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SoVaNow.com / May 28, 2009
What a pleasant surprise — this week The Washington Post endorsed Creigh Deeds in the June 9 Democratic primary for governor. The Post’s editorial is available on-line at www.washingtonpost.com and is well worth reading in full, but I especially liked this part:

…. In 18 years in the General Assembly, Mr. Deeds has time and again supported measures that might be unpopular with his rural constituency but that are the right thing to do, for Northern Virginia and the state as a whole. He has demonstrated an understanding of the problems that matter most, the commitment to solve them and the capacity to get things done. Mr. Deeds may not be the obvious choice in the June 9 primary, but he’s the right one.

Unlike his opponents [Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe], Mr. Deeds has made clear that he would make transportation his first priority, vowing to tackle this region’s greatest challenge while his political capital is at its height. His record suggests that he could make headway. Both Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran supported the plan of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), ultimately gutted by the state Supreme Court, to generate millions in transportation funding. Last year, however, as both candidates were laying the groundwork for their campaigns, Mr. Deeds courageously voted for a proposal that included raising the state’s gas tax, unchanged since 1986; Mr. Moran helped kill the bill by opposing it in committee. (Mr. McAuliffe says that he’s not opposed to raising revenue for roads, but as with every other state issue, he has no record.) Mr. Deeds is in a unique position to persuade rural legislators to support a transportation funding proposal. As he once told The Post, “A gentleman from Lunenburg County called me up to say, ‘I don’t want my taxes to go up so they can build roads in Northern Virginia.’ I said, ‘Who do you think is paying for your schools?’ Right now, the economic engine that has been driving Virginia has serious transportation woes. It’s in the interest of every single Virginian, no matter where he or she lives, to fix that problem.”

Amen to that. In writing about Creigh Deeds a couple of weeks ago, I noted his leadership on the issue of non-partisan redistricting, something that both Democrats and Republicans who are concerned about the state of representative government in Virginia should wholeheartedly support. But Deeds’ willingness to address Northern Virginia’s transportation problems — at the risk of asking his own rural constituents to ante up as part of the solution — may be an even better indication that in Deeds, Virginians have a chance to elect a man of genuine substance as their next governor.

Deeds presents quite a contrast to our sorry crop of Southside politicians who have stubbornly refused to work with Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to solve these region’s transportation challenges. As Deeds correctly informed the gentleman from Lunenburg, Northern Virginia and other developed areas contribute the bulk of the state’s tax revenues, which in turn are used disproportionately to support schools and other public services in rural areas such as our own. Strangle the Northern Virginia economy — which eventually will happen, absent a transportation fix — and Halifax County, among other places, will find itself in a world of hurt.

Deeds is part of a governing tradition in the Virginia State Senate that represents the best that Virginia has to offer — a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to managing the state’s affairs which taps into the best impulses of both parties. On the Republican side of the aisle, former Senate Majority Leader John Chichester was willing to buck the partisan tides to support Mark Warner’s 2004 budget and tax reforms; Chichester may have been more instrumental to the passage of Warner’s bill than Warner himself. By championing non-partisan redistricting at a time when Democrats control the drawing of election districts in the Senate, Deeds strikes a similar note of putting the interests of Virginians above narrow party considerations. I don’t think bi-partisanship deserves to be fetishized on its own terms, since sometimes in a negotiation one side will insist on being totally unreasonable (see: national Republicans, 21st century), but where bi-partisan solutions can be made to work, obviously they’re far preferable to the alternative. Deeds has the requisite background, temperament and knowledge of Virginia politics to carry on the best qualities of the Warner-Kaine years, which is one reason Democrats, Republicans and independents should vote him in the Democratic primary less than two weeks from now.

***

Party primaries often are sleepy affairs, with outcomes that can be hard to predict because you never know who’ll actually turn out to vote. The three Democrats running for governor — Deeds, Moran and McAuliffe —are doing their darndest to drum up interest in the race as they crisscross the state, but as we all know it can be mighty difficult to generate excitement about much of anything in June.

Compared to the downballot races, though, the primary for governor feels like a free Rolling Stones concert. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much awareness among the public that our choices in the fall election will be determined in the next two weeks. Among the Republicans, the only race of any significance is for attorney general; Northern Virginia State Senator Ken Cuccinelli is running against former western Virginia U.S. prosecutor John Brownlee for the GOP nomination. Whoever wins the party convention this weekend (May 29-30) will go on in the fall to face Democratic candidate Steve Shannon, a Northern Virginia delegate and former Fairfax County prosecutor.

The most interesting non-gubernatorial race (to me, anyway) is on the Democratic side, for lieutenant governor. Originally there were so many candidates in the running that it took a scorecard to keep them all straight, but today the field is down to two: Jody Wagner, who served as Secretary of Finance in the Kaine Administration, and Mike Signer, a political consultant, author and national security consultant who is making his first run for public office. In a surprise, it’s Signer who has proven to be the superior candidate — by a mile.

Jody Wagner is a complete mystery to me. I’ve read and heard nice things about her, but she’s shown absolutely no fire or energy as a candidate, and in the general election she figures to be vulnerable to the charge that as Kaine’s finance secretary, she totally missed the boat on how serious the state’s fiscal problems would become. (She was hardly alone on that score). I met Signer about a month ago at an event at Italian Delight in town and came away enormously impressed. He’s very bright, young (36), quick on his feet and forthright about the role he sees for himself as lieutenant governor. Whoever compared the vice-presidency to a bucket of warm spit would be even more unimpressed by Virginia’s No. 2 job, but Signer has some good ideas for turning the office into something meaningful as opposed to a mere stepping stone to the Governor’s Mansion.

Space doesn’t allow for a fuller discussion of Signer’s platform — that job awaits next week — but during his South Boston stopover Signer struck a chord with his audience by talking about the way Virginia disenfranchises its ex-felons, often for life. No one ever rocketed to the top of the polls defending former criminals, but Signer’s willingness to address the issue demonstrates conviction and common sense and he deserves credit for making it a part of his campaign. The laws in Virginia restricting the voting rights of ex-felons are among the harshest in the United States, putting us on par with such cultural backwaters as Kentucky. Signer’s championing of this issue reminds me of another great Virginia Democrat, U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who has spoken forthrightly on the need for smart and enlightened corrections reform in this country. One politician willing to stick his neck out on behalf of the powerless and despised is more than Virginians should have the right to expect; two feels like an embarrassment of riches. In Signer, the Commonwealth could have real jewel in its hands. But more on that topic next week.



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