How Much Would YOU Pay for a House of Delegates Seat in the New River Valley?

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    The 12th House of Delegates district just got interesting for almost 130,000 new reasons.

    Like many watching Virginia politics, I've come to rely on the amazing folks at VPAP.org for almost any information related to elections in the Old Dominion. For most of the summer, I was pleased with the fundraising numbers I was seeing for many of the Democratic candidates for toss-up seats, both occupied and vacant. I was especially happy that Blacksburg Town Councilman Don Langrehr was out-raising his opponent, a 25 year old Radford graduate named Joseph Yost who's bio was lacking on public service substance (well, he's chair of the Young Republicans in that area) when compared to the incomparable former New River Valley's "Elected Official of the Year", as selected by readers of The Roanoke Times. Most of Don's dollars were rolling in from small donors and local supporters. It seemed as if this seat, which is currently held by the retiring Jim Shuler (D-Blacksburg), had a good chance of staying blue despite redistricting, which took the seat from a 42% McDonnell seat (to be fair, a lot of that can be explained by Creigh Deeds having formerly held this seat a redistricting cycle ago and currently representing part of the current district in the Senate), to 51% McDonnell. It is a toss-up seat, but Don was looking strong.

    Now, who am I to doubt Yost as a political leader? Well, for one, I'm a reader. A look at his campaign so far turns up nothing notable, except that he's a Tea Partier through and through. Ok, well, that could play well in some parts of Montgomery and Giles County. The "100% pro-gun" comment mentioned upon his endorsement by the NRA seems at the least insensitive if not ignorant, seeing as how this is Virginia Tech's district. But then there's his website's section on mental health, an issue that means a great deal to me as an individual suffering from a mental impediment. He mentions that the response to the Virginia Tech tragedy was "a knee-jerk reaction" (knee-jerk? Which part? The closing of the loopholes that allowed a mentally deranged man to purchase guns and go on a killing spree? Nothing else changed drastically after 4/16/2007), and then just says he wants to "stregthen" the system. And then there was last week. I checked in at VPAP after a tip that lobbyists were "making their bets" on the open seats. No big surprises. A thousand here and there to Republicans from groups like the Virginia Auto Dealers Association and the Virginia Dental Association. The GOP controls the house, so it's expected that they'd buy influence in the majority among prospects. But then I checked in on the Langrehr-Yost matchup… $105,000 from the Dominion Leadership Trust, Speaker Bill Howell's outfit (and who funds that?). Add to that the other GOP and lobbyist monies and suddenly the 25 year old Yost suddenly has over $130,000 to throw around in a cheap media market. What's so special about him compared to candidates like Mark Dudenhefer, a candidate with experience, running for an open, swing seat in the DC media market? What GOP figure is so in love with this kid (sources say it's a certain Andrew Byrd fanatic from Salem that used to be in the House until he found a better job)?

    Then again, maybe this is just an instance of the state GOP and its lobbyist allies trying to buy a race. Give them a candidate, any candidate, even a inexperienced 25 year old Tea Party activist, and they'll put them over in any district outside of the bluest districts in Arlington and Richmond. Endorsements are rolling in from GOP-favoring organizations. Ken Cuccinelli has been helping him out. Maybe they see this as a long-term investment in keeping a stranglehold on the House. Spend $130,000 an election in SW Virginia on young candidates now, and you might have some guys on your hands that won't even retire for another 50 years. All you need is cash. After all, money is speech, and while speech is free, being heard is going to cost you in the Wild West of today's campaign finance laws.

    While we need to have a serious conversation about money in politics and the ability of interests to buy elections in the long term, in the short term, it's time to fight. Don Langrehr has served Blacksburg and the region with nothing but class. He's a Professor of Education at Radford, helping to train Southwest Virginia's future teachers. He's taught reading in the Radford City Schools for 11 years. He's been a leader on environmental quality and smart development issues in the New River Valley since first being elected to the Council in 2004, and again in 2008. He realizes how important a town's police, fire, and other emergency services are and will have plenty of experience in dealing with keeping them on the job. He's been working under a constrained budget at the town level for years and knows how to make limited resources work, instead of falling for the fallacy of making government work by, well, trying to not make it work at all (in the grand GOP tradition).

    With the community profile and support he enjoys currently, as well as the help from the good folks with the incomparable and energetic campaign of State Senator John Edwards' in the area, Don should have a great shot at this. Let's hope that people power outweighs cash power. In the end, our republic, at all levels, depends on it.

    -Paba