A chance for us Dems to gain traction

The fight over the reassessments in Augusta County that I and many others here locally think are out of whack with economic reality isn’t about partisan politics. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you ask me. Because the reason this isn’t about partisan politics is that we Democrats aren’t doing anything to make this about partisan politics.

Let’s analyze where we are with this situation right now. We’ve got on the one side six of the seven members of the Board of Supervisors, four of them Republicans, and a fifth a Republican-leaning independent, on the side of government banning petitions for redress from the county libraries and effectively shouting down any notion that there could be any real redress by claiming that their hands are tied by the State Code. And on the other side we’ve got the area’s lone elected Democrat saying, Whoa, hold on here for a second, this whole thing makes no sense.

Tracy Pyles’ stand should be something that local Democrats would respond to as manna falling from heaven, a chance for us to redefine ourselves locally much in the same way that Mark Warner has redefined the Democratic Party statewide in the same vein, as the party of fiscal discipline and management common sense.

I would think that the local candidates getting themselves organized for runs at the House of Delegates, for example, would be interested in tapping into what Pyles is doing for us. And not just because it would boost their own electoral chances in the fall. Think about it – if you’re thinking about running against Chris Saxman in the 20th or Ben Cline in the 24th or Steve Landes in the 25th, and from what I’m hearing at least two of those three will face viable challenges, don’t you want to have introduced yourself to the electorate by having taken a stand on behalf of the voters and taxpayers whose support you will be asking for in November?

And then there’s this – getting our candidates on the record on the issue would force Saxman, Cline and Landes to take their own stands. What would it be, then – backing their fellow Republicans on the Board, or bucking the local party and siding with Pyles? Either way, our side wins, and wins big on a potentially campaign-defining issue.

The local party structure could also stand to benefit. Let’s face it, we’ve been irrelevant here outside of Pyles since the dawn of the Reagan Democrat. Pyles is now in his fourth term representing Western Augusta on the Board of Supervisors. Outside of that, well, we almost put Lee Godfrey in the Beverley Manor seat in 2007, but almost means barely-old-enough-to-drink Republican Jeremy Shifflett is the Beverley Manor supervisor instead.

And that’s it, folks. We’re to a point where we’re just happy to be able to find a living, breathing, coherent candidate to run. And we’ve got to figure out a way to ramp up seriously from there to being a viable force on the local political scene again. The Republicans here are in disarray, and if you don’t believe me on that, look at their power structure right now. Love him or hate him, and most Dems decided early on that they hated him, former Augusta County GOP chair Kurt Michael built a social club into a party machine in the 2000s before running afoul of prominent elected Republicans including State Sen. Emmett Hanger and losing his bid for re-election last year.

The party that exists now post-Michael is a shadow of its former self. That’s one point to ponder. A second is looking out there in the public-seating area at Board of Supervisors meetings at who is out there to tell Board members to their faces that they’re upset about how the reassessments are being handled. We’re not talking about masses of latte-sipping liberals here. We’re talking about the GOP base.

In political-science circles, we call this a realignment in the making. The Reagan Democrats have been coming home in droves across Virginia and across the South in recent years. The movement hasn’t quite come to Augusta County, as evidenced by the fact that not even Mark Warner could win a majority in his Senate race against the discredited Jim Gilmore last fall, and Warner only won 128 of the state’s 134 localities in the ’08 election.

This is our chance to be relevant again, and it might be our last best chance for a while here.

And we’re letting it slip away.

If we do, shame on us.

 

Column by Chris Graham

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