Home 2012 races Kaine Says: The Shad Is No Longer Rad

Kaine Says: The Shad Is No Longer Rad

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These days, the Tea Party is probably considered liberal by those still going to the Shad Planking. In terms of its practical effect on VA politics, it is akin to the annual event where the Indians give the Governor of Virginia their offering as began centuries ago.

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Has Tim Kaine lost his mind? It wasn’t all that long ago that an ambitious politician, especially one on the ballot, would have left those Secret Service hookers naked and willing in the hotel room in order to be in the front row when the speakin’ started at the annual Shad Planking event.

Back in the day when Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. ran things in Old Virginny, the Shad Planking had special importance — all the wannabees in VA politics came to hear the master give the “nod” to his choices in the upcoming elections. Harry didn’t have to speak, just wink, nod, shrug, scowl, wink, whatever. A “nod” from Harry was worth than any SuperPAC.

But today, Tim Kaine flipped the Byrd at Harry, symbolically speaking. The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate decided not to go to the Shad Planking, the first Senate candidate in modern times to miss the event in Wakefield. Just a few years ago, Senate hopeful Webb engaged in a “sign war” with the other wannabees, and the year before that, gubernatorial candidate Kaine got into a “sign war” with his Republican rival Jerry Kilgore.

No more: Kaine let George Allen have a free reign over the Shad Planking today.

Does the Kaine campaign have something against Shad, a perfectly fine fish for most Virginians?

What gives?

The modern Shad Planking is far removed from its historic roots. In the day, it served to remind everyone who held the power in the Old Dominion: the white males in control of the state’s rural base.  

For many decades, they held sway, winning all the statewide races easily, with one big scare for Governor in the 1949 Democratic primary when the Byrd Machine split between two candidates, almost allowing an anti-Byrd guy to slip through the crack.

Otherwise, it was always a case of: What Harry wanted, Harry got. Until 1965, when he was dying from cancer, and Lt. Governor Mill Godwin had outfoxed the master for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Mills had been a rabid segregationist, but like Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, saw the change being slowly brought by the Civil Rights Acts.

So Mills, who never actually changed his racial attitudes, began adjusting his political calculations. The Shad Planking was still the premier event for rural Virginia politicians in 1973, when Godwin jumped to the Republican side to take the GOP nomination when no one else had a chance of defeating anti-Byrd civil rights legend Henry Howell for Governor.

It was a nasty fight, Howell being called the “nl” word by the usual suspects, and his biggest financial backer’s Jewish heritage challenged by key Godwin backers. At the 1973 Shad Planking, the power of the Godwin/Byrd appeal remained on display.

By 1981, some of the key Shad Plankers of the new rural generation went with Democrat Chuck Robb. This helped the NOVA resident to become the first non-segregationist DEM governor EVER.

Robb provided the bridge from the old, rural white male-dominated state politics to a newer, more inclusive era that would soon see Doug Wilder break the oldest racial taboo on the state scene anywhere in America. But still, the Shad Planking continued to draw the usual attention from statewide candidates even though the state was changing.

Yet candidates knew the Shad Planking to be more a tolerated ritual than a rite of passage as it once been: the crowd no longer represented the tip of a power voter constituency. Those in attendance were basically the Tea Party before it was cool. These days, the Tea Party is probably considered liberal by those still going to the Shad Planking. In terms of its practical effect on VA politics, it is akin to the annual event where the Indians give the Governor of Virginia their offering as began centuries ago.

Virginians love their history, and so these kinds of rituals are welcomed, even encouraged. That’s what we do. Due to the budget fight, the usual suspects of General Assembly members couldn’t make it.

Thus, Tim’s decision to give Harry Byrd’s event the Byrd is both fascinating and I suppose inevitable. The Byrd Machine ran Virginia according to a strict racial code — and for the most part, religious and gender specific also — the same for gays, lesbians and anyone else that didn’t fit their thinking.

From this perspective, the Shad Planking is thus seen by many as a celebration of their thinking since it is the ritual acknowledging their political power. This concerns a lot of people, all of them Democrats as best anyone can.

Their feeling is this: Is it really possible to separate out all this history from this event?

It is a fair question. But not one today’s Democrats have demanded being answered.

The bottom line: Tim could have gone and no one, left, right or middle would have much cared one way or another. No big deal. I remember Doug Wilder campaigning next to a Confederate flag. People asked me why I didn’t try to stop it. I said I had encouraged it.

You run to win: and you do what you have to do if you can. The Shad Plankers were 90% for George Allen. On that basis, why should Tim attend or any Democrat really? That too is a fair question.

But one day doesn’t mark a new era.  Let’s see what happens in 2013. For today, Tim Kaine made a statement. I like his moxie. I hear he had dinner at a Red Lobster. So maybe his not showing had nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the choice of seafood? We will find out eventually.  

  • Attendance is about 90% right-wing Republican, including people who think the NRA’s way too liberal and assorted other teahadists. Given that, what’s the upside for a Dem candidate to be there exactly, let alone spend several hours of his or her precious time?  I guess if they really REALLY like the taste of smoked shad, but you must be able to get that SOMEwhere else in Virginia! Heh.

  • FreeDem

    I’ve been to several shad planks. I’m a big fan of the fish, but not a big fan of the culture of the event. It’s a good ol’ boys club. And the more Democrats attend and pander to it, the more it reinforces the stereotype that the good ol’ boys run Virginny and are in charge. They aren’t.  

  • Progressive

    A friend of mine went to the planking yesterday and said that when George arrived he was surrounded by a number of people carrying Confederate flags. Anyone know whether it was meant as a protest, or what?

  • IBelieveInHenryHowell

    My respect for Tim Kaine just bumped up a little.  

  • The Richmonder

    DPVA could have/should organized a competing event.  I’m going to propose that next year the RCDC sponsor an event that competes head to head.