Home Local Politics Arlington County Democratic Committee Prepares to Expel Libby Garvey from the Party

Arlington County Democratic Committee Prepares to Expel Libby Garvey from the Party

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This coming Monday evening, the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) will be meeting to proceed with the much-discussed removal of County Board member Libby Garvey as a voting member of ACDC. The reason for this action (which I’d guess, based on what I’ve heard, will be near unanimous), as ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky explained recently, is that Garvey has taken “public actions” that are “obviously incompatible with the duty of formal voting members of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” In addition, Garvey’s actions in endorsing and campaigning for Republican John Vihstadt are obviously incompatible with the Democratic Party of Virginia’s party plan, which clearly states:

No Democratic committee member or officer of any Democratic committee shall publicly support, endorse, or assist any candidate opposed to a Democratic nominee. If a Democratic committee member is accused of undertaking such public activity, the appropriate Democratic committee shall vote on whether the member has undertaken such public activity. The member’s removal from the committee shall be automatic if the committee finds that the member has engaged in such public activity. Such action shall not be taken without at least ten (10) days written notice to the accused member and an opportunity for him or her to refute such charges.

So that’s where we are now, as Libby Garvey, despite being a Democratic committee member (in ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky’s words): a) “actively campaigned for and significantly supported a candidate in the April 8th election, who is not a Democrat and who will be opposing our Democratic nominee;” b) “sent mass communications endorsing the non-Democratic candidate, and specifically stated in at least one of those communications that you will not support the Democratic nominee;” and c) “donated $1,000 to the non-Democratic candidate” (via her campaign committee).

In response to Malinosky, Garvey claimed that there would be “consequences for ACDC and [the] Democratic ‘brand’ in Arlington” if they proceeded to expel her, that “the good of the people we are elected to serve” (presumably she believes that opposing the streetcar project, which would be a HUGE net positive for Arlington County, somehow is for “the good of the people” of Arlington) takes precedence over “the good of ACDC,” and furthemore that “a closed hearing” is nothing more than a “star chamber” — “legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings.”

Does Libby Garvey have any valid points here? First, I’d reiterate the DPVA party plan’s language that “the member’s removal from the committee shall be automatic if the committee finds that the member has engaged in such public activity” (e.g., endorsing a Republican against a Democratic nominee). Which is exactly what she did.  

Second, Garvey doesn’t have any serious defense to make about her actions, which are crystal clear, given her many emails, public statements, etc, etc. in support of Republican John Vihstadt in the recent Arlington County Board election.

Third, I’d remind everyone that we’ve seen this type of thing before, such as the case of former State Senator Benjamin Lambert, a Democrat who endorsed George Allen over Jim Webb for U.S. Senate in 2006. In that case, Lambert was NOT kicked out of the Richmond City Democratic Committee (on a 20-15 vote), but was defeated in a Democratic primary a few months later by Donald McEachin, who holds that position to this day. At the time, there was a heated debate over whether the RCDC should have kicked out Lambert. I was personally appalled that he wasn’t kicked out, although in the end it helped fuel McEachin’s primary victory, so one could argue it all worked out pretty well in the end.

The question is, how can such a blatant violation of party rules, especially for a crucial election (that race arguably was the key to whether the U.S. Senate would flip from Republican to Democratic control – or not), NOT be punished by the party if it’s to maintain any sense of discipline, or for that matter rules that mean anything, going forward? To this day, while I’m thrilled that McEachin primaried Lambert and beat him, I believe that Lambert should have been kicked out of the party for his actions against the party’s rules and the party’s nominee. I’d presume that Virginia Republicans would feel the same way if one of their members, let’s say Bill Bolling, endorsed the Democratic nominee for governor over, let’s just say, Ken Cuccinelli.

Now, it should go without saying that endorsing a Republican against a Democrat for Arlington County Board does not come even CLOSE to the severity of endorsing George Allen over Jim Webb for U.S. Senate. Still, I’d argue why have rules at all if we aren’t going to enforce them? Of course, this raises the question, why didn’t ACDC act back in December 2013, when Garvey first endorsed Republican Vihstadt for County Board, and after she held a fundraiser with former Rep. Tom Davis (R)? I’d argue that this failure to act was a huge mistake, as it basically sent a message to Arlington Democrats that there would be no adverse consequences for supporting Vihstadt over the eventual Democratic nominee, so they were free to campaign as hard as they wanted for Vihstadt. Which is exactly what ended up happening (e.g., mailer after mailer from Vihstadt featuring the Democrats who had endorsed him and his so-called “unity ticket”).

By the way, the integrity of the pro-Vihstadt Democrats’ argument should have been completely discredited early in this race, given their repeated claim that there were no viable options in the Democratic Party who opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar. As it turns out, that was completely false, as there WAS a candidate for the Democratic nomination for County Board, Cord Thomas, who opposed the streetcar and who in many ways shared their hostility towards the Arlington County Board. So why didn’t they ditch Vihstadt when Cord Thomas became a candidate in December 2013 and support Thomas for the Democratic nomination? Hmmmmm.

Anyway, the bottom line at this point is that there are no great options, only degrees of sub-optimal ones. Still, it’s clear to me that failure to act at this point would only compound the mistake made last December in sending a message that such blatant disregard for party rules comes with no consequences. It would also encourage more of this bad behavior in the future.

One question that keeps coming up, and which I believe is an important one, is why act ONLY against Libby Garvey, when another elected official who was endorsed by ACDC, Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos, also endorsed Republican John Vihstadt? Is there any reason why Libby Garvey should be kicked out of the party but not Theo Stamos? To me, the bottom line is that we should either follow the rules consistently, unless there’s a really strong, overriding reason why NOT to follow them. In this case, it seems like it comes down to popularity and the reasons/degree to which Stamos and Garvey, respectively, supported Vihstadt. In Stamos’ case, she’s apparently good friends with Vihstadt (that’s at least an excuse for why she supported him, although I’m not sure why she couldn’t have just stayed publicly neutral), and arguably didn’t do as much to campaign for him as Garvey did. Still, I don’t see how any of that overrides the party’s rules, or calls for differential treatment for one elected official versus the other.

Of course, the ultimate “discipline” against a party member who violates the rules they had previously agreed to is what we might call the “Benny Lambert solution.” Namely: find a strong candidate to primary Garvey when she’s up for reelection in 2016, a presidential year when Democratic turnout will be at its absolute peak, and defeat her. Is that realistic? As far as I can tell, the main challenge would be finding a strong candidate, but other than that, it would be very difficult if not impossible for Garvey to win the Democratic caucus or primary in 2016. And without that, in a presidential election year, it would be very difficult for Garvey to win the election against a serious Democratic nominee. Again, that would be the ultimate “discipline,” although it certainly isn’t an argument for failing to enforce party discipline now as well. If I were in charge of ACDC, I’d pursue both courses of action.

  • wolfrunner

    Actions always have consequences, but often not the intended ones.  

    If you start tossing out people citing rules, and if those people have followers, you may be tossing out those followers too.  Draw enough lines in the sand and you may find yourself very pure but very lonely.  

    Once, some years ago when I was a Democratic party officer, I declined to endorse a nominee and supported an independent candidate who happened to be my cousin.  The Chair called me up and told me that she would have to run me out but preferred that I resign.  I replied that she clearly had the right to kick me out, but if she did, she would instantly make the Green Party more effective.  She decided that the better plan was to forgive my transgression citing the “special exception” for second cousins.  

    Party discipline and loyalty require carrots as well as sticks.  I don’t see the carrots here.  

  • was NOT removed from ACDC despite having endorsed an independent candidate (Cecilia Espinoza) over Democratic-endorsed Arlington County School Board candidate Sally Baird. Yet another example of these party rules not being applies uniformly…

  • JHooe44

    My question – will expelling Libby from the Party lead to an even stronger contingent for Vihstadt in November? It isn’t difficult to see this as reinforcing the idea that the Arlington Democrats is an insular organization that refuses to even consider alternate viewpoints from its own. Kicking someone out for advocating her views, just because they are counter to your own, is not going to be seen favorably by independent voters; essentially dissent on a few key issues is being treated as electoral treason. I think that is a very easy narrative to write, especially considering that voters have already shown their displeasure with the Arlington County Board – and I would believe that this will sway some (even if a very small number of) folks who voted for Howze in the special to think twice before supporting a Dem in the local election in November.

    In 2014, we’ll learn just how strong the national Dem coat-tails are for voter turnout in the local election – because even after losing a low-turnout election (and thus, a much more highly informed electorate) it looks like ACDC is going back to reinforcing its same old shtick. The plan must be to rally around low-information voters who turn out for Warner, and hope they tag along in high enough numbers to elect Howze.

    Will be interesting to see if that works.

  • pontoon

    there are times when you really might not like the Dem candidate.  However, if you are a local committee member, you have pledged to support Democrats, to work for Democrats, to help elect Democrats, especially if you are a Democrat who received the monetary support and grassroots help of the local committee to be elected!  Ms. Garvey might have preferred the other guy, but she should have been quiet.  If she felt so strongly that she couldn’t be quiet, then she should have gone to her local committee and resigned.  Then she could have supported whomever she chose, but she can’t have it both ways.  She should be kicked off the local committee.  

  • lsockett

    I think the ACDC should cancel this meeting and not give Libby Garvey a soapbox for her views.  ACDC should just publicly reiterate the rules about its members not endorsing outside the party, and ask that members who cannot follow the rules respectfully resign.  But if the ACDC kicks out Libby and/or Theo, it will just invite hours and hours of argument/debate about the pettiness of the ACDC, rather than Arlington Dems focusing on the real issues at hand — i.e., the November election.  The County Board special election was obviously an exceptional time and situation; many, many long-time Democrats felt they were sending a message to the Board by voting for Vistadht.  If the ACDC takes punitive action against Libby and/or Theo, it will just bolster the Vistadht campaign and others (including many Dems) who are feeling alienated right now from the County Board and Democratic Leadership.  The ACDC instead needs to take a step back and act in a classy but forceful way.  I’m sure there are less sensational things the ACDC can do to send Libby and Theo a message about their actions.  Even Jay Fisette is trying to be “above it all” and work professionally and politely with Libby (see today’s Arlington Sun).  In fact, ACDC (and the Howze campaign?) should be spending its time and efforts reaching out to traditional Dems who voted for Vistadht to try to figure out how to address the issue in November.  Let’s focus on real, substantive issues, not who should be “punished.”        

  • campaignman

    If the rule require them to be automatically ousted from the party, either get rid of the rules or enforce them.

    I think the rule here make sense.  

    On the other hand, that doesn’t have to be the end of the matter.

    Unless the rules say otherwise, there will always be a new opportunity for anyone ousted to re-apply for membership, if they wish to do so.

    If either were to choose to return and apply for re-admission, that would be the time to debate the merits of their request based upon whatever arguments they might make.

    If they don’t wish to remain in the party, so be it.  As it stands, they apparently would prefer their independence.  They are entitled to do so and good luck to them.

    If I were in a position to vote on them, I would have to hear a pretty good explanation for their actions before voting to re-instate them.

  • amber waves

    ACDC will suffer politically if it expels Theo and Libby. After a defeat the party should not start shooting each other. If we kick anyone out of the party, it should be Warner who constantly undermines Obama and Reid. Let him use his fortune to run as an Independent.

  • I’ve been saying this for a couple years now, but the pro-streetcar folks, with whom I strongly agree, have needed to step it up big time. Instead, they’ve pretty much left the field to the anti-streetcar side, which has seized the opportunity and made the most of it. The gazillionth example? A full-page anti-streetcar, anti-streetcar-supporters ad (full of hyperbole and disinformation, but let’s leave that issue aside for the moment and just focus on marketing effectiveness and tenaciousness) in the print edition of the Arlington Sun Gazette (see below). So where are the PRO-streetcar forces, who by the way have the facts overwhelmingly on their side, defending this proposed project? HELLO?!?

  • Where is this meeting taking place and when on Monday is it? There’s currently nothing listed on the ACDC website.