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The Sixth hasn’t changed for the better; Lewis: ‘Give me that chance’

Chris Graham
Jennifer Lewis
Jennifer Lewis

Ben Cline, following in the footsteps of Bob Goodlatte, barely makes a noise in Congress. But because Democrats in Richmond and D.C. have given up on the Interstate 81 corridor, people here have no alternative.

“The overall feeling is, nobody cares about us. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s the haves versus the have-nots,” said Jennifer Lewis, the Democratic Party candidate for the Sixth District congressional seat held by Cline, a Republican.

Lewis ran against Cline in 2018, the year that Goodlatte, a Republican, retired from Congress after representing – under-representing might be the better way to put it – the Sixth for 26 years.

She received 40.2 percent of the vote in her defeat, before running, and coming up short, again, in a 2019 House of Delegates race in the 20th District, which includes Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro.

Democrats who run in the Interstate 81 corridor largely have to make a go of it on their own in terms of money and support from Richmond and D.C.

The Democrat playbook doesn’t run the same scheme that helped Mark Warner and Tim Kaine run to victories in governor and Senate races and Barack Obama go back-to-back in Virginia in 2008 and 2012.

The focus in terms of money and energy is on vote-rich Northern Virginia, and a side effect of that is the party philosophy bending to suit the interests of Northern Virginia voters.

The McAuliffe and Northam administrations put considerable time and effort – and money – into economic development, transportation and education in Northern Virginia.

The haves got more. The have-nots, not so much.

The working-class Valley, “who are fighting tooth and nail for a living wage and affordable health care and mental health care and all of this stuff, look at the people at the top who make all of the decisions for us, they have all the money, and they think to themselves, they don’t care about us,” Lewis said.

“This kind of hopelessness, people just really given up and felt, like, nothing is ever going to change, this is the way that it is, we just have to suck it up and live with it,” Lewis said.

That’s the uphill battle that Lewis faces. It’s not as if 30 years of voting Republicans have done people living in the Sixth District any good. Goodlatte and Cline are affable guys, not QAnon firebrands, but their approach is soft shoe – basically, keep a low profile, cast reliable red votes on hot-button issues, make sure the district stays safe, and hang around until it’s time to retire and collect the pension.

We all see – and live daily with – the consequences of this approach. Our schools are underfunded, Interstate 81 is a death trap, most of us still lack access to regular, affordable health care.

“We can march in the streets every day of the week, we can have protests, we can have vigils, we can have rallies, we can sign petitions, none of that is going to change anything until we have a change in our elected officials,” Lewis said. “And this is coming from a grassroots organizer. You know, I’m a big believer in protesting and in standing up and shouting on the side of the street, say what you want to say, of course, but all of that action has to then turn into going to the polls and voting.”

Which is to say, the help isn’t coming from Richmond, it isn’t coming from D.C.

If you want better schools for your kids, better access to health care, safer travel to and from work, it’s up to you.

“People want to pretend that, you know, I’m not political, I hate politics,” Lewis said. “Well, guess what? Your landlord is political. Your job is political, your boss is political. You know, everything about your life is political. It’s politics. And if you don’t get engaged in it, then you’re going to be taken advantage of, and you’re not going to live the best life that you can live. People in the Sixth District could literally be living a better life, a healthier life, a cleaner life.

“We have a congressman currently in office who votes against every piece of legislation that’s ever introduced by a Democrat,” Lewis said. “He never wants to put out any talking points or social media posts about his ideas, his solutions. His only argument is Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and the squad suck, I’m better than them. Like, that’s his only argument.”

People here have to want more out of their congressman than, the other side sucks.

You might think the other side sucks, that both sides suck.

Think about how voting the same way over and over for the past 30 years hasn’t changed anything in our part of Virginia for the better.

“What I’m going for is, you know, that folks are going to be so disappointed in Ben Cline that, you know, these elections are every two years. Vote for me this this time around, give me a chance. And if you don’t like me, vote me out in two years, but give me that chance,” Lewis said.

Story by Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].