I'm appalled by the news that Dave Marsden will be moving into the 37th Senate District to run, and I think people deserve to know why this news is so upsetting to me.
I first met Dave in 1999 when I was President of the Fairfax Young Democrats. Going into the 1999 elections (Gilmore midterms) Democrats trailed in the Virginia Senate by a 21-19 count, and the House of Delegates had 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 1 Independent who was caucusing with the Republicans. In other words, a 50-50 deadlock. My part of Burke was gerrymandered into the Clifton based district of then Delegate Jay O'Brien- a safe Republican area- so I volunteered on the other side of Burke in the race between Jim Dillard and Eileen Filler-Corn. Eileen made the upcoming redistricting a central part of her campaign- pointing out the vicious race-baiting gerrymander certain to come under Republican control. As Eileen pointed out, Dillard's moderate record was irrelevant if he was going to help add 10-15 right wingers to the House through redistricting. Managing Dillard's campaign that year was Marsden himself- happy to be complicit in creating segregated voting districts so Republicans could completely take over the state government.
Having succeeded in re-electing Dillard and helping the Republicans gain their first ever majority in the House of Delegates, Marsden was rewarded with a high ranking position in the Gilmore Administration- Director of Juvenile Justice. Marsden was in this position until after Mark Warner was elected- and Mark chose to clean up this agency by appointing Jerrauld Jones as the new Director.
In the redistricting, my precinct was added into the 41st District with Jim Dillard- but I didn't have much time to pay attention to what was going on there, as I was managing Chap Petersen's campaign against Jack Rust in the neighboring 37th District. Chap of course was elected downballot from Mark Warner.
A few months after the 2001 election, Senator Warren Barry resigned to join the Warner administration. A special election was touched off to replace him- and with the Senate now 22-18, Democrats hoped a victory would bring them within one vote of control with new Lt. Governor Tim Kaine breaking the ties. Republicans nominated Ken Cuccinelli by 101 votes over Mike Thompson, while Democrats nominated Cathy Belter by 31 votes over Jim Mitchell. Cuccinelli went on to win the special election (even though Belter carried the eastern side of the district, including the 41st House district)- and his win crushed Democrats hopes of taking over the Senate.
With an election coming up the next year in 2003, Democrats made defeating Cuccinelli a top priority- and nominated Jim Mitchell to oppose him. At the same time, Jim Dillard was NOT contested by a Democrat in the 41st District, but had two Independent candidates challenging him. Marsden- fresh off being dismissed from the Warner administration was back helping Jim Dillard. He wasn't just working his neighborhood of Signal Hill either- Marsden was so intent on helping Dillard run up a margin over opponents he was already crushing- that he coordinated the joint Cuccinelli-Dillard campaign efforts in Burke- even helping Cooch staff his polls on election day with people handing out Cuccinelli-Dillard literature. In fact, in 2005, Cuccinelli even remarked in an article that “It would have been easy for David Marsden to never help me; he doesn’t even live in my district! But he not only worked the polls for me—he traveled into my district to distribute my sample ballots in two precincts! His efforts helped me carry the Braddock District in my last campaign!”
Soon after getting walloped in the 2003 race, Michael Golden flipped from Independent to Republican and began making noises of challenging Dillard in a GOP primary. With Dillard's impending retirement a non-secret, Marsden began exploring the option of running as a Republican. It didn't take him long to figure out that Republicans wouldn't nominate a moderate in a primary- and he and Dillard starting looking for a way to elect him as an Independent or a Democrat. That opportunity came in 2004 during the Warner tax-fight, as Dillard secured the commitment of a number of Democratic Delegates to support Marsden as a Democrat if he flipped parties.
Only problem for this plan was there already was a leading Democratic candidate- Cathy Belter from the School Board, who had carried this district in the 2002 Senate election. (Full disclosure: I had already signed on to manage Cathy's race for Delegate when it got underway in 2005). In the fall we began hearing mumblings about Marsden running as a Democrat, and he suddenly started showing up at back to school nights handing out flyers for John Kerry. Possibly making Dave the only person in the universe to have supported Ken Cuccinelli and John Kerry within 12 months. This conversion happened sometime after the primary though- cause Dave didn't vote in the February primary that 400,000 Democrats did around Virginia.
The first weird sign for Cathy came soon after the 2005 election when Vivian Watts sent her a note- CCing her opponent Dave Marsden. Here's what it said:
There was a cartoon in the New Yorker last month with the caption "I said to myself, 'Maybe I can't change the world, but I can remodel my bathroom.'" It has a prominent place on our refrigerator!
That provides one perspective to your interest... Are you VERY sure that you want to?
(1) Like mine, [this] is a swing district; therefore, you will have to run EVERY two years until you retire. Most of them will be serious races. All of them will require that you put your life on hold again and again and again (!), with no other priorities (like remodeling a bathroom or, often, even the people you care most about.)
(2) Unless you get personal reward at the end of the day just knowing more about government or Virginia, you will be miserable in the House of Delegates. Trust me: there are better ways to serve. As a member of the minority party (by A LOT!), you will not be given the opportunity to experience personal success. If you have an area of expertise (ie, mine in transportation) you will be shut out and ignored to make you less viable in the next election. The House Republican majority is all about politics and winning, not about governing. Because in my heart of hearts I love the challenges of governing, whatever committee I'm moved to, I dig in and make the most of it. If you cannot do that and what you REALLY want to do is make a difference in education, as a Democrat, you can do far more by being a leader, innovator, and honest critic outside the Virginia legislature.
In other words- go remodel your bathroom, bitch, and let the Republican run unopposed in the Democratic primary. (No word on why Dave shouldn't go remodel his bathroom instead and leave the Democratic primary to... Democrats).
After this email Cathy was charged up and ready to fight this thing out, and I spent many hours with her preparing for this primary campaign. Then suddenly one day I got a call from her- clearly upset- asking me to come over to her house.
That morning Cathy had been called to a meeting with Vivian Watts, Sharon Bulova and other local party leaders who lived in neighboring legislative districts. Present at the meeting to Cathy's surprise was Dave Marsden who listened in (while standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, smirking at Cathy) while these leaders told Cathy she was "slipping" and "losing it mentally" and that they would be forced to bring this to the public's attention if she didn't drop out of the race. Indeed this was enough to make Cathy leave the meeting crying- and she was out of the race.
I was so furious at what happened that by the end of the week I had filed to run against Dave in the Democratic primary.
The next couple months were a tremendous amount of fun. Len Belter (Cathy's husband) showed up to the Springfield Dems to introduce my candidacy at the meeting after Cathy dropped out, and most of the committee members inside the district endorsed my campaign. (Although in fairness, most of the party leaders outside the district endorsed Dave). While I never had a fundraiser or did money calls, I raised almost $10,000 from people giving me checks unsolicited at doors and events. I knocked on about 1,500 doors- even door knocking during a nine inch mini-blizzard (everyone was home)!
I am pretty sure I would have trounced Marsden in the June primary, but I decided to drop out about four months before it would take place for a couple reasons. 1) I was 25 and I do not come from a rich family. I had not planned to run for office and had zero in savings. After a couple months of campaigning while working at a low paying day job in Tysons- I realized that if I won the primary in June, I couldn't be sure I would have the personal resources to make it to the November election- and I didn't want to go through all of this to drop out after winning in June. Even if I could make it to November, the legislature pays almost nothing, and I wouldn't have been able to even look for another job until the following March when session ended. It just wasn't feasible with personal finances. 2) I made a major political miscalculation. As I was getting pushed to the left in the primary I thought that it was not positioning me well for the general election in a district George W. Bush had narrowly carried the year before. With Kaine-Kilgore looking like a close race statewide, I figured it would be close in my district and that I was not well positioned to win downballot from a 50-50 top of the ticket. Well, Kaine surged late in that campaign, and ended up winning the 41st by over 20 points- so as it turns out, I would have had no problem winning the general election downballot from that wave. But I didn't know this in February!
I'm not going to get into the personal attacks that Dave launched against me while (and after) I was a candidate, but I thought his campaign was one of the most classless I have ever seen in politics, although I admit to being biased.
After I dropped out there were a few letters to the editor from local Democrats in the newspaper pleading for another Democrat to step up and challenge Marsden in the Democratic primary- but no one did so. One of the reasons for this was Marsden's quickly expanding war chest- which was aided by donations from himself. Those personal donations were all made a few days after Jim Dillard's financial report showed payments of identical amounts to the Marsden's for "consulting" services. Instead of just donating directly, Dillard wanted to make sure it appeared that the Marsden's were actually working for the money, and laundered these campaign donations through their personal account. Pathetic. Months later Dillard announced his "endorsement" after looking at both candidates. Ha.
In November of 2005, Marsden was elected on Tim Kaine's coattails, and I decided to let a lot of these details go to rest. But his record in the General Assembly for the past four years has been absolutely pathetic. Marsden voted to ban stem cell research. He voted to repeal the estate tax, making Virginia's tax code far more regressive, and helping to lead to the huge budget shortfalls today. Marsden was one of only a handful of Democrats to vote for the "abuser fees" and thousand dollar speeding tickets proposed by the Republicans in 2007- and he also voted for the unelected regional taxing authorities that were struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously. And I won't even go into his failure to prepare for amendments he was offering- made famous on Youtube. His union busting led to the Sheriff Deputies and Fairfax Police to issue pre-emptive statements opposing his potential Senate candidacy.
And now he is the candidate Senate Democrats want to run for the Senate? He doesn't even live in the 37th Senate District and has to move in to run! Marsden is one of the reasons we were put in the minority to begin with- and then obliterated in redistricting. He supported Cuccinelli's re-election in 2003 by organizing sample ballots. And his legislative record is an absolute disaster- leading voters in the precincts that overlap with this Senate District to vote to fire him earlier this month- he only survived with support from his three precincts that overlap with Chap.
This is the future of the Democratic Party in the Senate?
HELL NO. I don't care who is supporting him. This is totally unacceptable. Marsden must be stopped.