The straight scoop with Creigh Deeds

One thing is for sure when you ask Creigh Deeds a question. He’s going to give you an answer, and it’s not going to be one of those politician answers where you think afterward that he really didn’t give too much away.
“The things that I talk about aren’t things that people have told me to say, they’re not things that the consultants have … in the political world, there are lots of consultants out there, and they’ve got all kinds of good ideas, and there are lots of good people, and there are bad people. You need to be surrounded by good people, but ultimately, I want to be governor because of things I want to do, ideas I’ve got,” Deeds told me over coffee and gingerbread cake at the Starbucks in Waynesboro’s West End.

It was late Tuesday, and the Bath County state senator was heading home from a day working on campaign business in Charlottesville for the holidays. Deeds remembered the first time that he had visited the West End where we were going through the issues of the day in state politics. It was a Sixth District Democratic Party convention at a hotel across the road. “There was the Shoney’s there near the hotel, the 7-Eleven behind us, the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the corner, and that was it,” Deeds recalled.

The ongoing economic revival here in Waynesboro is something that Deeds wants to work to see replicated statewide. “Mark Warner used to say, It’s not good enough for us to compete for the low-wage, low-skill jobs that are always going to go where the wages are lowest, we’ve got to compete for the smart jobs. And he was absolutely right,” said Deeds, who is running for the Democratic Party nomination for governor in a race that also includes a Warner protege, former Northern Virginia state lawmaker Brian Moran, and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe.

“If we build the smartest workforce in the world through our community colleges, and at the same time finally get it done, put broadband Internet in every community in the state so that you can do the smart jobs anywhere, that’s how we benefit rural Virginia,” Deeds said.

But of course even people in the business community in the relatively booming parts of the Commonwealth want to continue to get better. Deeds recounted a conversation that he had with a business leader in Tysons Corner several months ago that hit that point home. No matter what the state does, for example, to effect a solution on the transportation problems that are slowing growth in NoVa, the businessman said, that’s a five- to ten-year fix at best. And we need more jobs now.

“The thing is, the smart jobs that we’re talking about in Tysons Corner, you don’t have to have workers in Fairfax County to do those jobs. All you need is a broadband connection, and your workers can be anywhere in the world,” said Deeds, who thinks Virginia has potential in developing a 21st century workforce that will force companies currently outsourcing tech-sector jobs overseas to keep those jobs here on the mainland. “If we have the smartest workforce in the world, people will not be able to afford to offshore, because we can do the work smarter, we can do the work better, we can do the work more efficiently in Virginia than anywhere. And that’s my goal. My goal is to create opportunity in every part of the state,” Deeds said.

But first and foremost Deeds is pledging to get something done that Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have not been able to get done – namely, get a transportation fix through the General Assembly. “I’ve been talking for the last year and a half about developing a transportation system that’s long-term in its outlook, that’s statewide in its nature, and that’s creative, and that becomes a model for the rest of the country. And I’m committed to doing that the first year that I’m elected, the first year that I’m in office,” Deed said.

And again, as with his approach to economic development, we’re talking about a statewide fix here, not just regional fixes for NoVa and Hampton Roads. “Transportation has to be statewide,” Deeds said. “Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, those are the big areas where the avenues of commerce are clogged, and we have to fix those problems. But frankly, we need transportation infrastructure, multimodal transportation infrastructure, statewide if we’re going to have the sort of economic development that we’re going to have to have to support growth to support our population.”

I asked Deeds how we would do that given that Warner and Kaine were not able to. He talked about his experience in the legislature dating back to his first election to the House of Delegates 18 years ago, and his record in particular of working with legislators on both sides of the political aisle to get things done. I followed up asking if he would perhaps need to have a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates to grease the skids. “I don’t know if I’ll have a Democratic House or not,” Deeds said. “I think the Republicans should have had control of the House of Delegates and the Senate for a generation or more, but the Senate slipped away from them, the House is slipping away from them, and they’re going to have to do some things differently. They’re going to have to demonstrate that they can govern. I’m prepared to work with whomever is in charge of the House of Delegates to get things done – and whomever is in charge of the Senate,” Deeds said.

First things first – the nomination battle between Deeds, McAuliffe and Moran promises to be a tough, bruising battle, to say the least. The entree into the race of McAuliffe, for one, seems to have raised the stakes significantly in terms of the fundraising game. The move earlier this month by Moran to resign his House of Delegates seat to focus full-time on the primary campaign seems to reflect those increased stakes. Deeds, for his part, is staying the course that he laid out for himself a year ago when he entered the race in December 2007.

“I’m still doing the same things I was going to do,” Deeds said when I asked him about the McAuliffe factor. “There are some folks who will run for office who will be governed by what the other guys do. I’m not going to do that. Virginia needs steady leadership, and I’m going to be steady about the way I run this campaign. I’m going to continue to talk to Virginia voters about the issues that I think matter to them, and I don’t think you’ve seen any shift in what I’ve been talking about or who I’ve been talking to, regardless of who else is out there.”

Regarding Moran, Deeds reinforced that message. “I’m not going to live in reaction to what other people do or don’t do,” Deeds said. “I was elected and re-elected to the State Senate, and if I can’t complete this obligation, fulfill this obligation, how in the world can I be expected to do the next job? I’m not going to put my ambitions, selfish ambitions, above the other things that I need to do. I guess you can argue that it gives somebody an advantage – 46 days. But I don’t know – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see ’til June 8 if it makes a difference. But I’ve got responsibilities, not only to my constituents, but to the other members of the State Senate. There are things that I’ve been working on for a long time that I need to try to continue.”

 

– Story by Chris Graham

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