Anyone who has paid any attention to our national politics should be quite familiar with the scene by now. Even for those hardly initiated, you know where to start: Democrats vs Republicans. These are the two sides of the same coin of American politics, which has been the way it has for most of our nation’s history.
But 2016 has put a new spin on that coin. Democrats know their 2016 story. After failing to beat and then serving with President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton was poised to run for president herself and had every reason to believe it would be quite easy to win not just the party’s nomination, but the presidency itself. Until of course a frumpy senator from Vermont thought he might give it a shot. Bernie Sanders, who comes from the liberal utopian-esque northeast entered the Democratic Primary with those northeastern ideas that were not only popular, but successful in the northeast and thought why not apply those same ideas nationally? We can debate the whys and why-nots all the live-long day and have, which was what defined the Democratic Party of 2016.
The Republican Party, on the other side of that coin didn’t fair much better. After nominating two fiscally-minded and safe Republicans in 2008 and 2012, the 2016 candidates were a mixed bag of where the party was. Primary voters could have went the safe route with those same types of fiscal conservatives that they have in the past like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. They could have went the more risky route with social conservatives like Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum. They could have even gone with candidates that could have possibly expanded their base like Marco Rubio or John Kasich or interesting ideologues like Rand Paul or Lindsey Graham. The Republicans pretty much had a “fielder’s choice” of where to go with their party. But instead of throwing the ball to first, second, third or homeplate, they did the unexpected and chucked the ball in deep right field and picked Donald Trump(and some how won the game????).
That’s our national politics. We’ve effectively gone from flipping a Democrat/Republican coin to rolling dice. And not just any dice, some mean, loaded, multi-sided, Dungeon & Dragons dice and get the kind of results too. However, no matter how much we want to pay attention to the national funhouse that grabs headlines, the addage “all politics is local” is what my concern is today. Whenever the president moves a muscle, we all are quick to eat off his plate, but what really sets the table and preps the meal are our local elections and local politicians. And as much as we want them to be a part from the national circus, often we find them being the very essence of it all completely.
Take my home city, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Our mayor of 10 years, Will Sessoms has stepped down to go back to the private sector leaving a pretty sizable hole in our local politics. Sessoms wasn’t the most offensive of politicians. Although, he did come to my attention with a rather offensive and racially loaded campaign tactic to win the office to begin with, he was a really business-minded, fiscal conservative at heart. As a fiscal conservative he wanted to promote businesses and help them make money. To do that, you need two very basic elements: (1)Businesses and (2)Customers. The latter of the two was what made Sessoms somewhat progressively appealing. Bringing in customers meant giving them the ability to be here, which translated to better housing options, expanding transportation options and bringing more opportunity to work. It’s that last part that leads back to that first element, business opportunity and the one thing Beach residents are all too familiar with, development.
This also bring me to our 2018 Mayoral Election between City Councilmen Ben Davenport and Bobby Dyer. The two candidates are separated by a generation, not just in age, but in politics as well. Bob Dyer, who is not only an admitted ideological conservative, has been supportive of the President, supportive of the Senate candidate, Corey Stewart and as importantly, supportive of his fellow councilman, John Moss. Moss, who also faces re-election, has gained a reputation in the city as being fiercely and aggressively resistant to almost any progress the city has made over the years. He has opposed paying our public safety officers. He has opposed paying our teachers. He has opposed bringing opportunities to the city like a sports arena and expanding entertainment and city life that Town Center has given us. He’s also opposed expanding transportation and Light Rail, which would have certainly diversified our city in a number of ways by connecting us to the region and making it easier for people to get to work and spend money, again something those “fiscal republicans” actually like. He’s pretty much been opposed to any sort of diversity in general. And Bob Dyer has been right along side John Moss, lock-step, every step of the way.
His opponent, Ben Davenport is on the other end of that generational gap. Thirty years his junior, Ben Davenport is a local guy. He’s worked for his family’s real estate business for almost as long as Bob Dyer has been on city council. Initially running for office in 2014, Ben committed to listening to our teachers, improving public transportation by expanding light rail and continue to make this city better by working with the regional and national partners to bring 21st century jobs and technology to Virginia Beach. He has lead the way on keeping this city and economy vibrant and able to attract a diverse population to go along with it. On city council, Ben Davenport has been the polar opposite of John Moss is every single way. Which also means the polar opposite of Bob Dyer.
So it is of no surprise that those on the far right have been supportive of Bob Dyer. However that support has not been universal. Some very prominent Republicans including former State Senator Jeff McWaters and the former mayor himself, Will Sessoms, are supporting his opponent Ben Davenport. Davenport, for his part, is being supported not just by those prominent Republicans, but prominent local Democrats like former congressional candidates Paul Hirschbiel, Phil Kellam and David Ashe, but also Norfolk Democrats like Andria McCellan and Mayor Kenny Alexander. And while progressive organizations like the Virginia Beach Education Association has also endorsed Ben Davenport, the one organization that has resisted supporting the one and only progressive in the race is the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee. And oddly enough the reason for this isn’t simply because Ben Davenport isn’t progressive enough. It’s because some of these Democrats are supporting far right candidate, Bob Dyer.
And this is when our national political circus comes to our local town. Politically speaking, our local elections, like many others, are supposed to be nonpartisan, where candidates for office do not declare a party or go through such a nomination process to be on the ballot. So while we’re not supposed to know what party either of these individuals align themselves with, political philosophies, alliances and messaging often makes it very clear where candidates fall on the ideological spectrum. Moreover, often they will seek out the local parties to help them do what political parties do: spread their message, increase their name identification and to give them a solid base of support. We often chide partisanship but it serves a purpose, which makes them very useful knowing which candidates are supportive or antithetical to your personal political agenda. They fill in the gaps and tell us more about the candidates and whether they will ultimately have our backs when it counts.
But this is where things get murky.
When you roll that multi-sided Dungeons & Dragons dice, you’re likely to have any number of those political factions supporting any number of candidates. But there are a couple of outstanding questions some may want an answer to. Like why are such prominent Republicans supporting Ben Davenport? Why are they not supporting Bob Dyer? Why has the local Democratic Party, which was initially supportive of Ben Davenport, changed their minds and not? But the most outstanding question, I would like to have answered is what self-proclaimed liberal in their right or left-mind would ever willingly support Bob Dyer?
In case you want the TL:DR of it all, Bob Dyer is a Trump-supporting, far right conservative and has conducted himself on city council in that way. Ben Davenport is not and has not. Where as Bob Dyer and John Moss has opposed progress and diversity in Virginia Beach, Ben Davenport has supported it. There is no real debate about this. But some have looked at his endorsement by those prominent Republicans and his connection to the developers in the area and have marked him as someone beholden to other interest and not his own. I can only assume. I haven’t gotten a clear answer. But I do know that when Ben Davenport ran in 2014, he also received similar support from progressives and conservatives alike. Why? Because then he was actually running against John Moss and Moss was and is the kind of candidate no one on either side of the political dice should be supporting. But that was before 2016. We are now post-2016 and those national political debates have literally come full-circle. Because there are actual Democrats, i.e. LIBERALS from the far left supporting Bob Dyer AND John Moss on the far right.
And so, as I’m to understand the reasons for this is because Ben Davenport is supportive of the “status quo”. That Ben Davenport is part of the Virginia Beach Developer crowd lead by super-developer Bruce Thompson and will kowtow to whatever’s good for their business and bad for Virginia Beach. And chief among these reasons is that Ben Davenport is supportive of the kind of cronyism and favoritism that often rules politics of looking out for certain interest more than others, which is what why I am to assume certain Democrats have found in support of Bob Dyer, thinking he and John Moss will end it all. Nevermind the fact that Virginia Beach is by any reasonable metric one of the best run city’s in the state, despite Moss and Dyer’s resistance. Not that we can’t get better, we can and we will. But asking Bob Dyer and John Moss to do that isn’t simply a bad idea. It shows and unwillingness to consider where the city and the country is going and we can’t be penalized for anyone’s lack of vision.
Don’t get me wrong. Ben Davenport isn’t for everyone. I get it. If you can’t support him for whatever reason, have your reasons. And I do completely get the desire to end the city favoritism and cronyism that restrains progress. But why in the world would you support forces that have repeatedly shown to absolutely resist progress? Sadly, I don’t know what more of a wake-up call to give these Democrats that they are planning to vote for a Trump-supporting ultra-conservative right-wing ideologue that has also show to repeatedly govern like it, but he won’t stop the cronyism they cravenly desire to see ended. He’ll only re-brand it. You don’t protect the hen-house by turning over from the farmer to the foxes. If you know need to wash the dishes and take out the trash, you don’t sell your house to do it. Expecting and John Moss to end that kind of activity is the same expectation Trump voters had voting for him because he would “fight for the little guy” when he’s done nothing of the sort and had never intended. But to roll the dice and vote against your own interest to vote for candidates ideologically opposed to you in every way, that just sounds like you want to crap out. You’re not playing to win. You’re playing to lose.
Play to win the game.