Opinion

Mavericks, retirees, losers and quitters

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Photo by Caroline Martin

It’s hard to know where to begin.  I suppose you could go back to John Warner (R) in 2008, retiring and being replaced by Mark Warner (D) in the U.S. Senate.  Interestingly, the incoming Democrat received the endorsement of the outgoing Republican.  For just such reasons, John Warner, best known by some for marrying Elizabeth Taylor, was often referred to as the maverick senator from Virginia.

Another starting point might be state Sen. John Watkins (R), who, rather than run for re-election, retired from the Virginia General Assembly in 2015. 

Watkins, also considered a maverick, was succeeded by Republican Glen Sturtevant in a hotly contested race against Democratic real estate developer Dan Gecker.  The vote tally was much closer than expected in traditionally conservative Chesterfield and Powhatan counties.

Then there’s former House Speaker Bill Howell (R) of Stafford.  After holding office for 26 years, Howell announced his retirement from politics at the end of his term in early 2018.  His House seat was won by Bob Thomas, another Republican.  Thomas won by only 82 votes in a race that featured legal challenges and a recount.

Then there’s the odd case of Bob Marshall (R).  Best known for his failed “bathroom bill,” Marshall’s district included portions of Prince William and Loudoun counties.  After 26 years in the House of Delegates, Marshall was defeated in 2017 by Democrat Danica Roem, a transgender candidate.

Del. Dave Albo (R) announced his retirement after seven terms representing Fairfax in the General Assembly.  Albo was succeeded by Kathy Tran (D), the first Vietnamese-­American elected official on any level in the commonwealth.

In 2018, U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), also from Northern Virginia, was soundly defeated by state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D).
Ditto for U.S. Rep. Dave Brat (R).  A member of the Freedom Caucus, Brat was defeated in a close 2018 race by first-time candidate Abigail Spanberger (D).

In early January, state Sen. Dick Black (R-Loudoun) announced he will retire at the end of his term after 16 years in the General Assembly.  An ex-Marine and arch conservative known for his support of the Assad regime in Syria, Black most certainly faced an uphill battle for re-election in a district that went for Ralph Northam (D) over Ed Gillespie (R) by 11 points in the 2017 governor’s race and for Tim Kaine (D) over Corey Stewart (R) by 19 points in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

For his part, Stewart announced in early January that he is quitting politics “for the foreseeable future.”  Stewart, who never rose above the Prince William Board of Supervisors in elected office, lost his 2018 U.S Senate challenge by 16 points statewide.  As quoted by The Washington Post, Stewart said: “Politics sucks.  On a personal level, it’s been a disaster.”

More recently, Joe May (R) lost a special Virginia Senate election to Jennifer Boysko (D) to succeed Wexton in Loudoun.  May, a moderate Republican, served 20 years in the General Assembly before losing the 2013 Republican primary to Tea Party-aligned Dave LaRock.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the general trend is clear.  Fewer R’s remain; more D’s are replacing them.  Sure, there are other examples. 

Way back in 2010, long-serving congressman Rick Boucher (D) lost his Southwest Virginia seat to Morgan Griffith (R).  Today’s landscape has changed.

There have been far more retirements and losses among Republicans than Democrats.  Some of these pols served the commonwealth long and well and are deserving of their retirement.  Some have simply retired in the face of inevitable defeat.  For some, it’s perhaps a little of both.

Unfortunately, this Republican diaspora doesn’t seem to lead to a promised land.  Where have all the mavericks gone?




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