The Commonwealth of Virginia's Ultimate Blog

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Good Night and Good Luck

Like Old Zach wrote earlier, we are finally closing this thing down. It's been a good run that's provided a lot of enjoyment and many new relationships for us on the blog. I hope we have been a source of enjoyment or edification for some, heartache for certain others and a source of information for more. It's amazing to see how much the Virginia blogosphere has developed over the last 16 months that we have been in it. It's been exciting to be among those on the cutting edge of this media frontier.

Upon much discussion and debate among our members, we have decided to shut it down. We started this to contribute to the discussion and debate ongoing during the Republican primary races and then promote the election of those candidates. Last fall's election wasn't quite as successful as we had wished, but the election of two statewide Republican candidates was an improvement, and McDonnell pulling out the recount allowed us all to breathe a sigh of relief.
Old Zach has addressed some of the numerous issues facing the Republican Party in Virginia and nationally in his last few posts, and I echo his sentiments that we have many challenges facing us that we will take delicate and painstaking

I personally no longer have the time to make this blog a priority. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to make decisions as to where our time is most needed and most valuable. I no longer believe my time is most valuable spent in blogging on Virginia politics. It may once again become so, but this is not the time. And I have no desire to get caught up in the inward looking discussion of the blogosphere that exists right now.

As I graduate from UVA Law School this May, go active with the Air Force JAG Corps, and get married to a spectacular young woman, I have to make prioritization changes so that I fulfill my obligations and duties in the things that really matter in an honorable manner. You will soon see me involved in Virginia politics once again, but it probably won't be on a blog.

I wish you all good luck and I hope all of you keep involved in Virginia politics, making this state I love so much a better place to live.

Addison Adds:
I obviously tapped out a few months earlier that Zach and LH, but it was for the same reasons. I enjoyed the opportunity to articulate my viewpoints, and I think that it has made me a better advocate in my off-line incarnation.

Thanks for reading.

Farewell

This will be my final post. Effective today, Sic Semper Tyrannis will be closing up shop for good.

It is really hard to say goodbye to the blogosphere. I feel like this community of Virginia bloggers has become part of who I am over the past year and a half, but I am now prepared to walk away. Of course, I’ll continue to read blogs because I’m addicted to Virginia politics, but it will be different to not be a contributor to the debate

Before we shut out the lights here at SST, I wanted to leave our readers with some things to think about. That has been the primary purpose of my series of posts this past week, to get you thinking. I hope that the issues I have raised will continue to be discussed throughout the blogosphere and the Republican Party for a long time to come. My purpose has not been to unfairly attack any individuals or to run down my own Party, though I have tried to be critical.

Throughout the time I have been blogging, my focus has always been on helping Republicans win in Virginia. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone. I am a Republican and I firmly believe that the Republican Party is home to the ideas and values that best serve our nation. I believe that it is the Republican Party whose ideals are most faithful to those of our nation’s founding fathers. Now granted, I don’t always agree with others who share the Republican Party label. I haven’t agreed with everything our President has done, nor do I agree with everything that certain Republicans in Virginia do. However, I have tried to keep things relatively civil and keep the discussion focused on actual issues not personal quarrels.

The hardest part of leaving this blog is knowing that there is so much work left to be done. Each year brings a new election here in Virginia, and new challenges to go with it. I personally look forward to working hard to re-elect Senator Allen and to keep electing capable, qualified, conservative Republicans at all levels of government. However, I feel that my efforts are now best expended in areas other than the blogosphere, and I intended to pursue them with equal vigor to that which I have given this blog.

Finally, thanks so much to all of those people, both in the blogosphere and outside of it, who have supported this effort. Your encouragement has been appreciated, and I hope that our efforts have been worthy of that. I also want to thank Lighthorse Harry and Addison for a most enjoyable time. I look eagerly forward to the next stage.

Best,
Old Zach

P.S. Go Hokies!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Thoughts on the Blogosphere

Now that I’ve talked extensively about the state of the Republican Party, I want to turn the magnifying glass back on myself a little and talk about this very medium I am using right now. When Addison, Harry, and I started this blog 16 months ago or so, it was because we thought we had something to add to the debate that was going on in preparation for the 2005 statewide elections. We wanted to have a debate about the issues affecting Virginia and why we thought Jerry Kilgore was the right person to lead Virginia for the next four years (And I still do). We chose the name Sic Semper Tyrannis because we wanted this blog to be about Virginia, not about us. That’s also why we choose to remain anonymous. We want the focus to be on the issues we were talking about, not who is doing the talking. Unfortunately, I am beginning to feel that we are in the minority in that regard. It is wonderful to see a great many Virginians taking an interest in blogging, but at the same time it seems as if many of them are more concerned with putting the spotlight on themselves than with solving problems or answering questions about Virginia’s future. In addition, it seems as though, as the Virginia blogosphere has grown, the majority of new blogs have directed their focus at driving traffic to their sites through gimmicks and web-generated scandals than through the quality of their writing. Mind you, I am by no means saying that I myself have never done the things I am criticizing. I certainly have, but I have also tried to keep my posts faithful to my particular areas of knowledge and interest, and I would hope that the thoughtful posts outweighed the trite ones. You are free to disagree.

These criticisms certainly go for Conservative and Liberal bloggers alike. I think it would do some good for bloggers to start thinking not just about how many people might read something they write, or what kind of reaction it might get, but rather what does it add to the online discussion. Certainly every blogger has his own agenda, and that is what makes the community interesting. However, the way that agenda is presented makes a big difference. I enjoy reading guys like Shaun Kenny, Waldo Jaquith and The Jaded JD because their posts usually go deeper than the surface. Even if we don’t always agree, I usually appreciate what they bring to the table. Other bloggers I find to be “all hat, no cattle” as it were. I often cringe at bloggers like Not Larry Sabato, Too Conservative, and Republitarian simply because they exhibit more concern with fluffery and self-aggrandizement than anything else. As a result, even when these “gossip-column” bloggers post things that are worthwhile, I am less likely to read them and much less likely to give them weight. For example, having a poll to determine who the “most influential” bloggers are is a bit like taking a poll to see who the coolest guy at the Star Trek Convention is. It might make that guy feel like somebody special, but most people could give a damn.

This brings me to my second point, which is that the blogosphere is not nearly as important as it seems to think it is. For now, those who pay attention to the blogosphere, particularly at the statewide political level, are in a very small club. By and large, the blogosphere is not yet shaping public opinion in any meaningful or measurable way. Now, this is not to say that blogs couldn’t evolve into such a role. The increasing technological savvy of our society in fact indicates that they very well may. This is also not to say that blogs aren't at all useful, because they certainly can be. The fact that so many elected officials are now paying attention to the blogosphere indicates that it may well play an important role in our state politics in the near future. Still, the average voter in Virginia has no idea what a blog is, and a large percentage of what we say will have absolutely no impact on how people vote this November. All of this is not to discourage anyone from blogging. In fact I look forward to the continued growth and evolution of the Virginia blogosphere. This is merely a reality check for some of us who may suddenly believe ourselves kingmakers simply because a few hundred people click through our little corner of the Internet each day.

I applaud the work that has already been done by folks like Chad Dotson to foster a more involved, more respectful community of bloggers and I hope that those efforts will continue. I believe that, although individual bloggers may come and go, blogging itself is here to say. I also believe that blogging can be an extremely productive and helpful resource and outlet for people. I doubt that DeTocqueville would be surprised by our pursuit of new and varied forms of interaction in what can be an increasingly remote digital world. Humans in general and Americans in particular long for social and political interaction. Basically, we like having friends, and we like having debate. The Internet is providing astounding new ways of interacting with people who share our passions, and the blogosphere is one shining example.

I encourage all of the bloggers out there to think, as we have here at SST, about what it is that you want to accomplish through this meager platform. I encourage you to stick to those goals and to seek the counsel of others in achieving them. Mostly, I encourage you to make your blog your own. Each perspective is unique, and all are welcome.

Blog on.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What Are Our Goals?

Here'’s where it gets fun. Yesterday we talked about leadership, so today we are taking the next logical step to talk about goals. Leadership without goals is just aimless wandering through the landscape of ideas.

Obviously there are some broad goals that we, as a Party should always strive for. These include things such as recruiting new voters to our ranks, reaching out to potentially new constituencies, seeding our grassroots, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Likewise there are always specific issues that are the subject of narrow focus at any one time such as is the case in the current transportation debate. However, in order to avoid the aimless wandering, I suggest that we focus on some broader, non-organizational goals that the Republican Party of Virginia should face within the coming years.

As always, I want this to be an open discussion. I want this to be something that we come back to on a regular basis because I believe that this discussion is good for our Party. I firmly believe that if we are able to identify problems before they mature, rather than simply react to things as they arise, then the Republican Party will be able to provide the thoughtful, practical, and fair solutions that are needed to address the problems of the day. I do not believe that the other side is capable of doing so in any unified, coherent fashion.

The question then becomes, where do we see problems on the horizon? What are the areas of social, economic, and political policy that we can identify today as needing reform before greater problems strike down the road. As I desire this topic to involve more free-flowing debate, I will only mention a couple of areas that I see as potential problem areas in our not-too-distant future.

First of all, I will point out that my analysis is focused on the State level, and therefore I will ignore some goals in areas that I would otherwise identify as national issues. The first of these state issues is education. While I support the improvements that were made under to our education system under Governor Allen, I am concerned that Virginia may now begin to fall behind the curve in the area of education reform. Virginia has always been a leader of reform in areas like criminal justice and welfare. However, many other states have taken the lead in reforming their education systems, leaving Virginia behind. While Virginia continues to have one of the most outstanding higher education systems in the nation, it is our elementary and secondary education that is ready for an overhaul. What I am talking about is school choice. We must bring competition and free-market principles to our education system in order to improve school performance and efficiency and provide parents with educational choices. Particularly in the poorest areas of the state, school choice will provide a wider range of opportunities to the very students who will benefit most from those opportunities. Denying quality education to any Virginia students in order to preserve a public monopoly on the provision of these services makes no sense and only limits our children'’s potential. It is past time to remedy that situation and unleash the creative potential of the next generation.

A second goal that I think we as a Party should address is environmental conservatism. I personally come from an agricultural tradition that values Virginia'’s natural resources not just because of their beauty, but also because my faith teaches me that they have been entrusted to our care. We are blessed to live in a beautiful Commonwealth with many natural splendors and bounty of open spaces. Unfortunately, many Virginians are too far divorced from a relationship with the land and waters of this State to be affected by their health. As a result, growth and development are beginning to threaten many of our natural, as well as historical, landmarks. I believe that there are many conservative solutions out there that can address the problems of pollution, sprawl and unplanned development, and inefficient use of lands. I believe that most Virginians do not favor high-cost, high-regulation, anti-technology solutions to environmental problems. I also believe that conservative principles can be applied to encourage people to take individual and community responsibility for their lands and resources so that government interference will be, in many cases, unnecessary. Unfortunately, we do not hear conservatives talk about these issues very much, which is why I fear that we will not be prepared to act before the problem gets out of hand.

The third goal that I will identify for our Party is the goal of fiscal discipline. I mean seriously folks, I'’m tired of beating around the Bush right here. It is simply re-gosh-darn-diculous for the Republican Party to be adopting this kind of tax-and-spend philosophy that we are seeing. Our State government'’s appetite for taxpayer dollars is simply astounding. The growth of our State budget has left inflation in the dust. Here we are two years after the largest tax increase in state history and some Republicans are right back onboard with another tax hike. What is going on here? It is frustrating as all get out to try and tell people I belong to a Party that believes expanding individual freedom and opportunity by letting taxpayers decide how to spend their money, when every time they turn around our GOP Legislature is reaching back in their pocket. I am really pleased to see the remarks of Speaker Howell this week and I hope that the House of Delegates has finally decided to draw a line in the sand on this thing. I'’m as frustrated about 2004 as anyone else, but we can'’t keep fighting that battle. I'’m not optimistic about how things are going to turn out this year, but we'’ve simply got to take on this issue as it stands and then we've got to come together and decide what our priorities are going to be. If we are not able to simply go in front of the people of Virginia and tell them exactly what we think a fiscally responsible budget should look like, then we're always going to find something more that we can spend money on. I am not sitting here saying "“Off with their heads!"” to any Republican who ever votes for a tax increase. What I am saying is that we'’ve got to be honest with the taxpayers of Virginia. Some folks just are not being honest, and that is a problem for our Party as a whole. We have allowed the Democrats in this State to adopt a theme of "“good government"” even though we know that all that means is taking more from the people and giving more to the bloated, inefficient bureaucracies. That doesn'’t fly with me and it shouldn'’t fly with a lot of other people either. The people of Virginia must live within their means, their government should have to do the same.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts, what about yours?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Who is Our Leader?

In order for any organization to be successful, particularly those of the political persuasion, they need good leadership. There is certainly no question of who is the leader of our National Party. With a Republican President in office it is clear who sets the Party agenda. While there may often be dissent, as there is over the present immigration issue, it is still the Chief Executive who has the highest platform from which to speak. Similarly, when we have a Republican Governor in office, it is generally understood that they set the agenda for the Republican Party statewide. Yet, when there is no Republican in the state’s top job, as is now the case, we must look elsewhere for leadership.

Before considering who might fit the bill as the “leader” of the Virginia Republican Party, we must first consider what we want from a leader. To be sure, it is not simply enough to be in a position of leadership, but rather it is what one does once in such a position that counts. For me, a party leader must have three things that set him or her apart from the dozens of other Republicans who merely aspire to lead.

First, a party leader must speak from a position of authority. Most times that authority is based upon electoral success. Sometimes, however, that authority can be gained through experience, fighting in the trenches and so forth, despite a lack of electoral success.

Second, a party leader must be trusted. A party leader is able to lead because they have gained the support of the grassroots members of the party and their fellow officeholders. One cannot simply step up, call oneself a leader and expect others to follow. A leader must have established a record of leadership over time at many levels, a consistency of purpose, a dedication to helping other members of the party and a devotion to integrity. These things instill confidence in others and ensure that others will not only believe what one says, but will also be willing to support you through actions.

Third, a party leader must have vision. It is not necessary for a leader to have all the answers to all of the problems that face our Commonwealth. However, a leader must have a clear idea of what the hope to accomplish and what direction the party should be moving. Too often those involved in politics begin to focus so much on the trees that they forget about the forest. An effective leader will tend to the trees, but will always have their mind on the forest.

To me these are the three things that spring to mind as to what makes an effective leader. Certainly there may be some overlap between these three areas of leadership. Likewise, there may be other qualities that I have failed to address that may be equally important. As always I leave things open for discussion.

Now I want to get specific about the state of our Republican Party as it stands today and examine who might fit these criteria we have laid out to help define our leadership. First, I will say that I have specifically excluded the criteria of popularity. Certainly a politician’s popularity in the party is important, but it is not always necessarily indicative of true leadership. It should be without question that the most popular Republican in the Commonwealth of Virginia is Senator George Allen. Yet, it should also be clear that Allen has no interest in being the presumptive leader of the Virginia GOP. This is not because Allen doesn’t care about us, but it is simply because his focus is on running for President and he hasn’t the time or ability to provide leadership to the State Party while simultaneously serving in the Senate and preparing a Presidential campaign. I certainly do not fault Allen for this choice, and I support him completely in his efforts. I simply mean to show that popularity is not a controlling factor in the leadership equation. There must also be a willingness to accept the role of Party leader.

If not in Senate, perhaps our leadership can be found in the House of Representatives. With 8 of 11 Congressmen hailing from the GOP, surely one of these national figures is qualified for the title of Party leader. The one that springs immediately to mind is Representative Tom Davis. His success in Northern Virginia, his support for Republican candidates, his unmatched fundraising prowess, and his high profile as a former NRCC Chair and now Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee make him an attractive leader in Northern Virginia. However, as a Congressman, Tom Davis’ focus is largely limited to his Congressional district and centered on National, more than State, issues. His leadership in NOVA is vital to our Party, but it has yet to translate to any sort of advantage in other parts of the state. A party leader must be a leader for the entire Commonwealth, a role that any Member of Congress would find difficult to fill.

Then what about our Republican leadership in the General Assembly? While some legislators are certainly more visible than others, drawing party leadership out of the General Assembly is a tall order. Senate Republicans can’t even agree with each other over the direction the Party should take in that body, much less provide leadership to the Party as a whole. Certainly, many conservative Republicans look to “new school” Senate Republicans like Sens. Cuccinelli and Obenshain as leaders, while some other Republicans still look to the “old school” Chichester-Stosch wing of the party for guidance. In any case, the dynamics of the Senate make that a very poor position from which to lead. The House of Delegates is moderately better and is certainly looking much improved this year from the 2004 tax debacle. Speaker Howell isn’t taking any guff from Governor “Tim Shady” Kaine and House Republicans seem to have circled the wagons this time around. That’s good news for those of us who care about true fiscal discipline, but it doesn’t help much in the leadership discussion. As much respect as I have for the ability of the Republican House of Delegates Leadership to herd all those cats, the size and function of the larger chamber of our legislature makes it a difficult place from which to lead the Party as a whole. The agenda setting function is available there, but being only one part of the legislative process makes the success of said agenda a risky proposition.

So, who has the platform to set the Party agenda outside of the legislative labyrinth and not have to worry about actually getting it passed? What about our RPV Chairman, Kate Obenshain Griffin? Certainly the Party Chairman has a platform from which to speak and has the support of the party faithful that elect them. These are both strong attributes for a party leader. However, there are also several drawbacks to the Party Chairman being the presumptive leader of a party. When was the last time a Party Chairman at the state or national level was considered the leader of that party? I would argue that this is likely the case only where Republican electoral success is very limited. It seems to me that the Party Chairman is in a party-building position, not necessarily a party-leading position. In some respects state parties are merely arms of the national party. In this role, our current Party chair has certainly done a fantastic job of raising the RPV profile and defending our national Party. On the other hand, the Party Chair is also very concerned with developing grassroots organization, raising money, training and recruiting volunteers, and like activities. These are the minutiae of Party activity that are essential to an effective Party organization, but leave little time for a leadership role of the type which we are discussing. As a result, I think it would be a great deal to ask of a Party Chairman, a voluntary position that takes on many responsibilities and even more criticism, to also be the Party’s Political Leader.

Where does that leave us? Well, there are two statewide Republican officeholders who have exhibited both the success and the service that we seek from our leaders. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell are quite possibly the best positioned Republicans in the state to take the open mantle of leadership and provide purpose and direction for our Party in the coming years. While it is still quite soon after the past election, I am convinced that Bob McDonnell has already begun to step into that role and provide leadership for the Republican Party of Virginia. This is not to say that Bolling could not do the same, but it is merely my personal observation from recent events that McDonnell seems to have wasted no time in attempting to fill the leadership gap. McDonnell has been aggressive in proposing a legislative agenda, he has already been at odds with the Democratic Governor, and the closeness of his election already has made him somewhat of a folk hero in Republican circles. Certainly both McDonnell and Bolling have distinguished legislative records upon which to stand, but McDonnell seems to have the edge currently in agenda setting and publicity generating. From what I have seen so far this year, it appears to be McDonnell who has risen, perhaps unexpectedly, to a position of Party leadership.

I admit that my approach to this question may be somewhat misguided. Perhaps we need many leaders, each with different roles, to form a successful Party. But I submit to you that, although many are certainly capable of leading, having one leader to whom regular Party members can look to as an example and count on for guidance makes the Party stronger. Strong, effective leadership encourages others to strive to that same level. It draws uncertain voters off the fence. It promotes Party unity and cooperation. It is also possible that our next Party leader may be someone whom I have not discussed. Ultimately, that is for all of us to decide together.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bolten

No "outside gray-beard" like so many nattering nabobs in the MSM have been calling for, today's shake-up in the President's most inner circle brings in a distinctly un-Washington character.

Thank you to Howling Latina, at the new Virginia Progressive group blog, for pointing out this now-ancient 2001 Business week article. While this "Mumbling Honky" definitely agrees it is worth noting that Mr. Bolten has been sighted "canoodling" with Ms. Derek, I think the ultimate value of this piece is that it gives us a chance to see what the convention wisdom on Bolten was, as opposed to what it has become in the hours since he was named COS. The whole article is worth many reads- but two things stand out to me:

1. The Charlie Norwood anecdote certainly doesn't bode well for the administration's interactions with Congress, but at least we can be sure that Bush didn't cave in to Rep. Tom Davis with this pick.
2." With many of his colleagues preoccupied by the war on terrorism, the secretive Bolten is more valuable than ever as he works to keep the rest of the Bush agenda moving. But he'd rather the outside world not know." When the President's approval ratings where they are, with a country that now apparently trusts Democrats on taxes more than Republicans, I hope that Bolten has developed some taste for engaging the public.

Honoring Harry Parrish

Delegate Harry Parrish (R-Manassas) has passed away today at the age of 84.

This graduate of Virginia Tech was a decorated pilot during World War II and a distinguished public servant for more than 50 years.

Others are certainly more qualified to speak about this man than I, but it is clear that now is a time for all Virginians to honor the service of this fine gentleman, pray for his family, and remember his wealth of contributions to our Commonwealth.

What's Wrong With NOVA?

Now before all you NOVA-ites get mad about the title of this post, let me be up front by saying that I have very little idea how to even begin addressing this issue. I lived in Alexandria for two years a while back, but I won't begin to pretend that I understand the ins and outs of NOVA. All I know is that the GOP has been performing pretty damn poorly in NOVA recently and I fail to believe that it is just because there aren’t enough Republicans there.

Clearly something must be done in Northern Virginia. Courtesy of the State Board of Elections here are the results of the ‘97, ‘01, and ‘05 Gubernatorial races in the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William.

1997- Fairfax: Gilmore (129,038) Beyer (114,697)
Loudoun: Gilmore (20,997) Beyer (13,697)
PWC: Gilmore (32,049) Beyer (18,110)

2001- Fairfax: Earley (120,799) Warner (146,537)
Loudoun: Earley (24,372) Warner (20,907)
PWC: Earley (30,543) Warner (27,297)

2005- Fairfax: Kilgore (103,287) Kaine (163,667)
Loudoun: Kilgore (27,539) Kaine (31,074)
PWC: Kilgore (32,178) Kaine (33,364)

Folks, this is a problem. Not only are Republican Gubernatorial candidates losing ground in NOVA, but we haven’t even begun to talk about the losses of folks like Mick Staton, Delegate Dick Black and Michael Golden, for seats in the General Assembly. So what is the issue here?

One argument is that each of these races simply comes down to the candidates and that each of the losing Republican candidates was weak in some respect. In some cases this may be true, but it certainly cannot explain our losses across the board. Some may argue that Mark Earley was at a disadvantage because Mark Warner was from NOVA, yet NOVA ties didn’t help Don Beyer, nor did the lack of them hurt Tim Kaine. At the more local level, Delegate Black certainly didn’t help himself with his sometimes outrageous comments and what was perceived by many to be nasty campaigning against his opponent. However, even taking that into consideration does not fully explain what looks like a vast erosion of support for Republican candidates throughout NOVA.

Alternatively, some have asserted that the problem is a massive influx of Democrats into these suburban counties. While we all know, and the voter numbers bear this out, that these counties are growing exponentially from year to year, I have trouble believing that the demographic shift leans as heavily Democratic as such a theory would suggest. Rather, I believe it is more likely that the majority of these new residents are part of the “swing voter” category that must be convinced which side to vote for from election to election.

If this is the case, then the question must be asked, “How do we convince these voters to vote for Republicans?” The answer is at once very obvious and also very complicated. The obvious answer is that we must talk to the voters in Northern Virginia about things they care about. We must recognize that suburban voters are concerned with kitchen table issues such as personal and financial security, education, and particularly in NOVA, transportation. This is not at all to say that we should not nominate social conservatives in NOVA, in fact, I hope that we would. However, it is to say that I believe that our local candidates in NOVA should also be individuals who can speak intelligently on issues that affect their potential constituents’ daily lives as well as on broader societal concerns.

At the statewide level, I believe that it is important for statewide candidates to make Northern Virginia feel accepted. It seems that statewide Republican candidates have been increasingly focused on running up big numbers downstate in hopes of offsetting Democratic gains in NOVA. I do not think that ignoring NOVA is a winning strategy. Our statewide candidates must be competitive in NOVA in order to win.

In terms of increasing Republican competitiveness in NOVA, I am encouraged that RPV has developed the Northern Virginia Strike Force to specifically target this area for development of Republican grassroots, leaders and candidates. What concerns me is the emphasis that some seem to put on RPV’s role in this area. Many Republicans seem quick to blame the State Party for failures in NOVA without first looking at their own local Republican committees. In order to be competitive in NOVA, the party must be built from the ground up. Local activists must become involved, reach out to their communities, recruit volunteers and candidates and keep tabs on new developments. The rapid growth of that region makes it vitally important to stay on top of voter identification and recruitment. RPV can help in many ways at the “macro” level of political organization, but the “micro” level work must be done by those on the ground in those communities.

Winning in NOVA may not always be easy for Republicans, but it is absolutely necessary and it is certainly possible. There may be many more things that we should consider as part of the equation for victory in this ever-growing region of the state. I hope that this will be only the beginning of that discussion and that Republicans across the State can work together to find the answers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What is a Republican?

Any discussion about the state and direction of our Party must start with this essential question. As I said yesterday, I do not claim to have the answer to this question. The point is that it must be asked and each of us who call ourselves Republicans must be the ones to answer it.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a Republican as someone who is a member of the Republican party. Though largely unhelpful for our purposes, it is also facially correct. Yet, how do we even define a member of the Republican Party? Is it someone who simply votes for Republican candidates? Is it someone who has officially joined the party at either the national, state, or local level? Is it anyone who calls themselves a Republican? As you can see, even at that broadest level of abstraction, it remains difficult to define a Republican.

Instead of becoming frustrated by this difficulty, let us instead set some parameters for the discussion. Of course, these are again my own suggestions and anyone is free to disagree with them.

First, we should know that the Republican party is a coalition of ideas. That means that there will never be a single set of ideas that is altogether sufficient for defining what a Republican is. In some ways, this is a cop-out, yet in other ways it is something that we must fundamentally accept if we are ever to succeed as a Party. Different groups of people join the Republican Party for different reasons. Sometimes the interests of these different groups will conflict, yet in most cases compromises are reached for the benefit of all factions. Compromise is necessary to a functioning Party.

Last week at NRO, Ramesh Ponurru commented on this very issue saying:
Social conservatives are always complaining that they're not in the driver's seat of the Republican party. So are economic conservatives. They're both right. Neither group alone is large enough to form an electoral majority, and thus have to participate in a coalition that gives them some of what they want but leaves them dissatisfied on other issues.
Remembering this is absolutely vital to having a successful Party. Each of us join the Party for different reasons, and not everyone cares about the same things as you do as strongly as you do. That doesn’t make them “bad Republicans.”

That said, however, it is part of the role of the Party to come to a consensus about what the guiding ideas of the Party should be. For example, it is safe to say that Republicans have a generally economic conservative philosophy that favors free markets, low taxes, and limited regulation. Certainly, not all Republicans believe in these ideas. However, those that don’t are probably members of the Party because they care more about some other part of the platform than those particular economic planks. As a result, it is up to each individual to decide which issues are most important to them and then decide whether the Republican Party is the appropriate forum for advancing those ideas.

That brings me to my second point, which is that we must recognize that participation in the Party is voluntary. No person is forced to participate in the Republican Party. Those who do participate are here because they want to advance ideas that matter to them and which they have determined are best advanced by this Party. This does not mean that they will necessarily get their way. In fact, there may be many Republicans who are frustrated that their concerns are not adequately represented. For example, if you are against gun control, you may sometimes be frustrated that the Party or a particular candidate is not taking as strong a stand on that issue as you would like. Your positive options are two-fold. One, is to attempt to persuade the party or the candidate to take a stronger stand. Two, is to go to the other Party if you believe that they will be more willing to accommodate your position.

Two other options are available, but both would likely have a negative effect on your ability to advance the ideas you hold dear. One would be to remove yourself from any involvement and support no Party or candidate. The other would be to attack the Party or the candidate of your identified Party. I do not see either approach as being helpful to the cause.

I encourage Republicans of all stripes to support individuals in Republican primaries whom they find themselves most in agreement with. Intra-party contests contribute greatly to Party strength by honing campaign skills, forcing candidates to make clear their positions, and exposing potential weaknesses. Once these contests are decided, however, we Republicans should remain united and remain active. Even if your candidate doesn’t win an intra-party contest, it is important to stay involved in the party process. In so doing, a mutual level of respect develops between candidate and constituent. Despite areas of disagreement, both individuals can see that the other is committed to the Party’s success and communication is made easier as a result. Name-calling, rumor-mongering, casting aspersions on fellow Republicans and similar activities do not foster a mutual level of respect. The result of these activities is that your efforts to advocate for issues you care about will likely be frustrated rather than given due consideration.

Let me be clear that I am not advocating being “wishy-washy” in your positions, but rather I am arguing that we Republicans must come to the table with two mutual understandings: first, that we all want to succeed, and second, that we will sometimes disagree about how to succeed or which ideas should succeed. Be firm in your principles, but also don’t be discouraged if your ideas are not at the forefront of every discussion.

Further, If you think I’m trying to say that anyone who calls themselves a Republican is a Republican, you’d be wrong. As I have said before, it does the Party no good to have members who refuse to recognize or participate in the activities of the Party that have been agreed upon. It does no good for a Party to accept as a member an individual who does not share the goals of electing Republican candidates. It does no good to have as members individuals whose primary interest is building the Party in their own image, not in fostering open debate and participation of the individuals who make up the Party. Any person is free to call themselves a Republican, but that doesn’t mean that the Party apparatus to which Party members have consented must recognize them as such.

Third, we must understand that the Republican party is a political entity. The GOP is not a religious organization, it is not an ideology-based group and it is not even necessarily a policy-making group. The role of the Republican Party is to elect Republicans. The role of the Party is also to bring together as large a coalition as is possible to ensure victory and effective governance. Too small of a coalition makes victory impossible, while too large makes governance impossible. As a political entity, the Republican party functions in a way that uses democratic (small “d”) and republican (small “r”) principles to guide Party activity.

These Party activities will often return results that will upset some party members. Sometimes, the Republican party will lose elections. It is important that each of us understands that the Party is made up of individuals and it is these individuals who make the Party what it is. It is also necessary for those individuals to understand that having an active, competitive Party necessitates some apparatus. RPV and State Central are not “The Man” trying to keep the rest of us down and squash out any voices of dissent. They are trying to bring together a workable coalition of ideas for the purpose of electing Republican candidates. These efforts might look different in different parts of the state, but the ultimate goals are the same.

So if we accept that the Republican Party is a coalition, that particpation is voluntary, and that it operates as a political entity, then where does that leave us? What is a Republican? Better yet, why are YOU a Republican?

The floor is open.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Republican Malaise

In the aftermath of last November’s disappointing Gubernatorial election, I have observed some things that I consider to be potentially dangerous to our Republican Party. Over the course of this next week, I’d like to raise some issues that I feel very strongly need to be addressed. Now, I certainly do not put myself out to be an expert on any of these issues, nor do I claim to have all the answers. Rather, I hope to generate some discussion and encourage others to continue thinking about the direction of our Party in the coming months and years.

The main problem I have seen since November is an attitude on the part of Republicans that Jerry Kilgore’s loss was some sort of fluke or accident. By focusing the bulk of the blame on the candidate and his campaign, Republicans are attempting to reassure themselves by claiming that Tim Kaine “got lucky.” This type of thinking is dangerous and will only lead to future defeat.

It is true that Virginia remains a plurality Republican state. In other words, there are more Republicans here in the Commonwealth than there are Democrats, but only slightly. There remains a sizeable swath of independent-minded voters who must be convinced to vote for one side or the other. By attributing Kaine’s victory to luck or an incompetent opposition, Republicans are guilty of glossing over the reasons why these “swing voters” chose the Democrat over the Republican in this election.

I am concerned that many Republicans have merely accepted this reasoning and are convinced that we’ll just "get ‘em next time." The short-term result of this thinking is a lost sense of urgency about campaigning for Republicans. The long-term result will be losing more elections. If we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. There were plenty of mistakes to go around this past year and I’m not convinced that we have yet learned from them.

As way of example, one mistake that I would point out would be our Party’s seeming failure to push security issues in last year’s election. By all accounts, security is the top issue among most Americans and is certainly of great concern to those in voter-rich areas like NoVA and Tidewater. Last year we had a candidate with a clear edge on those issues by virtue of his experience as Attorney General and Secretary of Public Safety. However, in my part of the state I heard very little talk about those issues. Further, the issue of security could have easily been used to translate to other areas such as transportation security and economic security. Instead, Tim Kaine was permitted to frame the debate as one about "good government" and Kilgore failed to respond by providing voters with ample reason to change the status quo.

Granted, this is all Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but these are the types of things that should be pointed out and discussed if we hope to win future elections. It is also true that State and national elections hinge on different issues, but it is clear that the approach attempted by Kilgore was unsuccessful, so why not at least talk about other possible approaches? I am certain that there are many of you out there who have other ideas that can be brought to bear and will ultimately help improve our Party. I encourage you to submit them.

Now, a word about this fall’s elections. It seems to me that the disappointment of last fall, combined with frustration over the fortunes of the national Republican Party have some GOP folks feeling a little down. Many of us conservatives are frustrated that a GOP President and Congress, not to mention General Assembly, have so departed from the tenets of fiscal discipline that we hold dear. Now that we’ve gotten what we want from President Bush in the way of Supreme Court Justices, it is becoming increasingly easy to find reasons to be annoyed at this Administration and feel less than enthusiastic about aiding the Republican cause.

I urge my fellow Republicans not to give in to this malaise. If anything, the present situation should encourage us to fight even harder for our cause. As the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger is saying, we should be on the offense in this election, particularly on the issue of the War in Iraq. Staying home this summer and fall and allowing the Democrats to take over Congress will do nothing to advance conservative Republican principles. We’ll talk more about what those principles entail tomorrow, but for now I want to urge you to get off the sidelines and get back into the game.

Democratic control of Congress would mean an immediate declaration of defeat in Iraq, two years of Impeachment actions against President Bush, repeal of the tax cuts that have allowed rapid economic expansion and growth in recent years, weakening of our national security infrastructure through the watering-down of the PATRIOT Act and related legislation, and much, much more.

Basically, Democratic control of Congress would be a nightmare. Despite the frustration with the current Republican Congress, it is MUCH easier for conservatives to affect change by working from the inside by getting behind the type of legislation currently being promoted by Senator Allen (line-item veto, balanced budget amendment, Congressional pay restrictions) than it would be to do so as the minority party.

There is going to be a lot at stake this November. Things can change at any moment and I for one would much rather have Republicans in charge to face the unexpected when it comes. Though I am not thrilled by everything our Party has done, I still believe that we are the only Party that is offering positive solutions to the everyday problems faced by Americans today. The Democrats are running on a platform of fear and anger. I do not believe that is a strategy that benefits this nation and I encourage all Republicans to get to work spreading that message to the electorate here in Virginia and throughout the country.

A Revolutionary Victory

The George Mason Patriots, the 11th seed in the Washington D.C bracket, have advanced to the NCAA Final Four by defeating the University of Connecticut 86-84 in Overtime. The win makes GMU the lowest seed to ever advance to the Final Four, matching the feat of the 11th seeded LSU Tigers back in 1986.

On their unpredictable road to Indianapolis, the Patriots have taken out 3 of the past 6 NCAA Champs (Michigan State, 2000; Connecticut, 2004; and North Carolina, 2005). George Mason is now the fourth team from the Commonwealth of Virginia to advance to a postseason tournament Final Four. The others are:

Virginia Wesleyan: Based in Norfolk, VA, the Marlins advanced to the DIII Final Four and defeated favored Illinois Wesleyan and then Wittenberg to win the Division III National Championship.

Virginia Union: Based in Richmond, VA, the Panthers advanced to the DII Final Four where they defeated Seattle Pacific before falling to Winona State (MN) in the championship game.

Old Dominion: Also based in Norfolk, VA, the Monarchs will play in the Final Four of the NIT this week. ODU will play against the Michigan Wolverines at 7:00 PM on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The winner of that game will face the winner of the other semifinal between Louisville and South Carolina.

Congratulations to all of these outstanding Virginia schools. You represent your Commonwealth well.

Allen's Juggling Act

The New York Times has a profile today of our ubiquitous Senator George Allen. The Times questions whether Allen will be able to balance the demands of a budding Presidential campaign while also focusing on what could be a challenging re-election bid.

The Times observes that "even as [Allen] laments his day job, he is dancing a delicate two-step, asking Virginians to return him to it." Yet it is doubtful that Allen's frustration with his role as a Senator would prove an impediment to his re-election. In fact, if the present attitude towards incumbents persists through election day, Allen's anti-establishment streak and reform-minded proposals may aid his cause. To be sure, anyone who knows Allen would likely have guessed that the formality and proceduralism of the Senate would chafe his cowboy style.

The Times article only focuses on the possible match-up with James Webb as being a possible problem for Allen, conveniently ignoring the Democratic primary that must take place before Allen knows who his opponent will be. I seriously doubt that Harris Miller is going to roll over and let Webb take the nomination without a fight. That contest could be pretty bruising considering Webb's Republican ties and Miller financial advantage.

Of course, the Times includes the obligatory comments about Allen's love of football and eagerly draws the comparisons between Allen and President Bush. Further, the article tries to sow seeds of doubt about Allen's positions, first bringing up questions about his commitment to conservative principles and then painting him as too conservative. And yes, no profile of Senator Allen would be complete without someone calling into question his intelligence.

Ultimately, I doubt very much that Allen's Presidential aspirations will have much effect on his Senate election. Senator Allen loves a fight, and regardless of whether his opponent is Webb or Miller, he'll be ready.