Virginia’s Democratic Dan Helmer—He’s in One “Bigly” Battle to Defeat Reactionary State Delegate Tim Hugo October 27, 2019
Virginia, the Old Dominion, the home of Founding Fathers and Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. VA, the state where the Confederacy had its capital, Richmond, and for years after the Civil War subjected its black citizens to harsh inequality under its Jim Crow segregation laws. VA, a state that voted for reactionary anti-integration Dixiecrats and later for right wing GOP Senators and Governors. VA, with its multicultural, suburban, and heavily growing northern D.C. suburbs has now gone from “Red,” to “Purple,” and seems to heading in the “Blue” progressive Democratic direction. VA elected African American Douglas Wilder Governor in 1990, the first black to serve as Governor in a U.S. state since Reconstruction. After going for conservative GOP presidential candidates from 1968-2004, VA voted for African American Barack Obama twice in 2008 and 2012 as well as for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary’s running mate was strong VA Democrat Tim Kaine who was re-elected to a second term by 16 points in 2018 (Barone Political Almanac 2020).
In the last several decades, VA has had several Democratic Governors and Senators. Democratic Governors, including Terry McAuliffe and his successor Ralph Northam, however, have been unable to pass many key progressive measures including expanding health care, more traffic congestion relief, pro-choice legislation, and gun control. Why? Because the GOP still controls a majority in VA’s two state legislative chambers, the House of Delegates and the State Senate. Currently, the VA Senate has only a 20-19 GOP edge. After the 11/2017 elections in which Democratic voters came out in droves to register their hostility to Demagogue Donald, VA Democrats made great gains in that state’s lower chamber, the House of Delegates. They flipped 15 seats from “Red” to “Blue,” the most since 1899 (dlcc.org, 10/20/19). The GOP only held on to the House of Delegates two years ago after a race had to be decided by drawing a candidate’s name from a bowl. The GOP now controls the House of Delegates by a 51-48 margin (Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19, nytimes.com, 8/19/19).
In VA, unlike the rest of the nation, all 140 seats in its House of Delegates and State Senate will be on the ballot on 11/05/2019, just nine days away. If the Democrats hold on to their 2017 House of Delegate and previous State Senate gains and flip two seats in both of these chambers from “Red” to “Blue,” the Old/”New” Dominion will have along with Dem. Governor Ralph Northam a legislative trifecta that can pass major progressive legislation. This “Blue” trifecta can give other Democrats a headwind in the 2020 national and other state elections. A Democratic flip of the VA legislative chambers will also show what issues can “play” nationally and in other states.
The 2019 VA House of Delegates (HD) races will occur on legislative turf friendlier to Democrats. The 2017 VA state Democratic gains occurred in districts heavily gerrymandered in the GOP’s favor in the VA House of Delegates. After litigation, a lower court ruled that 11 HD districts were unconstitutionally drawn because of GOP racial gerrymandering. As a result, an outside expert realigned 26 VA House districts. VA GOPers, led by HD Speaker Kirk Cox, appealed that lower court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). On 6/17/2019, SCOTUS turned back Cox’s challenge, with even conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion (CNN, 6/17/19, Wash. Post, 6/17/19). Racial gerrymandering, unlike political gerrymandering, is prohibited by SCOTUS. These newly drawn maps that SCOTUS upheld will be used in the 11/05/2019 VA state elections. As I discussed in my 9/01/2019 blogpost, House of Delegates GOP Speaker Kirk Cox is in a tough battle against Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman in the redrawn 66th HD district. Let’s look at another crucial VA HD district contest that could help flip that chamber “Blue.” GOP Tim Hugo is facing a strong challenge from Democratic candidate Dan Helmer.
Sixteen-year incumbent Republican Tim Hugo currently represents VA’s 40th HD district. The VA 40th HD is considered a major political battleground. It spans the western portions of Fairfax and Prince William Counties (princewilliamtimes.com, 8/15/19, Berti, D.). The VA 40th contains the cities of Clifton, Fairfax Station, and Centreville in Fairfax County as well as areas north of the I-66, including Catharpin in Prince William County. The HD 40th is located in “Blue”-trending and heavily growing Northern VA that has put VA in the Democratic column in the past three presidential elections. Following the “Blue” wave of 2017, Hugo remains the only GOPer left in the state legislature from Fairfax County. In 2016, Hillary beat Donald in the 40th HD 51%-43%. In 2017, the previous Democratic candidate fell about 100 votes short of beating Hugo (Barone 2020, ggwash.org, Alpert, D., 9/10/19, ballotpedia.org, VA HD District Election, 2017).
Hugo earned his B.A. from the College of William and Mary. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1990-1998. He previously worked as chief-of-staff for former PA GOP Congressman Bud Shuster. Hugo is the executive director of the Free File Alliance, a non-profit organization representing 12 tax software companies. He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2003 (balloptpedia.org, Project Vote Smart, “Biography,” Martin, D., shareblue.com, 10/18/19).
Hugo, like HD Speaker Cox, is no backbencher. Hugo is the GOP caucus chairman and third-ranking GOPer in the House of Delegates (ggwash.org, Alpert, 9/10/19, washington-post, vademocrats, 9/01/19). Hugo, in progressive-trending Northern VA, is a strong right-wing GOPer. His website notes that he is for “low taxes and limited regulation.” He has a basement 18% 2019 score from VA’s AFL-CIO labor group and similar ratings over the years. In 2018, the American Conservative Union gave him an 80% legislative lifetime score. He has received 100% pro-life scores, but 0% ones from pro-choice NARAL and Planned Parenthood VA (votesmart.org). He has a 0% score on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBTQ issues (votesmart.org).
On gun control, Hugo has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). In 2019 alone, he has stopped 70 pieces of commonsense gun safety legislation. After just 90 minutes, Delegate Hugo voted with GOPer Speaker Cox to shut down a special session in 7/2019 to deal with gun control legislation proposed by Democrats. Dem. Gov. Northam had called that session after the 5/2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 people (Vozzella, Wash. Post, princewilliamtimes.com, Berti, 8/15/19). In 2012, Hugo voted with fellow GOPers to repeal a 20-year law limiting handgun purchases to one a month. He opposed allowing local localities to regulate firearms and voted to allow concealed handguns to be carried inside bars and restaurants that sell liquor (washington-post, vademocrats, 9/01/19). Now faced with a tough election and realizing he is out of step with his constituents, Hugo “suddenly” came out in favor of a “red flag” bill to keep firearms out of the hands of people who pose a risk to themselves and others. He previously opposed strong “red flag” bills, and this bill is a fairly weak one (See Wash. Post, vademocrats, 9/01/19).
Hugo shocked his constituents, locally elected officials on both sides of the aisle, and GOP State Senators when he defeated Gov. Northam’s amendments for funding to relieve road decongestion because it contained “rather modest” regional taxes. It’s all about Hugo’s anti-tax ideology. He could care less that his constituents suffer in horrible traffic jams (See vademocrats.org, 4/28/18). In 2011, vindictive Hugo led an effort to try to punish Arlington County for opposing new carpool/toll lanes (HOT lanes) on I-395 and tried to take other money away Arlington County (ggwash.org, Alpert, 9/10/19).
Like Demagogue Donald, Hugo is all for making and getting money himself while in office. As executive director of Free File Alliance, Hugo, according to a Pro-Publica investigation, is linked to two companies, Intuit, which owns Turbo Tax, and H&R Block. These companies, two of Free Files Alliance’s biggest members, intentionally made it harder for Americans to find and use free tax-filing programs they were eligible for by employing “deceptive designs and misleading advertising.” About 50% of Virginians should have qualified for free tax-filing in 2018, but less than 3% used that service that year. Between 2007 and 2019, Intuit and H&R Block donated $33,000 to Hugo’s campaigns. In 2018, Hugo accepted more than $2,000 from H&R Block for his 2019 race, money which goes a long way in local contests (See shareblue.com, Martin, D., 10/18/19).
Meet Dan Helmer, Hugo’s 11/2019 Democratic opponent. Helmer, a 2003 West Point graduate, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his ads and in his door- to-door canvassing, Helmer emphasizes his military service and then pivots to his call for new gun restrictions. Helmer noted that he found voters of both parties personally telling him, “Do something about the mass shootings,” shootings that have occurred far too frequently in VA as well as recently in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH (votesmart.org, nytimes.com, Epstein, R., 8/08/19). Helmer constantly attacks Hugo for his pro-NRA record. He has been endorsed by former AZ Dem. Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head in 1/2011 (Berti, princewilliamtimes.com, 8/15/19). Helmer, unlike Hugo, truly stands for improved roads and a better mass transit system. He calls VA’s traffic among “the worst in the nation” because that state has not invested in transit infrastructure. He wants to have increased transportation revenue funding for regional projects. He is for making housing more affordable by increasing high density-zoning near mass transit stops. Helmer knows that all politics is both “national” and, as the late Dem. House Speaker Tip O’Neill often said, also “local (See ggwash.org, Alpert, 9/10/19).” He is a perfect fit for the 40th HD.
Yes, VA Democrats now have fairer redistricted maps in the upcoming elections. However, the GOP is lobbing increasing oodles of money into negative ads and aiming to get their anti-gun control followers to go to the polls. Koch Industries alone is planning a multi-million dollar TV blitz during the last days of the VA campaign. Demagogue Donald will attend rallies in key battleground areas to get his MAGA gang out in force. Trump’s last-minute rally, remember, was very effective in the 9/2019 9th Congressional District NC special election (nytimes.com, 8/08/19, dlcc.org, 10/20/ & 10/23/19, Allen, J. nbcnews.com, 9/11/19). Democrats need money and increased grassroots organizing to get their Northern VA and Richmond area voters out in droves to counter the “Trump”/Confederate-loving Southside and western rural parts of the state. And unlike in 2017, they are no high profile/”glamor” races like Governor and Atty. General on the ballot. GOPers like Cox and Hugo are going door-to-door “pretending” they are moderates. VA Democrats must not be fooled. Too many VA races are being labeled “toss ups.” If “Team Blue’s” base does not show up, the GOP will keep one or both VA legislative chambers. Sensible gun control and pro-choice legislation will then be defeated. Dem. Gov. Northam’s entire legislative program will be stymied if one or both legislative houses remain in “Red” hands. Trump will feel “vindicated” going into 2020 and political pundits will agree. VA Democrats must make 11/05/2019 a “Blue” letter day. Recent polling has shown that Virginians want Democratic majorities in their legislative chambers (See pfaw.org, 10/25/19). However, hating Demagogue Donald and his policies and wanting a “Blue” majority mean absolutely nothing unless one shows up at the ballot box. Again, how do we defeat Trumpism and its GOP rubber stampers? “Turnout, Turnout, Turnout!” On 11/05/2019, VA Democrats must “Occupy the Polls.”