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The state of play

SoVaNow.com / October 19, 2017
Headline of the day: “Hey, Virginia! You’ve got a governor to elect in three weeks!” That title comes courtesy of The Washington Post, which reported Monday on the sense of fatigue and disengagement that has washed over the governor’s race between Ralph Northam, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, and Republican opponent Ed Gillespie. The Post is correct; I, for one, have paid insufficient attention to the Nov. 7 election. Let’s try to make some amends.

First, the basic facts of the race: Virginia is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other) to choose a governor the year after a presidential election. With all the craziness coming out of Washington these days, it’s no wonder people are having trouble focusing on a state gubernatorial campaign. (I plead guilty.) There’ll also be voting in less than three weeks to select Virginia’s next Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and all 100 members of the 2018 House of Delegates, but let’s stick to the top-shelf race for now.

Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor, was a state senator before becoming Lt. Governor in 2011. Before he entered politics, Northam was a pediatric neurologist practicing in the private sector, and before that he served as an Army physician. Northam is a VMI graduate, a mild-mannered native of the Eastern Shore, and a candidate for governor with statewide experience and a solid record of public service. (He is generally credited with getting the bill passed to require smoke-free restaurant areas.) Northam has the background, temperament and ability to be a fine governor. I’m a big fan.

On the other side is Gillespie, the Republican candidate. The immediate comparison I’d draw on the Democratic side is to Terry McAuliffe; both men made their mark in politics as party insiders with a talent for raising money. McAuliffe, of course, burst onto the Virginia political scene as a longtime Friend of Bill (Clinton, that is) while Gillespie is a former White House advisor to George W. Bush. Both are Washington insiders who crossed the Potomac to seek careers in elective office in Virginia.

Above all else, Gillespie is a classic checkbook politician; his claim to fame in politics is being a very good bagman and party insider. Like McAuliffe, actually. So if you don’t like Terry McAuliffe, you really ought not to like Ed Gillespie. Truth be told, I’ve never been very enamored with our current governor’s money-grubbing past. Yet I think McAuliffe has been a reasonably good governor, and sometimes he’s been better than just that. Why, then, should Gillespie be considered in a lesser light?

Here’s a hint: McAuliffe has pursued a solidly progressive platform — he supports Medicaid expansion and expanded voting rights, and even when he can’t act on his promises he serves as a check against the worst excesses of the GOP-dominated legislature. McAuliffe is also pretty solid on issues pertaining to economic growth and education, which are areas of public policy that he can shape without having to scrap with Republicans all the time. Where he’s been objectionable (showing too much deference to Dominion, for instance) McAuliffe’s record is either so inconsequential or predictable that it’s not worth getting worked up about. Why wouldn’t McAuliffe have the support of people like me?

And what about Gillespie? He’s a career political consultant and lobbyist, so it’s not like he won’t faithfully represent whatever agenda is handed to him. (Gillespie’s nickname — “Enron Ed” — is richly deserved from his days fronting for one of the sleaziest corporations to ever befoul the business world. Go look it up; Gillespie’s lobbying firm pocketed more than a million bucks from Enron before the whole fraudulent enterprise went bust.) The problem isn’t that Gillespie won’t be a faithful steward of the cause, the problem is the cause itself is so bizarre and confused. You see this in Gillespie’s relationship with Donald Trump; Gillespie is happy to ape Trump’s themes, but he’s kept the president at arm’s length and shows no sign of changing. If I’m a Trump fan (and obviously I’m not), I’d have zero confidence in Gillespie as an ally in the cause.

Ed Gillespie is a creature of the Washington establishment — a denizen of the swamp, although I dislike the metaphor because swamps are elegant ecosystems and we need more, not less of them. (Ask anyone in Louisiana who’s been smacked around by a hurricane.) If you enjoy how Donald Trump thumbs his nose at the establishment, you should want no part of the Virginia GOP’s ticket bearer. No one really disputes this, by the way; it’s why Gillespie almost lost his primary race to Corey Stewart, the firebrand Republican candidate for governor who was so awful even Trump had to let him go from the campaign. (Trump voters, on the other hand, really seemed to take to Stewart’s candidacy.) Go ahead, admit it: Ed Gillespie is the swampiest of swamp creatures. Ralph Northam is someone with an actual life outside political realm and record of accomplishment within it. Is this really a tough choice?

Remember, the election is coming up Tuesday, Nov. 7. My guess is that people will begin paying attention to Virginia politics is the next week or so. That timetable has worked for me, anyway. And whatever else you decide to do, please go vote.


***


I just visited The Washington Post’s website and here are the Top 5 viewed articles in the Opinion section:

(1) “Trump just said his comment to a war widow was ‘fabricated.’ In an interview, the witness pushes back.”

(2) “John McCain flattens Fox News reporter: ‘Why would you ask something that dumb?’”

(3) “The sooner Rex Tillerson resigns as secretary of state the better”

(4) “Crackpots and political dunces ruin the GOP’s economic agenda” (that one was penned by Jennifer Rubin, one of the Post’s conservative columnists and a huge Mitt Romney fan.)

(5) “Working at Google seemed like a dream job. The reality has been a tedious, pointless nightmare.”

See? There’s your proof it’s really not all about Trump.

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