Holy City Brawl — the Race for Commonwealth’s Attorney that has Everyone Talking
What are the images that come to mind when I mention Lynchburg, Virginia? I think of Jerry Falwell Senior with his big Bible in hand in front of Thomas Road Baptist Church. I think of Liberty University and how the college grows every single time I step onto the campus. I think of Republican power players. Gangs, however, don’t come to mind when I think of Lynchburg. But one candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney wants to “crush the gangs.” The other wants to reinforce that experience is the key to the race.
I have to admit, this 2017 primary season has gotten boring. Due to my boredom, I accepted the invitation to come to the Holy City of Virginia for a debate that was being held for the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney race. What is usually a sleepy campaign for that position has turned into an absolute brawl, and involves key power players in the Republican Party of Virginia, key local elected officials and, more importantly, statewide electeds who have thrown their endorsement behind candidates.
In one corner, Lynchburg Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison is fighting for the Republican nomination for Commonwealth’s Attorney. Harrison has been prosecuting cases in Lynchburg City since 2006, after graduating from the University of Alabama Law School, one of the best in the country, and working for the Family Foundation.
Today she supervises nine attorneys and 19 support staff at the Lynchburg CA’s office, and is responsible for prosecuting the city’s more serious crimes. She has nabbed the endorsement of almost every Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff from bordering counties and nearby sheriffs. Inside the party, she has won the support of the Republican Party of Virginia Western Vice Chairman Wendell Walker, and Delegates Matt Fariss and Chris Peace. Her campaign highlights her experience and institutional memory from her years of working in the Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
In the other corner sits Bedford County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Griffin. Those of you with good political memories may remember that his brother Andrew briefly ran for Congress in the Fifth District last year, but dropped out to support now-Congressman Tom Garrett. In turn, Garrett made him his Press Secretary.
Tim has decided that after a brief stint in the Amherst Commonwealth’s Attorney office and then a short time at the Bedford CA office, he wants the top job in Lynchburg. Mr. Griffin is younger than his opponent, had previously served as a magistrate in Virginia, is heavily involved in the Lynchburg Republican Committee, and graduated from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, VA. What he lacks in experience, he has made up for in campaign rhetoric and endorsements. His “crush the gangs” campaign slogan has echoed through the race, striking a nerve.
He also boasts heavily about four endorsements he has received. I don’t blame him for that though because I would brag, too, about getting endorsed by one of Virginia’s great governors, George Felix Allen. He also holds the endorsement of Republican Representative Tom Garrett and former Representative Virgil Goode, as well as Bedford Sheriff Mike Brown. To top off Mr. Griffin’s conservative credentials, he is also endorsed by Delegate Ben Cline. His campaign stances are that he wishes to “crush the gangs,” cut crime, and protect the 2nd Amendment.
The debate opened up with Mr. Griffin proclaiming that he was the “only Republican running in the race.” Let’s dissect that comment. According to sources, Mr. Griffin claims this because he has been involved in the Lynchburg GOP. However, Mrs. Harrison has also been active in the Lynchburg Republican Party, just not as much lately due to work and family, so it would be fair to say that both are Republicans.
There is also a little guilt by association in this claim. Mrs. Harrison is endorsed by incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney of Lynchburg Mike Doucette who ran for CA as an independent, but according to my sources, for all intents and purposes is a Democrat. Mr. Doucette was the Transition Team for Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring. Therefore, I can understand Mr. Griffin’s guilt by association claim, but I would rather judge by actions than association.
The main rhetorical claim made in this race is that Mr. Griffin will “crush the gangs.” However, Mr. Griffin’s claim fell flat. To be honest, it felt like, and I’ve written on this subject before, he was trying to give a three-word answer to a thoroughly complex problem for which Mr. Griffin does not have the solution.
If you will indulge me for a moment, you may remember in The West Wing when incumbent President Jed Bartlett debated his opponent in Season Four. That’s where my ten-word answers analogy is going to come in to play.
“There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? …Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.” — President Josiah Bartlett
You see, Mr. Griffin is offering a three-word answer to something that, if you truly took the time to answer the question of gang violence not only in Lynchburg but across the United States, it would take volumes of books. There is no right or wrong answer. He wants to “crush the gangs”? I’m sure that all prosecutors worth their salt in the United States want to do the same.
Problem is, when pressed for a solution, Mr. Griffin is suggesting that we do the very thing the Lynchburg CA’s office is already doing. Mr. Griffin, according to his campaign, wants to assign a dedicated gang prosecutor and then cross-appoint CAs into the federal court as an SAUSA (Special Assistant United States Attorney). According to information provided by the Harrison campaign, the Lynchburg CA’s office has already had a gang prosecutor and already has CAs that are cross-appointed as SAUSAs. So my question still remains to Mr. Griffin, how are you going to “crush the gangs”? Because I’ve listened to you debate for two hours and researched you online, but I still have no answer to that question.
Mr. Griffin is brilliant, smart, and a crusader for conservative principles. There’s no question to that fact. He is constantly thinking and has an analytical mind. However, he’s just a little too green at this. He needs more experience, more time working as a prosecutor. He needs to calm down the rhetoric and think about the positions he takes.
Mrs. Harrison is willing to answer the tough questions as she did at the debate, with both grace and poise, something that is not often seen in political campaigns. She seems to thoroughly understand the workings of the Lynchburg CA’s office. Institutional memory is a skill set that many detest in politics these days, but it’s something that most people who wish to govern need to have.
I enjoyed my time in Lynchburg. If you live in the area, I would encourage you to get involved in this election. The primary will be held June 13th.