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Bowerbank taking aim at LG post

Story by Chris Graham

You may not have heard the name of the only announced candidate in the Democratic Party 2009 lieutenant-governor race, Jon Bowerbank yet, and if you have, chances are that you heard it in reference to how he has run one election campaign, and he didn’t do it as a Democrat.

Bowerbank, the owner of a 225-employee energy-services business in Southwest Virginia, was elected to the Russell County Board of Supervisors last fall as an independent, and in the process had to knock off a Democratic Party nominee. He did formally join the party around the time of his swearing-in, and he told me in an interview last week that he has been a Democrat “for a long, long time.”

Throw in the fact that he’s only a freshman member of the board of supervisors in Russell County, and you could state without being too harsh in the judgment that Bowerbank is being a bit presumptuous. But the Dem LG field is mighty thin right now – outside of Bowerbank, the only other name we’re hearing right now is that of Jody Wagner, who is currently serving as secretary of finance in the Kaine administration. And Bowerbank seems to have some key early support in the Democratic netroots, which could be key in him being able to overcome the inevitable criticisms of some on the left regarding his experience and authenticity.

“We understand that that avenue for dissemination of information is continually evolving and getting stronger and stronger daily, probably. So we’ve been cultivating relationships with that sector,” Bowerbank said, describing his efforts to curry favor in the Virginia Democratic blogosphere.

Not only could he face a tough time winning the Democratic Party nomination in ’09, but he would be expected to be a massive underdog if he were to get the nomination and thus win the right to square off with the sitting lieutenant governor, Republican Bill Bolling, who is making a rare run for re-election to the office. Bowerbank is spinning the presence of Bolling in the race as being a positive in “helping define the race for us” by giving the Bowerbank team a “handle on what our target is.”

“Obviously now that’s been defined for us, and because he’s an incumbent, it’s going to be well-defined, because we’ll have four years of history to go back and review and figure out where the pluses and minuses are from his tenure in office,” Bowerbank said.

Bowerbank hinted to one ’09 general-election campaign message – aimed at Bolling’s definition of the lieutenant-governor job. “One of the things we’d like to do is become more of a visible, more of a vibrant, more of an accessible lieutenant governor Commonwealth-wide,” Bowerbank said. “One of the things that I feel our opponent has not done, which his predecessor, Tim Kaine, did do, is become more of a statewide figure by getting out and talking to constituents throughout the Commonwealth. Our opponent has for the most part stayed in the Richmond area.”

But that’s several months into the offing at this point. In the here and now, Bowerbank is focusing on becoming more known across the state, which isn’t easy for someone whose home base is in extreme Southwest Virginia.

“By definition, we’re always playing away games. And also by definition, we’re three hours away from the nearest population center, Roanoke. So just by strict geography, we have to put in the miles if we’re going to go anywhere,” said Bowerbank, who has put 14,500 miles on his car in the past month.

“This isn’t a chore at all. We see it as an opportunity to meet and greet folks in the major population centers. And we’re enjoying our forays into different parts of the state,” Bowerbank said.

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