I campaigned for Congressman Boucher, so people ask me how we lost a long-standing congressman who was and still is beloved in this region. Democrats and Republicans alike trusted Congressman Boucher to find resources and make good decisions, to do the impossible things we needed done.
Congressman Boucher has held the Ninth for so long because he is indeed a person with a broad understanding of the needs of the region and an ability to negotiate on the real issues. The chances that we will find someone else like him are slim. Many residents think of Boucher every time they turn on their tap and watch clean water flow into the kitchen sink. I think of him when I click onto the Internet. Few of us believe that he betrayed coal, and no informed person can possibly think that. Those of us upset with his vote on health care appreciated his willingness to work with HCR versus his opponent’s desire to repeal it.
People who are advocates for coal in the Ninth District will soon feel the loss of a strong voice in Washington. The road is now clear for big oil in the legislature. Natural gas — despite concerns about fracking — is going to be big. Coal is hard to get and burning it produces dangerous fly ash. Oil is hazardous when accidents and spills occur, but coal has continuous local environmental impact associated with ordinary daily mining and washing. There may be a way to burn coal cleaner, but Virginia has refused to invest in research on this front, and has even denied research on carbon sequestration as justification for small rate hikes.
How did we lose? The election went Red in the Virginia Ninth for three reasons, listed here in order of importance in my opinion:
- many Democrats failed to vote;
- Democratic incumbents, including Rick Boucher, Jim Webb, and Mark Warner in Virginia, failed and are still failing to distinguish themselves from Republicans and are also failing to educate their electorate on the accomplishments and plans of their own office, their party, and President Obama; and
- at the last minute we were flooded by robo-calls from Sarah Palin, James Dobson, Newt Gingrich, and Pat Boone pushing the family values/protection of marriage/anti-abortion social agenda, along with the same messages coming through the mail.
My ordering of the reasons is based on these considerations:
- Voter turnout was low. Many voters believed that Boucher could not lose. It is never a good idea to deprive your candidate of your vote because you think there will be enough other people to cover your share. Voting is a civic duty, and keeping yourself informed on the issues so that you vote smart is also a civic duty.
- Of the three legislators who represent the Ninth, Jim Webb most distinguishes himself from Republicans, and he is a leader who finds things that need to be done and does them. I admire Senator Webb. He is distinguishable from a Republican if you follow his op ed pieces and keep up with him, but he does not get that message to the electorate. He is what a senator should be, and it is not fair that his good work is drowned out by the shouting. Mark Warner and Rick Boucher are less distinguishable from Republicans on the issues. Both were against the public option in health care when their voices would have carried the day for this important provision, and Boucher actually voted against HCR in the last critical moments. The one distinguishing factor that could be used by Republicans against Boucher in the campaign was his support for a woman’s right to choose. Republicans did use this issue against him, but Boucher did not respond or defend his rationale on reproductive rights to the voters.
- Regarding failing to educate the electorate, I spoke to many voters, and many did not know much about the issues. Congressman Boucher addressed the issues with his usual precision and insight in the debates and in the newspapers, but he did not go stumping for them. More to the point, all along the way our representatives should bring good clear information home to the voters so that when election time comes they will be able to make reasoned judgments. Ignorance is a bad thing, and the ability of the voter to distinguish the truth from a lie rests in their having some contextual information already in place.
- The flood of negative calls and mailings was designed to get out the vote on psychologically and religiously charged issues. Calls and “picture postcard” mailings cited abortion, protection of marriage, socialism, and immigration, and they said they would get rid of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stop President Obama’s agenda. Still, if voters had been informed and had made it to the polls, we would have won. So as bad as it was, I place this misinformation attack third of three in the reasons listed.