by Lauren Victoria Burke
I wasn’t paying attention to Virginia’s Democratic Party Convention much until learning at about noon yesterday that there was a controversy over the speaking order at the convention. Two candidates running for office that Governor McAuliffe is quite fond of, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and former Secretary of the Commonwealth and Mayoral candidate Levar Stoney are speaking today — but interestingly, none of their opponents are.
Typically the goal of a party convention is to make sure there’s “unity” and excitement around party candidates. In a Commonwealth that’s 20 percent African American, unity, inclusion and turnout is key 142 days to election day. Even though today’s speaking list includes Rep. Bobby Scott, State Sen. Don McEachin and Stoney, is it really a great look to turn away the rarest of all political candidates in U.S. politics and in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an African American running for statewide office? And that would be one Justin Fairfax — someone who Virginia’s Democratic Party won’t allow to speak today.
Allowing someone to speak is not an endorsement. But not allowing them to speak when you have their likely opponents on the program is a clear message. Yeah, yeah everyone knows: Stoney is Terry’s buddy and Filler-Corn is the “it girl” the Governor will likely support for Lt. Governor — assuming he’s not serving as Secretary of Commerce after President Clinton takes office. That said: What’s the big deal if declared candidates speak for two minutes at the party’s convention? Isn’t the whole point of the convention to “unify” to be “inclusive” in an effort to stoke excitement?
Del. Filler-Corn hasn’t declared she’s running for Lt. Governor. Fairfax has. He’s been a very active Democrat as Sen. Mark Warner’s campaign co-chair in 2014. Fairfax is also a sponsor of the convention, buying a table and an ad and sponsoring the Young Democrats After Party talking place tonight. Virginia’s Democratic Party had no problem contacting Fairfax for his money many months ago. But yet somehow it didn’t cross their mind that a declared candidate for statewide office should speak at the convention?
Fairfax made an impressive showing as a candidate for Attorney General, narrowly losing to current AG Mark Herring in 2013. And if never holding office is an issue for some we need to remember that Virginia has a sitting Governor and U.S. Senator who never held office before the statewide office they’re in now. Much like Fairfax, they were very active in the party with their money and personal support before running.
After Fairfax’s campaign and a reporter from The Virginian-Pilot questioned questioned today’s speaking arrangements that would include his likely 2017 opponent, the Virginia Democratic Party Executive Director Becca Slutzy released a statement that can only be defined as over-the-top, daffy and bizarre.
“Our speaking program has been in development since before Mr. Fairfax announced his candidacy and it’s disappointing that he is seeking to divide our party at a time when there’s so much stake with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Mr. Fairfax’s campaign brought concerns to our attention only 24 hours before DPVA’s Convention Weekend began with the expectation that we accommodate him in a solidified speaking program. It simply was not possible this late in the game. Nothing is more important that uniting to defeat Donald Trump and that’s exactly what we will do tomorrow at our state convention,” Slutzky’s statement read.
Frankly after reading the above I thought maybe a mischievous hacker was responsible, so I e-mailed a few party honchos to make sure the statement actually came from the Democratic Party of Virginia. It did.
Was the intent of the statement to blow the story up bigger? Why would party leadership in a state with a large Black electorate accuse a Black Democrat of assisting a nut like Donald Trump? Why would the party flip out over a declared candidate asking for for 2 minutes at a state party convention? Fairfax just spoke at the Loudoun Jefferson Jackson Dinner and received a standing ovation after speaking on “unity.”
If the Virginia Democratic Party is truly the party of inclusion and the goal is “unity” it’s time to wake up. If the party is attempting to galvanize one if its most loyal constituencies for November 8th, African American voters, there is no reason for the statement above. One would think Virginia’s Democratic Party would want as many African American faces under the age of 40 as possible on stage today. It was Black voters who put the current Governor and Attorney General in office. It’s one thing to talk about the future of the party and “inclusion” and unity. But those concepts should be displayed in the party’s actions, not just its words.