Sunday, August 30, 2009

Carter Turner: Maybe a Chance Against Morgan Griffith

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.)


  1. While we're all well aware of your visceral hatred of Morgan, I'm still surprised to see you endorsing a candidate and pledging to give him money. I've never heard of someone who holds himself out as a journalist giving money to a candidate. Heck, even the shameless editors at the Roanoke Times wouldn't do that. Maybe you no longer consider yourself to be a journalist? Based on what you've written in the past, I suppose that conclusion was inevitable.

  2. Thank you, sir, for your support. I have never claimed to be neutral in this blog, nor will I ever be unfair in our magazine. I will take part in our democracy as a full citizen (and that means supporting with money, as well as words, candidates I agree with or who appear to be superior to the opposition) because I believe it to be incumbent upon citizens to do that and it would be irresponsible not to. I do not give up my citizenship by deciding to follow a specific profession, nor do you necessarily give up your basic honesty by becoming a political operative. The choice of how you conduct yourself--and I myself--remains with you and with me.

  3. BTW, my name is Valerie Garner, not Vickie Garner.

  4. Valerie: My apologies, ma'am. I know that, but was writing without thinking and I need to match the two more often. By the way, I heard some very nice things about you from a friend today and I really admire your work. You are a real bulldog who's leading a new kind of journalism. Good for you.