Home Local Politics After Loudoun County Turned “Blue,” Should Republican Supervisor Matt Letourneau Be the...

After Loudoun County Turned “Blue,” Should Republican Supervisor Matt Letourneau Be the Next County Board Finance Chair?

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As we know, Democrats had a superb night in Loudoun County on November 5, resulting in:

  • A landslide (57%-39%) victory for incumbent Chair Phyllis Randall (D) over well-funded former Republican Party of Virginia Chair John Whitbeck. Congratulations to Phyllis Randall on her impressive win; already hearing her name very much in the mix for statewide office in 2021.
  • Multiple victories in County Board races, with “Democrats…seiz[ing] control of the county Board of Supervisors for the first time since the 2007 election, flipping Republicans’ 6-3 majority upside-down with a series of decisive victories across the county…. Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and supervisors Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) will return to their seats for a second term. Umstattd ran unopposed; both Randall and Saines posted commanding numbers…They will be joined by fellow Democrats Juli E. Briskman, Algonkian; Michael R. ‘Mike’ Turner, Ashburn; and Sylvia Russell Glass, Broad Run.” Congratulations too all these Democrats as well!
  • The Loudoun County School Board going “blue” as well – “while technically non-partisan, seven of the nine winners had the backing of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee.”
  • Oh, and more great news: Buta Biberaj (D) defeated Republican Nicole Wittmann for Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
  • Democrats also did very well in Loudoun County in State Senate and House of Delegates elections. For instance, John Bell (D) won the Loudoun County portions of SD13 by a 55%-45% margin; Del. Wendy Gooditis (D) carried the Loudoun County portions of HD10 by a 57%-43% margin; Suhas Subramanyam (D) won his election in the Loudoun County portions of HD87 by a 65%-35% margin; etc.

At this point, it’s clear that Virginia’s third-most-populous county, with just over 400,000 residents, has moved from “red” to “purple” to “blue” in just a few years. Check out the maps, below, for an illustration. To see how far the county’s come, note that in 2009, Loudoun County went by a landslide (61%-39%) to Republican Bob McDonnell in the governor’s election, after Tim Kaine narrowly (52%-46%) defeated Republican Jerry Kilgore, and after Mark Warner actually lost Loudoun County by a 53%-46% margin to Republican Mark Earley in 2001. So…yeah, this county has not just grown, it’s gotten more diverse and a LOT more Democratic since the turn of the century…and certainly since Trump became president.

All of which raises the question: how should Democrats, who as of January 2020 will comfortably hold the Loudoun County Board majority, behave? Should they, for instance, work to enact the priorities a large majority of Loudoun County voters elected them to carry out? Should they bend over backwards to be “bipartisan” regarding County Board committee chairmanships, even though Loudoun County Republicans didn’t do the same when they were in control? Thus, with their 6-3 majority, Republicans made sure that they chaired all three Standing Committees on the County Board: Finance/Government Operations and Economic Development (Chair: Republican Supervisor Matthew Letourneau); Joints Board and School Board Committee (Chair: Republican Supervisor Ralph Buona); Transportation Committee (Chair: Republican Supervisor Geary Higgins). Republican Supervisor Ralph Buona also held down the Vice Chair position.

How about now that Democrats are going to be in charge, by a 6-3 margin? What I’m hearing is that the Chair Randall is figuring this out now, but that currently it’s looking likely to be: Vice Chair Koran Saines (D); Transportation Committee Chair Mike Turner (D); Joint Board and School Board Committee Chair Kristen Umstattd (D); and Finance Committee Chair Matthew Letorneau (R).

So that would be overwhelmingly Democratic, no question, with the one question being whether it’s wise to leave the powerful Finance Committee chairmanship in the hands of Republican Supervisor Matthew Letourneau. Here are a few things to consider about Letourneau:

  • First elected in 2011, he’s a relatively young guy (in his upper 30s) and considered a possible future Republican candidate for higher office – Chair or even statewide office.
  • He is the “Managing Director of Communications and Media…at the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce]’s Global Energy Institute,” where he “campaigns on a variety of issues, such as the development of shale oil and natural gas, the Keystone XL Pipeline and other energy infrastructure.” Which is…not good, obviously.
  • Note that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a “pro-corporate trade group” which has become “a fully functional part of the partisan Republican machine” with ties to the right-wing (anti-union, anti-environment, climate-science-denial, pro-school-privatization, pro-voter-disenfranchisement, pro-private-prisons, etc.) American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC.
  • As for pushing fossil fuels, obviously that’s a disaster, given the urgent imperative to get off of fossil fuels NOW. As far as I’m concerned, anyone pushing to actually *increase* fossil fuel production is highly problematic, at best.
  • Prior to that job, Letourneau “served as Republican Communications Director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In that capacity, he helped lead communications efforts on energy issues for Senate Republicans and managed communications on key legislation.”
  • On the Loudoun County Board, Letourneau has been hostile to Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and supports the (terrible) idea of a second bridge over the Potomac River, connecting Loudoun County and Montgomery County.
  • Some key votes Letourneau has taken over the years include: 1) multiple votes to reduce Loudoun County’s tax rate and against spending requests, thereby not supporting a fast growing school system, which has been underfunded for years; 2) votes against allowing unions to participate in county employee orientation; 3) a vote against adding the ERA to the Board legislative agenda; 4) a vote against asking for more local authority over placement of Confederate statues; 5) a vote against supporting red flag laws; 6) a vote against raising county employees’ salaries to at least 100% of neighboring counties (Loudoun pays its employees less than the rest of the region)  – this might be in the weeds, but it actually makes a big difference to Loudoun County’s firefighters and Sheriff’s deputies.

In sum, Letourneau has lots of bad votes, from a Democratic perspective, as well as clear biases towards fossil fuels and corporate interests. Clearly, that’s why the guy’s a Republican. The question, again, is whether soon-to-be-majority Democrats should let Letourneau maintain the powerful Finance Committee Chair job, and also whether it’s smart to bolster Letourneau’s budding political career?  On one level, I understand the desire to look and act in a bipartisan manner (even if Republicans didn’t do that in the past, and even if they wouldn’t have done so if they had won the majority). But on another level, it seems like Letourneau could, at the minimum, make passing Democratic priorities more difficult and/or slower. The question is whether that’s a tradeoff work making…