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David Reynolds | A conservative for Deeds

This one won’t be easy. Last week’s commentary was a piece of cake. We suggested Jody Wagner for lieutenant governor and Steve Shannon for attorney general. Now for the main event between Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds.

Writing about the gubernatorial contest last summer would have been easy. A clear picture was seen. There was no mud on our television screens. The president stayed on his side of the Potomac. Reasonable questions were answered without ducking and weaving. The game of “gotcha” politics had not started. And the government out of Washington was not yet out of control. 

Back then I could simply concentrate on two key issues, namely, better transportation to keep Virginia’s economy in high gear and better public education to enhance our lives. Then I could conclude that one candidate and his party was is in the best position to deliver on both roads and schools.

Of course this would mean that my fellow conservatives would need to cross over to the other side. Conservatives find that difficult. They forget about the magic of federalism. They only talk about their beef with the central government.

So, when slapping on political labels, let’s not confuse Richmond with Washington. Sure, the two capitals are only 108 interstate miles apart. Instead, let’s separate this tale of two cities by light years.

I know. Some of you have spotted my bumper sticker. But, bumper stickers don’t allow any room for doubts. No “ifs” or “buts” have ever been found on the back of any vehicle. Yet doubts linger in the mind.

Apparently many of you have doubts, too. According to a national poll, only 17 percent of those who identify themselves with either of our two major political parties will stick with that party on election day – come hell or high water. These are the institutional voters. That leaves a whopping two-thirds swing vote.

Which way should you swing? For Deeds or for McDonnell? Tough questions can best be handled piecemeal. (Would it not be wonderful if President Obama took the same approach to health-care reform, break down the problem and sign off on those incremental solutions we can all agree on?)

To make our area’s academic communities happy, we will handicap the main event by supplying grades:

Character. No problem here with either man. There are no flaws such as those tragically demonstrated by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. We do know Mr. Deeds and gladly give him an “A”; Mr. McDonnell a “B”.

Taxes. If your only concern is to keep state taxes low (Virginia’s tax burden is below the national average), then I suggest you vote for Mr. McDonnell. Give him an “A”. Less sure of Deeds? How about a “B minus?”

Transportation. For three years the Republicans in the General Assembly have blocked any lasting solution to Virginia’s transportation dilemma. Under McDonnell the state will likely remain stuck in political and road gridlock. An “F” for Bob. Creigh will – if given political cover – raise the gas tax. A “C” for Creigh.

Education. Under Deeds Virginia has a better chance to improve secondary and higher education. Community colleges, which pay for themselves in added revenues, might meet North Carolina’s high standards under Deeds.

Western Virginia. Would it be not be nice to have a governor supporting our part of Virginia, the part usually forgotten? An “A” for Deeds; a gentleman “C” for McDonnell.

Party Affiliation. If you wish to send a message to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., buy a stamp, don’t waste a ballot.

The Economy and jobs. The truth is that there is little that presidents and governors can do to reduce unemployment. But campaigns like to perpetuate fiction. No grades.

Ability to compromise. Deeds wins this one hands down, an “A.” “C” for McDonnell.

The Campaign. Both candidates have run failed campaigns. Mr. McDonnell has been smart using President Obama as a Deeds surrogate. Meanwhile the Deeds staff thinks it is still November 2008. Why else did it schedule a joint Obama-Deeds rally at ODU and run special ads in Tidewater and Richmond? Unless it was playing a certain card we find deplorable.


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Where does that leave us? Back where we started. Back to my bumper. My “Deeds/Governor” sticker is still on, although there were times when I thought about scrapping the darn thing off. Sure I’m disappointed with his unfocused, defensive and negative campaign. Plus his unwillingness to answer specific questions. But I’m told that is the way this game is played. It is played the NFL way – make sure you don’t beat yourself, play not to lose because there is too much at stake.

I don’t like it. One should always play to win.

If you subscribe to the theory that how a candidate campaigns is how one will govern, then forget this endorsement for Mr. Deeds. But for those of us who have called Creigh our delegate, our state senator, our Bath County neighbor and our friend, that is hard to do. We prefer to overlook the past five months and focus on the last 18 years.

Take a look at Creigh Deeds. Listen to him. Examine his record. Creigh Deeds is Jimmy Stewart! The country loves it when a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The comparison is uncanny. Except Deeds, unlike Stewart, is not getting his message across.

I know I took more of your time than usual. But casting a vote is serious business. If you want short fairy tales where you can buy more concrete and books with less money, or that government is inherently wasteful or a state candidate can be judged by who is the national head of his party, go right ahead and vote for Mr. McDonnell. But before you do think about the essential public services which our state government provides. Make a list. It will be much longer than you expected. And that list will include your schools, your roads and your job. And you.

Yes, this conservative can vote for a Virginia Democrat who is cut to the Deeds mold. (A mold that was unfortunately broken in 1972.) And all Virginians – conservatives, moderates and liberals, alike – who believe that Virginia can be a better Commonwealth can take charge on Tuesday, Nov. 3.


– Column by David Reynolds



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