Virgil Goode’s Rightward Journey Turns Further Right


    (In other words, may “rights” make a major wrong. Run Virgil Run! LOL – promoted by lowkell)

    by Paul Goldman

    What follows is the saga of Virgil Goode, a cautionary tale of what can happen when a politician, every time he gets to the fork in the road, takes a right turn.

    There are two ways of looking at the career of former 5th district Congressman Virginia Goode from Rocky Mount, who is now going to run for President as the candidate of the Constitution Party. This party was founded in the 1990s by a former top official in the Nixon Administration, Howard Phillips, who was a leading player in the New Right until he crossed President Reagan and got a public presidential shout out in the negative sense. Mr. Phillips is currently head of the Conservative Caucus, and lives in Fairfax, Virginia. If you check the group’s website, their big thing is opposition to a “North American Union”: in case you didn’t know, they are very worried about the possibility of an NAU formally merging the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States. I know, I know, it has me greatly worried too. But the immigration issue is what drives their politics now.

    Mr. Goode, assuming he doesn’t change his mind, will be the party’s first presidential nominee with a resume including an elected office. Their last White House guy was Chuck Baldwin, a Baptist Pastor from Florida, now moved to Montana, who got his first ministerial degree from Liberty Bible Institute at Liberty University in Lynchburg. He cut his political teeth by running as the party’s Vice Presidential candidate in 2004. Congressman Ron Paul actually backed Mr. Baldwin in 2008!

    So the question is: What political path got Mr. Goode to the Constitutional Party?


    I remember in 1985, approaching then-Democratic State Senator Virgil Goode, seen as a populist in the mode of famed anti-segregationist fighter Henry Howell, about putting Doug Wilder’s name into nomination at the party’s convention. At the time, Wilder’s candidacy for the party’s Lt. Governor nomination proved to be hugely controversial. The nomination of an African American had never happened anywhere in the South, much less Virginia, for such a high office. For the longest time, Gerry Baliles, along with Dick Davis, the two guys running for Governor, considered Wilder a sure loser and thus a negative for their own chances of victory. Others in the party high command had an even harsher view of the possibility. Eventually, everyone got over their irrational fears and began being Democrats, but it took a while as politicians, as a general rule, are risk adverse. Wilder’s nomination seemed the greatest possible risk any party could take at the time.

    By convention time, Wilder of course had the nomination sewed up, as did Baliles and Mary Sue Terry. But the feeling persisted in the party high command that Wilder would get crushed in the general election, and would publicly denounce the Democrats for his plight, sinking the whole ticket.

    The first guy to figure out this wasn’t going to happen was Virgil Goode, Senator from Southside, an area seen as resistant to Wilder. I knew Goode over the years; Virgil was the nicest guy to talk with and had a good feel for the state’s politics. He could also give one heck of a speech. Moreover, at the time, very few of Wilder’s colleagues in the Senate had been willing to back him openly in the beginning — one of those who did was Senator Goode.

    Goode had that Southside accent, long family history, and real charm. So he seemed the natural person to nominate Wilder in the context of the times. Senator Goode was happy to do it. He gave a brilliant speech, hitting just the right notes.

    Then two months later, at a very crucial point in the campaign – with Wilder still down big in the polls – Senator Goode gave me the right advice on how to arrange the now famous breakfast meeting with legendary House of Delegate’s speaker A. L. Philpott from Southside.

    In 1989, Goode nominated Wilder for Governor.

    At this point, remember that the Republican Party had been gaining votes at the precinct level, but was still living with the 1980 redistricting, which had kept Democrats in power big time in the General Assembly. The 1990 redistricting changed all that, as Wilder insisted upon drawing single-member districts which reflected the state’s African American population.

    Then came George Allen’s election, followed by the Republican national surge in opposition to Bill Clinton’s health care proposal and tax increases.

    By 1995, this put the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate in a 20-20 tie, the first “power sharing” thing. Democrats, relying on Lt. Governor Beyer, wanted to do what Republicans did this time with LG Bolling Alone. But they couldn’t, because Democratic State Senator Virgil Goode threatened to vote to put the GOP in charge if they didn’t have real power sharing!

    Virgil was already moving rightward, having seen the coming troubles for a Southside Democrat as the social issues kept rising to the type of the conservative agenda. He could remain a democratic populist on economic stuff – which is anti-tax by the way – but he worried about being in the “liberal” party on social issues. In addition, he ran and lost badly against Senator Robb in the 1994 primary. He realized that NOVA voters would have a hard time with his accent and the like, something that Creigh Deeds discovered a decade later.

    By now, it is fair to assume Virgil was already on his way to the GOP side, waiting for the right moment. He got elected to Congress as a conservative Democrat in 1996. He went independent in 2000.

    He went further right from there, with a growing focus on the illegal immigration issue. NAFTA and other “free trade” measures were seen as hurting the Southside economy, and those jobs often moved South of the Border in terms of local political perception. By 2008, Virgil was seen as a very conservative, anti-immigration Republican.

    Goode got into some controversy over a few comments in that regard. He lost a close fight with Tom Perriello due to the growth in the district in the UVA area, a hotbed of anti-Goodeism. He then joined the Constitution Party in 2010 after they passed a tough resolution on illegal immigration.

    Now comes 2012.

    We can expect candidate Goode to stake out the toughest anti-immigration stance of all the candidates running for President. Goode first ran for the VA Senate as one of the few politicians in Southside supportive of the ERA and willing to be seen as equally supportive of African Americans, at a time when this was considered very liberal by Virginia political standards.

    It has been one heck of a journey rightward for Virgil Goode from the 1970s until now, that’s for sure.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      What an interesting summary of Virgil’s path to the “dark side”! My husband and I watched how Virgil morphed from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, blaming much of it on his messy divorce from first wife that happened at the height of women’s lib, etc. I knew part of his journey was caused by the increasing conservatism of his constituents.

      It still boggles my mind that Virgil went from being a progressive populist in the mold of Henry Howell to the caricature of a politician he became, one using fear and loathing to further his political career.  

    • Teddy Goodson

      As I recall, he did not do so at a crucial point in the attempt to pass it. Was that the result of what you called his “messy divorce?”

    • glennbear

      Goode could serve as the poster boy of 21st century politicians especially in VA. Good governance and adherence to values which benefit the electorate have been trumped by pandering to party leadership and the radical fringe of the base. When he was defeated by Perriello it was primarily because Tom is the antithesis of ole’ Virgil’s warped priorities. The undue influence of ALEC in formulating ready made legislation has enabled the current crop of elected officials to concentrate on campaigning instead of actually writing laws and addressing issues. On the national stage we have all heard about Romney being a flip flopper, in Goode we have the same thing going on depending upon the current political wind.  

    • kindler

      Virgil’s rightward saga may have been influenced by personal issues like his divorce, but more fundamentally, he is just part of the much larger shift of rural areas, especially in the South, to the lunatic right fringe.  Politicians in general are weather-vanes, reflecting the shifting winds of public opinion — remember how George Wallace went in the other direction after he had to deal with a much larger black voting bloc.  

      But now Goode’s turning into one more symbol of the Republicans’ chickens coming home to roost.  The GOP’s acceptance of extremists taking them over, with Medieval agendas like subjugating women and attacking scientists, brings with it some significant costs.  If the Republican nominee is insufficiently radical for these folks, Goode may not be the only third party candidate to attract the loonies.  Oh, well!