Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

State of affairs / affairs of state.  Multiple scandals have rocked Virginia’s state government this week.  All three of our state’s top officials stand accused of substantial wrongdoing.  Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted to dressing in blackface during their college / medical school days. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault.  The stories have become national news – read the New York Post article here. Given this chaos one wonders how the good people at Amazon feel about their decision to put one-half of their new headquarters in The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m guessing we’ll hear more about that in the near future. In the meantime, Virginians need to ask two key questions – how did we get here and what can we do about it.  

The ghost of Harry Byrd, Sr. Harry Byrd, Sr was a one-time governor of Virginia and long time U.S. Senator from Virginia. During his long tenure as an elected official Byrd manipulated Virginia politics to create the rural-centric governance structure known as either “The Byrd Machine” or simply “The Organization.” The Byrd Machine was based on control of the state through control of those “allowed” to vote and to run for office. He ensured that five local officials – sheriff, Commonwealth attorney, clerk of the court, county treasurer and commissioner of revenue, were Byrd Machine loyalists. Byrd would consult with these officials before endorsing any candidate for statewide office and candidates needed Byrd’s endorsement to win. One-person-one-vote has long been nothing more than a theory in Virginia.

A Byrd’s eye view of racism in Virginia. Harry F Byrd, Sr was an ardent racist. He endorsed and signed the “Southern Manifesto.”  This 1956 screed was drafted to counter the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs the Board of Education. It was signed by 101 congressmen, 99 Democrats and 2 Republicans.  In what would be a harbinger of today’s Virginia the two Republicans were both from Virginia. Institutional racism was (is?) a bipartisan matter in Virginia. Sadly for Virginia, Byrd was more than just an immoral philosopher. He followed up the “Southern Manifesto” by helping to draft the Stanley Plan, a series of laws that implemented “massive resistance” in Virginia. This was done to help make statewide segregation the law of the land in Virginia. Even Virginia localities which tried to integrate their schools were thwarted by the Byrd Machine. Arlington County petitioned to elect its school board and was granted that “right.”. Once the elected school board decided to integrate Arlington’s public schools it was dismantled by the Byrd Machine. The new school board was appointed by Byrd Machine lackeys and went back to segregated schools. Abusing Virginia’s strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule for racist purposes has a long history in the Commonwealth.

Gone but not forgotten. Harry Byrd, Sr died on Oct 20, 1966. However, the echoes of his demented legacy continue to reverberate throughout Virginia. Stunningly, a large statue of the architect of “massive resistance” sits on the capitol lawn in Richmond greeting our legislators as they file past deciding how to best govern Virginia. Route 7 in Northern Virginia is renamed the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Memorial Highway as it rolls through Fairfax County on its way west.  Obviously our present political class is quite proud of Harry F Byrd, Sr, his anti-Democratic Byrd Machine and his legacy of active racism. Virginia’s 1971 Constitution (our present constitution) contains many elements of the Byrd Machine’s penchant for sabotaging Democracy in Virginia but that’s a topic for another post.

Can you make out our current legislators’ lip prints on his butt?

Throw the bums out. It’s time to rid Virginia of the lingering specter of the Byrd Machine. This can only happen by eviscerating the General Assembly and discarding the many politician-for-life state legislators with long running ties to Virginia’s anti-Democratic and racist past. While these are mostly Republicans the fact that Herring and Northam are both Democrats should be clear evidence that the Democratic side of the aisle is ripe for house cleaning too.

Let this November be remembered as the time when Virginians finally threw the bums out!

— Don Rippert

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25 responses to “Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

  1. Shoot ’em all, let Rippert sort them out?

    You forgot the key historical detail about how the vestiges of the Byrd machine, appalled by the 1972 Democratic turn to the left, started migrating across the aisle, a process slowed but not stopped by Watergate. You also forgot there was a strong anti-machine element in the Democratic party and an even stronger revulsion for Byrd and massive resistance among the mountain valley wing of the GOP, best illustrated by Governor Holton, pre-1972. But being from where you are, you know all you know about Virginia from reading the Washington Post. My grandfather and great uncle were machine loyalists, my Michigan-born father a huge fan of Holton. You didn’t live this. I don’t need your brilliant insight.

    No, Rippert, if there is a reason to clean house this is hardly it, this is just an ancient grudge for old men. You are doing what used to be called Waving the Bloody Shirt, only the liberal version.

    I do love the newspaper page. It reminds the Dems who gets to be governor if they do start resigning. Hey, works for me! But watch the ranks close, and I appreciate this contribution to that effort.

    • Maybe let the voters sort them out! I know that’s a hard idea for someone from a long line of Byrd Machine loyalists to contemplate but maybe Virginia ought to give Democracy a try.

      The statue of Harry F Byrd Sr was erected on the Capitol Lawn in 1976. That’s about the same time Herring and Northam were dancing and singing in blackface. What don’t you understand? That the “sons of the Confederacy” who currently run the state from Richmond to Accomack County were raised in a state where racists and racism is somewhere between tolerated and celebrated?

      Virginia’s tolerance (celebration?) of racists and racism isn’t some long ago memory. It’s an attitude that lives on (in too many ways) to this day.

      “But being from where you are, …” Too funny. You mean a place that tried to desegregate their schools only to be prevented from doing so by your relatives?

      “You didn’t live this.” Again, too funny. Half your family were Byrd Machine loyalists but your Dad was not. Why? You answered it yourself – he was born in Michigan. He wasn’t from a place where statues commemorating racists were erected on public property in 1976. My Dad was born in Michigan too. He never thought that singing in blackface or dressing in Klan outfits would be considered appropriate or, worse yet, cute. But Herring and Northam are my age, not my Dad’s age. And somehow they grew up with a mentality that, as adults, it was cute to attend events where people dressed in Klan outfits.

      The Virginia-born leaders of our state were raised in an era where passive racism was tolerated or perhaps embraced. Have they lost that attitude? Maybe I’ll go for a drive down Harry S Byrd Memorial Highway and contemplate that question.

  2. Only one of the 3 has been accused of substantial wrong-doing.

    The tail for Virginia’s racist past belongs on the Donkey.

    The Bryd machine was a Democrat party machine. As the article explains, Byrd virtually eliminated the Republican party in Virginia as Democrats are again working to do today with increasing success.

    • Well, as noted above, first they crushed it and then they joined it. The process paralleled a similar migration by fundamentalist Christians, who as Jerry Falwell Sr. often told me, were originally Democrats and the children of Democrats.

    • Byrd himself was, at first, a dedicated Democrat. The Byrd Machine was built as a Democratic Party institution. But Byrd felt the tide changing. He switched to be an Independent. While he still caucused with the Democrats he quietly worked against John Kennedy’s nomination for President. He then quietly worked for Richard Nixon’s failed election in 1960. Virginia went for Nixon in 1960. The worm had turned.

      For all the legitimate questions about Lyndon Johnson’s racism he was one of only three southern Democratic Senators who (in 1956) refused to sign the Southern Manifesto. The other two? Estes Kefauver and Al Gore, Sr of TN.

      Interesting book I want to read …

  3. re: the racist Dems..

    Curious about NoVa and Arlington school board and all that “Remember the Titans” stuff…

    So if the Dems in the past were the racists (and they were) – what were the Conservatives – pro integration and Civil Rights?

    WHO were the white folks politically that fought to end Massive Resistance ?

    • The southern Dems were conservative. Very conservative. The few Republicans to get elected in Virginia were social conservatives from suburban DC. For example, Joel Broyhill who (contrary to Haner’s foggy understanding of history) was a segregationist Republican who served in Congress while Northam and I were in high school. The conservative Southern Democrats realized that they were going to be subsumed by more liberal Democrats from outside the south. Some, like LBJ, at least pretended to embrace the change and rode the new wave to the presidency. Others, like Harry Byrd, quietly worked against the new Democratic Party. Others, like Joel Broyhill, assumed the mantle of the new conservative party, often with help from Democratic colleagues.

  4. At this point, get rid of all 3 of them so we aren’t besmirched. Seriously this crap does a lot of harm to all of us. Get rid of the drama.

  5. Add that it looks like the city of Chesapeake put a domestic terrorist the FBI has been following for 20 years.

    Funny thing? No one is covering it. Know any one who would be interested in outing some more garbage? That’s just for starters … I have a specific “charity” in mind that could use some light.

  6. So..the NEW standard is that if you run for office, you gotta provide your High School and College yearbooks?

    And you need a list of who you dated so they can confirm you were a perfect gentleman?

    • If you did something questionable … ‘Fess up in the campaign. Insist that you’ve learned your lesson. If you dressed up as the Frito Bandido find a hispanic friend or colleague to vouch for your more modern bona fides. Don’t let things “come out”. Most importantly – if you have a skeleton in your closet the size of a GI Joe – DO NOT accuse your opponent of doing things you’ve done your self. Finally, if something does come out regarding a colleague or a possible future rival (and you’ve done the same thing) DO NOT demand that the colleague resign unless you are ready to resign when something similar comes out about you.

      More seriously … along the lines of my post … admit that you grew up in a time and place where passive racism was considered acceptable and perhaps even funny or cute. Admit that you tolerated and even participated in this passive racism. Convince the people whose support you want that you have grown up and you are now, at your very core, past those days. Perhaps cite examples of what events in your life led you to realize that they way you were brought up is not the way you are today.

      I would have been much more forgiving of Northam and Herring if they would have said something to the effect of …

      1. Yeah, I guess I was somewhat racist in my youth.
      2. Most of my peers were somewhat racist too. Unfortunately, that was true in many parts of Virginia in the 1970s when I came of age.
      3. At one time I lacked the courage to push back on my peer group and stop my passive racist behavior. You have seen signs of my lack of courage in these pictures.
      4. My eyes were opened when … (insert life experiences here)
      5. Over many decades I have led an exemplary life with regard to open mindedness and tolerance.

      The key in my mind is to admit that they were products of an at least passively racist state. They were. So was I. So were you.

  7. OK DJR when you were supporting blue side of the enviro-issues I started to get the clue. For a while I thought the imperial clown show was non-partisan criticism.

    I was wondering if Gov Northam was wanting to fulfill some promises before resigning, and apparently yesterday he signed the Amazon deal.

    • I’m a deep mole from Blue Virginia. There’s a reason that Lowell and I have never been seen in the same place!

      As far as partisan criticism of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond … that’s a good one. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten after Dick Saslaw for his open pandering to Dominion in exchange for exorbitant campaign campaign contributions which he uses not for his campaigns but to stroke his own ego as a king-maker.

      Right now, most people commenting on this blog want to give Democrats Northam and Herring a pass on their past behavior. I am one of the few saying that their so-called “youthful indiscretions” are evidence of deeper problems in the state and, perhaps, with them.

      On the enviro front … you’ll never convince me that you can support private property rights but then fail to insist that government enforce those rights by making polluters do everything reasonably possible to stop harming other people’s property. And yes … insisting that farmers build fences to keep livestock (and their manure) out of waterways crossing their farms is a reasonable expectation.

      As for Northam signing the Amazon bill … good. I’m not worried about Virginia walking away from the deal. But I know quite a few Amazonians. This Virginia crisis is not playing well in Seattle. Will Amazon stay with the deal?

  8. Talk about Stereotyping. This post is pure hate. Disgusting.

    • You make my point. Virginia has clearly been a very racist place. Sorry but you can’t be the capital of the Confederacy and duck that. Some would say we’re past our racist past. I disagree. We may be past active racism but we’re still not past passive racism. To this day the General Assembly has an annual “happy birthday” message for Robert E Lee. Why in God’s name is that considered appropriate? Justin Fairfax understandably left the GA meeting and refused to participate in a celebration of Robert E Lee.

      Of course, there was a state senator only too ready to praise Robert E Lee, Richard Stuart (R-Stafford) …

      “I rise today to celebrate the 212th birthday of Robert E. Lee and, Mr. President, I rise to celebrate his birthday because he was a great Virginian and a great American, and not because it has anything to do with slavery,” Stuart said. “I celebrate Lee on his birthday because he was a man with the strength of his convictions, and that is a rare trait, either in yesteryear or today.”

      Steuart is yet another middle aged, white, life long Virginian representing rural Virginia who just can’t seem to grasp why an official statement in praise of Robert E Lee might offend the people Lee fought to keep enslaved.

      I’m glad Stuart made clear that he wasn’t praising slavery. That was useful.

      For God’s sake … it’s 2019. Time to stop officially wishing Robert E Lee a happy birthday every year, don’t you think?

  9. Work this out in private with your therapist, Don. You’re making a fool of yourself.

    • I guess Reed Fawell the Third can’t see the present day passive racism in officially celebrating Robert E Lee’s birthday any more than Thurston Howell the Third could see it.

      None is so blind as he who will not see.

  10. re: the “new” rules….

    how would they have applied to Corey Stewart?


  11. I have always thought that the greatness of Robert E Lee that is celebrated was not his defense of the South and slavery but his leadership in accepting defeat and uniting or reuniting the North and South — quite unlike the nation-destroying behavior of today’s Democrat leadership.

    • I see no reason to single out Robert E Lee for criticism. I see no reason to single him out for praise. There have been a lot of great Virginians. 74 Virginians have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Taking them one at a time, year by year ought to keep the General Assembly busy through 2093.

  12. I guess I need to jump in here. It seems that I “came of age” earlier than most of the commenters on this blog. In addition, my Virginia roots go a little deeper than most. As far back as several generations go, my forebears were from Virginia. I had at least one great, great grandfather who was a slaveholder and several ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. I grew up in the segregated rural Southside in the 1950’s and 60’s. I can tell you, without hesitation, that Virginia has come a long, long way since the 1970s. Yes, there are still vestiges of racism, both latent and overt, that remain. And, yes, many of us who grew up then and there have conflicted feelings about it all. (For an excellent discussion of this, see my cousin Bill Sizemore’s recently published memoir, “Uncle George and Me”. It is the story of the “other Sizemores” from Mecklenburg County, the descendants of slaves owned by my great-great-grandfather Daniel Sizemore.)

    While the Commonwealth has made more progress than I thought would be possible in my lifetime, there is, of course, still more to be done. The memorial statutes to the Confederacy need to be removed, the Lee-Jackson Day state holiday needs to be repealed, etc. But, trying to force those things to happen put many people on the defensive; they feel they are being attacked personally. Like or not, real cultural change takes time and is complicated.

    While I think Don’s abridged history of the Byrd Machine’s domination of Virginia politics is too simplistic, as Steve points out, I do totally agree with his formulation of the explanation that Northam and Herring should have made. Herring came close, but maybe he benefited from Northam going first and seeing the reaction to his.

  13. Lots of things are too complicated to be properly covered in a blog format. Virginia’s centuries-old tradition of the few tyrannizing the many is one of these things. Harry F Byrd hardly invented anti-Democracy in Virginia. Long before the Civil War the majority of white Virginians lived in the western part of the state (1840 census). However, the landed gentry elite from the plantations of the east used property ownership requirements and county based apportionment to stifle the political will of Virginians from the western part of the state. The minority in the east controlled the legislature which, in turn, elected the governor and both US Senators. The seeds of West Virginia’s succession were sown long before Fort Sumpter.

    Modern day descendants of the eastern Virginia elite (some of whom write for this blog) can’t force themselves to admit that Virginia, in many ways, is still an elitist state where the few tyrannize the many.

  14. Virginia political history reveals more than the Byrd Machine. Before HFB there was Senator Tom Martin (who, not incidentally, helped turn the Progressive-initiated reform Constitution of 1902 into Virginia’s hard-edged implemention of Jim Crow, including severe additional restrictions on the right to vote). Before TM there was Senator John Barbour (who led Virginia’s Democratic resurgence to bring the State out from Republican Reconstruction. Those precursors to the Byrd Machine were the creatures of racism, devised to perpetuate racism in its post-Civil-War forms, and the Byrd Machine inherited the people and their policies. Interestingly, those pre-Byrd leaders were also key railroad lobbyists — the railroads being the energy utilities of that day in the best of the Sinclair Lewis tradition. When the Democrats’ liberal minority flexed its muscles under Henry Howell, the Byrd remnants’ Great Migration to the Republican Party of Virginia began, pushing aside Holton’s people.

    Those Byrd remnants are not today’s Democratic Party; they did not bring us Northam or Fairfax or Herring. On the contrary those three were elected out of the voter reaction to Corey Stewart’s primary run, and Gillespie’s failure to distance himself sufficiently from that element in the RPV and in the electorate.

    And yet even Democrats who grew up in this State were once young and reckless and politically naive, were occasionally tone deaf, reflecting their times and peers all too well. You blame this on the “elites.” I don’t disagree there’s a Virginia social/political elite out there and that some of today’s leading Democrats as well as Republicans came from a relatively privileged background and occasionally deserve the “ICS” label. Where I disagree is whether having a political “elite” is a bad thing for Virginia. DJR you seem to think it’s a bad thing per se; not just unneeded and largely unseen as in NoVa but positively harmful for the State — as though the “Virginia Way” is an artifact of familial in-breeding, best eradicated through an infusion of new genes from untainted pureblooded minorities. “‘Clean House’ this November” you cry. I demur; let’s not burn to the ground everything associated with the “elites” in the course of the People’s March to the Sea. A clean sweep of the Republican majorities seems likely provided the Democrats don’t over-react here but remain centrist-oriented, don’t seek unattainable politically correct purification but work with the people and the connections and the party organization they have, and bring more people into the electorate than Trump can. Even attempting to eliminate every office-holder with an “elite” background looks counterproductive to me.

    • Well stated, Acbar.

      You could construct an equally valid argument that the Republican’s offer the best chance to Virginia in the short term or intermediate term. Who knows? I don’t.

      But what has to stop if we all are to heal and realize our rightful future, is race baiting, racial slurs, hate, and demonizing other people, who they are, and where the came from and their kin.

      And what also has to stop is class baiting and slurs based on who people’s parents were, or schools were, or genealogies. This is fascist, to the core. This is pure evil and ignorance. It is the devils brew of ignorant and hateful people, from Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, and all the thugs, cowards, and immoral intellectuals that followed in their shadow and wake.

      But Nasty and despicable as they were, at least many of them, were willing to put their life, and livelihood on the line, for their beliefs. Instead of the sitting behind a keyboard attacking the dead, while boring us all with their virtue, and righteousness, and true beliefs, without earning the right to any of it.

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