An Undue Influence: W&L and Local Politics
By Douglas Ciampi '19
Many at Washington and Lee refer to Lexington as their home, and with legitimate reasons to do so. But all too many students forget that there is a Lexington and a Rockbridge outside of W&L, that is home to mothers, fathers, and children with interests not directly tied to the university.
Countless students here also have high political and social justice aspirations which they unfortunately take out on the unsuspecting members of the community. Recently there has been two movements by students at Washington and Lee to unseat the democratically elected politicians representing the area.
The third of March saw the “Lexington Women’s Rights Rally” which protested Delegate Ben Cline (R) and the Virginia House of Delegate’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood. I am all for the residents of his district coming together and letting their voices be heard, but interestingly enough one of the most active voices of this protest did not come from the people of Rockbridge, but from the aspiring professional activists at W&L who come from such distant lands as New England and the West Coast.
Delegate Ben Cline is overwhelmingly supported by his constituents, frequently being elected by 70%, with an all-time low of 57.43% in his first election. It is the democratic will of his district that he be their representative, and a significant amount of his opposition is coming from out-of-state students.
Cline is not alone in his struggle against foreign opposition. Representative Bob Goodlatte from Virginia’s 6th congressional district, which includes Rockbridge and many of its neighboring counties, has come under attack for his support of President Trump and many other conservative policies.
Missing fliers of him have spawned up around town, which are a valid critique of his infrequent appearances around his district. But what struck me most was a flier that briefly appeared in one of the elevators here on campus that called for, presumably by students given its location, to call and complain to him about his apparent support for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
I went back only the next day to photograph the flier for this article, but it appears a grassroots effort on campus disbanded the flier into several dozen pieces on the floor of the elevator.
As with Delegate Cline, Representative Goodlatte is exceptionally popular in his district. Since 1992, he has won between 60-100% of the vote in his district, crushing his Democratic opponent, Kai Degner, by over 100,000 votes this past election.
His stances are also very public, as he campaigned alongside then-candidate Donald J. Trump in Roanoke this past September, and holds an A rating by the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund. His views and voting record very much supports the ideals and values of his constituents.
Washington and Lee students crave to be active politically, and that is not inherently bad. What is questionable is when the students hold local government hostage to their outside ideals and values. Many families here in the Rockbridge area have been here for more than a handful of generations. They enjoy their way of life much as how many of us students do when we return home over breaks.
The students here ought to respect the right of the people who actually live in these congressional districts to decide who will represent them. Unlike the majority of the College Democrats here, many of those in Rockbridge County and the Greater Sixth, do not have the ability to leave every June-August to escape the poor political choices that some of those on the W&L campus readily push.
With a handful of exceptions, we are all guests in the Lexington area. The city and the county has welcomed us in and supported us with open arms for centuries, and they have continued to do so because we provide and give back to the community more than we take. It is critical that we respect those of Rockbridge County to govern themselves in the manner that they feel is most appropriate, and not force our voting patterns upon them.