Story by Chris Graham
Dick Cranwell was getting testy.
He’d agreed to “give five minutes a day to this between now and the 18th,” said Cranwell, the former majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, who is set to take over the reins of the Democratic Party of Virginia on Saturday, during a conference call with reporters last week, “and I’ve already gone six minutes past that today.”
Cranwell, who retired from the Virginia General Assembly in 2002, agreed to get back into the political fray at a critical juncture in the history of the Democratic Party. Democrats hold 38 seats in the 100-member House of Delegates and 16 in the 40-member Virginia Senate; and presumptive party gubernatorial nominee Tim Kaine is running behind Republican rival Jerry Kilgore in the polls by as many as 10 percentage points.
Cranwell said that the key to turning that trend around is for Democrats to return to talking about what they think needs to be done to keep the state on the right track – and to be willing to work with Republicans to achieve those goals.
“I think what Democrats ought to say is this is our view of what we need to do in terms of fixing transportation, but we’re willing to work with folks on the other side to get there. I, for one, believe that we need to reduce class size, but that’s one of the many things. I think it has to be expressed in terms of a positive view and a positive willingness to reach out and work with folks who have slightly differing views,” Cranwell said.
Cranwell praised Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, for his work the past three and a half years to set Dems on both of those courses of action.
“What he has done, he has had to do on a bipartisan basis,” Cranwell said.
“I had the opportunity to work with Lin Holton, Mills Godwin, Johnny Dalton, and there really was a blurring of people’s party views in order to make sure that we kept Virginia on the right path. That’s the kind of focus that I think we need,” Cranwell said. “We need to be willing to reach out to other people. We understand that there ought to be debates on issues. There can be compromises on how we get to the solutions. But it doesn’t have to be us against them.
“The truth of the matter is that the distinction between Democrats and Republicans is like saying that you’re a Presbyterian or Methodist or Baptist. We’re all Virginians. We’re all Americans. And we’ve got to focus on that and quit focusing on our differences. I tell people that some of my very best friends when I got to the legislature were on the other side of the aisle. We all had good times, but we were serious about governing, too,” Cranwell said.
Cranwell conceded that he didn’t always see things that way when he was in the political ring himself.
“That’s a perspective that has been developed over the last four years, because as you know, when I was there, there were some struggles,” Cranwell said.
“I’ve been through that battle. And I’ve got scars on me to prove it. I really do believe that what Mark Warner’s done has been fantastic, and I’d like to see us continue to pursue that way of governing,” Cranwell said.