Home Virginia Politics Why It’s Time for Boss Saslaw to Go

Why It’s Time for Boss Saslaw to Go


My patience with Senator Dick Saslaw has officially run out.  It died a fitful death as I was reading this:

State Sen. Dick Saslaw does not mince words about his support for uranium mining. A Northern Virginia Democrat who is also the Senate minority leader, Saslaw says burying the radioactive byproduct known as tailings underground should be a solution to environmental concerns. And he says he can’t be concerned about what might happen 100 [years] from now.

“What about 10,000 years from now? I’m not going to be here,” Saslaw says. “I can’t ban something because of something that might happen 500 or 1,000 years from now.”

Here I thought the whole point of public service was to actually care about the legacy you leave.  Good thing the founding fathers cared enough to set up a Constitution and system designed to work 100 or 500 years after they were gone.  Good thing some foresighted people in history cared enough to preserve our national parks, our historical buildings, our water, land and air.  We could at least do the same for our descendants.

What Dick Saslaw’s doing here is actually pretty unusual in politics — not simply expressing an unpopular opinion or “showing independence” by “moving to the center” (in this case, I strongly suspect that the center is not wild about the idea of uranium mining in a wet, heavily populated state) — but wantonly and maliciously slapping his own constituency in the face.

It’s the sign of an official who thinks he can say or do whatever he wants because he thinks he can get away with it. It is therefore the exact opposite of what democracy is supposed to be about.  

The whole point of getting rid of royalty and nobility, and replacing them with elected officials, was to make our leaders accountable — not untouchable. An elected official acting like a landed earl lecturing the serfs is a democratic malfunction — and one crying out to be fixed.  

This is far from the first time Senator Saslaw has exhibited such behavior.  I wrote last year about a public event where he showed similar contempt for energy efficiency and renewables.  He has also been unfortunately successful in expanding predatory lending in the state and proud of it.

Coincidentally, Saslaw’s biggest donors are in the energy and finance industries.  I guess he’s been a good Democrat on issues on which he hasn’t been bought, and that’s good enough for some people.  

But the main reason he seems to cling to power is that he’s tough and knows Senate procedure and bullies anyone who dares question him. When I’ve asked a few state politicians and activists about the Saslaw problem, I generally get that head-cocked-to-one-side look your dog gives you when he thinks you’ve got a screw loose.  Most of his Democratic colleagues are afraid to cross him and I’ve heard the idea of running against him described as “suicidal.”

But some suicide missions are actually worthwhile.  What we have here is a classic “emperor has no clothes” moment. The climate of intimidation that Saslaw uses to protect himself is only effective as long as everybody around him keeps falling for it. As soon as that veil is pierced, it can disintegrate quicker than one might think. (See the great political documentary “Street Fight” on Cory Booker’s battle against the dictatorial Sharpe James in Newark about this phenomenon.)

Saslaw has been leader of Senate Democrats since 1996. At some point, you have to ask whether the point of a political party is to support its incumbents until they keel over — or whether the point is to stand for particular principles.  IMHO, that’s not a hard question.

As my BV colleague Elaine, former Arlington County Democratic chair Peter Rousselot, and others attest in the diary and comments below, it’s time for a good Democrat to give Mr. Saslaw a primary challenge for his progressive Northern Virginia district.  Many of us here at Blue Virginia will strongly support a credible challenger. It’s the democratic solution in a state whose motto remains “Sic semper tyrannis.”  And it would be nice to have a Democratic Senate leader who actually does care about what kind of state, country and planet we leave to future generations.  

  • At least from everything I’ve heard. I mean, the chances of someone serious primarying him are extremely low, given all his advantages. So, I guess we all complain about him until he retires, whenever that is (hopefully after his next reelection in 2015).

  • pontoon

    is disheartening.  I realize they are trying to “regionalize” this vote…only allowing uranium mining at Cole’s Hill.  However, this vote is about the possible pollution of the water resources for millions of people.  If they think decline has occurred in Southside Virginia with the loss of jobs due to closure of the furniture factories and mills, watch what occurs with removal of the ban and the opening of an uranium mine.

    If this were happening in or near Saslaw’s jurisdiction, I believe his attitude would change.  But oh well, it’s just rural Virginia….

  • AndreaJennetta

    Because he’s a Democrat who is publicly stating his support for nuclear energy and uranium mining in Va. If Democrats are as serious about fighting climate change as they say they are, we’d all be pro-nuclear. But we’re not. And it’s ridiculous. Personally, I appreciate his candor and contempt for the unreliables lobby. Solar and wind ain’t gonna fix the problem.

    But besides Saslaw there are a couple of mainstream institutions in the Democrat/lefty/liberal establishment that have come out in support of uranium mining, The Washington Post and Brookings.




    Bluer than Blue in Blue D.C.

  • jrtolbert

    If this issue were truly regional than everyone in the General Assembly would take their cues from the folks in Southside Virginia.  Instead, you have a Democrat from Northern Virginia and a Republican from Chesterfield trying to ram uranium mining down the throats of people in Southside.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Saslaw and Mr. Watkins have chosen not to listen to Frank Ruff, Don Merricks, Jim Edmunds, Danny Marshall or even Bill Stanley.  No, they think they know what’s best for Southside Virginia.

    Either that, or the $11,000 ($10,000 to Saslaw) in campaign contributions to the two of them were enough to say screw you to the people of Pittsylvania County, and the more than 2 million people who draw there drinking water downstream.

  • sal paradise

    One big and serious issue related to the mining being overlooked by all are the health consequences of it.  Another are environmental.

    I ask you all, when you get a chance, to find the KDSK-FM website (Grants, New Mexico) and listen to their streaming feed for awhile.  It won’t be long before you hear ads for companies that provide breathing and home visits for stricken uranium miners in Grants and Cibola county (NM).

    Grants was the home to the original American uranium strike in the 1950’s.  That led to a boon in its mining there, and the temporary boost to the local economy.  By the 1980’s the mines were played out and the price yield from the ore making further mining uneconomical.  The mine companies left Grants, and the local economy hit the skids.

    Another thing left behind were hundreds of uranium miners stricken with lung diseases from their time in the ground.  Today, many of those still alive require total care, most can barely breathe on their own and have an array of serious medical problems.  The state of New Mexico was left with the tab, or course, and much money has been spent over the years on miners health issues.

    That is just one side effect of the mining.  The mine areas left behind are 100% contaminated and cannot be used for anything, even cattle ranching.  Various toxic chemicals have seeped into the ground base water supply, often leading to the deaths of many cattle, sheep and wildlife.  The local (native) tribes have had a great deal of their land destroyed as well.

    People need to take a close look at this kind of mining.  Not only is its market trajectory totally unpredicitible the damage it leaves behind to people and the environment will forever obligate the state and federal government to keep people alive but also to manage destroyed land.  And water.

    The business people who claim to bring jobs may be right.  But, the only long term jobs they’re bringing are in health care and environmental clean up.  Any county that wants uranium mining needs to take a second look.  And ignore the guy pimping it in Richmond.

  • notlarrysabato

    Saslaw is basically giving us all a look into his soul with these comments.  He is saying that if it doesn’t effect him, he won’t care.  Think about how that mindset applies across so many issues.  Shame.

  • totallynext

    Lets not forget the hideous abortion bill would not be law without the vote of two democratic senator.   He couldn’t even keep his caucus on the number one issue for women.   Leadership, me thinks not!