Pay attention to legislative races

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By Rick Howell

    Campaign signs have popped up everywhere in the Bedford, Roanoke and Lynchburg areas as state legislative races begin to come into focus. Or at least we hope so.

    It’s a shame that the public waits until the last minute to pay attention to Virginia General Assembly campaigns. Then when it finally does, not enough people actually vote.
    Who we send to Richmond is almost as important as whom we send to Washington (not quite, but almost). But this year it’s very important, because of the possibility that the extreme fire-breathing dinosaurs in the Virginia Republican Party could wind up controlling both houses of the legislature.
    People who haven’t allowed their minds to be ravaged by the conservative virus should not let that happen. Unfortunately, progressives face a dreary landscape in this part of Virginia. The words “rural” and “conservative” seem to mean the same thing, don’t they? And, again, it’s very unfortunate.
    Therefore, we have, for the most part, representation from ultra-conservatives, all of whom are Republicans, except for one “independent” who caucuses with and votes with the state GOP.
    The bright, shining light in all this is here in Roanoke where I live, State Senator John Edwards. But even Edwards faces a tough campaign from Republican Dave Nutter. The GOP re-drew Edwards’ district to make it much easier for a Republican to win it. They did that same sort of thing all over the state.
    But if you’ve paid attention to Virginia politics at all in the last few years, you know that the Democratic-held state senate has acted as a common-sense bulwark against the right-wing extremism that comes out of the House.
    Give the Senate to the Republicans – who lustily desire it – and you’ve got a disaster. All sorts of extremism will triumph, and Gov. Bob McDonnell – no moderate, certainly – will sign it every bit of it.
    That’s why my friend John Edwards (and I have known him for quite some time) desperately needs to win. Control of the state senate could actually come down to his race.
    So, what else do we have locally, in Bedford and Lynchburg? Well, another gentleman I know and respect is the Hill City’s Bert Dodson. I’d love to see him win the state senate seat in the new district created in that area. He’s running against some LU-approved Republican. Enough said.
For the rest of the Bedford area, well, it’s depressing. The trio of Steve Newman, Kathy Byron and Lacey Putney represent what you expect when you contemplate the dreaded realities of “rural conservatism.”
    Many of us are old enough to remember Putney’s affection for George Wallace back in 1968. But who cares today, right? His Democratic opponent, Lewis Medlin, is a good guy and loyal party member, but he can’t win, especially since there’s a Republican candidate in the race.
    Medlin should base his campaign on one goal: laying the groundwork for a Democratic candidacy when Putney – rather long in the tooth these days – finally retires.
    I just won’t waste much time on Byron and Newman. She’s an unimaginative right-winger, and he owes his career to the religious rightists at Liberty. I intend to live long enough to see both of them gone.
    So, I urge liberals and progressives in the area to get out and vote where it counts, especially if you can help Democrats hold on to the state senate.
    I don’t want to see Virginia become a place like Wisconsin, where GOP majorities finally have the power to unleash the vicious assault on the poor and the middle class to which they are so committed.
    People immune to the conservative virus need to pay attention.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.