In his first news media interview after receiving the Libertarian Party’s nomination for Governor of Virginia on Saturday, May 6, Mechanicsville lawyer and business owner Cliff Hyra  predicted that Virginia will legalize marijuana before it privatizes the state’s ABC stores.
“Of course, I’m for both,” he said, noting that “as we see the trend nationwide,” marijuana will be legalized or decriminalized within the next few years but “I really haven’t seen any movement toward deregulating liquor sales.”
Hyra  ran unopposed for the Libertarian Party of Virginia ’s gubernatorial nomination. He earned the nod at a special convention held in the Meadowdale Library in Chesterfield County, by a vote of 43 to one for “none of the above,” which is always a choice in Libertarian Party nomination contests.
Married with three children under the age of 7 and one more due in August, Hyra is a patent attorney, like the GOP’s 2013 nominee, Ken Cuccinelli. He said he was motivated to run because he was dissatisfied with the choices offered by Republicans and Democrats.
“The candidates who are out there now,” he said, are not “proposing real solutions. They’re not addressing a lot of the issues that are very important here in the Commonwealth,” so he thought adding a Libertarian to the ballot would bring those issues before the public.
Growth, reform, choice
His top three issues are economic growth, criminal justice reform, and adding choice to the education and health-care systems.
Economic growth, he said, has “been much too slow in Virginia over the past decade or so. We need some bold action on tax cuts [and] cuts to regulations” to encourage “the formation of small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.”
Virginia really “lags behind” other states in criminal justice reform efforts, Hyra said. “There are arrest quotas; that needs to end. I would grant pardons to people who have been convicted only of victimless crimes, such as drug use. I would order that the laws against drug use be given lower priority.”
He pointed out that Virginia is “arresting so many people,” about 35,000 to 40,000 each year, “just for drug use.” On top of that, he said, “it costs $25,000 a year to incarcerate a single person. It’s really out of control.”
Hyra said he wants to “introduce elements of competition and choice into the educational system [and] health care system. That’s where we need to bring expenses down [and] quality up, across the board.”
The Libertarian gubernatorial candidate believes his party can build on the foundation laid by Robert Sarvis in his campaigns for governor (2013) and U.S. Senate (2014).
“We’re really riding an upswell,” he said. “We have so many great volunteers now. We have so much great information about where the voters are receptive to our message, who’s really interested in libertarian messages that we’re sending.”
It’s worth noting that Hyra’s campaign manager is John Vaught LeBeaume, who also ran the two Sarvis campaigns and served as a national media director in the 2016 Gary Johnson for President campaign. With that experience on the campaign side, Hyra said “we’re going to reach out” to all those people.
He added that the libertarian “message is one that resonates with young people, especially criminal justice reform. Generally, the message of freedom and choice is one that is popular with people who are not affiliated with one of the big-government parties. There is a lot of room for growth among that new generation of voters and we’re looking to keep all the voters that we picked up with Rob Sarvis’s great campaign in 2013 [and] the Johnson-Weld campaign, and then grow even further from that.”
Democans and Republicrats
As for his potential opponents in the governor’s race, Hyra does not think highly of them.
Former Congressman Tom Perriello, a contender for the Democratic nomination, is, he said, “a big money guy. He’s just another in a long line of basically corrupt big-government candidates that are being funded by a very small number of donors,” noting that Perriello has received donations from financier George Soros.
“He’s not going to do anything to address the issues I’ve raised,” Hyra said, and “he’s not going to improve the business climate here in Virginia,” which, he added, is really true of both of them, whether it’s Ralph Northam or Perriello. They’re not talking about criminal justice reform at all, which is something that Virginia desperately needs.”
The candidates from both parties, Democrat and Republican, he said, are “really trying to avoid these hard issues. They’re beholden to a lot of special interests. They’re not presenting real solutions. In Virginia, we’ve alternated back and forth. We’ve had Republican governors, Democratic governors. For the most part, they’ve all done pretty much the same thing.”
No matter which party wins elections, he said, “Government just grows and grows. For both of them, that’s what I see.”
Commenting on the Republican candidates, he said that Corey Stewart is “running on a Trump message, a divisive message. I don’t see a lot of substance there.” Hyra met Stewart at this year’s Shad Planking and thought “he was a nice guy but he’s always talking about the [Confederate] monuments. To me, there are a lot of bigger issues than those and it just doesn’t seem that the solutions, the ideas are there” in Stewart’s campaign.
He said he was surprised to hear state Senator Frank Wagner advocate for raising taxes during a Liberty University debate. “That’s a really strange position for a Republican,” he said. “It’s really important for me to shrink the role of government in people’s lives [and] reduce the amount of taxpayer money that we’re spending.”
He agrees with Wagner that transportation is an important issue, “but we’ve got to find that funding from waste. We’ve got to cut other things. We can’t continue to increase taxes on the citizens of Virginia.”
Republican front-runner Ed Gillespie, who ran against Robert Sarvis in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, is “just an establishment candidate,” Hyra said. “He’s coming from out of state. He’s got a big lead and he’s trying not to offend anybody, I think, but he’s not proposing the sort of real solutions we need.”
Hyra took issue with the underlying assumptions of Gillespie’s proposed tax cut.
“It’s tiny,” he said. “He’s trying to tell people that it’s going to save the typical family $1,300 a year. Obviously, he didn’t go to school here in Virginia because the numbers just don’t add up.”
Virginia’s top tax rate is 5.75 per cent. “How much money do you have to be making for a 10 percent rate cut to amount to $1,300 a year? You’d have to be making $250,000 a year. Is the average family here in Virginia making $250,000 a year? I don’t think so. The math doesn’t add up. His tax cut is really about $300 a year, which is about a tenth of the size of my proposed tax cut. My proposed tax cut would be $3,000 a year back in the pockets of the average household here in Virginia, ten times bigger than Gillespie’s.”
Hyra believes his business and legal backgrounds are assets in his quest to be elected governor, and his lack of experience in public office is not a hindrance.
“I have experience running a small business. I’m a lifelong resident of Virginia. As a lawyer, I’m familiar with some of the legal issues we have here,” including the “tax climate, business climate issues. I understand how government regulations impact business decisions. That’s very real for me.”
Hyra noted that “if you look at the sitting governors around the country, about 25 percent of them have had no prior elected office. I don’t think it’s critical that you have prior political experience, and I don’t have any.”
What people want, he said, is “somebody who’s not in the machine,” someone who is “not bought and paid for.” A successful candidate for governor, he added, should be “a regular person who’s interested in the welfare of other people here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
While he has secured the nomination of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, Hyra still faces ballot-access obstacles before he can legally be a general-election candidate.
In a separate interview, state party chairman Bo Brown told me that the drive for petition signatures to qualify Hyra for the November ballot is well under way.
A candidate for statewide office must have 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters, including 400 such signatures from each of the eleven congressional districts. The deadline for turning them in is the same day as the Democratic and Republican primaries, the second Tuesday in June.
“We’re nearly at 6,000 turned in,” Brown said. “I believe it was somewhere in the 5,600 range. I’ve got another 1,200 or 1,400 that just got turned in to us today, so I imagine we’re probably at 7,000 or more at this point, with what I have basically in hand or what I’ve turned into the State Board of Elections.”
As one might expect, LPVA chair Brown is enthusiastic about his party’s nominee.
“Cliff is just an incredible candidate,” he gushed. “He’s brilliant. His wife’s incredible. They’ve got this great family. They’re a great representation of Virginians. We’ve got to let a lot of our [voters] understand that there are other candidates out there. You don’t have to stay stuck to one of those two old parties.”
In addition to nominating a gubernatorial candidate at the special convention in Chesterfield, the Libertarian Party of Virginia also elected state party officials (vice chair and secretary) and delegates to the national LP’s platform and credentials committees.
Here is the complete audio recording of Bearing Drift’s interview with Cliff Hyra:
Here is video of Hyra’s pre-nomination speech  to the Libertarian special convention, with a Q&A with party activists:
Here is Hyra’s speech accepting the LPVA nomination  for governor of Virginia: