- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

“Suppose we’re riding along one of those dirt back roads, and it is pitch-black dark, and I put you out of the car and drive off. Would you rather the devil or a witch come rescue you?” Neither, I answered.

“Nah, you’ve got to vote for one or the other,” the Virginia gentleman who posed the question admonished, not letting me off the hook that easy.

“Ah, a witch?” I hedged.

“Well, that’s what you got [in the Virginia Senate race]. You [are] just swapping the devil for the witch.”

OK, but who is the devil and who is the witch between good ol’ boys? Republican Sen. George Allen, who is seeking re-election, or his Republican-turned-Democrat challenger, James H. Webb Jr., the former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan?

When I was talking to the elderly black man who remembers well the days of legal segregation in the Old Dominion and many of its behind-the-scenes players, I knew this folksy scenario was a setup. Still, it took me a second to comprehend the point he was trying to illustrate, as only a charismatic Southerner can, about the lesser of two evils.

“Ask anybody in southern Virginia, especially in the [Shenandoah] Valley or in the hills, and they’ll know what I’m talking about,” said the walking history textbook of a man.

He wants to remain anonymous for the moment because he is hoping to use the tight Senate race to the advantage of his community causes.

“Maybe I can guilt [Mr. Allen] into what I want,” the gentleman said, laughing.

The junior senator from Virginia, who had presidential aspirations, will now need all the help he can get from every constituency he has offended just to be able to march his infamous cowboy boots back into the Senate’s OK Corral.

Have you ever seen multimillion-dollar incumbent candidate beat himself so badly? George Allen is losing to George Allen, not Jim Webb, who is Allen lite.

“I run into people who constantly say they have reservations about both candidates, which is an indication that they may sit the election out,” said a Northern Virginia resident, who is black.

Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, agreed. “People are not excited by either one of them, but they need to step back and think, Do they want their senator voting with [Republican] Trent Lott or [Democrat] Harry Reid?”

Robert James is one of the co-sponsors of the upcoming Virginia Family Reunion Celebration on Oct. 22 in Arlington, an event designed to be a nonpartisan forum on “the current issues affecting African-Americans” in the November elections.

“We cannot be idle in any election, especially this one,” Mr. James said. “We owe it to our ancestors to be informed, educated and actively participating in decisions on these important issues.”

The reunion, at which most of the speakers will be Democrats such as Virginia’s Secretary of Administration Viola O. Baskerville, will be dedicated to those, like the aforementioned Virginia gentleman, “who endured through slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination in the commonwealth.”

Mr. James said “they didn’t have an opportunity to determine their futures, but we do.”

As for the Virginia Senate race, he said, “The November election will have far-reaching consequences for African-Americans [more] than the result of the senatorial contest of Jim Webb and George Allen viewed in a vacuum. We should be mindful that the election results will actually impact the overall direction of this country and, specifically, which political party controls the House and the Senate.”

He suggested that “the black turnout could determine this election” and “the direction this country will go in.” Black voters comprise 20 percent of the Virginia electorate and have provided the margin for victory in other elections.

Mrs. Baskerville, an appointee of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, said that voters are just now paying attention to the Senate race “because it’s gotten so close.” But, she added, “There are still a lot of undecided folks out there.” The Board of Elections office, which falls under her direction, has seen an increase in voter registration for the general election.

By the way, today is the deadline for registering to vote Nov. 7.

Mrs. Baskerville pointed out that in addition to the hotly contested Senate race, there are referendums and local elections that may drive Virginia voters to the polls.

Speaking as a former member of the House of Delegate from central Virginia and as a private citizen, Mrs. Baskerville said she is wary of any politician who comes to the black community and churches in the final days of a campaign, making promises that they have not kept once in office.

She is skeptical, for example, that based on Mr. Allen’s track record as governor, he is reportedly ready to make financial commitments to historically black colleges.

How much did facing the charges of using racial epithets while at the University of Virginia contribute to this campaign promise issued by a black supporter?

Money for historically black colleges is great, but Mrs. Baskerville said she will be watching the final debates closely to determine which candidate is talking about economic justice, higher wages, access to health care and “a broad spectrum of problems.”

Mrs. Baskerville said voters must “dig behind all the candidates all the time, particularly those who cater at the eleventh hour.” How else to determine the devil from the witch on the dark back roads of the Old Dominion?

More information about the free Virginia Family Reunion Celebration, Oct. 22 at 3101 Wilson Blvd., fifth floor, Arlington, is available at [email protected]

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