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November 7, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Elections in Virginia, 2011

Tomorrow is the big day on the political calendar for this year in the Old Dominion, and in a couple other states. The big questions is, Can the Republicans regain a majority in the State Senate? Some people are afraid that a GOP victory would herald an extremist agenda, which seems a little exaggerated to me. I can't say much about the rest of the state, but I can say that the Republican candidates for state and local offices in this area (Augusta County and its environs) are solid, responsible mainstream conservatives, not hot-headed populist fringe activists. (See below.) Unfortunately, turnout is not expected to be high for this election, so winning and losing will depend largely on the candidates' own efforts to get their supporters motivated to go to the polls.

The current party split in the State Senate is 22-18 in favor of the Democrats, so only two seats need to flip for at least parity to be reached. (Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presides over the State Senate and casts the tie-breaking vote where necessary.) Saturday's Washington Post took a look at how various top party officials are campaigning on behalf of their parties' legislative candidates. The 2011 election is being portrayed as a referendum on Governor Bob McDonnell, who is regarded mainly as a moderate within the party, and who may face pressure from the GOP right wing if they get control of the state Senate. The hottest races are in the 17th District, where Democrat State Senator Edd Houck (of Spotsylvania) is being challenged by Republican Bryce Reeves, and in the 20th District, where Democrat Roscoe Reynolds (of Martinsville) is being challenged by Republican William Stanley.

In most State Senate races, however, there is not much competition. Part of the reason for that is the redistricting, which consciously sought to minimize the number of districts in which the incumbents were exposed to a serious risk of losing. It was a disappointing, even shameful exercise in crudely self-serving politics, and both parties were guilty of it. (See April 3.) That is true of the 24th Senate District, which was stretched like a pretzel by the Democratic Senate majority, and where incumbent Emmett Hanger is assured of another four-year term in Richmond. Apparently the right-wing activists realized that more can be accomplished by forging consensus among conservatives than by seeking to oust incumbents who aren't deemed conservative enough. If so, that's a hopeful sign for the future.

Of the three local House of Delegates races, only one (20th House District: Dickie Bell) is being contested. The Democrats are running Laura Kleiner, a recent graduate of Mary Baldwin College. She seems earnest, and I have seen a few of her campaign signs, but am not clear on what her main issues are. It's a good thing that there is a real choice on the ballot, but I have to say that I strongly support Dickie Bell, who is unapologetically conservative and yet independent minded. He is not some ambitious party hack, he is just a civic-minded person who cares about his community. One of the things that impresses me about him is that he has not succumbed to pressure to sign Grover Norquist's infamous "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," by which many Republican officials are forced to put their own re-election ahead of the public good. Meanwhile, the other local incumbent Republican Delegates, Ben Cline (24th District) and Steve Landes (25th District), are each cruising unopposed to another two-year term.

Confusion in Augusta County

Here in Augusta County (well, just outside the Staunton city limits, that is) there is a fascinating challenge to the local "Republican establishment." As an outgrowth of the tax revolt that erupted in March 2009, an alliance has been formed between conservative Democrat Supervisor Tracy Pyles and some former Republican "grassroots" activists. An independent named Susan Kubany is running for Commissioner of the Revenue against the incumbent Jean Shrewsbury, but it is unclear what agenda or partisan affiliation she may have. She waited until the last minute before filing her candidate registration. There is also a challenge to Sheriff Randy Fisher, a guy named Edward Carter who also ran for Sheriff four years ago. He obviously has a deep grudge of some kind. Treasurer Richard Homes, who overcame a challenge from "grassroots" Jason Bibeau at a Republican mass meeting in July, is running unopposed in the general election.

Augusta County Board of Supervisors
Beverly Manor Jeremy Shifflett David Karaffa
Middle River Larry Wills
North River Larry Roller Marshall Pattie Steve Morris
Pastures Jim Warren Tracy Pyles
Riverheads Michael Shull
South River David Beyeler
Wayne Jeff Moore Kurt Michael

NOTE: Incumbents' names in bold face.

It is worth noting that two Republican members of the Board of Supervisors -- Larry Howdyshell (North River) and Gerald Garber (Middle River) -- decided not to run for re-election, citing the negative political climate in this area. Conservation-minded Independent Nancy Sorrells (Riverheads) and Wendell Coleman (Wayne) also decided not to run again. That is why at least half of the seats on the board will be held by novices as of January.

I noticed in the News Leader that retiring Supervisor Nancy Sorrells endorsed incumbent Jeremy Shifflett, and so did Shifflett's Democratic opponent in the 2007 election, Lee Godfrey. (She is currently running for the Augusta County School Board.) It is a tribute to Jeremy's growing reputation for thinking independently and refusing to bow to political pressure.

Augusta County districts 2011 change

The situation is somewhat confused this year because two nominal Republicans are running as "independents": Kurt Michael (Wayne District) and David Karaffa (Beverly Manor District). Kurt Michael and David Karaffa have formed an alliance with incumbent supervisor Tracy Pyles and Marshall Pattie, stating their clear intention to jointly set the agenda for the county government. Michael is running against Republican Jeff Moore in a seat being vacated, and Karaffa is challenging Republican incumbent Jeremy Shifflett, who has proved himself very able during his first term. In addition, Republican Larry Roller, is facing two opponents in his race for the North River BOS seat: Marshall Pattie (part of that Michael-Pyles alliance) and Steve Morris. Finally, Republican Jim Warren is challenging Tracy Pyles in the Pastures District. I put the word "independents" in quotes because the four candidates running under that label (other than Steve Morris) are decidedly not "independent," they are in fact operating in conjunction with each other. It really is an Orwellian twist of words.

As another sign of confusion, the News Leader endorsed two of those "independent" candidates, Kurt Michael and Marshall Pattie. Their editorial this weekend acknowledged the disruption that Michael had caused in years past: "we remember another of his public faces -- a raving Republican making more waves than sense over a state election in 2008 [sic]." They probably meant 2007, but may have been thinking about the Republican Party mass meeting snafu in April 2008. That was only the most public and visible incidents in a long string of outrageous and embarrassing acts that call into question his capacity to serve in public office. Evidently, word has not yet gotten around about all of the other misdeeds that were committed out of naked political ambition. Perhaps, as the editorial suggest, he has matured. If he wins tomorrow, we'll find out soon enough.

Along those lines, at Rightside VA, fellow veteran blogger Steve Kijak probes more deeply into the issue of party labels, especially with regard to Kurt Michael. It is very ironic that the very same activist who berated Sen. Emmett Hanger for not being a true Republican, or even a "Democrat Lite" would now pursue his political career outside the party he tried so hard to control. It's also ironic that some of those who praise the "independent" faction led by Pyles and Michael downplay party politics, when those very people are the ones who built political alliances across the state.

But at least one good thing has come about from this campaign: Thanks to the public records about candidates' names, we finally know what the mysterious "Y" in Kurt Y. Michael stands for: Yanchenko! It sounds Ukrainian to me, but further investigation may be required.

R.I.P. Andy Rooney

Long-time commentator on CBS Sixty Minutes, Andy Rooney, passed away a few days ago, not long after signing off for the last time. I always enjoyed his reflections on the mundane annoyances of daily life, but he occasionally revealed a few deeper thoughts here and there. In his last months, he acknowledged more explicitly leaning toward the Democratic side, which is no surprise. I was a little taken aback that he really doesn't like being accosted by strangers he meets in public places. I guess I assumed anyone in TV journalism would have gotten used to such attention. Anyway, it will be hard to replace the original, one-of-a-kind Rooney.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 08 Nov 2011, 1: 10 AM

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