An Absence of Malice in Va-1

I held forth the other day on the out and out carpetbagging of former Delegate Richard Black in his move from Sterling to Fredericksburg solely to have a chance to in the Va-1 Congressional special election this December.


However, it is becoming clear that for many the true standard being used to decide whether one should run for the Va-1 GOP nod is found in the movie “Absence of Malice”

It is a pretty good movie. Paul Newman plays the son of a long dead Mafia boss who owns a liquor warehouse.   A prosecutor leaks a false story that Newman is a target of the investigation of a murdered union leader, hoping the pressure will get Newman to tell them-even though they have no reason to think he has information.   Sally Field, who catches the leaked “fact” and reports it, is in the clear under the Absence of Malice rule in slander and libel cases. As the newspaper lawyer says:

That as a matter of law, the truth is irrelevant. We have no knowledge the story is false, therefore we’re absent malice. We’ve been both reasonable and prudent, therefore we’re not negligent. We can say what we like about him; he can’t do us harm. Democracy is served.

More than a little of this “truth is irrelevant” is happening in Va-1. defines “carpetbagger” in part as “an outsider, especially a politician, who presumptuously seeks a position or success in a new locality.”

Today we typically see the term tossed at someone who runs for office who but who has not lived in a district very long. But in Va-1 we are seeing the term has numerous uses.

I previously considered Richard Black, a man defeated for re-election in 2005 who didn’t have the wherewithal to try to win back his old seat. Instead, he rents a house in a congressional district where he has never lived to win a congressional nomination…and does so with such commitment to his new home that he currently has no plans to sell his home in Sterling. Legal? Yes. Desirable conduct from a candidate for public office? No…but “legal” and “right” are not necessarily the same thing-sort of like an Absence of Malice.

But there are more…

Consider Tom Gear, GOP member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Delegate Gear represents VA House 91. Part of the district is in Va-1, and the rest in Va-2.

You can see this coming, right?

Delegate Gear has allegedly decided, like Mr. Black, that the good people of Va-1 are so lacking in options that he is going to move his legal residence to the Va-1 (but still within House 91) so he can offer for Congress.

Legal? Yes. Desirable conduct for a candidate for public office? No…but there you have that Absence of Malice thing going on.  You can do it, it is legal, there are no restrictions beyond good taste, judgement, and character.

This action is not being taken by an elected official who has been gerrymandered out of their seat and moves to continue serving in the same office. This is an action by an elected official who is currently running for one office and changes his legal residence simply to run for a different office. It seems the VB Demos are already loving this scenario.

But beyond carpetbagging Gear is also guilty of another campaign sin, this one against the body politic…and in this he is joined by another GOP delegate, Rob Wittman (VA-99).

Both of these men are currently running for reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates. Yet while running for reelection they are already planning to run for the Republican Congressional Nomination in Va-1 for the December special election. Wittman has already announced.

This is the sin against the body politic-or its subdivision, the people of Va-1. Are elected positions simply part of a job ladder for ambitious politicians?


Is public office a public trust to be earned by garnering the support of your fellow citizens and representing them as best you can? I don’t see where simultaneous candidacies, announced or unannounced, for multiple offices can reasonbly be considered in the best interest of the body politic.

Oh, someone calls out, but both are unopposed! That has to make a difference!

Not to me. I don’t think elected officials should treat service in the Virginia General Assembly as some booby prize they get if they don’t get a chance to hold the seat they really want to hold.

Nonetheless, it is legal and they can do it. Absence of Malice, again. But I think it is fair to say both are engaged in “intellectual carpetbagging”.

I don’t know what will happen at the Va-1 GOP convention, but it seems there will be more than one opportunist for the delegates to consider. I have to think that candidacies based in legalisms and constituent betrayals have a character deficiency out of the blocks, and I wonder how that will play with the delegates…because along with an Absence of Malice, there may be an Absence of Character.

Oh, you are wondering how the movie concludes? The Assistant US Attorney (played by the marvelous Wilford Brimley) hears of the various leaks that are ending up in the newspaper and realizes someone is playing fast and loose with the rules.

He gathers all the participants and tells them they can talk to him or to the grand jury. He assures them that “…come sundown, there’s gonna be two things true that ain’t true now. One is that the United States Department of Justice is goin’ to know what…is goin’ on around here. And the other’s I’m gonna have somebody’s ass in muh briefcase.”

After sorting through the stories, and realizing that plausible but false stories were created and leaked to bring undue pressure or ruin reputations or both, Brimely says “We can’t have people go around leaking stuff for their own reasons. It ain’t legal. And worse than that, by God it ain’t right.”

What was that last line, again?

“…and worse than that, by God it ain’t right”

I wish we could have old Wilford sort out the upcoming mess in Va-1.


11 thoughts on “An Absence of Malice in Va-1

  1. Bwana:
    So far as I am concerned, there are only two viable individuals that should be vying for the nomination and they are Delegate Phil Hamilton and Chuck Davis…both live and work in the distrcit and know the issues. “And thats all I have to say about that!”

    Bwana Fan In Vienna

  2. Bwana:
    By George, that’s good advice! Thank you, I wonder where I have heard that before.

    Bwana Fan In Vienna

  3. You correctly argue that “elected officials should (not) treat service in the Virginia General Assembly as some booby prize they get if they don’t get a chance to hold the seat they really want to hold.” You are right. However, you use this argument to make a statement I feel is too broad. By the standard you are advancing, Delegate Carrico should not have been able to run against Rep. Boucher last year and, after losing, return to his seat in the House of Delegates. Then-Delegate McDougle should not have been able to seek re-election to the House of Delegates in 2005 and then turn around a run in a special election for Bill Bolling’s former Senate seat two months later with the knowledge that in the off chance he lost he could go back to his Delegate seat. Sen. Deeds should not have been able to run for Attorney General in 2005 and after losing, return to his seat in the Senate. I understand that in none of these cases were any of these people campaigning for two offices simultaneously. However, in politics, when opportunity knocks you must take it. It does not mean you dislike or disrespect your current job. Sometimes unusual circumstances create unusual situations.

  4. But, as you note the Carrico, McDougle, adn Deeds examples are somewhat apples and oranges. None of these men you cite were running for two offices simultaneously.

    If Wittman and Gear want to seek higher office, fine-and given your lack of comment I can only think you agree that Gear is carpetbagging by moving to the other end of his district.

    But they are choosing to run for two offices simultaneously, and so they get to suffer the opprobrium or applause that comes with that decision.

  5. Bwana:

    Yes – I agree with you entirely on the carpetbagging argument. I think both are pretty bad though at least Gear represents part of the First which Black has never done. In fact I have seen some lit Black has passed out listing all that Black has done for the First district – mostly supporting candidates in the First. It leaves a lot to be desired.

    You are correct that the examples I referenced are not exactly comparable to this – but I don’t think there is anything to which this situation can be reasonably compared. My point is that if you want to argue that it is disingenuous to use one office as a fallback if you don’t get another one, it is hard not to fault people like Carrico, McDougle, and Deeds on the same front. I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t see a major problem with what Gear and Wittman are doing (minus the carpetbagging part for Gear) because I see it being little different than what these other people did. This is an unusual situation with the timing requiring them to run simultaneously, but I think the ultimate situation is little different.

  6. I think you burn your boats. I think you resign the candidacy/nomination you have, which means the legislative replaces you and guarantee the party holds the seat. that way we are spared a special election, and the seat stays in the GOP.

  7. I think I would be more inclined to agree with you if they were the GOP nominee for Congress and running as the nominee in both elections at the same time.

    You make a good point about guaranteeing the seat stays in GOP hands – one I had not previously considered. Perhaps they should feel some obligation to the party in this regard. However, I do not feel they are doing anything wrong at this point or anything that causes me to question their commitment to their current job or constituents as your original post implies.

  8. Indeed we do, but I have enjoyed the discussion on it. You bring a refreshing view to the Republican blogsphere – thank you for that.

  9. Bwana:
    Speaking from experience, I tend to agree with you. I faced a similiar dilemna in 2003. In the end, I felt it was the honorable thing to do to not seek re-election to Council and campaign for the House of Delegates. I did have many of my supporters tell me I still should have run for re-election, but like you said, I felt it was dishonest to the voters.
    Having said that I understand the dilemna and what drives folks to do the opposite.

    Take care
    Bwana Fan In Vienna

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