A Good Man Prepares To Leave Congress, But Not Public Life

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“The sky's the limit for him.

“He's universally respected.

“If he wants to stay in politics, he's the kind of person you want in politics.

Email newsletter signup

“He's principled.

“He's earnest.

“He's polite.

“He's all of those things.

“He can come up to Fairfax, and he'll probably win forever.”

And he's Tom Perriello.

No, the extremely high praise for Rep. Perriello quoted above is not from a campaign press release, a family member, friend, or Democratic Party leader.

To the contrary, those glowing words were spoken by former Republican Congressman Tom Davis, of Fairfax, during a post-election interview with The Washington Post.

That was a Republican telling the truth about Tom Perriello.

As Rep. Perriello prepares to leave office and make way for Robert Hurt to represent the Fifth District, it's a good time to leave the partisan fusillades behind and acknowledge the truth that a good man represented the Fifth District for the past two years.

Whether you agreed with his voting record or not, most fair-minded folks will agree the man worked diligently at what he did. Rep. Perriello was in the Farmville community so often one sometimes thought he lived here. And that was after he was elected. Winning in 2008 didn't see any diminution of Rep. Perriello's presence. Sometimes you'd figure he had to have a double just to cover so much territory-the Fifth District is about the size of New Jersey. Rep. Perriello took nothing and nobody for granted.

In The Washington Post interview, Mr. Davis also said Rep. Perriello won “everyone's grudging respect” for running a vigorous campaign that didn't run from his voting record on health care reform.

As a journalist here in the Fifth District since 1979, I have never seen a harder-working, more indefatigable and effective congressman representing the Fifth District than Rep. Perriello. That's no criticism of Dan Daniel, L. F. Payne, Jr. or Virgil Goode-all of them good men who worked hard. I've liked each and every one. Clearly, just over 50 percent of the district's voters thought Rep. Perriello's two years were enough. Just as clearly, nearly 50 percent of the district's voters thought two years were not enough.

The odds are that Virginians will have another chance to vote 'for' or 'against' Rep. Perriello. Either here in the Fifth District for congress in two years or for statewide office-perhaps governor?-in 2013. Rep. Perriello has not ruled anything out, saying this to the Charlottesville Daily Progress regarding his future: “I know it'll be service. It could be non-profit. It could be public. Who knows? It's going to take me a while to figure all that out.”

But his political career is over only if he wants his political career to be over.

And there's a retired Republican congressman who believes the sky is the limit for the Democrat.

But if the sky doesn't include another political run, there is something Rep. Perriello said last year during a Town Hall meeting in Buckingham that struck a resonant chord then, and now. Responding to a man who stood up in that public forum and vowed to work for his defeat in the 2010 election if Rep. Perriello voted for health care reform, the congressman's reply exemplified the qualities attributed to him by retired Republican congressman Davis which began this editorial.

“That is absolutely part of the democratic process,” Rep. Perriello told the man, regarding his vow to work for the congressman's electoral defeat in a year's time, “and I encourage it.”

And then Rep. Perriello told the man, and all of the many, many people gathered there in Buckingham, “If the worst thing that happens to me is that I get to be part of the House of Representatives for two years and part of the greatest democracy ever invented-I can live with that.”

The words of a good man-principled, earnest, and polite-who strove to serve a politically diverse district to the very best of his ability.

And succeeded.