Thursday, June 12, 2014

Brat And The Path Of The Virginia (And National) Republican Party

Today in the Washington Post, George Will began his column remarking on how Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) said in the wake of David Brat upsetting Eric Cantor in their primary, that the House Republicans need "to take a stop and a deep breath until we find out how everyone reacts to this."  Now, Goodlatte, aside from being my Congressman (and I have met him on several occasions) is not just some random House member.  He is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over immigration reform.  Goodlatte in his law career in the past has actually helped out immigrants in legal trouble, and he has been making noises about working out some sort of limited immigration reform.  But all this taking a deep breath after Brat's win running on a strongly anti-immigration reform platform is likely to lead Goodlatte to decide that nothing will be done on this issue, at least in this Congress.  There is more to this, and this will follow up on a post I put up last fall before the election about the history of the GOP in Virginia.

So, this gets personal for Goodlatte.  Our district, the Sixth, is not only adjacent to the Seventh, where Brat just upended the supposedly safe Cantor, but is also probably its rival for being "the most Republican district in the state," as I described the Sixth in a post yesterday on Brat's economics.  Like Cantor, Goodlatte's greatest potential electoral threat is not from some Democratic opponent, but from a Tea Party supported candidate on the right, and indeed in the last few days certain prominent local tea party types have made loud noises on local talk radio shows about how awful Goodlatte is and how he should follow Cantor out the door because of his playing along with possible immigration reform.  He has good reason to be looking over his shoulder, although as I argued earlier, the Shenandoah Valley is perhaps not quite as bad on such matters as the eastern parts of Cantor's district down in the old racist Byrd Machine Tidewater, given the old history here of being pro-civil rights and of moderate Mountain Valley Republicanism, now nearly dead, if still sputtering in a few corners (although Emmet Hanger's effort to come up with a compromise to extend Medicaid here looks to be about dead).

In any case, this current situation highlights again the historic shift from being pro-civil rights (and anti-slavery in the days of Mr. Lincoln, from which period the Republicanness of the Shenandoah Valley dated) to being the racists in today's politics, and I shall make no bones about the fact that I consider anti-immigrant attitudes to be at bottom racist, accepting the studies I have seen that immigration is good for the economy and even for wages and employment of lower paid and skilled workers, contrary to widely held opinion (so, right, not everybody anti-immigrant is racist, but the real fury of those going out to vote on this is).  Here is how this shift has gone down around here.

If we go back 40 years, we find that the occupant of Congressman Goodlatte's seat was a good Mountain Valley Republican, M. Caldwell Butler of Roanoke.  At that time Butler became well known for serving on the House Judiciary Committee when he became one of the first Republican members of the committee to support impeaching Richard Nixon for Watergate.  Prior to retiring from his seat in 1983, Butler would support some civil rights legislation, including one about diversity in the judiciary.  This was appropriate stuff for a classic old style Mountain Valley Republican congressman.

When Butler retired, he made clear that he supported as his successor in the 1982 election then state Senator Ray Garland, another moderate Mountain Valley type, also from Roanoke.  However, Harrisonburg (where I live) had been moved into the district, and a strong supporter of more conservative Ronald Reagan decided he would oppose this laying on of hands by Butler of Garland.  This person was a friend of mine, a now-retired Accounting professor from JMU, Kevin Miller.  Miller managed to get the nomination, thereby alienating the Butler/Roanoke Republicans.  This opened the door to an actual victory by a Dem in the district, retired GE VP, the late Jim Olin, whom I also knew, with 82 a bad year for the GOP electionwise.  Part of his support came from the Roanoke business community, many of whom knew him and were angry about this conservative upstart from Harrisonburg pushing their guy aside.  Olin served three terms before stepping down (health problems that did him in), only to be succeeded by Goodlatte, who is of Roanoke, thus re-establishing the old rule, although moving more to the right than Butler was.

Kevin Miller would later get himself elected as state Senator from Harrisonburg.  While he was a Reagan Republican and not really a Mountain Valley one, he was not a racist and also knew how to count, being a former Accounting professor.  He would end up on the state Senate Finance Committee, and when GOP Governor James Gilmore began to listen to Grover Norquist and wanted to cut taxes without cutting spending, Miller would be one of those on the Senate finance committee who would resist Gilmore's budgets and stymied him.  This group were attacked by Gilmore's supporters as being "liberals high taxers" and so on and so forth.  Kevin Miller could count, and his becoming "the enemy" is a sign indeed that if Ronald Reagan was around now, he would get purged from the Republican Party.

When Kevin Miller stepped down from his Senate seat, he would be replaced by Mark Obenshain, considerably more conservative than he, who would be the GOP nominee for governor last year.  But, even though he was to the right of Miller, he was to the left of his running mates, all of whom lost last fall, although Obenshain is still around in the state Senate.  Obanschain has not been a friend of immingration reform.

Which is all parallel and prelude to what has just happened, with an established Republican who was playing as a leader at the national level of tea party types in the House of Representatives simply not being racist enough or pure enough to avoid getting wiped by the purer.  So, Goodlatte, along with many others of his colleagues are taking deep breaths preparing to react by doing nothing on immigration reform, nothing at all.  No more Mountain Valley Republicans here!

Barkley Rosser

No comments: