This is an open letter and a word of advice to Bill Carrico, Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District.
Everyone tells me you're a great guy with a superb track record in the Virginia House of Delegates and that you're right on the issues that matter most.
But you're going to lose if you let your opponent -- a powerful foe with a vast array of resources and a boatload of influential friends -- set the agenda and the tone of the debate. As of this writing, you are doing just that.
Your adversary has already begun the process of framing the contest in the same way he did in 2004 when he ran against Kevin Triplett. He has made it clear to his supporters -- and to his friends in the mainstream press -- that he is going to maintain a "positive campaign."
His intention is to force you to keep your criticisms positive as well or run the risk of being labeled, as Triplett was two years ago, as "having gone negative." Kevin played the game to the end and was positively crushed by 20 points on election night. Do the same, and prepare to meet the same fate.
There is much for which Rick Boucher has to answer relating to realities here on the ground; ground we are slowly, inexorably losing. And making nice will not get us answers. Especially to questions like these:
- Economic projections for Southwest Virginia -- even when taking into account more robust areas like Blacksburg, Wytheville and Abingdon -- paint a bleak picture. According to the Milken Institute, the nation's premier economic think tank, Bristol, as part of the district's only metropolitan statistical area known as the tri-cities -- ranks 170th in terms of future economic growth potential out of 200 MSAs across the U.S. To put it in terms that can be more readily understood, 170th puts Bristol on a glide path to third-world country status if we stay on course. Does Boucher find something positive in the fact that Bristol beat out Detroit (192nd)?
- Since he was re-elected in 2004, dozens of employers in Pulaski, Smyth, Scott, Russell, Wise, Wythe, and Giles counties as well as in Galax closed their doors because the cost of doing business here became too great. Why?
- The largest private employer in Washington County has laid off a fifth of its workers and is up for sale. Why?
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since Boucher originally took office in 1983, Lee, Dickenson, Tazewell, and Buchanan counties have lost population as thousands of families have left the area to find work. Why?
- Add to that statistic another census bureau report that estimates a loss of population in Scott, Pulaski, Patrick, Wise, Russell, and Smyth counties between the 2000 census and today. Why?
- The largest employer in Giles County, one that provided 28 percent of total county tax revenue, has nearly shut down. Why?
- A quarter of the people in Lee County live below the poverty line. Why?
- Millions of precious taxpayer dollars have been devoted to developing the tourism industry in Southwest Virginia in recent years with virtually nothing to show for it. Why?
- Buchanan County has the highest suicide rate in the state, followed by Scott, Russell, Wise and Lee. Double the state average. Why?
- An estimated 6,000 homes in Southwest Virginia have no indoor plumbing. In 2006. Why?
- The government has found the drinking water coming out of Callahan Creek and the Powell River to be unfit for human consumption. Yet many citizens of Wise County have no alternative source of potable water. Why?
- Why substandard housing?
- Why a shorter life expectancy?
- Why higher infant mortality rates?
- Why underperforming schools?
Mr. Carrico, the people of Southwest Virginia deserve answers. You can choose to keep your campaign on a positive plane and lose, or you can demand accountability. Thunder your demand for all to hear. Convince the people of Southwest Virginia that circumstances here, though deteriorating, can improve. Convince them, and you'll win. Then, once elected, roll up your sleeves and bring positive change to this tortured land.