I was pleasantly surprised at what I found in an hour of conversation with General Assembly candidate Carter Turner--a guy I had dismissed as an academic without a chance--this morning at a coffee shop in downtown Roanoke.
Turner is running for the seat being held hostage by Republican drunk driving lawyer Morgan Griffith, a man who has no business in public office--or public anything else. This is a seat Democrats have mostly conceded, even when they had an opponent for Griffith in past years. They've run intelligent people who are accomplished as community participants, political activists and professionals, but who simply have not had the heart for the kind of earthy--that would be muddy--politics necessary to beat Griffith.
Griffith is a man whose mother is a beloved school teacher (she taught Turner) and who has, frankly, corralled enough power and influence within a small segment of the General Assembly and the electorate to frighten and intimidate many, including some of those who give money to him. I've had business people tell me they reluctantly give to his campaign because "I'm afraid of what he'll do if I don't."
Griffith, who was married several years ago in a graveyard (a fact Republicans would hammer a Democrat with if the Dem did something that creepy), is looking at his second Radford professor opponent within a couple of months. The Dems put up Radford nursing professor Ginny Weisz, but she thought better of it after a bit and the party turned to Turner, who teaches religion (and has been to seminary) at Radford. He's a former Salem High football player and a Christian with portfolio, both important in this solidly Republican (gerrymandered that way), conservative district where high school football is as important as a job.
Turner talked about his agenda, which is quite a bit more conservative than I am comfortable with, but which sounds wildly liberal compared to Griffith's Cro-Magnon Kunckle-Dragging subset of the Repubs. I would easily stick Turner in a philosophical room with Mark Warner, Rick Boucher, Tim Kaine and even some moderate Republicans like Preston Bryant and John Chichester: effectively, mainline Virginia.
We chatted about strategy, history and the simple fact that calling Griffith a "representative" is a misnomer since he's represented few outside his small circle, his own interests and rarely--and only coincidentally--the economic interests of the people and the businesses of his district. Griffith, who sees himself as anti-tax, is one of those guilty of sending the tax money his constituents pay to Northern Virginia and Tidewater. His truculence on the budget has several times threatened the state's AAA bond rating, a rare and valuable rating for a state government. That rating means the state can borrow money at low interest rates. If we lost it, we pay more for borrowed money and that is an additional tax, one easily avoided.
We need roads, Northern Virginia needs roads and you can guess who gets them. We need educated children and post secondary students, but Griffith doesn't want to take the necessary steps to make sure these kids are educated. Tuition at our colleges is a disgrace. (My son went to the University of Tennessee as an out of state student, paid double tuition and it was still cheaper than Virginia Tech.) We need business services, health care, support of the arts and on and on and Griffith supports none of that in deed, only in words.
I honestly hope that Turner (surrounded by a group of allies and advisors that includes Mudcat Saunders, veteran political marketer Stephanie Kohler and, perhaps most important, a key member of Tom Periello's impressive campaign staff) can overcome what is necessary to overcome here. A good start would be in the money area, the one that worries him most. His Web site is here and you can use it to donate to him.
Let me strongly urge you, whether or not you can vote for Carter Turner (I can't), to give him the money (I will) to get Griffith out of office and back to wherever it is he crawls out from. Turner, a gap-toothed, easy-going, smart guy who I suspect of having a tough gene, will be a monumental improvement.
(Valerie Garner asks for a photo credit on Carter Turner's pix and she can have it: Photo Roanoke Free Press. Yeah, Roanoke Free Press. Good job, guys.)