Start the Year Off Right, and End the Mudslinging in the VA LG Race

Everything old is new again.  Even mudslinging.

Welcome to 2017.  I don’t need to explain why 2016 was an annus horribilis, especially in Virginia.  Bitter primary fights, a bitter general election fight, forced judicial redistricting leading to a lost house seat, and yet more internal Virginia Republican squabbling.  But the year ended, surprisingly, with Republicans winning an unexpected and welcome national victory, and that – at least for most of December – seemed to smooth the waters.

It was too good to last, and it didn’t.  A few hours into 2017, the Washington Post let loose the first salvo of the Lieutenant Governor’s race, which is shaping up to probably be the nastiest of the three statewide primaries this year.  The story, which I won’t bother recounting here, wasn’t something new – it was kicked around for a while last year. Fortunately, nobody was paying attention because of the presidential race.  If you aren’t familiar with the allegations, Shaun Kenney wrote a succinct review at our sister publication (more on that in the coming days) the Jeffersoniad.

Anonymous attacks have become a stock in trade in Virginia Republican circles.  Despite the efforts here and in other more reputable corners of Virginia’s online community, there are still plenty of credulous, willing patsies who have no problems publishing anything fed to them by candidates they like or candidates who are at least willing to sufficiently stroke some of the less professional in this business to get what they want.  The only way this will stop is if folks demand it stops.  This means not reposting rumors, not sharing the stories on Facebook, and campaigns not walking “the inside story” around as if everybody is as easy to dupe as, well, you know.

As Shaun noted in his piece, Bearing Drift had all these allegations in August and didn’t run them.  We wish others had chosen not to as well, but c’est la vie.

Do any of these fights move voters?  Not enough to make a difference.  These are the kinds of fights designed by insiders for insiders, and while they may have some efficacy in a convention battle, this election will be decided by a primary, not by a convention.  That’s why I expected all of this nonsense to go away after RPV’s August selection of a primary for the nomination method for 2017 statewide elections.  Yet here we are in January, and the story is still alive.

The Lieutenant Governor job is one of the least important in the Commonwealth.  It pays next to nothing, is the only part-time statewide office, and the only power the office has only comes into play when the body is split 20-20, which it isn’t, and isn’t likely to be, unless Republicans shoot ourselves in the foot in the on-going shenanigans in the 22nd Senate District special election.  So why are both candidates rolling in the mud to win it?  Is it really worth the kind of winning-at-all-costs attitude that some have adopted?

I’m not taking sides in this fight because it’s not my role, and, frankly, I understand the anger on both sides.  Anonymous attacks are frustrating because it’s almost impossible to decide what the best play is to counter them.  You can respond, but that can backfire by giving more credence to the attacks (“why did he respond if it’s not true?”) than if you ignore them.  But if you ignore them, you open yourself up to more criticism (“if he didn’t do it, why didn’t he say he didn’t do it?”) and more rumors.  Plus, one thing you can be sure of is that if you telegraph that something bothers you, the folks who did it will keep doing it – or somebody else will start.  There’s no easy way out.

The worst part, at least for voters, is that this whole business has absolutely nothing to do with who would be a better Lieutenant Governor – although that question is a bit like arguing over Coke or Pepsi, as it’s almost entirely subjective and not based on any real criteria besides partiality.  Given how little this job actually does, it’s up to the folks running to put together a convincing case of what they want to do with it, how they’ll govern given the lack of authority, and how they’ll beat the Democrat in November.  They can’t do that when they’re too busy filing law suits and forwarding indignant responses to anonymous emails that only a handful of activists will ever care about.

It’s not too late for the candidates to wash off the mud and get back to something that might actually be of value to primary voters come June.  That’s going to require all of the campaigns to be mindful about staying out of the mud.  The temptation of easy, anonymous attacks is one that every campaign has to deal with, but it’s not too late for everybody to wake up and realize this campaign should be important enough not to throw away their dignity for.

We have a chance to start fresh now in 2017 and it would be nice to see these campaigns dial back the mud and focus on constructive campaigning.