Interview with Sen. Creigh Deeds.
My representative in the Virginia Senate, Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-25), has been kind enough to subject himself to an interview. The questions are a mixture of my own and those submitted by readers. No questions were dodged; the eight seen below were all eight that I sent to him. I confess some surprise at the length and detail of Sen. Deeds’ responses — it’s rather beyond what I’d expected.
My thanks to those who took the time to submit questions, and particularly to Sen. Deeds for taking the time to subject himself to this inquiry.
Having lost the November election by the skin of your teeth–and only after a drawn-out recount process–you’ve been able to avoid the criticism that the base usually heaps upon the loser. You’re left with a tremendous amount of goodwill and political capital among Democrats. Many people suggested this development was so significant that you were placed in a prime position to run against Sen. George Allen in this year’s race. Do you have any plan to work to maintain those good feelings and spend that political capital? Perhaps start a leadership PAC or work to unify Democrats in next year’s General Assembly elections?
My campaign for Attorney General afforded me so many wonderful opportunities to meet people and learn about Virginia. It did not turn out quite the way we hoped, but it left me energized and optimistic. Because I am essentially a sole practitioner, I took a pretty serious risk, from a business standpoint in running a campaign that consumed all of my energy. I was not able to practice law for many months. I have spent the last few months, trying to put my professional life back together at the same time that I reacquaint myself with my family, and raise money to retire the debt that resulted from the recount.
For several years, I maintained the Rough Mountain Leadership PAC and raised money for General Assembly candidates. You can expect me to renew that effort. I am not certain that I will bring Rough Mountain out of mothballs but I intend to work to elect Democrats to the General Assembly next year. My focus is state government, but that will not prevent me from being involved in the races in Virginia this year. I think we have an opportunity to take control of both the federal House and Senate and we Democrats here in Virginia have an obligation to do our part.
This past election was your first run for statewide office, which meant you were fundraising from an entirely different group of people and organizations than you ever had before, particularly business interests. Did you learn anything new about the role of money in politics as a result of this?
In my campaign for Attorney General, I raised more money than any Democratic candidate for a down ticket race had ever raised before. Yet, I was outspent by a considerable margin. I learned that my independence, which has been exhibited throughout my time in the General Assembly, while it might make me feel good about the votes I cast, does not pay off when it comes to raising money. A close examination of VPAP will reveal that virtually all of the institutional money in Virginia, that raised and distributed by lobbyists, went to my opponent last fall. Most interests that did support me supported the other candidate too. As an incumbent in the General Assembly, it is easy to become lazy and rely on the institutional money because, candidly, that is easier to raise.
Last year I met more people, who both individually and through their businesses, were very generous with me. Last year’s campaign did indeed change the whole way I look at money in politics. Last year’s effort broadened not only my list of potential donors, but the thought process through which lists are developed. Early in the process, Governor Wilder told me that I should not worry about money, that there was always new money in every election cycle. I found that to be true. While I did worry about money, and fret about the cash flow, I found new and quite unexpected donors in unexpected places.
You enjoyed strong support from the gay-rights community in last year’s election. You have a pragmatic approach to the matter that seems to appeal to people. But you voted for the Marshall-Newman marriage amendment. Could you explain your thoughts on the marriage amendment? How do you intend to vote on the marriage amendment?
In Virginia, a constitutional amendment must pass two sessions of the General Assembly and those sessions must be separated by a General Assembly election. The so called marriage amendment came up for vote last year. I voted for it then; my vote this year was entirely consistent with what I did in 2005. In fact, I am not certain that the statement which precedes the question here is accurate. I have been told by people whom I thought to be strong Democrats that they could not vote for me because I voted for the marriage amendment last year.
In 2004, Del. McDonnell and Sen. Cuccinelli offered resolutions calling for an amendment to the federal constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. I voted against the resolution however, because since the founding of this republic, marriage has been uniquely a matter of state law. I find it more than a little ironic that some of those who yell the loudest about the usurpation of power by the federal government, also promote the federalization of state law.
That same year, we argued over H.B. 751, which essentially ensures that a civil union recognized in another state, cannot be recognized in Virginia, but also contains language which perhaps can be construed much more broadly than that. Initially, I voted for that bill. Upon reflection, I voted against the bill after the Governor’s amendments to it were rejected. The state constitutional amendment, in my view, narrowly read, simply places in the Constitution that which is already the law of Virginia, namely that marriage is between one man and one woman. The last two sentences of the bill, also read narrowly, in my view, essentially place in the Constitution the language of 751 from the 2004 session. In both 2005 and 2006, I voted to strip those sentences out of the amendment, because of my concern about the application of the provision of that bill.
In 2004, many people raised constitutional arguments with respect to the language of H.B. 751. Yet no court has declared any part of H.B. 751 unconstitutional. Those same people are raising the same issues with respect to the language of the constitutional amendment. From my perspective, this is an issue that will not go away. Clearly, in poll after poll that I have seen, the people of Virginia believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. The meaning of the last two sentences of the constitutional amendment is the gist of the debate which remains. The people need to be heard on this issue. As we have seen recently in Georgia, state constitutional amendments, even adopted, are subject to attack.
The meaning of the somewhat confusing last two sentences of the proposed Amendment was once again brought into question recently by the Attorney General’s language explaining the amendment. Clearly, his proposal is not neutral and thus does not meet the statute’s requirement that language explaining the amendment “not take sides”. I remain concerned about the last part of the proposed Amendment.
After your November defeat, it was widely remarked that Democrats had been left without a bench for 2009, since both Lt. Gov. Bill Boling and Attorney General Bob McDonnell are Republicans. There’s no obvious candidate for any of the statewide seats, unlike last time around when we had Lt. Governor Tim Kaine lined up. What are your thoughts on our bench?
When Mark Warner ran for Governor in 2001, we were likewise said to have no bench. That did not prevent Governor Warner from being elected or Tim Kaine from being elected Lt. Governor. I think we have a deep bench. We have 57 members of the General Assembly. We have a majority of those elected in the largest political subdivision in the state. We have mayors, supervisors, city and town councilors and constitutional officers galore. Tim Kaine may be our only statewide elected officeholder, but there are plenty of people who I am convinced can run effective campaigns and be elected Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General in 2009.
For now, I am excited that this party, with “no bench” has two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate. It excites me that two people who do not hold public office today are convinced that they can be elected to the United States Senate, and from what I can tell, lots of other people believe they can be elected as well.
You have built up a strong following amongst Democrats statewide. I was wondering if you were planning to parlay this following into fundraising and start the Rough Mountain Leadership PAC back up to raise money for other Democrats?
I am not certain that I will resurrect the name Rough Mountain Leadership PAC but I intend to remain engaged, to raise money to help elect Democrats to the General Assembly and to be involved in the elections this year as well.
During the recount process, did you and Bob McDonnell ever sit down and have a conversation about what was going on? How’d that go? Was he a gentleman?
The short answer is that we did not have a conversation or meeting during the recount process. When it became obvious to me that the recount process was not going to produce a favorable result, I called Bob McDonnell on the 22nd of December, congratulated him on his victory, asked about his family, and wished him a Merry Christmas.
Creigh, you’re often mentioned as the `perfect’ candidate to run against Bob Goodlatte in the 6th. I can only guess your decision not to run indicates a preference for Richmond rather than Washington, desiring to stick with state politics rather than go national. Why is that and who are 2-3 other Democrats in the 6th who should think about running against Goodlatte?
I wish we had Democratic candidates to run in every election, but the truth is that the best candidate is one who has fire in the belly, who is convinced that he can win, and will put all of his energy into a campaign. While I am flattered to be considered by some, I do not have that kind of fire in the belly to run for Congress. I have 19 years invested in state government in Virginia and that is where I can make a difference right now.
The redistricting process left the Congressional seats in much the same position as the House of Delegates seats. The 6th District of Virginia is tough territory for a Democratic candidate. In my view, one would need to come from the Roanoke area but also have connections in the north, in Rockingham and Augusta and Shenandoah. That is a tall order. Nonetheless, there are a lot of people in the 6th District who could make the run. I am most excited right now about Del. Shannon Valentine from Lynchburg. She brings to the table so many of the attributes that we should be looking for in our elected leaders. She is very bright and articulate and I believe that she has a future in state or federal politics. Gwen Mason, recently elected as an Independent candidate to city council in Roanoke is also someone who I believe possesses the skill set to not only be an effective city councilor, but to negotiate the process in Richmond or Washington. Lowell Fulk of Broadway is a fellow that I have gotten to know pretty well the last few years. He served on the School Board in Rockingham County and has run two fantastic races for the House of Delegates. While neither of those races came out the way we all wanted, I am not convinced that Lowell is finished in politics. John Fishwick of Roanoke ran for Congress in 1992. In my view, he remains a candidate of choice.
The problem with the 6th District is that it is geographically spread out. The population centers are Roanoke, Lynchburg and the upper valley. Each one of these people bring strength in that they come from one of the population centers of the district. I think the unique thing about these individuals is that they could quickly build bridges throughout the district and run effective campaigns.
Outside of your family members, to which three people do you look when seeking political/legislative advice?
I guess advice could be sought in at least two different areas. First, with respect to policy, I am certain that I cannot confine the set of people that I may consult to three. I am fortunate to have served as a Commonwealth’s Attorney, to have practiced law for 22 years and to have served in the General Assembly for some time. During my life, I have met a number of people and am fortunate that when a matter of substance comes up, I have a whole catalog of people that I can call, depending on the issue. Candidly, in the General Assembly, issues often arise quickly and there is not enough time to get all of the information one would wish for. Often, my colleagues in the Senate or House are my best advisers. I am not shy about asking for advice or help when I need it.
On matters political, I probably do have a group of people that I consult. Again, it is difficult to pare the number down to three. Susan Swecker has been running campaigns for me since 1991. Even those years when she was not my manager, she was usually behind the scenes and she is one that I talk with on a very regular basis. There is a group in Charlottesville that has been behind me since I sought the nomination in the fall of 2001. That group itself cannot be pared down to three but I consult with Rhoda Dreyfus, Charlotte Damman, Tom Vandever, Jennifer Brown, Judy Rasmussen, Mary Ann Elwood, Gary Kendal, and others on a pretty regular basis. My first contribution in 1991, when I ran for the House of Delegates was from John Fishwick. John and I were political friends before that race and we remain close. During last year’s campaign, we spoke several times a week and frankly, we still talk pretty often. Of course, some of my friends of my House of Delegates days remain on my regular call list, together with folks like Larry Framme and John Daniel. Beyond that there is a group of people around the state that I check in with fairly regularly just to find out how things are going or to check my instincts.
The simple truth is that I am just one person and many of the issues that I must deal with on a day to day basis require much more information than I have in my head. I am very proud to have so many friends and people on whom I can rely for advice.