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Posts Tagged ‘James Madision College Republicans’

Photo by the JMU College Republicans

On Thursday, three student-led groups at James Madison University held a debate to discuss a multitude of important political topics.  The groups involved were the College Democrats, the College Republicans, and Madison Liberty.   For the format of the event, each organization submitted two questions regarding a specific political issue that all of the groups then answered.

It was quite interesting to hear the differing positions of the students and their groups, to hear where they overlapped and where they disagreed.  All three seemed to support policies that are more tolerant of drug legalization than the mainstream of either the Republican or Democratic Parties.  Could this result simply stem from the college mentality of greater personal freedom?  Or does this commonality represent the growing acceptance of more liberal drug laws and a future in which each state or locality can set their own policies?  And when a Republican student from Washington D.C. asked if anyone thought that the American Civil War was not a “good war”, it was amusing to see a fair number of hands in the audience raised in opposition.

However, what made the evening truly special, in my mind, was the fact that the three groups made a conscious effort to come together in a civil atmosphere to actually discuss political principles.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the whole political sphere has become increasingly poisoned with divisive and unproductive rhetoric.  The mentality of far too many individuals is, why waste your time debating issues with people of differing opinions?

The 2012 Republican nomination for President, Senate, and House of Representatives shows a similar trend among members of the party.  For example, twenty-year incumbent Bob Goodlatte has so far refused to directly engage Karen Kwiatkowski, his primary opponent.  He practiced a similar move in 2010 when facing challengers outside of the GOP.  Although there are certainly tactical arguments to be made why he shouldn’t debate, his more or less outright refusal to do so further erodes the chance for future political dialogue here in the Shenandoah Valley.  Now it would be disingenuous to pretend Goodlatte is some sort of lone exception.  After all, this act has been the trend of frontrunners and incumbents for many years, a tactic used to delegitimize their opposition.  Nevertheless, regardless of the merits of the candidate who employs it, political debate ought to be encouraged rather than stifled.

However, I’m a bit disappointed to confess that I haven’t always held such a viewpoint.  As I recall, during my time with the College Republicans of William & Mary from 1998 to 2002, our group didn’t make many efforts to reach across the aisle to engage the Democrats or other opposed organizations in order to openly explain the difference in our two groups so that the student body could get a better understanding of the issues that separated us.  Why would we?  After all, weren’t they the hated enemy that we sought to defeat by any means necessary?  And what about the libertarians?  Those that came to our organization were typically viewed with suspicion and deemed too wacky to be taken seriously.  I’m glad to see that the JMU organizations are choosing a more open-minded path.

Getting back to the present, here in the Shenandoah Valley, there are currently at least five different kinds of political groups active: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and the Tea Party.  Is it possible for some or all of these groups learn from the JMU students and to come together and offer the community a similar forum?  Or is such an idea nothing more than an idealistic dream?

Given their efforts to improve political dialogue on Thursday, I applaud the efforts of the JMU students in Madison Liberty, the College Republicans, and the College Democrats.  Although there is certainly a wide variety of political opinions, the attempt of these groups to not only reach out to the community for more recruits, but also foster a greater understanding and even tolerance for opposing viewpoints is a lesson that organizations outside the university and national political pundits would do well to learn.

For those of you who did not attend, to follow is a brief excerpt of the gathering.  I hope you find it informative.

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A Rockingham County political activist has recently been charged with 33 counts of theft, fraud, and forgery.  Less than 24 hours ago, James Madison University’s newspaper, The Breeze, first introduced to this story to the public in an article entitled “Student impersonator charged with credit card fraud”.  According to that piece, Andrew Jones, 18, of Broadway had allegedly stolen a handful of credit cards from JMU students and used these cards to purchase several thousands of dollars in assorted items.  Furthermore, the article states that JMU Police Investigator Doyle Hess tells us that Andrew has admitted using the cards.  Seems like a fairly routine open and shut type of case doesn’t it?

Ah, but that is where our tale takes a rather interesting turn.   Shortly after this story broke, hburgnews.com offered readers additional information, much of which was provided by Jones himself.  In this rendition, Jones stated that several members of the JMU College Republican community accuse him solely due to his homosexually.  Furthermore, Andrew claims to have knowledge and involvement regarding voter fraud in regard to some unspecified election.  Regrettably, these newest claims have spilled blood into the water, evoking an intense feeding frenzy and wild speculations from other local political activists on the hburgnews website.  As a result, I felt compelled to write about this matter.

Disappointingly, these new allegations have muddled an otherwise clear story.  The central issue at hand is whether or not Andrew Jones stole and used other people’s credit cards, not tales of corruption and discrimination.  Now is voter fraud a serious accusation?  Of course!  But such a claim merely distracts from the more pressing matter.  Even though admittedly much smaller in nature, this case is quickly shaping up to be like Harrisonburg’s political version of the O.J. Simpson circus trial.  Rather than focusing on the guilt or innocence of the person in question, our attention is drawn elsewhere.  We must not get caught up in this hoopla.  Regardless of these secondary issues, if Andrew is innocent, he must be cleared of all charges.  If, on the other hand, he is guilty, he must be punished according to the law.  Then, only once that central topic is dealt with, should we consider these other troubling matters.

Unfortunately or not, depending on your perspective, I believe the appearance of these red herrings will only serve to weaken his argument of innocence.  His bizarrely disappearing and reappearing Facebook account doesn’t do him any favors either.  Although gone now, his post telling friends not to worry due to a supposedly close friendship with the Commonwealth Attorney does much to discredit the possibility of a fair and impartial trial.  And the line, “I thought when they arrested me it was for voter fraud. I was shocked to find out that wasn’t [the reason]” is very disturbing.  More or less admitting complicity regarding voter fraud to a media source is a damning self-accusation in and of itself.

My words of warning to local political activists of all stripes are as follows:  Just because Andrew Jones happens to be Republican, that fact alone should not color your viewpoint either for him or against him.  His claims of fraud and discrimination might be completely true or they might be desperate attempts to deflect blame and attention.  I don’t wish to convict an innocent person nor do I want to see a guilty person vindicated.  Fortunately, neither you nor I are currently the judge or the jury, so the court of public opinion holds little value.  These central charges of theft, fraud, and forgery must be resolved first.  I’m glad that we live in a country where we have the opportunity to offer either support or condemnation to the accused, but never let politics get in the way of justice.

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Searching for Volunteers

During the campaign my gmail away message often read, “searching for volunteers”.  One simple truth to campaigning is that you can always use more volunteers.  Another one is that recruiting volunteers is not an easy task.  Volunteer recruitment essentially requires convincing a person to do something that he or she was not planning on doing, actively promoting the campaign.  You want a bumper sticker?  Take one…but while you’re here, can you make some phone calls?  You call yourself a conservative?  Then come door-to-door with us today!

By comparison, the Ron Paul campaign was a whole different ball of wax.  Realizing the importance of his candidacy, voters independently created meetup groups to organize and mobilize.  One didn’t have to uncover every rock searching for volunteers for these meetup groups were an ample supply of eager recruits.  However, unlike traditional volunteers, meetup groups were far more resistant to campaign authority. You didn’t have to convince them to volunteer; instead you had to guide them to work with the campaign in proven and productive ways.  Sometimes it was a bit like herding cats.

So where is a good place to look for volunteers?  How about the city and county Republican committees?  After all, these people have shown at least a marginal level of interest and commitment.  Sadly, committees are not a good source of volunteers.  First of all, the average age of committee members are much higher than your average age of volunteers.  Once you reach seventy years old, you’re much less likely to be physically able to go door-to-door.  Second, some people have the mistaken impression that committee membership is sufficient involvement to elect like-minded candidates.  How many undecided voters can you reach in a committee meeting?  Now don’t think that I must hate committees just because I can’t wring them dry for volunteers.  Certainly not!  They are indispensable and many committee leaders are the hardest working, most motivated, and most dependable people you will ever meet.  Seek out the committees for help, but if your search begins and ends there you will be woefully short of help.

Regardless of what most people will tell you, just about everyone has free time that they can devote to the campaign.  Unfortunately, politics is not a high priority for a lot of the working class.  Perhaps they have family concerns, issues with their jobs, or maybe they are jaded and don’t feel that their efforts will have much of an impact on the election.  Therefore, it is best to find a younger demographic, the college and high school students.  I immersed myself in politics during my high school years and spent many an afternoon, evening, and weekend at the local headquarters.  Drawing from the 2006 election, no group worked harder or made a greater impact than the JMU College Republicans.  They selflessly donated vast amounts of time to re-elect Bob Goodlatte and George Allen.  If every CR group across the state were as motivated as JMU was then, imagine what we could accomplish.  With that experience in mind, I had high hopes for the college students of the 93rd.  Now there aren’t any universities within the boundaries of the 93rd, but there are two in neighboring districts:  William & Mary in the 64th, and Christopher Newport in the 94th.

As a William & Mary alumni and a former W&M CR, I eagerly sought help from the WMCRs.  I first met these folks at the annual activities fair, a place where student groups recruit new blood from the incoming freshmen class.  The leadership seemed enthusiastic to be of assistance and we slated Delegate Hamilton to speak at their first meeting.  Several days before the meeting, the ODU bomb dropped.  In truth, the news broke earlier, but I guess it reached the WMCRs then.  As a result, they rescinded our invitation.  I was crestfallen.  I wrote email after email and made many phone calls in hope of restoring their favor.  None proved successful.  Although in retrospect, it may have been foolish, I regarded the William & Mary snub as a great failure, my great failure.  This memory lurked within my conscience throughout the remainder of the campaign.  Once I made uneasy peace with the situation, I read more troubling news out of my alma mater.  In the September 23 issue of The DOG Street Journal, the online publication brought this matter into the public eye.  “There is one local race, Democrat Robin Abbott versus Republican Phil Hamilton for the 93rd District’s Delegate that only the Young Democrats – not the College Republicans – are involved in.” But the article didn’t stop there, oh no.  Further on, the chairman of the WMCRs weighed in.  “’Because of the allegations against Phil Hamilton, we have decided to stay out of that race,’ said Chappell. ‘That was a tough decision for us, but we thought that was in our best interest. We researched that extensively; I talked to the campaign manager. Bob McDonnell has asked him to resign, pretty much every major statewide official [h]as asked Delegate Hamilton to resign. I hope he’s cleared of these allegations, but as long as they’re on the table and they seem pretty credible, we decided to stay out of this one.’”  I could write a good bit about what I thought of this slight, but I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions here.

On the other hand, the Christopher Newport College Republicans were a great boon to the campaign.  The walked, they talked, they attended events.  Although the group never showed up in massive numbers, the constant dedication offered by their chairman and a handful of others was extremely helpful and encouraging.  Both the campaign and myself owe a debt of gratitude to CNUCRs.  Thank you, Cole, and thank you, CNU!  May your group flourish and continue to recruit motivated and hardworking leaders.

But let’s not forget about the high school students, shall we?  During the final weeks and months of the campaign, students from the local high schools trickled in on Saturdays and weeknights.  Although Denbigh Baptist provided the most, they came from just about every local high school in the 93rd and neighboring districts.  Unlike my days at Harrisonburg High, many classes now require their students to be politically active.  Each student in a government class had to volunteer a certain number of hours.  Personally I think the idea is great.  By immersing yourself in politics at an early age, before you can even vote, I think you build a far greater appreciation for the government and civic involvement.  With such embedded ideals, one is far less likely to see voting as a burden as far too many these days do, but as sacred right and a duty to be taken seriously.

The last point I want to make about volunteers in the 93rd concerns competition.  Unlike previous campaigns with which I have dealt, the Hamilton campaign had to compete with not only fellow delegate races, but with the McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli, and RPV efforts as well.  It became a constant struggle to secure volunteers into the Hamilton camp before they pledged themselves to another race.  Although there was some overlap between statewide and delegate races, I still would have preferred far greater coordination.  There were Hamilton volunteers, there were RPV volunteers, and, for the most part, they remained in these separate camps.  Although you can never have enough volunteers, having been the last full-time staffer brought into the Newport News office, I felt that I had gotten too late a start in the volunteer recruitment game.  The RPV had snatched up  many choice volunteers before I arrived.  As such, I felt that I was constantly behind the eight ball.

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