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Posts Tagged ‘Abe Shearer’

As with communities throughout America, yesterday the citizens of Harrisonburg celebrated the 4th of July.  The city’s downtown area was filled with an assortment of vendors and entertainment, not to mention politicians and political activists.  Unlike the previous year, the local Democratic Parties did not seem participate  in Thursday’s festivities, somewhat surprising given the three statewide races going on this fall.

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Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) and Delegate Tony Wilt of Broadway greet the crowds.

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During the early afternoon, Council Member Abe Shearer manned the dunk tank for charity.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks to the media

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks to the media.

VA RLC member Steven Latimer climbs the rock wall.

VA Republican Liberty Caucus member Steven Latimer climbs the rock wall.

JMU's Duke Dog shows his spirit.

JMU’s Duke Dog shows his spirit.

The Republican Procession featuring Delegate Steve Landes of Verona on the far left and Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court Chaz Evans-Haywood on the far right

The Republican Procession featuring Delegate Steve Landes of Verona on the far left and Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court Chaz Evans-Haywood on the far right.

The banner of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party

The banner of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party.

Tea Party Director Donna Moser, Treasurer Nancy Stone, and Co-Director Tommy Moser.

Tea Party Director Donna Moser, Treasurer Nancy Stone, and Co-Director Tommy Moser.

Tea Party Secretary Lois Paul playing the snooping IRS agent

Tea Party Secretary Lois Paul playing the snooping NSA/IRS agent.

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IMG_1953As someone who grew up in Harrisonburg, I spent many a childhood afternoon and weekend enjoying the public parks the city offered.  However, around the age of ten, the city constructed a new structure in Purcell Park called Kids’ Castle.  Made primarily of wood, with a few bits of metal and rubber, the place was absolutely fantastic.  Without a doubt, it was one of my favorite spots and so I often begged my parents to take me there.

Several weeks ago, I got together with a friend who lives near Purcell Park and so I suggested taking a walk through the area.  Although I had visited the park several months prior, this time I took the opportunity to return to my childhood destination of Kids’ Castle.

Unfortunately, what I discovered was very distressing; the wooden structure was falling into disrepair.  Many of the metal surfaces had begun to rust, some of the boards were exceedingly worn, a few nail ends were visible, ready to pierce the hands of unaware children, a tire bridge was actively disintegrating, and a handful of weeds grew up through the gravel.  Although it was beginning to rain, I toured a bit of the castle and nearly fell on an exceedingly slippery piece of wood.  It was as if Kids’ Castle had been more or less forgotten, abandoned these last 22 years.

I brought up this matter during the public forum of the next meeting of the Harrisonburg City Council.  Reaction from the council was mixed.  For example, Council Member Chenault mentioned that a newer park, A Dream Come True, over on the west end of the city was built to replace Kids’ Castle and given the sorry state of the facility, it might be best to tear it down.  After the meeting, I received an email from Council Member Degner and a phone call from Council Member Shearer; due to these contacts, I also spoke to the manager of Harrisonburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Yesterday, I was featured on WHSV TV-3 to briefly speak about the matter.  That segment, which aired at 11 PM last night, can be found at this link.

It is my great hope that Kids’ Castle can be repaired so that the present and next generation of children can treasure it as much as I once did.  And, assuming I ever experience the joy of children of my own, I’d very much like for them to have a wonderful and nearby place to play outside, a recreational option that is much healthier than the hours of television or video games that parents increasingly rely upon these days.

So what will happen next?  Well, as a result of the city council meeting and the reporting of WHSV, I’ve been told that the city is planning to repair much of Kids’ Castle by the end of July.  It is excellent news.  It is time to reclaim Kids’ Castle!

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Harrisonburg City CouncilLast night, the Harrisonburg City Council held their bi-monthly meeting.  As I sat in my chair waiting for the 7 PM start time, one of the regular attendees leaned across the aisle and told me that he saw me on the TV speaking about the city owned golf course.  He went on to say that the golf course was here to stay and that city parks and recreations were not in the business of making money.  I agreed that parks weren’t designed to turn a profit and asked him if he knew of any privately run parks in the area.  Neither of us could name one.  However, I then countered that golf courses can be a source of revenue and asked if he knew of any privately run courses.  He said that he didn’t know of any and, at that point, I realized discussing this point further with him would not be particularly useful.

Anyway, as for the official council meeting itself, most of the event was business as usual, such as the time for public discourse and discussing tax exemptions for a charity.  However, things got a bit more interesting when the subject shifted to energy efficiency in the city.  Recently, the city has been considering the idea of improving energy efficiency in its buildings, a commendable idea as it will likely provide a significant savings to city taxpayers.  As a result, Council Member Kai Degner crafted a deal with a company who specializes in this kind of work to make these improvements.  However, the city manager declared this action was quite irregular as normally these issues are typically explored by the city staff, bids are accepted from a number of companies, and then the council picks the option that they feel best suits the city.  Although it is good to see Kai Denger working hard on this issue, given that neither the majority of council nor the Harrisonburg staff seemingly had a hand in this company’s selection, if the idea moved forward, it could bear the stain of crony capitalism.

Harrisonburg Mayor Ted Byrd argued that in the interests of the free market, the council should not simply accept the company of Degner’s choosing without considering other avenues.  When Degner proposed going ahead with the desired company, it seemed quite likely that the vote would fail.  This fact is significant because, of the multitude of council meetings that I have attended over the last six months, not a single proposal had failed nor had the vote been anything but unanimous.  Cognizant of such a possibility, Council Member Degner revised his proposal to allow other companies to bid for this contract as well.

At this point, Council Member Abe Shearer raised a new point.  Why should the council only allow companies who offered a money back guarantee for their work to bid for this project?  If the council could find a company with a good reputation who did not have such a guarantee, and at a considerable savings, shouldn’t they have the same chance to offer their services as well?  Vice Mayor Charlie Chenault seemed to disapprove of that idea.

In the vote that followed, Degner and Chenault approved the revised plan, as did Council Member Richard Baugh who declared that he was satisfied with this compromise.  Although clear that the measure would pass despite their objections, both Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer voted no.

As mentioned, I’ve attended quite a few council meetings as of late.  However, last night marked a first, the first time that I was proud of my council for voicing my shared concerns about a fair and open process, for supporting the ideals of the free market, and for demonstrating that they are more than a monolithic group, a rubber stamp for any and every proposal that is presented to them.  Returning to an earlier subject, last night gave me hope as well that the council might one day jettison the golf course, realizing that its public ownership is not a proper function of local government.

I appreciate Council Member Baugh for not simply accepting the first proposal as stated.  However, I write this post especially to praise Mayor Byrd and Council Member Shearer for their firm stands at Tuesday’s meeting.

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Harrisonburg City CouncilLast night, the Harrisonburg City Council assembled for their bi-monthly meeting.  Although I had attended several of their gatherings over the last few months, tonight I went for a specific purpose; I planned to speak with the council regarding pedestrian safety in the city.

When the mayor motioned for me to approach the podium, my heart became a jackhammer in my chest.  For those who know me, this reaction might seem rather strange.  After all, I love speaking about politics with anyone and everyone who cares to listen (as well as many people who don’t).  However, this experience brought back a rather harsh memory, a reminder of the last time that I spoke before the council.

If we rewind the clock, 2006 marked both the first and only time that I stood before the Harrisonburg City Council.  Back then, the council held a public forum regarding selling the Harrisonburg High School building to James Madison University.  As it turned out, the hearing was little more than a formality.  Looking back, it seemed that the deal was more or less made and whatever the public opinion happened to be, it mattered little to the members of council.  As I recall, they weren’t a particularly receptive or sympathetic group and offering my opinion to them was a waste of time.

However unreceptive that council happened to be, the Harrisonburg School Board was far worse.  Arguing that the city schools shouldn’t forgo any usable classroom space, I informed the board about my experiences in 8th grade at Thomas Harrison Middle School; where I spent a good chunk of my days in one of those trailer units and how, when we got a heavy rain, I had to place a trashcan on my desk to collect the rainwater which dripped through the leaky roof.  Once I relayed my thoughts, I left the meeting.  I was told that after I did so, one of members of the school board stated that I was a liar.  As you might imagine, news of this allegation made me so incensed that I located my 8th grade homeroom teacher, a woman that I had not seen in many years, to see if she would either deny or confirm what I had said.  Yes, she told me that my memory was correct.  Another bitter pill to swallow was the fact that most of the councilmen and school board members, including the one who claimed I was deceptive, were fellow Republicans!

So, getting back to last night, with all of these thoughts in my mind as I spoke before the council, I felt that my words were horribly nervous and disjointed and, although I had planned what I wanted to say beforehand, nothing came out right.  It was an important issue, but, at that moment, I thought I was a poor spokesman.  I tried to remedy the situation in my mind by reminding myself that all but one of these men were not the same as the ones from 2006, that I had spoken to each previously and, with the possible exception of Mr. Chenault, each knew me and presumably we had some measure of respect for each other.  In fact, in mid 2012, Mayor Byrd told me that he read this blog.  But the memories from over half a decade ago gone by proved to be too strong.  Hopefully, they will lessen in time, but I believe that I must force myself to go before the council again, (once I have something important to discuss) so that these newly rediscovered demons from the past can be put to rest.

My take-home message to you, the reader, is as follows.  No one should ever be afraid to talk with their elected representatives, be they local, state, or federal.  Don’t ever be tricked into thinking that you exist to serve the government; the government exists to serve you.  And so friends, I encourage you once again to study the important political issues of the day, speak out when the time calls for it, and never be cowed into silence, as I was for many years in local matters.

In liberty, now and always!

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In the days leading up to the November 6th elections, predicting the outcome of the presidential seemed a bit murkier than one would expect.  A few polls, like Gallup, had Mitt Romney ahead, while others, like Rasmussen, showed a very close race, and some, like Huffington, heralded another strong victory for President Obama.  It seemed to me that a lot of news outlets reported on the outcome that they hoped would occur rather than what would actually happen; Republican pundits predicted a solid Romney victory and their Democratic counterparts made similar claims.  Fellow Republicans were critical, but in 2008 I wrote about Barack Obama’s victory on the day prior to Election Day, as I believed the results were already a foregone conclusion.  However, I wasn’t quite as certain this time around.

In the end, however, Mitt Romney stood no chance of becoming our next President.  In the electoral count, he faired only slightly better than John McCain did in 2008.  He won the tradition Republican states of North Carolina and Indiana unlike McCain, but failed to capture key battlegrounds like Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.  Curiously, both Romney and Obama failed to garner as many votes as the candidates did in 2008.  It seems obvious that Obama’s numbers would decline as his presidency has not been particularly popular and the great excitement (or novelty) generated from electing our first black president in 2008 is gone.  But what about Romney?  Although some activists have been urging people to resist resorting to the “blame game”, ultimately I believe that voters had a hard time supporting a rich New England liberal who had difficulty relating to the plight of the average American.  In addition, the actions taken by the RNC and the Romney campaign, which can only be described as unnecessary and spiteful, to exclude Ron Paul and his supporters at the Tampa convention tore open the growing rift in the Republican Party between the establishment and the liberty movement.  As stated earlier, a majority of Paul supporters I know either voted for Gary Johnson, wrote in Ron Paul, or simply stayed home on Election Day.  Speaking of the other party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson finished in third with almost 1%, Green Jill Stein was fourth with .35%, and Virgil Goode was fifth with .1%.

Moving on to Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest, as we approached Election Day it became increasingly obvious that George Allen would lose to Tim Kaine.  The conventional wisdom was that an Allen victory hinged heavily upon Romney’s coattails.  If Romney won Virginia by a large margin, then it was likely that Allen would also be victorious.  However, if the election was close or if Romney lost the state, Allen would be defeated.  Although the crossover wouldn’t have influenced the outcome, it is still important to note that Romney had the support of 37,766 more Virginians than did George Allen.

The House races in Virginia were not particularly exciting.  Each incumbent won re-election with a comfortable margin with the exception of Scott Rigell in the 2nd who won by 24,000 votes.  In the 6th, Republican Bob Goodlatte easily dispatched Democrat Andy Schmookler.  However, Schmookler did best Goodlatte in the more urban areas of the district, capturing the cities of Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Roanoke, and boasting a fairly close contest in Staunton.

Given that Harrisonburg voted Democratic for president, senator, and representative, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats faired well in the city council election.  With eight candidates on the ballot, three Republican, three Democratic, and three independent, Democrats Kai Degner and Richard Baugh were re-elected along with newcomer independent Abe Shearer.  Only Degner and Shearer cracked the 6,000-vote mark.  All but one of the other candidates was in the 4,000-vote range; Roger Baker finished in last place with less than 2,500 votes.  Political newcomer Christine Johnson finished at the top of the Republican office seekers, missing out on third place by only 202 votes.

So what does the future hold politically for Harrisonburg, the 6th congressional district, Virginia, and the nation as a whole?  Well, it depends on a number of factors including the strength of the candidates and the overall political climate.  Will the GOP learn anything from the 2012 elections?  It is obvious that they didn’t figure anything out from 2008.  Without strong conservative candidates that can clearly articulate the merits of a constitutionally limited government, the Republican Party will continue to suffer nationally, statewide, and locally.  Let me end this article with a bit of advice: Past big government Republicans who lost in a previous election don’t somehow miraculously transform themselves into either conservatives or winners.  So don’t retread on me.  Don’t retread on me!

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Council Candidates Christine Johnson, Roger Baker, Anthony Bailey, and Richard Baugh

Last month, the Harrisonburg chapter of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party played host to four of the eight candidates seeking election to the Harrisonburg City Council.  Last night, the remaining four candidates took the stage to offer their ideas and plans for the city.

These candidates were: Christine Johnson, a local business owner and a Republican, Roger Baker, the former city manager and an independent, Anthony Bailey, the local assistant commonwealth attorney and a Republican, and Richard Baugh, the current Harrisonburg mayor, an attorney, and a Democrat.  Although not on stage, Abe Shearer was present as well.  As was the case with last month’s meeting, the audience attendance was a good bit smaller than expected.

Each candidate was allotted a ten-minute window to speak followed by a question and answer period.  Although hoping to offer his thoughts due to his early departure last month, Abe Shearer was not allowed to comment on the issues raised.

Like last month, I took this opportunity to present the same question regarding the city owned golf course.  Johnson, Baker, and Bailey each seemed to support the idea of the course, although admitted that it could have been run more efficiently.  Mayor Baugh did not have a chance to reply due to time constraints.  After the meeting, Abe Shearer mentioned that, despite the financial failings of the course, the council ought to strongly consider whether it is the proper role of government to operate the course.  Given his comments, I believe that if he were on the council when the decision was made, he would have opposed the idea of a city golf course.

After the question and answer period, I took the microphone to remind everyone to vote on November 6th and encouraged them to learn about all of the candidates running prior to the election so that they will make an informed decision.  After all, that concept was one of the key reasons why I pushed for and helped organized these two forums with the city council candidates.  I wanted tea party members to get to know the candidates so that they could gauge each based upon his or her principles and not merely rely on party labels.

Next, the leader of the tea party took the stage to remind everyone that the tea party does not endorse candidates.  However, in what came as a bit of a shock, she then proceeded to more or less remind everyone to vote for George Allen for Senate.  In addition, she recommended that attendees should not “throw their vote away” by voting for either Virgil Goode or Gary Johnson for president given that neither of these two candidates will be listed on the ballot of every state.

The meeting concluded with a reading of Angie Williams’ Vote Your Conscience, which reminds the listener to “put partisan politics completely aside, and let your conscience be your guide.”

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Council Candidates Deb Fitzgerald, Abe Shearer, Rodney Eagle, and Kai Degner

On Thursday of last week, four of the eight candidates vying for a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council spoke to a gathering of the Harrisonburg branch of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party.  In November, city residents will select three members for the five-member council.

The speakers consisted of Kai Degner, a Democrat and current member of Council, Rodney Eagle, a Republican and former member of Council, Deb Fitzgerald, a Democrat and wife of a former Council member, and Abe Shearer, an Independent with no apparent political ties to Harrisonburg’s governing body.  Christine Johnson, a Republican candidate, watched as a member of the audience.  The meeting was sparsely attended with about 25 people there of whom less than half were self identified city voters.  Both WHSV and the Daily News Record had a reporter in attendance.

Each was allotted a ten-minute speaking slot to provide for an introduction and to outline a few thoughts regarding their future plans for Harrisonburg.  They spoke in alphabetical order by last name with Degner first and Shearer rounding out the pack.

Prior to the question and answer period, Mr. Shearer left the meeting explaining that he was late for a meeting at his church. However, he promised the crowd that he would return for the question and answer period for the October meeting.  The questions from the audience that followed demonstrated a general misunderstanding of the power of the city government.  As Mr. Degner pointed out, Virginia is a Dillon rule state, which means that local governments only have power over matters granted to them by the state government.  Or, to put it another way, the Harrisonburg government has only “those powers that are specifically conferred on them by the Virginia General Assembly…those powers that are necessarily or fairly implied from a specific grant of authority… (or) those powers that are essential to the purposes of government — not simply convenient but indispensable“.

Following upon a line from Mrs. Fitzgerald’s speech regarding the proper role of government, I asked if each of the candidates thought the concept of the city operating a golf course fell within the proper role of city government.  Although a decade old issue, the golf course was and remains a sore spot with many city residents.  The idea was fairly unpopular when first implemented and three of the council members that supported the plan were all voted out of office in the following election.  Three “change” candidates who opposed the course won but continued with the plan anyway and were subsequently voted out four years later.  Since that time, the golf course has hemorrhaged money, running a deficit every year it has been in operation.  Mrs. Fitzgerald offered the “phone book test” for any city project stating that the city should not be in any business that is offered by the private sector and is found in the phone book.  Mr. Eagle, who was part of the Council who approved the golf course a decade ago defended the decision stating that at the time the city did not have a privately run golf course and that the course provides valuable programs to some of the younger residents of the city.  Mr. Degner did not get an opportunity to answer the question on stage, but stated later that as the golf course is a city venture, it should be run as efficiently as possible and that the government has taken steps which have reduced the yearly deficit of the course.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed by both the smaller-than-expected turnout and by some of the less-than-helpful questions and comments.  I both lobbied for and helped organize this forum for the Harrisonburg City Council in the hopes of spreading awareness of all eight of the candidates running for office.  After all, although not as glamourous as the high profile races, voters in the city will have far more impact in the race for Harrisonburg City Council than President, Senate, or House of Representatives given the much smaller number of votes cast in that election.  Therefore, it is the civic duty of each city voter to learn about his or her choices so that each can make an informed decision on Election Day.

I’m hoping next month’s meeting will see both a surge in attendance as well as an improvement in the questions asked when the tea party plays host to the remaining four candidates, but we’ll see what happens.

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