Opinion: Commentary: Principle Above Partisanship

Opinion: Commentary: Principle Above Partisanship

Virginia lost two of its finest citizens last week: former United States Senator John Warner who died at age 94 and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates Dick Hobson who died at 89 years old. Both were heavily engaged in partisan politics—Warner as a Republican and Hobson as a Democrat. Both may have been best known, however, for the times they rose above their party labels to assert principles over partisanship.

Senator John Warner had the dignified look and the resounding voice of a person in power. He had a very admirable career in the U.S. military in both the Navy and the Marines and served later in civilian life as Secretary of the Navy. For more than 30 years he served in the United States Senate where he was a recognized expert in military affairs. He was elected to represent the Commonwealth at a time when Southern Democrats dominated politics in the state. Some attribute his first election to his second wife, Elizabeth Taylor, but he continued to be elected after their divorce based on his unassailable performance in office.

My dealings with Senator Warner were never very direct, but as a member of the Northern Virginia delegation I recognized, as did the Democratic majority in the General Assembly and Democratic governors, that Senator Warner was the go-to person on Capitol Hill if the state needed federal assistance.

Mark Warner took on John Warner in an election of “Mark not John” but was unsuccessful. Mark had to wait for John’s retirement before winning the seat with Senator Warner’s endorsement. Senator Warner, the Republican, was known in his retirement days for endorsing Democrats for president including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. He loved the Senate and his country, and he never let partisanship get ahead of that loyalty.

Delegate Richard “Dick” Hobson served in the Virginia House of Delegates for two terms retiring in 1979. He was in his second and final term when I first came to the House of Delegates in 1978. I felt a particular kinship to him because both of us coming from Northern Virginia as progressive Democrats felt ourselves at odds with many of the politics and priorities of the more conservative Democrats who dominated the House. A key element of the then-declining “Byrd Machine” that dominated Virginia politics for decades was the role of circuit court judges in keeping the machine in power. As a progressive freshman in the House, I planned to change that political abuse that was a violation of the separation of powers. Dick Hobson was the only other delegate who was willing to sign as a copatron on my bill to provide for the merit selection of judges. He went with me to provide moral support for my first appearance before the powerful Rules Committee that defeated my bill within minutes as not having merit.

Like John Warner, Dick Hobson put principles of democracy and good government ahead of partisanship, and Virginia is better for the leadership of both of them!