Home 2017 Races Don’t Lose the Governor’s Race (and Turn Virginia into NC)

Don’t Lose the Governor’s Race (and Turn Virginia into NC)


Virginia is at a pivotal moment. She can move forward on a progressive path, or she can turn ever backward to a grim past, to a place we thought died with the first Jim Crow era.

This past weekend in the beloved city of Charlottesville, the acolytes of neo-Nazi, Richard Spencer, sought to bring us back there. It is as if they are in denial that that awful place was defiantly racist, unAmerican, and seditious. At least one Republican candidate, Corey Stewart, would stir up xenophobia and racism and thus take Virginia to that awful place. The ugly torch bearers, intimidating people of color in their neighborhood park, were but a sample of how bad things could be when those harboring ill intent stir up hate.

The question is, which Democrat can beat back Stewart or the supposed mainstream Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie. The latter will be only too happy to sow racial discord and grow a Southern Strategy once again. His party has done it for decades and maxed the strategy in 2016. Virginia needs a leader who heals the Commonwealth’s divisions. Neither Democratic candidate for Virginia governor is anything like the GOP candidates. Both are clearly proponents of racial justice and justice for all. The questions we must ask are: Who will lead the way? Who has the courage? Who speaks up and does something about injustice most constructively and effectively? When the chips are down, who is boldly there for us, but at the same time has sensitivity to help heal divisions?

This weekend there were two leaders: Democratic candidate for governor, Tom Perriello, and Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer. They shone a light on the evil on display in Charlottesville. They called residents to their better natures. And a community, stood up. They also illustrate something important, a lesson we democrats are so reluctant to learn.

Time and again we Democratic activists go to more the familiar candidate. We have talked with, commiserated with, even laughed with candidates multiple times each year at multiple events. We’ve broken bread with them so many times it feels comfortable somehow. We think we “know them,” but we do not really in most cases. We pay homage to those who’ve “earned” their Democratic cred and come to view their candidacy as their entitlement. Time and again, we do it. Nationally, we have had our share of wrong candidates: Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, John Kerry. In Virginia, Democrats once went to Mary Sue Terry and we lost. We went to Creigh Deeds and right winger Bob McDonald become governor.

Some of us bloggers tried to warn Virginia that Terry McAuliffe was the candidate to back. And you know the rest of the story. Later, when he ran again, McAuliffe proved we were right. He showed himself an energetic, able, insightful leader, a real leader. He hasn’t been perfect, on energy, for example. But he has been a darn good governor.

Here in North Carolina, Dems picked comfortable candidates — in 2008, Bev Perdue, and she fared poorly sinking like a rock in popularity, and, in 2012, Walter Dalton, who faced a terrible loss to Pat McCrory in 2012. We never seem to learn. We owe all of them our thanks for their service. We must thank them, honor them, let them know time and again we appreciate what they do. But we do not owe them a sure ride to the next level, especially when they are not the leaders we need to turn back the destruction of a Trump-like Republican Party.

We are tribal when we nominate our familiar candidates. When some try to warn that chants of “electability” are merely empty self-fulfilling prophesy, we do not all hear. Why do we so often make the mistake of guessing wrong on “electability”? The answer is an error of judgment called the familiarity effect. We all do it! But what seems familiar, safe and comfortable rarely is more “electable.” Yes, I know that in 2016 other factors came into play. There is no question that Hillary Clinton was the best candidate in the general election. But even so, we have to admit we had a certain amount of faux inevitability overlayed onto Clinton’s candidacy, our perception of her entitlement. No matter how devastated we are that she is not the president now, we have to stop that. We simply must.

It took North Carolina only six years to upend most of its decades of progress. Six years. But an incredible amount of damage was done in just two years (redistricting/gerrymandering, voting rights upended, fracking ban lifted, homophobic law relaunched, and more). After six years we find our Republican-dominated General Assembly subverting every imaginable thing, including cutting educational resources in Democratic-leaning localities. Nearly everything they do is designed to hurt real people. And they can over-ride our Democratic governor’s veto. (It is not enough to pick the right governor. You must gain enough seats in the General Assembly.) Virginia Democrats, you cannot lose this one. You cannot wait for the chance that SCOTUS will overturn the racist agenda of today’s misguided and wrong-headed Republicans. Unfortunately, they have played the race card for years, ramping it up in 2016, all the while pretending Democrats played that race card. You gotta admit they are a piece of work. We cannot let hate prevail. We cannot allow people with compromised morals to try to intimidate and harm people because of who they are. We cannot.

I respect your differing positions, dear reader, but I hope you keep an open mind. I know many of you are friends with Ralph Northam. I know many of you feel immense loyalty to him. Others think they know him, but only know him superficially. You may think he has earned this nomination. But no matter how good a man, or friend, he is (and I know he is both), he may not be the right person for the job at this moment. I would argue he is not. The fierce urgency of now is to not “North Carolina” Virginia’s politics.

This past week is but one example of what is at stake and why Virginia Democrats cannot be complacent. Many more reasons will be forthcoming in future diaries by Lowell and various other BV bloggers. Meanwhile, I urge you to give Tom Perriello a chance. Consider who has the energy, imagination, courage, and transformational ability to lead Virginia for the next four years. He will also garner more enthusiasm for the race and increase turnout. I urge you to consider the best, most creative fighter, Tom Perriello. So very much is at stake.

  • Another Scott

    Good essay, Kathy. Thanks.

    I worry about these things a lot.

    I want us to have a vigorous contest for the nomination, but no matter who wins, we must defeat the GOP in the fall. We cannot let Virginia turn into East Brownbackistan.

    At this point, I think Tom is the better candidate. I think he has more comprehensive proposals to fix problems with our state government. I think he has a more compelling personal story, and I think that he has shown that he will work hard for all of us.

    But if he doesn’t win the nomination this time, it’s not the end of the world – as long as Democrats win in the fall. He’ll be a stronger candidate with more state-wide visibility on his next campaign.

    And he and Ralph agree on much more than they disagree.

    It’s good that both are running. Both are good candidates to build on Terry’s accomplishments. Ralph needs to show that he has the actual backing of Democratic voters before November and that he didn’t win the nomination by default. He has to show that he can fight, because he (or Tom) will certainly have a fight in the fall against the Teabaggers.

    Who ever wins needs the strongest possible backing from all of us. We simply must win in the fall. The next governor is a wall against the worst abuses by the GOP, and also will have a big impact on redistricting and gerrymandering in 2020. That will set the course for Virginia politics for the next decade. We must win.

    Eyes on the prize.

    My $0.02.


    • Jim B

      What bothers me is what happens to those that back the losing candidate? Will they show up on election day?

      • cjg1943@gmail.com

        They didn’t in the Presidential election. Now many of those are asking us to vote for their guy.

        • Bruce

          Let’s continue to pretend that Hillary wasn’t a FATALLY flawed candidate who is in bed with Wall Street and hasn’t a clue what common folks are going thru. That’s a good way to bridge the divide.

    • Ken Wheeler

      I would like to add, push your House of Delegate candidates. Almost 10 percent of democratic governor voters, did not vote down ballot. Virtually 100 percent of down ballot Dem voters, voted Dem up ballot. Electing the governor is critical as a firewall. Flipping the Assembly is what will allow for forward progress. Without a Dem Assembly, we won’t get gun background checks, better environment policy, with the resources allocated to make up for Trump’s EPA cuts, no criminal justice reform that stops the “high school to jail” pipeline, no raising the minimum wage, no medicaid expansion, etc. The list is almost endless. We have a very competitive environment this year. The assembly is flippable, but we need to be talking to our neighbors, get them to focus on the atrocious record of the VA Assembly in pushing a Koch brothers backed, reactionary agenda, and convincing every Federal Democratic voter, that this election matters. In my HD district (42) we experience a drop off of 10k votes. If we get half of them to turnout this fall, we will win. Many other delegate races are similar. People go with name recognition, and so the incumbent advantage is strong. We have to overcome that.

      • Bruce Waxman

        Absolutely @

  • Withheld Information

    “He will also garner more enthusiasm for the race and increase turnout.”

    Will he? Northam got more votes for Lt. Governor (a relatively unimportant job) than McAuliffe did for Governor. He outpaced him by some 150K – 200K votes, no small feat. On a grassroots level in Virginia, Northam has raised tons, indicating strong support from the people of the state.

    I also don’t understand this notion that he’s going to be a disaster, or that he’ll lose. Being a firebrand doesn’t mean you’ll win. There’s less for the Republicans to hit him with. Most of them even like him and respect him.

    • “Northam got more votes for Lt. Governor (a relatively unimportant job) than McAuliffe did for Governor.”

      1. There were three candidates for governor, only two for LG, so not surprising that the gov candidates got fewer votes.
      2. Northam faced friggin’ EW Jackson, for god’s sake.

  • Bruce

    The REAL context of it all is bigger than the governor’s race. If we can’t see ourselves as US and WORLD citizens and look at our global environmental crisis, and how humans are destroying the life on this earth, then remaining focused on D vs R is a lethal form of tunnel vision. If our views are calcified and inflexible, then we deserve to lose. Republican-lite will NO LONGER cut it to win the vote, and OUR WHOLE CULTURE is so far removed from sustainable/functional that we NO LONGER have time for incrementalism. Even IF we had followed EVERY conservation idea of Jimmy Carter from the moment he was in office, until this day, we would STILL be playing catch-up on becoming a functional/sustainable part of a living earth. Any smaller focus is just LETHAL PETTINESS.