In the 2004 General Assembly, veteran legislator Mitchell Van Yahres urged his colleagues to go on a "welfare diet."
Under his bill, legislators would volunteer to buy their food for two weeks using the same amount of money allotted in food stamps to a single individual to better understand "the dire circumstances of thousands of Virginia families." The bill was killed in committee and even laughed at.
But the bill was a classic shot at the rich and comfortable by a politician who has always thought of the poor and powerless as his constituency.
"You've got to be in somebody's life situation to understand what they're going through," said Van Yahres, a Democratic delegate from Charlottesville who announced he was retiring last week after more than two decades in the General Assembly. "It really upset me that they laughed at it. . . . These are the real moral values."
Van Yahres' seat in Charlottesville is considered a "safe" Democratic one, as is the seat in the 45th district, including parts of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax, vacated by Marian Van Landringham, who has to leave the House for health reasons.
The question for us now is what kind of Democrat will we choose to run in these "safe Democratic" districts? Will we choose someone like Mitch Van Yahres, someone who would be willing to serve for decades if his constituents approve? Someone who will use her power to stand up for the poor and the powerless? Someone who will risk being laughed at to do the right thing?
Senator R. Craig Deeds, current candidate for Attorney General, said of Mitch Van Yahres:
"Mitch has been the conscience of the House...He always stood for things that were less popular. He stood up for things even when he knew he was in the minority. You have to have people like that."
Yes, we do. We need to have Democrats who will be proudly, unapologetically progressive, especially in safe Democratic districts. We need Democrats who will not only reliably vote the "right way", but who will take risks and introduce legislation to do what is right, even if that legislation might fail in our current political climate. We need more conscience in the House. That is our challenge in choosing candidates in the 57th and the 45th this year.
(Thanks to the Virginia Progressive for the lead on the article.)