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Senator for sale / June 08, 2011
From the depths of the Internet, the Virginia political website Not Larry Sabato ( recently linked to a short post by prominent Virginia blogger Norman Leahy that drew on the reporting of a media outfit called the Virginia News Source (whew!) concerning a topic of interest to folks here at home. The discussion centered on Virginia Beach State Senator Frank Wagner, who in a recent talk to students offered a rather frank assessment of just how the General Assembly works:

"In giving a brief update of his re-election campaign, Wagner told the students, 'If this guy gives me money and that one doesn’t, who do you think I’m going to talk to? Who am I going to listen to?

'One cared enough to be engaged and the other didn’t. I don’t care what the one thinks or wants who didn’t give me money. I’ll represent him, but I won’t talk to him or listen to him.'

"He explained like politicians and used car salesmen are about the same. 'So I’m turning my hat around and now I’m a used car salesman. I have two cars to sell. One is a red convertible and the other is a green sedan.

'You have money and want to buy a car. The other guy wants to buy a car, but doesn’t have any money. Who do you think I’m going to waste my time talking to? The one with money. I can’t help the other one and he can’t help me.

'Now if the one with money says he wants to buy the red car, you think I’m going to try to sell him the green car? No I’m going to give him what he wants. He has the money.

'That’s the way it works in politics'…"

Upon reading this, my first thought was that Senator Wagner owes an apology to used car salesmen for having the gall to equate his evident lack of integrity to their own.

Used car salesmen are in the honest business of selling cars. What is Wagner selling? Access? Favorable treatment? His vote? Normally, we might be able to write off the not-so-good senator as just another hack whose presence in the legislature we’d have to suffer for lack of the ability to change. However, there’s a problem with this: Frank Wagner is one of the leading proponents in the General Assembly of uranium mining in Virginia. In other words, he’s a Problem Too Big To Ignore.

In a perfect world, people like Senator Wagner would never be allowed anywhere near the levers of power, and companies like Virginia Uranium wouldn’t be able to get their way simply by spreading dirty money around. But since we don’t live in that perfect world, we face the unenviable task of constantly having to push back against jokers like Wagner. Does it belabor the obvious to point out that someone in Virginia Beach needs to run against this guy? By the way, I would say that regardless of party affiliation (Wagner is a Republican).

Wagner’s statements, however noxious, do serve to underscore the fact that it’s a fool’s errand trying to beat back uranium mining by playing the inside game in Richmond. Opponents of mining will never be able to marshal the money and the lobbyists to offset the resources that the other side brings to the debate. But fortunately, there is one thing that politicians respect (and fear) even more than money: backlash. Wagner may be a lost cause, but I’d be willing to bet that many others in the General Assembly, especially on the Senate side, are willing to heed public sentiment when it comes to an issue as dicey as digging up radioactive ore in a population zone.

Senator Wagner notwithstanding, Virginia Beach has been Southside’s best ally in challenging mining upstream in Pittsylvania County. The city’s study suggesting a tailings breach could contaminate drinking water supplies — including Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston — for years and years has dramatically altered the tenor of statewide debate. But we’ve still got our own work to do in making sure the politicians fully understand the unacceptability of handing over Southside’s environment and economy to outside mining interests.

As it happens, a key race for control of the State Senate (now in Democratic hands, by a 22-18 majority) is taking place in the newly redrawn 20th Senate District, which includes the western half of Halifax County and other Southside areas north and west. Two incumbents — Martinsville Democrat Roscoe Reynolds and Franklin County Republican Bill Stanley, formerly of the 19th district — are battling it out to hold the seat for their respective parties. This would be a useful race, and a useful place, to insist on a firm stance on uranium mining. Do the candidates belong to the “we’ll do it as long as the science is sound” cop-out camp? Or do they evince a proper degree of skepticism towards mining that one would expect from any rational person with an appreciation for the uncertainties of science, not to mention recent history that suggests these types of ventures can go very, very wrong?

What say ye, Senators?


An overdue correction: a couple of weeks I reported that the Keep The Ban statewide anti-uranium group can be found on the Internet, but gave the wrong website address. It’s My apologies for the error.

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