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Revenge: So Sweet, So Ugly, So Addictive

Jim Dillard was a Virginia legislator from Fairfax County for 32 years, a bit of a dinosaur of the species once known as the moderate Republican. Smart, personable and flexible, he became something of an anachronism as the Richmond legislature morphed into a polarized battleground of the kind that's all too familiar in American politics.

For refusing to conform as his party lurched rightward, Dillard had to be punished. In 2004, Dillard was one of the 17 GOP legislators who broke with the party leadership and voted with Gov. Mark Warner to raise taxes and restore fiscal health to the state's strained budget. Then last year, after Dillard retired from the House of Delegates, he dared to break with his party and endorse...gasp--a Democrat for a House seat. Dillard chose to support as his own successor a Dem who had once been a Republican, David Marsden. Marsden went on to win last fall. Now Dillard would really have to pay.

Last week, the Virginia House found a way to get at Dillard even after he's left their body. By a 51-45 vote, the House stripped Dillard of his position on the Board of Visitors at William and Mary College, a position he'd been appointed to by Warner. The punishment was not exactly a trip to the camp at Guantanamo, but still a very public and stinging rebuke.

"My feeling was there was a quid pro quo between the governor and Jim that if you will support the Democratic candidate -- and he was very aggressive in supporting the Democratic candidate to replace him -- if you will support the Democratic candidate I'll give you this plum position," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "We didn't want to be a participant in that exchange of what I would consider 'blood money.'"

Only five Republicans, three of them his old friends from Northern Virginia (Vince Callahan of McLean, Joe May of western Loudoun, and Thomas Davis Rust of Fairfax), broke with their party to side with Dillard.

There's nothing shocking about politicians getting petty on their fellow pols. But you might think that a party that appears to have lost touch with the voters might be looking for an occasional piece of high road to travel. The Republicans in Virginia have frittered away a dominant position by treating voters as easily malleable fools who can be manipulated on social issues and turned away from the tougher questions that grow out of the frustrations of daily life.

In another time, state colleges were kept somewhat apart from the tit for tat politics of Richmond. Governors appointed college trustees from both parties. Some of that still happens, but the Dillard excision further politicizes a piece of state business that ought to be kept above the fray. Bottom line: A good man has been dumped on the side of the road. William and Mary will survive, and so will Dillard. But the encouraging attempt that Warner and the GOP-led legislature made to keep Virginia politics from polarizing as harshly as national politics has been dealt a blow.

By Marc Fisher |  February 13, 2006; 10:12 AM ET
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Not that complicated. There's a large chunk of the Republican party in Virginia -- most of the Republicans in the House of Delegates, for instance -- who value party loyalty above good public service. Astoundingly, there are people who think that there's no place for moderates in either party -- if you don't walk the far right or far left walk, you shouldn't be there. Stupid, but there it is.

Posted by: NNLS | February 13, 2006 12:09 PM

Marc you make some salient points but there is more to it than what you say. Dillard flat-out lied to his colleagues in the House about the Marsden issue, he pledged to them to stay neutral until the Governor came along with the back-room deal to appoint him to the Board of Visitors. In addition Dillard encouraged one his aides into a GOP primary in suburban Richmond against a sitting incumbent and that didn't fare too well with his colleagues in the legislature.

Appointments to Boards of Visitors in Virginia are meant to be non-political and this appointment was way too politicized on a number of levels.

In addition the name of the institution Marc is the College of William and Mary, not William and Mary College.

Posted by: Fairfax VA | February 13, 2006 12:46 PM

If things are so fiscally sane in Virginia, why is everyone complaining? why are the schools overcrowded? Why is there so much crime? IT seems to me Dillard got a cushy position in exchange for supporting Warner. That is a quid pro quo, and Dillard sounds bought and paid for. The WaPo is so in love with Warner, they have never once printed a negative article about him. All bad things are Bush's fault, all good things are to Warner's credit. The rest of the country sees right through wacky left-wing journalists who literally never met a republican they ever liked. They hate over 1/2 the country. The WaPo continues to sink in revenue, esteem, and objectivity. The new motto:

Don't call 911, call the WaPo. Just ask Cheney.

Posted by: Karen | February 13, 2006 3:27 PM

As it stated at the end of the article, both Dillard and W & M will survive just fine, thank you. Still, the body politic generally leaves the state colleges alone and what you're left with is an able public servant and a genuinely decent man tarnished by the political silliness. Griffith's explanation rings hollow.

Posted by: Fairfax Too | February 13, 2006 3:28 PM

Wow, don't sugar coat it Karen, say want you are really feeling =). I hope you're not surprised that there was some quid pro quo here; it's been happening for years on both sides. What you say may or may not be the case, but, as it pretains to Jim Dillard, the republicans over-reached, punished one of their own and politicized areas that were generally considered above the fray.

Posted by: Karen's Anger Management Counselor | February 13, 2006 3:34 PM

A technicality (but one that annoys alumni): It's the "College of William and Mary," not "William and Mary College."

Posted by: Richard | February 13, 2006 3:49 PM

Karen. I agree. The radical left-wing atheistic liberals of the press are just terrible meanies. Do you remember back in December when the job growth rate was the highest it'd been in 5 years and the press gave all the credit to Warner. Or further back in 2003 when US troops pulled down the statute of Sadaam Hussein and the press said it was because Warner was a great leader.

And how about that time two winters ago when a dog fell through the ice in Connecticut and folks tried to save it, but couldn't. The press blamed President Bush, that fine and wonderful guy, for making the ice soft. Just the other day, there was really bad traffic on the Woodrow Wilson bridge and those loonie lefties at the WaPo claimed that Mr. Bush was making it happen. Just terrible, I say.

Clear proof that the WaPo and everybody who works for it and all the other members of our modern press hate the 51% of Americans who voted for Bush in 2004.

Posted by: Karen's Partner in Irrational Bloviation | February 13, 2006 3:49 PM

People here are writing that Mr. Dillard had a Quid pro Quo with Warner. I very much dobbt it. Mr. Dillard would have helped out Dave Marsden no matter what because the two of them went back years.

Dave Marsden was Jim Dillard's campaign manager until Dave Marsden ran for himself as a Democrat. Both Dave Marsden and Jim Dillard are centrists who could've run either as Republicans or Democrats in the past. Now, unfortunatly for Virginia, but fortunatly for Democrats Republicans aren't the party of the big tent. They are the party of the big purge.

The sad thing is that Mr. Dillard was looking forward to working for the Board of Visitors. His family has been involved with William and Mary and Dillard university for generations. I would think the Republicans would let an old man live out the rest of his days in peace, and if they hated him this much say good riddance, but the House Republicans are bunch of hard-hearted, small-minded, petty, mean-spirited people.

Posted by: Burke, VA | February 13, 2006 4:07 PM

You know, just when you think Republicans can't be any more childish and petty, they pull a stunt like this. Ridiculous.

Posted by: bamagirlinVA | February 13, 2006 4:40 PM

While I am not privy to Virginia state politics, this story seems (or rather, Marc's reporting of it) to be a recurring motif in the media: if a Republican endorses a Democrat it is hailed as "courageous", "noble" generally viewed as positive. Can anyone point me to something similar for Republicans?? Just look at's (owned by WaPo) coverage of the Zell Miller, especially during Republican National Convention to see that not all those who would cross party lines to endorse and aid the other side are hailed as "good men" and "smart personable and flexible", to quote Marc.

Look also at how John Breaux was described for working with Bush.

Further, an examination of other Democrats who have switched parties, like Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Richard Shelby reveals that they are usally described as opportunists or similar language questioning their decision.

When Jim Jeffords switched parties he was not denounced, by major media, as an opportunist with a finger to the wind, but rather, "a one man earthquake" and was featured on the covers of both Newsweek and Time. And there was not a lot of noise made about being given the Chairmanship of the Senate's Environment Committee. How's that for quid pro quo.

Posted by: Geoff | February 13, 2006 10:25 PM

Now, we are getting a bit far afield, don't you think? I haven't heard the black helicopters yet, so the vast left wing conspiracy buffs may have to wait a little longer.

THIS ISSUE, the shoddy (and yes, partisan) treatment of Jim Dillard, is what these comments are supposed to relate to. Does it mean that Democrats have not done the same before? Ah,no. Many of us remembered when the Democrats controlled Richmond with an iron fist. Is this payback? Most certainly. Did it tarnish the career of a genuinely decent public servant? Yes it did. That, I believe, is the issue.

Posted by: Fairfax Too | February 14, 2006 7:54 AM

It's too bad that both parties can't abide moderates, or mavericks, or whatever you want to call them. If you step out of line with your party's orthodoxy even a little bit, you risk becoming marginalized and shunted off to the side. This just makes both parties more and more extreme. Where do those of us in the Great Middle go? Libertarian? Green? National Unity? (OK, I made that one up.)

Posted by: CaveMan | February 15, 2006 11:50 AM

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