A Clear Message
Richard H. Black was the ultimate entrenched politician. Unbeatable. Popular. The best man to represent Virginia's District 32, a rock-solid Republican enclave in Loudoun County.
He reliably cast the proper and accepted right-wing votes in the state legislature like clockwork. He embodied all of the classic GOP "virtues," throwing conniption fits at the slightest mention of a tax increase; paying lip service to the value of education while consistently voting to under fund schools; bashing unions at every opportunity; constantly blaming all of society's problems on whatever unpopular minority proved handy; and just whacking away at Democrats for the fun of it. The usual Republican laundry list.
Mr. Black could be counted upon for lots of divisive rhetoric, if not much actual governance. Sounds like certain Frederick County politicians, doesn't it?
This song and dance got him plenty of votes and support for multiple election cycles. He seemed unbeatable. Until now.
On November 8, the unsinkable U.S.S. Richard H. Black got torpedoed by a Democratic challenger named David Poisson. And that wasn't the only Democrat pickup in Loudoun County - Republican Chris Craddock, a "youth pastor" who recently remarked to a high school class that "Africans will have sex with anything that has a pulse," also went down to defeat, against a rational human being named Chuck Caputo.
Though these two races were relative pebbles in the avalanche of Democrat victories that evening, these small triumphs were highly significant in terms of their implications for the futures of both major parties.
Oh, it was certainly gratifying to see the voters of Virginia and New Jersey decisively embrace new Democrat governors, whisking them in with larger margins than their predecessors enjoyed. It was doubly delightful to watch a s California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiatives flopped to the ground like moths colliding with a bug zapper.
And it was an utter treat to see all six - that's right, ALL SIX - "intelligent design" flat-earthers booted out of the school board in Dover, PA, and replaced by six new members who actually harbor respect for scientific knowledge and education.
But the Loudoun County races, and other similar Democrat takeovers in Long Island, the outer Philadelphia suburbs, and many other places, probably represent the thickest dark clouds for the Republicans.
The GOP thought it had the exurban vote locked up. They could concede the central cities and the inner suburbs to the Democrats, but outer suburbs like Frederick County in Maryland, Loudoun County in Virginia, and Nassau County in New York were strictly Republican turf, or so they thought in light of recent presidential campaigns.
With their typical hubris, they began running increasingly radical candidates, disciples of national GOP extremists like Pat Robertson and Grover Norquist, confident that voters would keep on punching the touch screens for them simply because they had the old reliable "R" by their names. And it worked splendidly. Until now.
But eventually even conservative voters come to realize that heaps of anti-immigrant rhetoric doesn't fill the potholes on Main Street.
Americans have increasingly soured on President George W. Bush's agenda. Our economy hasn't approached the strength it enjoyed in the later years of Bill Clinton's presidency. The Middle Eastern war drags on and all the administration has to show for it is the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iraq, while terrorism continues to run rampant.
Health care expenses overwhelm more and more American families. The federal budget deficit is completely out of control, thanks to massive war expenditures combined with reckless tax cuts - and this after inheriting a record surplus from President Bill Mr. Clinton.
The president interrupts one of his many vacations to "save" one woman in Florida, but lingers in Crawford three days before reacting to a historic disaster in New Orleans. His judicial nominees are either stealth radicals or obvious incompetents, if not both.
And now key figures in this "honor and dignity" administration are getting indicted for offenses far more serious than sexual indiscretions. No wonder Bush's poll numbers are circling the bowl.
Against this depressing backdrop, Americans have been taking a closer look at Republicans, local and national. Lo and behold, they don't like what they see. And finally given a chance to send a message at the ballot box, they did just that last week, rejecting the most egregious nutjobs the GOP had foisted upon them.
Commented Fairfax County's David B. Albo, a Republican delegate who barely held onto his seat: "We know that George Bush is just killing us."
It's interesting to note that the City of Frederick bucked this national trend, at least at the mayoral level. The state Republicans, predictably, tried to cite Jeff Holtzinger's victory over Ron Young as a harbinger of good things to come for the Maryland GOP.
But of course, given the unique machinations that led to the Holtzinger-Young matchup in the city election, the dynamics behind Frederick's situation are far from typical. It is also worth noting (besides the new Democrat majority on the Board of Aldermen) that Mr. Holtzinger did not present himself as an Alex Mooney-type reactionary. He ran as a reasonable, moderate Republican focused on a good, working government, and his campaign was clean, civil, and free of the cheap scapegoating that sullied so many other GOP efforts elsewhere in the nation.
This made city Democrats far more open to supporting him, and many of them did, helping put him over the top. Mr. Holtzinger was the anti-Jerry Kilgore candidate, and holds great promise as an effective mayor for Frederick. (Editor's Note: Mr. Kilgore was the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia)
And let's not forget that Annapolis' Democrat incumbent Mayor Ellen Moyer handily retained her seat, despite (or perhaps because of) Michael Steele's stumping for George O. Kelley, who finished a very distant third behind an independent. Michael Bloomberg won in New York City - by looking, sounding, talking, and walking like a Democrat.
What do last week's events mean for Frederick County?
Well, if there's one lesson the local Democratic Party can take home from election night, it is that radical Republicans can be beaten, no matter how "entrenched" and well-funded they might seem to be.
Frederick County is not all that different demographically from Loudoun County. Could Alex Mooney, Richard Black's ideological soulmate, be the next rabid right-winger to get bounced by a moderate (of either party)?
Maybe this is Tim Brooks' best window. Could David Brinkley follow certain Virginia right-wingers to political oblivion? Could Roscoe Bartlett, he of the taxpayer giveaways to the energy industry, get upended by an emboldened Andrew Duck? The climate for such heretofore unlikely happenings is certainly more favorable now that it's been in years.
But nobody's being naive. These things aren't going to just happen, and the Republicans will certainly make adjustments. It is now up to the Democrats to step up, work hard, campaign with heart and passion, not concede anything, and forcefully point out the radicalism of many of our current Republicans.
There are many Richard H. Blacks and Chris Craddocks still out there, infesting our state and local governments, including our own. But most Americans aren't right-wing radicals, and as they demonstrated last week, they're willing to vote them out. All it takes is credible, committed opposition, as well as a positive plan for the future.
That's what served Tim Kaine so well, and enabled him to win easily in red state Virginia.
Let Richard H. Black be the canary in the radical Republican coal mine.