July 17, 2009
In terms of local politics, this morning's announcement by Del. Chris Saxman that he is withdrawing from the 20th House District race was as much of an "earthquake" as Gov. Sarah Palin's abrupt announcement was in Alaska two weeks ago. The Harrisonburg Daily News Record apparently got the scoop on the Staunton and Waynesboro newspapers, a bit of a mystery in itself. Saxman says he has recently taken on some new responsibilities and wants to focus his energies on the issue of school choice. (I received his e-mail newsletter this morning, which said among other things that his constituents "deserve a full-time commitment" from their legislator, which he feels he can no longer offer.) For a politician who is widely touted as a rising star in the Republican Party, his explanation was perplexingly vague. There must be something else going on that we don't know about yet. Lord knows there has been enough political infighting in this area over the past couple years to last any aspiring politician a lifetime...
Chris Graham interviewed Saxman after the news conference that was held in Saxman's home, and the audio clip is at augustafreepress.com. Saxman said the decision was very difficult and painful, which is putting it mildly, I'm sure. His demeanor and facial expression evinced fatigue and sorrow.
According to Rockingham County Republican chairman Mike Meredith, Staunton city councilman Dickie Bell will be chosen to fill the vacant slot on the November ballot. Other local Republican leaders have apparently not made up their mind, however. See the newsleader.com; hat tip to Matthew Poteat. Among the other possibile candidates suggested by local bloggers to fill Chris Saxman's place in the 20th House District, the only serious one -- Scott Sayre -- resides in the Lexington area of Rockbridge County and would have to change his place of residence in short order in order to qualify as a candidate. (The 20th House District includes Staunton; southern Rockingham County; northern, western, and parts of south-central Augusta County; as well as Highland County.)
Another vexing question is what will become of Saxman's ample campaign fund, which was the lead story on the front page of this morning's News Leader, by ironic coincidence. Saxman raised $27,292 from May 28 to June 30, more than six times as much as Democratic candidate Erik Curren. In a telephone interview with WHSV-TV3, Curren said the 20th District race is now wide open, and he thinks he can win it. (Now, that would be an "earthquake"!)
Just as Sarah Palin has a big political future ahead of her, though perhaps not as a candidate for public office, so too I am sure that we have not seen the last of Chris Saxman in Virginia politics. He is very bright and articulate, with a solid record of advancing conservative causes and has worked hard in the "Cost-cutting Caucus" in Richmond. At the same time, he has been played a prominent role in efforts to keep open the School for the Deaf and the Blind (see Oct. 2006), the Commonwealth Center for Children & Adolescents (see Feb. 3), and other state operations here in the Staunton area. In the past, I have questioned Del. Saxman's judgment in associating with certain unsavory political groups such as Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. That group deliberately set out to create a nasty and hostile political atmosphere in state and local politics around the country, including here; see June 2007. I know, however, that Saxman was just trying to navigate turbulent waters in a party that is rife with dissension right now. It must be exhausting to have to work so hard year after year to placate people who constantly demand "their way or the highway," and if that's the reason he is stepping aside from politics for the time being, I wouldn't blame him one bit.
I wish Chris, his wife, and his family all the best in the future.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor survived the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in fairly good shape, and there is little if any doubt that she will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jeff Sessions made the fundamental issue crystal clear in his opening statement: "Empathy with one party in a dispute always means prejudice toward the other party." (Broadcast on C-SPAN) That set the stage for the rest of the week's dialogue, as Sotomayor took pains to distance herself from past controversial statements that hinted at cultural prejudice. She pledged unbending fidelity to the law, and moderate Republican Senators Lindsey Graham left no doubt that she would be confirmed. I have very deep reservations about Sotomayor's suitability for the Supreme Court, but I don't think it would do any good to try to block her confirmation.
I was actually glad that Sotomayor evaded the questions from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) about her position on abortion. (See the Washington Post.) That is a personal, moral question that should be carefully distinguished from the legal dispute over the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In my view, that ruling was a legal travesty (as I wrote in July 2005 with regard to the John Roberts nomination), creating a new constitutional right out of thin air, with little or no pretense about the basis for it in the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, I am very interested in what she thinks about the pernicious trend of judicial activism and making up policy. Her oft-cited remark that "The Court of Appeals is where policy is made" (see May 26) is not encouraging, however.