Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Democrat Mark Herring wins special Senate election in VA's 33rd District

The special election to fill former State Senator Bill Mims' seat in the Virginia 33rd district was held yesterday and the winner was Democrat Mark Herring. It wasn't even close. First things first: congratulations, Senator Herring.

I mentioned just after the Republican primary that I had concerns about Republican Mick Staton's chances and it's obvious I was right to be concerned. Staton had 2 large steamer trunks' worth of baggage perched on his shoulders in this race. The first was a perception that he was more concerned with making things easy on developers here than he was about the quality of life for the residents of Loudoun County. I think that's unfair - Staton has worked very hard as a Supervisor on the Board to get developers to pay for the infrastructure improvements made necessary by their intended developments. In the past, developers might have been required to make the improvements but there was no requirement to make them before they built the new subdivision. Often times the new houses would go up and then the residents of that new neighborhood got to deal with months of road construction getting to and from their new homes. In some cases, the developer would even weasel out of the required improvements completely. Staton's worked to make sure they build the roads and lay the sewer pipes first.

All well and good, but if the voters don't hear that message loudly enough to counter the "he's in the developers' pockets" slogan then it makes no difference.

The second bit of baggage came from being the son-in-law of Dick Black, the former Republican Delegate to the General Assembly who lost his bid for re-election this past November. Dick Black might have worked hard down in Richmond to get badly needed road improvements going up here in the north, but that's not what he's known for. A social conservative that defines that label, Black seemed to be far more concerned with requiring filter software on library computers, pushing the State Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (and any other status that might confer similar benefit) and aggressively pushing the agenda of the hard-right of the Pro-Life movement. He's the clown who thought it was a ripping good idea to send out plastic fetus replicas to his fellow Delegates just ahead of a vote on an abortion ban bill. Oh, and that library computer filtering software? The only confirmed incident where a library patron ever pulled up porn on one of the library's computers was when Dick Black brought in a camera crew and pulled it up himself. Hadn't happened before and hasn't happened since.

All of this, added to a sense that our situation of sending $1 in taxes to Richmond and only getting 19 cents back wasn't going to improve, came home to roost last November and Black's butt hit the street. That he purposely used a juvenile technique in an open debate with his opponent, Dave Poisson, and deliberately mispronounced his name didn't help. Bottom line: the voters here had had it up to their eyebrows with Dick Black. Anyone claiming kinship to him philosophically was just dreaming if he thought that would be considered a positive by the voters. Exhibit A for that sentiment is Staton's loss to Herring by a 62-38% margin. (Did I remember to say, "ouch"?)

The question for Republicans to answer at this point is, "What now?" When a member of the current Board can't use that visibility to get past the 38% mark in an election, then there's a problem that needs fixing. It's my opinion that the problem is the heavy-handed reliance on the social conservative agenda to win over the voters. In more than 1 letter to the editor in more than 1 local newspaper residents here complained about Mick Staton being "Dick Black Lite" in terms of his platform. They complained that the issues they wanted fixed were the transportation problems and the disparity in the amount of services they get from the State vs. the money they pay into those services in taxes. The message Mick Staton sent was that he'd go to Richmond and get abortion outlawed while banning gay marriage. Is it any wonder he lost?

Republicans do not have to give up their values but they do need to strongly address the concerns of the people they intend to represent. They need to make certain that voters understand that they're serious about dealing with those issues first. With that understanding in place, then they can address the secondary issues of a social platform. The Republicans in Loudoun County don't do that. One of the reasons I fell out of active participation with the local Committee was the "social conservative issues club" atmosphere infusing everything they did, said, discussed, or proposed. And if you aren't one of them, then you're "one of them." And those folks don't welcome "one of them" in the slightest.

Republicans need to get back to the Party's roots of fiscal conservatism, smaller government, and pro-business attitude. They need to make sure that the public sees these qualities as being the defining characteristics of Republican philosophy, not afterthoughts. Then there's the harder task - the local Committee needs to open the doors to the social moderate side of the Party again. The candidates of the hard-right membership are failing here. Recognition of this fact is crucial and the Committee's strategy must correct for this reality. The rigid social conservatives will not like that, I'm sure. They'll like being locked out of the General Assembly for decades less.