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More Town terminations, or cut interim manager’s salary first?

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The Town Council and the Interim Town Manager once again went behind closed doors (at Monday’s Council meeting of April 27) to discuss personnel issues. This included employee layoffs in response to the COVID-19 economic instability.

We all know what happened the last time they went behind closed doors to discuss personnel issues: Four people lost their jobs.

Also let me remind you, our Interim Town Manager laughed at a poster with these terminated employees’ names on it at a Council meeting after saying terminating them was one of the hardest things he has ever done.

So with that being said, please join me in emailing our Town Council members and our Interim Town Manager requesting the Interim Town Manager’s salary to be cut in half before another town employee is terminated. All email addresses are on the Town of Front Royal web page.

Thank you.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal, Virginia

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Historical Boycotts

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historically speaking

It is often said that words matter.  Historically speaking, this is often seen by using a particular word to connect to the past.  The Whig Party chose that name because in the 1830s everyone knew that the Whigs in England were the ones who had opposed the King.  By calling themselves the Whigs, they were criticizing Andrew Jackson by implying he wanted to be a monarch.

Recently this idea has played out with a Twitter beef between certain sports writers and LeBron James.  After the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks announced they would not play their opening round game against the Orlando Magic.  Quickly the rest of the NBA games were canceled as players refused to play in light of the most recent shooting.  The NBA came out in support of the cancelations and announced the games would be played at a later date in the near future. In writing about the games, many writers referred to the canceled games as postponements.  It was at that time that LeBron James tweeted, “Boycotted not postponed.”

Why does the name make a difference?  Either way, postponed or boycotted, the games were all held two days later and the playoffs continued.  May I suggest that James, understanding the historical significance of boycotts, wanted to connect his actions to the past.  By insisting what he did was a boycott, the current movement could be seen in a similar light as, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  James did not articulate his reasons for his Tweet, but there must have been a reason for his insistence he was boycotting.

To be fair to the journalists, they had reasons for their word choice.  First, traditionally in sports a boycott has referred to players skipping a game or event while the game went on without them.  When past NBA All-Stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor boycotted games because of racial injustice, the games were still played but without them.  So when the NBA rescheduled the recent playoff games, to many it seemed more like a postponement.

Secondly, though not required, to make a good sports boycott story, some amount of sacrifice is usually made.  There are some excellent examples in history.  In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler planned to use the games as a showcase for his achievements and show off he did. He built amazing venues and used the world’s captured attention to turn everything into a pageant of Nazi propaganda. He also showed off his nation’s athleticism by dominating the games and winning the most medals. Even while cautious of Hitler, most of the world arrived in Berlin anyway, not wanting to let politics ruin the games. However, there were some athletes who just could not bring themselves to ignore Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

One such athlete was Albert Wolff, a French fencer. Though Wolff had a chance to medal in the Olympics, as a Jew he simply could not tolerate Hitler’s Jewish views. Instead of competing, he gave up any chance of Olympic glory and remained at home. He never gave up on his Olympic dreams, however. In 1948, twelve years later, when the games commenced again after WWII, the now 42-year-old athlete finally got his chance to compete. Much older now and out of his prime, this time he represented his new home of America and had the honor to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremonies. It’s worth noting how Wolff spent his time between the two Olympics. Instead of sitting in his hotel suite for a few days, eating room service, he decided to enlist with the French army and left for the front, willing to die for his beliefs. He did not just fight; he earned his nation’s highest honor for bravery. Eventually, he was captured by the Germans and sent to a Jewish war camp. He managed to escape the camp and made his way to Portugal and then eventually the U.S.  Once in America, he enlisted in the American Army and was sent back to the front in Africa to fight again.

There are other famous boycotts. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Russia because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Many athletes who had trained for years for this one event were forced to give up their only opportunity to ever win a medal. There was some satisfaction for America, not the summer athletes, but for the winter ones. Later that year America did play in the winter games.  That was the year when the American hockey team beat the Russians during the “Miracle On Ice” game, arguably the most inspirational American Olympic game ever.  By not sacrificing even one game, James’ boycott does not seem to measure up for many.

In the end it really does not matter what the game stoppage was called, the playoffs have continued and James looks poised to win his fourth championship.  James wants to be seen as fighting for social justice like those who came before him.  However, maybe it is the very fact that he might win that fourth title that some have questioned his choice of words and have denied what he did was a boycott.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Council candidate Rappaport responds to Holloway reading of Town stance on FRPD debt

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The following is my rebuttal to the Front Royal Town Council’s insistence that they do not have a Moral Obligation to finance and pay the debt for the construction of the Police Station that they are occupying.

When someone or an entity occupies a building or home, then it is typically reasonable that the individual or entity either pays a mortgage or rent to the owner or holder of the note. The Town of Front Royal to the best of my knowledge has paid zero. The town’s offer to make a paltry $10,528.95 good faith one-time payment in July was an embarrassment to the town citizens as it would only have covered half of the monthly payment. If a regular citizen were to treat the banks in such a manner, then it would be reasonable to assume that the banks would sue for default and take the property back.

Bruce Rappaport implored council on Sept. 14 to assume the debt service on its new police headquarters. In response, Chris Holloway read an attorney-prepared statement citing council’s stance it has no legal or moral obligation to pay for its police station because the loan does not have a discussed, though never-achieved 1.5% interest rate attached. Royal Examiner File Photo by Roger Bianchini

It is clear to me that initially the Town and the County failed to do their due diligence regarding the viability of winning a New Market Tax Credit loan; however, the County was proactive and went out to get financing for their projects when it became clear that the NMTC wasn’t likely to happen. Whereas the town decided to be reactive and gamble on winning a lawsuit to help pay for the police station. When Bryan Phipps a high level NMTC Administrator executive suggests that the Town take the 2.5% 30-year fixed loan, then instinctively I am all in. The bickering between the County and the Town has to end and a good first step is for the Town to admit that they have a moral obligation to pay.

Collaboration is the key to success. The Town and County have both dug in their heels and that approach is a recipe for disaster for the community. If the town doesn’t take on the FRPD financial obligation and the County stops paying the debt service, then it will hurt both the Town and County’s ability to obtain construction loans in the future because we have defaulted on our Moral Obligation to pay our debts. I want to put an end to these attitudes, and it is a big reason as to why I decided to run for Town Council.

Bruce Rappaport
Front Royal, Virginia

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Historical Policing

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historically speaking

One question I like to ask my students is who are the greatest American presidents?  After I gather the list of usual suspects, I then ask what makes these presidents great. What I tend to find is that the greatest usually get us through some sort of crisis.

My next question is are they really the best presidents or were they fortunate enough to have a situation to fix. How do we know how Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur would have handled a crisis? Maybe they would have done better. Perhaps James Monroe or Calvin Coolidge were the best presidents because under their leadership we did not have a crisis. John Adams stopped us from going to war with France. Most don’t think of him as great, even though I do. We only think of presidents who won wars, not stopped them. My point always is that we remember people for things that happened, not for things that did not.

I was thinking of this example this morning as I wanted to write a piece about police. I racked my brain as I took my morning walk for historical incidents involving police. The problem was I could only come up with one positive example. The rest were times when cops behaved badly. There has been plenty out there to read and hear about police abuses, yet I know those are rare compared to the thousands of interactions happening every day. My realization was that, when police do their jobs correctly, we do not hear about it. There will be thousands of arrests across the nation today that we will not hear about. Who knows how many crimes or episodes will not happen today because of the police. Yet we never remember things that do not happen.

There are very few jobs like police work. Their job is to protect us, but often times when they do their job we get upset. We say we support the police but then curse them when we see their lights in our rear view, even when we know we are speeding. We want them to do their job, but towards others. Police are like teachers. Jobs we claim we respect for their service, yet grossly underpay and often trash for not being good at their job. Children have no respect for police or teachers anymore because they hear their parents and society at large criticize them, especially when either calls parents about discipline issues their precious children never could have committed.

Police work is not like most jobs because, though police are part of our lives, we only tend to spend real time with them on our worst days. Days when we have violated the law or had a crime committed against us. Either way, not a good day. They have to deal with us at our worst–when we are mad, agitated, angry, or often times scared. Most handle us in our crisis with patience and caring. Most of our crises will pass, while police officers move on to the next one, day after day. They will see things most of us will never have to see and do things most of us will never have to do, and then they will do and see it again and again.

Ultimately, their jobs are not like ours because, more than most, every day at their day could be their last. Their job is to rush into danger when everything is telling the rest of us to run away. They never know when what seems like a basic traffic stop is actually a life-threatening situation with a person who can cause them harm. Every day they put on a badge saying, “I will put myself in danger to protect you.” Like soldiers they do not do this for money. There are many reasons why cops become cops, but they all sacrifice time and family and security to stand on the front line.

Police are part of America, as much a part as any profession. Police forces are older than the nation itself. The oldest that we know of started in Boston in 1635 and the first death in the line of duty occurred in 1786. According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial, 1909 marks an important year. It was the last year that there were fewer than 100 deaths. 1930 led the way with 312 officers killed.

I am not trying to take anything away from Black Lives Matter. Historically speaking, policing has a checkered past. Cops like Bull Conner in Montgomery, Alabama, used every aspect of his position to terrorize the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Protests during the time were filled with examples of cops beating American Citizens for exercising their rights. Yet, at the same time let’s not forget that today as the police are being vilified that police officers of every race are working tirelessly to reach out to their communities to find solutions.

We cannot allow officers to kill a restrained man. I know it’s a time to help and support our Black brothers and sisters. Yet, in the process let’s not forget those brave men and women who continue to serve faithfully. Let’s not compound one tragedy with another by forgetting the positives police have done. Before we decide to defund police forces, let’s remember the one historically significant day that instantly comes to my mind. I still remember the day in 2001 when 72 officers ran into a burning building to save the lives of others only to lose their own. One side does not have to be evil for the other side to be right. Black lives do matter, but that does not mean all police are villains. Let’s all take a moment to remember who protects our lives from unseen and unspoken evils every day that we will probably never hear about because they did their job right.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Bonnie Gabbert responds to Tony Carter on Recall Petition

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I would like to address the August 8, 2020, BOS meeting in which Tony Carter brought up the Removal Petition. Mr. Carter asked Mr. Ham the status of the Removal Petition (as if he didn’t already know).  Mr. Ham said the Petition had been dropped on the previous Board Members but the Petition had been non-suited for Mr. Carter and Mr. Fox which means that the Petition can be brought up again within 6 months.  Mr. Carter was probably relieved to hear that because now he does not have to worry about the embarrassment of being removed from office; however, according to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office that is not exactly true.

Here is the answer I received from Michael Parker, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney, when I asked question about re-filing the petition. Mr. Parker stated in an email to me: “There is no specific statute for elected official removal that I can find. When there is no specific statute, the fallback is Va. Code Section 8.01-248: “Personal actions for which no other limitation is specified: Every personal action accruing on or after July 1, 1995, for which no limitation is otherwise prescribed, shall be brought within two years after the right to bring such action has accrued.”

I think there’s an argument to be made that the removal action is unique and may not even qualify as a “personal action,” and that the only limitation would be while the people remain in office. But at worst I think 2 years is the limitation.

SO Mr. Carter, it looks like you are not quite off the hook yet. And then in response to your ridiculous comment about the petitioners paying the legal fees:

“Code of Virginia “Under the amended law, which took effect on July 1, 2009, removal petitions may not be thrown out of court because of technical flaws, and persons who sign or circulate petitions cannot be liable for any costs associated with removal proceedings, including attorney fees and court costs, and may not have sanctions imposed against them (See § 24.2-235 and § 24.2-238).

I would have thought your attorney would have told you this. However many people on social media said they would GLADLY give their $50 to have you removed from office.  And just to make sure you are properly informed, your district was the FIRST one to receive all of the necessary signatures on the petition. We had 5 people collecting signatures and two weeks in which to get them in. Once we got all of the signatures needed for one district we then concentrated on a different district.  We could have gotten three times the signatures needed if we had more time in which to collect them. We had many citizens calling us and asking to sign the petition after the cutoff date and we had to decline them.

Let me be quite clear Mr. Carter, the charges were non suited for various reasons none of which were that you should not have been removed from office. Again this from the Commonwealth Attorney’s office:

Mr. Parker’s motion to nonsuit, which states in part, “…there is an inherent conflict in a scenario where the evidence for the civil removal action is at minimum related to, and almost certainly would be derived from, an ongoing criminal investigation. Further, the proceedings of that investigation and the evidence it is producing have been ordered secret by this very Court. Using evidence derived from the grand jury investigation to prove a civil action runs the dual risks of damaging any criminal action to follow and violating an order of this Court.”

In short, the civil action depends on evidence derived from a secret grand jury investigation. The civil action requires proof of misconduct by Ms. McDonald, or would be sure to fail without such proof. I recognize this is another frustration for the citizens of Warren County, but obviously Ms. McDonald has not yet been found guilty in trial. The civil action would “jump the gun” on an eventual criminal trial.

So you see Mr. Carter you and Mr. Fox can STILL be petitioned for removal from office and the only thing that is saving you from this right now is the fact that the suit against Jennifer McDonald has not been brought to trial.

Have you ever thought that maybe you should not act quite so superior to the citizens you were elected to serve and remember that these same people and more will be voting in the next election? You have made many enemies in this county with your arrogant and dismissive attitude and your lack of oversight and leadership skills have cost the citizens of this county thousands of dollars. Mr. Carter I hope you will remember this – you may have escaped the Removal Petition but you did not escape the name or reputation you have made for yourself in this County.

Bonnie Gabbert
Front Royal, Virginia

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Guest Commentary: Front Royal, a stationary island as the Tourism revenue stream floats by

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In 2013 the author wrote:

“Front Royal as an island.

‘Watching the river go by from the head of an island offers the comfort and illusion that one is moving forward.  A wiser view is to look at the opposite bank. This single act will make clear that only the river is moving forward. The bank, like the island AND our town, is actually standing still’.” 

I have been mulling over, musing really, a recent article and comments from The Royal Examiner: “The Other Side of the Street” dated August 25, 2020. Byline: Roger Bianchini

On the surface it speaks to pedestrian traffic on Main Street with competing elements for and against. Sadly, the issue is the culmination of decades of Tourism tumult.

It is really about parking.

Like characters from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel; it is really about Big Enders and Little Enders where political, i.e., tourism positions have been lost in the mists of time and history. They have been lost to newly elected officials without understanding local tourism, its accomplishments and history. Its increased revenue opportunity.

At core lies more than three decades of Tourism turbulence: various players and interests that choose to or not to act on this element that is economically critical to both town and county. Most elected officials remain largely clueless to the millions of dollars that Tourism – direct and multiplier – bring to our economy. Multi-millions.

To that I say:

SCHADENFREUDE.* The German word now in common English usage. Not personal, rather, a compilation of lack of leadership, weak or non-decisions and internal conflicts among elected, private and business interests ranging over decades. I have been both player and witness for more than 30 years. I retired from public commitments 14 years ago. I sleep better now.

It’s about Parking.

Beginning in the early 1990s neither Town nor County have managed to create a clear tourism platform: A detailed plan whereby all decisions fit within an overall structure – a matrix. Oh, sure, I sat through dozens of planning sessions that lost momentum and disappeared into the black hole of local politics. This current Tourism hot spot, when filtered through such a matrix, would settle the current Main Street squabble.

I have a deep and long-standing personal history with this struggle which, for me, began in 1986.

Small Tourism steps have taken place, for sure, yet, a combined, cogent and concise guide has not happened. Thousands of dollars spent on meetings and studies. Town and County continue to quarrel. No measurable progress.

We have no universal branding. Some signage/ads use the Gazebo icon (which to an outsider appears to be an alien moon lander with no recognizable relationship to our main tourists attributes); others use a line drawing of a dormer window that is remarkably similar to the Erie Insurance logo. The same with advertising tags.  A mixed bag.  A shot gun approach. No targets hit.

Different town managers have left their individual imprints by imposing personal will. Remember the expensive to-taxpayers tourist phone kiosks placed at town entrances that failed (except as good radar spots for the local gendarmes to write tickets to tourists) and recently removed? A favorite failure was the pitiful attempt to tag “Front Royal – the Aspen of the East”. T-shirts were actually printed.

Setting aside industrial-like businesses (EDA-drawn), we have failed our taxpayers by not smartly understanding and benefiting from the great Tourism pie, just too many bakers with no cooking experience.

The conflicts and battles remain basically the same: No overall agreement on a long-term plan on how to profit from Tourism. Increasing tourism revenue has never been a stated goal. A must fixed pillar.

Through the decades I participated in many dozens of the then-current “darlings” of the Town/County leadership: Remember EDAW or the much touted expensive and now vanished “Envision Front Royal” project, Front Royal Tourism Advisory Board, State Park impact, Avtex Redevelopment Stakeholders and so many more? Nothing has endured nor moved forward. Reviewing my minutes from the Town’s Tourism Advisory Board in 2002 clearly validate this. No impactful, no coherent plan.

IT’S ABOUT PARKING.

At best, Downtown has not been blessed with a well laid out parking scheme to easily transition residents and visitors’ access to our Main Street; this is especially so during special events. This is where Disney excels. Improving and managing people and flows to a given location. Increasing tourism profits by investing in and focusing on tourism access. This is low hanging fruit.

The lack of a coherent master tourism plan coupled with dearth of visionary leadership across the board leads our community to unending strife and reduced tourism revenues which ultimately increases taxes.

BUILD A PARKING STRUCTURE.

Years ago, the old “lawyers row” located on the East side of the existing courthouse was knocked down to provide additional parking spaces to accommodate the court house expansion. It did not increase parking – read access – for visitors or residents. Translation: Reduced access to tourism revenue and resident access to Main Street. However, the courthouse received more parking. Great. BUT the leaders of the community demonstrated a will to act in unison for a project they thought was important. I believe adding substantial revenues to Main Street is co-equal. So, such a plan is possible.

Most parking on the south side of Main Street is dedicated to private businesses. The North side parking offers much reduced yet difficult access from Commerce Avenue. KISS

Whether we keep Main Street open for pedestrian traffic would then become moot.  There are several locations in which a parking facility might be situated.  The above ground part can easily conform and match the ‘feel’ of Main Street while funneling access for those needed, local and important merchants. All that revenue – tourists’ wallets – funneled directly to Main Street. Happy Days!

I clearly recall the conflicts that played out years ago when a private citizen brought forth and led the community to revitalize East Main Street: the same beautiful layout we now use. No one misses the pathetic old Main Street’; most do not remember. There was, of course, opposition.

Dare I say that Winchester has supported and invested in its Old Town merchants by reconstructing and adding several parking garages. There is revenue from a parking garage to be had. In business terms: additional revenue stream.

Locals complain and transplants hope that the hub of our county will smartly improve. All want revenues to improve. This spat is simply a decades old cancer that grows increasingly: limits growth potential and importantly – Revenue.

Trace Noel
Front Royal, Virginia


* FOOTNOTE: It can be argued that there’s no real synonym for schadenfreude in English. … “Malicious joy” is one way to describe schadenfreude, as is the verb “gloat” when used in the correct context.

(Trace Noel is a Warren County resident and retired Shenandoah River outfitter. He moved from Northern Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley in 1970. Noel has received national, state, and local awards for conservation and tourism. His submitted bio below outlines his background and experience in the topics he addresses.)

Bio: Trace Noel
1970 BA Degree – History – Bethel University, McKenzie, Tn

Activities focused on water trails, environmental, tourism and river issues:

  • Board of Directors of the national Professional Paddlesports Association based in Springfield, VA. Nation’s largest outfitter trade association.
  • Served on PPA board as Officer, Paddlesports Promotion Chair and member of Executive Committee
  • While serving on Executive board of PPA: purchased Paddler Magazine, created national outfitter on-water insurance program including reinsurance, rewrote national by-laws, created new region, produced week of waterways and national outfitter/livery education school and accreditation program/school.
  • Founding member and Regent, National Professional Paddlesports Business Accreditation School
  • Front Royal COC – Tourism Committee – Chairman
  • Founder and past President of the Virginia Professional Paddlesports Association (VAPPA) Trade Association
  • Past Chairman of Shenandoah River Recreational Use Plan

Committee

  • Member Shenandoah River Recreational Working Committee
  • Chairman of Shenandoah River Canoe Liveries and Outfitters Association (SRCLO).
  • Shenandoah River Representative – Virginia Canals and Navigation Society
  • Member of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries boating legislative review group
  • Advisory Committee member Friends of the Rivers of Virginia (FORVA).
  • Creator and Past Director – Shenandoah RIVERFEST
  • Former Member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Shenandoah River. (1988-1996)
  • Member of Page County River Advisory Committee 1992 (MORC STUDY).
  • Member Minimum Instream Flow Technical Assistance Committee (MIF-TAC) 1994
  • Founding Member – Coors Clearwater 2000 Forum, Harrisonburg, VA (James Madison University) – Created origination’s logo.
  • Advisory Committee for Master Plan for Shenandoah River State Park
  • Formed group to acquire land for Guests State Park

Worked with DCR planner, Robert Munson, for acquisition, layout and river access planning for Guests State Park.

  • Worked with Roger Pence, Head of SRSP to lay out boat landings, commercial traffic access and design of main boat launch/pickup.
  • Front Royal COC – Chair Legislative Committee
  • Avtex Superfund Site Stakeholders Group
  • Local DU Chapter member and Sponsor
  • Member North American Water Trails Assoc
  • Founding Member Virginia Eco-Tourism Assoc. (VETA)
  • Vice Chair – Town of Front Royal Tourism Advisory Board
  • Advisory member of the Shenandoah River Blueway, Shenandoah, VA
  • Contributor and organizing member of Shenandoah River Sojourn 2003-2006
  • Planned and sponsored first state sponsored ‘water trail’ conference – Blueway. Worked with DCR, VDGIF, VA DEPT OF FORRESTRY.  Warren County/Front Royal declined to support.
  • Shenandoah River State Park Visitor Center Advisory Committee
  • BA History – Bethel University, McKenzie, TN.  1970

Junior Class President, Frosh Class Treasurer, National Fraternity President

  • American Canoe Association Certified Instructor of Moving Water Tandem Canoe.
  • 19 years experience whitewater boating.
  • Waterfowl guide since 1991 – Waterfowl hunting of Shenandoah since 1986
  • Swift Water Rescue Trained and Certified
  • Weekly fishing report: Weekender Magazine, The Washington Post and Virginia Outdoor Magazine and Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Weekly Report. 12 years
  • Weekly fishing Reports for Washington Post, fishontheline.com and VDGIF 10 years
  • Feature articles by Washington Post Sunday Outdoor Feature Writer, Angus Phillips for guided trips: opening of Guest State Park, waterfowl hunting, fly fishing for Smallmouth bass, Conservation and River Knowledge.
  • Contributed to, quoted and assisted in the National Geographic Magazine feature article on the Shenandoah River written by Angus Phillips. December 1996
  • 2000 – Conservation award from Virginia Trails Assoc. awarded at VA Governor’s Conference on Trails and Blueways – Virginia Beach
  • 2000 – National “Millennium” Award from National Paddlesports Assoc. for contributions to Paddlesports and the Paddlesports Industry. Special one time presentation.
  • 1998 – Volunteer award from Governor George Allen river clean-up and conservation
  • 2006 – The Frank A. Jones Outstanding Member Award, the highest honor for members of the Professional Paddlesports Association. Amelia Island, Fl.
  • 2007 Citizen Conservationists of the Year presented by The Virginia chapter of the American Fisheries Society. Danville, VA
  • Creator of Original Shenandoah RIVERFEST.
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Political Celebrities

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historically speaking

Now that the national conventions are over, it is time for the Republicans to comment on the number of Hollywood celebrities who spoke and performed at the Democratic Convention. Of course, this is not new. Hollywood has always supported the left much more than the right, and Democratic conventions and rallies can parade out an endless stream of celebrities to tell us what to think. While this is true, arguably the most famous celebrity speech that ever happened was in 1964 and was for the Republicans.

1964 was an interesting election year. Just the year before the very popular president, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated. Kennedy’s VP-now-President, Lyndon Johnson, was running for the Democratic nomination on his own account. The Republicans ran a man named Barry Goldwater. With these two men, the modern-day parties were set. There will no longer be any question which party was liberal and which was conservative, or, as Goldwater put it, there was “a choice, not an echo.”

Goldwater was an old school conservative, who wanted to reduce the size of government and cut taxes.  Really, he was running against the New Deal. He also claimed the Democrats were soft on communism and had failed to contain it. Johnson was a liberal with a strong record on civil rights and social reform.

There was never really any doubt who would win. Johnson was still feeling the effects of FDR and Kennedy and he blew out his Republican competitor. Yet, when the election was only a couple of days away, the Republicans tried a last-ditch effort to win some votes by purchasing TV time and running a speech by actor Ronald Reagan.

Ex-Democrat Reagan was not a popular actor at the time. It had been a stretch since his last major role. He was more known as a spokesman for G.E. and host of a weekly NBC show called General Electric Theater, but that had ended in 1962. Yet he gave such a memorable speech that it catapulted him within two years to being elected Governor of California and ultimately to the White House.

His speech in 1964 was a complete denunciation of the Democrats and liberal policy and was as divisive as any speech that year. Like today, the main attack was the size of government and America becoming a socialist state. These same arguments have been made for fifty years.

Reagan said, “This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

Reagan’s skills as a speaker made him relevant again and his ideas became the playbook for Republican politicians, even today. In fact, this speech was so important that the only other political speech by a Republican that is comparable is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

It is true that the Democrats rely on their celebrity endorsements more than Republicans, but historically speaking the most important Republican speech in the past fifty years also came from a Hollywood actor.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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