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Friday May 26, 2023
IN THIS ISSUE: where do we go from here? | Youngkin and the third rail (woof woof) | Debate recap
ANALYSIS: Where Do We Go from Here?
by Martin Davis
Though it’s hard to believe, the culture wars are hardly new.
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To be sure, over the past two years we’ve heard a lot more of the expression than in recent years. Gov. Glenn Youngkin touched things off in his inauguration address last January - which is sounding more and more like a presidential stump speech every day, his protestations aside. And of course, there’s the ever-present Spotsylvania School Board, which is going to be good fodder for some history or political science student’s PhD dissertation in the near future.
The truth, however, is that these types of culture wars have been with us for a very long time. The Scopes Trial of 1925 is, in some quarters, viewed as one of the earliest examples.
Robert Wuthnow, the esteemed political scientist and statistician, looks to World War II as a major turning point.
As is usually the case with ideas like “culture wars,” however, the truth is considerably murkier, with no clear beginning.
What some call culture wars are little more than age-old problems recast in a slightly different light.
The debate over banning and burning books, for example, is as old as books themselves. The practice was common even before Guttenberg invented moveable type.
There have spates of book burnings during most any revolution you care to name.
Yet, we’ve managed to build and maintain one of the more-effective democracies in world history. (Not the most-effective, or best, democracy in the world right now, however.)
How have we done this in spite or these challenges? And more to the point, what can we do to ensure that we retain our integrity in our community?
Hedging Against Hegemony
It turns out, age-old problems have age-old solutions. In this case, an engaged citizenry.
Alexis de Tocqueville knew this when he visited American in the 19th century. Robert Putnam warned about it’s demise with his prescient book Bowling Alone. And writers like Amanda Ripley are trying to help us regain with her new book High Conflict.
In the face of people who are relentlessly taking rights away, it can feel hopeless.
That’s precisely when it’s important to remember, however, that it is We the People who put the oppressors in power. And We the People who can effect change by removing them.
Across our region, we are seeing people who are doing just that.
Spotsylvania County - The disaster that is the school board has done what culture warriors most fear. They’ve united right and left in opposition to tyranny. Among local leaders who’ve mounted the charge are private citizens like Rich Lieberman, who self-identifies as a conservative, and decidedly more-progressive citizens like Nicole Cole, who have bonded together to fight for more-responsible leaders while simultaneously pouring sweat and muscle into addressing the needs of students that the board itself won’t even acknowledge, much less solve. Issues like availability of snacks, and standing up for more mental health workers.
New Dominion Podcast - Born of intellectual sparring between a self-professed liberal and a credentialed conservative, the two (ok - I’m one, and my partner Shaun Kenney is the other) have bonded over solutions-based discussions. The disagreements are greatly outnumbered by the agreements - on local school funding, debates over growth, the troubles and potential of DEI, and so much more. Change the world? Nah. Get people in the community talking with us and opening up the channels of communication to focus on solutions as opposed to political nonsense? Yeah.
Juanita Shanks doesn’t ask questions when faced with a newly released prisoner. She’s too busy focused on making sure they find a way back into society, and not back into prison. A boot-strapped operation with no time for politics, Shanks just keeps doing what matters most. Solving problems.
Micah Ministries - Another group that is focused on solutions first, and dealing with the political only when necessary. To be sure, its leader is laser-focused and direct, but Meghann Cotter has earned the right. She’s lived the problem of homelessness in Fredericksburg for almost 20 years, and has a better grasp than most any of us about how to address it.
The list could go on, but the point is made.
Focusing on solutions leads to a breakdown in culture wars. The problems, it turns out, are too big for the simple solutions that ideologues promote.
A report in Politico shows we may be at such a point with school board elections. Over the past couple years Tea Party candidates, with backing from Moms for Liberty and groups like No Left Turn in Education gained control of boards across the nation as well as Spotsylvania, took over boards across the country. Notably here.
Now it seems that two years of book burning; teacher-hating; and endless rhetoric with no solutions to student achievement, teacher shortages, and students who are tired of being force-fed propaganda, is leading to a backlash.
We certainly hope that trend continues this November.
So long as we keep our eye on solutions, and not the banality of right vs. left, we’ll get there.
GUEST COMMENTARY: Youngkin Touches the Third Rail of Virginia Politics
The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VAHDA) is none too pleased about Youngkin's betrayal on the right to retrieve -- and is in a mood to punish.
by Shaun Kenney
[Reprinted with permission by The Republican Standard]
Hunting with dogs is as old a tradition as George Washington, long thought to have brought the first brace of American foxhounds to the continent.
Whether the claim is true or not, Virginians have had a long and proud tradition of hunting with dogs, running nearly 350 years, surviving the British Empire, coal mining, industrialization, and even the mass influx of suburbia during the 1990s and beyond.
Through no small effort of their own, Virginia’s 2A community consists of groups as widely ranging from the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) to Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association.
Yet there are few organizations in Virginia who have the grassroots might of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VAHDA).
At stake is a right as old as Magna Carta, the right of transverse, or as it has evolved in Virginia, the right to retrieve.
The rule is this: In Virginia, if your dog (or pet) crosses a property line, you have the right to retrieve your friend. That’s it.
Dogs Can’t Read Signs; Hunters in Short Supply as Deer Populations Explode
As Virginia hospitality still regarded as sacrosanct in most parts of God’s Country, the arrangement works out for all concerned. Good neighbors understand that hunting dogs can’t read property markers. Dog owners retrieve their friends, property owners don’t have to be bothered by a 11pm phone call asking to visit.
Unfortunately, this neighborly understanding of Virginia’s long standing traditions are not under any threat from hunters who are admirably keeping the tradition alive while keeping deer populations down. Among hunters, it is no small secret that Virginians who hunt have dropped over 38% from our highwater mark in the 1990s while car accidents involving deer continue to increase.
That’s just on the automobile accident side of things. Deer are voracious eaters and the bane of farmers. Notable fact? Deer eat 3-5% of their body weight every day, with larger deer populations consuming millions of dollars in sorely needed cash every year for Virginia farmers.
Most Virginians have no idea what debt they owe to Virginia’s hunters on this count. So why target enthusiasts who are responsible for over half of the culling of deer and the supply of delicious bambique to families across Virginia?
This tradition — a uniquely Southern one at that — is under threat from one source.
Commercial Hunting: A Hammer Looking for a Nail
So is there a problem of hunting dogs trespassing? Not according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Hunters who hunt with dogs consist of over half of the hunters in Virginia and are responsible for a mere 10% of the hunting complaints and only 8% of all trespass complaints — a mere fraction.
Yet in January 2023, former US Deputy Attorney General and Younkin associate George Terwilliger — a man who has never held a hunting permit much less a fishing permit in Virginia — moved to ask for yet another hound hunting study aimed not at balance, but at restricting the right to retrieve.
In March 2023, the DWR board considered a presentation that would supposedly balance the right to retrieve with so-called “landowner conflicts” — an astonishing statement given that there are so few reports and even fewer actual violations of Virginia law.
So what is moving behind the curtain here?
The answer is commercialized hunting where — by example — a private landowner will fence off a few hundred acre property and drop in exotic animals such as cheetahs, antelope, or other “wild” beasts where you can lean off the deck, blast your prey, and then head inside for a mint julep while the helpful staff butchers and stuffs your prize.
Think that’s too far? Consider what has happened in Georgia, where in order to use hunting dogs, the landowner must have 1,000 contiguous acres of leased property or 250 acres if privately owned.
More problematically, if your dogs should happen to stray onto someone else’s property? Two consecutive violations will have your hunting license revoked by the authorities. A charge of $5.00 per hunting dog per year is required. This among other regulations all serves to push even more people away from hunting, driving up the cost and driving others into the arms of pay-to-pay hunting.
What Terwilliger seems careful to omit is that there have been no less than three hound studies in Virginia since 2007, with this latest effort representing the fourth. In each, the result has been the same — increase the number of game wardens. Terwilliger’s response to this common sense solution?
“Not going to happen.”
Getting Around Those Pesky Voters Through Regulatory Activism…
Yet when the Virginia General Assembly last attempted to restrict the right to retrieve, hundreds of orange hats lined up between the General Assembly Building and the Virginia State Captial in a turnout that hasn’t been seen since Patrick Henry, cheering their friends and asking opponents to reconsider.
Unable to defeat the VAHDA legislatively, they do what every other Washington insider does — try to defeat Virginia’s largest 2A organization via regulation:
Because there is no need for a new hound study, it looks to be an agenda-driven effort, which is intended to harm hunting with hounds in Virginia to the greatest extent possible. Unable to end the Right-to-Retrieve in the legislature or the courts, the effort returns to the Department of Wildlife Resources. While the DWR can not end the Right-to-Retrieve law, it can pass damaging regulations.
Of course, the VAHDA was an early supporter of Glenn Youngkin, providing the backbone of Sportsmen for Youngkin and posting thousands of signs across rural Virginia.
Someone decided that a personal favor was worth more than the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who went out of their way to support a candidate who promised to defend the Second Amendment.
This morning, Virginia DWR will meet in Henrico County and be met with an army of orange hats — people who supported and now feel betrayed by Youngkin as he seeks presidential aspirations rather than protecting the interests of those who went out on a limb to support him.
Youngkin’s popularity might be a mile wide and keeping the Democrats out of power, but among those who were counting on him to support their interests, Youngkin’s support remains one inch deep.
Already, Youngkin is drawing fire among conservatives for accepting donations to his Spirit of Virginia PAC for being weaker than DeSantis on the right to life. Virginia’s right to retrieve remains in good standing. Whether or not Youngkin has a right to retrieve his reputation among 2A enthusiasts after this debacle is a different matter.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.
Debate Follow up
Last night, Joel Griffin and Ben Litchfield squared off at the CRRL in Fredericksburg. There, they faced questions from F2S editor Martin Davis, freelance writer and award-winning journalist Lindley Estes, and UMW senior and editor of the Weekly Ringer Norah Walsh.
If you missed it, you can watch the entire hour debate right here.
The sound’s a little shaky the first five minutes, but it picks up where it matters - with the cnadidates’ answers to the questions.
F2S is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.