Some of us are old enough to remember the 1960s sci-fi TV show “Lost in Space.” Specifically, the robot named, well, Robot, who is memorable for the line “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” whenever the 9-year-old was in jeopardy.
Today, I modify that line: Danger, dear readers, danger! I am about to engage in political speculation.
Now, I realize that warning means some of you will come running rather than running away, but such is the nature of political punditry.
An additional warning: I will name-check both Edmund Burke and Archimedes.
If all that’s not enough to scare you off, then let’s buckle up for a wild ride. I’m going to attempt to show how the current political turmoil among Lynchburg Republicans could potentially endanger the 5th District congressman, Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County.
First, let’s rewind to last November: Republicans swept the three seats available on the Lynchburg City Council. Adding those to the two Republicans already on the seven-member council meant that Republicans had their first majority on council in decades — or maybe ever, depending on how you do the counting. Some of you may think that it’s surprising that Lynchburg didn’t already have a Republican council but that just goes to show how misunderstood the Hill City is; it’s a more complicated place politically than outsiders realize. Two years ago my wife and I went to Lynchburg to sell a car and then went downtown to celebrate our good fortune by dining at one of the wonderful restaurants on the Bluff Walk overlooking the James River. We discovered that we had arrived during Lynchburg’s Pride Night.
Anyway, Lynchburg Republicans gained a majority on the council, which put them in a position to elect one of their own as mayor. They immediately broke into two factions — or, perhaps more accurately, two previously existing factions were now expanded, and had something significant to fight over. The essence of the problem was that the three winning Republicans came from different places on the conservative spectrum. The two Republicans already on the council were Chris Faraldi and Jeff Helgeson. For lack of better terms, I’ll describe Faraldi as a more traditional (some might say normal) conservative and Helgeson as a harder-right conservative. The newly elected Republicans were Stephanie Reed (a more traditional Republican), Larry Taylor (who is difficult to characterize and seems unaligned with either faction) and Marty Misjuns (from the harder-right segment of the party).
As I detailed in a previous column, the day after the election Good telephoned Faraldi and pressured him to vote for Helegeson for mayor. When Faraldi balked, Good warned him to “think long and hard about what you’re doing.” Faraldi’s objection to Helgeson, as he explained to Good, was that elevating the combative Helgeson to such prominence would make things more difficult for Republicans in the next city election. Good disagreed. As we can see from his service in Congress, he believes that confrontation is the way to get things done.
When the new council convened in January to elect a mayor, the two traditional Republicans (Faraldi and Reed) were joined by the two remaining Democrats (Maryjane Dolan and Sterling Wilder) in voting to make Reed the new mayor and Faraldi the new vice mayor. From that point on, Lynchburg’s council has been embroiled in what Wilder has called “chaos” — infighting between the two Republican factions. Helgeson muttered into a hot mic that Reed was “the stupidest person on earth.”
The News & Advance, the daily newspaper in Lynchburg, reported: “After the cameras were turned off, but before the news media left the council chambers, Reed asked Helgeson, ‘How dare you?’ to which Helgeson responded, ‘How dare you, young lady?’”
The paper went on to report: “As the tension escalated, a Lynchburg police officer in the room interjected while Helgeson and Reed argued on the dais.”
In July, Misjuns introduced a resolution dealing with city employee policies — some might call it an anti-DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) measure. Faraldi moved to end the meeting without taking up the measure, saying it was “retaliation” for Misjuns being rude to city staff. A majority of the council evidently agreed, because the vote to adjourn was 5-2 — with Helgeson and Misjuns in the minority.
In response, the Lynchburg Republican Executive Committee voted to censure Faraldi. That led to a specially called meeting of the larger Lynchburg Republican City Committee, which voted 38-0 to overturn the censure. Those who had pushed the censure were absent, attending instead an event featuring Good.
This week the Lynchburg Republican Committee voted (it’s unclear how many members were present) to “direct” the Republican council members to support Misjuns’ measure. The specific language reads: “This Republican Unit directs Republican Councilmembers Faraldi, Helgeson, Misjuns, Reed and Taylor to defend Republican values that won decisively in November 2022 by going on offense against the progressive agenda and advancing Lynchburg as a sanctuary for conservatism and constitutional governance by enacting the Resolution to Promote Merit, Excellence and Opportunity (MEO) in City Government this calendar year.” (Updated: I’m told that the version eventually passed differs slightly from the version the committee sent me, by softening the word “direct” to “urge.” Either way, it still falls under the heading of “instruction.”)
Faraldi responded by copying an email to state party chairman Rich Anderson: “Is this how local units are to operate now? Elected representatives are to bend the knee to the direction of a political party? For Lynchburg, the party is now operating as the ‘eighth’ representative on the City Council?”
All that’s by way of background. Before I get to the speculation, which I promise is coming, allow me to offer this insight. In my experience following Virginia politics for about a half-century, it’s highly unusual for a local party committee to get involved in passing resolutions to instruct — or “direct” or even “urge”— party members in office to vote a certain way. I can’t say it’s never happened, just that I’ve never seen it. Our two major parties believe in certain broad concepts but there are often differences of opinion between party members on certain issues. What’s unusual here is that Lynchburg has a party committee that, at least for this vote, is aligned with a certain faction of Republicans essentially telling the other faction of Republicans how to vote.
I’ll let others debate the policy questions before the council; I’m more fascinated by the politics. This kind of committee vote raises a philosophical question: To whom do Lynchburg’s Republican council members owe their allegiance? Is it to the local party committee or to the broader electorate of voters who elected them?
In a statement, Lynchburg Republican Chair Veronica Bratton said this resolution would “make Lynchburg a sanctuary for conservatism and constitutional governance” — yet, historically speaking, this type of party instruction is profoundly unconservative.
The founder of modern conservatism is not Donald Trump or Ronald Reagan or even Barry Goldwater. It’s Edmund Burke, a British member of parliament in the late 1700s. (I refer you to “Edmund Burke & The Invention of Modern Conservatism” by the British historian Emily Jones.) What does some 18th century British parliamentarian have to do with the current political flap in Lynchburg? This: Burke’s most famous quote was, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Interestingly, Burke’s quote came in the context of a debate over the very type of instruction that some Lynchburg Republicans are issuing. In September 1774 he was campaigning for reelection in Bristol (that’s the Bristol in Great Britain, not our Bristol) and his opponent had endorsed the notion of following “instructions.” Burke disputed that in what has come to be regarded as a seminal statement on the nature of representation in a democracy. (The entire passage of that speech is reprinted in below.) If the founder of modern conservatism rejected instruction as contradictory to the nature of democracy, how should we regard this attempt at instruction by those who claim the mantle of 21st century conservatism? Feel free to discuss.
OK, I realize I’m nerding out here on political theory that surely seems distant and maybe even irrelevant to those who support Misjuns’ resolution on Lynchburg hiring policy. I promised you some political speculation, so let’s get to it. The hard-right faction in Lynchburg is closely aligned with Good, as we’ve seen from his unusual intervention in trying to get Helgeson elected mayor. The more this infighting continues, the more that weakens Good’s position in the 5th District’s second-biggest locality (and its biggest Republican-voting locality; only Democratic Albemarle County is bigger).
Why does this matter? Because it opens Good up to a primary challenge in 2024 or beyond.
Democrats often fantasize about winning the 5th District. They can fantasize all they want. That’s not going to happen. The two court-appointed special masters who drew our congressional lines used previous election results from 2016-2020 to estimate that the 5th District is 53% Republican. That sounds close but more recent election results suggested otherwise. In the 2021 governor’s race, the precincts that make up the current 5th District voted 60% Republican. In the 2022 congressional races, Good took 57.6% of the vote.
I do not see a Democrat defeating Good. In the current environment of the Republican Party, it will also be difficult for a more moderate candidate to defeat him for the nomination. No, if Good is ever denied renomination, it will be because someone from his own base challenged him. And there might be just such a candidate out there: Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland County, soon to become state Sen. John McGuire.
McGuire has shown interest in running for Congress before. In 2020, he sought the Republican nomination for the 7th District; he lost to Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who lost to Rep. Abigail Spanberger. McGuire filed to run against Spanberger in 2022 but then redistricting moved him into the 5th District, where the seat was already occupied by Good — so now he’s running for the state Senate instead, and is unopposed this fall in a safely Republican district.
Curiously, there seems to be some bad blood between Good and McGuire. When McGuire and three other candidates were seeking the Republican nomination earlier this year, Good endorsed a different candidate. Maybe that’s no big deal, but consider this: At that convention, Good made a point of calling three of the four candidates his friends. McGuire was the name he conspicuously left out. When I search X (the platform formerly known as Twitter), I find speculation about McGuire challenging Good for the Republican nomination going as far back as 2021, before the current lines were even drawn.
The fascinating thing about that is that McGuire and Good draw from the same well of supporters. If anyone ever ousts Good for the Republican nomination, it will be because some competitor outmaneuvered him on the right — and the current intraparty conflict in Lynchburg gives McGuire just such an opening.
It’s not that McGuire or anyone else is going to take those hard-right votes in Lynchburg away from Good; it’s because he now has an opportunity to take more traditional Republican votes in Lynchburg that, geographically speaking, ought to be in Good’s corner.
Good lives in Campbell County. He once worked at Liberty University. Lynchburg ought to be in his corner, a populous bulwark against any challenger. However, the more Lynchburg Republicans fight amongst themselves, and the more Good is identified with one particular faction there, the more likely it is that some other candidate could find an opening in Lynchburg to undermine Good in his home base. It’s the political equivalent of Archimedes’ famous quote: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” This Lynchburg party squabble gives McGuire — or some other equally positioned hard-right conservative — a place to stand and a lever to use to move at least part of Good’s home territory away from him. Put another way, adding Lynchburg to the 5th District should have helped Good by expanding his base, but it potentially could make it easier for a primary challenge against him by adding some Republicans who might have reason to back another candidate.
This week brought more evidence that something is going on. McGuire’s campaign newsletter contained a curious message. You’d think that for a guy running unopposed everything would be sunshine and rainbows — well, maybe not rainbows. But at least full of uplifting messages. Instead, there was this:
“With the right attitude and effort we can win. Right now we are in a very tough General Election and it is going to take everyone working together. It only takes a few people to mess things up. Sadly, we have a few 5th Congressional District Republicans including a few in leadership publicly taking pot shots at me and acting a fool. Although most 5th members are professional, I wrongly figured those few would end their antics after the convention. This behavior is unbecoming, it is not productive, and it helps Democrats. We can do better. I normally ignore ‘keyboard warriors’ but we are receiving messages of disgust from across the district from constituents (We the People) who want us to win. If you have a concern, let’s meet in person and discuss it like adults. Considering the future of our republic is at stake right this very moment, we must do better. Unless you want Democrats to win, your message to Republicans taking public pot shots at fellow Republicans, should be ‘knock it off’. Our focus is on winning the House and the Senate in November.”
Let’s set aside the hyperbole here. I assume when McGuire references a “tough General Election” he’s referring to the statewide outcome, since he’s unopposed and there’s not a single competitive General Assembly district anywhere in the 5th Congressional District. Details, details. The important thing here is the reference to some kind of political “antics” in the district by Republicans who presumably are saying bad things about McGuire.
McGuire didn’t respond to my inquiry about what’s going on but we know that the 5th District Republican Committee leadership is strongly aligned with Good, and it seems “a few in leadership” are “taking pot shots” at McGuire. Why would they do that against a fellow Republican? And especially one who is unopposed? Could it be that the first chess moves in a future McGuire vs. Good nomination battle are already taking place? If the casino in Danville were taking odds on this, that’s how I’d bet.
I wonder what Edmund Burke would say about the current situation among Lynchburg Republicans, but mostly I wonder what McGuire would say — or do.
Edmund Burke on representation
This is an excerpt from Burke’s famous address to voters in Bristol, England:
I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject.
He tells you that “the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;” and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?
To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,–these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for. On this point of instructions, however, I think it scarcely possible, we ever can have any sort of difference. Perhaps I may give you too much, rather than too little trouble.