Trading competence for ideology

A couple of months ago, the Derecho we had up in Northern Virginia shorted out the lamppost in my front yard.  I tried to fix it myself, but had no luck, so I’ve been looking to find a good electrician to fix it.  After reading some reviews and talking to my neighbors, I’ve settled on a company and they’re coming out soon.  When I was trying to figure out who to hire, I wanted a company that’s been around a while, with master electricians who know their business and should be able to fix my lamp with no hassles.  It’s important to me that they know how to do the job and that they’re competent.

That’s how most people hire folks to work for them – they look for the most qualified, competent person.  That’s how we hire lawyers, plumbers, contractors, day care providers – pretty much everyone who we rely on and pay to take care of problems that we can’t take care of ourselves.

Except elected officials.

Imagine if I’d done my search for an electrician the same way we’re looking to hire our next Lieutenant Governor.  First thing, I’d need to know if he were a Cowboys or a Redskins fan because there is no way I’d hire a Cowboys fan.  If he made it that far, I’d make sure he liked Star Trek, and believed the Xbox has better games than the PS3.  If he answered all of those questions right – meaning he agreed with me – then I’d hire him.  So what if he’s not licensed, uninsured and never actually worked as an electrician before – he’s Orioles fan!

And when my lamppost isn’t fixed, it must have been because I forgot to ask him if he listened to country music.  Can’t trust anybody who doesn’t like Johnny Cash.

I know that sounds stupid, because, well, it is.  But that’s exactly how we choose Republican nominees today.

In my inbox I’ve an email from a group calling itself the “Virginia Anti-Establishment Task Force.”  It’s unsigned (typical), announcing they’ve got a website (registered using two fake street addresses) and a Facebook page (registered as an individual, not as a group, which is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service).  The email, subject line: “the establishment’s worst nightmare,” goes on to explain the VAETF’s mission is “to help grassroots conservatives take back control of the GOP in Virginia from Party leaders who care more about staying in power than they do our conservative values.”  Some of the folks being targeted on their site include Speaker Bill Howell, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, former Delegate and State Senator JeanneMarie Devolites Davis and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter.  Both Davis and Lingamfelter are running for Lieutenant Governor.  About the only thing that those four individuals have in common is they’re all Republicans and they’re all sitting or former elected officials of some tenure.

The rest of the email is the typical screed about returning the party to “core values” and how we’ve ignored the grassroots and somehow strayed from the ideologically pure path of true conservatism.  How Bolling, Howell or Lingamfelter – three of the most consistently conservative Republicans in the Commonwealth – have done that, I have no idea.  I can understand attacking JMDD, as she’s a Northern Virginian like myself and we’re always accused of being RINOs or worse.  It’s all very tiresome and it’s all been done before.

What I find most frustrating is the idea that having experience has become a bad thing.  The cynical view that every incumbent was a bum to be thrown out has seeped into our souls and poisoned our discourse and our party is the worse for it.  The fact that someone is able to get a program enacted – or any law passed at all – isn’t a bad thing.  The fact that some people view the entire concept of passing laws as a bad thing is, itself, a bad thing.  It’s cynical, ignorant and counterproductive.  And it causes us to nominate folks who the larger electorate takes one look at and recognizes aren’t ready for prime time.

We need people with experience because governing is hard.  It requires skill, hard work, and a skin as thick as, well, a rhino.  The rewards are largely the satisfaction of a job well done and maybe a little credit, but that’s about it.  Being good – heck, just being competent – is even harder than getting elected because the American system has done such a good job of diluting political power that your average legislator, from the city council to the U.S. Senate, can rarely do anything without convincing a majority of his colleagues that its a either a good idea or so innocent nobody cares.  Thus, we need nominees who come from the ranks of people who have demonstrated they can get things accomplished – they can actually keep the trains running on time.  We need folks with some kind of experience, either governing or in the private sector, because so much is riding on our making good decisions now and solving problems now, rather than kicking the can down the road for our kids to solve.

So why do we spend so much time asking questions that don’t matter and then hiring the folks who tell us what we want to hear?   Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we should be doing?

I respect Bill Bolling, Bill Howell, JeanneMarie Davis and Scott Lingamfelter for all they’ve been able to accomplish in and outside public office.  They don’t deserve to be attacked simply because they’ve gotten elected, they’ve governed, or they’ve disagreed with someone on their pet policy or insulted their political idol.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if my electrician is pro-life or anti-tax – it matters if he can fix my lamppost.

We’ve got a lot of lampposts that need fixing in this state and in this country.  It’s time to start choosing the best men and women for these jobs, not the folks who give the best speech or who can claim ideological purity.  And if that means a few Cowboys fans get elected, I can live with that.

  • pinecone321

    Hey Brian, you know what, that was actually a damn good article you wrote up there. LOL I know I like to view you as Mr. RINOness, and in some cases that’s deserved. But your points above are very well made. Yes, we need people who actually know how to govern, and who have at least some political knowledge in the process and procedures. I also get very tired of reading, all over the web in fact, that we need to throw all of the bums out, there isn’t a breating being in Washington that is worth a wooden nickle, and we need to burn the whole place down, and start over. And that start over means with those that have never been tainted, drank the DC Kool Aid, or who have been invited to a cocktail party. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty enough of them to go around, and from both parties, but everyone who still intakes air?

    It seems that many who are pushing for the political novices are willing to believe what an unproven candidate has to say, no question, they take them at their word as though it is gospel. They have no record to go by, some don’t even have a long enough resume with successful business experience to judge them by. They say the right things and that’s all that matters. Some sign loyalty pledges that they promise to uphold the ideology of the organization who then promise to fund/endorse them. Yup, don’t ever speak your mind against their hero’s or you are a done for.

    As to Bolling, if he does in fact run as an independent, the backlash will be swift and punishing. He will have no choice but to work in a McAuliffe admin. that he will have helped to get elected.

    Overall though, again, the article makes some very excellent points, even though you didn’t honor and praise the wonderful Patriots, which is a criminal on your part. LOL

  • The day Scott Lingamfelter is a RINO is the day when there is something seriously wrong with the GOP.

    Just sayin’.

    • pinecone321

      Lingamfelter dissed the guy some think is the true messiah, and for that he will earn a place even lower then bottom position in polls, if that was possible. For all the talk about property rights being a tantamount issue with some, not so much when you are disrespectful to der leader.

      I think we all know what ideological position was portrayed in the email, which would match the burn it down crowd. Also interesting that the person is trying to hide their identity.

  • EricMcGrane

    If I gleaned my reality from the random emails I receive in my inbox each day, I wouldn’t leave my house. I think you’re putting an awful lot of weight in the wrong places.

    You can be experienced and really know what you’re doing, and still be a terrible/ candidate politician.

    You can be a political newbie and still have wonderful ideas and the political acumen and skill to build a consensus to get those ideas adopted.

    A little balance in discussion on the merits of “new, fresh ideas” and lack of required “payback”/favors that hobble “experienced people” would be welcome.

    • Who said anything about gleaning reality from emails? I’m just pointing out one more group who wants to throw out folks who know how to do their jobs because they know how to do their jobs.

      Most of the political newbies we’ve seen lately, especially at the state wide level, would have been better off getting some seasoning at the local level before running statewide.

      As for balance, I’m the one arguing for balance here.

      • EricMcGrane

        Understand. I’m simply stating the obvious fact that sometimes (often) “experience” does not equal “good government. That “experience” can bring its own unique set of problems to overcome that usually would not encumber a “newbie” candidate.

        There’s a reason that so many folks have the “throw them all out” attitude…and I’d bet good money that its not because the current politicians are doing a good job.

        • MD Russ


          The only thing more silly than an inexperienced neophyte running as an outsider, such as Christine O’Donnell or Jamie Radtke, is an entrenched career politician running as an outsider, such as Al Gore. What we need are people who are neither inexperienced nor running against the establishment–people who are running out of a genuine desire to serve in a position that they are qualified for. And people who have never served in elected office before are not qualified for the US Senate any more than one-term Senators are qualified for POTUS. Look what happened the last time we put a one-term Senator in the White House.

          Brian’s point is well-taken–if Republicans want to win more elections than they need to offer better candidates. Jingoistic ideologues will not win.

          • EricMcGrane

            George Allen was a prior Governor and Senator. He had massive name recognition. He was the golden boy of the establishment…preordained to be the candidate. Generally regarded as “likable”, and “cool” with the cowboy boots and football anecdotes.

            He got walloped with a 5-point spread, even with grassroots folks activating and engaging like never before.

            So….your comments are not well-supported in recent statistical evidence.

            You are certainly free to try again.

          • Let’s be serious, citing one candidate in one election is not “statistical evidence” it’s anecdotal. I’m pretty sure Brian isn’t arguing every experienced candidate will win every election, but ask yourself whether he performed better or worse in the general election than other candidates we could have nominated instead.

          • EricMcGrane

            I’m not the one making the assertions here in the original post. I’m offering an alternative take on the information initially presented.

            As for Allen’s performance, we’ll never know how other candidates would have performed. All we have is the actual results. Twice in a row.

          • Eric, you’re missing the point – this isn’t about choosing who is most electable. It’s about making sure that the candidates we put up, if elected, can actually do the job. That’s my concern. Right now, I think half the folks running for LG couldn’t do the job if they got elected, and the ones who can are the ones who are being vilified.

            Electability takes in so many variables its almost impossible to predict, unless somebody’s an incumbent. But it’s our job to put up solid candidates who voters see and believe are capable of doing the job if they actually get elected. We’ve been failing to do that and that is one of the reasons we keep losing.

          • EricMcGrane

            Agreed, mostly. I despair a little at the thought that “doing the job” is no longer a criteria that is valued by the electorate. We’re almost at the “American Idol” stage of candidate viability.

            However, I still have a concern that “doing the job” is not good enough when doing that job means a constant erosion of conservative principles. There are many, MANY highly-competent people that are ruining the country through ignorance or willful manipulation.

          • Can you define “doing the job” when it comes to the LG then? What specific reasons do you have to conclude that some candidates can’t “do the job” but others can?

          • Sitting in the chair, serving as the President of the Senate, working with the Governor to implement the Governor’s policies, and the like. It’s a difficult job primarily because it’s a job that doesn’t come with a lot of power, so what power it has comes from the individual holding it and their relationships with people in the Senate and in the Governor’s Administration. That kind of power needs somebody who has had to do that kind of work in the past. We have two people who have never held elected office running, we have one person who is a sitting Senator, one retired Senator, a sitting Delegate and two local government electeds, one of whom has less than one term under her belt. The level of experience there widely varies.

          • The Lieutenant Governor is little more than an influence peddler? Does that mean, in your opinion, Pete Snyder, for example, can’t do the job (at least not well), but Steve Martin can (or at least better than others who haven’t been in the Senate)?

            I’m just trying to figure out what you say the criteria for evaluating the candidates should be. Your post doesn’t seem to give much in the way of specifics and sitting in the chair, presiding over the Senate, and working with the Governor don’t seem to be much more specific.

          • I gave you my definition – what is it you think the LG does? What are you criteria?

          • I want to know where they stand on the issues and what their underlying philosophy about the proper role government. Those things give me an idea of whether the LG will be doing the RIGHT job in the first place. If they’re not on the right side of the issues, it seems like the ability to get things done doesn’t matter all that much. For instance, if the eventual Democratic nominee has better “get the job done” chops according to your criteria, does that mean you’d end up giving them your vote?

            Again, do you mean to say that, Pete Snyder, for example, can’t do the
            job (at least not well), but Steve Martin can (or at least better than
            others who haven’t been in the Senate)?

          • What issues are you talking about? What issues do you think the LG deals with? I am less concerned with making the nominees pass some kind of litmus tests on issues they may or may not ever have any influence over. Like I said, that’s asking them whether they prefer chocolate or vanilla, and then only hiring the guy who agrees with you. Is counterproductive.

            I am specifically talking here about Republican nominees. I have never voted for a Democrat in a general election and I don’t plan on doing that, especially not while I’m a party official.

            What I am saying is that Pete’s business experience and private sector experience leads me to believe he could do the job, and Martin’s experience in the Senate leads me believe he could do the job. They are both credible, although I think Martin and JMDD have the best experience if the folks running. Their time in office makes them credible. Not everyone in the race is credible.

          • What issues? All of the issues for which the LG would be responsible for setting policy if he or she were to become Governor, of course. Transportation, education, civil liberties, the proper role of state government, you name it. In a tied Senate, the importance of the LG’s stance on the issues is more important, not less. In addition, if they’re supposed to be working with the Governor on implementing policies (one of your own criteria) then it seems to me that at a minimum, the LG ought to be someone who’s on the same page as the Governor on the issues.

            Business experience has very little or nothing to do with presiding over the Senate. Having been in the Senate doesn’t guarantee that someone will help set and push for the right policies.

            In other words, I don’t think your analogies here quite fit. Yeah, if I’m hiring a guy to fix my plumbing, I don’t care about whether he pulls for the Redskins or the Cowboys. But those are preferences that don’t make a difference to whether he will do the job correctly. If I’m interviewing plumbers and I happen to know a little bit about it myself and I inquire whether they think a particular tool would be the right one to fix a particular problem, that’s extremely relevant to whether they can do the job. If one guy doesn’t know what tool to use or doesn’t know how to use it, then that’s something I would be stupid not to consider. I think that’s a better analogy. The things people want to know from the LG candidates matter. I’m not so much concerned with what they think about the President, but I do want to know where they stand on issues that are relevant to Virginia.

          • I didn’t see much grassroots going out for Allen. Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind left really, really bad tastes in peoples’ mouths.

          • EricMcGrane

            Alexis: folks didn’t go out for Allen really; they went out to stop Obama. Allen was just the collateral benefactor.

          • MD Russ


            Perhaps if the “Republican” Libertarians and Tea Partiers had gotten behind the Republican candidate, he might have won. And don’t insult my intelligence by protesting that you did.

          • EricMcGrane

            I don’t have to insult your intelligence…you’re doing a great job of that here.

            We had a group of around 300 people in our elections committee, with around 50-100 active at any one time. And thousands of doors were knocked on.

            AND, most of those folks were politically active for the FIRST time, so were net-new adders to active volunteers. Don’t try to portray that you know ANYTHING about grassroots activity, because you’re uninformed (or ignorant, if you prefer) of the facts.

            But please, continue to fabricate your reality. It’s wonderfully entertaining.

          • MD Russ


            I think that I know quite a bit about the power of your grassroots efforts. It was demonstrated decisively by Jamie Radtke’s 23% showing in the Republican primary. Pardon me if I am not overwhelmed.

            As for fabricating reality, that sounds pretty stupid coming from someone who actually thought that Radtke could beat Kaine in the General Election.

          • EricMcGrane

            Awwww shucks Rusty….no need to completely change the topic. I just destroyed your point and you got mad. Let this be a teachable moment before you blather on about topics in which you have zero operational knowledge. AWK-ward.

          • MD Russ

            Awww shucks McGrainey…is that all you have as a rebuttal to the reality that the Tea Party has failed in Virginia?

          • EricMcGrane

            Ah yes, the double-down on “I was made to look stupid so I’ll change the topic and get belligerent”. Don’t be angry that I’m not letting you change the topic without noticing. It’s not honest debate, but I know that I shouldn’t expect any from you. And I’m sorry that this isn’t working out as you planned.

        • pinecone321

          Is there such a thing as “bad money”?

          I believe you are referring to “experience” in the strictly political sense, in that the candidate hadn’t served in elective office before. Is that correct? There is also such a thing as having experience in the real world outside of politics, with a record of achievement in their own right. I will use Dr. Carlson, of the Prayer Breakfast fame. Even before his speech, and after his own wildly successful role as a pediatric surgeon, he has long been advocating for conservative political positions. Damn he was so down to earth, articulate, and so right on target with his message. There should be at least that to qualify a future candidate for the Republican party. It’s unfortunate that some think that cutting the legs off their own party opponents is the ticket to success.

      • pinecone321

        It would seem that slamming one of your opponents over, and over, and over again would be an issue that should disqualify some. If all you have is the bash book in your hand, and no positive alternative messages, it should be noted as a resume lightweight.

        • EricMcGrane

          Youtube is your enemy.

      • The problem here is your definition of the job is to continue the looting and pillaging of the people.

  • Scout

    Sometimes it is a mark of genius to state the obvious. Brian’s post may be an example of this.

    Ideological politics is, at its core, absolutely anti-American. One of the reasons that America prospered in the 19th and 20th centuries is that we were not ideologically driven. We were given a structure of government that enables government to serve the people. The structure breaks down when strait-jacketed ideologically.

    Most of the problems we face do not have an over-arching ideological answer. Ideology short-circuits analysis and is crack-cocaine for the uninformed, the lazy thinkers and those for whom poitics is a clubhouse, not a means of finding answers. Red-blooded Americans run in the other direction when they see a candidate trying to shoehorn every governmental issue into an ideological template.

    Unfortunately, this view is very much a minority view. Perhaps things are changing a bit now as the GOP seems to be trying on pragmatism for at least a while.

    • MD Russ

      Well said, Scout. The Libertarian-Paulistinians will hate you for writing it–ideology is their substitute for objective and critical reasoning. But, they are always going to be the 5-percenters, so who cares?

      • Scout

        MD, Thanks, but my focus went well beyond the Libertarian, Ron Paul wing to the general state of decay within the Republican operation throughout Virginia. This isn’t a 5% problem withing our camp. It’s more like an 85-95% problem and has been for a decade. All the more credit to Brian for speaking up on it.

  • jay speer

    Well said!

  • The political class has ruined the country – why would experience at destroying freedom and prosperity be considered a plus, anywhere?

    • You must be living in a different country than the one most of us wake up in.

      • I can 100% guarantee you that you are in the minority if you think things are fine and politicians have been serving the country well. If you genuinely think that your opinion is shared widely, you need to get out of the house.

        The state of the country is that for the vast majority, things suck and are getting worse. This isn’t a natural downturn, either – this is wholly politically driven.

        Country is getting looted left and right and you’re blind to it – really, really sad just how disconnected from reality you are.

        • There’s a wide different between “have ruined the country” and “everything is fine.” Things aren’t fine, but the country isn’t sitting in ruins, either. We have a lot of things we need to fix, but I hate it when folks pull this chicken little routine. The world isn’t ending, things aren’t great for a lot of people, but we’ve all lived through a lot worse. It just gets tiring hearing how much everything sucks from you guys all the time. We win when we are optimistic, not whining pessimists.

  • I hope some folks take this essay to heart. Thank you, Brian, for putting into polite words that which I can only express in frustrated vulgarities. Part of the problem is that the RPV, and to a lesser degree the national Party, has become so weak as to be a loose a confederacy of cults of personality. Since that is now the case, I shall support the cults I prefer, and not toe an essentially meaningless Party line.

  • VA Patriot

    Yes. Experience counts. It is important to have experience in the Senate when you are running for the President of the Senate. Just as it is important to have experience as a prosecutor when you are running for Attorney General. The absence does not disqualify but it is an important consideration.

    • The Attorney General doesn’t prosecute criminals.

      • Va Patriot

        The AG is the chief law enforcement officer in the state. He defends the Commonwealth and his office is directly involved in criminal appeals. If you cannot see the relevance of having expertise in criminal law, I don’t know what to tell you. I can say that it matters to local and state law enforcement- and that this is a particularly timely topic given recent comments on the legalization of marijuana.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.