There are plenty of reasons why Rep. Virgil Goode should be replaced with a Democrat. Not one of those is the fact that he was recently in a parade in which somebody else was driving a Hummer.
It’s been frustrating to watch this story make the rounds of Democratic blogs during the past few weeks. That story, in a nutshell, is that Goode was riding in a Hummer at the Scottsville Independence Day parade last month. It made it to The Daily Show a few days ago:
The trouble here is that it’s not Virgil Goode’s Hummer. He doesn’t own it. He didn’t drive it. He didn’t ride in it. He had nothing to do with it, other than that its owner lent it to a friend to drive in the parade, with signs mounted on it supporting Del. Rob Bell, my delegate, and Rep. Virgil Goode, my representative. Hummer owner Chris Fairchild told his story on Coy Barefoot’s show the other day. (By way of disclosure, Chris is a member of the 2008 class of the Sorensen Institute Political Leaders Program, of which I’m a graduate. His son was in this summer’s Sorensen College Leaders Program; I spoke to his group about blogging and politics.) Goode, no dope, knows that politicians mustn’t ride in parades, but walk all the way, shaking hands and offering greetings.
Given the amount of time and energy that I’ve expended to get Virgil Goode out of office over the past seven years, I’m not thrilled to have to write a defense of him. But, as I said, there are plenty of reasons why Goode should be replaced with his challenger, Tom Perriello. Here are the first few that come to mind:
- What’s he done for the district? Looking at the bills that he’s introduced it’s clear that the answer is “damned little.” He’s introduced, by my count, just one bill in the past year and a half that would have any positive impact, but he’s done nothing but introduce it—no legwork to actually get it passed—so it’s been without action for fifteen months. The district’s economic situation is only getting worse. The man can’t be expected to lift the whole area up on his back, but it’s fair to expect him to do something other than shake hands and brag about how little time that he spends in Washington. It must be noted that he left the Democratic Party in exchange for a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee; I have to wonder if any member of that committee has done less benefit for their district than he.
- His racism and xenophobia are an embarrassment to the district. Objecting to Mexican restaurants displaying the Mexican flag? Really? His hateful, bigoted comments about his colleague, Rep. Ralph Ellison, served only to make him look foolish. A very real part of the process by which people decide where to start or move businesses (some analyses say the biggest consideration) is based on where they want to live. By associating Southside with his widely-publicized comments, he’s surely done the region no favors with the fashion in which he’s garnered the area more national attention than it’s had in a long while.
- The district is best served by being represented by a member of the majority party. This isn’t my opinion: it’s Virgil Goode’s. While still an independent, he accepted the Republican nomination for reelection to the House in January of 2002. His logic for the switch, he explained, was that as a member of the majority party, the “district can be better helped.” I didn’t buy that logic then, and I don’t buy it now, but what’s good for the goose is good(e) for the gander.
Rep. Goode’s closest analog is Del. Watkins Abbitt. Abbitt is a Democrat-turned-independent whose district extends from just south of Charlottesville down to Prince Edward, sprawling east to Fluvanna and West to include all of Nelson. As Goode is Virgil H. Goode Jr., Abbitt is Watkins Abbitt Jr—both inherited their political reputations from their identically-named fathers, who enjoyed political careers before them. As Goode has also proved difficult to unseat, so has Abbitt, and for the same reasons. My wife was campaign manager for an effort to unseat Abbitt some years ago, and I became familiar with his political career then. Abbitt, like Goode, has no legislation of note, and does virtually noting for his district. My old friend Connie Brennan launched a well-funded, all-out campaign against Abbitt in the last election. She worked very hard, had lots of volunteers, started early, and raised money from a broad base of supporters in the district. Connie was defeated soundly, with 39.66% of the vote. That, coincidentally, is only 0.27% less than Al Weed got in his 2006 race against Virgil Goode.
The difficulty with defeating guys like Goode and Abbitt is that their reputations are not political, they’re social. Goode brags that he spends little time in Washington. To politicos like you (you’re reading this blog, after all), that’s galling. But to regular folks, that’s great—it’s how they know he’s not tainted, but the same Virgil Goode that they’ve known for decades. Goode has no legislation of note, but he’s not expected to produce any legislation of note. He says foolish things about Mexicans and Muslims, but they’re really only offensive if you’re Muslim or Mexican, or you have friends who are Mexican or Muslim; there are few of either in this district.
Virgil Goode is the mayor of the 5th district. Watkins Abbitt is the mayor of the 59th district. Candidates can run against these guys and gain oodles of support—I know Connie had lots of people who quite agreed with her stances on important state issues—but it doesn’t matter, because they’re functionally running for a completely different seat than these guys are perceived to occupy. I’ve met more than a few people who simultaneously believed that they were going to vote for Al Weed and that they were going to vote for Virgil Goode. They weren’t dumb—there are a lot of seats, we have elections constantly, and it’s tough to keep up. They just knew that they agreed with Al, and they sure liked Virgil. No doubt when they got in that booth, and realized that they were running against each other, they pulled the lever for Goode.
Criticizing Goode for driving a Hummer is stupid, because a) the notion of him driving such a vehicle is laughable, b) such a vehicle is a sign of personal economic well-being, which is widely perceived as a virtue, and c) it smacks of socialism, the idea that there’s some reason why he should be prevented from driving whatever vehicle that he sees fit.
If we’re going to win this race, it’ll be necessary to stick to the facts, and not invent new ones, no matter how much they might amuse us. It will likewise be necessary to recognize that this race will not be won by insulting the incumbent, that we can’t browbeat Republicans and independents into supporting Perriello through sheer force of logic, and that this isn’t a race for congress: it’s a race for mayor.