By Lynn R. Mitchell
On Monday Ralph Smith sent out an email stating: “Senator Smith announces he will not seek a third term … 19th District Senator endorses Legislative Director and Roanoke County GOP Chairman Dave Suetterlein to succeed him in Senate.”
An announcement of retirement in one breath and the endorsement of his aide in the next? With some feeling blindsided, the news spread throughout the district that a behind-closed-doors deal had apparently been made between the senator and his legislative aide who had held no prior public office. He had previously worked for Ken Cuccinelli before joining the senator’s staff.
Suetterlein, chairman of the Roanoke County Republican Committee, had mentioned nothing to his committee members about running. Smith had not communicated to constituents a wish to retire. No candidates had filed because they thought Smith was running for re-election. While it is understandable to groom people for positions, it is usually more transparent and above-board.
In announcing his retirement, Smith commented:
“This year, I will be campaigning for an experienced and effective conservative voice to succeed me in the Senate: my friend, Dave Suetterlein.
“During the last eight years, I have trusted Dave to help direct my legislative efforts in the Senate and help the people of Southwest Virginia fight red tape. I know Dave and his family to be committed Christians, I know him to be a tireless and diligent worker, and I know him to be man with the experience to effectively advance conservative principles in Richmond. Dave has proven himself worthy of my trust, and I am confident the voters will find him worthy of their trust, too.
“Dave will be a champion for Southwest Virginia and an effective advocate for our conservative principles and traditional values. So today, I am excited about the next to which I will be lending my support, helping my friend, Dave Suetterlein, become the next Senator for Southwest Virginia.”
This political move slammed the door on other candidates.
Jim Hoeft at Bearing Drift had some thoughts (see “Smith retires and anoints Suetterlein” in Wednesday’s “The Last Word”):
Sen. Ralph Smith announced his retirement Monday and endorsed his legislative assistant, David Suetterlein, as his heir apparent – less than 48 hours before anyone else had a chance to consider filing. Our own Zach Martin is very glad over the turn of events (Bearing Drift.com). However, after the whole senate reorganization kerkuffle of 2012, you’ll have to presently count me as mildly cool to this development (Ralph Smith May Buck GOP Senate Organization Plan). While I wish Suetterlein well, I also want the best and most tested people of character to hold the job. This announcement and endorsement seems a bit “planned.”
By Wednesday’s noon deadline (according to a notice that was buried on the RPV website) Suetterlein was the only candidate to file for the Republican nomination. If you want to be the nominee, that is certainly the way to catch everyone off guard. Points scored: Ralph Smith 1, other candidates 0.
Democrats expect to have a candidate in May. Independents have until the June 9th primary date at 7 p.m. The 19th Senate District has historically been solid red.
UPDATE: The Roanoke Times editorial made some of the same points published in this post (see Our view: Elected without a vote). Among some of the highlights:
We got a new state senator this week, without a single vote being cast.
State Sen. Ralph Smith (who has alternately been R-Roanoke County, then R-Botetourt County and more recently R-Bedford County) announced that he would not seek a third term.
Instead, he endorsed his legislative aide, Dave Suetterlein, for the Republican nomination at a news conference where the two appeared together for a visual passing-of-the-baton.
Smith (and Suetterlein?) cleverly timed the announcement so that it came just two days before the deadline for candidates to file for the Republican nomination.
Perhaps Suetterlein — who has been the party chairman in Roanoke County, the largest county in the sprawling district — would have won anyway. However, the surprise announcement and short notice seem to have been designed to forestall anyone else from getting into the race. That’s clever; the kind of cleverness that Suetterlein will need to succeed in Richmond.
It also means that, just like that, Suetterlein — a figure so unknown to the general public that his name has appeared just five times in The Roanoke Times over the years — is now senator-in-waiting to represent nearly 200,000 people.
The editorial then goes into an explanation of how and why the district is red and concludes with this one sentence:
So if you’re wondering why it is you’re getting a state senator you’ve never heard of, that’s why.