This coming Monday evening, the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) will be meeting to proceed with the much-discussed removal of County Board member Libby Garvey as a voting member of ACDC. The reason for this action (which I’d guess, based on what I’ve heard, will be near unanimous), as ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky explained recently, is that Garvey has taken “public actions” that are “obviously incompatible with the duty of formal voting members of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” In addition, Garvey’s actions in endorsing and campaigning for Republican John Vihstadt are obviously incompatible with the Democratic Party of Virginia’s party plan, which clearly states:
No Democratic committee member or officer of any Democratic committee shall publicly support, endorse, or assist any candidate opposed to a Democratic nominee. If a Democratic committee member is accused of undertaking such public activity, the appropriate Democratic committee shall vote on whether the member has undertaken such public activity. The member’s removal from the committee shall be automatic if the committee finds that the member has engaged in such public activity. Such action shall not be taken without at least ten (10) days written notice to the accused member and an opportunity for him or her to refute such charges.
So that’s where we are now, as Libby Garvey, despite being a Democratic committee member (in ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky’s words): a) “actively campaigned for and significantly supported a candidate in the April 8th election, who is not a Democrat and who will be opposing our Democratic nominee;” b) “sent mass communications endorsing the non-Democratic candidate, and specifically stated in at least one of those communications that you will not support the Democratic nominee;” and c) “donated $1,000 to the non-Democratic candidate” (via her campaign committee).
In response to Malinosky, Garvey claimed that there would be “consequences for ACDC and [the] Democratic ‘brand’ in Arlington” if they proceeded to expel her, that “the good of the people we are elected to serve” (presumably she believes that opposing the streetcar project, which would be a HUGE net positive for Arlington County, somehow is for “the good of the people” of Arlington) takes precedence over “the good of ACDC,” and furthemore that “a closed hearing” is nothing more than a “star chamber” — “legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings.”
Does Libby Garvey have any valid points here? First, I’d reiterate the DPVA party plan’s language that “the member’s removal from the committee shall be automatic if the committee finds that the member has engaged in such public activity” (e.g., endorsing a Republican against a Democratic nominee). Which is exactly what she did.
Second, Garvey doesn’t have any serious defense to make about her actions, which are crystal clear, given her many emails, public statements, etc, etc. in support of Republican John Vihstadt in the recent Arlington County Board election.
Third, I’d remind everyone that we’ve seen this type of thing before, such as the case of former State Senator Benjamin Lambert, a Democrat who endorsed George Allen over Jim Webb for U.S. Senate in 2006. In that case, Lambert was NOT kicked out of the Richmond City Democratic Committee (on a 20-15 vote), but was defeated in a Democratic primary a few months later by Donald McEachin, who holds that position to this day. At the time, there was a heated debate over whether the RCDC should have kicked out Lambert. I was personally appalled that he wasn’t kicked out, although in the end it helped fuel McEachin’s primary victory, so one could argue it all worked out pretty well in the end.
The question is, how can such a blatant violation of party rules, especially for a crucial election (that race arguably was the key to whether the U.S. Senate would flip from Republican to Democratic control – or not), NOT be punished by the party if it’s to maintain any sense of discipline, or for that matter rules that mean anything, going forward? To this day, while I’m thrilled that McEachin primaried Lambert and beat him, I believe that Lambert should have been kicked out of the party for his actions against the party’s rules and the party’s nominee. I’d presume that Virginia Republicans would feel the same way if one of their members, let’s say Bill Bolling, endorsed the Democratic nominee for governor over, let’s just say, Ken Cuccinelli.
Now, it should go without saying that endorsing a Republican against a Democrat for Arlington County Board does not come even CLOSE to the severity of endorsing George Allen over Jim Webb for U.S. Senate. Still, I’d argue why have rules at all if we aren’t going to enforce them? Of course, this raises the question, why didn’t ACDC act back in December 2013, when Garvey first endorsed Republican Vihstadt for County Board, and after she held a fundraiser with former Rep. Tom Davis (R)? I’d argue that this failure to act was a huge mistake, as it basically sent a message to Arlington Democrats that there would be no adverse consequences for supporting Vihstadt over the eventual Democratic nominee, so they were free to campaign as hard as they wanted for Vihstadt. Which is exactly what ended up happening (e.g., mailer after mailer from Vihstadt featuring the Democrats who had endorsed him and his so-called “unity ticket”).
By the way, the integrity of the pro-Vihstadt Democrats’ argument should have been completely discredited early in this race, given their repeated claim that there were no viable options in the Democratic Party who opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar. As it turns out, that was completely false, as there WAS a candidate for the Democratic nomination for County Board, Cord Thomas, who opposed the streetcar and who in many ways shared their hostility towards the Arlington County Board. So why didn’t they ditch Vihstadt when Cord Thomas became a candidate in December 2013 and support Thomas for the Democratic nomination? Hmmmmm.
Anyway, the bottom line at this point is that there are no great options, only degrees of sub-optimal ones. Still, it’s clear to me that failure to act at this point would only compound the mistake made last December in sending a message that such blatant disregard for party rules comes with no consequences. It would also encourage more of this bad behavior in the future.
One question that keeps coming up, and which I believe is an important one, is why act ONLY against Libby Garvey, when another elected official who was endorsed by ACDC, Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos, also endorsed Republican John Vihstadt? Is there any reason why Libby Garvey should be kicked out of the party but not Theo Stamos? To me, the bottom line is that we should either follow the rules consistently, unless there’s a really strong, overriding reason why NOT to follow them. In this case, it seems like it comes down to popularity and the reasons/degree to which Stamos and Garvey, respectively, supported Vihstadt. In Stamos’ case, she’s apparently good friends with Vihstadt (that’s at least an excuse for why she supported him, although I’m not sure why she couldn’t have just stayed publicly neutral), and arguably didn’t do as much to campaign for him as Garvey did. Still, I don’t see how any of that overrides the party’s rules, or calls for differential treatment for one elected official versus the other.
Of course, the ultimate “discipline” against a party member who violates the rules they had previously agreed to is what we might call the “Benny Lambert solution.” Namely: find a strong candidate to primary Garvey when she’s up for reelection in 2016, a presidential year when Democratic turnout will be at its absolute peak, and defeat her. Is that realistic? As far as I can tell, the main challenge would be finding a strong candidate, but other than that, it would be very difficult if not impossible for Garvey to win the Democratic caucus or primary in 2016. And without that, in a presidential election year, it would be very difficult for Garvey to win the election against a serious Democratic nominee. Again, that would be the ultimate “discipline,” although it certainly isn’t an argument for failing to enforce party discipline now as well. If I were in charge of ACDC, I’d pursue both courses of action.