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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