(Note: Most of the knowledge here comes from the great two-volume history of Virginia by Frank B. Atkinson, The Dynamic Dominion and Virginia in the Vanguard)
For students of Virginia history, we know that independent political bids are rather more common than others might realize. We can look as far back as Westmoreland Davis of Loudoun County getting elected governor in the 1910s against the machine of Sen. Thomas Martin. It continued through James H. Price, Frances Pickens Miller, Harry Byrd Jr., Henry Howell, Doug Wilder, Marshall Coleman, Virgil Goode, and Russell Potts. All represent some form of third-party and/or challenge to the status quo. In modern terms, this can be best understood when we understand that Virginia has always been a two-party state, but within that there has always been a cabal of conservative businessman that centered on Richmond who have their roots in the old Harry Byrd machine.
Byrd’s vaunted machine was a genteel tyranny. There were never any George Wallaces or Ross Barnetts in Harry Byrd’s Virginia. His control was so ironclad, so complete, playing the race card never needed. Republicans, blacks, and liberals alike where essentially disenfranchised or otherwise ignored by a restrictive constitution, poll taxes, and literacy tests form the courthouse rings that Byrd controlled. Eventually the 20th century caught up to Harry Byrd and his Dixiecrats. What remained was a loyal, apolitical, and deeply conservative business establishment in Richmond that where now without a party as the Democrats became more and more like the national party; liberal, diverse, and looking for more for government. Their entry in the Republican Party came in 1977 when former Gov. Mills Godwin agreed to switch parties and run as a Republican. Godwin’s first term, from 1965-1969, has widely been praised by historians as helping to usher Virginia from Byrdism to the 20th century. Godwin’s history as a staunch Byrdite who’s support of Massive Resistance lead to leadership in the State Senate and the lieutenant governorship helped give him credibility with the old business estalishment. He was an impeccable Byrdite and would control what Atkinson dubbed “The Organization” for nearly the rest of his life.
The Organization is best described as the constituency of the old Dixiecrat Byrdites – tobacco barons, bankers, and various other big business types who supported politicians who kept taxes low, were generous with incentives, and kept “law and order.” The Organization of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were the last remnants of the Dixiecrats in Virginia and would remain active in Virginia politics until our era. Chuck Robb was able to win back these Dixiecrats by creating a moderate Democratic Party that was much friendlier to business than the Republicans (the marriage between the Organization and Republicans was always more of convenience and out of fear of Henry Howell). This endured for 12 years and three Democratic governors before George Allen would merge that business support with evangelical social conservatives and define state politics for the 1990s. Mark Warner followed Chuck Robb’s pattern and worked to moderate the Democratic Party of Virginia into a pro-business, middle-class party. It helped that in 2001 the Republican split that business/evangelical marriage in half by running John Hager (business) and Mark Earley (evangelical) against each other, and choosing the evangelical who was also pro-organized labor (Earley).
This swing between both parties of Organization/Dixiecrat financial support has mostly swung against populism in both parties. When Henry Howell took over the Democratic Party with his alliance of labor, Northern Virginia liberals, and urban blacks the Dixiecrats swung with Mills Godwin to the Republicans. When the Republican Party of the 1980s ran twice independent Republican from the Valley named Marshall Coleman (or an interloper like John Warner), someone they could not control, Chuck Robb made welcoming them home back to the Democrats easy. When the Democrats ran liberals like Mary Sue Terry and Don Beyer, George Allen and Jim Gilmore welcomed them back to the Republicans. So on and so forth.
What is happening today is that instead of finding a home in one of the parties because someone has figured out a way to “moderate” on business issues, both parties have made their break with the last remnants of The Organization/Dixiecrat Richmond business establishment. The Democrats cemented their independence with Jim Webb’s nomination and election to the US Senate in 2006, a candidate born and bred from the progressive grassroots and then twice gave Barack Obama Virginia’s electoral votes. The Republican Party is approaching this independence in 2013 with Ken Cuccinelli, who represents a new breed coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and tea partiers from all over the commonwealth outside of its business centers. It’s nearly unheard of in modern Republican Party politics to run against the old Organization and the new Organization – the Northern Virginia developers and contractors who have proven equally adepts and picking winners despite party allegiance.
Bill Bolling is the last, desperate gasp of the old Dixiecrat tradition in Virginia. It is why big business, long successful in Virginia from its great bi-partisan tradition of crony capitalism, is so afraid of Cuccinelli. As Norm Leahy put it: “This is, in many ways, Cuccinelli’s party. Bill Bolling and his friends – they don’t understand it. They can’t control it. And that is why they fear it.” Make no mistake; you will never hear this blog claim Bill Bolling is a RINO. Far from it. But rather, Bolling is an establishment crony-capitalist conservative who, like his Dixiecrat forefathers, just wants to leave everything the same and let big business do what big business does. Cuccinelli is looking to apply true limited government principles and truly unleash capitalism in Virginia. Instead of our business being reliant on the federal government, state tax breaks, and giveaways he wants to create a commonwealth of opportunity and freedom. This is not how the Dixiecrat Junta has tried to rule Virginia since Byrd died for the last fifty years.
In many ways, what motivates the base of Democratic support that twice elected Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, and Mark Warner in Virginia is the same energy that is moving Republicans to Ken Cuccinelli. Ken isn’t just running on low taxes and abortion. He is focusing his campaign as redefining conservatism as a force that will help the poor, help business, and revolutionize the state. The real political struggle isn’t left versus right in America or Virginia; it’s the powerful versus the powerless. Cuccinelli is running on issues like eminent domain; prison reform, sex-trafficking, federal mandates, mental health reform, market-based transportation solutions, and a willingness to take on the powerful in both parties. The Bolling Dixiecrats are attacking Ken the sway way they all have attacked him. He’s extreme, dangerous, too right wing, and inflexible. Bolling wants to run on what all Dixiecrats ran on . . . doing what’s best for big business. The fact is, Ken Cuccinelli has gotten more done working with the other side than Bill Bolling ever has. The problem is he just has never done it when it came to raising our taxes. The powerful interest in the Democratic Party and Republican Party don’t care about the regular folks, they just want more money (and thus power) to remain centralized in Virginia. Ken has worked and voted with Democrats on the EPA (with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors), the triggerman law, innocent prisoners (Michael Herring), sex-trafficking, among other issues.
These are issues that really matter, but not to the big business Dixiecrats. They don’t want to compete; they want to stay in power. Because of Ken’s partisan reputation, it’s easy to win over some Republicans by throwing out code-words like “common sense” and “pragmatic.” They will co-opt the media in believing Ken is the boogeyman. But in reality, it’s this new tea party/libertarian alliance that is the true future of the Republican Party, and one that will make the GOP much less willing to play the crony capitalist game and more open to young and minority communities. The problem for the Dixiecrat Organization is they don’t have the Democrats to run back to anymore. As Cuccinelli takes over the GOP step by step, bringing along with him a new generation of elected officials less willing to do business the old fashion way in Richmond, the more they will appear like wolves in sheep clothing begging for bi-partisanship and pragmatism. They will bring good people, unaware of this history, with them and attempt to stay in power just a little but longer. I get it. There are people who don’t know Ken Cuccinelli, good Republicans who don’t know him but know Bill Bolling. Ken is from Northern Virginia, where no matter how conservative you are you will never be fully trusted in RVA. His positions have been strident. I can see how Bill Bolling, with a lazy message of pragmatism and good feelings from 2009, can sway those people.
I challenge anyone who reads this that believes Ken is a right-wing fanatic who can’t win independents. Go see him speak. Don’t listen to what the media, the Democrats, and Bill Bolling want you to believe. Last night Ken appeared before our YR group and his presentation was amazing. Never once did he attack Barack Obama, mention abortion, or even Terry McAuliffe. Instead he spoke with passion and humor about working hard with the Democrat-dominated Fairfax BOS to sue the EPA against declaring water a pollutant. The reason? The EPA’s regulations would have allowed the federal government to take people’s houses on the Accotink River, tear them down, and grow grass. The partisan hacks were Scott Surovell and John Foust for pressuring the Dem supervisors to now support this just because it’s Ken. He talked about Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring (D) coming to him with the case of Thomas Hayesworth, a man wrongly convicted who spent his 19-47th birthdays in prison because of it and got him free. He talked about fighting his own party for the writ of actual innocence. He did talk about Obamacare, but he did so with reason and logic, not fire and brimstone. If you know him or have followed him, he’s not what they say he is. Please, Republicans who doubt him, go see him when he comes to your local committee or one near buy. You will understand what Bolling and Dixiecrat Junta he comes from are trying to stop. I’ve been volunteering, observing, and supporting Ken since 2007 and even I was taken aback at how impressive he was.
Its’ 2013, what do we want to stand for – the Dixiecrat past or a future of liberty and freedom?