How are Roanoke’s proposed bus station, Rep. Denver Riggleman, the Ukraine whistleblower and impeachment all related? We have questions about each. Let’s go!
1. Bus station. On Sunday, we published a four-story report on the controversy over where Roanoke wants to put its new bus station, moving it from the current location on Campbell Avenue to one on Salem Avenue. The city originally looked at a tract of land on Norfolk Avenue, where the bus station could be combined with the Amtrak platform. A consultant, who was paid $284,000 by the city, found this would be “an excellent potential opportunity.” The story by reporters Matt Chittum and Jeff Sturgeon went on to say: “The multimodal idea stalled because the land that was ideal for it wasn’t available, and available land wouldn’t work.”
That “ideal” land was a parking lot on Norfolk Avenue owned by John Lampros. Lampros, though, wouldn’t sell. He owns several parking lots — all managed by the same company. That Norfolk Avenue lot is one of the biggest. Without those spaces, the parking company might not be interested in the rest of his properties. That seems a reasonable business concern. However, what caught our eye is what the story said next: Lampros “would have considered trading the land for other land.” He told The Roanoke Times: “Anything is possible.”
Whoa. Why aren’t people on both sides of the question focused on that? Before the city commits to a second-best Salem Avenue site — a site that some neighbors object to — shouldn’t the city look into a land swap to get access to the Norfolk Avenue site that everyone seems to agree is the best place? Land swaps are pretty routine. Indeed, the city just bought the land where it wants to put the bus station — and that land is currently a parking lot. Sounds like a possible deal waiting to be made. Isn’t it worth a little bit of time and effort to explore a land swap if the potential payoff is a better site that can combine all the transportation needs in one place?
2. Riggleman. Over the weekend, the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee voted to nominate its congressional candidate next year at a convention rather than through a primary. That’s bad news for the incumbent — Riggleman — who faces a challenge from his right from Bob Good, a Campbell County supervisor and athletics officials at Liberty University. Conventions amplify the weight of hard-core party activists, who tend to be much further to the right than the larger universe of Republican primary voters. Good says that Riggleman, in less than a single term, has “betrayed the trust of the Republican conservative base.” The real problem seems to be that Riggleman officiated at a same-sex wedding this past summer for two men who had worked on his campaign. Some Republican county committees promptly voted to censure Riggleman and that gave rise to Good’s challenge.
So here’s the question: How far right can Republicans go and still win that district? Spoiler: We don’t know. Nobody knows. But if Good ousts Riggleman, we might have an interesting test case.
Republicans in statewide races have consistently won the 5th District but by small enough margins that Democrats keep thinking there must be some way to win that district. Democrats are often delusional about their prospects in rural districts, but here are the numbers. In 10 statewide or district-wide elections since the current 5th District was drawn, the Republican share of the vote has ranged from 50% (Corey Stewart, 2018 U.S. Senate race) to 57% (Jill Vogel, 2017 lieutenant governor’s race and Mark Obenshain, 2013 attorney general’s race.) The average is just under 54%. Riggleman is right on target. In his 2018 race, he took 53% while Democrat Leslie Cockburn took just under 47%.
Now, Cockburn was not the best of candidates — and probably too far to the left for that district. What if Republicans ousted Riggleman to pick a candidate much further to the right — and Democrats picked a candidate closer to the center? Of course, we might also ask what would happen if unicorns were bounding through the forest. Democrats may not have such a candidate. Nor may they be in a mood to do so if they had one. Many Democrats of a more left-leaning persuasion have come to believe that it’s futile to chase “swing” voters — better to concentrate on turning out Democratic-leaning non-voters. The question, of course, is how many of each type there really are in the 5th District.
Democrats might also be chastened — and Republicans might be emboldened — by this fact: Of the 10 races cited above, the third-strongest candidate in the 5th was the one who will — barring some impeachment surprise — be on the ballot next November: Trump. He took 55% in 2016, so slightly above the district average. It seems distasteful if a relative handful of party activists can kick out an incumbent congressman for officiating at a legal event, but the political reality seems to be that any Republican nominee in the 5th District will start with an advantage.
3. Whistleblower. Why are Republicans so fixated on outing the whistleblower who set the Ukraine investigation in motion? It’s certainly fascinating from a historical point of view, in the same way that the identity of Watergate’s “Deep Throat” was fascinating. But as a matter of evidence, why does it matter? The whistleblower didn’t have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s phone call. Now, though, Trump himself has released a transcript. Why do we need second-hand or third-hand testimony when we have the actual evidence? (Whether that evidence is impeachment-worthy is a separate question). Some Republicans seem to be acting as if the next Democratic administration will be staffed entirely by angels — a prospect at odds with all of human history. Republicans might well appreciate the value of protecting whistleblowers then. Have we come to forget any kind of long-term thinking?
4. Impeachment. Finally, we come to the rules, which Democrats have passed and Republicans objected to. Why must there be rules passed for each possible impeachment case? This marks the 63rd impeachment inquiry since 1789 (most of those dealt with federal judges). Why must new rules be passed each time? We don’t pass new laws every time there’s a murder trial. It seems a lot of the partisan rancor would go away if there were consistent rules — although that would deprive one side of some easy talking points, so this might be a question that answers itself. What about the other three, though?