Wednesday, January 30, 2008

McCain is the Front-Runner. But is Huckabee the Kingmaker?

With his Florida win, I believe it’s fair to say John McCain has finally claimed the mantle of Republican front-runner. That being said, I don’t think we will see a complete McCain victory on Super Tuesday. There just isn’t enough time and there are two many states for any candidate to effectively compete in every one. McCain will win some, Romney will win some and Huckabee will win a handful, most likely southern States.

The great unknown is can McCain win in State primaries dominated by conservative Republicans. It can be argued that Republicans have not really given McCain his victories up to this point. Are Republicans ready to forgive his immigration policy or campaign finance reform? I think some are. But I am not sure enough of them are. Romney does seem to be gaining traction among the conservative base, especially here in Virginia.

So where does that leave Mike Huckabee? I think Huckabee is now the kingmaker, in one of two ways. Either McCain or Romney could cut a deal with Huckabee now, where he drops out of the race, they announce him as their VP and they start actively campaigning as a ticket. Unconventional, I know, but it just might work. And whoever cuts the deal secures Huck’s evangelical base of supporters. Which in a close race, may be enough to win.

The second scenario has McCain and Romney going all the way to the Convention with neither candidate at 50%. In this case, Huckabee would probably have enough Delegates to put one or the other over the top. And in doing so, secure his place on the ticket.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The State of the Union

After listening to the State of the Union last night, it’s no wonder to me Republicans are frustrated with our Party's leader. Sure, President Bush has done some things we can be proud of. The tax cuts come to mind--although wouldn’t it have been nice for him to have cut spending by the same amount. I know, I know, that’s crazy talk. The fact that we haven’t had a terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 is another achievement. But two things he spoke about last night really rubbed me the wrong way.

This whole idea of a “stimulus” package just runs me crazy. What sense does it make for the Federal Government to borrow $150 billion in order to give a few hundred bucks back to the citizens? Wasn’t this entire credit crisis created by folks who were irresponsible with debt in the first place? So to fix it, the Federal Government is going to continue the irresponsibility. If you really think that John Doe receiving $600 is going to make or break this economy, fine, but why don’t they cut $150 billion in spending and then refund the difference to the taxpayers? You and I both know they won’t do that because the Congress and our President have the best of both worlds. They can cut taxes and increase spending. That way everyone is happy. At least until the debt service becomes crippling.

All this stimulus talk is short sighted. What the President and Congress should be talking about is making the tax cuts permanent and reining in the deficit. Those are the two best things they can do right now to ensure solid footing for our economy in the years to come.

Bush also talked about No Child Left Behind. This is one program that needs to be left to die and never mentioned again. The Federal Government has no business running our education system. The States, with Virginia as a leader, were doing a fine job. Virginia had a great SOL system in place. No Child Left Behind has been a nightmare for the States and for the local schools. Many schools are now declining the federal money so they don’t have deal with the strings. They are finding that flexibility and freedom are worth more to them than the money.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

House Repeals Abuser Fees--Without Griffith’s Help

I am sure you’ve read that the House of Delegates voted to repeal the much hated abuser fees. No big surprise there. What was surprising was that my own Delegate, Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, was one of only two Delegates to oppose the repeal. That’s right, just two votes in favor of the fees! Even Dave Albo, who crafted the original legislation, voted for the repeal.

Too often, our elected officials continue to support bad legislation because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. I admitted my mistake on this issue last summer and called for a Special Session to fix the problem. I, like the vast majority of his constituents, are left scratching our heads and wondering why Griffith would vote in favor of the fees. I have found that most people are willing to forgive mistakes when you own up to them. However, constituents are probably not so forgiving of lawmakers who stubbornly cling to bad policy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Was 2007 Really All About Taxes?

This blog posting is prompted in part by my most recent dialogue with DJ McGuire over at the Right Wing Liberal. There is a lot of discussion about what wing of the Republican Party is the most “unsatisfied”. Or, what group of Republicans were the catalysts for the 2007 primary fights. As a side note, I suppose you could argue that nearly everyone in the Republican Party is at least partly unsatisfied, albeit for many different reasons.

The prevailing school of thought says that the 2007 primaries were about taxes, specifically the tax votes of 2004 and 2006. That was most definitely true in many of the primary challenges, and Emmett Hanger in particular. Many across the State assume that I was challenged and ultimately defeated because of my tax record. But that’s not really the case. Taxes came up in my primary fight—although my opponent fixated on the 2004 increase, which I opposed then and continued to oppose throughout my tenure, saying that I voted against it but I was secretly for it. Yes, that is as stupid as it sounds. He largely ignored the 2006 vote on transportation, which I did vote for. That may have been a wise decision as my internal polling of likely Republican primary voters suggested that taxes were not as much of a concern as illegal immigration and social issues.

My primary was ultimately about my social voting record. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I had a Family Foundation rating of over 90%. The Virginia Conservative Action PAC, who was actively involved in the campaigns against Senators Stosch and Hanger, had no involvement with my opponent. I supported the Marriage Amendment and internet filters at public libraries. I was endorsed by the Virginia Society for Human Life. Reaching another odd and factually inaccurate conclusion, my opponent said that I voted pro-life (which I have consistently done my entire career) but I was really pro-choice. I know, it’s strange logic. But as strange as it may sound, it worked and was one of the reasons I lost my seat.

I hesitated to write this post, as I don’t want you to think I am giving excuses (I have readily taken my share of the blame for my loss) or looking for sympathy. I just want to set the record straight about my primary and what the issues were. This leads me to my next post, which will look at the statewide Republican coalition. Are there really just two wings, fiscal and social, or is there a 3rd wing that many have forgotten about?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Case Against Governor Kaine’s Pre-K Program

It may be a new concept to most folks, but I’ve got a long history with the Pre-K program. While I was serving in the Senate during my first term in the early 90’s, I remember a bill coming through that proposed to “study” a Pre-K program for at risk 4 year olds. Oddly enough, the study was shot down by Democrats who felt the program would be too expensive.

I returned to the Senate in 2004 to find that not only had we studied the concept, but we had created the program and were spending millions of dollars to fund it. To make matters worse, the program was ultimately approved by a Republican Governor.

For the second year in a row, Governor Kaine is pushing to expand this program to include all 4 year olds, not just those at risk. The cost over the next two years is projected to be $56 million.

This was one of the key issues I addressed when I gave the Republican response to the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth last year. The same arguments I made against this program last year are still valid today.

The current Pre-K program is plagued with problems. According to the Roanoke Times, schools are having difficulty filling the spots currently available--up to 1/3 are unfilled. Many school districts can’t afford to pay the local match required by the State. Others don’t have enough space for the kids.

Why on earth do we need to expand a program that is clearly not working very well as it is? Why do wealthy parents need a government subsidy to send their kids to pre-school? I can see it now--BMW’s lined up to drop 4 year olds off at a public school--give me a break.

The push to expand this program highlights the single biggest problem with government: once you create a program, it’s almost impossible to get rid of it. Back in the 90’s someone had an idea that at risk 4 year olds needed subsidized pre-school. So we eventually decided to study it. I am sure legislators were told how small this program would be and how it would cost very little to implement. And then we created the program and a new bureaucracy. Now that little idea that we studied 15 years ago is on the verge of becoming a program that will cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars.

Not only is it extremely difficult to get rid of programs like this once you create them, but they get more and more expensive over time. They eventually become a “vital” government service. The key is not letting these programs get started in the first place. The evil here is not all government services, but expanding government where it’s not needed.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Democrats “Stack” Senate Ed and Health Committee

I have said before that one of the most dramatic consequences of the new Democrat Senate majority would be its impact on the Conservative social agenda in the Education and Health Committee. Well, Committee assignments have been announced and not only are the Dems in control of this Committee, they now have a “super majority”. That’s 10 Democrats and only 5 Republicans. There used to be 8 Republicans, including myself, and 7 Democrats.

Some may not realize that there is a long tradition in the Virginia Senate of keeping members on their Committees. In other words, Senate members are never removed from their assigned Committees—even when the balance of power shifts. This is a tradition respected by both parties. Should this tradition live on, and I suspect it will, Democrats could hold a majority on Education and Health for years if not decades to come.

2007 was clearly the high point for the Conservative social agenda in the Virginia Senate. It may not have been high enough for some, but things are going to get remarkably worse. I am again reminded of those in our party that defiantly boasted that a Democrat Senate would be no different than the Republican majority of recent years, and was thus insignificant to our Republican party. I believe that assessment was flat wrong and the new make up of the Education and Health Committee proves it.

Check out the new Committee makeup:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

And Then There Were Two

Ending months (or in some cases over a year) of speculation, George Allen yesterday announced that he will not seek the Governor’s office in 2009. I can’t say that I am surprised. I reported on Roanoke Red Zone last month that George did not have the presence at the Republican Advance of someone running for Statewide office. Knowing where George stands is a good thing for a our party and opens the field for other would be candidates.

It’s no secret that Bob McDonnell is running for Governor, no matter who else is running. Bill Bolling seemed disinclined to run against his political mentor. With Allen out, I would assume Bolling is in. But don’t expect any announcements from the Lt Governor. He’s made it clear that 2008 is about 2008 elections. Not those in 2009.

With Bolling now likely to run for Governor, the field opens up for down ticket races. Up to this point, surprisingly few have expressed interest. Delegate Chris Saxman and former Senator Jay O’Brien are both testing bids for Lt Governor. Senators Mark Obenshain and Ken Cuccinelli, along with Delegate Rob Bell are rumored to be interested in Attorney General.

But just wait--there will soon be “news” everyday of the next person showing interest in running. I expect nearly every Republican member of the House of Delegates will flirt with the idea.

One action by the State Central Committee could be a splash of cold water on the entire process. The Committee could adopt a rule that would allow a losing candidate for Governor to “drop back” and seek the nomination of the office they currently held. I would call on the State Central Committee to immediately state that they will not adopt such a rule. Having this option will only decrease the number and quality of those candidates seeking down ticket offices. Think about it. Why would you seriously consider a run for Attorney General if you knew there was an even chance that the sitting AG would lose his bid for Governor, declare his candidacy for another term as Attorney General at the Convention and win handedly?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out!

Today is my last day as a member of the Virginia Senate. I am not as disappointed as I thought I would be. I know it sounds cliché, but I am starting a new chapter in my life. And that has worked out well in the past. As most of you know, I’ve lost political office before and was better off for it. New opportunities to serve will present themselves and I am ready for the challenges ahead.

I’ve always said that I have learned more from my failures than my successes. This loss is no different. Someone said that never failing means you’re not taking enough risks to succeed and create positive change.

It’s probably unprecedented for an outgoing legislator to examine the details of his loss in such a public forum. But I am going to give it a shot—I kind of like being unconventional.

This assessment of my primary is based solely on numbers. It is not in anyway based on issues. I’ll keep those assessments to myself for now. For those that don’t know, 7,215 votes were cast in my June 2007 primary. I received 3,570 votes--76 votes short of winning. After receiving an updated voter file, we have compared the election data with our internal targets and identified supporters.

Here is a regional vote breakdown and turnout percentage.

Radford City: Bell - 134, Smith - 43, Turnout - 2.5%

Montgomery County: Bell - 350, Smith - 178, Turnout - 2.3%

Salem City: Bell - 570, Smith - 463, Turnout - 6.7%

Roanoke County: Bell - 1825, Smith - 1916, Turnout - 6.9%

Botetourt County: Bell - 691, Smith - 1045, Turnout - 8%

Total: Bell - 3570, Smith - 3645, Turnout - 5.9%

Our campaign identified voters by targeting past Republican primary voters and consistent general election voters with mail, phones and door-to-door canvassing. Our target universe was 30,367 voters. That’s roughly 1 in 4 voters in the entire Senate District. We excluded Democrat primary voters.

The total number of identified supporters that did not vote was 2,379. They were complacent for two reasons. The first is that many of my supporters did not take this race seriously and simply didn’t consider voting a high priority. Yes, they supported me, but they didn’t bother to vote. It was our fault for not instilling a greater sense of urgency in them.

Looking regionally, 1 in 2 of our identified supporters in Botetourt County voted. In Montgomery and Radford, it was 1 in 3. My opponent was from Botetourt and we both waged a “visible” campaign there. In contrast, my opponent hardly stepped foot in Radford or Montgomery and had no real campaign effort there. My supporters in Botetourt saw first hand the sense of urgency. Those in the lower part of the district did not, and turnout suffered as a result.

Of the 7,215 voters, we have estimated that 487 were core Democrats (outside of our Republican target and consistent voters). I would argue that my opponent and I split this vote. I heard from some Democrats who liked me personally and voted for me in the primary. I also heard about Democrats who voted for my opponent because of their desire to create an open seat and the opportunity for a pick up.

1,921 primary voters were outside of our target. Of those, 1,056 had only voted in the 2004 Presidential election (when considering the 2003, 2004 and 2005 election cycles) and had never voted in a Republican primary. We would never have targeted these voters in the primary and probably would not have even done so in the general. They had no pattern of voting in state or off year elections. In order to reach these voters, you would have to target every voter in the district--a task that would be immensely expensive. I don’t know any campaign that would have done so. And yet, this group made up nearly 15% of all the voters in the primary.

These voters received absolutely no contact from our campaign. Not one piece of mail. No phone calls. And no door-to-door contact. My opponent was able to tap into this pool of voters that we were not communicating with. It’s interesting to note that this number is greater than Smith’s general election victory margin and probably made the difference then as well.

I have drawn my own conclusions as to who these folks were. You are free to do the same.
Well, it’s time to get back to more important things like hearing my 2.5 year old daughter count to nurteen. If you don’t know, it comes right after twelve!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Yes Virginia, Deals Are Made in the General Assembly

Two posts have sprung up on Right Wing Liberal and Spank That Donkey over some comments I made on RWL regarding the 2007 transportation package (HB 3202).

It’s true that deals were cut between House and Senate members in order to get HB 3202 passed. The House leadership promised blanket endorsements of incumbent Senators in exchange for their vote in favor of HB 3202. This should come as no surprise. Deals are as much a part of politics as campaigning. It’s how things are done. Can deal making be abused? Absolutely! It’s up to the voters to decide if what’s accomplished is either good or bad.

In the General Assembly, many deals are based on region. I might vote for (or against) something that affects residents in Northern Virginia, and is of little personal interest to me or my constituents. In exchange, my counterparts in Northern Virginia would support a future effort of mine to benefit Western Virginia.

Some may find this practice troublesome. But they shouldn’t. Think about it. The Senate has 40 members. If those 40 Senators only cast votes to benefit their districts or themselves, the legislative body would never accomplish anything.

Many have asked why I supported HB 3202. I’d be lying if I said the endorsement wasn’t appealing at the time. Of course in hindsight, that agreement was worthless. But the faux endorsement was not the only or even the most important reason for my vote. I believed that having a Republican crafted transportation package was absolutely essential to proving Republicans could lead on this important issue. It was also vital to the re-election of vulnerable Republican Senators including Cuccinelli, Devolites-Davis, O’Brien and Rerras.

Senate members from Northern Virginia and Tidewater were very much in favor of this bill and desperately wanted it to pass. I held my nose and voted for the bill because it was supported by the regional delegations and I thought maybe it was the beginning of our fractured caucus working together.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Congrats Huck!

Congratulations to Mike Huckabee on his Iowa Caucus win! It is amazing to me that a guy with little money and “no chance to win”, as many of the pundits said, could pull an upset like this. I know this is a great moment for the candidate and his family, as well as his staff, including our friends from Virginia—I know you are having a blast Vincent! Congrats!

The airwaves are full of political analysts spouting off the reasons for the Huckabee and Obama wins. I think it’s simple. They both successfully tapped into a deep desire for change within their respective parties, and I think within our entire country. This desire for change is incredibly powerful. Think about it. If one year ago, someone had told you (or me for that matter) that Clinton and to a lesser degree Romney would lose the Iowa causes, you would have thought they were nuts. Clinton has been presumptive nominee since Kerry’s loss in 2004. She may still win the nomination but this certainly shakes things up a bit.

Where does this leave the various candidates? I believe the Clinton machine is powerful enough to overcome these early losses. She’s just going to have to work a whole lot harder to win than anyone ever thought. Obama now has to capitalize on the Iowa momentum, something I am not sure he can do.

On the Republican side, Romney is definitely the big loser. If these two candidates had been equal in money and organization and the results had been tighter, it might not be so damaging. But Romney had a lot more money and an established organization and he still had his hat handed to him. A Huckabee or McCain win in New Hampshire will deliver another blow to Romney. Most candidates would probably drop out after those two losses. Romney may have the money to stick around for a while.

Speaking of dropping out, I think Thompson will be the first top tier candidate to throw in the towel. He will have zero momentum coming out of Iowa or New Hampshire and a South Carolina loss takes him out of the race. Ron Paul on the other hand is here to stay. My guess is he goes to the September Convention having not conceded anything. Should no candidate reach the magic number of Delegates before the Convention, Ron Paul, and his dedicated 10%, will be a major player at the Convention.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The New Democratic Senate Majority

There is a lot of talk, amongst politicos and on the blogosphere, about what the new Democrat controlled Senate will be like. I doubt it will be as radically liberal as many suspect. Now don’t get me wrong. Will it be different than the Republican controlled Senate? Absolutely. I chuckle when I hear some in the Republican party dismiss the Senate loss, saying “it won’t be any different”. But the Democrats have a lot to lose--and gain--and I don’t think they are dumb enough to blow it. At least not yet.

The liberal wing of the Democratic party will certainly want to pull the Senate to the left. And in some areas, they may be successful. But today’s Virginia Democratic party is largely ruled from the center and those in power have their sights set on both the House of Delegates and the Governor’s mansion in 2009. A liberal agenda will give Republicans ammunition to use against them next year and could potentially cost the Democrats what could be complete control of Virginia’s political houses. Should they successfully take the House in 2009, then yes, I think the General Assembly would lurch to the left. But for the next two years, the Democrat Senate will tread lightly.

There will be efforts to role back parental notification and weaken our 2nd Amendment protections. I’d be surprised if they make it to the Senate floor. Legislation dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation in State government probably will make it out. I was the deciding vote in 2007 to keep this type of bill in committee.

But the Democrat leadership will allow a few key issues to slip through. I predict there will be a major effort to bring back parole, but in a new form. They won’t use the old argument of appealing for leniency. The Democrats will pit the social and fiscal wings of the Republican party against one another.

Because of the abolition of parole, Virginia’s inmate population is growing. So much so that we will have to build one prison a year to keep up with the demand for beds. These prisons carry a price tag of $100 million each. With slowing revenue growth, it will be increasingly difficult for the lawmakers to find this kind of money. And there you have it. The Democrats will say it’s fiscally responsible (conservative) to bring back a form of parole and save taxpayer money by not continuing the prison building boom. If they can successfully divide the GOP on this issue, Democrats will undue one of our party’s most proud accomplishments.