The road back for former Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Vance Wilkins was rocky but he was a determined warrior as he tried to return to relevance in Virginia Republican politics. But it wasn’t to be. On Saturday he lost his bid to become chairman of the 6th Congressional District.
Earlier this year a slight shock wave was felt in the party when it was announced that Wilkins, 77, was going to challenge incumbent chairman Wendell Walker who had problems of his own. He had alienated some in his district during his three years in office but if he was to have a challenger, no one expected it to be Vance.
One of the builders of the modern-day Republican Party in Virginia, Vance was shunned by his colleagues in 2002 when it was revealed he had made improper advances with a woman employee and paid her $100,000 to be silent. That’s a lot of money for silence only to have it get out anyway. It caused a sensation in Virginia and a week later he was out as speaker and resigned as delegate. Sometimes I wonder if he still has a score to settle with those who turned their backs on him in 2002.
I have a great deal of respect for Vance for what he did for the Republican Party. And I’m a Republican — always have been — not Libertarian or tea party or anything else. Republican.
That’s why I took notice, on the day before the convention, of an article by Mason Adams that was published in the Washington Post about Vance and his hopes for a comeback. A couple of takeaways stood out to me. The first was about the fact that Vance used to be a pragmatic leader:
By the late ’90s, [6th Congressional District chairman] Walker was known as an evangelical conservative pushing for Republicans to take strong social positions, while Wilkins was the GOP’s pragmatic strategist working to keep the party from tilting too far right.
Now the roles have flipped: Walker is trying to maintain peace, while Wilkins is galvanizing the same conservatives and libertarians who booed Goodlatte during his 2012 district convention speech and later circulated a poster with his photograph and reading “Wanted! For Impersonating a Constitutional Conservative.”
Vance sent out an endorsement email touting his tea party and libertarian supporters that probably didn’t set well with some within the party. Indeed, a few party leaders stepped out and publicly endorsed Walker: state Senator Mark Obenshain, state Senator Steve Newman, and Delegate Kathy Byron.
Another takeaway from the article:
“Actually, after having been speaker, this is quite a step down,” [Wilkins] said.
He said the same to me on the phone while making his calls leading up to the convention. I told him that was why I was surprised upon hearing that he was running.
Now he’s lost.
It will probably be Vance’s last hurrah. He is a workhorse, no doubt of that, but his younger days are in the rear view mirror and the world is racing full-steam ahead in these unsettled political times. The gentleman from Amherst most assuredly still has plenty of determination in him to work campaigns and strategize with his allies but there’s a slight slump to his shoulders and I heard a weariness in his voice while speaking with him on the phone. This campaign dredged up all the sorted details of the harrassment charges from the past which, in the larger scheme of things, seemed a big price to pay only to walk away without a win.
My vote went to Wendell but for Vance’s work for Virginia Republicans, I salute him and express gratitude. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell