Home 2014 Races Applying My 8 Criteria to the 8th CD Candidates: Don Beyer

Applying My 8 Criteria to the 8th CD Candidates: Don Beyer

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This past Saturday, I listed my 8 criteria for choosing the Democratic nominee in the 8th CD race. How do these criteria apply to specific candidates? Let’s start with former Virginia Lt. Governor and wealthy, Northern Virginia car dealer Don Beyer, since he’s apparently going to be the best financed – and in part for that reason, possibly the favorite – in this race.

1. The next Representative from the 8th CD should be a strong, rock-solid progressive.

I’ve been looking into Beyer’s record, and from what I’ve found so far, it’s a  mixed bag on this front. The main issue seems to be repeated charges, including by Democrats, that Beyer tends to be a political opportunist rather than someone with strong, progressive principles. For instance, an October 1997 article in the Washington Post  quoted “G.C. Morse, a longtime Democratic activist who was a speech writer for Gerald L. Baliles when he was governor,” as arguing that Beyer “has just pulled the flag out of the ground a few too many times.” The article adds:

During his two terms as lieutenant governor and a leader of Virginia Democrats, [Beyer] has been reluctant to get out front on highly visible issues. When he did, it was often a decision made at the last minute, requiring Beyer to reverse what he stood for. And more often than not, he came out the loser.

Another friend of Beyer’s, none other than Jim Moran, expressed frustration that Beyer apparently didn’t “follow his own compass” on his gubernatorial race tax-cut plan (which came in response to Jim “No Car Tax” Gilmore picking up support off of his irresponsible pandering), but instead went with something that “sounds more like a consultant’s” idea, and which was “reactive” to boot.

Meanwhile, another 1997 Washington Post article quoted Beyer’s “longtime friend” Harris Miller (gack!) defending Beyer’s flip-flop on taxes in the ’97 campaign (“After Beyer began his campaign by raising the possibility of a tax increase to finance more spending on education and transportation, he instead proposed what he believes the people want: a plan that amounts to a cut in the car tax“), with Miller essentially arguing that Beyer did what he felt he had to do to get elected against Jim “No Car Tax” Gilmore. Of course, we know how that one turned out for Beyer…he lost. Badly. Beyer was also excoriated by editorial boards for his “cop-out on the food tax” and for a proposal to eliminate “corporate income taxes on small businesses,” which was simply “inviting a brainless tax-cut bidding war with Attorney General Jim Gilmore” (Roanoke Times; 4/11/97). Ouch. For its part, the Washington Post (7/25/97) criticized Beyer for engaging in what it called a “tax-cut derby, with first Mr. Gilmore and now Mr. Beyer trumpeting financially risky plans to redo or undo the personal property tax on most cars and trucks…tantalizing voters with tax-cut talk that overlooks the damage these plans could do to Virginia’s budget and to the economic growth that each plan is conditioned on.”

On other progressive issues, it seems to be the same story. For instance, this 10/97 Post article talks about Beyer’s flip-flop on abolishing parole: Beyer was at first “skeptical of the idea, citing the cost of building more prisons,” but then “saw the political danger” and totally changed positions, announcing “that he not only wanted to eliminate parole but also wanted to make the change retroactive, wiping out the possibility of early release for 7,500 inmates.” The Post article adds: “The legal community quickly dismissed his plan as unconstitutional. Within two weeks, the General Assembly had adopted Allen’s plan. Beyer’s switch in positions yielded only an embarrassing defeat.”  The same article also noted that Beyer had first “criticized a Republican call for charter schools, semi-public schools that receive money from the government but operate independently of the local public school system,” but “later Beyer said he backs them.” Also from that article:

The first time he ran for lieutenant governor, Beyer said he supported a law requiring that parents be notified before teenage girls have abortions. But on three occasions when Republicans tried to enact such a requirement, he used his power as president of the Senate to rule that the amendments were not germane to the legislation being debated, killing the effort for the moment.

On another topic, I’d point to the video above, from Beyer’s talk Monday night at the Alexandria Democratic Committee, in which he touted his work on welfare reform (Beyer chaired Virginia’s Poverty and Welfare Reform Commission in 1994-1995, which developed Virginia’s welfare reform legislation). One problem, from a progressive perspective, is that then-Governor George Allen “applauded the passage of his initiative saying ‘Today we have sent a message that welfare in Virginia will no longer be a way of life, but a temporary means of assistance that will serve as a hand up to opportunity rather than a hand out to dependency.'” In addition, as this book writes, “the Beyer plan proposed ending welfare benefits after one year, along with a refusal to provide welfare to any children born to participants during the benefit period.” Not good. And even more puzzling is why Beyer continues to tout Virginia’s version of “ending welfare as we know it” in the 8th CD Democratic primary of 2014. I mean, does the Beyer camp see this issue as an appealing one for Democratic primary voters in the deep-blue 8th? If so, I’m scratching my head.

Finally, I’d add that Beyer doesn’t have much of a record on a whole host of issues. Bottom line: I’d give Beyer a low grade on this criterion, perhaps a C-/D+ (or lower) based on everything outlined above.

2. I want to see a tenacious, indefatigable FIGHTER for progressive values.

See #1 above; I think that answers this question.

3. We need a Representative who will fight for the 8th CD.

Presumably, Beyer would do a good job in this area. I have no particular basis to judge it, though.

4. We’re going to be losing some big-time seniority and need to build it back up.

This criterion argues for a relatively young person for this job, all else being equal. Beyer will be 64 in June, which isn’t super old or anything, but also isn’t young.

5. We want, need, and deserve a Representative who has the highest ethical standards and who makes us proud every day.

The main thing I found on this front is a Washington Post article from August 1990, which reported:

An Arlington County jury cleared Virginia Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and family members yesterday of allegations in a civil suit that the controller at his Falls Church car dealership was fired after she complained about accounting irregularities, including the transfer of money from the business to Beyer’s 1989 political campaign.

The controller, Wilma Pelletier-Baker of Fairfax, said she was fired in August 1989 from her $ 45,000-a-year job when she refused to follow the owners’ instructions to violate state and federal tax laws.

She asked for $1 million in compensatory damages and $ 5 million in punitive damages, claiming she suffered emotional distress and damage to her career.

The suit was against Beyer, his brother, Michael, who shares ownership of the dealership, their father, Don Beyer Sr., and Don Beyer Motors Inc.

This woman is an honest human being who didn’t like the fact that they were breaking the law,” said Baker’s attorney, Elaine C. Bredhoft, in her closing arguments Tuesday. “This woman has been destroyed in her career because of her honesty and her integrity.”

Among the allegations in the suit, Baker claimed that Don Beyer withdrew substantial sums of money from the business to finance his campaign expenses, without properly paying interest on the money or declaring it as income on tax returns.

Baker also alleged that Beyer wrote a $ 100,000 check from his personal bank account to the firm, which he then cashed for his personal use.
She alleged that bonuses were paid to employees of the firm without federal or state taxes being deducted, and that the company pension fund was mismanaged.

The defense acknowledged that there were irregularities in the firm’s accounting, and that employees of Don Beyer Motors were paid off the books. But Beyer’s attorney argued that the firing of Pelletier-Baker was a result of her poor performance and an inability to get along with co-workers.

“There is no question that Don Beyer improperly paid without withholding,” said Norman West, Beyer’s attorney. “What we do dispute is that anyone at any time told Wilma Baker she was being discharged because she wanted to comply with the law.”>

I dunno, but it doesn’t sound good to me when Beyer’s own attorney acknowledged that his client had “improperly paid without withholding.”

6. A superb, impressive track record of accomplishment over the years.

Certainly, Beyer is accomplished, having been a successful businessman as well as Virginia LG and an ambassador in the Obama administration. In terms of “accomplishment,” though, I’d mostly refer you back to item #1.

7. Obviously, we want someone who will do a great job on “constituent services.”

No particular reason to think that Beyer wouldn’t do fine in this regard.

8. I want to see a “heavyweight” in this job — someone who is a serious policy wonk, someone who really loves diving into the weeds of legislation, someone who can go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers (and conservative and/or corporate Democrats for that matter) in the battle of ideas.

Certainly, Beyer’s been involved in many issues over the years, but I’m not sure he comes across as a policy wonk along the lines of a Jim Moran or Tom Perriello.

Overall: I’d give Beyer a very low grade on my criteria, maybe a C- or so (UPDATE 2/10: I was impressed with Beyer’s speech at the Brigades, particularly that he prominently and forcefully talked about climate change in his stump speech, so I’m raising his grade a bit to a C/C+). Frankly, I’d say that we can do a lot better in the deep-blue, progressive 8th CD, than this.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    I have met Don Beyer and got to know him quite well when he was the national treasurer for the Howard Dean campaign for president. Don is a fine man, a wonderful family man; however, after his failed run for governor, he sort of disappeared from state politics. My view is colored by personal things I thank him for: getting Howard Dean to give me a call the day I got home from the hospital after my heart operation, a personal call himself to wish me well, getting Joe Trippi to send me an autographed copy of Trippi’s book about the Dean campaign. Those things speak to Don being a fine human being, but those things really don’t tell whether he would be the best choice for the 8th District.(I think the fact that Harris Miller was described as a “longtime friend” could be a black mark, but then, Miller told me when he was running against Jim Webb that Don was the best man at his wedding. They were friends as young men, so that is hardly something that should matter.) More important is what Don Beyer’s political philosophy is, and we really don’t know that, do we?

    Thanks for doing this series (I hope it will be a series), Lowell. Those of us out here in “Red Virginia” don’t have the information you do. It’s very helpful to us in following what’s happening in “Blue Virginia.” 🙂

  • kindler

    While I certainly respect Don Beyer and consider him both accomplished and distinguished, I think he represents an era in Virginia politics which we have already passed by.  

    He has not been elected to office in over 20 years.  During that time, Northern Virginia has been transformed into a diverse, progressive melting pot — as reflected by most of the others running for this seat.  Beyer is the classic, old-style Virginia gentleman, maybe appropriate for state-wide races, but not the best we can do in NoVA.

    The fact is that most people elected to safe seats like this stay in them a long time.  So, agreed, let’s send a young, energetic, diverse, progressive champion to Congress while we have the chance!

  • FreeDem

    Don Beyer has been campaigning for this job before anyone, himself included, knew it was an opening.

    He’s realized that he can’t run statewide again, but he’s been unable to give up politics. He’s remained an active force in the state.

    Here’s his opportunity.

    If you fight his politics a little too opportunistic, his friends a little questionable, his commitment lacking, well that argues for finding a better candidate out of the field.

    The challenge for progressives is consolidating behind one candidate. There may be too many running to find a viable alternative to a candidate like Beyer.

  • teacherken

    since I strongly support Don Beyer for this position.

    Of all the candidates running, he is the one with the best connections with the current administration, which will be of great benefit for the district.

    And quite frankly, I think the idea of having the same Congressman for 20-30 years is in my opinion out of date.

    By the way, you wrongly assume that Beyer is going to self-finance.  My understanding is that he will not.

    Many of us who worked with Don on the Dean campaign have the highest opinion of him.  

    And I don’t think we would necessarily fail in our progressive credentials.

    It is worth noting that among those from that campaign supporting Don are Julie Ide and Jennifer Boysko.  Mary Margaret and Tom Whipple are hosting an event for him.  I believe that School Board candidate Barbara Kanninen is also supporting Don.

    Make of what you will.

    As far as the other candidates –  I have a high regard for many.  On the other hand, I know a fair number of the Dems in the House and I suspect of the candidates in the race Don is the best prepared to hit the ground running.  I like many of the others –  I consider myself very friendly to Alfonso and Adam, for example.  

    I still think that Don is by far the best person for the office.