Category Archives: Politics

2016 a Big Year for Libertarian Party

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council, but the Libertarian Party still faces obstacles in Virginia.

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council.

Unless you read the LP News, you probably didn’t realize that 2016 was a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party. The national news media tuned out Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson after he suffered his “Aleppo moment,” and his poll numbers fell in the last weeks as the race tightened between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Yet he still won nearly 4.4 million votes — more than three times the previous number garnered by the Libertarian candidate in 2012.

Other third-party candidates have fared better — anyone remember George Wallace and Ross Perot? But the Libertarian Party represents a movement that is bigger and longer lasting than any one candidate. Nearly 500,000 Americans are registered as Libertarians, a new high. Nearly 1.7 million votes were cast for Libertarian candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, also a new high. In Alaska, the Libertarian candidate won 30% of the vote, beating the Democratic candidate. Dues-paying member have passed the 20,000 mark, the highest level since 2005. (See the Libertarian Party’s take on the outcome here.)

Among other signs of progress, the Libertarian Party now has presidential ballot access in 37 states — more states than after any election in the party’s history. Ballot access means the party’s presidential candidate in 2020 will automatically qualify to run in those states without the necessity of accumulating enough signatures to qualify. The $760,000 it cost the Libertarians to get on the ballots of all 50 states this year may be pocket change to Republicans and Democrats, but it looms large for an independent party.

Libertarians made progress in Virginia, too. Libertarian Jessica Abbott won 59% of the vote in a nonpartisan race for Virginia Beach City Council. Noting that city spending has increased 90% over the past decade while median household income has remained flat, she opposed a proposed $343 million light rail project in the city. As a certified flood insurance agent, she also promised to use her expertise to help Virginia Beach cope with coastal flooding.

Another Virginia Beach Libertarian, Robert Dean, lost the race but won a healthy 41% of the vote.

Libertarians face a challenge in running a candidate for statewide office next year. Virginia has one of the toughest ballot-access laws in the country, a provision that helps cement into place the dominance of the Republican-Democratic duopoly. To become “recognized,” a party must win at least 10% of the vote in a statewide race. Democrats and Republicans have no difficulty reaching that threshhold, so Democratic and Republican candidates get free ballot access. By contrast, Libertarians (and any other independent or third-party candidate) must acquire 10,000 signatures.

As a practical matter, third-party candidates must get more than 10,000 because the signatures must be verified by state electoral authorities, and it is common for a significant percentage to be thrown out. A rule-of-thumb cost to hire signature gatherers is about $2.50 per sign-up. That translates into potential expenditures of $25,000. Again, that is pocket money for Democrats and Republicans but a hurdle for Libertarians. Robert Sarvis, who won 6.5% of the vote in the 2013 gubernatorial election, making him the most successful Libertarian Party candidate in Virginia history, spent only $220,000 on his entire campaign. (Terry McAuliffe spent $38 million.)

The movement to reform partisan gerrymandering of Virginia’s electoral districts has gained big momentum in recent years. Virginians who value increased competition in the political realm should support reform of ballot access as well.

How to Waste Millions: Run Political Ads on Television

Political ads on TV not worth the moneyAs I was standing in line for an hour-and-a-half at the Tuckahoe Elementary School voting station yesterday, I had the good fortune to strike up a conversation with the gentlemen next in line: John Adams, the recently retired chairman of the Martin Agency. Naturally, the conversation turned to the presidential election.

Adams opined that the vast majority of the money spent on television advertising this election season was wasted. There is little substantive that can be said in 30-second slots, and voters have learned to tune them out, he said. Candidates continue to invest in TV ads because political consultants make tons of money placing them.

His observations yesterday were prescient. Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump on political ads, mostly negative, by a massive margin, and to the astonishment of the television pundits she lost. Trump, by contrast, focused on generating “earned media” (news) through his tweets.

Adams is not a big fan of Twitter and other social media, which is thinks is superficial. He prefers “long-form” formats that allow the thoughtful discussion of policy issues, although he admits that thought pieces may not be to everyone’s taste.

Despite its drawbacks, TV ads can reach a large audience quickly. One suggestion from the man who presided over the Martin Agency’s creation of the Geico gecko and cave man ads: Television can be used to present positive messages that are difficult to peddle to a cynical press corps. But there is less utility in running attack ads. Reporters love nothing better than a cat fight, so it’s usually easy to inject negative spin about an opponent in the media. Whatever the ultimate solution, he says, the millions of ad dollars squandered in 2016 could have been spent to better effect.

— JAB

What the Trump Victory Means for Virginia

What does a Trump presidency mean for Virginia?We woke up this morning to a very different world than most of us expected twenty-four hours ago: the prospect of a Trump presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress. After four years of political gridlock, the odds have improved immeasurably that something will get done in Washington. You might not like the result, but the logjam will break. The ramifications for foreign and domestic policy are far-reaching.

Herewith are some preliminary thoughts on what a Trump presidency means for Virginia.

Energy policy. Trump famously declared global warming to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and he has campaigned on the promise to boost the U.S. energy economy and revive the coal industry. It’s safe to say that he will do what he can to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to slow global warming by reducing CO2 emissions from electric power plants. Whether he can do so with a stroke of the pen — issuing an executive order that reverses President Obama’s order — is not clear to me. But one way or the other, I expect he will modify the plan significantly if not kill it outright.

What does that mean for the future of Virginia’s electric grid? Coal is the big winner. Most likely, some coal-fired power plants in Virginia will enjoy an extended lease on life. In the case of Dominion Virginia Power, that implies the need for fewer natural gas-fired plants in the future (or at least a delay in their deployment), which in turn implies diminished future demand for natural gas. What does that portend for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline? I’m not sure, but these are obvious questions to ask.

The future of solar and wind energy also is up in the air. Congress has extended hefty tax credits for the renewable energy sources well into the 2020s. Trump and Congress may spike those subsidies, and the political pressure will be off Dominion and Appalachian Power to boost their commitment to solar and wind. But the economics of solar and wind are steadily improving, and Dominion has stated its conviction that there is value in having a diversified energy portfolio. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop merchant power generators from building solar farms and wind farms and selling the energy into wholesale electricity markets, thus bypassing the established utilities.

In sum, while the pace of adoption may slow, the progress of renewable energy, electric vehicles, battery storage, voltage regulation and other technologies suggests that the electric grid will look very different ten years from now than it does today, regardless of what Trump does. Virginians need to prepare for that future, even if it is not imminent.

Medicaid. Trump campaigned on a promise to end and replace Obamacare. Repealing the program will probably be more difficult than Trump was willing to admit on the campaign trail– will he really yank benefits from the millions of Americans who benefited from the plan? — and his plan to replace it is still fuzzy. But it’s a safe bet that the option of expanding Medicaid under provisions of the Affordable Care Act in Virginia will be taken off the table.

Given the unpopularity of Obamacare with a majority of the population and the promise of Congressional Republicans to repeal it if they got the chance, General Assembly Republicans were wise to have rejected Medicaid expansion. Thankfully, Virginia maintained its safety net of hospital-provided indigent care, health clinics, health wagons, and other patchwork programs that provide at least a modicum of treatment for the poor and near poor. That safety net is inadequate but it’s better than nothing.

One thing Virginia can do to replace Obamacare is eliminate the dozens of mandated benefits that drive up the cost of open-market health insurance. One reason the plans in the Obamacare health exchanges are so expensive is that they are gold-plated with federally mandated benefits. If Trump and Congress repeal those mandates, state mandates still will stand in Virginia unless the General Assembly repeals them as well. Health insurers should be given the option of offering stripped-down, basic health coverage which, while less than ideal, would provide cheaper options than are available now.

Military spending. Virginia’s economy has taken a big hit from the reduction in military spending under the Obama administration. Trump has promised to rebuild the military. A Trump presidency undoubtedly will spare the state from further defense cuts, but given the budget box the country is in — a $19+ trillion national debt, rising deficits, and a Federal Reserve Bank seemingly intent upon nudging interest rates higher — it is difficult to see how the U.S. can ramp up military spending to anything close to Bush-era, war-on-terror levels. Relief may be coming, but the glory days are not returning.

Boomergeddon. Dr. Trump has been peddling a magical elixir of tax cuts, deregulation and a confrontational trade policy to get the economy rolling again. Let’s just say I’m skeptical. Trade wars will be disastrous. Tax cuts may goose the economy, but they will add to the deficit. Deregulation will help, but I think there are practical limits to what can be deregulated. Yes, deregulating the broadband sector and re-examining Dodd-Frank bank regulations could provide a stimulus. But most regulations are embedded in the economy and don’t make sense to scrap. Just to pick one example, are we really going to deregulate coal mine safety after mining companies have already created the technologies, developed the business practices and absorbed the costs of meeting those regulations?

While some economic sluggishness can be blamed on Obama administration policies, not all of it can. As I noted recently on this blog, the aging of the population and the lack of growth in the workforce are demographic trends impervious to public policy manipulation. Meanwhile, Trump has evinced no interest in reforming entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the panoply of anti-poverty programs. Massive spending increases are baked into the cake. The United States is in a fiscal box that limits our economic options, and there is no politically painless way out of it.

Bottom line for Virginia: Don’t look for a miraculous restoration of economic growth and tax revenue. Budget austerity is the new normal. Trump won’t change that. We need to get on with the business of re-thinking the way state and local governments do everything.

Joe Morrissey as Post-Racial Candidate

Joe Morrissey at press conference

Joe Morrissey, with his wife Myrna in the background, during a recent press conference. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

One of the benefits of living in the Richmond region is having front row seats on the never-ending saga that is Joe Morrissey — Richmond’s very own answer to Anthony Weiner. We Richmonders can avail ourselves of near-daily newspaper and TV exposes while the rest of the state must settle for truncated Associated Press copy.

As the poll-leading candidate in the race for Richmond mayor, Morrissey landed in hot water again last week when a former client, Kanika Morris, accused him of texting her messages of a sexually explicit nature and exposing himself to her in his office. When she spurned his advances, she charged, other attorneys in his law firm pressured her into a plea deal.

No, you can’t make this stuff up.

But, as it turns out, it appears that Ms. Morris very likely did. At least she made up part of the story. Morrissey produced statements from a fellow attorney stating that she was in the room at the same time as Morrissey and Ms. Morris, and that Morrissey most emphatically did not expose himself. Furthermore, Morrissey’s camp has cited information that, in the words of his attorney, “clearly shows that Ms. Morris lied about being coerced by some kind of financial, legal and sexual pressure.”

Indeed, the big news in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch is a statement from Ms. Morris’s jail mate declaring that Ms. Morris told her that she would “do whatever it takes” to get home so her baby would not be born in jail.

What Morrissey conspicuously has not contested is that he texted messages of a sexual nature to Ms. Morris. As summarized by the T-D:

Morrissey has not denied that he sent explicit text messages to Morris while his law firm was representing her this year and while he was engaged to his now wife, who was then pregnant with their second child. In one of the messages provided by Morris to the Times-Dispatch, he instructed the woman about how he wanted her to groom her pubic hair prior to their meeting.

While texting Wieneresque messages is grotesque to middle-class sensibilities, it is not illegal. Nor in the minds of Morrissey supporters is it necessarily even disqualifying.

Morrissey, who is white, has a strong base of support in Richmond’s African-American community. He has spent much of his legal career representing the poor, many of whom find themselves in and out of the courts, and he has positioned himself as their political champion. Further, after spending a stint in jail for having sex with his 17-year-old office receptionist, an African-American, he married her.

Insofar as his chaotic personal life resembles that of many of his poor constituents, many African-Americans in Richmond apparently identify with him. While his escapades might disqualify him in the minds of middle-class voters, they reinforce his appeal to the downtrodden and demoralized. In that sense, one might truly say that Joe Morrissey is Richmond’s first true post-racial candidate.

Give It Up, Dudes, There’s Nothing There

The McCabe family

The McCabe family

by James A. Bacon

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has doubled down on the newspaper’s insinuation that Governor Terry McAuliffe’s financial support for state senatorial candidate Jill McCabe was somehow linked to her husband Andrew McCabe’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Drawing upon the Journal’s news report the previous day, the newspaper’s top editorial finds significance in the fact that “[McAuliffe], a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill, steered money to the campaign of the wife of a top FBI official.”

But the article did not demonstrate a quid pro quo, or even suggest what the quid pro quo might have been, and neither did the editorial.

As far as I’m concerned, former Secretary Clinton deserves all the scrutiny she gets for her Clinton Foundation ties, her decision to buck State Department policy by setting up her own jinky home-based server, her decision to destroy 30,000+ “personal” emails, thousands of which turned out not to be so personal, her repeated lies to the public, and the obstruction by her allies and even State Department officials to delay and thwart the email releases. There’s plenty to investigate. But the Journal does a dis-service by creating a flimsy distraction that can be used as evidence that Republicans and conservatives are just making stuff up. .

Here is the Journal’s logic:

Mrs. McCabe announced her candidacy the same month (March 2015) as the news broke about Mrs. Clinton’s private email server. Mr. McCabe was running the FBI’s Washington field office at the time, and he was promoted to the No. 3 FBI spot not long after the formal FBI investigation began in July 2015.

 

The FBI said in a statement that none of this is an issue because Mr. McCabe wasn’t promoted to the No. 2 position until February 2016, months after his wife lost her race, and only then did he assume “for the first time an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails.”

 

All of this asks voters to believe that Mr. McCabe as the No. 3 official at the FBI had nothing to do with the biggest, most sensitive case at that agency. This strains credulity. Before he became No. 3 at the FBI Mr. McCabe ran the bureau’s Washington, D.C., field office that provided resources to the Clinton probe. Campaign finance records show that 98% of the McAuliffe donations to Mrs. McCabe came after the FBI launched its Clinton probe.

McAuliffe, of course, has denied any skulduggery. He began recruiting Mrs. McCabe to run against Sen. Dick Black, R-Leesburg, for the 13th senatorial district, in February 2015, before the email scandal broke, said the governor’s office in the Times-Dispatch today, The recruitment efforts were led by Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam as part of a larger bid to re-take control of the state senate. I would conjecture that Democrats considered the seat, occupied by one of the most conservative members of the senate, to be more vulnerable than most. It is not implausible to think that the Dems targeted the seat and plowed money into Mrs. McCabe’s candidacy because they thought she could win.

One way the Journal could have buttressed its story was to talk to Northam and other leading Democrats. Did they find McAuliffe’s support for McCabe controversial in any way? Were they baffled that he poured so much money into her race? Or did Democratic Party leaders share the perception that McCabe was the best candidate with the best chance of beating Black? For the record, although McCabe lost the election, she did put in a strong showing against an incumbent, garnering 47.6% of the vote.

The Journal also could have talked to Thomas V. Mulrine, an Army veteran and attorney who had announced his candidacy before McCabe did. The T-D‘s Graham Moomaw did talk to him, and it turns out that he was a little miffed that McAuliffe had backed McCabe, calling it “unseemly” that the governor would recruit one Democratic candidate to run against another. “I think the citizens of the county ought to choose who their representatives are and not just have somebody foisted on them by somebody from afar,” Mulrine said.

One might ask why McAuliffe chose to intervene on McCabe’s side before the nomination. Is it unheard of in Virginia Democratic Party politics for the governor to get so involved in selecting candidates? If so, McAuliffe’s intense interest in McCabe might be cause for suspicision. But if McAuliffe involved himself in the selection of other candidates, then there is no need in McCabe’s case to invoke another explanation entailing a corrupt desire to influence the outcome of an FBI investigation. Continue reading

Playing the Racism Card… Just Pathetic

howard_myers

Mayor Howard Myers. Photo credit: WTVR

In other Petersburg-related follies… Petersburg Mayor W. Howard Myers has told fellow City Council members that the attacks on his leadership are motivated by racism and partisanship.

“I will as a representative of Ward 5 and as major duly to my right hand, serve the public without blemish and from scare tactics from a few racists[s] and Republican supporters,” he wrote in an Aug. 11 email that he asked the city clerk to share with other council members, reports the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Dude, you presided over the worst financial meltdown of a Virginia locality probably since the Great Depression and you think your critics are motivated by racism? Under your watch, the city is facing a current-year budget gap of $12 million (nearly 20% of General Fund revenue) on top of $19 million dollars of unpaid bills, and you have conceded in unguarded remarks that you had no idea how this all happened, yet you expect anyone to believe that the people who are unhappy about it are being partisan in their attacks?

Do you know how totally pathetic that is? Not only pathetic, but in this racially polarized era, wildly irresponsible?

As I understand from the news coverage, Petersburg’s five City Council members are all African-American while many of the citizens who get irate and engage in shouting matches with you during council sessions are mostly white. Yeah, I suppose one reason that they’re argumentative is that they’re racist. But there’s another possible explanation: They’re pissed off at how you ran the city into the ground!

The System Is Rigged… and Trump Ought to Know

The system is rigged!

Building a big, beautiful tax break

Back in the day, Virginia was one of the most reliable Republican states in presidential elections.  That changed in 2008, with the election of President Obama.  Current polling indicates that the deeply flawed Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton has a double-digit lead over Donald Trump.  The core of this support seems to be amongst college-educated whites in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Now there is more trouble ahead for “The Donald”!! The lead story in today’s New York Times details how, after filing for bankruptcy, Trump’s New Jersey casinos owed the state of New Jersey $30 million in back taxes.  The article discusses how, after Chris Christie ascended to the governorship, the state settled for 17 cents on the dollar, or slightly less than $5 million.

And Governor Bob was indicted for, amongst other matters, riding around in a Ferrari?

— Les Schreiber

Why “The Donald”

trumpLast summer as the Dow Jones average hovered near its all-time high of 18,000+, one of the commentators on the CNBC business channel commented that Lloyd Blankenfein had just joined the billionaire’s club. I was a bit taken aback. While Goldman is the premiere investment bank on Wall Street, during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the largest percentage of the $85 billion spent to bail out A.I.G. was funneled to Goldman Sachs in order to settle credit default swaps issued by AIGFP to Goldman as a counter-party. Who knew that a person could be a billionaire and a welfare queen at the same time?

Recently, the charity OXFAM AMERICA issued a report stating that for every dollar spent by corporations in America on lobbying activities, they receive $130 in tax breaks, and approximately $4,000 in federal loans. Since 1952, the share of corporate taxation as part of federal revenue has declined from 32% to 11%.

From studying the results of recent primaries, there is a significant backlash against the economic policies of Republican and Democratic administrations.

In addition to the financial crisis and tax policies, foreign trade agreements are perceived as benefiting a few while middle class jobs disappear. A recent article in the New York Times outlined the decline of the steel industry in Birmingham Alabama. It was not pretty.

Somehow, Trump, whose companies have gone bankrupt more than once, has been able to feed on this feeling that the system is structurally unjust, to win the nomination of a major American political party. This is not pretty. And while Donald the person may be dismissed, the reasons for his success should not be.

— Les Schreiber

McAuliffe’s Dangerous Game

by James A. Bacon

Once upon a time, when he helped run L. Douglas Wilder’s history-making gubernatorial campaign, Paul Goldman was regarded as a progressive voice in Virginia politics. If he writes many more op-eds like the one published Sunday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he could well become anathema to progressives. Not because he has changed his principles, mind you, but because progressives have come to toss around accusations of racism with such reckless abandon.

Goldman’s topic was Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring full civil and voting rights to 206,000 felons convicted of both violent and non-violent crimes. The Richmond attorney and political activist makes two critical points that dovetail with my critique of contemporary progressivism.

One is that McAuliffe’s defenders make unsupported accusations of racism and discrimination that only “make it harder for those fighting for honest change.” Specifically, Goldman tackles the notion that Article II, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution — “no person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority” — was intentionally written to disenfranchise African-Americans.

To the contrary, notes Goldman, disenfranchisement of felons dates back to colonial times when only white men were allowed to vote. Moreover, Virginia civil rights legend Oliver Hill reviewed and approved the provision for inclusion in the 1971 Virginia constitution.

A second point is that the people who get so agitated about the injustice done to felons are remarkably quiet about the injustices the felons inflicted upon their victims. While felons in Virginia are disproportionately African-American, so are crime victims.

As Goldman writes, “For the government to suggest a victim or loved one is anti-black because she opposes automatic restoration [of civil rights] without any showing of contrition is unjustified. It demeans the victim.”

A strong case can be made that the process of restoring rights to non-violent felons should be made easier — no individual petition necessary. But blanket restoration for violent felons without giving the victim an opportunity for input or any requirement for the predator to show contrition should be prohibited, Goldman writes. “The petitioning process must not itself be punitive. Yet it can’t be pro forma.”

Lastly, Goldman didn’t make this point but I will: Finding the proper balance for restoring felon rights is not the sole prerogative of the governor. McAuliffe needs to engage in give and take with the legislature. Sadly, the rule of law is regarded among political elites as increasingly optional — something to be enjoined when they can harness it to advance their aims and sidestepped when it cannot. A couple of years back, I said that progressives should be cautious with the precedents they set — just imagine how worried they would be if Sarah Palin were elected president with the power to re-write laws through executive decree. Now they face an even more terrifying prospect — an imperial presidency run by Donald Trump, the man for whom everything is negotiable and “so sue me” is a business best practice. Granting presidents and governors power to re-write laws at will cuts both ways.

Update: General Assembly Republicans are filing suit to halt enforcement of McAuliffe’s executive order.

What Donald Trump Tells Us about the Changing Character of Virginia Politics

by Frank Muraca

When Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee, Virginia’s Republican candidates for governor and Congress offered tepid support. Barbara Comstock, representing the diverse 10th district in Northern Virginia, actually withheld an endorsement, saying that Trump needed to “earn” her vote.

And when House Speaker Bill Howell told the Times-Dispatch that he, too, would back Trump, he tacked on an interesting comment:

Politics at the national level won’t change how Republicans in Virginia govern and lead. We’ve distinguished ourselves from Washington over the years, and I think voters recognize that.

Howell’s comment was true – Virginia has historically distanced itself from the unpredictability of national politics. There was a time when Virginia’s political leaders could step away from national politics, even declining to support their own party in presidential elections. But the fact that Virginia’s Republican establishment fell in line for Trump, whose persona and ethos run counter to the Commonwealth’s image of politicians as genteel statesman, shows how much that independence has waned in the past few decades.

The legacy of Harry Byrd Sr. influences Virginia politics today. From the 1920s until the early 1960s, Virginia was dominated by a one-party oligarchy that maintained unbridled control over the state government. The “Byrd Organization,” was just one of a handful of conservative, Democratic machines that controlled the political apparatus of southern states in the first half of the 20th century. Former Senator John Battle, one of the organization’s top leaders, described it as follows:

It is nothing more nor less than a loosely knit group of Virginians … who usually think alike, who are interested in the welfare of the Commonwealth, who are supremely interested in giving Virginia good government and good public servants, and they usually act together.

V.O. Key, one of the preeminent political scientists to study southern politics in this time period, wrote that Virginia was a “political museum piece.”

Of all the American states, Virginia can lay claim to the most thorough control by an oligarchy. Political power has been closely held by a small group of leaders who, themselves and their predecessors, have subverted democratic institutions and deprived most Virginians of a voice in their government. The Commonwealth possesses characteristics more akin to those of England at about the time of the Reform Bill of 1832 than to those of any other state of the present-day South.

One of Byrd’s most consequential accomplishments was creating a political reality separate from the national scene.

With a small, controllable electorate, Virginia’s Democratic leaders were able to act independently of national trends or opinions. The organization flexed its muscle during the Great Depression when President Roosevelt, a fellow Democrat, was selling the New Deal to the American electorate. Virginia, a Democratic stronghold committed to fiscal conservatism, was one of the least cooperative states in enacting the New Deal’s programs. Continue reading