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January 28, 2018 [LINK / comment]

GOP Sixth District candidate forum

Yesterday afternoon I went to see the forum for Republican candidates for the Sixth Congressional District at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, about 15 miles north of Staunton. It was the first real political event I had attended in over a year. Since I no longer have any affiliation with the Republican Party, I was merely there as an observer. Given the strongly Republican makeup of the Sixth District, it is almost certain that whoever wins the Republican nomination will win the general election in November.

GOP 6th District candidate signs at BRCC

The sidewalks outside the Plecker Center at BRCC were lined with GOP 6th District candidate signs, and those of Cynthia Dunbar were by far the most numerous. The conference room inside was nearly packed with over 200 attendees and campaign workers for the various candidates. As far as I could tell, the only journalist present was Bob Stuart of the News Virginian, based in Waynesboro. I saw nothing about this very important event on either WHSV-Channel 3 (based in Harrisonburg) or in the News Leader (based in Staunton).

GOP 6th District candidate forum at BRCC

Convention, no primary

The reason this forum was so important was that the Republican 6th District Committee decided to nominate a successor candidate to Bob Goodlatte by means of a convention (to be held at James Madison University in Harrisonburg on May 19) rather than a primary election. Adding to the controversy is the fact that only a plurality will be required to win the nomination, meaning that whichever candidate gets the most number of votes on the first ballot will automatically win, even if it is far less than 50 percent. For more on this, see the News Leader.

The man reputed to be behind that maneuver is Sixth Congressional District Chairman Scott Sayre, who gained fame by running a brass-knuckle campaign against incumbent State Senator Emmett Hanger in 2007. (See my June 12, 2007 blog post to refresh your memory on all that.) The nomination procedures decided upon by the 6th C.D. Committee are believed to favor the populist "anti-Establishment" candidate Cynthia Dunbar, and Delegate Ben Cline (one of the front-runners) has taken issue with them.

I personally favor nomination by conventions, in part because primary elections in effect create an "official" two-party system, artificially restricting voter choices. True, conventions tend to nominate more ideologically hard-line candidates compared to primaries, which is why the GOP right wing is so hostile to relative moderates within the party who can count on crossover voting to win the nomination. Conventions would do away with that practice, and thereby make candidates more directly accountable to the parties to which they claim to belong.

GOP 6th District candidate montage

Meet the (8!) candidates

On May 19, delegates will presumably choose from among eight candidates, which seems absurdly excessive. (I would expect some of them to drop out between now and then, as part of the normal political horse-trading and jockeying for position among the front-runners.) Cynthia Dunbar is the clear favorite, and Ben Cline and Chaz Haywood are the other serious candidates.

Ben Cline: Currently representing the 24th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, a seat he has held since November 2002. He later earned his law degree and worked as a prosecuting attorney in Harrisonburg for a few years. (See At the forum, he aligned himself with President Trump by seeking to "Make America great again" and defending the Second Amendment. (DISCLAIMER: I know Ben personally, though we haven't been in touch for at least a year or two.)

Cynthia Dunbar: Currently serving as National Republican Committeewoman, a position she has held since 2016. According to Wikipedia, she served on the Texas State Board of Education, getting involved in controversies over creationism and the separation of church and state. She later moved to Virginia, where she worked as co-chair of the Ted Cruz presidential campaign in 2016. Her campaign flyer begins with "Establishment Beware," as though she were somehow not part of the Establishment. She too wants to "Make America great again" and "drain the swamp," another favorite slogan of President Trump. At the forum, she warned that our republic is in grave danger and emphasized the U.S. Constitution as the fundamental guarantor of American freedom. It was an impressive presentation, but she came across as perhaps unduly alarmist and strident, especially during the question-and-answer period. For example, when asked how she would deal with the problem of gridlock in Congress, she said she would confront any colleagues who oppose her, and campaign against them in their home districts. Wow!?

Chaz Haywood: Currently serving as Clerk of the Circuit Court in Harrisonburg, and before that as the local liaison to Congressman Bob Goodlatte. His campaign flyer highlights his military background but is rather vague on what he stands for, aside from defending the principles that make possible the American Dream. At the forum, he came across as poised, confident, and intelligent, though he steered away from controversial issues. From my point of view, not emphasizing support for the Trump agenda is a positive aspect.

Ed Justo: An attorney specializing in immigration matters, based in Harrisonburg. He impressed me with his earnest, forthright manner, taking issue with some of the harsh anti-immigrant sentiment that has been expressed by some Republicans. [He even defended DACA.] That took guts! Otherwise, he talked about the importance of business-friendly policies that create new job opportunities.

Kathryn Lewis: A small business owner in the [Bedford County] Roanoke area, she has lived in Virginia her whole life (27 years). She pledged to only serve four terms if elected, and would hold forums open to the public, drawing a contrast between her and the incumbent, Bob Goodlatte.

Elliot Pope: A building contractor in Lynchburg, he said that freedom is in danger and that we must uphold the Constitution. (It was a milder version of the same points made by Ms. Dunbar.) He pointed in particular to elitism and over-regulation as threats to our country.

Mike Desjadon: He said his job involves dealing with health insurance, and he wants to fix that problem and then leave Congress and then go back to his plow. (I assume that means he owns a farm, but I'm not sure.) He provided no specifics or general principles to guide the fixing of the health care system, however.

Douglas Wright: A dentist, he emphasized the harm and erosion of choice resulting from Obamacare. He said the Republican Party is based on strong ideals, and that if its members only live up to those ideals, they could build a 60- or 70-percent majority, rather than the bare 51-percent majority they have at present. He is the oldest candidate [in this race].

It occurred to me that the plethora of newcomer candidates may be a tactic to dilute the opposition to the party insiders' preferred candidate, Cynthia Dunbar. If so, unless the relative "moderates" in the party can work out an agreement to rally around either Ben Cline or Chaz Haywood, the nomination would seem to be heavily stacked in Ms. Dunbar's favor.

Goodlatte will retire

The reason this usual situation came about is that two days after the Virginia elections last November, incumbent Rep. Bob Goodlatte announced that he would not seek reelection. He is presently serving his 13th term in the House of Representatives, notwithstanding his original (1992) campaign pledge to only serve three terms in Congress. The 2017 election was a disaster for Republicans in Virginia, widely believed to reflect opposition to President Trump, and signals a possible sharp reversal in the partisan balance of power in the congressional midterm elections to be held nationwide this coming November. Thanks to his seniority, Goodlatte has great power as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, but that advantage will disappear once his replacement is sworn in one year from now. See the Washington Post. I admire Congressman Goodlatte as a solid, no-nonsense conservative, but he seemed unable to cope with the rising storm of right-wing populism that brought about the Trump presidency.

Politics blog hiatus

This marks my first blog about politics since last February, a hiatus of nearly a year. During this time, the United States government has lurched from crisis to crisis resulting from the erratic and often ugly leadership style of President Donald Trump. He has ripped to shreds the conventional norms of political behavior, and has fostered an authoritarian cult of personal loyalty. Indeed, the very fate of constitutional government itself is now being questioned for the first time since the American Civil War. Given the badly fractured state of the American body politic, prospects for constructive dialogue over national policy issues have shrunken drastically, making the effort to advance understanding almost futile. On a personal level, I freely confess to feeling depressed and wondering whether it's too late for any political involvement (such as blogging) to serve any useful purpose. In particular, I am mortified by what has happened to the Republican Party to let things reach such an awful state. But as things continue to go from bad to worse, I suppose I should speak up lest someone accuse me of doing nothing in this moment of extreme national peril.

January 30, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Grand (public) opening at Valley Smokehouse

Ten days ago, on January 20, I had a gig at the brand-new Valley Smokehouse in Staunton, and in fact it was the very first public musical show there since they formally opened around the middle of this month. In preparation for the grand opening, they have hosted a few private events over the last few months, most notably a show by Michael Allman -- the son of Gregg Allman, who died in May of last year. My show all came about rather suddenly, and thanks to local businessman, radio host, and concert promoter John Huggins, I was the one slated to fill the bill. The requested genre of music was "Americana," preferably with an upbeat tempo, and I know plenty of songs that fit that description.

To my surprise, there were at least a dozen people already at Valley Smokehouse when I arrived at 5:20. The owner of the Valley Smokehouse, Gary Ingram, wasn't sure how many customers to expect on his first Saturday night, but it was evidentally more than satisfactory. Unlike my previous four public performances (all at Bedlam Brewing), I didn't have to bring my own sound system, since they have a very impressive such system already set up. That greatly simplified things for me, and I was able to get started playing just about at the designated time of 5:30.

Andrew at Valley Smokehouse

Yours truly up on the stage, with the various musical decorations on the wall in back.

With only one full day to prepare for the event, I was a little rusty on some of the songs. For example, on "Witchy Woman," I didn't have all the right chords until I had gone through the first verse, but it was pretty good after that. The harmonica part sounded pretty good, at least. I was told later on that the sound quality was very good compared to when I played in Bedlam Brewing back last June. (That was my first show there inside, and I was too cautious about the amplifier volume.) As you can see in the complete set list below, I stuck to my standard Eagles and Ozark Mountain Daredevils tunes, with several country songs and several rock songs mixed in along the way. I was pleased that I was able to reach the high falsetto notes on Chris Isaacs' song "Wicked Game," along with a harmonica that adds a soulful element. I thought I did very well on Billy Joel's "Piano Man" (on which the harmonica is prominent), but didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped. You never know. Around 7:30 or so, I took a break lasting about 10 minutes.

Valley Smokehouse

At the peak, around 7:00 PM, there were over two dozen people.

By the time the second half of the show got started, I realized that I just wasn't going to be able to fit in many of the songs that I had planned. I tried to focus on getting ready for each new song (getting the right harmonica, etc.) and making sure that I drank enough water. I recently figured out that the harmonica part in the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' song "Standing On the Rock" is played in "cross-harp" style using a C harmonica, rather than a G harmonica as I had been doing, and for the first time, I played it in public like it's supposed to be played! I was also proud of the way Sheryl Crow's "My Favorite Mistake" and Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" sounded. Some of the folks in the audience asked me where they could leave a tip, and I was embarrassed to have forgotten to bring a suitable tip jar. On several occasions I got strong applause, and everyone seemed very satisfied by the way the music sounded. At first I was a little nervous about playing a new venue, but I was getting comfortable toward the end.

This was my first public performance (other than the usual open mic events at Queen City Brewing) since November 17; see my (typically belated) December 31 blog post.

I was very impressed by the appearance of the Valley Smokehouse. They really put a lot of effort into decorating the walls with musical memorabilia and building a carpeted stage with a first-class sound system. They serve great barbecue food and a variety of beer, and I think they have an excellent chance to become a big success. (The one drawback I noted is the lack of visibility from the adjoining street; they need a big flashy sign, and they need to get all those U-Haul rental trucks moved out of the way.) In any event, I was proud to serve as the first musical performer for the general public, and I truly look forward to playing there on more occasions in the future!

Set list: HYUGE!

Over the course of well over three and a half hours, I did 41 songs altogether, one of which (the Allman Brothers' "Melissa") I did a second time, on request, just as I was about to pack up at 9:05 or so. It's a beautiful song, and I was happy to play it again. Because I had to skip over many songs due to lack of time, and the list of songs that I prepared ahead of time was not in the same order as the pages in my binder, I'm frankly not certain exactly which songs came when. But aside from the precise sequence, the following list is pretty accuate at least.

Seq-uenceGroupSong titleHarmonica? (key)
1EaglesDoolin' DaltonA
2EaglesCertain Kind Of Fool
3EaglesOutlaw ManG
4EaglesSaturday Night
5Tom PettyRefugeeE
6Johnny CashRing Of FireG
7Waylon JenningsLuckenbach, Texas
8Ozark Mountain DaredevilsStanding On The RockC
9Creedence Clearwater RevivalProud MaryD
10Creedence Clearwater RevivalGreen River
11Doobie BrothersChina Grove
12Doobie BrothersListen To The Music
13John Cougar MellencampPaper In FireA
14Hootie & the BlowfishOnly Want To Be With You
15Simon & GarfunkleMrs. Robinson
16KansasDust In The WindG
17Allman BrothersMelissa
18Soggy Bottom BoysMan of Constant Sorrow
19Doobie BrothersLong Train RunningC
20John DenverTake Me Home, Country Roads
21John DenverBack Home Again
22Billy JoelPiano ManC
23Chris IsaacsWicked GameA
24EaglesTrain Leaves Here This MorningE
25(traditional)Blue Ridge Mtns of Virginia
26Andrew ClemBetter Left UnsaidG
27Bob SegerTurn the PageG
28Steve GoodmanCity of New Orleans
29Stone Temple PilotsInterstate Love SongA
30EaglesWitchy WomanC
31EaglesLove Will Keep Us AliveA
32PocoCrazy Love
33Ozark Mountain DaredevilsLeatherwoodA
34Ozark Mountain DaredevilsHomemade WineA
35Ozark Mountain DaredevilsIf You Wanna Get To HeavenF
36Sheryl CrowMy Favorite Mistake
37Gin BlossomsFollow You DownG
38Tom PettyI Won't Back DownG
39Tom PettyHere Comes My Girl
40Plain White T'sRhythm of Love
41Allman BrothersMelissa

NOTE: The sequence of songs above is only approximate.

Other open mic events

For the record, here's a quick roundup of the times I have played at Queen City Brewing so far this year. The lists are based on my somewhat feeble memory, however, and may not be 100% accurate.

January 3 was marred by a harmonica flub on "Bennie and the Jets," due to dry lips and (perhaps) lack of practice. I really should do that one better. There weren't many musicians that night, so we each got to do extra songs, and some of the ones I did were not really that impressive.

January 10 was a little better but not as good as I'd like it to be. I played two David Bowie songs in recognition of the second anniversary of his passing. I made several changes to the chords in "Space Oddity," and surprised myself with a pretty effective rendition of "Golden Years." The two Moody Blues songs were a tribute to one of their members who had just passed away, Ray Thomas. (See below.)

[ CORRECTION: I originally included "Wild World" (by Cat Stevens) in the January 10 list, but later realized it was in December that I played that. ]

January 17 was indeed, according to host Fritz Horisk, "a superb night of music..." It was a relatively full slate of performers (me, Kimball Swanson, John Dull, Den Frumen, Calvin Stoltzfus, and Robin Shaw), so we each got to do just four songs. The first two songs I did were in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., since Monday was the official day of remembrance for him.

I passed on the January 24 open mic event because I had aggravated a small cut on my left index finger while playing at the Valley Smokehouse, and needed to let it heal. In fact, it's still bothering me...

R.I.P. Ray Thomas

The flute player for the Moody Blues, Ray Thomas, passed away on January 4, apparently due to complications from prostate cancer. He was the vocalist on many Moody Blues songs and wrote several of their lesser-known songs, of which my favorite is "For My Lady." I'll have to learn that one now. As a tribute to him and his wonderful group, I learned "The Voice," and relearned "The Story In Your Eyes," correcting some of the chords. (The Washington Post published an obituary on January 10, but I couldn't locate it using their online search function.)

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