My Advance Experience
After two full days, including some late nights, at the Republican Party of Virginia Advance in Richmond, I needed a few days to rest. Maybe it was the food, maybe the constant discussion, or maybe the many events (well, honestly, it was probably the drinking) but I wanted to gather my energy before writing down my thoughts for those who may not have been able to attend.
First, I have to say that while Richmond is a good venue for a meeting, I missed the Christmas-vacation atmosphere of the Homestead. Turnout seemed reasonable, and most events were pretty well attended, but the Homestead is, well, the Homestead.
My second point is this: The Advance is a social event. The hospitality suites and cocktail receptions were very well attended, but many faces were missing in the breakout sessions on Saturday. The sessions I attended were very informative, but the rooms were nowhere near capacity. That is too bad, as the speakers were very good and the information excellent.
Other than the huge support and obvious front-runner atmosphere surrounding Ed Gillespie, who was great (as always) in all his appearances, women stole the show. A large proportion of attendees were women, and the same was true of the young campaign workers. Carly Fiorina was a certified star and gave a great talk at the Saturday luncheon, especially as she urged us all to embrace the possibilities of the Trump Administration. Martha Boneta was another star, on the radio and as the moderator of the Energy Independence panel, Wendy Mauer, Stafford County Board of Supervisors, was both informative and entertaining on the local government panel, and Jill Vogel was upbeat, ever-present and sharp on policy, making a great impression on me and many in attendance. Her hospitality suite was full and her supporters were upbeat. I guess the “war on women” is over!
The opening reception, featuring a great speech by Fairfax’s own Wyatt Winslow, was loud and boisterous, proving that the party is energized by, and thrilled about, the Trump victory – regardless of the result in Virginia. Chairman Whitbeck wisely used it to set a positive and celebratory tone for the weekend.
Former Governor McDonnell’s re-emergence on Friday night was welcomed, and his speech was heartfelt, humble and characteristically (for him) well delivered. He was introduced by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Eric Cantor, who both obviously shared the audience’s love of the former Governor. All were glad to see him, and the affection in the room was palpable.
The hit of the Advance was the Ed Gillespie hospitality suite on Friday night, which was packed, upbeat and defined by good conversation, a great speech by Ed, and a positive energy that is sure to kick off his campaign in the right way. If anyone doubted that Ed is the man to beat, those doubts were dispelled on Friday night. Polls out this week show him as the clear front runner, but Ed is not resting on those laurels. He worked the Advance hard, shaking hands, listening, engaging in policy discussions, and having a great time with a Party that clearly loves him. I am proud to be supporting his candidacy.
Representatives Brat and Wittman both did a great job at the Saturday breakfast, both entertaining and informing the crowd on the keys to success in the Trump Administration. Their message might be summarized as “it was great to win, but now we have to govern.” I agree. Congressman Wittman’s announcement that he would not run for Governor was on everyone’s lips, as was the expectation that he would be the Seapower Sub-Committee Chairman in the next term, a post critical to Virginia. Virginia is lucky to have a representative as skilled, dedicated and distinguished as Rob Wittman.
The Gala, which was really more of a reception, featured a speech by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, which was both fun and inspirational. Although attendance was light at that event, Senator Scott wowed all those present with his talk. He is clearly going to be a long-term star in the Republican Party.
From an issues perspective tax reform was on the top of my list, looming large in the local government panel and (obviously) in the tax reform panel. There appeared to be hope that 2017 could be the year to modernize Virginia’s antiquated tax system, a critical task if we are to pull the Commonwealth out of the economic doldrums that have made us less competitive against both surrounding states and globally. A common refrain was to start by killing the hated “BPOL Tax” (Business, Professional, and Occupational Licensing Tax). BPOL, which is a tax on business gross receipts, was established to pay off the debts of the War of 1812, and its outdated complexities cause confusion and angst – especially among small businesses. What to replace it with was less clear, as the tax panel pointed out. (Note: Panelist Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation did a great job and is a valuable resource for all Virginia Republicans interested in tax reform.) Virginia tightly restricts the taxation options available to local governments, so removing BPOL means that the localities must find something else to fill the coffers. Lacking another option, they will resort to higher property taxes and higher Machine and Tool taxes (another hated tax), which few relish doing. Another rising star, in my opinion, who also happens to be female, Senator Amanda Chase of the 11th District (Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights City, Amelia County), hit the right notes during the tax reform panel when she was able to say “I already have a bill” (SB 836) to change the BPOL to a tax on Virginia taxable income instead of gross receipts. She also has a bill, SB 835, which lowers the Virginia Corporate tax from six percent to 2.5%. Tax reform is an issue sure to loom large in the Governor and Lieutenant Governor races next year, and an issue that should favor the GOP.
Speaking of the LG race, in my opinion Jill Vogel was quite impressive. She made herself very available, and I talked to her at length about what she wants to accomplish should she be elected. She highlighted her work as a “nationally recognized ethics attorney” and seemed truly determined to fight for ethics reform. It was her focus on the economy that best matched the mood at the Advance however. She wants to focus on “workforce issues in Southwest Virginia” to repair the damage done by the McAuliffe-Obama agenda, and support businesses and economic growth in Virginia, which is of course a key role of the LG. Like the tax reform panelists, she believes that Virginia’s tax climate drives the loss of competitiveness vis-à-vis other states, as they are “being creative” and Virginia has not been. She supports changing the BPOL tax, but is clear-eyed enough to understand that its revenue must be replaced, which will be difficult. BPOL is a “special interest bonanza,” said Jill, so we have to be creative in providing the revenue localities need without harming the incentives that drive business success and growth. Her literature touts the fact that her family “started a small business that has grown into a thriving enterprise employing over 600 people in Virginia” and she is confident that she will have strong support among business people “open to anything that supports” an improving business climate. She also wants to take on the regulatory climate and state mandates which act to “pour cold water” over business success “day in and day out.” Asked how she is doing in the race, she was very positive, adding that this focus will bode well for her among Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike, including those in Northern Virginia required for a statewide win. In addition to the economy, her literature focuses on defending the Constitution, defending the 2nd Amendment, enforcing immigration laws, creating educational opportunities, protecting women and children and the fact that she “was on the front lines against the Obama Administration’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups in the their fight against the IRS.” Jill had a great Advance.
Much more happened at the Advance over the course of the two days, and other panels (which I was not able to simultaneously attend) focused on Health Care, future energy issues and the legislative forecast. Chairman Whitbeck and his staff did an admirable job, and he even showed enough energy to host a post-Advance reception that started at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night. While I made an appearance at that one, it was only for a short time, as I was tired and the party, and the Party, was safely in the hands of younger folks, energized and ready to Advance!