Sunday, March 20, 2005

What's going on in Virginia's House District 37?

James at Virginia Progressive just raised the question, and my reply was so long I'm reposting it here.

James writes:
The 37th is Chap Petersen's district. Janet [Oleszek] and David Bulova are vying for the nomination to replace him. Is Chap running there as well? I haven't gotten a straight answer on that one. Anyone know???
My reply:
James, there isn't really a straight answer. The situation in HD37 has even the party regulars confused.

Here is my understanding. Please take this with a grain of salt and verify it with other sources.

Currently, Chap has his name on the June 14th primary ballot *twice,* for his House District seat and for Lieutenant Governor. (Virginia election law allows him to do this.)

Chap also told a local paper last month that he would ultimately choose to run for only one of those two seats, and on April 6 (the date of the General Assembly's veto session), he will make a public announcement as to which position he is actually running for. Given the work he has put into his LG race and the money he has raised, he is generally expected to pick the LG race, but for the moment, no one knows what he will be announcing.

In the meantime, as the situation stands, the Democratic party has asked that Democrats interested in his seat not challenge Chap in the primary, which both candidates (of course) agreed with. However, the two primary campaigns have been preparing to deal with a number of different scenarios:

1. On April 6, Chap announces he is running for Lieutenant Governor, and removes his name from the primary ballot for the House of Delegates seat.

In this case, candidates will need to collect ballot petitions signatures to qualify for the June 14 primary.

2. On April 6, Chap announces he is not running for LG, but will run again for his House seat.

In this case, the other candidates would graciously withdraw. I don't know their legal options for dispensing funds raised in their HD37 candidate committees.

3. Before Chap told the local papers about his pending April 6 announcement, candidates also had to consider a third scenario: Chap keeps his name on the primary ballot for both positions and wins the LG nomination. At that point, there would be NO democratic candidate for the house seat. The Democratic party would then hold a firehouse primary (or special primary) on June 25. Fortunately, since Chap let on that he'd be making a public choice on April 6 between the two seats, this no longer seems to be a contingency.

So if you find people are confused about what's going on, it is for good cause: HD37 is in the middle of a very confusing situation.

It is obviously a great challenge to explain this mess to the voters--and even party regulars aren't sure of what is going on. And, I know that both primary campaigns have been making great efforts to make sure they can qualify for the primary ballot, should that become a real option, without confusing voters or making anyone think they intend to challenge Chap, with they don't. In other words, it's a dog's breakfast up there.

Unfortunately, at least one Republican candidate intends to run, and is door-knocking in the district already, which means in all our tail-chasery the Democrats are losing precious time and a tactical advantage.

I'm sure you know that a Republican held the seat for 20 years before Chap won it in 2001. Given the number of open seat races and unexpected retirements this year, it would be a great loss to the Democrats to let go of this seat now. (After our 3 historic pick up seats in 2003, we can't afford to lose ground now.) Whatever happens on April 6 and on June 14, I hope that Chap, local Democrats, and the state party will throw support in behind making sure an experienced candidate and aggressive campaigner has every resource to win the seat for the Democrats in November.

And for the moment, everyone is holding their breath until April 6.