Cliff Hyra is a fast talker. Once up to speed, he unspools his thoughts urgently, like a policy analyst racing to beat the clock in a radio interview.
But this is a rainy afternoon in the lobby of Quirk Hotel downtown on Broad Street, with no immediate campaign event awaiting the lesser-known gubernatorial candidate.
Hyra is well-practiced but unscripted, the Libertarian also-ran in Virginia’s governor’s race that’s down to its final weeks and is dominated, as normal, by the two-party horses.
Politically, Hyra is a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll — fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The 35-year-old Virginia native — he grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech — is an intellectual-property lawyer who lives in Mechanicsville with his wife and four children.
STYLE: What is the topic that’s not being talked about enough in the governor’s race?
HYRA: Probably the number one issue is the criminal justice system here in Virginia. I think both candidates have paid some lip service to that. But it’s amazing how little attention it gets, especially to the issue that we’re really far behind here in Virginia. We’re really uniquely bad, compared to other states.
There’s been so much time taken up by culture-war issues, like the statues. I understand they’re important to people, but there are other things here in Virginia that are so much more impactful on people’s well-being that are really detrimentally affecting people especially underprivileged communities of color that just aren’t getting any oxygen. You know really aren’t talking much about them? That’s a centerpiece of my campaign.
Reforming the drug laws. We’re spending so much money ruining people’s lives, arresting tens of thousands of Virginians each year, just for using marijuana or other drugs. If anybody has a substance abuse issue, they need help. We’re taking a health issue and making it a criminal justice issue. We’re making things a lot worse because we’re taking people away from their families and jobs. We’re giving them a criminal record and exposing them to violent criminals. We’re taking away their drivers’ licenses and making them unemployable. So, we’re spending a lot of money and not getting anything out of it. That’s a huge thing, a huge negative thing that has huge impact. The governor has tremendous power to affect. If the governor wants to, they can set priorities for law enforcement and they have the power of the pardon, of course . If I was governor, I would give enforcement of prohibition of marijuana the lowest possible priority and ensure that those resources were directed elsewhere, to addressing the serious real crime issues that we do have. And I would be granting pardons to anyone who’s in jail just for drug use so they could go back to their families — an absolute pardon so they could have jobs again.
In your talk of laws that hurt the food and beverage industry, you definitely come off as the most food-centric candidate, although your point is more about the limits government puts on small business owners.
I think that Virginia places a lot barriers in the way of people who are just trying to improve themselves, to make better lives for themselves and their families. The tax and regulatory structure is a big part of that, and I’ve talked to a lot of small business owners — that’s a big part of the culture here in Richmond. For a bar owner who has to generate a certain part of their revenue – 45 percent of their revenue selling food – is kind of bizarre. They’re a bar, right? And even taxidermists are not allowed to resell taxidermy here in Virginia. I met with a very interesting business that sells oddities and things like that — it’s actually a felony to resell a piece of taxidermy that they bought from an estate sale.
So, you would repeal laws like this?
It’s hard to figure out, in the modern economy, what purpose are they serving. They’re just anti-competitive — for smaller businesses to compete with the big chains that have more resources to [pay] somebody to ensure they’re complying with all the regulations all the time. They’re things we’re spending money on too. They’re things that somebody has to go and enforce them and make sure they’re being complied with. They’re not cost-free for the state to enforce either. There’s a lot that could be gained by loosening those up and allow people to start and grow small businesses more easily. That’s been a big part of the food-and-drink boom that, I think, is now on pace to surpass manufacturing for employment here in Virginia. It’s been revitalizing, of course, downtown here in Richmond but everywhere all around the state. It’s something where we have this tremendous opportunity for growth.
You’ve admitted in other interviews that your chances in this race — with consistently single-digit poll numbers — are slim. So, what are you aiming at beyond this race?
We’re still at a relatively low percentage of the vote. At the same time, we are building some momentum. If you look at the last 10 or 20 years vote totals [for Libertarian candidates] are increasing substantially. That was one of the big motivators for me to get involved, because we have been so successful, relatively speaking, in getting the message out lately — with the [Robert] Sarvis campaign [for U.S. Senate] and the Johnson-Weld campaign [presidential and vice presidential candidates Gary Johnson and William Weld] — and I thought it was very important to keep that going: to keep that out there while we’re in the public mind, to keep people who are voting for us to continue voting and pull in more people who are disenchanted with the other parties and their growing polarization. S