Ken Plum: A Virginia Statesman

callahan plumI first heard of Vincent F. (Vince) Callahan, Jr. in 1965 when he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Virginia. It was his first run for political office, and while it may seem that he aimed high to start in those days it was easy to get the Republican nomination since the Republicans always lost. Callahan got 37 percent of the vote, but four years later his running mate for governor, Linwood Holton, who had also gotten just 37 percent of the vote was elected the first Republican governor of Virginia since Reconstruction. In the meantime Vince had run successfully for the House of Delegates in 1967 where he served for the next 40 years making him the second longest serving member of the House of Delegates in history. Vince died of West Nile virus and was buried last week.

In 1978 I joined Vince as part of a five-person delegation representing northern virginia that was split with three Democrats and two Republicans. Although we were from different parties, Vince and I worked closely together on many issues including education and transportation. He was a strong proponent of public schools and was a real champion for George Mason University while on the Appropriations Committee where he eventually became chairman when Republicans took control of the House of Delegates. He worked hard for money for transportation for the region, and when I organized the Dulles Corridor Rail Association he became vice chairman of the Association.

I will miss Vince very much, and I continue to miss the era of politics he represented. We worked together on behalf of our constituents without regard to party. In the early years we shared the goals of wresting power from the Byrd machine that had controlled Virginia with an iron fist for most of the twentieth century. While I was part of the Democratic majority at the time, I was shut out of many of the decisions of government because I was a Northern Virginian and progressive. Before he left the House of Delegates Vince was feeling the alienation from his party that now controls the House just as I felt in the early days when the Democrats were in control. In recent years Vince started to publicly endorse Democrats including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Governor Terry McAuliffe. He simply could not accept the tea party ideology that dominates the Republican Party in Virginia today.

There were excesses of power when the Democrats controlled the House of Delegates when Vince was first elected. During his years in office there was a shift of power to the Republicans where the same excesses of power can be seen. Vince knew of the experiences under the Democrats and did not contribute to repeating them when his party came to power. He worked on behalf of the good of the Commonwealth and his constituents–not ideology or party. Vince Callahan was a true Virginia statesman.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.