I recently posted A Republican in Democrat’s Clothing, a Blue Virginia piece on Reid Voss, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Fairfax County Supervisor in Mason District who has concealed his past as a Republican operative. But I’d like to be clear – I want more Republicans joining the Democratic party.
The question, at least for those pursuing public office, is how to distinguish Republicans who are making a sincere switch vs. those simply interested in gaining power in a jurisdiction in which they could not otherwise be elected.
We have in Fairfax County a basis for comparison if we look at Voss’ campaign vis-à-vis that of another former Republican, Kyle McDaniel, an at-large candidate for the County School Board. While I don’t plan to endorse McDaniel (or anyone else) for School Board, I found that he demonstrates an appropriate and reasonable way to make the party switch and thereby provides a useful contrast, demonstrating the principles for how to get this right.
The key, as with so much in democratic politics, is operating with transparency. Here are examples of what I mean, comparing these two candidates (for different positions) in how they have approached the same challenge:
Make a public break with the GOP
McDaniel’s break with the Republican party in 2018 was a big enough deal to merit a story in the Washington Post, GOP activist from Virginia quits Republican Party over Trump’s remarks. He did not just quietly slip away – he sent an open letter to the State GOP Party Chair and talked with the Post about why he was doing so.
By contrast, there is no public record of Reid Voss ever quitting or breaking with the party where he had served as a staffer to Republican U.S. Representative Jo Ann Davis, as campaign manager to Republican County Supervisor candidate Buzz Hawley and as a campaign contractor to Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Sean Connaughton. Try Googling it – you’ll end up in the dark with the rest of us.
Explain why you left their party
McDaniel actually made his misgivings publicly known as far back as January 2016, in a letter to the Post, stating:
“Today I find myself wandering through the wilderness with many other disaffected Republicans, wondering what happened to the party for which we worked so hard. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that almost 60 percent of Republicans want an outright ban on Muslims entering the country. I cannot think of a more anti-Republican and anti-conservative proposal. These positions do not represent the values for which my fellow Republicans fought.”
When McDaniel did quit the GOP, he made no secret of his reasons why. Per the 2018 Post story:
“[He] described events he ‘could no longer stomach,’ including Trump’s reported reference last week to Haiti as a ‘shithole’ country and the defense by some party leaders of this summer’s rally by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville that led to the death of a 32-year-old woman.
“McDaniel also cited an unsuccessful effort by himself and other younger Republicans to remove or formally censure a member of the state party’s 11th Congressional District Committee in Northern Virginia, who, among other things, called Islam ‘a death cult created by Satan.’
“’I have, on more occasions than I care to recall, been forced to ‘bite my tongue’ when in conversation with other party leaders about the issues of the day,’ wrote McDaniel, who has gone to Haiti as a relief worker with his church and said he and his wife, Katie, have considered adopting a Haitian child. ‘I cannot in good faith continue to do that.’”
More recently, McDaniel posted a diary here at Blue Virginia, Fairfax County School Board At-Large Candidate Kyle McDaniel, a Former Republican, Answers the Question, “How did you become a Democrat?” Again, he makes his reasons clear:
“The last straw of my time with the GOP was Donald Trump’s appalling comments on the Haitian people, a people with whom I have broken bread many times in Port-au-Prince. At that time I was in a leadership position within the party, and I knew that a resignation would create headlines and that I would be resoundingly condemned by Republicans, but that didn’t matter to me.”
And again, I have found no such public statements having been made by Voss, in his website or recorded anywhere else. (While McDaniel does not discuss his Republican past on his webpage, it is quite easy to find the articles and evidence I cited above.)
Make a clear transition
There’s an interesting line in McDaniels’ Blue Virginia piece: “Breaking with your ‘team’ is hard enough. Breaking with your ‘team’ and immediately joining the other is not only harder, but some would argue insincere.”
Again, his transition was quite transparent, from publicly questioning his party in 2016 to publicly breaking with it in 2018, to running as an independent candidate for School Board in 2019 to increasingly working with Democrats and now running as one in 2023.
As for Mr. Voss? All we know is that he had worked as a Republican functionary at the federal, state and local levels and is now, suddenly, running as a Democrat. Such an opaque and abrupt shift is understandably more likely to raise suspicions about a candidate’s sincerity in making the jump from red to blue.
Steadily build bridges with Democrats
The significant number of prominent local Democrats endorsing McDaniel in his current race – from Sharon Bulova to his former School Board opponent, Laura Jane Cohen – testifies to the work he has done over the past few years winning the trust of Democrats as legitimately being one of us. If there’s one thing all effective politicians understand as a matter of instinct, it’s who is with you and who is against you. That he has passed this level of vetting with his fair share of local Democratic and progressive leaders ought to mean something.
Voss, by contrast, has no Democratic endorsements to share – almost all such endorsements have gone to his far superior opponent, lifelong Democrat Andres Jimenez. Voss further admitted under questioning at a Fairfax County Democrats’ meeting that he has had no involvement with Democratic campaigns or events in the past. Frankly, it is hard to build trust if you just suddenly ask for votes as the candidate of a party that you have spent your life shunning.
Clearly identify the progressive values you share with Democrats
Finally, please tell us what makes you a Democrat – what progressive values specifically inspire you to run for public office? McDaniel thoroughly answers this question in his BV diary, in more detail than I have room to share, with statements like “I believe women have a fundamental right to dictate the autonomy of their own bodies. In fact, when the Dobbs ruling came down I volunteered to personally fly women to states that would not ban abortions through a non-profit.”
Voss, by contrast, fills the issues section on his website with pure mush like “I believe in creating win-win solutions that attract sustainable amenities to our community while expanding opportunities for green space. I will bring all interests to the table as I work to make Mason an even more vibrant, safe and accessible place to live and work.” Meaning what, exactly?
Worse than that, as I discussed in my previous diary on Voss, his leadership of the effort to block removal of the name of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart from the local high school revealed values quite contrary to what most Democrats stand for. In the same recent period in which McDaniel was breaking with the GOP, Voss was proudly listing himself as co-author of a manifesto entitled “Keep the Name J.E.B. Stuart High School: Restore Harmony and Reason.”
This document is full of statements quite contrary to Democratic values, not to mention unhistorical misinformation, like:
- “It is an oversimplification to claim that slavery was THE cause of the Civil War.”
- “The [High School Name] Changers accuse the Confederates of being White Supremacists. Use of this slur is a racist act in itself and demonstrates their lack of knowledge about the Civil War.”
- “The Civil War was complex and pitted not just north against south but families, neighbors and people of different race and ethnicities against each other.”
So, Republicans, if you want to run for office as a Democrat, here you have a road map to follow. Show us who are and prove it through good works.
It’s not complicated. And please understand that we’re not dumb and we know how to use search engines.
P.S. For those interested in the race for Fairfax County Supervisor, Mason District, there will be a candidates forum this Monday night at 7:00 pm at Mason Government Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale.