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?

Lobby Day 2015

IMG_2729Today, in an annual tradition, citizens from across Virginia converged at the state capitol in Richmond for Lobby Day.  The morning and afternoon consisted of rallies, protests, sitting in on sessions of the state government, and meeting with elected officials.

The day started relatively early as I traveled from the Shenandoah Valley with two local Republicans, Kaylene and Laura.  My first stop was to the General Assembly Building.  As I walked through the grounds, the Virginia Citizens Defense League was preparing for an event at the bell tower, passing out their traditional orange stickers proclaiming that “guns save lives.”  Many in the gathering crowd also wore stickers in support of Susan Stimpson, as she is seeking to unseat Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell.

After making my way through security, I came across several local faces, such as Delegate Mark Berg (R-Winchester) as well as Dan Moxley and his daughter, Hannah.  Mr. Moxley is challenging Senator Emmett Hanger for the Republican nomination in the 24th district.

One of my first stops was to see Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke).  He has proposed a bill that lowers the threshold for a political party to achieve official status in Virginia from 10% of a statewide vote to 4%.  As I believe doing so would allow for greater choices in elections, I wanted to learn more.  While there, I discovered that he has sponsored another bill that would change redistricting so that legislators would no longer be able to choose their voters.  It is a bill which requires further study.

Although many of the delegates and senators were not in their offices, I did set up an appointment to speak with Delegate Gordon Helsel (R-Poquoson).  I very much enjoyed my conversation with his aide, Ashley.  In addition, I ran across Virginia Libertarian Party Chairman Bill Redpath and later Virginia Republican Liberty Caucus Chairman Robert Kenyon.

IMG_2730When I approached the capitol entrance, a group marched outside protesting student loans.

Inside, both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates were in brief sessions.  I found it curious that one had to go through security a second time in order to watch the Senate; it seemed completely unnecessary.

After briefly speaking with a number of legislators including: Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Senator Vogel (R-Fauquier), and Senator Hanger (R-Augusta), I made my way back to the General Assembly Building.  Outside stood a group advocating greater food and farming freedom.  There I ran across additional legislators including: Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham), Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), and a second brief encounter with Delegate Berg.

Although I was tempted to visit the office of recently re-elected and convicted Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico), I decided against it.  I would have also liked to speak to Delegate Pogge (R-York).  Even though I saw her outside, I could not find her in the building, instead meeting with her legislative assistant.  I also said hello to Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) and his aide, Savanna.

Next, I spoke with Delegate Helsel.  I sought him out as I was interested to learn his opinions of the proposed changes in the party plan of the Republican Party of Virginia.  Now serving as a Republican delegate, in 2009 Helsel ran as an independent against the Republican nominee.  If the proposed changed had been in place at that time, Delegate Helsel would have been ineligible to run as a Republican in 2011 or participate in any of their party politics until the year 2017.  We also discussed the surprisingly differing responses from Republicans regarding former Delegate Phil Hamilton and freshly sentenced former Governor Bob McDonnell.

Afterward, I visited my state senator’s office to try and understand why he would push for party registration as well as to voice my objections and concerns about doing so.   I firmly believe that registration would lead to disenfranchisement and would further erode political freedom in Virginia.  I’m told that I should have a response from his office within a day.

Lastly, I met up with Robert Sarvis and a handful of fellow Libertarians who also came to Richmond for Lobby Day.  Apparently they spoke in a Senate committee in favor of a bill that would decrease signature requirements for ballot access, but I’m told the bill was killed 2-4 along party lines as all of the Republicans in the committee voted against it.

I must say that as I walked through the halls of the capitol today, I felt a return of excitement and enthusiasm that I first experienced during my early days of political involvement.

All in all, Lobby Day 2015 was another fun event here in Virginia and I was glad to be a part of it.

The 2014 Libertarian Convention

On Saturday, February 8th, the Libertarian Party of Virginia held their annual convention just east of Richmond, Virginia at the Marriott Hotel in Sandston.  The main purposes of this gathering were to nominate a candidate for the November U.S. Senate race, elect new individuals to lead the state party, and conduct business of the state central committee.  In the back of the convention hall, the Virginia Citizens Defense League maintained a booth.

The night before, a multitude of Libertarians gathered at the hotel to socialize and greet old friends and new.

IMG_2466Attendance to this convention was a little more than eighty, about double the size of last year’s meeting.  Surprisingly, despite this up tick in attendance, there were merely three attendees from the Harrisonburg area, my corner of the state.

IMG_2470
Libertarian U.S. Senate Candidate Robert Sarvis

The only candidate to seek the Libertarian nomination for Senate was Robert Sarvis, the party’s 2013 candidate for governor.  Unlike some political groups, such as the Republican Party of Virginia, delegates could choose to vote “none of the above” thus forgoing a candidate for the election.  Speakers spoke in favor of and against Mr. Sarvis and the vote that followed was done via voice so the precise  count is unknown.  Nevertheless, Robert Sarvis easily captured a sizable majority of the crowd to become the Libertarian nominee.

Libertarian Party Chairman Chuck Moulton did not seek reelection to his position and so Bill Redpath, the 2001 Libertarian candidate for governor, was elected in his stead.  All other party leaders were reelected without opposition.  Dr. Jim Lark is the Vice Chairman of the LPVA, Marc Montoni is the Secretary, and James Curtis is the Treasurer.

Although not voted upon at the convention, several candidates announced their intent to run as Libertarians for the House of Representatives.  Ideally, the party is seeking to offer contenders in all eleven congressional districts, though presently it sits at a little less than half.

All in all, attendees to the 2014 convention seemed to enjoy themselves and the party seems to have swelled in membership, some joining shortly before the convention itself.

Was Sarvis’ record-setting 6.5% of the vote in 2013 a fluke or a sign of an emergence of an actual third party in Virginia?  How will Mr. Sarvis and the Libertarian slate fair in November?  It should be interesting to watch.

Cuccinelli “So-So” on Gun Rights?

VCDLEarlier today, I read on Facebook that Ken Cuccinelli was given a “so-so” ranking by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.  Curious, I called the folks at the VCDL to ask about Cuccinelli’s score.  I was told that in previous campaigns Ken gave very pro-gun answers and although he still completed a somewhat pro-gun rights survey, he attached a multitude of qualifying statements to his answers that troubled the folks at the VCDL and thus earned him a “so-so”.

It doesn’t come as any surprise that the three Democratic candidates did not answer the survey and that the other two Republican candidates, E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain, have been labeled “very pro-gun” by the VCDL.  But, the Cuccinelli score is shocking.  However, as you will note according to the VCDL, there is a very pro-gun candidate on the ballot for governor, the Libertarian Robert Sarvis.

Although the specific responses of each of the candidates will not be available until several days before the election, is this news another misstep for the Cuccinelli campaign that will have ramifications come November?  It seems likely.

Lobby Day

On Monday, political activists from across the commonwealth of Virginia gathered in Richmond to participate in the annual Lobby Day.  Shortly before 7 AM that morning, I boarded a bus headed to the state capital to participate in these activities.  My fellow passengers included other members of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party as well as the Valley Family Forum, and even a person or two from the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

After Harrisonburg, we made stops in Staunton and Waynesboro, picking up additional folks along the way.  With our busload of around thirty-five, we crossed over Afton Mountain and made our way to our destination.

Shortly before arriving, we discovered that the pro-life presentation offered by the Family Foundation had reached its capacity, so Lois Paul (one of the tea party leaders), Lisa McCumsey, (the campaign manager for Karen Kwiatkowski), and myself decided to explore the capital on our own.

Our first stop was the general assembly office building.  Although most delegates and senators were unavailable, I did appreciate the opportunity to speak with Delegate Landes (R-25) and my own Delegate, Tony Wilt (R-26) about their upcoming legislative proposals.

Jamie Radtke at Lobby Day

From there, we gathered with supporters of the Virginia Citizens Defense League around the bell tower on the capitol grounds.  At this rally, I found two of the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.  While Jamie Radtke spoke to the crowd, David McCormick milled around the crowd gathering signatures to be on the ballot.

David McCormick at Lobby Day

After that, we enjoyed lunch at the Tobacco Company restaurant.   In the lounge of that establishment, the newly formed Central Virginia Tea Party welcomed visitors.  Surprisingly, I ran into the Virginia chairman for the Gary Johnson campaign while returning from the restroom.  We chatted briefly about the presidential race and each offered a bit of speculation as to the future of the Ron Paul movement.

From there, we toured the capitol building itself.  Unfortunately, by this point, neither the House nor the Senate was in session and so we could not enter those chambers.

Delegate Bob Marshall with his new bill

Shortly before our return to the bus, Delegate Bob Marshall crossed our path.  He was on the way to the capitol to present a new bill.  He stated that his proposal would exempt Virginians from unconstitutional detentions allowed in the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act.  I’m always glad to discover new ways that our legislators are working to protect us from the excesses of the federal government.

On the ride back, several of us collected signatures for the various Senate and House candidates while a good chunk of the attendees took the opportunity to nap.  About half of my fellow riders accepted a DVD explaining why they should support Dr. Ron Paul in the upcoming March 6th primary.

All in all, it was a great trip.  If you couldn’t make it to Lobby Day 2012, I recommend marking your calendars in advance so that you won’t miss out next time.