11/21/13: A leader by example

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

THE CLOSEST statewide election in Virginia history, prior to the current attorney general contest, took place in 2005. The race was decided by 323 votes out of more than 1.9 million votes cast.

On the losing end was Creigh Deeds, the state senator from Bath County. The same two candidates faced off again in 2009, with the same result, albeit by a much larger margin.

It has been the 2005 campaign, though, that I have thought about most since the awful events of Tuesday. It was during that campaign that I got to know Creigh.

I was a candidate that year, and like most first-time candidates, looked to those with more experience for guidance. The opportunities to learn were constant. Local candidates, like me, were often at the same events and even in the same offices.

One image stands out.

I can still see Creigh on his cellphone, making fundraising calls in the halls of the Coordinated Campaign office in Southern Shopping Center.

If there is one thing about being a candidate that most dislike, it’s fundraising. It’s a necessary part of any campaign but definitely not fun. For me, call time was the worst part of my day. Talking with voters was the best part.

Creigh was adept at both.

I listened, somewhat in awe, as he made his pitch to donors. I could never tell if he was successful, as he ended the calls the same way — always upbeat, always smiling.

His approach to voters was the same. Whether or not he agreed with you, he always listened. His smile was infectious.

More than anything, though, I learned that Creigh is a good man, one who cares deeply about his family and our commonwealth. His views are shaped by a rich understanding of history and his own life experiences.

Next Monday, the results in the November election will be certified by the State Board of Elections. A recount will likely follow, just as it did in 2005. But the recount will be different this time, thanks to the efforts of Creigh Deeds.

In the 2005 recount, the law did not allow for the actual recounting of opscan ballots. A recount really wasn’t a recount; instead, the law simply called for the printouts from the voting machines to be reexamined. Deeds’ request for the opscan ballots to be re-run through voting machines was denied.

In 2008, Deeds’ Senate Bill 35 passed the legislature. The law today includes the provision that will require the opscan ballots to be re-run through voting machines.

More localities today use opscan ballots than did in 2005. (I’d like to see all localities use them.) Whether the recount affects the 164-vote margin remains to be seen, but we have Creigh to thank for putting “recount” in recount.

The response from every corner to the tragedy suffered by Creigh and his family Tuesday is not just people being nice. It shows the respect held for a man who has devoted much of his life to serving the people of Virginia.

There was no personal benefit for Creigh in getting the recount law changed. Ultimately, the beneficiaries are not the winning candidates, but the voters in the commonwealth, who can have confidence that their votes were properly counted.

That’s leadership. And I’m grateful for having had the example of Creigh Deeds in 2005. I look forward to his continuing example in the future.