David Reynolds | The Man from Bath
It was a clear fall day back in 1995 when you could almost see forever from Ambassador Gordon Beyer’s Sky Farm. Gordon was hosting a fundraiser for an area Democrat. As an a newcomer, I thought I should go. I also wanted to find out what local Democrats were like? I had my quota of those who seem to be permanently in charge of the company town where I used to work. Another question haunted me: How can you build a campaign war chest by charging only five bucks a head?
The guests stood around Gordon’s lap pool making small talk. I was too busy taking in the mountain views, along with my usual beverage. Finally the guest of honor stood up to speak. Someone told me that he was running for his third term as a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Sorry, Creigh, I was not terribly impressed. You said the usual things politicians say when wishing to get elected. And you said them with a country accent that my city ears found grating. We may have shook hands. I’m not sure.
But I’m sure of this: Never trust first impressions! That was then, this is now: Robert Creigh Deeds is running for governor of Virginia. Running hard. He will make it. By a hair.
But let’s hold that thought for another time. For now, allow me to pass on some recollections which may tell us what is inside this man from Bath. Of course, you need to know you don’t make money in Bath County unless you run the Homestead during a good year and there have been few of those. Certainly, country lawyers do not. And neither did the Commonwealth’s Attorney. That’s because the Mafia never took over the Homestead.
After his Commonwealth’s Attorney gig, Mr. Deeds and Mr. Hanger squared off in 1991. Emmett lost his delegate seat to Creigh, 57 percent-41 percent. Years later I witnessed both men receiving awards at the foot of the Blue Ridge. It was from the Virginia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. As I watched the two men joke with each other, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, all I could think of is there needs to be more such political scenes. Their backdrop needs to preserved, too.
Yet personal friendship between members of a governing body does not mean party loyalty takes a back seat. When Emmett Hanger was in a tough Republican primary battle with Scott Sayre, I asked Creigh if he could say a few public words for Emmett. He said he would love to, but. . . I understood. Without a degree of party loyalty the dance of legislation can never be properly choreographed.
Then there was my first Labor Day breakfast up at Parry McCluer High School with dem Dems. “What are YOU doing here?” asked our man, knowing full welI that my political leanings were better suited for the GOP downtown breakfast crowd. I said it is always good to understand the other fellow’s viewpoint. Deeds understood. Perfectly. He has made the hallmark of his political career to understand and appreciate those on the other side of the aisle.
Another flashback goes like this. About 10 years ago I was sitting in Cameron Hall waiting for VMI’s graduation exercises to begin. There was an empty seat next to me. A man sat down. His name? Vance Wilkins. We exchanged political pleasantries. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing. I mentioned Creigh Deeds’ name. That was the end of the pleasantries. Months later Republican Speaker Wilkins was busy gerrymandering Virginia’s legislative districts. Deeds as a Democrat got the full Wilkins treatment. Still Deeds survived. Maybe that is why today a more democratic approach to redistricting means so much to Sen. Deeds.
Yes, it is now State Sen. Deeds. I am reminded of this every four months when I pass the construction site of the Emily Couric Cancer Center at the University of Virginia. Deeds became a senator in 2001 following the death of Couric due to pancreatic cancer. I am positive that Deeds views his political battles as not just his own.
And, of course, there are those Christmas cards from Pam, Creigh, Amanda, Gus, Rebecca and Susannah Deeds – just like the cards from Bob, Maryellen, Jennifer and Rob Goodlatte. There are good, decent and dedicated individuals from both parties representing us in Richmond and Washington. Please keep that in mind whenever the next political scandal breaks. The Deeds and the Goodlattes are the rule, not the exception.
Finally, this past Jan. 4 there was a 51st birthday party for the man from Bath at the Rockbridge home of Ann and Kent Massie. Well, not exactly, pols don’t celebrate birthdays — unless they are also fundraisers. Politics is an expensive business. Sen. Deeds spent $3,103,040 to become Attorney General Deeds. He lost — his first election defeat by a whopping 323 votes. So I had no objection to the tenfold increase in the donation I gave back in ‘95. Money well spent. Then and now.
Next: The Man for Richmond.
– Column by David Reynolds