Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie won their parties’ respective primaries in June and are campaigning fiercely to be Virginia’s next governor. But they’re not the only candidates in the race.
The Libertarian Party of Virginia hosted a special convention in May and nominated Cliff Hyra, a 34-year-old patent attorney who lives in Mechanicsville with his wife and three children. After meeting the state’s petition requirements, Hyra recently officially announced his candidacy and will be a third option on the ballot in November.
AltDaily had the chance to ask him a few questions by phone.
AltDaily: You’ve said you became a Libertarian in college. Can you elaborate on that?
Cliff Hyra: Sure. I guess when I was a kid I considered myself a Democrat, but I just started to be exposed to more of the idea of freedom. I started reading a little bit of [Friedrich] Hayek and [Ayn] Rand and [Milton] Friedman—started to get interested in the idea that even if you disagree with what somebody’s doing, it may be better if everybody leaves each other alone, as long as they’re not harming anybody. So that began my journey to Libertarianism, and I think it crystallized for me in law school. I went to George Mason, and it’s known for its economics and maybe more Libertarian bent. I had some excellent professors like Don Boudreaux and Tyler Cowen, who are pretty well-known Libertarian thinkers, and I think they added to that idea of personal freedom and liberty—the idea that Libertarianism really has a lot of solutions to real-world problems. … The evidence shows that Libertarian economic solutions are very successful. So since then, I’ve been voting Libertarian for my entire adult life.
And you’ve got a ready response for anyone who points out that you don’t have any legislative experience?
Yes. About a quarter of sitting governors haven’t held any prior elected office, so it’s not unusual to go straight into the state executive position without previous political experience. I’m a business owner and life-long resident of Virginia. I’m a family man. I have three children and another one on the way—so I’m very familiar with the problems that people face here in Virginia.
Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie have raised more than $11 million combined. What’s your strategy for competing against the major parties?
You know, you can do very well working with a smaller budget. … It’s all about getting your message out there, so any way that we can do that: traveling around the state and meeting with different groups, trying to do as much media as possible, targeted ad spending.
Fundamentally, it’s about the ideas. … Even in the last presidential election, when ideas got people really excited—either in a positive or a negative way—they really got a lot of exposure, even without spending a lot of money. That race was quite different than this one, but even so, there’s a lot of opportunities when you’re pushing ideas that people are interested in.
What’s the status of you getting into any of the planned debates?
I have not been invited to any of the debates… They’ve said, “Well, these are our standards for getting in,” but they’re quite subjective. …
I’ve heard that Ralph Northam claims that he’s open to my participation in the debates. Ed Gillespie’s camp, they’ve stated that they’re not open to it. I’m not sure, really, what they’re afraid of, but I think people would really be well-served by participation of a third party.
I’ve listened a lot to what the other candidates have said, and too much of what they’re talking about is just political gotcha—trying to score points on the other side. Even looking at their websites, they have a lot of nice goal statements, but they don’t really talk much about how to get there. I think it would be great for me to be in the debate and forcing the other candidates to respond to some of these policy proposals and say where they stand. At this stage, we haven’t seen any evidence that we’re going to get that. We’re certainly working with the debate sponsors and the other candidates to do everything we can to get in the debates, but we haven’t seen much positive progress so far.
You grew up in northern Virginia, you went to college at Virginia Tech, and you live outside Richmond now. It seems like you could draw support from a lot of parts of the state. I’m wondering: How well do you know Hampton Roads, and do you have any campaign stops planned here?
Hampton Roads is one of the first places that I visited after I announced that I was planning to run, and I visited with several groups down there. I’ve never lived there or worked there, but I know a lot of people down there, and I certainly plan to come back again and again over the course of the campaign and get to know as many people and voters groups down there as I can.
Every locality has their own issues. As I’ve learned down in Hampton Roads, you guys don’t like tolls too much! I think there was one specific project that was handled very poorly. In other areas of the state, they’ve been handled a little bit better, and they’ve worked out much better—especially some of the HOT lanes that run between northern Virginia and closer to where I am now—they’ve been really successful. Each area has its unique issues, and I’m certainly committed to getting out to every location in the state and addressing the people’s concerns.
One of the tenets of your campaign is civility and respect. I wonder if you could say at least one positive thing about your opponents?
I think that Northam—he’s making some of the right noises about drug legalization. For example, he’s come out in favor of decriminalization of marijuana. I’m certainly partial to that. On Gillespie’s side, he’s come out and recognized that there’s a need for tax reform in the state—that we have a really absurd state income tax. It’s never been cut; the brackets haven’t been adjusted in over 50 years. He recognizes there’s something to be done there. I think both of them fall short on their ideas in both areas. I would go much further than them in both cases.
It’s very easy for me, honestly, as a Libertarian, to look at good things on each side because I’m not really a left-right kind of guy. I recognize that there’s good ideas on both sides, and that’s one of the advantages that I would have as a governor: the ability to pick and choose the right solutions from either side of the aisle and work with whoever I need to to get that done without the worry that I have to satisfy other people in my party.
I see a lot of positive positions on both the left and the right. I’m not interested so much in partisanship, but just really arriving at the right answer and looking at what people have done in other states, trying to be more innovative and adopting some of the best practices that have already been found to work. We could have the same good results here in Virginia if there was the political will for it.
You and your wife are expecting your fourth child in August. How does she feel about you campaigning with a newborn baby in your lives?
Well, that was the first thing I did when considering running—was talk to her about what she thought. She was all in favor of it. She’s always been very supportive of everything that I’ve done, and she’s really amazing and a wonderful wife. … When I started my law practice, she was very supportive of that, and we were just expecting our first child at the time. It was really as the recession was just getting started. I had planned it ahead of that, and then the economy kept getting worse and worse. She said, “No problem. I have confidence in you. Go out and do it.” And I did. That’s the wonderful thing about her. She’s really strong. She’s great with the kids, and we have a lot of family close by. … I’m sure it won’t be the easiest thing we’ve ever done, but if you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t grow.
You just announced your candidacy in the last two weeks. You’ve got about 1,200 likes on Facebook and $28,000 in the bank. If we talk again in October, where do you think you’ll be—or where do you hope to be with your campaign?
The sky’s the limit. I’m running the campaign to win it. I think that’s important—that you set out with that goal in mind. Realistically, I understand that the chances of that are low. At the same time, we’ve seen how things can snowball. Again, even with the election last year: very unexpected, very surprising. Never say never.
If it’s not the year that happens, another great thing would be if we could hit 10 percent vote mark, which it looked like Rob Sarvis was going to hit for a while back in 2013 and got pretty close to it. If we can build on some of that momentum, hit that 10 percent mark—that’s kind of the magic number for the Libertarian Party—that would give us automatic ballot access as a major party for the next four years.
That would be really good both for Libertarians, of course, but also for the people of Virginia. There’s a lot of races—especially at the state level—that are uncontested. I think at least 70 percent of races are uncontested, so you don’t even have a choice. … We’d love to field candidates in all those races and give people a choice, an alternative, but because we don’t have the automatic ballot access, it’s really difficult to get on the ballot. We have to get so many petitions signed and so forth. So that would be a major milestone if we could reach that 10 percent level of support.
Even if the level of support isn’t that high, if I can affect the debate, if I can force the other candidates to talk about some of these issues that I think are really important and that they seem to be shying away from, that’ll be a success as well.
I’m hoping that we do talk again—maybe in a couple months—and we can focus more on the issues. For now, maybe you could summarize your ideas on tax reform?
Sure. As I was mentioning, Virginia’s taxes are really unusual. We hit our top rate at only $17,000 of income per year, so somebody who’s making $30,000 in Virginia is paying more than double the state income tax that someone would pay in California. California’s, of course, well known as one of the highest tax states in the nation, if not the highest. My proposal would be to exempt the first $60,000 of household income from the state income tax. That’s $3,000 back in the pockets of the average family each year. The average family would pay no state income tax. Of course, people could do so much with that money, investing in themselves, their children, their businesses, their futures. That’s the crux of that.
Some of the other reforms I’m talking about help to deal with the fiscal impact, although the fiscal impact of that cut is really muted compared to the positive impact on people’s lives because it’s well-targeted at the people who are paying the most disproportionate amount under the current tax system.
How does that work mathematically to be revenue-neutral? Do you tax higher incomes at a higher rate?
I’m not proposing increasing any taxes. I’m proposing to pay for the cut out of spending. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in Virginia where we’re spending money, and we’re really not getting anything back in return.
One of the issues that I like to talk about a lot is criminal justice. Elsewhere in the country, drug arrests are going down a lot, along with violent crimes and property crimes. Here in Virginia, we’ve had the same thing: Violent and property crimes have been going down, which is wonderful, but drug arrests have been going the opposite direction; they’ve been going way up. They’ve about doubled in the last 15 years, to the point where we’re arresting about 40,000 Virginians for drug crimes each year—60 percent of them for marijuana, 80 percent of those for just possession. It costs quite a lot of money just in direct costs—over $25,000 a year—to incarcerate one person. This is for something that is legal in 29 other states and the District of Columbia. It has a really disproportionate impact on some of the African-American, disadvantaged communities here in Virginia.
We would actually be better off taking that money and setting it on fire—because at least we wouldn’t be making things worse. It’s not only not benefiting us in any way, it’s actually making things worse. You’re taking people away from their families and from their jobs, so the total impact on the economy is actually much greater than that. That’s something that we can cut, and not only will it not harm anybody, but actually by cutting—by decriminalizing marijuana and hopefully legalizing it—we can generate additional tax revenue. We can make people’s lives better. …
There’s a lot of areas we can cut without having to make a cut to state services, just by making the state government more innovative, more inclusive, and focusing on those areas where it’s benefiting all Virginians and having respect for them and leaving them to make their own decisions, make their own choices in their own lives, as long as they’re not hurting anybody else.
What else do you want people to know about you?
One of the other issues that I’m pushing is school choice. We’re widely recognized to have one of the very worst charter school systems in the entire country. We recently had a bill vetoed in May that would have been a real good start there. I think there are some other states where we’ve seen tremendous progress. … We can have the same benefits here in Virginia if we had the political will—if we had the right person in the governor’s office.
And also healthcare. There’s a limit to what we can do here in Virginia, but we can start by introducing more choice, more competition, getting rid of bad regulations. … We can increase access and reduce costs.
If anybody’s interested in the ideas that I’m putting forward, I would encourage them to learn more at my website: CliffHyra.com. They can sign up for the email newsletter. They can check out some of my upcoming events on Facebook. I hope to meet everybody out on the campaign trail in the coming days.