Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Another ambitious John Edwards
With the nomination of the Democrats’ national ticket in Boston last week, U.S. Sen. John Edwards is becoming a household name. North Carolina’s John Edwards ran for President this year, basing his run on his single term in the U.S. Senate. Closer to home, Roanoke Sen. John Edwards is running for attorney general, having been re-elected twice to a district that any Democrat would have a difficult time losing. Like his North Carolina namesake, Roanoke’s John Edwards has an inflated, arrogant and totally unwarranted image of his own accomplishments.
A true story about the Roanoke Edwards: I once invited him to speak to my Hollins University class on State and Local Government. On three separate occasions, I told Edwards that Del. Morgan Griffith had spoken to the students earlier in the semester, and that Griffith had skipped the usual “opening remarks” and simply asked the students for their questions. I tried to suggest that Edwards do the same.
He not only insisted on making opening remarks, but in those opening remarks, he explained to senior year political science majors that the three branches of government are the legislative, executive and judiciary. He even pronounced the words with exaggerated slowness, as though doubtful that senior year political science majors would understand what he was talking about. And this was not even the best moment; that came when a student asked him about a bill he had co-patroned to make the turtle Virginia’s official state reptile, and Edwards said he could not remember anything about the bill. (With more than 3,000 bills introduced in some sessions, no legislator can remember all of them, but a lawmaker should remember the ones to which he put his name.)
With such a lackadaisical attitude toward his own legislation, it is hard to imagine that even many Democrats will take Edwards’ campaign for attorney general seriously. But assuming that his campaign does get off the ground, it is worthwhile to examine the bills that Edwards has patroned in the past session. His record is a surprisingly weak one, and has some glaring inconsistencies.
Edwards introduced 30 bills during the regular 2004 session. Of these, seven were of no consequence whatever. They were bills commending someone, or celebrating the life of someone. In one case, Edwards took the statesmanlike stand that among Virginia’s pressing needs is another vanity license plate. Ten of Edwards’ bills made technical changes in existing legislation.
Another Edwards bill is hard to classify. This is SB245, concerning the regulation of dance halls by county, city and town. As it happens, this one did not even make it out of Edwards’ own Senate Courts of Justice committee, so it probably belongs in the “no consequence whatever” category.
Edwards did introduce some substantive legislation this year, but almost none of it passed. Of his 12 substantive bills, only two passed the General Assembly. Five were “continued to 2005,” a legislatively polite way of saying, “We hope the patron himself will forget all about this one by next year.” Three others passed the Senate, but were defeated in House committees, two of them by large, bipartisan majorities. One bill was identical to a House bill, and one, SB 688, managed to go down to defeat in the Senate, twice, on the same day.
Two of Edwards’ bills reveal a remarkable level of political inconsistency. He proposed an amendment to the Virginia Constitution which would “permit localities to provide a partial exemption from real property taxation for real estate and associated new structures and improvements in conservation, redevelopment, or rehabilitation areas.” In other words, during the same session in which Edwards consistently supported Mark Warner’s tax increase, which punishes Virginians for earning money, spending money and buying cars, he was eager to lower taxes for buildings in approved neighborhoods.
Even more jarring was his introduction of SB133, which would have amended the city charter of Roanoke to permit “voter petition-initiated advisory referenda.” While Edwards, along with Warner, ridiculed the idea of a statewide referendum on the tax increase, he was trying to compel Roanoke to entertain any referendum idea whose backers managed to collect the right number of signatures.
When he was speaking to my class at Hollins, Edwards expressed impatience with students who used the Internet to check on his legislative record. At the time, I thought this extraordinary attitude was simply due to embarrassment. Now, as Edwards prepares to run to the left to get the Democratic nomination for attorney general, and then tries to tack back to the center for the general election, his dislike for fact-checking seems more calculated.
Edwards had very little success in dealing with the General Assembly, even while he was a member of it. He will find it even harder if he becomes attorney general. Which as any seventh-grade civics student can tell you, is in the executive, not the legislative, branch of government.