around killing this wretched work.  In the end, I’m pleased to say that the bill was narrowly defeated by the Virginia Senate on a vote of 19-21.

2015 was a reelection year for my senator and he ended up hiring a former liberty activist and former friend who had been a harsh critic of our congressman, Bob Goodlatte, and rallied local activists against him for several years.  However, by this time, he had done a complete 180-degree turn, declaring Goodlatte to be “America’s best congressman”.  In addition, this staffer had also been arrested for beating up a woman and other offenses while intoxicated.  Unfortunately, adding this hire to the actions of Obenshain’s previous aide and his second campaign manager in his 2013 bid who had stolen materials from the campaign of Delegate Rob Bell, Obenshain’s Republican opponent, I came to the conclusion that my senator didn’t hire individuals based on their principles, ethics, or their ability to work with the public, but rather for their unquestioned loyalty (or those that could be bribed, blackmailed, or otherwise controlled).  Although I had been a strong advocate for my state senator in his previous elections and re-elections, in the 2015 cycle I found myself sitting on the sidelines.  During that time, I wrote a piece on the matter but didn’t end up posting it.

Although it was good to see a bill curbing the abuses of civil asset forfeiture, which allows the police to take and keep your property even if you are found innocent of committing a crime, I was horrified when I learned that Senator Obenshain voted against the bill in committee.  Even though it passed that particular committee, it died in the next one.

When in mid to late 2016, Senator Obenshain once again declared a seemingly nonconservative candidate to be the conservative choice for Harrisonburg City Council, I found myself very upset still an entire week later.  As a result, I wrote him a letter explaining my almost overwhelming frustration and disappointment.  In it, I added that if he ever tried to enact party registration again or otherwise erode the political freedoms of the people of Virginia, I would do whatever I could to lead the charge to defeat such a bill.

Well, a few months later, Senator Obenshain announced SB 902, his third effort to force registration by political party.  On Friday, January 6th, he spoke at the monthly First Friday gathering and I intended to ask him about the matter, but his wife was leading the meeting and my efforts were either not noticed or simply ignored.  He explained how “we” needed to keep the Virginia Senate in Republican hands due to a special election coming up in several days, but couched it in a message of fear, saying how terrible it would be if the Democrats regained control of the chamber.  It had echoes of his speech from the October 2015 First Friday gathering. Never mind the fact that the Republican Senate continually chooses Senator Tommy Norment, who is a liberal and supports big government, (he helped push through the 2013 transportation tax hike) as their majority leader each and every time they have controlled the chamber in the last two decades.

Although Senator Obenshain has been pushing for the Republican candidate in the 22nd district both at First Friday and in an email sent the day before, there are actually two special elections for the Virginia Senate on January 10th.  While some people and groups like Representative Tom Garrett (VA-5) and the Virginia Citizens Defense League have also come out in support of the Libertarian candidate in the 9th district, Obenshain has remained silent on the second race because, presumably while it is important to support candidates who share your political party, we certainly don’t want to advance the cause of liberty as much as possible because that might mean supporting a candidate of a different political affiliation.  There is a Democratic and a Libertarian candidate in this contest, no Republican ran.

As you might imagine, these last several years have been profoundly discouraging. Although my state senator declared himself a champion of liberty in the mold of his father, he acts as if he no longer cares about the idea.  These days he seems to be far more concerned with protecting and promoting Republican legislators regardless of their principles and maintaining Republican control of as much government as possible.

In response to Senator Obenshain’s party registration bill, I’ve created an online petition in opposition.  Politicians often talk of economic freedom, personal freedom, and religious freedom, but if we don’t embrace political freedom and the choices and competition that that brings, representative government becomes perverted and our representatives become our masters.  Therefore, if you oppose party registration here in Virginia, please join me by clicking on this link and showing your support by signing the petition.  Please note, any donations go to the host site and not this cause.

A month or two before her death in mid-2016, I found myself in Rockbridge County helping Suzanne Curran, the somewhat legendary political activist from Shenandoah County, pack some materials in her vehicle.  While I carried a box outside, she mentioned to me how she thought it might have been a good thing that Senator Obenshain lost his 2013 race for attorney general.  Although I found it a surprising sentiment at the time, unfortunately, it is becoming all too clear what she was saying.

Billing himself as an advocate for liberty, Senator Obenshain seems to have unfortunately morphed into a mouthpiece for the Republican establishment.  My once great pride in my state senator has been replaced by feelings of shame and regret.  Has there been a radical transformation in Senator Obenshain in the last several years or has it always been the case and I was simply deceived?

Whatever happened to Senator Obenshain?

Time for a New Majority Leader!

Heading into the 2015 elections, Republicans held a narrow 21-19 lead in the Virginia Senate.  And now that all of the votes have been counted, that seat count remains unchanged.  A few of the establishment politicians retired and were replaced by people who campaigned on a message that was more liberty-minded, more limited government than their predecessors.  Are they more principled?  Well, I guess we will have to wait and see.

Photo from SenatorNorment.com
Photo from SenatorNorment.com

Unfortunately, the current majority leader and the most powerful person in the Virginia Senate is Tommy Norment (R-James City County).  Four years ago, I wrote an article lamenting the fact that the Republicans selected Norment as the majority leader given that he is arguably the least conservative Republican in that body.  Although I lobbied my state senator to vote for a better candidate at that time, my suggestion went nowhere.  As you might imagine, I was (and am) worried that if the Republicans retained the senate after the 2015 elections then we would be saddled with another four years of Norment’s leadership.

However, this year there may be hope.  Yesterday, Senator Tom Garrett (R-Buckingham County) called for a new senate majority leader.  This development is important because it marks the first time that a Republican legislator has publicly opposed the election or re-election of Norment.

Senator Garrett’s argument is that Senator Norment wields too much power given that he is both the majority leader and the finance chairman.  It certainly is a valid concern.  After all, one senator should never have so much authority that he can make the wishes and votes of the others largely irrelevant.  As Senator Garrett explained to The Washington Post, “No one person needs that much power.  It’s happened before, and it’s never ended well.”

However, there are a variety of other reasons why conservatives and libertarians should oppose Norment.  As perhaps the best example, he was a leading proponent of the massive 2013 transportation tax hike.  While Mark Warner was governor, Senator Norment also voted for what was then the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history.

Besides taxes, Norment has repeatedly voted to expand the power of the state government and has opposed efforts to shrink the size and scope of their authority.  In matters of crony capitalism, does it concern anyone else that Senator Norment has received $92,740 from Dominion Power, the state promoted energy monopoly?

Switching to personal issues, Senator Norment’s name appeared on the leaked Ashley Madison list and Norment admitted that he cheated on his wife when he was thinking about getting a divorce.  One does have to ask the question, if a politician is unfaithful to his or her spouse, how faithful can he or she be to the Virginia Constitution he or she swore to uphold and the voters who placed their trust in him?

Virginia Republicans claim that the senate has gotten more conservative.  But, if that were indeed the case, why would they continue to elect one of their least conservative members as majority leader?  Their actions certainly don’t match their rhetoric.

Photo from Senator Garrett's Facebook page
Photo from Senator Garrett’s Facebook page

It’s great that Senator Garrett has taken this public stance, but he needs our help!  Therefore, I encourage each of you to contact your state senator, assuming he or she is a Republican, and urge him or her to stand with Senator Garrett and push for new leadership.  Here is a handy phone list from the Virginia Senate’s website.  You don’t have to be a Republican to be a part of this effort, just a Virginia citizen who is tired of the politics as usual attitude in Richmond.

In addition, although not associated with the official effort, a new community has just sprung up on Facebook called Dump Norment.  I don’t know who runs the page, but I suggest giving it a like to get updates and connect with fellow individuals who also want a new senate majority leader.

Please contact your state senator and let them know that you stand with Senator Garrett and for new leadership in the Virginia Senate.  Call, email, or, better yet, visit your legislators in person.  If enough of us speak out, we can and will make a difference!

Will Conservatives and Libertarians Get Fooled Again?

This year, Virginians will be electing 140 members of the General Assembly to represent them in Richmond; 100 to the House of Delegates and 40 to the Virginia Senate.

Photo from SenatorNorment.com
Photo from SenatorNorment.com

The last time that we elected senators statewide was in the November 2011 elections.  As you may remember, before that election the Democratic Party was in charge in the Virginia Senate with 22 seats. The Republican Party was pressing hard to gain control of that chamber.  Although a member of the GOP at that time, I must admit that I was wary of the Republicans gaining the majority.  After all, the Senator Minority Leader for the Republicans was Senator Tommy Norment (R-James City County), one of the least conservative Republicans in the Virginia Senate.  Why did I not want him?  Well, he supported many tax increases, including the massive hike under then Governor Mark Warner, and was a man who was arguably less concerned with reducing the size of government and keeping taxes low than some of the Democrats.

Prior to that election, I spoke about these concerns with a fellow activist who would later go on to lead the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.  I asked why should we promote the Republican slate as a whole and win the Virginia Senate if our legislators would simply turn around and give enormous power to a man whose principles stood in stark contrast to the grassroots Republican base.  However, I was assured that if the Republicans did win the Senate that November, they would not choose Norment, instead rewarding a strong, conservative leader.  As such, like many other conservatives and libertarians, I promoted the Republicans.

What do you think happened next?  Well, the Republicans did win in November and proceeded to elect Senator Norment as the majority leader.  And, under his leadership, the Republican-led Senate then passed a massive transportation tax hike dubbed “Plan ’13 From Outer Space”.  Should we be surprised?  After all, as fellow blogger D.J. McGuire pointed out on the Virginia Virtucon, “every Republican-controlled State Senate in the 21st Century has enacted a tax increase.”  Unfortunately, once again, conservatives had been betrayed.  So much for the “New” GOP Senate.

So, here we are, a little over four months from deciding whether the Republicans will maintain power in the Virginia Senate.  I’m sure that you have been told, as I have, once again we need to make sure that the Republicans continue to be in charge so that they can promote our conservative principles in Richmond.  However, assuming that they win, I see no reason to believe that they won’t continue with Senator Norment (or someone equally bad) as majority leader.  Therefore, I encourage you to ask your Republican incumbent or challenger that, if elected, will he or she pledge to vote for a new, principled majority leader.  If the answer is no, or you aren’t given a response, just remember that there is a Libertarian, Carl Loser, available in one district.  Or…you might just be better off casting your vote for the Democratic candidate.  Otherwise, meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

Therefore, to my fellow conservatives and libertarians who think that electing Republicans to the Virginia Senate regardless of their individual positions will somehow make certain that our values are advanced, let me offer a quote from former President George W. Bush:

So, will the Republican or Democratic Party control the Virginia Senate as a result of the 2015 elections?  For those who clamor for a Republican victory, just remember that with Norment back in charge I hope you like higher taxes.  You will have no one else to blame when you are fooled again.

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.

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.

My Party, My Principles, and the Infinite Sadness

On Friday at noon, the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Republican Parties held their monthly First Friday gathering at the Wood Grill Buffet in Harrisonburg.  The featured speaker was Pete Snyder who is heading up the Republican victory program in Virginia for 2012.

The meeting itself was a fairly ordinary affair.  About two-dozen or so local Republicans attended, most enjoyed lunch, while I just had several glasses of sweet tea.  However, once just about everyone had dispersed, I paid my bill, sat on the bench near the entrance and wept.

As we live in a society which typically discourages most public forms of emotion, especially from men, it must have been a strange sight indeed for those around watching a thirty-one-year-old person cry for no discernable reason.

So what, may you ask, caused me to act in such a fashion?  The answer is boiling anger, overwhelming frustration, and infinite sadness triggered by the actions of one local Republican.

I wept for the sake of the party.  In the meeting, one person declared that our goal should be to elect “anyone but Obama”.  Really?  Has our party become so vapid and devoid of rational worth that we will gladly rally behind any man or woman regardless of merit simply because he or she is not Barack Obama?  Heck, Hilary Clinton is not Obama; does that mean we should support her if she had an “R” by her name?  And isn’t there is an ocean of difference between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich?  Don’t principles mean anything anymore?  And I started to fear that perhaps I was gravely mistaken to believe that they ever did.  Yet if we cast aside principles, what’s left to separate the parties other than a meaningless animal mascot and a color?

I wept for the state of Virginia and the nation as a whole due to the fact that we have so many leaders of both parties that seem to care nothing or at least very little about the values of the people and the society that placed them in their position of power.  Sure, we can criticize members of the other party who trample upon the Constitution, moral decency, or the rule of law, but calling out members of your own party who violate these ideals has become taboo.  Therefore, I must mourn the loss of political dialogue and freedom that have given way to strict and unthinking party loyalty.

Although it may sound selfish, I wept for my future employment prospects and myself.  As I’ve mentioned to many people over the last several months, there are few things that I desire more than the chance to make a decent living promoting my political principles among my fellow countrymen, the citizens of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  However, my rugged insistence of clinging to my values is likely seen as a liability.  Who wants to hire a passionate paleo-conservative when malleable yes men are available? Which kind of person will likely cause less headaches?  Unfortunately, most of the powerful and affluent politicians scoff at liberty-minded constitutional conservatives while those companies and people who do value us either have no money and can only offer volunteer opportunities or give little better than subsistence wages.  Does the easiest, and perhaps only, way to succeed involve selling out?  Again, I fear that blind allegiance to the party and its leaders trump standing up for the creeds that supposedly guide their actions.

Lastly, and more importantly, I wept for the demise of a former political ally, a person who supposedly once held the political principles that I cherish.  To be fair, I had known for some time that this person had jettisoned our shared beliefs, but I now realized that there was no turning back, there is no hope for redemption.  Conservative/libertarian principles have melted away and have been replaced with a zeal for the establishment.  Now the ideological drift is simply too great; today we have about as much in common as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky does with someone like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina or Virginia Senator Steve Newman does with fellow Virginia State Senator Tommy Norment.  We might both call ourselves Republican but we likely have as many areas of disagreement as agreement.

This knowledge is particularly disappointing, but it alone wouldn’t have been enough to spur such a reaction.  However, after the Republican meeting was over, that same person savagely attacked me with an over the top tirade in front of a fellow activist.  At that moment, that person represented to me everything that is wrong with politics today; a person ruled, apparently not by principle, but self-serving ambition that is willing to use anything or anyone as a stepping-stone to greater influence.  Although I know that it only heightened tensions during the exchange, much like a scene from Fellowship of the Ring, I more or less inquired when did this person decide to “abandon reason for madness?”  This particularly ugly combination of events frays any past political ties and makes the hope of any future cooperation unlikely at best.

So, if you happened to have entered the Wood Grill Buffet in Harrisonburg on Friday and saw someone crying on the bench, now you know why.  I was overcome with grief and anger mourning the downfall of many things: the bastardization of my party, the way in which so many politicians continually deceive the public without recourse, the loss of a former ideological believer, the likely failure of my future, and the death of the principles which supposedly guided them all.

How would you feel if you discovered that so many of the activities and relationships you crafted over the past seventeen years might be meaningless?  What if your great passion created nothing but corrupted politics and false friends, and the only thing you had to show for your effort was a pile of crumbly ashes?  If so, you might say, as Lesley Gore wrote in her well-known song, “it’s my party…you would cry too if it happened to you”.

The “New” GOP Senate

During the election, you may recall the heated rhetoric on the need to “flip” the Virginia Senate so that conservatives would finally control that body.  Well, earlier today the Republican Party announced the new leadership team now that the GOP has once again claimed control of the Virginia Senate.  Personally, I’ve been looking forward to hearing if Senators would put strong conservative fighters in charge.

Starting off from lowest position to highest, we begin with the caucus whips, Senators Bill Stanley, Jeff McWaters, and Jill Holtzman Vogel.  According to the newly released data from The American Conservative Union, these three Senators have conservative ratings of 100%, 92%, and 85% respectively.  Not too bad, I would say.

Moving on, we have the Majority Leader’s deputies, Senators Ryan McDougle and Steve Newman who have ACU ratings of 92% and 100%.  Again, they are both quite high.

Photo from SenatorNorment.com

But who is the new Majority Leader?  Senator Tommy Norment of James City County.  And what is his conservative ranking with the ACU?  62%.  62%!  You might be disappointed to discover that he is ranked the least conservative of any of the Republican members of the Virginia Senate.

To get a better picture, let’s look at the bills where Senator Norment has not voted conservatively according to the ACU.

“1. Amend Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayer Act. SB 831. This bill would have limited the attorney general’s authority to investigate fraud by state agencies and institutions and their wasting of taxpayer dollars on any number of dubious practices. ACU opposes limiting the accountability of state government to its taxpaying citizens. The Senate voted to pass this bill 24-16 on February 3, 2011.” Norment supported.

“2. Special Rights Based on Sexual Orientation. SB 747. This bill would have created a protected class for homosexuals in state government employment. ACU opposes creating special rights or new classes of people based on their personal behavior. The Senate passed this bill 22-18 on February 2, 2011.” Norment supported.

“4. Expand FAMIS Plan Eligibility. SB 978. This bill would have increased the threshold for eligibility for the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan (state version of CHIP) from at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to at or below 225 percent. ACU opposes the expansion of government-run insurance programs. The Senate voted to approve this bill 33-7 on February 7, 2011.” Norment supported.

“9. Defunding Public Broadcasting. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #17, Item 123. Governor Bob McDonnell offered an amendment to the General Assembly’s budget proposing the elimination of funds to Virginia’s Public Broadcasting stations. ACU supports eliminating funding non-core functions of government. The Senate killed the amendment by a vote of 13-27 on April 6, 2011.” Norment opposed.

“13. Reform The Virginia Retirement System. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #86, Item 5.  This budget amendment from Governor Bob McDonnell would put in place reforms to the Virginia Retirement System, including authorizing an optional defined contribution plan for newer employees—ACU supports efforts to reform unsustainable state retirement systems. The Senate, on April 6, 2011, rejected the amendment by a 14-26 vote.” Norment opposed.

But let’s not rely solely on the opinions of the American Conservative Union.  How about another conservative measurement device?  Before each General Assembly election, The Family Foundation releases their report card detailing how “pro-family” each member of that body happens to be.  Going through the same list of Senator leaders this year, we find the following scores: Stanley 100%, McWaters 100%, Vogal 100%, McDougle 100%, Newman 100%, and finally Norment with 65%.  Scanning through the rest of the list, are there any Republicans in the Senate with a lower score than Norment?  Not only is the answer no, there is even one Democrat who ranks higher, Senator Puckett.

For comparison sake, let’s see where Senator Norment ranks poorly according to the Family Foundation:

“2. Non-Discrimination for Sexual Orientation (same as with the ACU above).” The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“3.  Redirect Pro-Choice License Plate Funds SB18 amendment-Would have redirected the pro-choice license plate funds from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

“10. FLE Required SB967-Would have required localities to teach family life education and would have added anti-abstinence language to FLE law.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“11. Expanded Horse Gambling SB1347-Would have expanded gambling in Virginia by redefining simulcast horse racing to included live or pre-recorded horse races.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“13. State Domestic Partner Benefits SB1122-Would have allowed the state government to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried relationships.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“14. Just Compensation HB652-Would have required the government to pay property owners for the total loss of value when property is taken eminent domain.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

What about gun rights?  Is the second amendment important to you?  After a phone call earlier today, I discovered that in 2011, the National Rifle Association graded him a B- and would not endorse him for reelection.  Going back further, the NRA grades Senator Norment as follows: 2007-B, 2003-D, 1999-B, and 1995-B.

As I mentioned back on November 9th, I do not want a Senate Republican leadership in the mold of former Senator John Chichester who gave Virginians what has been billed as the “largest tax increase in Virginia history”.  Well, with a little help (thanks to The Family Foundation), I’ve discovered that only six of the Republican Senators who supported that measure are still in office.  They are: Harry Blevins, Emmett Hanger, Fred Quayle, Frank Ruff, Walter Stosch, and, you guessed it, Tommy Norment.

Although there many different definitions of conservative and thus many stripes of conservative, given Norment’s voting record as shown by the ACU, The Family Foundation, and the NRA, just about every flavor should be concerned by this news.

What I want to know is why in the world is the Republican Senator who is arguably the least conservative of them all given the top spot as Majority Leader in the Virginia Senate?  And, just as importantly, will Senator Norment use his  powerful position to either block conservative legislation or promote laws contrary to conservative ideals?  Is this situation a case of meet the new Senate (2011-2015 under Norment), same as the old Senate (2003-2007 under Norment)?

Photo from newscom.com

So has the GOP learned from the mistakes of 2003-2007 when they last controlled the Virginia Senate?  Or with rewarding the not very conservative Norment as Majority Leader once more, have conservatives been led down the primrose path?

I guess we will find out.

The Week That Was

These last few days have proved to be some of the more interesting in Virginia, both politically and otherwise.  Of course, this thought may lead you to ask why I haven’t written about it before Friday.  Well, when you are working a bunch of ten-hour days straight, I find you have time for little more than sleeping and eating.  But enough about myself; let’s dive in.

I suppose the most talked about news has to be the Virginia earthquake.  Based right outside the town of Mineral, VA, at 1:51 PM on Tuesday, a 5.8 magnitude quake shook the eastern U.S.  At the time, I was about sixty miles away, across the Blue Ridge Mountains in Weyers Cave, VA.  Although I certainly felt the tremor, I didn’t know it what it was at the time.  Fortunately, the damage was limited and there have been no reports of any fatalities.  However, any time there is an earthquake near a nuclear power plant, I suppose there should be cause for concern.

Moving on to political matters…also on Tuesday, there were a number of primaries across the Commonwealth.  Republican and Democratic hopefuls squared off against each other to secure their party nominations.  Although there weren’t really any great surprises, there were a few disappointments.  Running through the most interesting contests for Senate, we find Senator Norment easily fended off a challenger, former Del. Dick Black making a successful return to state politics, former Delegate and former RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick wiping the floor with Tito Munoz, Jason Flanary denying Steve Hunt another chance to reclaim the seat formerly held by Ken Cuccinelli, and Tom Garrett edging out a win in a five-way contest in the 22nd.

Switching to statewide issues, a recent rift has developed between Senate candidate and former Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke and RedState editor Erick Erickson.  If you may recall, Erickson was early supporter of Radtke’s, promoting her over the “establishment retread” of former Governor and former Senator George Allen.  Although many of the details are still being sorted out, Erickson recently published negative comments about Radtke after her recent speech at a convention sponsored by RedState in Florida.  With allegations flying that her discourse was extremely lackluster and that Allen supporters fund RedState, it is proving difficult to sort out the facts from the conjecture.  Although it is certainly true that I respect both Radtke and RedState, I recommend letting the dust settle before delving into wild speculation.

Moving to local issues, a new candidate has entered the race for Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  His name is Kevin Shifflett and he is from Harrisonburg.  Although details are limited, he is currently a captain in the Army National Guard.  Running as a second independent candidate, it should be interesting to see how his candidacy affects the field of Hutcheson & Hess.  Is he a strong contender?  I suppose we will discover the answer to this question very soon.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on last night’s Tea Party meeting.  As a result of featuring Delegates Tony Wilt, Steve Landes, and Rob Bell, the gathering was extremely well attended.  Just as impressive, the media covered the event for the first time.  Both WHSV (the local T.V. news) and the Daily News Record were present.  Although tea parties are waning in certain parts of the state and country, does this event herald an era of new success for our local tea party?  I certainly hope so.  I wish that I had brought my camera to capture it all.

Although there are other topics to consider, I believe that the ones listed above are far and away the most important in Shenandoah Valley politics these last several days.

Earthquakes, primaries, and political intrigue…wow!  What a week!