I recently wrote about the County Board’s efforts in Arlington, Virginia to force a streetcar onto its residents that the majority don’t want. Opposition became so fierce that it allowed an Independent (although Republican leaning) candidate, John Vihstadt, to be elected to a board seat in a special election last spring. This is not a bad accomplishment in a Democrat stronghold like Arlington County, where Mickey Mouse could probably get elected to office as long as there is a (D) behind his name. Still, it was not a huge shock to get a non-Democrat elected in a lower turnout special election. The conventional wisdom for this are suggested that Vihstadt’s bested opponent, Alan Howze would take the seat in the regular election a few months later. Opposition to the streetcar mounted, and my post left us off a few weeks before the election. What followed is nothing less than truly amazing.
First, in the election, Vihstadt won. And he did not just win, but it was a crushing victory. Vihstadt beat Howze by a 56% to 44% margin. Out of just under 63,000 votes cast, Vihstadt won by around 7,500 votes. Again, for an area as heavily Democrat as Arlington this is surprising to have occurred in a regular election. County Democrats were shocked, to say the least. This was about as clear a referendum on the streetcar as one could have imagined, and with seats for two streetcar supporting Democrats up for re-election in 2015 this needed to be taken seriously.
Nobody was really sure of what would happen next with the streetcar. If the Dems still pushed forward with the project then maybe the Republicans get a little bolder and run an anti-streetcar candidate or two with full (R)s behind their names. It seemed crazy that Arlington Democrats would sacrifice their once proud stranglehold on county politics to satisfy whichever interests stood to benefit from the project, but that couldn’t be ruled out. Or maybe they try to push up construction timetables to make discontinuing difficult if the 2015 elections didn’t go their way. It would soon turn out that Vihstadt’s election wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in Arlington in November.
Two weeks after the election the county announced that it would officially scrap the project. The reaction from those of us opposed to the project was shock and awe. We knew that the tide had turned in our favor, but had no idea we would achieve total victory so quickly. Some of the board still seems to think that they were caught flat footed by a well organized opposition, as if just stating their case better would bring the rubes around to their point of view, or to refer to it in a new term, “Gruberizing.” Another post election analysis by old school reporter Robert Parry blamed the election on the last resort of the intellectually defeated leftist… racism.1 OK, while that last claim is not too surprising, it doesn’t seem to be a widely held view here in Arlington.
What’s truly amazing about the streetcar decision is that the voters spoke, and our elected officials actually listened to us. Contrast this with Nancy Pelosi, who even the Washington Post mocked by saying “Nancy Pelosi seems to think Democrats won the election. She’s wrong.” Or look at President “I won” Obama, who once taunted Republicans by saying “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election“, or who confidently boasted in the lead up the 2014 mid term elections, “…make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them”.
We all know how the elections turned out, and how did the president react? He decided to take the “Beatings will continue until morale improves” approach to our economy. Deciding that economic growth needs to be further slowed down he began exploring more regulation over one of the freest elements of our economy. He also decided to ignore separation of church and state by allowing a religious cult’s teachings to hamper domestic energy development. As if these weren’t enough he’s also decided to ignore the Constitution by taking executive action to both assault our working class while putting a financial strain on local and state governments.
The behavior of Obama and Pelosi also a great illustration of how out of touch Washington, DC is with the American people and is a good argument for more federal functions to be handled at more local levels for greater accountability. We know that this won’t happen at the federal level, but where there’s life, there’s hope. And Arlington County proved it.
Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog
1 It’s a shame that the article had to focus on race, as it made a few good points about how transit spending was being spent in north versus south Arlington. Unfortunately it got lost in a post that was stuck on stupid.