Friday, December 6, 2019
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GOP Trying to Buy the 11th District

Today is the moment of truth, when we find out if Democrat Sam Rasoul holds on to the seat suddenly vacated by Onzlee Ware after the November election.  According to the Roanoke Times, of the $121,000 raised by Republican Octavia Johnson, $105,000 came from Bill Howell's Dominion Leadership PAC. (Oddly, Johnson has reported spending only $73,000 of her Howell largesse.) Sam Rasoul has raised $108,000 from many donors and has spent down that war chest. Howell's PAC money has been used to fund multiple, mud-slinging mailings for Johnson, as well as robocalls to voters. One such mailing attacking Rasoul even used a photo of him taken by Valerie Garner, publisher of the Roanoke Free Press web newspaper, without asking her permission. Garner, a strong supporter of Sam Rasoul, is understandably very angry.

To me, the infusion of Howell money and desperate campaigning by Rep. Bob Goodlatte on behalf of Johnson are attempts to get bragging rights by picking up the last delegate seat in SW Virginia held by a Democrat. I don't think they actually sense a victory in the making, but with special election turnout, the investment seems worth it to them. Today is the moment of truth for Roanoke Democrats to see if they can get their voters to the polls on the coldest day so far this winter. If they do, Sam Rasoul is the next representative in the 11th District. If not, then a candidate who refused to debate or to state her positions on any issues - or to actually campaign for the office - will end up as just one more vote in the pocket of Bill Howell.

I'll head to a Rasoul victory party tonight and will report here any results I can get.

Update from Roanoke’s 11th

Some Democrats are getting concerned by the money dump into the 11th House District by Bill Howell in support  of Octavia Johnson, the GOP candidate in the special election that will fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Democrat Onzlee Ware.  Whether Howell smells a pick-up or whether he just figures that he can spare the money from his ALEC-fattened money pot is unclear. However, I have seldom seen a worse candidate for office than Octavia Johnson.

Johnson was first elected sheriff when the then-Sheriff George McMillan, a Democrat, was embroiled in several charges of sexual harassment. She won reelection in a three-way race where her opponents split the anti-Octavia vote. In 2013, however, she lost in yet another three-way race. What amazes me is that Johnson is someone who has run campaigns before, but this time she's sleep-walking through the election. (Smile)

There have been only two opportunities for both candidates to meet in public forums. Johnson refused to appear at either one, including an opportunity to speak before the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Although the chamber didn't officially endorse a candidate, they appeared very impressed with Rasoul's positions, especially regarding small and medium-sized businesses, and the importance of investment in education to prepare students for employment or college.

The Republican Party of Virginia and Howell have spent lots of money on multiple mailings to Roanokers while Johnson herself has been invisible. Rasoul, in contrast, has been hard at work doing the things one would expect of a candidate, knocking on doors, phone banking, using social media, attending neighborhood events. He also has received the endorsement of the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors.

Bob Goodlatte's attempt to campaign with Johnson hardly helped her cause.

Mark Warner Endorses Sam Rasoul

Sam Rasoul's campaign for the 11th District House of Delegates special election in January 7 got an important endorsement today. According to a press release from the campaign, Sen. Mark Warner said, "I am proud to endorse Sam Rasoul for the House of Delegates 11th District. I worked with Sam in 2008 and was impressed with his work ethic and business background. His experience in finding consensus with people from various backgrounds will make him a valuable asset in Richmond, representing the citizens of Roanoke. Vote Sam Rasoul on January 7."

Kimble Reynolds, who briefly sought an independent run for the 11th, withdrew his candidacy after speaking with Sam Rasoul about his views on education. "I was uncertain as to whether or not there was a candidate that would be that strong advocate for education," Reynolds said in a news release. "...After learning more about Sam Rasoul and speaking with him about the sincerity of his commitment to education, I believe Roanoke has that strong candidate.

Rasoul has stated that one major issue he will stress in the campaign is bridging the gap between public schools and the skill needs of the business community. "As Delegate, I want to do more to empower our educators to be able to implement programs that provide job-ready skills upon graduation. This way our businesses can hire local students who are ready to start their career after high school or community college," Rasoul said.

Now, the key to keeping this district as the only Democratic House seat in SW Virginia is to get our voters to turn out for a special election in the dead of winter. From the activity I have seen so far by Sam Rasoul, that looks better and better.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

How much stranger can the race for the seat of retiring Roanoke Del. Onzlee Ware get? First, the establishment candidate, David Trinkle, loses to Sam Rasoul, who cobbled together a diverse coalition of various groups who have felt left out of city politics. Then today, the news breaks that there will be a third candidate in the race, Kimble Reynolds, Jr., a lawyer who filed petitions to run as an independent and has been certified by the Roanoke City registrar. Reynolds is a lawyer with the Martinsville law firm of Kimble Reynolds and Associates, but he and his wife only recently bought a house in Roanoke. Until a year ago, Reynolds served on the Martinsville City Council.

Evidently, Reynolds' petitions for candidacy were circulated on Sunday and notarized also on Sunday, the day after the firehouse primary that chose Sam Rasoul as the Democratic candidate. Reynolds has always been a Democrat in the past, but this time he is facing a duly chosen Democratic nominee as an independent. He ran against Robert Hurt for House of Delegates in 2003 and lost decisively. He also served as a aide to Tom Perriello when Perriello was in Congress.  

All of this happens as the Democrats in the city have rallied behind Sam Rasoul, including the man who lost to him by 44 votes, David Trinkle. Trinkle hosted a unity rally at one of the restaurants he owns in Roanoke. Onzlee Ware, State Sen. John Edwards, the other candidates for the nomination all joined to support the nominee chosen by the people.

This development is certainly a stumbling block in the election for the only seat in the House of Delegates from Southwest Virginia still held by a Democrat. If Mr. Reynolds indeed is a strong Democrat, this is a srange way to show it. At worst, Reynolds will bleed off votes and elect Octavia Johnson, who is ill prepared to serve in the office. At best, he will just be a diversion for Sam Rasoul in his quest for the office. I can think of conspiracy theories to explain this whole thing, but I can't think of any logical explanation. Can you?  

Reflections on a Firehouse Primary

Today's story about the firehouse primary held yesterday in Roanoke City should center on the victory of Sam Rasoul, who won a four-way primary race by beating Councilman David Trinkle by 44 votes. That would be the story if Mayor David Bowers hadn't lost his cool when the candidate he endorsed, Trinkle, lost. Instead, the story has become the dismaying comments Bowers made to the Roanoke Times

Bowers insinuated that there were somehow dirty tricks involved in the primary. "The things I've heard that may have happened over the last couple of days are dirty and despicable and cause me to question the legitimacy of this nomination," he said.

All I can figure out is that Bowers somehow thinks Republicans interfered to insure victory for a weaker candidate than Trinkle. Others involved disagreed, including Trinkle himself. Trinkle told the Times that he thought it was "a pretty good Democratic day." Additionally, Onzlee Ware called Bowers' remarks "regrettable," noting that as a long-time office holder he knew better than to make unsubstantiated charges.

The turnout for the primary was about twice what was expected - 2,632. Evidently, that set Bowers off. David Bowers has been notorious in the past for making rather outrageous claims, but I thought he had outgrown that "foot-in-mouth disease." I guess not. The job of Democratic office holders now is to do everything to insure that Del. Ware's seat stays in Democratic hands, not to provide ammunition to Rasoul's Republican opponent.

There is another way to read the large turnout.

Trinkle Likely 11th District Democratic Nominee?

Now that the governor has set a date for the special election to replace retiring Del. Onzlee Ware in the 11th District, the push begins in earnest by the five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat that encompasses most of Roanoke City. The winner will be chosen in a firehouse primary on Dec. 7 at the Roanoke Civic Center. Since two sitting members of Roanoke City Council, Court Rosen and David Trinkle, are seeking the nomination, local politics could also be up in the air if either one wins.

The last time Roanoke Democrats used a firehouse primary to choose a nominee was the last mayoral election. In that primary David Bowers, the incumbent, beat Sam Rasoul. About 1,200 people participated in that primary, and there certainly aren't likely to be more participants this time. With a five-person field, I really can't handicap this race. Whoever can get three or four hundred or more supporters to show up on a December Saturday will take the race. Even so, I'll try to do some guessing.

The person who seems strongest going in is David Trinkle, who has served on city council and was a school board member before that. Dr. Trinkle is up for re-election to council in May, but he hasn't announced whether he will seek another term or not. Trinkle is the "establishment candidate," touting his experience and readiness to represent the city in Richmond. The other council member, Court Rosen, also has made his council experience a selling point; however, if past experience is what people at the primary use to guide their vote, Trinkle wins.

Then, we get to the kicker that makes calling a winner so difficult - three other candidates who bring their own constituencies to the race.  

Candidates Line Up for Ware’s Roanoke Seat

Del. Onzlee Ware (D-11th), who was re-elected to his seat this month without opposition, has informed Gov. McDonnell that he is resigning his seat because of  family issues. Ware revealed that his mother, who lives with him, had a stroke last summer and requires his care and attention. First elected in 2002, Ware said that her illness occurred after the deadline for removing his name from the ballot. (Or, as some are surmising, is Ware clearing the way for his name to be put forth as a judge?  After all, he has hardly been a thorn in the side of the GOP in Richmond. Both Bob McDonnell and Bill Howell praised him to the heavens after Ware announced his retirement. A sitting member of the legislature cannot be named a judge.)

Already, a bevy of candidates are lining up to vie for the open seat. Because the seat leans heavily Democratic, several potential candidates  have already signaled their intention to seek the Democratic nomination.

Court Rosen, vice mayor of Roanoke, is even running ads for the nomination touting himself as the candidate to vote for in a special election primary, but the Democratic Party in the city hasn't yet announced the way it will select its candidate. (Maybe Rosen knows something the rest of us don't.) Also announcing their  intention to run are Sam Rasoul, one-time candidate for Congress in the 6th District and loser in the last mayoral firehouse primary, and Patricia White-Boyd, a well-known organizer for Democratic campaigns in the city and a member of the 6th Congressional District Democratic Committee. Two more Democrats, Councilman David Trinkle and Keith Wheaton, founder of JBT Media Holdings, are said to be very interested in running, as is Jeff Artis, a  leader in the city chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.