Ken Plum: Accepting the outcome

ken plumI am currently the longest serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates. My license plate that has only “1” on it is the subject of many stares and the occasional “How did you get that number?” I have been in office continuously since 1980. I served one term prior to that time, but seniority is counted by continuous service.

I was a candidate for office twice before I was elected. I first ran for the House of Delegates in 1973 and again in 1975. Both times I came close, but close does not count in elections. I ran in what was the 18th legislative district which encompassed half of Fairfax County, Fairfax City and the Towns of Herndon and Vienna which were represented by five at-large delegates. When the Commonwealth of Virginia was forced by the federal government to reapportion the legislature to conform to the “one-man, one-vote” principle, Fairfax had a population equivalent to ten legislative districts. Rather than dividing up the county into individual districts, the legislature drew a line down the center of the county creating two districts with five at-large delegates each. While such an approach made life a little easier for those drawing the legislative boundaries, it imposed a real hardship on those seeking office, including myself. The federal courts eventually declared multi-member districts to be unconstitutional, and Virginia went to single-member districts.

My lack of success in my two first attempts to be elected to office was disappointing, but I understood the uphill challenge I faced–I had very limited name recognition, and I had even fewer dollars. Even though I literally wore holes in the soles of my shoes campaigning door to door, covering the equivalent of five districts in a person-to-person campaign was impossible. I congratulated the winners and kept on working.

It never crossed my mind that I lost because the elections were somehow rigged; they were not. Nor did I refuse to accept the outcome. Of course I learned a lot with every election cycle and continue to do so even to today. For one thing the two-year House of Delegates term keeps me close to my constituents. I think there are changes that could be made that would make the system more democratic for voters, and I work to bring about those changes, but I have never felt that the perceived shortcomings of the system were somehow thwarting my ambitions.

Of course, there is a great deal of difference between a campaign for the House of Delegates and a presidential campaign. With so much at stake, I am concerned about the continued denigration of the system on the part of one candidate who would want us to believe that the system is somehow rigged against him; it is not. There are losers in every election; accept the outcome. My experience is that voters appreciated my willingness to hang in there and to keep working for the values I believe in. Our system may not be perfect, but it continues to be the best in the world. We cannot let likely sore losers do anything to detract from it.

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