They say politics makes strange bedfellows – and it couldn’t get much stranger than pro- and anti-Trump contingents presenting a united front right here in Front Royal, Virginia. But that could be the outcome if the Town of Front Royal pursues an initiative brought forward by some downtown, East Main Street business interests to try and move political demonstrators out of the Town Gazebo Village Commons area at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets.
It is there on both sides of Chester Street that dueling political perspectives regarding the persona and agenda of the 45th president of the United States have been expressed for one hour, once a week over the past 18 months.
The rationale on removal from the center of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District cited by town officials in communication with local Business Forum representatives is that the demonstrations are scaring potential customers away. See Related Story
A council majority and the mayor appeared reluctant to tackle the issue without more substantive evidence of that alleged disruption of local business or tourism. Town Attorney Doug Napier suggested caution in any attempt to alter the nature or space of the demonstrations due to First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly regarding political opinions written into the U.S. Constitution.
However, while expressing unfamiliarity with the dueling demonstrations Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt volunteered to approach leadership of the two sides about the possibility of relocating to a less obtrusive spot than the town’s public square and nearby public property under the town clock. A public space between South Commerce Avenue and Happy Creek south of the Pavemint restaurant was mentioned as a possible destination.
From an initial polling it appears the vice mayor’s initiative was met with less than an enthusiastic reaction from both sides of the political street.
“Sure, we’d do it with them – they’re not going to push us out of here,” original pro-Trump demonstrator Ralph Waller told Royal Examiner around noon on September 5, when informed of the business forum initiative brought to council the previous evening. “Them” are the anti-Trump contingent across Chester Street from both pro-Trump demonstrations AND his Main Street Pawn Shop in front of which he initiated those demonstrations some 17 months ago.
Waller’s business is essentially at ground zero of the dueling demonstrations, and he does not believe those demonstrations are deterring anyone from doing business downtown. Told a jewelry shop owner across East Main Street was the closest business represented in support of the business forum initiative, Waller observed, “This is a tough time for the jewelry business everywhere. Our jewelry sales are down but I don’t think it has anything to do with one hour, once a week out here,” he said gesturing toward the door to his shop from behind the counter.
Waller’s expression of potential legal unity with those of a different political perspective was not the only one we encountered that day.
“I’ll be proud to stand next to the Democrats for our right to be out here,” teenaged Trump supporter Joel Simmons told Royal Examiner later that afternoon as Republicans gathered at party headquarters near the Chester Street political divide for an appearance by Virginia Congressional candidate Corey Stewart between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on September 5. In fact, during a brief media interview Stewart expressed support of the dueling downtown Front Royal political demonstrations.
‘Turf war’ revisited
That late-afternoon September 5 Republican gathering coincided with the first Wednesday in which the pro-Trump contingent had permitted the gazebo area for their demonstration. That permitting is for six weeks, the maximum length of time a space may be permitted by the town government. Consequently, as we spoke to Ralph Waller around noon on September 5, the space in front of his shop was empty while Len Sherp’s anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy was back to its earlier fall-winter noon to 1 p.m. timeframe, perhaps six weeks earlier than anticipated.
Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz verified to Royal Examiner that he had initiated the permitting location change for the pro-Trump side some six weeks after initially being removed by town police from the gazebo during the July 25 pro- and anti-Trump demonstrations. See Related Story
“I went in and asked about its availability and was told it was available as of September 5. I said they’ve been there what, a year and a half – that’s long enough,” Kurtz said as he prepared for the first Wednesday afternoon occupation of the gazebo area by Republicans on September 5 for the Corey Stewart visit.
Asked if the pro-Trump contingent had maintained permitting for both sides of the street, Kurtz said, “No, I wouldn’t do that to them” – indicating he just wanted the demonstration “high ground” for the pro-Trump side for a change.
Asked if he wanted to comment for this story, Kurtz declined, saying he believed that those Republicans cited in the article – Ralph Waller, Joel Simmons and Dean Peterson had done a good job in representing the local committee’s stance.
Faced with a 4-1/2 hour gap between the two demonstrations (Kurtz’s gazebo area permit is from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) when we talked to him on September 5, Waller laughingly bemoaned that gap – “Now we don’t have anyone to yell at” – though in ensuing weeks the initial pro-Trump contingent of Ralph Waller and his nephew Michael have reappeared at the noon hour with another supporter or two to keep the dueling perspectives in the same time slot.
Both Waller and Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp have noted that for gatherings of less than 50 people, no permit is required other than as a securing of a location. One of those we encountered with the Wallers on the traditionally Trump and pawn shop side of Chester Street at subsequent noon-hour pro-Trump gatherings was Page County Republican Committee member Dean Peterson. Peterson has been helping the Warren County Republican Committee with its pre-Congressional mid-term campaign headquarters and has consequently become a familiar face on the pro-Trump side of the street.
Divided we demonstrate …
Peterson, like Ralph Waller and even Simmons on occasion, have been among those hurling pro-Trump, anti-Democratic Party vocal challenges across Chester Street toward the anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy demonstrators. We asked his opinion of any potential business-driven municipal initiative to move the political demonstrations from the town center.
“Well, that’s just wrong to start with – the gazebo is the center of town and we’ve always used this for the community, that’s what it’s for. And even if someone has something that we disagree with, I will still support their right to protest, just as I would want them to support my right to do the same,” Peterson said, adding he believed that to be “a mutual attitude” across what has become Front Royal’s weekly political divide.
Identifying that opposing, anti-Trump side as “socialists” philosophically, Peterson added, “I can’t stand socialism – people call me the most anti-socialist person they’ve ever met. Yet, I will still stand for their right to protest, even if I disagree with them.”
United We Stand
Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp was away on an extended Labor Day holiday when the downtown Business Forum initiative was brought before council on September 4. Back for the September 12 Vigil for Democracy, the second of this season at the noon to 1 p.m. time slot, we approached him about that initiative.
“If people say this is affecting their business, I respond I am doing business – I am doing the people’s business,” Sherp began. “Our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly are not meant to be pushed off to a corner. The very nature of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is that it should be available to the public. This is our town square – the gazebo is the town square. It was set aside as the public space. So, as I said I believe we are doing the public’s business, as I believe the other side is doing their version of the public’s business.
“So, I would be unlikely under any circumstance to voluntarily move from an area that is actually designated the public commons. As I’ve often said, this is an open forum. And if our forum has to change to an immediate question on defending free speech and freedom of assembly, I would welcome all allies,” Sherp concluded of a potential alliance with the pro-Trump contingent on both sides’ Constitutional right to express their political opinion and be heard in that expression.
Sherp began his Vigil for Democracy at the Town Gazebo space on March 8, 2017 to express opposition to Donald Trump and his agenda, which to Sherp seems to be in large part self-promotion and the self-enrichment of his, his family and friends’ business interests. Sherp often appears at his vigils supporting a one-word “emoluments” sign – emoluments being the section of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting self-profit from the office of the presidency.
Waller, Simmons, Peterson and their allies from the local political right have often reflected the national defense of President Trump – essentially that negative information about Trump or his past business dealings; Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump; possible knowledge of or collusion with that foreign agenda by Trump, his campaign team and even cabinet appointees is “fake news” disseminated by sour grapes Democrats and/or the “Deep State” that has corrupted the federal apparatus to the point that its intelligence and law enforcement agencies that are often the source of negative information about Trump can’t be trusted.
Sherp and his allies from the political “left” have reflected what is sometimes called “the loyal opposition” to those in power – at this point the Republican Party’s control of all three branches of government – the executive, legislative and judicial.
Sherp notes that the loyalty in “loyal opposition” is to America as a nation and the Constitutional system of legal accountability, checks and balances upon which the nation has been built; rather than to power itself or a cult of personality built around any individual elevated to the presidency – even one elected by a nearly negative three-million vote margin.
On March 8, 2017, at his first Vigil for Democracy Sherp said of its impetus, “The government still works for us – ‘of the people, for the people’ – and just because one Party has achieved a majority doesn’t mean they shouldn’t show the same reverence for the democratic principals and values of honesty, openness and fairness which have made us a beacon for two centuries. This administration, in eight weeks, has shown that it doesn’t understand the rule of law; does not respect the separation of powers; and has a Republican Congress that for some reason refuses to stand up and be adult.”
And you didn’t think you’d ever see these two disparate sides threatening to join hands in mutual cause – their Constitutional right to be heard in opposition to each other.
I’m not sure that’s a fight the Front Royal Town Council wants to take on – but I could be wrong …
Valley Health, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announce new network agreement; ensures members continued in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services
After working for several months on a new contract, Valley Health and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield today announced a new agreement that will keep Valley Health physicians and hospitals in Anthem’s provider networks. Details of the new agreement were not disclosed.
“We are pleased to announce a new long-term agreement with Anthem that ensures in-network access to the physicians and caregivers our patients know and trust,” said Valley Health President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Nantz. “We recognize negotiations have been stressful for our patients and are pleased to bring this matter to a close.”
Anthem is the largest health insurer in Virginia and it was essential that Valley Health reach an agreement to serve thousands of community members who rely on Anthem or other Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates for their health insurance.
“We appreciate Anthem’s trust in Valley Health as their partner and their willingness to make the investment in high-quality healthcare for their members,” Nantz said.
The new agreement provides Anthem customers uninterrupted, in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services through 2023.
“Prioritizing the health of our communities is more important than ever, which is why we are pleased to have reached this agreement, which protects affordability for consumers and ensures our members have access to quality care at Valley Health,” said Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield President Jeff Ricketts. “We value this continued partnership with Valley as we work together to tackle the current pandemic and improve lives and communities here in Virginia.”
Valley Health encourages patients with any additional questions to call 1-866-414-4576. Anthem members can call Member Services using the phone number on the back of their member I.D. card.
American Cancer Society asks for support for #GivingTuesday and beyond
In the midst of a devastating pandemic, Americans are facing unprecedented challenges. This is especially true for the 1.8 million Americans diagnosed with cancer during 2020. In addition to being especially vulnerable to coronavirus, more than one of every four cancer patients and survivors had delays in care due to COVID-19, which has upended lives and uniquely challenged cancer patients, survivors and their families. Patients have had to go through treatment alone and the need to quarantine has created isolation. To fill this void, the American Cancer Society added face-to-face video chats to its free, 24-hour cancer hotline that provides cancer support and resources at 1-800-227-2345.
COVID-19 has placed the American Cancer Society (ACS) in crisis for the first time in the Society’s 107-year history, creating a $200 million shortfall in fundraising, reducing cancer research funding by 50% this year, and challenging the Society’s ability to provide cancer patients and their caregivers support during an unprecedented time.
Nancy Marx, an American Cancer Society volunteer, has been the primary caregiver to her best friend Pat Burger, who was treated for breast cancer during COVID-19. “No one could go in with my friend to support her during her treatment. Her sister, her husband and I had to quarantine so we could safely take care of her. Other family couldn’t come visit. When she finished radiation treatment and rang the bell at the cancer center, no family or friends were with her. All her conferences with doctors and the cancer team were virtual. I was so upset for her.”
Caregivers, not only cancer patients, need support during the stress of a cancer journey. Nancy, a long-time Relay For Life participant, called the American Cancer Society’s 800 number cancer hotline for support. “The 800 number is there for everything you want to know about cancer. I didn’t understand certain medical terms and new medicines. The Society’s trained cancer specialists are there to talk and help. I felt much better after my call,” said Nancy.
On #GivingTuesday and throughout the month of December, the Society is asking for the public’s support. ACS is the largest non-profit funder of cancer research outside the federal government and provides vital services addressing health disparities and round-the-clock patient support despite the times. Due to the pandemic’s crippling impact, cancer patients, caregivers and survivors are turning to the American Cancer Society for information and resources to navigate COVID-19.
To donate to the American Cancer Society on #GivingTuesday or throughout the month of December, go to: cancer.org or go to Warren County/Front Royal Relay For Life at www.relayforlife.org/warrenva and donate locally to the American Cancer Society.
Edward Jones financial advisor Bret Hrbek receives Spirit of Caring Award
Bret Hrbek of the financial services firm Edward Jones in Front Royal recently received the firm’s exclusive Spirit of Caring Award designed to recognize those financial advisors who exemplify the values, culture and spirit of giving back.
Hrbek is a leader in the firm and an example of what a dedicated Edward Jones financial advisor can achieve. He has demonstrated unyielding dedication to giving back to his clients, community, other financial advisors, branch teams and their regional network.
Hrbek said he is honored to receive the award.
“Edward Jones is a partnership. That structure is not just financial, it’s a philosophy,” Hrbek said. “We work together, help each other and all share in the rewards of working with long-term individual investors. That brings out the best in everyone.”
Hrbek was one of only 295 of the firm’s more than 19,000 financial advisors to receive the award.
Bret Hrbek’s office is located at 986 John Marshall Highway, Front Royal, Virginia.
Edward Jones, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in St. Louis, provides financial services in the U.S. and, through its affiliate, in Canada. Every aspect of the firm’s business, from the investments offered to the location of branch offices, caters to individual investors. The firm’s 19,000-plus financial advisors serve more than 7 million clients with a total of $1.2 trillion in client assets under care. Visit edwardjones.com or the recruiting website at careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.
Shopping Small promotion announces first winners
Shopping Small does have its rewards in Front Royal.
Sue Laurence of Key Move Properties announced the winners of the first drawing this week. Weekly winners will receive gift bags of local business donated goods including gift cards. The value of gift bags may vary.
The BIG prize goes to Bridget Barker – A gift certificate/vouchers from the following merchants – C&C Frozen Treats, Try Thai, White Picket Fence, Ole Timers Antiques, and Key Move Properties.
Joe Nelson – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center
Jen Avery – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center
Nancy Nelson – A gift certificate from Jennerations Hair Studio
Tina Paulisch – A gift certificate from The Studio
Karen Moxie – A gift certificate from Sensational Hair Cutters
VAEA recognizes Andrea Stuart as a 2020 VAEA Distinguished Fellow
Andrea Stuart, high school art educator for Warren County Public Schools in Front Royal, Virginia, has been inducted into the VAEA Distinguished Fellows, an honored group of members who have performed extraordinary service. A virtual ceremony took place during the VAEA Professional Development Conference on November 14, 2020.
Ms. Stuart has taught at Warren County High School in the Visual Arts Department since 1994 and is currently teaching photography and graphic arts. Through Advanced Placement art courses and an independent study program, she mentors students who express an interest in pursuing careers in photography or graphic design. As Art Department Chair, she has steered the art department to participate in VAEA Youth Art Month programs and local, regional, and state exhibitions. She was recognized as the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Art Teacher of the Year in 2003 and VAEA Secondary Art Educator of the Year in 2013. Ms. Stuart’s role as an adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College helped lead to dual enrollment programs which enabled high school art students to earn college credit.
Ms. Stuart has spent her lengthy career enhancing the quality of Virginia art education and supporting her colleagues at the regional and state levels. A member of the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Board since 1996, Ms. Stuart has facilitated many professional development activities for the membership, participated as local chair/co-chair for state conferences, and has been a frequent presenter. She is also an avid learner, participating often in workshops, conferences, and educational travel to enhance her own knowledge and effectiveness. She is a prolific artist, exhibits regularly, and owns her own photography business. According to her nominator, Ms. Stuart is “a consummate professional, creative artist, and compassionate teacher” and the VAEA is proud to recognize her accomplishments and contributions.
Community-driven report reflects recommendations of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group
Governor Ralph Northam has released the Administration’s report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The report is the final product of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and it results from a diverse, stakeholder-driven process that involved community leaders, healthcare professionals, policy experts, and government officials. This month-long effort was a key part of marijuana decriminalization legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and follows Governor Northam’s recent announcement that he intends to advance marijuana legalization in Virginia.
“We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”
The comprehensive report includes nearly 400 pages of meeting minutes and outlines various aspects of marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing and regulation, and consumer safety. It also provides additional details on the five key principles that Governor Northam wants to see in any final legalization bill:
- Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition historically has been based on discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
- Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
- Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation that includes protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
- Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
- Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
The Virginia Marijuana Work Group consulted with dozens of subject-matter experts in compiling its recommendations, including organizations focused on ensuring social and racial equity, such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, NoLef Turns, and Decriminalize Virginia. Health experts, including public health policy consultants and practicing physicians, were extensively involved, and the team worked closely with government officials from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Washington, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
The Work Group was led by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security. The group held a total of 15 public meetings between July and October 2020.