Friday, November 11, 2005

Yes, Virginia, we have an Attorney General. Sort of.

It would appear that Republican candidate Bob McDonnell has won his bid for Attorney General, defeating Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds by a mere 619 votes. Naturally, Deeds blames electronic voting machines in Roanoke, a city where he received fewer votes than expected. Just as naturally, Daily Kos suspects a GOP conspiracy.

Oh yes, there will be recounts.

Update (11/14): Now McDonnell is leading by just over 400 votes.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

GOP Deathwatch: Pat Robertson and the Dover Debacle

You may not have read this in the evening papers, but the GOP is receiving strong signals that its evangelical agenda no longer resonates with American voters. This Tuesday, eight members of the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania -- all Republican -- were voted out of office in favor of an all-Democrat slate.

The issue? "Intelligent Design."

In October 2004, Republican members of the Dover school board required science teachers to read a statement to ninth-grade students that explicitly advocated "Intelligent Design" (or ID) as a scientific alternative to Darwinian theory. Dover's biology teachers promptly saw through the ruse. Eventually, school administrators had to enter science classrooms and read the board's preapproved statement against evolution -- which amounted to little more than an advertisement for the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People.

A group of parents claimed that with its endorsement of "ID" and Pandas, the Dover School District was sneaking religion into science classrooms through the back door. They took the school district to federal court. The Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District trial lasted for six weeks, beginning on September 26 and ending less than a week ago on November 4. Most legal analysts believed that the school district didn't stand a chance: Science has empirical and methodological standards which "Intelligent Design" simply cannot meet.

But before a federal judge could rule on the case, the citizens of Dover took this matter into their own hands -- by voting out every Republican member of their school board.

The mainstream media has just begun to grasp the importance of this story. But Pat Robertson understood it right away, and vented his righteous spleen on The 700 Club:

I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God -- you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when -- when problems begin, if they begin, and I'm saying -- I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, then, don’t ask for His help because He might not be there.

Needless to say, the theological implications of this statement are mind-boggling: According to Robertson, God will, or may, completely abandon the people of a small Pennsylvania town simply because they voted a slate of Democrats into office. Then again, Robertson has long displayed a habit of predicting natural disasters for towns, states or countries that fail to adhere to his political agenda. If this man didn't exist, the Left would have had to invent him.

But whatever else can be said about poor old Pat, at least he gets it. The Dover elections are a major defeat for the evangelical agenda -- and to make matters worse, this defeat which occurred not in the judiciary (always a bugbear of the Religious Right), but among the voters themselves. The bad news doesn't stop there: Dover lies in rural Pennsylvania, in the heart of Rick Santorum country -- and lawyers for the Dover School District, grasping at one straw after another, actually cited Santorum's amendment to the "Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Education Reform Act of 2001" to bolster their case for ID. (Gentle reader: Your tax dollars at work.) I suspect that a codicil in a conference report won't weigh heavily against several decades of legal precedent; still, Santorum seems inordinately proud of his anti-evolution rhetoric. He even prints the amendment in full, as one of his greatest legislative accomplishments, on pages 399-400 of his new book It Takes A Family.

These Dover school board elections spell major trouble for Senator Santorum. They also bode ill for the national GOP. At last, Republicans' incessant pandering to the hardcore Religious Right has begun to exhaust even the patience of rural, conservative voters -- people who, not too long ago, formed the party's base.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Kaine Mutiny: How Virginia Turned Purple

Tim Kaine is the governor-elect of Virginia, and the Attorney General's race is much closer than anyone would have predicted a week ago. It is quite possible that the only statewide office the GOP will capture in 2005 is the lieutenant governorship, and even that was too close for comfort. This is devastating for the Virginia GOP, and must worry party members nationwide. Only last year, Virginia was a red state (albeit one with a Democratic governor). This evening, three factors changed that.

1. The Virginia GOP nominated a lousy candidate. As a candidate, Jerry Kilgore was a triple threat: He lisped when he spoke, seemed uncomfortable wherever he went, and had less charisma than a moss-crusted bump on a log. It was sheer hubris of the Virginia GOP to nominate such an unattractive candidate in the first place. Yet even with all these factors against him, Kilgore could have distinguished himself from the competition simply by taking a hard line against tax increases. Inexplicably, he didn't do this: Instead, he attacked Democrat Tim Kaine on social issues. In the end, voters didn't seem too concerned about Kaine's stance on the death penalty, and Kaine easily warded off Kilgore's best blows. Far from making Tim Kaine look like a liberal, Kilgore only made himself look like a tinpot demagogue: By November, voters disliked the man so much that he could have lost the election even if he were the only candidate. Kilgore's ignominious defeat should serve as a warning to the GOP against nominating future Attorney Generals for the governorship.

2. Tim Kaine followed Bill Clinton's playbook to the letter. Liberal Democrats have been elected before in social-conservative "red states," most notably with Bill Clinton's amazing and longstanding success in ultra-conservative Arkansas. Tim Kaine's campaign was a pale, somewhat mechanical imitation of Clinton's glory days, but that was more than enough to beat the ineffectual Kilgore. Kaine presented himself as a straightforward family man. He wore his Catholic religion on his sleeve, making sure to "out-Jesus" Kilgore at every opportunity. He made a point of supporting an anti-Gay marriage amendment pending in next year's Virginia General Assembly (even though he has voiced his support for Gay-rights issues in the past). His campaign even engaged in some not-too-subtle Gay-baiting of the noticeably effeminate Kilgore. Kaine came across as secure and comfortable on the stump and in his television ads; he certainly smiled much more than Kilgore did. Most importantly, Kaine successfully shuffled off his social-liberal past in order to appear not merely moderate, but conservative on most of the issues Virginians care about.

3. The GOP couldn't get out the vote. With Tim Kaine stealing Kilgore's thunder among the GOP's evangelical base, and Kilgore himself being a singularly uninspiring candidate, it's no surprise that voter turnout for this election was low compared to 2004. Voter turnout this year ran just over forty percent, slightly lower than it was in 2001. Those famed "Get Out The Vote" efforts among the GOP failed miserably, and that low turnout allowed Democrats in Northern Virginia and Richmond to have a major impact on election results. (Voter turnout in Richmond was significantly higher than the statewide average, and the voters were overwhelmingly supportive of Kaine.) Low voter turnout helped Democrat Mark Warner win the governor's race four years ago, and it certainly played a role in Kaine's win tonight.

The real surprise this year was the Lieutenant Governor's race. That the Democrat nominee Leslie Byrne would lose to Republican Bill Bolling was all but a foregone conclusion. Byrne is liberal even on basic social issues: She was the only statewide candidate to oppose the upcoming marriage amendment. She favors gun control and a more socialized health care system. Conventional wisdom held that Byrne was "too liberal" for the Old Dominion; and pundits predicted that Bolling would easily trounce her at the ballot box. Bolling's victory was considered the only "sure bet" in this year's election cycle.

But the pundits would have lost that bet on the point spread: Although Bolling did manage to defeat Byrne, he didn't receive the expected seven- to ten-percent margin of victory. Ultra-liberal Byrne received over 49 percent of the vote, even though she was not a particularly strong candidate. Her showing this year indicates that even in hardcore red-state territory like Virginia, anti-GOP sentiment runs uncommonly high -- almost sufficient for a staunch liberal Democrat to score a surprise victory against a conservative Republican stalwart.

The situation is far from bleak for the Virginia GOP. (Update 6:15 p.m.: The Attorney General race is still too close to call. I'm informed that the sole precinct yet to report results is a Democratic stronghold in the city of Richmond. In all likelihood, Republican nominee Bob McDonnell will edge out the Democratic nominee by the slimmest of margins. A Florida-style recount is all but inevitable.) More important, the party still has a solid grip on the General Assembly, so Republicans will control the commonwealth's legislative agenda for the near future. But the GOP's dim showing in the Commonwealth tonight should give national leaders pause.

The bad news -- for Republicans, at least -- is that the red state of Virginia has officially turned purple. If the GOP doesn't tread very carefully over the next year, other Southern states may follow suit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Election Evil

I haven't written about the Virginia gubernatorial races, because I haven't been able to say anything positive about them. It has been said that if you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain. Unfortunately, in an election season as vicious and slimy as this one, you can't vote without lending at least tacit approval to one of these candidates. Frankly, I don't want to encourage these guys.

Take, for example, GOP candidate and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. He should be a fairly obvious choice for fiscal conservatives, because he's the only candidate who actually opposes a statewide tax increase. One would think this position might be something of a "no-brainer," regardless of one's political affiliation, because current Democratic governor Mark Warner already passed a massive $1.6 billion tax hike in 2004 (with considerable help from the GOP-controlled General Assembly, alas). Despite the extra tax burden, Virginia's economy continued to perform well. At the moment, the government in Richmond has over a billion dollars in surplus funds, leading a few fiscal hawks to wonder whether those tax increases were required.

Yet Kilgore seems to be the only candidate not to have grown greedy over last year's tax hikes. (To be fair, Kilgore is not exactly anti-tax: He wants to leave the question of future increases to local referendums. It's the closest thing we have to a genuinely anti-tax position this year.) Independent candidate Russ Potts has come out directly in support of further increases, with proceeds directed toward transportation and education. By "transportation," Potts means new roads in northern Virginia; for the remainder of the state, the current transportation infrastructure is generally adequate. (Potts's line on taxes is, "I hate taxes but I love Virginia more." He flubbed this line rather memorably on the steps of the Old Frederick County Courthouse back in September, stating "I hate Virginia," then hastily covering for the error.) Democratic candidate Tim Kaine is more circumspect about further statewide tax increases, but he trumpets the 2004 package as an example of good government and responsible management. One gets the sense that he wouldn't think twice about soaking Virginia taxpayers.

So Kilgore would be an obvious choice for a Gay conservative, right?

Well ... no. As a candidate, Kilgore exudes a sense of faute de mieux. He is supremely unlikable, seems ill at ease in front of television cameras -- and worst of all, he lisps. What's more, Kilgore has a tendency to go negative in startling displays of right-wing demagoguery. One television ad takes rival Tim Kaine to task for representing a man accused of murder. The man was convicted, but never mind that: The fact that Kaine would even undertake the defense of someone accused of murder must mean he's soft on violent crime -- unless, of course, one believes that an accused person have the right to legal counsel (especially if there's a chance the state will put him/her to death). Kilgore has also made unsubstantiated allegations about ties between Hispanoamerican gangs and the Al Qaeda network. And early in the campaign, he came out swinging against Gay and Lesbian Virginians, with ads that mentioned Kaine's prior support of same-sex couples and Gay adoption.

It's a sure bet that a Kilgore administration would be disastrous for Gay and Lesbian Virginians, regardless of ideology. As Attorney General, he argued that the Supreme Court ruling of Lawrence v. Texas did not invalidate Virginia's sodomy law, and he lobbied Virginia's GOP legislators in favor of the Marriage Affirmation Act. He has voiced his opposition to "same-sex adoptions" -- by which he means adoptions to Gay parents. So he'd rather see children rot and starve in the hell of Virginia's foster care system, than have them placed with loving adoptive parents who happen to be Gay. He also opposed a recently passed Virginia law which allowed (but did not require) private insurance companies to offer domestic-partner benefits.

So Kaine would be the obvious choice, right?

Well ... no. Kaine has exploited voter misgivings during his own campaign with television ads that have led critics and supporters alike to accuse him of Gay-baiting. One radio ad described Kilgore as a "weak" man, leading many on the Right to wonder precisely what his implication might have been. A television ad, however, which stated that Kaine would "keep gangs out of our schools" was widely heard and understood as "keep Gays out of our schools." Fellow blogger Rick Sincere exposed Kaine's ad, and within a few days the text was changed to "keep gang members out of our schools." A more recent ad, repeatedly claiming that Kilgore has "a political sugar daddy," also skirts the edges of homosexual innuendo. For the most part, though, Gay-baiting has been sub rosa in the Democratic party, mostly consisting of attempts to mock Kilgore's lisp and stereotypically effeminate speech patterns.

Even worse, Kaine has flip-flopped (or "pulled a Clinton," as some would say) on many of his previous pro-Gay positions. In October of 1999, when Kaine was mayor of Richmond, he attended the Richmond Pride celebration and told some six hundred Gays, Lesbians, and Straight allies that "we value all of you." According to a statewide GLBT newsletter at the time, Lambda Letter, Kaine even "pledged his commitment to equality for all the city's residents." Few politicians would have taken such a stance in 1999, and only a few more joined him in his principled stand against Virginia's "Marriage Affirmation Act" of 2004.

What a difference a year makes. Now Kaine has announced his support for an anti-marriage amendment that would place the language of the Marriage Affirmation Act into the Virginia Constitution. The amendment as written would forbid the Commonwealth from "creat[ing] or recogniz[ing] another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." As with the Marriage Affirmation Act, the mention of "other legal status" is the kicker, and the point: The amendment is so broadly worded that it could conceivably be applied to powers of attorney, living wills, domestic partner benefits, joint housing agreements, or any contract that could be considered even remotely marriage-like.

Kaine also opposes adoption by same-sex couples -- though oddly enough, he doesn't oppose adoption by Gay singles, which is currently permitted under Virginia law. Apparently Kaine believes that single-parent households are preferable to two-parent ones. I'd like to know what evidence he used to arrive at this rather peculiar conclusion, but perhaps election years are not the best time to talk about sane social policy.

So, would independent Russ Potts would be a good choice?

Again, no. Potts favors allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, and in that respect he is more pro-Gay than either Kaine or Kilgore. Potts is also the only candidate who has refrained from Gay-baiting, and he's the only candidate not to use his religious beliefs to score brownie points with evangelicals. This could almost qualify him as Gay-friendly. Yet Potts supports Virginia's marriage amendment (and voted for a resolution in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment) -- and he'll raise my taxes even as he takes away my right to private contract. In many ways, Potts is the worst of a bad lot.

When it comes to politics, I'm not exactly a purist. As long as goverment doesn't raise my taxes, and doesn't do anything gratuitously nasty to my neighbors or to me, I'm generally satisfied with it. No candidate this year meets even these minimal standards -- which is surely a testament to the poverty and stupidity of Virginia politics.

The only good news about tomorrow's gubernatorial election is that two of the three candidates will lose. The bad news is that one of them has to win.

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