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.
Dictionary.com 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.