AltDaily first interviewed Cliff Hyra in July—the week after he qualified to appear on Virginia’s gubernatorial ballot, alongside major-party candidates Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie.
We checked in with him again recently to get an update on his campaign.
We talked in July—about a week after you officially qualified for the ballot. How has the campaign been going in the meantime?
“It’s going really well. We’ve been reaching a lot of voters all over the state. To travel all around Virginia and learn about different concerns of people in different areas and meet new people and learn about their lives; it’s really been a pleasure for me, and people have been very supportive.
“I think there’s a lot of support out there for a candidate who’s not one of the two old parties, who’s not beholden to any big corporations or political parties or political leaders out there, and has some fresh ideas and a new approach. People are really receptive to that. We’re obviously down to the stretch run—just… weeks to go. It’s going to be an all-out press up until Election Day.”
We ended our last conversation talking about your tax plan and criminal justice reform. A new poll suggests that top two issues—regardless of party affiliation—are improving the quality of K-12 education and transportation. Your thoughts on those issues?
“In education, I think there’s a few things we need to change. One thing is the SOL [Standards of Learning] testing. There’s a debate about whether that’s necessary for holding schools accountable. I think it kind of misses the fact that SOLs are really incapable of serving that purpose because there’s really no way to tell from those tests what teachers are doing a good job, what schools are doing a good job. It really only tells you what students are performing well on the standardized tests.
“We need to move to a new way of testing that’s been pioneered in some other states. By measuring the progress that students make over the year—it’s called growth measure testing—you can really evaluate what teachers are succeeding, what schools are succeeding. Not necessarily to punish those schools that are doing poorly, but to identify the ones that are doing really well and look at what they’re doing. Adopt the best practices they’re using and spread them all out over the state to every school so that the schools can improve.
“The second thing is charter schools. We’re consistently rated as having one of the very worst charter school programs in the entire country, and we’re really ripe for a good charter school program because we have so much inequality. We have some schools that are doing really great and a lot of other schools that are failing year after year. That’s exactly the situation where some competition and some choice in the education industry can really improve things.
“One of the benefits, I guess, of being a really slow mover—is that we have the opportunity to see how these education experiments play out in other states. We’ve seen that it’s worked really well in New York to reduce some of those gaps between schools in the wealthier communities and schools in disadvantaged communities. I think it could be really tremendous if it’s brought here. One concern people usually have about that is: ‘Will it take money away from the non-charter schools and make them worse?’ There’s been tons of studies done on this, and the most consistent result is that it actually improves the non-charter schools as well because they have to compete for students. I think that would be really important for improving the education system here in Virginia.”
And how about transportation?
“This is probably the area Virginia has been the most innovative. We’re actually at the lead of public-private partnerships—the ability to partner with private industry to build new roads without a cost to the taxpayer. I know there have been some projects that may have been poorly managed in the Hampton Roads area, but in the 95 corridor, 495 and now 66 West, they’re building HOT lanes. They’re tolled lanes, but they’re leaving the existing lanes non-tolled; they’re just tolling the new lane. By doing that, you can do it at no cost to the taxpayer. You can also really reduce the congestion, even on those non-tolled lanes. That’s been incredibly successful, and I would want to expand that program dramatically.
“A lot of people ask about public transportation, and I think that it’s worth looking at, but too often, the benefits are over-sold and the cost is under-sold, and it just ends up being a really high cost compared to the benefit. You have to really dig down and look at the numbers and make sure that it makes sense fiscally for any type of project like that. And consider also rapid-transit bus projects. A lot of times, they’re not sexy; they’re not big infrastructure projects that generate a lot of short-term jobs, but they’re pretty effective in providing mobility for lower-income people, which is a concern when people are talking about public transportation infrastructure.”
This is purely hypothetical, but don’t you think if you (had gotten) into one of the debates, automatically you would poll at over 10 percent—like overnight?
“Yeah, I do think so. If you look at the polls, I’m polling around 4, maybe 5 percent, but they do ask the question: ‘Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of this candidate?’ I think about 85 percent of Virginians say: ‘We don’t know enough about Cliff Hyra to have an opinion one way or the other.’ If you’re doing 4 or 5 percent out of the 15 percent of people who know who I am … if you get five times as many people who know who I am, presumably I’m going to do quite a bit better. Granted, I’m sure the people who know about me now are disproportionately Libertarians, third-party voters, but even so there’s a lot of people who don’t know I’m in the race because they don’t hear about me as much in the media; they don’t see me in the debate. But seeing me on the stage with the other candidates I think absolutely would put me over that threshold.
“The 10 percent threshold is a very important one here in Virginia because that’s the barrier for major-party status. If the Libertarian Party candidate were to reach that threshold, they would achieve major-party status, and that would mean they would be automatically on the ballot for the next four years. They wouldn’t have to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot. That would allow us to contest a lot more elections than we do now. We’d love to do that. In a typical year, about 60 percent of local elections are uncontested. We’d love to run a candidate in every race to give people a choice. I think that would be a great thing for political competition and just giving people a choice in their representatives.”
You campaigned last weekend at VA PrideFest. Do you find that LGBTQ voters are open to your platform, or are they predominantly Democrats?
“Based on my experience, they seem to be very open to the platform. I had tremendous interest—many, many people wanting to speak with me and wanting to discuss my proposals, my positions on the issues. Everyone seemed interested in the platform and interested in what I had to say. Maybe by default, they tend to be more Democratic voters, but if they’re familiar with my message and my platform, I do think it appeals to them, as it does to many.”
I want to get your reaction to some common criticisms I hear about Libertarians. First: “Libertarianism is a selfish ideology.”
“I don’t really experience it as a selfish ideology. A large reason why I am a Libertarian is because I’m convinced that a move in a more Libertarian direction would benefit everybody. I’m very concerned about the community as a whole, about the state as a whole, the country as a whole, and I think that Libertarian solutions really work in the real world.
“One of the things that moved me toward being a strong Libertarian is when I started getting really interested in economics. I grew up sort of identifying as a Democrat, and when I was exposed to professional economists who tend to be much more Libertarian than the average population, I came to the conclusion that Democratic economic positions are not really consistent with growth and development, and Libertarian positions are, so a big part of why I’m a Libertarian is because I think it’s the best for everyone. That’s something that definitely motivates me.
“I’m not running to improve things for myself in any way. It’s purely because I think that the policies are right for Virginia’s future, and I’m just trying to help as many other people as possible. That’s really the reason why I’m the race and in politics at all.”
How about “Libertarians are spoilers for Democrats?”
“Well, this is one you get from both sides: ‘They’re going to make the Democrats win’ or ‘They’re going to make the Republicans win.’ Factually, it’s not true. If you look at exit polling and look at the second choice of people who vote Libertarian, it tends to be a very, very even split. If anything, slightly more would have chosen the Democratic candidate in 2013.
“At the same time, there’s a lot of people we’re drawing who are really fed up with the other two parties. If they weren’t voting for me or another Libertarian, they wouldn’t be voting at all. There’s no such thing as stealing a vote. If the other candidates want to earn Libertarian voters’ votes, they just have to have a more pro-freedom policy. It’s not reasonable to expect people to vote for a candidate they don’t like, don’t support, don’t believe in their policies.
You’re a first-time candidate. What have you learned from campaigning that you didn’t know before?
“I knew going into it what the situation was as far as politics in America in general and just the level of polarization and divisiveness. You really can’t say anything to anybody on social media without catching a lot of flak. I was prepared for that.
“I think I’m surprised by how rewarding it is, just being on the campaign trail. I think it’s something I anticipated to some extent just because I own a business, so I’m used to doing some travel and meeting new people and networking and things of that nature. I’ve always kind of enjoyed that. Just going to all the different places in Virginia that I haven’t spent much time in before or haven’t been to at all. There’s so many beautiful places and so many wonderful people—people from all different walks of life who are so open to my ideas. Even if they have disagreements with me, it’s amazing how when you’re face to face with somebody, you manage so often to find some common ground to engage one another in a meaningful way.
“There’s really something to be said for getting out in the community and volunteering and dealing with people face-to-face and engaging with people on a personal level that’s tremendously rewarding and something that I want to keep doing and make time for. Even though I have four young children and a small business, it’s something that’s worthwhile and I want to continue, even beyond the campaign.”
How’s your newborn doing?
“She’s doing great! She’s… healthy, so that’s the most important thing. We’re fortunate that the other three, they’re happy to have a new baby sister, and they’re not jealous or anything, so that helps a lot. We’ve all really been enjoying that time with the new one. … I work from home, usually. When I’m out campaigning in the evenings, I miss putting them to bed, but fortunately, I get to see them most days during the day, so it’s been nice.”
Any closing thoughts?
“I guess I just want to emphasize the differences in the plans of the candidates on the economic issues. Our tax plans are so different, and I really encourage you to compare the numbers. I’m talking about 100 percent cut in the state income tax for the average family. The other plans are a 10 percent cut or no cut, so you’re looking at 10 times more from my tax plan. That’s a huge difference, and the fiscal impact is very limited because it’s so well-targeted at people who are not super, super rich—still working, building their careers, building their businesses. Three thousand dollars a year for the average family would go so far toward saving up for a down payment or for their children’s education or just investing in their careers, their businesses. I think that’s the number one policy—the number one thing that would impact people’s lives.”
For more information, visit cliffhyra.com or look for Hyra on Facebook and Twitter.