Tobacco is no longer king in Virginia. Sausage is.
That's what Bob Campbell thinks, anyway.
The would-be songmeister from Staunton is making the rounds in state and local government circles saying that sausage baron Jimmy Dean wound up as one of eight finalists in the competition for a new state song by spreading fatback, in the form of campaign donations, to at least one member of the song selection committee.
In the process, Campbell's own tune, "Home Sweet Home Virginia," was rendered unworthy, and he's spitting mad about it.
"I'm going to be relentless," he said yesterday, undaunted by news that the state attorney general's office couldn't issue an opinion over whether politicians had a conflict of interest in favoring Dean's song. "I'm not going to stop here. We will go national with this."
He pointed out that two of the panel members had introduced legislation supporting Dean's song two years ago and that one of them, Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), had received $1,750 in campaign money from Dean in the last 18 months.
"Martin should have withdrawn from the panel," Campbell said, "knowing he'd received this. . . . And that's the money we know of."
Martin could not be reached for comment yesterday. But the panel's chairman, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), said that Martin's biases were well known from the start and that, in any event, Martin is one of 12 members on the committee, seven of whom are not elected officials. Dean has said his donations had nothing to do with the song competition.
Contentions that Dean, who lives in Varina, may have greased the skids for his song "Virginia," which he co-wrote with his wife, Donna, have been simmering around the state ever since the selection panel started winnowing a list of more than 360 tunes submitted to replace the state's previous anthem.
That ditty, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," had been on the chopping block for years after its lyrics--with references to "darkies" and "massas"--were denounced as racially offensive. When a new song competition was announced, Campbell, Dean and other songwriters went into overdrive, flooding Richmond with lyrics and melodies. Committee hearings took on the aura of Broadway tryouts, with stage mothers waiting in the wings.
After his song was eliminated last month, Campbell enlisted the chief prosecutor in Staunton to press his conflict-of-interest case. Prosecutor Raymond C. Robertson took the matter to the state attorney general, asking in a letter, "How could [Martin] possibly be impartial and objective . . . when he had this kind of financial indebtedness to Mr. Dean?"
But Deputy Attorney General Frank S. Ferguson responded that it's up to the General Assembly, not a local prosecutor, to probe the matter.
Campbell was incredulous, saying public sentiment should outweigh political contributions. Ticking off his fan base, he lamented: "We were first in letters, second in postcards, second in petitions, eighth in e-mail--yet we're not in the final eight."
Dean could not be reached yesterday, but last month he dismissed talk that his sausage profits had links to his songwriting success. "The sausage money didn't go into it, contrary to what you may think," he said. "It was Donna and Jimmy's boot leather and gasoline that's gone into the song."