Around the first of the year, Mike Signer got into the race. I didn’t know who he was and wondered what qualifications he had. John Bowerbank, a Southwest Virginia businessman and member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors, had been in the race for almost two years and Jody Wagner, former Commonwealth of Virginia Treasurer and Secretary of Finance, was a party insider and had been running for more than a year. Then along comes Mike Signer and my first thought was, why is he getting in and doing it so late in the game?
Mike Signer was the last candidate to jump into the race and my first pass at him was rather dismissive. I talked to a friend I knew who was working on his campaign and asked why Signer got in so late. It was pretty simple. None of the current candidates were talking about anything that directly affected people. So, what does a National Security expert out of NOVA with a PhD in Political Science know about issues that directly affect people? Having worked in progressive politics and social justice since 1998, I’ve got a good sense of when someone is just paying lip service to issues of social, environmental, and economic justice.
At this point, I was inclined to support Jody Wagner because she was more of a known quantity and had done a good job working with the Warner and Kaine Administrations with the Commonwealth’s finances. Then she spoke about Right-to-Work and basically sounded like Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton), who tried to push through an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to make Right-to-Work a permanent fixture. That sealed it for me.
I understand what Right-to-Work is and what also goes along with it, the right to fire without cause. Now, I’m not one to be told that I have to join anything as a condition of my employment but firing someone without cause is just wrong. At that point I felt that Jody Wagner really didn’t understand how this law has directly affected thousands, if not millions, of Virginians. Then again, maybe she does. What seems to be absent from the impressive resume of Jody Wagner is anything that indicates what she will do to address issues of fairness and equity as Lieutenant Governor.
Then there’re the issues of lifting the moratorium on Uranium Mining in Virginia or holding corporate polluters accountable. I grew up in the Southside Hampton Roads area and have lived in areas of the state close to these issues that have and will directly affect residence of Southside Hampton Roads. I haven’t read, heard, seen anything where Jody Wagner has taken a stand on lifting the moratorium or released a statement about the Fly Ash contamination in Chesapeake by Dominion Power. These are two issues that are front and center in Jody Wagner’s backyard. Still, she’s remained silent.
I’ve had the chance to meet and speak with Mike Signer, and I can say that he gets it. Out of all the candidates that have run on the Democratic side, with the exception of Pat Edmondson, he is the only one that has talked about social and economic justice and spoken knowledgably on these issues. This year, the issues are about how things directly affect the rank and file citizen. Jody Wagner just hasn’t proven to me that she gets this dynamic. Creating jobs is important. Fixing our transportation problems are important. Making our state more energy efficient and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources are important. Improving education and addressing the drop-out rates in our most at-risk schools is extremely important. But, we also have to dig much deeper on these issues and attack the root causes of these problems.
It speaks volumes about a person that will talk about issues like the Jim Crow era voting laws still on the books in Virginia that deny Felons the right to vote after they have fully paid their debt to society and voting laws that demand you have a reason to vote early or absentee. Voting is a right of every citizen and not a privilege. At this point, Mike Signer is the only one out of the two that has taken a stand on the Dillon Rule. Local governments should have more local control rather than having to go to Richmond to get permission from the General Assembly. That’s where I feel Mike Signer has the advantage over Jody Wagner. It’s fine if you have the institutional support from the Democratic establishment, but we’re at a point that having a bit of distance from the establishment is more of an asset rather than a liability.
Mike Signer has connections to the inner workings of state and federal government, but he also has enough separation that he can be objective and not be so beholden to corporate Virginia that he can’t take a stand on principles of right and wrong. Mike Signer has stated that he wants the office of Lieutenant Governor to be more of a pro-active office and take on more of a role as public advocate for those less “sexy” issues that affect people from their doorstep to the curb. It goes without saying that Signer will work just as hard on the big issues of jobs, jobs, jobs, transportation, education, and energy independence as well as the less “sexy” issues.
A long time ago I learned the lesson of attention to detail. The details of fairness and equity have escaped many political leaders in Virginia. We are a state that is managed from the top down, and this approach has hindered us from addressing the details connected to issues of fairness, equity, and justice because if we did, those at the top would see their power and influence diminished. The concentration of power in the hands of a very few, lies at the heart of inequity in Virginia. The best example of this is how corporations and the very wealthy can write campaign contributions for tens of thousands of dollars to our political leaders and candidates to influence their policies and votes. Mike Signer has indicated that he is willing to address this detail of campaign finance reform that has contributed to sever inequity in our political system.
Recently, more than 60% of the people polled about the Lieutenant Governor’s race were still undecided. Jody Wagner has been running for more than a year and a half and the Democratic Primary electorate is still trying to figure out if she is the right choice and will work on these very details. If so many people have those same doubts about Jody Wagner, then maybe there reluctance is justified. Virginia has to change at a much more fundamental level and Mike Signer is at least willing to tackle these smaller, more fundamental issues of fairness and equity that have been ignored for far too long. Jody Wagner is a fine person in her own right and has an impressive background, but she just hasn’t shown me that she will go beyond the traditional role of the Lieutenant Governor’s office. I have no doubts that Mike Signer is the right choice for Lieutenant Governor.