( – promoted by lowkell)
A couple of weeks ago, I posted something I thought would be uncontroversial on my Facebook wall- that the lack of primary challenges in strongly Democratic open seats is a really bad sign for the Democratic Party of Virginia in this years election. Specifically, I noted two very important seats in Northern Virginia that are open this year- the 44th district seat (held by Scott Surovell) where Paul Krizek is running and the 86th district seat (held by Tom Rust) where Jennifer Boysko is running. But instead of agreement, I got a lot of anger on why I thought these candidates should be challenged.
So here I am to explain further, and hopefully make everyone understand why this is so unhealthy.
First of all, the average incumbent in Virginia serves about 6-8 terms of office- with many serving longer. That means candidates elected this year will probably serve until sometime between 2027 and 2031. In the case of Boysko and Krizek, both are young- and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them still in office in 2041.
2041. I’m still eligible to be a Young Democrat, by 2041, I’ll be 3 years from Social Security.
Let’s go through some recent history on why this is such a bad idea. With the Democratic Party so small in the House, each member has outsized influence. Three of the last four caucus elections have either tied, or had results within 1 vote that changed the outcome.
In 2010 Ken Plum and Kris Amundson tied three times before a member changed their vote to Plum. Plum proceeded to “lead” the caucus to a 7-seat loss, with the closest Republican incumbent winning by 9 points.
After the Plum-led disaster of election 2011, Onzlee Ware, Mark Sickles and Scott Surovell all ran for Caucus Chair. Ware was the top vote getter, but the real contest was for the spot in the runoff versus Ware. Sickles prevailed for that by one vote over Surovell- a vote cast by newest Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, who had just been elected by fewer than 50 votes with the help of Fairfax Democrats- most of whom would have been shocked to learn she was supporting the much more conservative Sickles for House leadership.
Sickles won in the runoff, proceeded to eliminate many progressive vendors from “caucus approved” lists, and lost 10 of 11 targeted races downballot from T-Mac’s win for Governor. Even with the Democratic sweep upballot, only two GOP incumbents lost — and one of them was not even targeted for defeat by the caucus!
Obviously, new leadership was needed again, and this time Scott Surovell dispatched Eileen Filler-Corn by a 22-10 margin, the only recent caucus election not within a single-vote margin. But when Toddy Puller announced her retirement, Surovell moved on to a Senate race, and yet another caucus election was needed. This time, Eileen Filler-Corn faced Charniele Herring, and the result was- you guessed it- a 16-16 tie! Filler-Corn gracefully withdrew, and now we have a caucus chair who never got a majority of the caucus behind her.
Where will Boysko and Krizek lead the party for the rest of most of our lives? Before you say they are good progressives (they both are)- many progressive lawmakers vote for much more conservative members for leadership because they want a “big tent.” (See Senate Democrats with Dick Saslaw frequently as the spokesman for what Virginia Democrats are). The only way to pin down what the future of the party will look like with Boysko and Krizek is to have challengers that push them to articulate their vision. This is virtually impossible in general election politics against the Republican nominee, where even the most conservative Dem looks like a great choice versus some of their clownish opponents.
Today, I’m going to attend Paul Krizek’s kickoff, because I’ve known him for many years and I think he will be a good elected official. How good? I would know a lot better if he had a challenger. In two weeks, I plan to attend Jennifer Boysko’s kickoff. Same deal- I’ve known Jennifer for a long time and I think she will do well- but without a challenger to push her, we won’t know how well for quite some time.
In the weekend between, I’ll be at Scott Surovell’s Senate kickoff- and Scott does have a primary challenge. Even though I support Scott, I appreciate Mark Cannady for running, as his campaign will help Scott get known in new areas of his district and make Scott an even safer incumbent going forward. I only wish we could have challengers like that in every safe Democratic district, so the voters could decide who they want representing them for what are often decades long stints in office.
When will House Democrats become relevant again? You’ll know when safe open seats start drawing more than one interested candidate.