Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Deeds' "Obama" problem

The Virginian Pilot today reports that President Barack Obama will begin to campaign in Virginia for the Democratic candidate for governor, Creigh Deeds. On August 6, in McLean, the president and Deeds will headline a public rally at the Hilton, and then a private fundraiser that evening for the candidate.

To many, this is a no-brainer. President Obama is very popular in the commonwealth, even in light of recent setbacks for his agenda and the occassional misstep on air. Campaigning here in a traditionally conservative though increasingly moderate state both gives Deeds a chance to rally the sometimes dormant left-leaning voters and gives the president the opportunity to garner support for his own initiatives. There doesn't seem to be a downside, either, since we currently are represented by two Democrats in the U.S. Senate and the Chairman of the DNC is our current governor. (You can expect all three to campaign for Deeds, as well.) As strong as the Democratic party is in Virginia, and as "damaged" as the Republican brand has become, it would seem like a walk-on election, as it was last fall.

However, we are still a center-right state, in a center-right country. As the article points out, Deeds still trails his GOP opponent, Bob McDonnell, in the race, though not by much at this point. The first gubernatorial debate was held last Saturday between Deeds and McDonnell, and many news outlets agree that McDonnell did a better job.

The Pilot gives a brief rundown of the debate format, then gets into one of the key issues discussed: Virginia's roads problem. McDonnell outlined both his plan and how to pay for it, while Deeds relied mainly on criticism of McDonnell's plan and a pledge to discuss the issue of how to pay for transportation overhaul and reform with the General Assembly once he had been sworn into office.

The Washington Post notes that McDonnell was "on the offensive" for much of the debate, which is a good way to be in an election. While both candidates were able to pin their opponent to some of their party's less attractive moments (and members), they mainly stuck to the issues; and it was on the issues that McDonnell held the advantage.

VirginiaTalks.com sponsored the debate, and they'll soon have the full debate available on their website.

The president ran on a message of hope and change last year, which, while inspiring, was also light on details and relied on the public's mistrust of Republicans. The country was weary, and more than a little angry, and we just wanted things to change. In my view, though, that anger was caused less by Republicans than it was by politicians who just generally didn't know what they were doing; Republicans simply made a good target. Remember, the country is still composed of forty percent conservatives, forty percent moderates, and twenty percent liberal. Obama didn't win the election by pandering to the left; he won by convincing the center that he would do the better job.

That's what Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell are trying to do; except right now, McDonnell is succeeding. It's not that Deeds doesn't have any ideas, or that his ideas are bad; I actually like some of his ideas. But McDonnell has been taking his ideas to the voters, presenting them to the people who will decide the election. Deeds hasn't done as good a job of that. People still have questions about Deeds' positions on issues, like tax increases and some of his party's signature issues. Even the Washington Post pointed out that McDonnell had to force Deeds to "take positions" on recent federal legislation that could be harmful to Virginia.

Deeds' problem is, we're finally starting to direct our anger. We no longer want a politician who tells us that he'll fix our problems; we want one who will tell us how he'll do it. Deeds can't win Virginia if he acts like Obama. Obama's already done that; and Virginians won't elect another politician who makes vague promises. We want straight answers and clear solutions, and we are going to elect a governor who provides them.

He doesn't need to stop campaigning with the president; but it would help if he stopped campaigning like the president.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Virginia is for start-ups | Articles/Archives | Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal

Virginia is for start-ups Articles/Archives Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal

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It's always heartening to see Virginia receive positive national press, but especially for U.S. News & World Report to write up our little commonwealth as one of the best places for small businesses and start-ups in the middle of a recession. Some of the reasons stated for this include our "highly educated workforce ... technological sophistication [and] low taxes."

We are less than a hundred days from electing a new governor. I hope that everyone who goes to the polls will keep in mind that these and other factors have made Virginia a great place to live, grow, raise families, and especially work. And I hope they will vote for the candidate they feel will do his best to keep it that way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A key endorsement, for several reasons

I've been spending less time with my blog lately, focusing on some other projects I have; but when I heard about this endorsement, I decided to swing back to the blogosphere for a bit.

For those who don't know, Sheila Crump Johnson, a resident of Middleburg, is a founding member of Black Entertainment Television. She is a small business owner, a noted philanthropist, and a self-described "lifelong Democrat". And she has just endorsed Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia.

In her own words, she has been doing her homework since early in the primaries, and her priority was on finding a "jobs" candidate. The fact that she didn't endorse any of the Democrats, even after Creigh Deeds won the nomination, says enough about her faith in the Democrats' abilities to create jobs. She did more than keep her peace, though. In her endorsement, she states the need for an "educated workforce ... environments where small businesses can thrive ... [and] a governor who's not afraid to take an entrenched interest to make change happen." Whether or not she feels that Senator Deeds would be such a governor or create jobs, she clearly feels that Bob McDonnell would be better at it.

People who have read my earlier posts know that I don't think much of endorsements in general; but not only is Ms. Johnson a visionary businesswoman and a clear non-partisan, but she is also an important part of the Virginia community. Her opinion carries a certain amount of weight with it, and I would like to think that I would pay attention to it no matter who I personally supported. Please take the time to view her full statement here:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Interviews: Partygoers Speak

Why are you here?

The answer may seem obvious: to protest. But protest what? After all, a lot of people in the country just don't seem to "get" the Tea Parties. Well, the Partygoers are more than happy to enlighten the country.

The Hampton Roads Patriots, who I mentioned in the last post, were there to protest excessive government taxes and spending, under both administrations. They protest the government's tendency to ignore the will of the people, and its sometimes-tyrannical tactics in pushing agendas. We all know that politicians are looking out for themselves and will do what they feel they must to keep getting elected; but who says we have to put up with that? The HRP wants Washington to pay more attention to the people than they do to their own "interests".

WeAreChangeVirginia.org, who helped organize the event, believes that Tea Parties bring together freedom-oriented people, whatever party or organization they belong to. It's a chance for us to see that we all really want the same things: freedom, responsibility, and a government that works for the people. The things that unite us are, after all, greater than the things that divide us.

A few others were there to send a message to D.C. Some want to show Washington that they're not happy with how things are going there. They want more voices out there working for our good and our liberty. They were at the Tea Party to uphold and support the principles of our Founding Fathers, the principles that make our country great: small government, a free market system, and an emphasis on individual freedom over governmental interference.

What troubles you most about the government and America today?

People at the event were definitely troubled by the government; and by the sound of things, these troubled feelings had been growing for a lot longer than eight years. There were those who felt the Constitution had been violated by interference in States' rights, intrusions on people's privacies, and a creeping socialism agenda. Specifically, people are troubled by the government's recent actions concerning Bank of America, General Motors, and other handlings of the economic crisis. One Partygoer went so far as to say that civil liberties were being trounced, instances of which have been taking place for decades without ever being properly addressed by either major party.

What troubles them about America is that we all seem to be letting it happen. The government is only supposed to operate with the consent of the governed. If this is true, then why are we letting it happen? And if it isn't true, then what's standing in the way of our changing it? Apathy, was one Partygoer's response. People need to "do their own research, and be proactive" he said. One woman was troubled by the lack of knowledge and understanding among the youth and young adults in America. Personally, I feel they're both right.

One message.

I asked Partygoers what they would say if they had one message for the country, one for the president, one for Congress, and one message for Virginia.

For the country, the message was pretty clear: "Stand up for yourselves." As one person reminded me, any group is only as free as the people in that group. Some feel that we need to return to God, others to our Founding Fathers. We all need to wake up and pay attention to what's happening. This country was founded on certain principles, and we need to reeducate ourselves as to what those principles are and just how far we've removed ourselves from them.

People had plenty of messages for President Obama and Congress. They want a limited government, a renewed commitment to uphold the Constitution, and the needs of the people to be placed above all else. One woman wants the president to remember that the United States is the best country, not one of the best. A particularly insightful young man wants the president to know that he can't expect to fix the economy by loading it with even more debt, no matter how grand or "important" his initiatives are. Another Partygoer simply wants the president and Congress to step aside and let Ron Paul run everything. For everyone in attendance, it was obvious that the two-party system hasn't been working too well for us recently, and they want everyone to abandon the old "party lines" and work together.

As for Virginia itself, which will hold statewide elections this fall including for the governorship, the Partygoers do not want us to be fooled by campaign promises. We were one of the original colonies, and have always had a place at the head of the table. We want to stay that way, too. The Partygoers want Virginians to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, including California. We need to elect leaders who will lead us to prosperity and strength, whose ideas are based on what will help the commonwealth. We need to preserve Virginia, not only as a national leader, but also as a sovereign state. Several Partygoers spoke in favor of a 10th Amendment bill in Virginia's General Assembly to remind the federal government just who has the power to do what.

My turn.

I went to the Tea Party because I wanted to hear what people had to say about the direction the country is taking, and to let other people know why these protests are held. No one can deny that the country faces great challenges right now, as it always has, and everyone needs to be aware of them and involved. What troubles me most about the government is the steps it has taken to face these challenges. Whether those in power have good motives or bad ones, I believe their actions will make things worse. What troubles me about America is that we are letting them do it.

My message for the country is to remember our responsibilities. A scene in a movie, The American President, opened my eyes to this particular issue. One of the president's advisors questions the president's actions in the middle of the Oval Office. The Chief of Staff angrily declares that the president doesn't answer to him, to which the advisor replies, "Oh, yes he does ... I'm a citizen; this is my president. And in this country, it is not only permissible to question our leaders; it's our responsibility." The second half of that statement was what affected me. To have permission to question our leaders is one thing, but to be responsible for doing so is quite another. If we don't question our leaders, then we're just as responsible for their actions as they are.

As I've said many times before, when you forget about your country, your country forgets about you. The answer is to start caring what's happening, and educating yourself on what you can do to make a difference. My message for Congress and the president is the same message that I would have every American send: that we are still in charge. Of course, that message has very little meaning if we won't do what's necessary to remain in charge.

My message to Virginians is to remember the elections this fall. Forget about the rest of the country and its problems (for now). We have a great commonwealth right here that deserves our attention first. Saying that the elections are too far away to worry about now, that your vote won't matter, or that you just can't afford to get involved is exactly how the United States got into such a terrible mess in the first place. It starts with the voters, the everyday people who actually decide the elections. Get involved early; get involved now; and just maybe, by the time you get to use your vote, it will actually matter what you do. We have a chance to lead; a chance to make a difference; and a chance to fix this country. It starts right here and now with you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Tea Party, Part II

The Tea Party last Saturday only lasted two hours, but you can certainly say a lot in that amount of time.

It was a lively crowd, too; folks wearing colonial costumes, tea bags hanging from hats and glasses, and even a fellow with a Guy Fawkes mask. There were plenty of Republicans, as you might imagine, with shirts and stickers for GOP candidates. But the image most prominently displayed, both on clothing and held in people's hands, was the American flag. These people, you see, were not just Republicans, and their protests were not just against Democrats. They were Americans, and they were there to protest against anyone and anything that they felt was harmful to America.

The event was organized by PeninsulaTeaParty.org. A few other organizations in attendance included WeAreChangeVirginia.org, a group dedicated to citizen journalism that advocates, among other things, smaller government and citizen activism; Hampton Roads Patriots, a group that protests excessive taxes and spending, expansion of government powers, and a deviation from the founding principles of the United States; advocates of various candidacies, including Chuck Smith for Congress, McDonnell for Governor, Bolling for Lieutenant Governor, and Cuccinelli for Attorney General; and a small host of others.

Most of the event was open microphone, giving the attendees the opportunity to state some of their own specific grievances against the government, under both the current and past administrations. The event began with a reading of the Declaration of Independence. What some more cynically minded people might consider a cheap stunt, others will recognize as one of the more appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. After all, there is not a principle or provision contained in the Declaration that does not still hold meaning for us today. I'd challenge anyone to reread the Declaration and see if they can find no statement that applies to our country's current state.

There was a wide range of issues raised there. People spoke in favor of the Fair Tax, offshore drilling, and even term limits for Congress. They spoke against government-run health care, and Cap and Trade legislation. A sign carried by one of the protesters said No More Taxation With Uninformed Representation, a reference to the recent House vote on climate change legislation before the House had time to even read through the entire bill. There was plenty of support for various pieces of legislation, such as H.R. 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act. Chuck Smith, candidate for Congress in Virginia's Second District, showed up as well. He spoke of the need to grow the economy, and not the government. "We've stood up before," he said, "and we will continue to stand up."

One story told by a speaker, though, touched me as it has every time I've heard it. A man is walking along a beach and sees that countless starfish have been stranded on the sand, washed ashore and unable to reach the ocean again. The man sees another man picking up handfuls of starfish at a time and tossing them back into the water. The first man says, "Why bother? You'll never be able to save all these starfish. What difference does it make?" The second man says, "It makes a difference to the ones I toss back." You see, many people wonder just how much of an impact their actions will have on Washington, and on the future. "What's one vote", they'll ask, or "what kind of a difference can I make". In a country with over 260 million people, it's easy to feel like there's not much that we can do. But the old adage holds true: every little bit helps.

At the close of the Tea Party, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang God Bless America. It felt good reaffirm our purpose in gathering there: to show that our loyalty is to the country, and not to any one party.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The right way to celebrate independence: in protest

There was a fair-sized crowd at the 4th of July Tea Party event I attended this morning. For those who don't know, Tea Parties are peaceful political protests in the mold of the original Boston Tea Party. Folks from all over the United States gather to share their dissatisfaction and at times their anger at the actions of both major political parties. They have much to be angry about. Hardly anything has gone right over the last eight years, with the exception of the fact that we haven't been attacked on American soil once since 9/11. The size of government has increased, the national debt has gone up, we're still fighting in the Middle East, and rogue nations have only grown bolder. Americans certainly have much to protest.

In fact, many would say, and have said, that today we have more reason to protest than ever, despite all the "hope and change" we've been promised. Some of those "many" gathered today for another round of Tea Parties in over a thousand cities and towns across the country. Yours truly attended his first today, and this series of blogs is dedicated to the people who stood together today to tell our leaders "you still work for us". The next couple of blogs will address what some of the speakers at the event had to say, as well as including a few interviews with attendees. This first blog is about a few of the signs that I read while at the Tea Party and what they mean to me.

The only stimulus I need is liberty.

That was the first sign I read after I arrived. It had several meanings, I felt, and so much significance to it. On the surface, it would seem to just be a protest against the stimulus bill that Congress passed (and the one that some in Washington are talking about passing). It would also seem to be a slap against those who would try to remove, reduce, or replace our liberties. After all, every time a new law is passed, it places a new limit on the people. (Let's all hope our lawmakers keep that firmly in mind.)

But let's look deeper into that statement. Not only has the promise of liberty driven suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and the Revolutionary War itself, but actual liberty has given us a country where business may grow without the interference of the government. While at the Tea Party, I saw several signs against socialism, but even more against taxes. In the stimulus bill that was passed last spring, a majority of Americans were given a tax cut, but only a temporary one. Now politicians are talking about raising taxes on just about everything that Americans use, from gasoline and electricity to soda pop. Will this pay for the massive new programs the government is proposing? Maybe, maybe not; but it certainly won't stimulate the economy.

To do that, we need less government involvement, not more. We need the government to stop taking over American companies. We need the government to stop dictating how those businesses can and cannot be run. We need to pay attention to states like Texas, who have seen businesses thrive in an income tax-free environment; also to states like California, where the cost of doing business is so high that the whole state is on the verge of total economic collapse. There's definitely a lesson to be learned in the contrast.

I'm in debt and I'm still in middle school.

I saw a small group of teenagers holding this sign early in the protest. It gave me hope that they were already taking an interest, not only in government, but in their futures as well. It also brought to mind the fact that this country is already bankrupt, and it still can't stop spending money by the billions. A few months ago, the president presented a budget proposal to Congress. Independent analysts confirmed that, under the president's plan, the deficit would at the very least double from what it is now. All the debt that we had at the end of President Bush's term, all the leftover debt that we hadn't paid from President Clinton's days, it would all double under President Obama's plan. Since presenting it, of course, there have been some modifications to the plan; and of course, we haven't even addressed the cost of his health care initiatives. What are those costs, you ask, and how has his proposal been modified? I'm not going to tell you. It's time for you to find out on your own.

Which brings me to the next protest sign:

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

What is the government doing right now? Do you know? When do you first hear about the laws that Congress passes? While they're still being debated in the chambers; when the votes are taken and the president signs them into law; or do you wait until it directly affects you, which every law eventually does? Of course, at that point, it's far too late. All you can do then is start working to change the law. Trust me, it's far easier to work to stop a law than it is to change it once it's been passed.

There is plenty in Washington to be outraged about. When a president says he doesn't want to take over a company, but does anyway, that's a cause for outrage. When Congress says it wants everyone to have health care, but they'll fine any and everyone who chooses not to have it, that's a cause for outrage. When one person's tax dollars go to pay other people's mortgages, government reports are suppressed because they could damage an agenda, laws are written that would dramatically increase the tax burden on Americans and American business without even being read by those voting on them, or politicians use knowledge of the laws they are about to write in order to make obscene profits, the people have cause to be furious with the government.

What do you know about what's happening in Washington? When was the last time you read a bill that was under consideration? When was the last time you asked and got an answer about what those proposed laws would mean to you and your children? How much money is Congress spending? How much money will it bring in, and how will it do that?

People look to the government for solutions; but how many solutions do you really want it to provide? As a missionary for my church, when I was asked why God allows suffering, I would respond: "When you're learning how to walk, you fall a lot. You may even get hurt and cry. But if you never fall, then how will you learn to get back up afterwards?" We cannot let the government solve our problems. As Thomas Jefferson warned us, his words repeated on yet another protester's sign, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have." Strong words; and he would know.

I'm grateful to live in a country where speech is free, so I can stand up and say what troubles me about the government. I'm grateful to have a system in place that provides options for opposing that government without having to start a war. We've already had one war for independence in America, a war that called for countless sacrifices. I feel that we best show our gratitude for those sacrifices by exercising those freedoms so dearly priced and purchased. I exercised mine today.

How will you exercise yours?

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Dodd-Kennedy Health Care Plan

Dear Senator,

I've read about your colleagues' new health care proposal, and once again, I have to voice my strong opposition to their plan.

First and foremost, the fine requiring people to buy health coverage is unconscionable. How can the government force anyone to buy anything? It has been compared to fines on uninsured motorists, but frankly the analogy doesn't hold true. Motorists place other people's property and lives in danger when they get behind the wheel, so forced insurance is a reasonable measure. But just as we don't issue licenses to live, we cannot fine people for their lifestyles. This is not a fine; it is a tax on the uninsured disguised as a fine, made even more plain by the fact that the "fine" would be collected through the income tax system.

Second, the public option. I repeat: a public option is unacceptable to me. While I do not begrudge government subsidies to those struggling families and individuals who cannot afford private plans, I will not support any plan that calls for a public option. Doing so may drive down costs, but in the long run it will raise taxes on everyone. Not one plan presented by any lawmaker or the administration itself that includes a government-run plan can pay for itself without raising taxes and/or the aforementioned fines. Lack of a public option, on the other hand will keep government costs down dramatically; and as more people buy private plans, the health care and health insurance industries will boom, creating much more revenue than any plan with a public option ever could.

Private insurance companies don't need to compete with the government, Senator. They have themselves for competition. If the government wants to reform the industry or add more oversight, then I'll be glad to listen to any proposals you and your fellow legislators may have. This proposal, however, is the definition of "unacceptable."


Stephen Monteith