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Your Reputation Not Enough to Guarantee a Win? Throw a Million Bucks in Too!

My Conversation Last Night with Virginia Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Dominion)


by Cindy

Last night I attended a Blue Nova Huddle at Clare and Don’s in Falls Church. The guest speakers were Senators Dick Saslaw (D-35) and Janet Howell (D-32). They’re an interesting pair, with 68 years of legislative experience between the two of them. And while they’re strong advocates for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and gun violence prevention, in many other ways the party has moved far to the left of them.

Saslaw in particular, holds views on the death penalty that do not reflect the Democratic party platform. In fact, his words on the death penalty are downright disturbing.

So when I spoke to him before his presentation to the crowd, I couldn’t help but bring up the death penalty. I told him that I thought he was utterly wrong on the issue, that people don’t just wake up and become killers; they either have some kind of mental illness they’re born with that drives them to it, or there is something about their upbringing and the things that have happened to them in life that brought them to that point. He cited some survey he’d requested years ago that allegedly showed that most killers haven’t been abused (which is just not accurate). And I mentioned to him that Ricky Gray (who he was referring to when he said that You kill 7 people, you’ve given up the title of human being and you deserve whatever you get.”) had been raped and abused his entire childhood. His reply: “lots of people are abused and don’t end up killing people.”

Saslaw then tried to move away from this topic that we clearly weren’t going to agree on, by pointing out that we undoubtedly agreed on everything else. Nope, we don’t, Senator Saslaw. He asked what else we disagreed on, and I started a list…pretty much everything in criminal justice reform, redistricting (he repeated what I’ve heard him say at town halls half a dozen times, that the kind of redistricting One Virginia 2021 wants to see would cost Democrats 10 seats that we would never get back), and of course…

…the big one: campaign finance reform. Really, none of this should be any great shock to Saslaw–these are the same issues that progressives ask him about at every single event he attends, and have for years. And he gave me the same answer he always gives–all this money he raises helps to elect more Democrats. So shouldn’t he continue to do that? I told him frankly, no; if it were up to me I would blow up the entire campaign finance system in Virginia and start over again. I explained that I’ve canvassed all over the state, and the one resounding thing I’ve heard from voters of every political affiliation and in every part of Virginia is that they do not trust their elected officials and that they think the big donors and corporations matter more than the people.

He stuck up for himself by telling me that he’s not a bad guy (and I agreed–he’s not all bad, we just have strong disagreements about a handful of critical issues), that NARAL and Planned Parenthood and Mom’s Demand all support him. But, c’mon, they support pretty much ANY Democrat, right? Like, that’s the bare minimum requirement to even count as a Democrat, to be good on women’s reproductive rights and gun safety.

Then the senator let me know that I was probably getting my wish, since it looked like he was going to have a primary this year (duh!). He also let me know that the last time he was challenged, he spent over a MILLION DOLLARS on the race–which I knew, because VPAP–and that he would do the same this year. And here’s where I started to really lose my temper. I challenged him:

“If your reputation is so great, and your voting record is so strong, and you’re so sure you’re representing your constituents well, then you shouldn’t NEED to spend a million dollars in a primary!” He gave me a line about unilateral disarmament, and I explained that he didn’t necessarily have to spend nothing, but he could just spend what whoever challenged him spent. I said “why not stand behind your record, and let the voters decide, without rigging it by spending a million dollars?”

Fortunately, the conversation had to end there because the meeting was getting started. And, something that I’ve observed is typical of Senator Saslaw, he circled back to me a couple times after the meeting, to smooth things over, to make nice as it were. He offered me his phone number, told me to call him any time, etc. I let him know that I wouldn’t vote for a Republican over him, and he said “well, at least I’m halfway there.” Yes, that’s the problem–you’re really only halfway a Democrat as far as I’m concerned. And that’s not enough.

UPDATE by Lowell – Don’t forget $a$law’s horrendous record when it comes to ethics.

  • Jason Rylander

    And his horrendous record with respect to Dominion Energy and climate change. To me that’s the biggest issue.

  • Satirical Alexandria

    For the record, Moms Demand does NOT endorse just any Democrat. You’re out of line there. As for the death penalty, I’m not theologically or philosophically opposed to it. I think there should be a death penalty bar, with special educational and examination requirements, sort of like the patent bar, and those attorneys should be highly compensated by the state if the state wants to pursue the death penalty. For me it’s more about equal access to competent counsel. But whatever… I don’t care too much about Dominion either. They aren’t trying to regulate my uterus or put guns in schools and I actually like having electricity so Dominion just isn’t my immediate concern and a guy who slits children’s throats in front of their parents isn’t going to get a lot of sympathy from me either. I’m sorry he was raped as a child, but that is NOT an excuse. As for primarying Saslaw…I haven’t been his biggest fan either, but we need to focus on winning the seats we DON’T HAVE. Geezus H Christ, Saslaw has already said he will only serve one more term and then he will retire. You can all fight over his seat then. I’ll even buy a ticket to watch. In the meantime, can we please focus on taking back control of the GA? Pretty please? With a cherry on top?

  • chrislm

    Dem leaders in Virginia should take notice that Dick Saslaw would rather spend the $1 million he raised to rig his primary and for his self-interest of hanging on to power after 35 years in Richmond (he would be 83 at the end of his term if he gets re-elected) and despite misrepresenting his very progressive district – rather than doing what incumbents in non-competitive districts would do – sharing with candidates in flippable districts to flip the Senate.

  • beweinstein

    You seem to making a fairly concerted effort to trash Senator Saslaw on this site. Its unfortunate… more Luddite than Democrat, more hyperbole than fact or substance. You overlook, or find little value in the fact Senate Democrats consistently reelect him to be their leader. That should mean something to you. You also seem to overlook the public school lobby, including the School Boards Association, Superintendents Association, Teachers Unions (of which I am a part) are grateful for his years of advocacy and hard work on behalf of public education.

    Forward looking to 2021, I cannot think of anyone more capable, more knowledgeable, than Senator Saslaw to lead our Party during redistricting. To even think of replacing him would be folly. Seniority matters and means something to those of us lobbying on our side of the Democrat agenda . Do you really think a challenge form the left, or any challenger really, would result in a candidate delivering better OUTCOMES for Democratic values? I certainly don’t see that leadership, knowledge, or experience showing up here. Instead I see lots of bile, flame throwing, and personal insults.

    • Cindy

      I don’t see how you’re construing anything here as flame-throwing or personal insults. I have stated that I disagree with Senator Saslaw on a number of issues, that I feel that this district in particular has moved to the left of him on many issues, and that as voters, we deserve a choice. I agree with you that his experience is invaluable. (Yesterday’s debacle in the Finance Committee is a testament to that, and I believe this “Luddite” blog site gave him credit for it.) However, democracy is best served by voters being able to elect representatives who share their values (hence the term representative)–if Senator Saslaw’s values represent this district well, he should win re-election handily–and should NOT have to spend a million dollars to do so. This is precisely the problem with money in politics, that it distorts the will of the voters.