It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am a big fan of the Democratic Class of 1999. That was a year like 2007, a midterm off year and it was during the term of Governor Jim Gilmore. It was not a good time to be a Democrat, the only statewide elected official left was Chuck Robb, and polling was already out showing he was likely to lose his seat the next year. Republicans had a one seat majority in the Senate (21-19) and the House of Delegates was even (50-50) when one conservative leaning Independent was factored in with the GOP. Republicans had a huge funding advantage with the Governor raising and lobbyists betting on them finally finishing the Democrats in both houses in this election. The Democrats who ran that year didn't do it to be mentioned with a popular Governor or get an easy win- they ran because they could see the danger of the incoming GOP majority and wanted to try to stop them before it was too late.
Loudoun County's Democratic Party was in particular shambles. Their only legislator had been Senator Charlie Waddell, but when the Senate was 20-20 and the GOP had elected a Lt. Governor in 1997 to take nominal control, Waddell accepted a job with Jim Gilmore to increase his state pension upon retirement. Pathetic. In that late 1997 special election, Waddell's Senate seat was taken by then Delegate Bill Mims, giving Republicans an outright Senate majority. That left an opening for the Delegate seat, which at the time covered almost all of Loudoun County. The partisan stakes couldn't be higher- if Democrats could take this seat now they would regain the 51st seat in the House of Delegates going into the 1999 elections.
And in the dark cold days of December 1997, Republicans in Loudoun didn't want to nominate anyone to represent them- they wanted the most conservative member in the state to shove down the Democrats throat. They found him in a retired military officer and library board member- Richard "Dick" Black. Black stormed to the nomination, then routed the Democratic candidate to win his seat in the General Assembly.
Fast forward to 1999. It had become clear very quickly that Black was no ordinary conservative, but felt he was in office to push a conservative agenda that was far to the right of anything ever seen in this state before. The Loudoun County Democrats were in shambles and the county had grown so much that this district was twice the size of a normal House of Delegates district before redistricting. Who would step forward to carry the Democrats banner in this very important election, but with every demographic cutting against them?
A local teacher decided to step forward and become the Democratic candidate. Kelly Burk did not have a lot of political background besides her time as head of the Loudoun Education Association (LEA). She didn't have a lot of financial backing, and she didn't have a real political organization. But she knew the danger of this new Delegate and the type of politics he wanted to bring to Loudoun. Kelly spent her campaign warning the people of Loudoun about the danger of giving Republicans total control of the Assembly, and what that would do in the redistricting process- and even more importantly she warned people about what would happen in Loudoun County if Black led the GOP. You see, redistricting was also about to happen at the county board level, and all the growth was happening in Eastern Loudoun, which meant Supervisor districts were about to take a drastic shift towards the east- where Black's organization was the strongest.
The message didn't get through and Kelly lost by 13 points. Republicans gained three seats around the state, and took total control of the General Assembly and began planning the redistricting as a chance to annihilate the Democrats for many years into the future.
By 2003, Dick Black had taken total control of the Republican Party in Loudoun. Scott York, the GOP Chairman of the Board had filed as an Independent as Black prepared to sack him in a convention. The Board districts had taken a dramatic shift to the east side of the county, and Black had a slate of candidates to take control of the Board of Supervisors with the same far right wing supporters that had put him into office.
Who was there once again to stand up to this far right group? It was Kelly Burk, who ran for Leesburg Supervisor against popular Leesburg Mayor Jim Clem on a platform of controlled growth and keeping Loudoun schools fully funded. Unfortunately for Kelly, her vision from 1999 of what would happen if Black were able to stay in office turned out to be true. Money poured into the local GOP candidates for Supervisor and they won every district in Eastern Loudoun County, stunning observers by dividing the county between east and west interests. Black had another huge victory and once again Kelly didn't make it into office because of his organization.
By this year, after FBI investigations and four years of a Board of Supervisors so arrogant that it was chilling to watch, Kelly was back for another run. She had been a member of the Leesburg Town Council, but according to local observers Jim Clem was "popular" and "well liked" and was the safest of all the Republican Board members seeking re-election. Oops! After years of being right and not winning her major elections, Kelly crushed Clem by a 57%-43% margin! Who says doing the right thing doesn't eventually pay off?
Democrats should pay careful attention to Kelly on the incoming Board of Supervisors. This woman has been right so often she looks more like a prophet than a politician. After her years of hard work for the students of Loudoun as a teacher, as a Councilwoman in the town of Leesburg and in the Democratic Party- taking on tough races where she put the doing the right thing over her own electoral success- Kelly has earned the respect of many political observers, and when tough decisions will be made over the next four years, the first question many Democrats should ask is "What does Kelly think we should do?". Finally then we might start to see the Loudoun County government show the potential everyone knows it has for the benefit of its own citizens.