Category Archives: Elections

More Choices this Election — in a Two-Party Duopoly Kind of Way


Fired up by Donald Trump, Virginia Democrats aren’t just proclaiming themselves the “Resistance,” they are running one of the biggest slates of House of Delegates candidates of recent years.

The graphic above, taken from the Virginia Public Access Project, indicates that two-thirds of the House seats are being contested by either a major party candidate or “other” candidates (independents and Libertarians, for the most part).

What’s not clear from this snapshot is how many of these races are truly competitive. All “other” candidates are a long shots, and even some of the major-party nominees  in gerrymandered districts are running kamikaze missions.

I’m heartened to see the heightened interest in state-level politics, but I’m concerned by the dearth of outsiders running for office. In this time of dissatisfaction and unrest, the two-party duopoly still has a stranglehold over the political process. Nothing much will change in an election that whittles down the Republican majority in the House by five or six seats. But just imagine the new political dynamic if five or six independents (preferably of a libertarian persuasion) won election.

Virginia’s political system is poised for an upheaval. As it stands, Virginians have a choice between economically liberal, socially liberal Democrats and economically conservative and socially conservative Republicans. Yet a majority of the electorate, I would argue, is libertarian — economically conservative and socially liberal. (That’s an oversimplification, but it holds true as a generality.)

Bottom line: It’s a good thing that Virginians will have more choices at the ballot box this year. But the range of choices is limited. Political competition is not nearly as robust as it needs to be.

Hyra’s Ideas on Taxes Deserve a Wide Hearing

Cliff Hyra in campaign mode. Photo credit: Richmond Magazine

I’m glad to see that the Richmond Times-Dispatch actually gave some ink to the official campaign launch of Libertarian Party nominee Cliff Hyra. As far as I can tell from my perusal of the Virginia Public Access Project’s daily VaNews digest, the T-D was the only major newspaper to do so.

(However, Richmond Magazine did publish an interview with Hyra here, and Bearing Drift covered his campaign announcement here.)

Hyra’s predecessor, Robert Sarvis, won 6.5% of the vote running against Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. While the Libertarian Party is not threatening to win a statewide office any time soon, its candidates do bring fresh perspectives to otherwise stale debates.

Hyra, a 34-year-old patent attorney residing in a suburb north of Richmond, could liven up the campaign. His big themes are innovation and inclusion. He advocates a cut in the state income tax, legalization of marijuana, pardons for prison inmates convicted for drug offenses, more charter schools, and elimination of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need restrictions on healthcare facilities. 

That’s certainly not a package of proposals you’re likely to see from anyone in either the Republican or Democratic parties.

Hyra’s tax proposal differs from Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s by spreading the benefits more widely among taxpayers. Where Gillespie would cut existing tax brackets 10% across the board, conferring the biggest benefits upon higher-income taxpayers in higher tax brackets, Hyra would raise household exemptions up to $60,000. All taxpayers would benefit, but working class and middle-income citizens would enjoy a bigger break as a percentage of income than the well-to-do.

Unlike some Libertarian candidates, Hyra has concrete ideas on how to pay for the tax cuts — and they don’t require any hocus-pocus assumptions that cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to pay for themselves. He proposes dusting off the recommendations of the 2002 Wilder Commission, proposed during the Warner administration, to see if some never-implemented ideas might be resurrected. Specifically, he would look to see if the state’s real estate portfolio could be administered at lower cost, and if excess property could be sold.

Hyra proposes to save more money through reforms to the criminal justice system — fewer inmates might allow the state to close a prison. Also — I offer this free advice — he could consider rolling back tax breaks, exemptions and deductions in the state income tax code, which usually go to the well-heeled, to pay for his tax break. Hyra’s idea could accomplish the seemingly impossible: cut taxes, make the tax code more progressive, yet not stick it to the rich.

Hyra’s ideas on taxes probably could use some polishing. But his proposal certainly is credible enough to deserves airing in the campaign. I would love to see Hyra and Gillespie go one-on-one on how best to structure tax cuts and pay for them. Perhaps Democrat Ralph Northam could chime in on why tax cuts are not a good idea at all. Citizens would benefit from a more vigorous discussion of the issues facing Virginia.

I hope the media treat Hyra as more than a curiosity, and I hope he fares well enough in the opinion polls to warrant inclusion in the major candidate debates. That would make the debates worth watching!

Update: Bart Hinkle, the Times-Dispatch libertarian editorial page editor, writes favorably about Hyra here.

Your Money Ain’t No Good Here, Dems Tell Utilities

Antipathy toward Virginia’s electric power companies is entering the realm of electoral politics. More than 50 Democratic candidates running for the Virginia House of Delegates have signed a pledge saying that they will “never” accept campaign contributions from Dominion Virginia Power or Appalachian Power, reports Graham Moomaw with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The pledge was circulated by Activate Virginia, a progressive Political Action Committee dedicated to electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, calling for a “principled stand” against the fossil-fuel industry to prevent “environmental catastrophe,” Moomaw writes. Activate Virginia did not circulate the petition to House of Delegates incumbents, most of who have already accepted campaign contributions from electric utilities.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Dominion has donated $767,000 to political candidates in 2016-2017, while Appalachian Power has contributed $278,000.

The Activate Virginia initiative threatens to drive a wedge in the Democratic Party between those who place environmental priorities foremost and those who seek a balance between environmental and economic-development considerations. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, viewed as the establishment Democratic candidate, has accepted Dominion money. Rival Tom Perriello has called upon him to reject further donations, saying that Virginia’s next governor “must aggressively promote clean, renewable energy.”

Although Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart has been highly critical of Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to dispose of coal ash, Dominion and Apco are less toxic to Republican sensibilities. Cutting CO2 emissions isn’t a priority for Republicans, who tend to be skeptical of the idea that global warming presents a crisis for human health and prosperity.

A confluence of factors has caused the surge in anti-utility sentiment.

First is a shift in fuel mix from coal to other energy sources that has prompted utilities to re-engineer their electric transmission systems and natural gas delivery systems. The result has been a wave of major new or upgraded infrastructure projects, both electric transmission lines and natural gas pipelines, which are visually intrusive and potentially environmentally disruptive.

Second is the relatively slow pace in Virginia of adopting renewable energy, especially solar. Under the current regulatory structure, Dominion and Apco have no incentive to cooperate with independent companies seeking to build solar projects and sell electricity directly to consumers. Instead of seeking regulatory reforms to alter the incentives — a formidable undertaking — environmentalists have taken to attacking Dominion and Apco for pursuing their self interest.

Third is the unexpected emergence of coal ash disposal as a major environmental issue. No one anticipated this two years ago when the Environmental Protection Agency enacted regulations to close coal ash pits in order to prevent spills into public waterways. The debate over how best to dispose of the ash — whether to bury in place or to convey millions of tons to lined landfills — has become enormously contentious.

Fourth is a regulatory freeze in base electric rates, negotiated in a legislative deal two years ago in response to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The Trump administration likely will seek to scuttle the plan, which would render the need for a rate freeze moot. Critics contend that the freeze has allowed Dominion and Apco to lock hundreds of millions of dollars of excess profits in place; the utilities deny the charges.

Because these conflicts are complex and deep-rooted with no easy resolution, they will persist for years. Indeed, multi-billion dollar decisions over the future of nuclear power in Virginia could add a new element to the debate. Popular agitation over electric-utility policies could well intensify, and utility campaign contributions, now dispensed without regard to political party, could well become a partisan litmus test.

More Great Moments in Virginia Governance: Election Fraud File

Waverly Mayor Walter Mason

Election irregularities in Virginia? No way. They never happen.

Except when they do.

A grand jury has indicted Walter Mason, mayor of the town of Waverly in Sussex County of a dozen felony charges of election fraud. Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports that Mason was accused of making false statements on absentee ballots and trying to help others violate absentee voting procedures in connection with his March 2016 election victory.

Michele Kathleen Brumfield (left) and James Hunter Higginbottom

Meanwhile, in central Virginia, two Altavista town council members, Michele Kathleen Brumfield and James Hunter Higginbottom, have been charged with prohibited activity at the polls, reports the News & Advance.

The newspaper did not spell out the exact nature of the activities. A copy of the state code section that lists prohibited activities at election polls can be viewed here.