Kathryn Welch of Blacksburg was a grassroots leader of the Dean campaign in Montgomery County and has volunteered to be a regular author of content for Democracy for Virginia as a representative from Southwest Virginia.
Virginia claims only 3 Democrats in the House of Representatives. So, how does a Democrat win time and again (70% of the vote in 2000 and 61% in 1998) in the largely rural, Republican-leaning southwest portion of the state? Unless you watched the Clinton impeachment hearings, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) worked tirelessly to avert a GOP coup d’etat, you might not have heard of him. You might not know that Rick is a staunch defender of the Constitution (e.g., he voted against the civil-liberties- eroding Patriot Act), of women’s reproductive health, and of affirmative action. You might not know he’s been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s mishandling of US foreign policy, particularly the Middle East Peace process and the Iraq quagmire. And, you might not know of his strong advocacy for education, and health care or his good stewardship of our nation’s fiscal and environmental resources. But the Republicans know about Rick and they’ve targeted him for defeat.
In 2002, even quicker than you can say “carpet-bagger,” Jay Katzen moved into our area (from four hours away) to establish “residency,” and then, when he lost, moved back to NOVA just as quickly. This time, the GOP bets on a NASCAR-connected opponent, Kevin Triplett, who hasn’t lived in Virginia for years, but moved back as fast as a speeding bullet (I mean race car).
Just this Monday, Dick Cheney jetted into Roanoke to raise money for Triplett. Vice-Buck Passer Cheney stayed at the fundraiser a whopping 20 minutes, but was there long enough to blame the economy here in the 9th on Rick Boucher! It should be noted that Cheney never actually even set foot in the 9th Congressional District. But we have a message for Bush, Cheney and the rest of the GOP: Not so fast!
They don’t know the 9th. They stereotype us here when they assume we all think alike; care only about NASCAR: and look, talk and act a certain way. Most of all, they don’t know who Rick is.
Ask anyone who knows Rick and he’ll tell you he’s the hardest working member of Congress. To spend time getting to know his constituents, Rick spends nearly all his spare time (when not in session or committee) visiting his far-flung constituents, understanding them, and advocating for them. As I’ll describe in another in this series, it takes about five hours (each way) to drive from the northernmost to the southwestern-most tip of his district. And yet Rick Boucher provides the most effective representation of anyone in Congress.
I can tell you what a challenge traversing this district really is. The 9th District is the largest land-wise, and therefore the most dispersed population-wise in the state. I chaired the Montgomery County, VA, volunteer campaign for Howard Dean. I could never have covered the entire 9th. I don’t know how Rick does it. But Rick handles the challenge along with his official duties in Washington. National Journal (3/23/02) reported that Rick is back visiting constituents nearly every weekend.
Across this sprawling region, Rick’s efforts to bring jobs and investment have flown in the face of a Bush-Cheney administration which extols the mass export of jobs. Early on, Boucher understood that remote regions could be linked to the electronic “superhighway,” and therefore to jobs with call centers, order fulfillment, and more. Today, Rick is an expert in internet technology. And he’s possibly the most knowledgeable in Congress on the subject of energy.
Another example of Rick’s bringing creative solutions to problems was also recounted in National Journal. When the town of Grundy experienced many disastrous floods in its downtown district, Rick helped the town find a way to move to higher ground.
When a group of local Democrats thanked him for his vote against the Patriot Act, he told us that when he was a junior Congressman, the House leader’s advice was to figure out what he’d be willing to sacrifice his job for. First and foremost, Rick knew, he’d defend the Constitution above all else. So, in a heavily Republican state, Rick held his ground.
I usually agree with Rick Boucher, but not always. When I don’t, I can depend on Rick to have solid reasons for his position and an enlightening and articulate conversation about his views. That’s why he has the respect of voters in the 9th.
Since I began voting, I have lived in four states (California; Washington; New York; and Virginia, where I’ve lived for the past 23 years). I have never seen a Congressman so accessible to his constituents. Where else is it possible for voters to meet, greet and TALK WITH their Congressman not once, but numerous times, each year? Rick sits down and listens. Other politicians talk about bringing town hall democracy to citizens, but Rick's been doing this for nearly 22 years.
A friend of mine grew up in Christiansburg, VA, but moved to New York years ago. Now back home in the 9th, she told me she was amazed that, when it comes to having an enlightened, articulate, knowledgeable, and approachable Congressman, she is better off here in Southwest Virginia than in New York. Across Virginia, you benefit from having Rick advocate for the Constitution and progressive values.
Here’s what you can do. Send emails of support to Rick (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tell him you are a Dean Democrat and you are rooting for him. Our recently retired State Senator Madison Marye always told one of his famous “Uncle Billy” yarns about how far away he had seen Rick Boucher bumper stickers. Maybe you can bring Madison’s yarn alive. Request and post a solidarity bumper sticker even if you aren’t in the Fighting 9th. If you can volunteer, even from far away, please do so. If you can send donations, contact him at his website. Join Virginia’s Dean Rapid Response Team, including the Virginia subgroup of Rapid Response, which defends Democrats and “critiques” administration shortcomings. We must keep this extraordinary American in Congress!