Sunday, July 10, 2011

Interviews with U.S. Senate Candidates

George Allen and Tim Kaine in Crozet on July 2
Almost a year remains before Virginia Republican voters will choose their U.S. Senate candidate in a statewide primary.  (Traditionally, Virginia has primary elections on the second Tuesday in June.  This year, because of post-census redistricting, primary elections for state and local offices will be on August 23.)  Former Governor and Senator George F. Allen is widely seen as the favorite to win the GOP nomination, although he has several rivals who are contesting the 2012 primary.

It is fairly certain that former Governor Tim Kaine will be the Democratic nominee, although there remains a possibility that Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA3) will enter the race.  Scott had previously said that he would reveal his intentions by July 1, but on that day, he said he was delaying his decision about whether to run.

Since April, I have had several opportunities to interview the various candidates for the U.S. Senate from Virginia.  They are seeking the seat being vacated by Senator Jim Webb (D), who chose to retire after one term.

Among the Republicans, I have not yet been able to interview Northern Virginia businessman Tim Donner or Bishop E. W. Jackson.  At least one of those lacunae will be filled soon, however, because I am scheduled to meet with Mr. Donner in Charlottesville on July 19, and I may also have an opportunity to talk to him in Richmond this coming week.

Last weekend in Crozet, I was able to talk to both former Senator George Allen and former Governor Tim Kaine.  The two rivals were there to march in the annual Independence Day parade sponsored by the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department.  In Allen's case, he didn't so much march in the parade as ride in it -- he was on horseback throughout the route.

In remarks to the crowd at Claudius Crozet Park -- which, I might note, is a private park, not a government-owned park, something I find admirable -- both candidates acknowledged that they are "competitors and friends."  It was clear from their interaction that Allen and Kaine genuinely like each other, even if they disagree on policy issues and are likely to be engaged in a mudslinging, highly-competitive Senate race next year, one that is widely acknowledged by political analysts to be the most closely-contested campaign in the country and consequently one of the most expensive, too.

Before speaking, Allen and Kaine led the revelers in patriotic songs.  (Kaine's voice, especially, is clearly heard over the PA system in the video below.)  They sang one verse each of "America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)," "America the Beautiful," and "The Star Spangled Banner."  The songs are introduced by WCHV radio host Joe Thomas, who acted as emcee.
In a flurry of restraint atypical of political candidates, Allen and Kaine -- introduced alphabetically -- limited their remarks to about two minutes each, focusing on the values celebrated by Americans during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. (Video follows.)
I spoke to Kaine just before the program began. We chatted briefly about our shared admiration of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. (Both of us were in the audience about two years ago in Richmond, when Sondheim was interviewed by former New York Times drama critic Frank Rich.) Then I asked him about some policy issues, posing the question I try to ask every candidate: How will you earn the votes of libertarian voters? His response, like all of these interviews, was first published on

From "Tim Kaine argues for balancing individual liberties, communal responsibilities":
Asked how he would appeal to libertarian-minded voters in the coming election campaign, Kaine said that he would talk about his record.

“I am very much a supporter of individual liberties,” he explained, adding that “yet we’re in this mixture, where we have individual liberties -- and that’s the great thing about our country -- but we also have communal responsibilities. Just trying to find that right balance is important.”

Kaine noted that “we do pretty well on that in Virginia. My basic campaign message is, ‘America has challenges, Virginia has answers,’ so I’ll be talking about the way we do it here in Virginia.”
For his part, George Allen had answered my libertarian voters question at Shad Planking in April (see below), so I asked him a different set of questions in Crozet.

From "In Crozet for Independence Day weekend, George Allen warns of ‘perpetual debt'":
Replying to a question from the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the pending debt-ceiling vote in Congress, Allen offered his assessment of the situation.

“What I’ve been advocating for many years,” he said, is “that is there needs to be a balanced budget requirement in the federal Constitution, [the] same as we have here in Virginia. I think the President should have line-item veto authority and there should be taxpayer protection.”

A balanced budget amendment “narrowly failed back in the 1990s by one vote,” he explained.

“Can you think of how much better our country could be if that had passed back then?” he asked.

“If I were in the U.S. Senate, I’d be advocating for spending cuts, for curtailing the amount of spending, and putting in real reforms to have ironclad reductions in reforming the way that Washington does business,” Allen said.
My other interviews with Senate candidates took place at the 63rd annual Shad Planking in Wakefield, long seen as the start of the political season in Virginia. In Wakefield, I was able to interview Republican candidates David McCormick, Jamie Radtke, and George Allen, as well as potential Democratic Senate candidate Bobby Scott and current U.S. Senator Mark Warner.

From "Virginia GOP Senate candidate David McCormick touts his business experience":
Asked how he would appeal to libertarian voters, McCormick replied in general terms.

“I’m a very good case for a libertarian or an independent or a conservative,” he said. “They’ll salute the fact that for 29 years I’ve worked with [the] middle class and working class of America. I have such strong independent roots, even though I’m a strong Republican, very conservative on fiscal policy.”

He pointed out that he has “every policy, every solution on my web site” and suggested that “libertarians would love and support my candidacy.”
First-time candidate Jamie Radtke developed a statewide reputation as a leader of the Virginia Tea Party movement. She also answered my question about libertarian voters.

From "Va. Senate candidate Jamie Radtke hopes her message resonates with libertarians":
“Our message is right in line with the libertarian vote,” Radtke said, especially “as far as the spending and the debt and getting the fiscal house in order. The PATRIOT Act is another one that really irritates the libertarian people. Infringing on civil rights is an issue with me, as well. All those things are important.”

She said that when talking about the budget, “you’ve got to look at entitlements” and, from a libertarian point of view, entitlements “should be consumer-driven. People should have skin in the game.”

Things like that, Radtke explained, “resonate with people in the Libertarian Party.”

Even defense spending should be on the table, she said.

“The priority, the absolute priority, 100 percent should be our military and our veterans,” she said, “but the size of the Defense budget is so astronomical that even the Department of Defense is talking about places where there can be savings” without adversely impacting current troops or veterans.

“All of those things,” she concluded, “are things that we have in common” with libertarian voters.
Allen also answered the same question.

From "At his 17th Shad Planking, George Allen lays claim to a ‘libertarian streak’":
Asked how he plans to earn the votes of libertarian-minded Virginians as he seeks the GOP Senate nomination, Allen called himself a “commonsense, Jeffersonian conservative” with “a good libertarian streak in me.”

“I trust free people and free enterprise,” Allen said, “and so long as someone’s not harming someone else, leave them free.”

He added: “I don’t like limits and restrictions. That’s borne out by my views on requiring a balanced budget in the Constitution” and a line-item veto to restrain the federal government.

“I like lower taxes,” Allen said, noting he has “always been one for lower taxes on business owners and individuals and families.”
While his colleague Jim Webb was not present, Virginia's junior senator, Mark Warner, was at Shad Planking this year. Warner talked about the budget and answered my question about libertarian voters.

From "At Shad Planking, Virginia Senator Mark Warner says ‘budget situation is dire’":
Warner also addressed a political question: How can Democratic candidates earn the votes of libertarian-minded voters?

“That’s a challenge,” he conceded, though “it depends on, in a certain way, how ‘libertarian’?”

That is, he continued, “if you believe that there is no role for government in virtually anything, it may be a struggle.”

Warner noted, however, “on the other hand, I think Democrats generally believe on social issues there should be less government involvement. Oftentimes Republicans believe in more government involvement on the social issues and less on the government side. I think there is a balance there.”

Pausing briefly, Warner then suggested an approach that voters could take in choosing which candidates to support.

“I actually think,” he said, “whether a libertarian or anyone else, my advice to people is try to find candidates who can (1) actually read a balance sheet and (2) who are rational.”
Finally, Congressman Bobby Scott -- still a potential (and undeclared) candidate for the Democratic Party's U.S. Senate nomination -- answered a few questions.

From "Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott weighs in on budget’s ‘tough choices’":
Democratic candidates can attract the votes of libertarian-minded voters, Scott said, “if we stand up for the principles that we usually stand up for, that is, investments in our future, education, scientific research, making sure young people can go to college, mak[ing] sure the elderly are cared for [and that] children get off on the right track so that they have opportunities.”

Scott pointed out that not only was the federal budget balanced during the Clinton administration, but the country was on track to pay off the national debt, a situation that has changed severely in the past decade.

“So what do we need to be doing to attract votes?” he asked.

Democrats must “do what we traditionally did,” Scott answered. “We’re fiscally responsible, we want to invest in education and the future of America, and, hopefully, people will respond to that message.”
As a point of information, excerpts of my interview with Senator Jim Webb at Piedmont Virginia Community College earlier this year can be seen at "Jim Webb Visits PVCC" on this blog.

UPDATE, July 20:  I conducted an interview with GOP candidate Tim Donner in Richmond on July 12.  This resulted in two articles for  "Virginia GOP Senate candidate Tim Donner claims ‘deep’ libertarian roots," published on July 18, and "Va. GOP Senate candidate Tim Donner discusses the debt ceiling and tax reform," published on July 20.

In the first, Donner said that he had a long libertarian pedigree:
“My libertarian roots go pretty deep,” Donner said, “back to when my father was heavily involved in the founding of National Review magazine.”

Joseph Donner, he explained, was “a good friend of William F. Buckley and I grew up around William F. Buckley and his family. Buckley often called himself a libertarian, even though he’s known more as a conservative.” (The title of one of Buckley’s books is Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist.)

“As the years go by,” Donner continued, “I’ve become more and more libertarian.”
In the second article, Donner discussed some policy issues, including the impending debt-ceiling vote in Congress (with a Damoclean deadline of August 2) and a comparison of the flat tax and the Fair Tax:
Donner also weighed the pros and cons of two popular proposals for federal tax reform, the Flat Tax (the centerpiece of Steve Forbes’ 1996 presidential campaign) and the Fair Tax (popularized by radio talk-show host Neal Boortz).

“The pros of a Flat Tax,” he explained, “are that it will simplify an overly complex tax system. It will broaden the tax base because more people will pay income tax. More people will therefore have ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak.”

These new taxpayers, he said, will “have a stake in the system and therefore be more interested and involved in what their government is doing -- and more informed and educated citizens is always a good thing.”
I expect to have more opportunities over the next year or so as these candidates hit the campaign trail and make public appearances as they hustle for votes and money.

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