Virginia for the Win is a series examining Virginia’s crucial role in the 2016 presidential race.
Why, Virginia Democrats, why?
Why rely on race-baiting and anti-gun politics when you had a winning, positive issue and a 10th state Senate candidate uniquely qualified to run on it?
We warned Virginia Democrats, specifically Richmond-area Democrats that such negative politics invited a voter backlash in the 10th Senate District. The Democrats should have won this seat.
Dan Gecker, the losing Democratic nominee, and Republican Glen Sturtevant, now senator-elect, are decent men. But as we wrote, candidates are increasingly trapped in a corrosive political system. When they need to rely on outside groups to fund their campaigns, they lose control of the message. Political leaders can’t admit this fact. But it is true. Our system is breaking down.
Money talks. It buys governorships. It buys U.S. Senate seats, mayoral races, and General Assembly seats. Two million dollars for a state Senate race? Gecker and Sturtevant can’t afford that kind of money.
When an out-of-state anti-gun group heavily funded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg offers to put $700,000 into a single campaign, Democratic Party leaders eagerly take the money, thinking they now have the green to go mean.
As we pointed out in our last two columns, it smelled bad.
The group, Everytown for Gun Safety, ran one true anti-gun ad. But its second ad for Gecker contained phony racial attacks, accusing Richmond School Board member Sturtevant (who is white) of secretly backing an education plan that favored the “wealthy” (white) students in Richmond over all others in the 90 percent non-white Richmond public school system. It hurt Sturtevant in Richmond. But the code-word politics backfired in Chesterfield and Powhatan counties.
The backlash shouldn’t have been surprising.
Let’s discuss the fallacy in the “two wrongs make a right” mentality.
The average school building in the 10th Senate District has been obsolete for years. Virginia Tech professor Glen Earthman, an expert on rundown school buildings, has shown the deleterious effects these facilities have on the health and learning potential of students, especially students from families of modest means.
Since 1971, the Virginia Constitution has contained a promise to provide quality schools for everyone. But it isn’t possible to provide a true, 21st-century education in an antiquated, crumbling, school building.
Years ago, Gecker played an important role in showing how an innovative private/public partnership idea could renovate these schools and save localities 40 percent on construction costs, making projects seen as too expensive suddenly affordable.
The idea was first discussed in a New York Times op-ed in October 2009, and it garnered broad, bipartisan support. Gecker and then-Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine worked to bring private capital and local school systems together to use the federal and state tax credits available to rehabilitate old buildings. The resulting renovation of the historic Maggie Walker High School building, long a vacant eyesore, into the Maggie Walker Governor’s School has been a resounding success.
Sturtevant is a big supporter of the approach, too.
Virginia’s constitution promises kids a quality education. Instead, they attend classes in facilities that hold them back in the subtle, but provable, ways Professor Earthman has been showing for years.
Democrats and Republicans have now twice used a tax created to support education to fund roads, shifting potentially billions of dollars in the coming years. That’s why Democrats weren’t thinking about renovating old schools as their top campaign issue in the 10th.
They were encouraged in this thinking by liberal editorial boards, which agreed with Bloomberg’s gun-control agenda. So Democrats went along with the ads and the money because today’s “two wrongs make a right” politics puts money first.
Bottom line: You can’t build a new future on an old lie.
Race-baiting TV ads are wrong. There is no excuse. There is no rationalization. That your opponents aren’t pure makes no difference.