Political Insighter: Virginia’s New Senator Stooge

Written by on April 17, 2015

Ralph Smith: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Election!

Virginia’s General Assembly prides itself on being populated by ‘citizen legislators.’ The implied meaning of that is the legislature is the people’s deliberative body. The people select its members.

That’s why what is going on in Roanoke County-centric Senate District 19 is so troubling.

You see, outgoing Republican Sen. Ralph Smith has cynically rigged the system to ensure his hand-picked successor – tenderfoot legislative aide David Sutterlein – would have no formal GOP challenge for the nomination.

This brazen maneuver compels me to ask some uncomfortable questions.

Since when do the political elites and power brokers pre-determine election outcomes by gaming the system in a way that denies voters expressing their will?

Is this the new “Virginia Way?”

If so, it is hardly exclusive to Republicans.

We have already seen a branch of the Virginia Democratic Party seemingly employ procedural shenanigans to prevent former state delegate Joe Morrissey from qualifying for the party’s nomination contest in the Richmond-based 16th Senate District.

“Fighting Joe” is suing to straighten that out. A judge ultimately will settle that matter.


Shamefully, there apparently is no such remedy available to Senate District 19 Republicans unhappy with this outcome.

Using scam-like tactics, Sen. Smith manipulated the system and shortchanged the electorate by choosing his successor in a smoke-filled back room meeting of two partisans.

The beneficiary of this subterfuge is the 30-year old Sutterlein.

That is unfortunate for voters, for the democratic process, and yes, for Sutterlein. It is Smith’s legislative secretary who now carries the stigma of being a handpicked stooge anointed through unholy brokerage.

Smith kept his constituents in the dark about his retirement plans until the appointed time to Sutterlein’s advantage. The word is the senator didn’t even bother to inform the GOP caucus leader, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment of James City.

Smith sneakily announced his intentions just 36 hours before the candidate filing deadline, leaving would-be office aspirants virtually no time to make a ballot qualification bid.

Who are we kidding here? What kind of person, no matter how savvy or organized, can make an informed decision about whether to run for the Virginia Senate, then collect 250 signatures to get on the ballot in a day and a half?

Because of the advance warning he received, Sutterlein was prepared to get on the ballot. He had the requisite petitions signatures ready to go. He also had the comfort of being reasonably sure others had no time to react, which meant a clear path to the nomination. I guess Smith thinks democracy is over rated.

Smith: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Election!

After reading this, you may think it naïve to get exercised about the kind of gamesmanship that has become all to commonplace in politics. And you might have a point if the story ended here.

But it doesn’t.

The Smith-Sutterlein conspiratorial chicanery goes further.

Smith used his authority as the incumbent to choose a canvass nomination process most beneficial to Sutterlein, once again denying voters a say by forgoing a primary election.

That approach allows Smith to avoid filing a candidate declaration form with the State Board of Elections in Richmond, another illustration of the lengths the conspirators went to mask this ruse.

The timing of it all couldn’t have been better for Sutterlein. Smith announces his retirement in a hastily called press conference on Monday afternoon (3/16) then pivots to an endorsement of Sutterlein as the region’s next state senator. Conveniently for them, but no one else in the district, the candidate filing deadline was 12:00 noon on Wednesday 2/18 – a mere 36 hours later.

That left no time for another Republican to mount a credible challenge. This is a nomination by decree. No one should be happy about that, regardless of how you feel about Smith or Sutterlein.

So that orchestration, and a $760 filing fee, was the price to secure a Virginia Senate seat for an inexperienced legislative protégé whose qualifications include handing out campaign fliers for Ken Cuccinelli and serving as Smith’s go-fer.

Smith Antics Make BLAGO Blush

The accumulated evidence suggests Ralph Smith thinks this is his seat to broker and giveaway as he sees fit – he’s the Rob Blagojevich of the Virginia Senate. The Robber Barron of Botetourt. The Shyster of Salem.

Here’s a news flash for Sen. Smith: This is the people’s seat.

We’re in charge, not you!

Voters in the 19th Senate District are sophisticated enough to realize what has happened here. So don’t be surprised if you sense resentment towards this tainted effort to reward Sutterlein with a perch of entitlement in Richmond.

The underhanded way this has played out compels me to openly encourage a thoughtful, qualified candidate to run as an Independent Republican in the 19th Virginia Senate District to show this self-appointed kingmaker that the thinking citizens will not tolerate being treated like peasants.

As it stands, this deal is dirty. It is shameful. It demeans the district’s voters and it tarnishes the entire Virginia Senate.

Don’t let the flimflam stand. It’s your seat. Not theirs. You can retake it through a proper exercise of the political process. And folks in Virginia Senate District 19 should do just that.

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