Rep. Garrett’s Withdrawal Resets Virginia’s 5th Congressional District Race — in the GOP’s Favor

The contest for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District seat is no longer a sleeper. With Rep. Tom Garrett’s surprise announcement Monday that he would not seek reelection, it has become more likely Republicans will hang on to the seat.

The announcement, in which Garrett said he is struggling with alcoholism, caps one of the more bizarre weeks in Virginia political history.

Rumors flew on May 23 that the incumbent, Garrett, a Republican, would either resign or not seek reelection after a split with his chief of staff, Jimmy Keady. Garrett promised to make everything clear in a hastily organized news conference on May 24.

What people got was an impassioned Garrett invoking “his father, U.S. history and the Bible,” as he proceeded, in the Roanoke Times’s words, to “rip the political hide off Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen” for a bureaucratic bungling of an adoption case.

Eventually, Garrett said that while Congress was greatly frustrating, and the federal bureaucracy even worse, “there’s no way in hell I will not be back in 2019.”

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato called that event “one of the oddest” he’d ever seen. There had to be more to the story.

There was more — none of it good. The next day, Politico dropped a bomb on Garrett, airing allegations from former staffers of a “deeply dysfunctional office,” in which Garrett and his wife, Flanna, often demanded that staff run personal errands outside their typical congressional duties. The couple called on staff to pick up groceries, chauffeur Garrett’s daughters to and from his Virginia district, and fetch clothes that the congressman forgot at his Washington apartment. They were even expected to watch and clean up after Sophie, their Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix….”

Stories of congressmen treating their staff as valetsnannies and much worse are not new. As Craig Shirley wrote in “Citizen Newt: The Rise, Fall and Future of Speaker Gingrich”:

It was an open secret in Washington that congressional staffers were little more than personal valets, drivers, and flunkies.

Harsh. Tawdry. But we can add to that deeply sad. Garrett’s office may have been toxic and his treatment of staffers unseemly, but the demons he wrestled with made an already bad situation worse.

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Cover photo by Rick Sincere