Some time in December I saw a blog piece-and while I want to say it was by Norman Leahy, I cannot find it-that suggested that for a variety of reasons Jim Gilmore needed to kick off a “listening tour” of Virginia to help shape and fine tune his positions as he enters the Senate campaign. Note-that piece was written prior to even the speculation that Delegate Bob Marshall would challenge him for the nomination, so at the time it appeared Gilmore would be unopposed.
Listening tours are not unusual in Virginia. Both Jim Webb and George Allen did some variation on it in 2006, and of course the most famous was Doug Wilder’s in 1985 when his summer station wagon tour of SW Va helped cut GOP margins in that part of the state.
But in this case it is important that if Gilmore does head out on such a tour he remember that he is out there to listen and learn. You see, Mr. Gilmore is well known for his stubbornness, and it would do some good for him to be out there hearing that maybe folks don’t agree with him 100% of the time and that maybe he isn’t right 100% of the time.
If you question the need for this, you need go no farther than his conduct in the Hugh Finn case.
The basic facts are well known. The really short version…after three and half years in a persistent vegetative state as a result of a coma incurred in a car accident, the wife of Hugh Finn decided to have his feeding tubes removed. Gilmore, serving as governor, attempted various court based interventions, feeding tubes were removed, and Finn passed away.
What is noteworthy is not that Gilmore’s conduct was a precursor to the more highly publicized Terry Schiavo case, nor that it sheds light on Gilmore’s Pro-Life credentials.
What is interesting is that after Gilmore lost in court, and it was ruled that the state should recompense the Finn family for $13,000 in legal expenses (expenses incurred solely because of the government intervention), Gilmore fought against having to pay for the legal expenses…which of course caused more legal expenses. Gilmore won an appeal, but later surrendered when the GOP majority General Assembly appropriated money to repay the widow for legal expenses caused by the government intervention…a total that by then had risen to $48K.
Gilmore knows what he knows and what he believes, and will fight for it until the last ditch. He was absolutely convinced he was right to intervene in the Finn case and bring the power of government against one family. He was so convinced that he fought to the last ditch to keep the state from paying legal fees.
Certain ideologues may applaud his certainty and the following course of action…but I suggest that most folks would say that having caused the expense in the first place, the Commonwealth of Virginia had a responsibility to make the citizen whole who had to bear the brunt of a government lawsuit. Hey, you want to dance, you got to pay the band.
That is why the listening tour is a great idea, but only if Gilmore enters it ready to listen. We can talk all we want about ideology and philosophy, but government like life is seldom found to be black and white. Multiple needs and limited resources mean hard decisions need to be made. Ideology and platform can create a framework for those decisions, but ultimately it comes down to the judgement of an individual how to vote and how to act.
You see, one reason why Mark Warner has an edge of over Mr. Gilmore is simply because Warner is more likeable. He may not agree with you, but he likely does not think less of you because you disagree. He’s fun to talk to over the back fence or share a beer with. Mr. Gilmore comes across as that neighbor you stop to say hello to, but hesitate to get into an involved conversation for fear he will start lecturing you on how you may have violated a home owner reg or perhaps will feel compelled to tell you uninvited what you should be doing to make your grass greener.
A listening tour would not only be educational for Mr. Gilmore-it might help make him seem more human, too.
I hope Mr. Gilmore goes out and listens. After so many years out of politics he needs to be back in touch with how people think. Maybe it will change his mind. Maybe it will leave him more certain than ever of what he thinks, but better able to document and defend his positions. A listening trip taken with an intent to listen and learn will be of immense benefit, especially if he starts in Northern Virginia.