Del. Lacey Putney, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the longest-serving member of the Virginia General Assembly, and, even more unique, the longest consecutively serving state legislator in the United States, was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Democrat in 1962. As Virginians reconsidered their political allegiances throughout the turbulent ’60s, so did Del. Putney who left the Democratic Party to become an Independent.
Although he has remained an Independent through the years, Del. Putney has caucused with the House Republicans since 1968, has earned the trust of the House Republican leadership, and is generally reelected by comfortable margins in his 19th House District.
Del. Putney came closer to defeat than he has in decades in the 20111 General Election when both Republican Jerry Johnson and perennial Democratic candidate Lewis Medlin challenged Del. Putney. Ultimately, Del. Putney won, but he received only 41 percent of the vote in a three-way race in a redrawn district that he had carried easily election after election. Some Democratic Party strategists have cited the 2011 election as evidence that the right Democrat could eek out a win in the 19th District if conservatives again split the vote between an independent Del. Putney and a Republican challenger.
Apparently Del. Putney isn’t unaware of the electoral calculus, either: Del. Putney recently told a publication of the Roanoke Times that if he decides to run for another term this November, he will run as a Republican.
“I am pleased to receive so many calls and visits from a number of constituents and Republican Party leaders in my district, particularly Botetourt County, urging me to seek re-election and run for the Republican nomination…. I am strongly leaning toward running, and if I do seek re-election, I will run as a Republican.”
Since Del. Putney has long been a friend and supporter of Republican candidates and causes throughout the Lynchburg-Bedford-Botetourt County area, finally seeing an “R” behind his name won’t be that different for many of his longtime constituents.