Party Hardy

Lt. Gov. And City Council Hopefuls Join Senator Warner At Annual Gala

Posted: September 1, 2014

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner addresses attendees of the annual Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Democratic committees’ Labor Day celebration on Sunday at James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center. (Photo by Jason Lenhart)

HARRISONBURG — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner broke with President Barack Obama on his handling of the pro-Russia rebellion in eastern Ukraine in an interview Sunday.

Warner, prior to addressing the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Democratic committees on Sunday night, said the administration should have taken quick, decisive action in response to the growing crisis in Europe.

“We should have acted stronger.

…  The president waited too long on sanctions,” Warner said.

Warner’s remarks took place as area Democrats held their annual Labor Day celebration at the James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center.

In addition to Warner, special speakers for the evening included Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and City Council candidates Alleyn Harned and Chris Jones.

Nearly 200 party members, campaign staffers and Democratic officeholders were on hand for the dinner and fundraising auctions.

While guests socialized, a slideshow showed past Democratic events, current party officeholders and campaign slogans — including one proclaiming “Keep Calm and Trust Your President,” a sentiment Warner apparently doesn’t hold on all matters.

Prior to his speech, Warner reflected on the importance of the annual city event.

“This has always been a tradition,” he said, noting that in earlier years the crowd was much smaller. 

On another foreign policy matter, he said that all options should remain on the table in dealing with the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

In his speech, he also discussed tax and student debt reform, the latter forming a substantial portion of his keynote address.

“We are crushing a generation,” he later said, estimating that student debt stood at roughly $1.2 trillion.

Warner is seeking his second term in the U.S. Senate, facing off against former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.

Sarvis, coincidentally, was also on JMU’s campus Sunday night for a campaign meet and greet at Taylor Hall, which houses the student union.

Sarvis appeared with fellow Libertarian Will Hammer, who is challenging Rep. Bob Goodlatte in the Virginia 6th District, and independent council candidate Joshua Huffman.

Warner, though not aware that Sarvis was also on campus, said he would welcome the Libertarian’s participation in a future debate.

“I’d be happy to have him included…  but it’s up to the debate organizers,” he said.

Sarvis has not yet been invited to any debate between the two major-party senatorial candidates, a problem he faced as a gubernatorial candidate in 2013 as well.

During his speech, Warner criticized an education system that values lawyers and doctors above electricians and plumbers, as well as the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’m going to stay on them until they give you the best VA possible,” he said.

He also called for reform to the Medicaid and Medicare health care programs, while also saying that they “are the best programs a government ever created.”

Speaking before the senator, Harned said, “Labor Day is the celebration of the labor movement,” before thanking those in attendance for bringing their checkbooks along with them for the evening.

Jones joined his fellow City Council candidate in speaking on the need for the city to show its residents more compassion. He also called for greater representation in city government of different demographics.

“Looking across the city departments, I see very few women, very few African-Americans and very few Hispanics,” he said.

Harned and Jones are running for two open seats in a wide field that also includes Republicans D.D. Dawson and Mayor Ted Byrd, Libertarian Helen Shibut, and independent Huffman.

Northam, perhaps savoring the fact that he is not running for election this year, delivered a less vigorous speech that mixed in a little humor.

Noting his position allows him to break ties in the state Senate, he relished the fact that now “every time I vote, I win.”

He also addressed the upcoming General Assembly special session that is set to convene on Sept. 18 to debate Medicaid expansion. Democrats want to expand the health care program for low-income households and others to an estimated 400,000 Virginians.

Northam estimated that about 14,000 of those are former military personnel, and said, “The least we can do for our veterans is make sure they have health coverage.”

Virginians across the state go to the polls on Nov. 4.

Contact Bryan Gilkerson at 574-6267 or

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