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Griffith: State to lose clout
With defeat of Majority Leader Cantor
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U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith

Thursday, June 12, 2014

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Virginia is losing clout with Tuesday’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, according to an area congressman.

“We’re losing a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes clout. The minority leader is involved in every important decision being made. He has his finger in everything. We have somebody who can promote Virginia’s position at every meeting,” said 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.

He added that it will take the state several years to recover from the loss of Cantor as well as Reps. Frank Wolf and Jim Moran, who are retiring.

Griffith spoke late Wednesday afternoon, shortly after he attended a meeting where Cantor announced he will resign from his leadership post July 31 — but serve out the rest of his term in Congress — as a result of his defeat Tuesday in a Republican primary. He fell to a tea party-backed economics professor, David Brat.

It is appropriate for Cantor to step aside as majority leader, Griffith said.

“The majority leader has to go raise money and work hard for all candidates this fall. He can’t raise money if he’s a lame duck. I don’t like it, but there’s no option,” he added.

He speculated that Cantor lost in part because some voters wanted to send a message with their ballot.

It is akin to the old story about the criminal defendant who said, “‘I just meant to rough him (the victim) up a bit and send a message, but not kill him. I didn’t mean to do that,’” Griffith said. Constituents may have wanted more attention from Cantor, but they probably did not want to remove him from office, Griffith said.

The tea party may have been another factor in Cantor’s defeat but it is not the only one, Griffith said.

“He was majority leader, running around the country trying to promote a conservative agenda. ... While he was in his district every week, it was not humanly possible to make all the trips he had to make and also show up at the small fair in one of his villages. But people in the village still expected him to be there,” Griffith said. “If people don’t understand how important that is and he is not telling them about it every day, you see results like you saw yesterday.”

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, agreed.

“Tuesday night’s election was a reminder that in our representative democracy, elected offices inexorably belong to the people and not to office holders, and 7th District Republicans have chosen a new candidate to represent their views,” he said in a statement emailed to the Bulletin.

He noted that Cantor helped build the Republican majority in the House, advanced a pro-growth agenda and worked against runaway spending and unchecked growth of the federal government. Cantor inspired conservatives from all over the country — Hurt included — to run for office, Hurt added.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who was in the area for the Senior Appreciation Day Picnic of the Martinsville/Henry County TRIAD S.A.L.T. Council, said Cantor’s defeat might make some Republicans less willing to compromise, whether it is in Washington, D.C., or Richmond.

“Just as at the national and congressional level where some Republicans might be less willing to reach across the aisle, there may be Republicans (in the General Assembly) who might feel similarly constrained,” he said.

That, he added, might make it more difficult to find common ground and reach compromises, and that can make it harder to govern.

Herring cautioned against assuming that tea party candidates will be as successful in November. “It is one thing to win in a primary but another (to get) broader support in a general election,” he added.

Herring and several area Republicans agreed that Cantor may not have paid enough attention to the people who elected him.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said he heard someone say on television Wednesday morning that Cantor “always worried about constituents — just not his.”

“He (Cantor) was spending more time on national politics and getting other Republicans elected than spending time at home,” Marshall said, echoing Griffith’s comments.

Martinsville Republican Party Chairman Jeff Williams said Cantor was an “example of what happens when elected officials become more loyal to their own ambitions than the people they are supposed to represent. ... Cantor probably started out as most politicians do, with a clear vision of what he wanted to do. But somewhere along the way, people like Cantor become House majority leader and serve people other than their own constituents. Because of that, he cared more about things that could benefit him on the national level than the constituent on the street.”

Henry County Republican Party Chairman W.C. Fowlkes said Cantor has “gotten caught talking out of both sides of his mouth. His verbiage publicly has been against immigration (reform), but his actions appear to be in favor of immigration reform.”

He added that he is not sure Cantor’s defeat directly affects this area, but it does let politicians know that if they are not attentive to their constituents, “it could happen to them. You’ve got to listen to people” and explain yourself to them, Fowlkes said.

Those interviewed differed on whether the tea party played a major role in the primary. However, Fowlkes said Democrats will try to make that into an issue to divert attention from some of their own recent problems.

Williams said the Republican Party has “significant challenges. ... The Republican Party has not demonstrated it can win elections here recently.” He added that it is divided between conservatives trying to further their ideology and moderates who are “trying to play both sides of an argument, hoping to garner a majority and serve themselves.”

Marshall said from what he has learned, Brat did a good job campaigning door to door in his grassroots effort, and he was articulate. Hurt also congratulated Brat and said he looks forward to helping him win the fall election.

More immediately, Griffith said there will be a few days of somberness “but the people’s business goes on. In the big scheme of things, Congress has been around more than 200 years and if we are fortunate and defend the principles of our Constitution, it will be around another 200 years. This is another piece of history of the finest legislative body at the federal level that the world has ever known.”


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