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Will Colgan Retire?

By Greg L | 28 March 2007 | 29th VA Senate | 12 Comments

The big question in the 29th Senate District is whether or not Senator Chuck Colgan will announce his retirement. There’s been quite a bit of speculation here and elsewhere, with most others expecting that he will run, and my bet that he won’t. With the April 13th state filing deadline approaching quickly, that mystery should be resolved very soon.

Those who believe he will run for re-election point to him collecting petition signatures recently and the obvious pressure from the DPVA for him to remain. Colgan’s daughter recently announced during a meeting that Colgan would run. And Colgan isn’t at all interested in leaving the seat when it really looks like Republican Bob Fitzsimmonds would win if it’s an open seat. So why would I continue to think that he won’t run?

The Virginia Senate just doesn’t hold the allure for Colgan that it once had, and in the end if you don’t really want to be there, you shouldn’t be. Many of Colgan’s dear friends are no longer there, Colgan doesn’t seem to relish the partisan battles that are ongoing, and in order to stay there Colgan is going to have to actually mount a vigorous re-election campaign, which he pretty much hasn’t had to do before. Pulling him in the other direction are the proceeds from the sale of Colgan Air, his apparent desire to marry his long-time girlfriend, and his age. Partisan politics aside, the guy clearly has done his share for the District and deserves some time off to enjoy life without being engaged in partisan politics on an almost daily basis.

Colgan’s effort to collect petition signatures is about as lackadaisical as they come. When his daughter made that announcement it was largely unacknowledged, hardly the behavior of a candidate who wants to fire up a re-election campaign. Colgan met recently with his friend with Hal Parrish, and the rumor goes that Colgan tried to entice Hal to run as an independent in the 29th District, which really isn’t a ridiculous possibility at all. Hal has a six figure campaign account after inheriting the campaign account of his late father, Colgan would likely throw a bunch of money at him, and Hal and Colgan are ideologically pretty similar. Colgan wouldn’t likely have too much heartburn if his seat went to his friend and Harry Parrish’s son. He wouldn’t do great in a Republican convention, but in a general election, maybe a lot of money and a familiar name could put him over the top.

There’s also the possibility that Colgan will be challenged by Democrats. Gary Friedman has a visceral dislike of the policies that Colgan has promoted and is terribly frustrated with Colgan’s pretty legendary lack of support for fellow local Democrats. As the factions within the DPVA continue their intramural brawling, having some break away and start challenging elected officials is hardly a remote possibility. While it would be an uphill battle for a Democrat to defeat Colgan in a primary challenge, having a primary and a general election battle both would make sticking around even less palatable. Where’s the fun being a senior legislator when your local party is in tatters and sniping at you and you face a considerable challenge in a general election? Taking the money and going on a long and well-earned vacation probably looks pretty tempting, comparatively.

If Colgan really had succumbed to pressure from the DPVA, I imagine he would have announced quite a while ago. Now it continues to look like Colgan is trying to engineer a way to exit that will satisfy his desire to have the seat turned over to an acceptable replacement, and make the announcement late enough so that little time is available for someone to respond to his move before the filing deadline expires. The closer we get to the filing deadline without any definitive statement by Colgan, the more it looks like backroom politics are raging as he tries to engineer his way out of office on his own terms. If we start seeing opportunist Democrats start jumping in, as is happening in Woodbridge with Hilda Barg’s apparent retirement, there won’t be a whole lot of indicators remaining that might make us believe there’s any chance at all for Colgan to stay.

So I’m still thinking that Colgan is likely to step down.

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  1. Chris said on 28 Mar 2007 at 2:18 pm:
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    Fitzsimmonds spoke at Bolling’s event in Richmond last saturday, and he really empasized that THIS is the most important senate race in Virginia. I found him very impressive and spent a few moments talking with he and Boyd Marcus afterwards.

    Bob was outlined the incredible machine he has built in terms of organization–perhaps you can speak more to it that I can, but he seems like he really has spent a lot of time building his voter lists, getting volunteers, and doing the hard work

    If Cuccinelli, O’Brien, and Devolites all go down, we STILL keep the Senate if everything else is a wash and Bob Fitzsimmonds wins this race. This is the absolute most important race. We keep the Senate if Bob wins–and at WORSE only one of those three is going down now with the Trans bill likely to pass.

    Most people I’ve spoken with feel Colgan WANTS to retire. It makes me think his heart won’t be in this race, and sad as it is to say, the man is 80–he won’t be able to campaign like he used too.

    This race should be talked about all the time from now on becasue of its importance.

  2. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 2:33 pm:
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    I agree — Bob has been quietly building a considerable organization, had hundreds of delegates lines up for a convention if necessary, and has volunteers all over the District who are ready to start pounding pavement this summer. Because this race is so important, he’s been getting some good traction with contributors, getting attention from Paul Jost, for example. Financially he’s pretty close to being on-par with Colgan, and after the next finance report is turned in he might actually end up leading.

    He can’t be taken lightly.

  3. Ray said on 28 Mar 2007 at 3:44 pm:
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    Help me understand something, if you would be so kind.

    Why to you honestly think Mr. Fitzsommonds could beat Senator Colgan.?

    After all, Colgan whipped him by a 16% margin in 1999 when the district was voting far more Republican than it is today.

    I’m just curious as to what your rationale is on this.


  4. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 4:02 pm:
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    If Colgan runs, which is far from certain at this point, one major factor is that he just doesn’t want the job. Is he going to knock doors every day? Is he going to devote his children’s inheritance to finance a campaign he’s not really that interested in winning? Or is the PWCDC going to suddenly get it’s act together and join together to elect what some of them refer to as “a segregationist democrat?”

    Meanwhile the county Republican party is coming off a solid string of victories, has a strong volunteer force, and is supporting a candidate who has already been campaigning quietly for about a year now. Fitzsimmonds spent a lot of time last year working for candidates campaigning within the 29th District and getting his name recognition up. He has far more money than he did in 2003 when he only raised about $12,000. He’s on track to significantly outperform over his ‘99 run, and will be helped by Republican elected officials who exclusively overlap his district. The only Democrat in elected office within any part of that district is now Chuck Colgan.

    Portions of the District are represented by Bob Marshall, Jackson Miller, and Scott Lingamfelter — all solidly unapologetic conservatives. The closest thing to a Democrat within that area is Wally Covington. This is one of the most solidly conservative Senate districts in the state.

    Yeah, I think Fitzsimmonds has a real shot at a pickup here.

  5. Chris said on 28 Mar 2007 at 4:06 pm:
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    Another thing to remember, most candidates don’t win on their first try. It takes a race or two to build name recognition, support, organization, and money. The most obvious example of this is Rep. Frank Wolf, who lost–what?–three times before he finally won his congressional seat?

  6. Sam Smith said on 28 Mar 2007 at 5:12 pm:
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    I respect your analysis, but I doubt Colgan retires this year. He will be begged, cajoled, pleaded with, etc., because Tim Kaine wants a Democratic Senate.

  7. Riley, Not O'Reilly said on 28 Mar 2007 at 6:07 pm:
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    After Kaine sold out the Dems and struck a deal on transportation with the GOP, it is highly doubtful the Senate will go Dem. Why should Colgan stick around to help preserve the minority?

  8. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:02 pm:
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    Sam, in a lot of cases I would agree with you. But what exactly can you offer a well respected 80 year old multi-millionaire in order to have him stay in a job he clearly doesn’t want to have? They can’t threaten the guy, they can’t buy him off, and I pretty much doubt they could blackmail him. If all they can offer is “take one for the team”, I doubt it’s going to be all that convincing an argument.

    One thing I’ve been reluctant to talk about in much detail here is what happened with his dear friend Harry Parrish. Without going into it, I think that story serves as a strong reminder of the importance of using the time we have on this earth wisely. Harry undoubtedly left much undone while he soldiered on in his service to his community, and through a difficult campaign that obviously impacted his health.

    It tore at our community to see that happen. None of us want to see that ever happen again.

  9. NoVA Scout said on 28 Mar 2007 at 9:43 pm:
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    good post, Greg. Fitzsimmonds can’t beat Colgan. Full Stop. We know that. FitzSimmonds is positioning (the triumph of hope over experience, as Oscar Wilde once said about second marriages) himself for a vaccuum. In a vacuum, FitzSimmonds has a fighting chance. That’s the sad state of affairs in many of Virginia’s senatorial Republican fields.

  10. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 10:56 pm:
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    Nova Scout, here’s a little more for you to chew on:

    Since 1999, Colgan has been winning with smaller and smaller percentages as the district experiences significant turnover and more and more people aren’t familiar with Colgan. In 2003 Dave Mabie got 45% of the vote with really no campaign to speak of. It is not unrealistic to expect an aggressive campaign will improve significantly on these numbers, and that’s what Fitzsimmonds is bringing this year.

    Colgan is used to running on his record. In this election he is going to have to defend his record. As the longest serving member of the Finance Committee and being on the Budget Conferee, he is going to have to explain why transportation is so underfunded and his go-to solution is consistently calling for higher taxes.

    Colgan has to get significant cross over voters to win. In addition to no longer being able to depend on this happening, he will have trouble holding a crucial wing of his own party which is increasingly seeing the GOP as the party of controlled growth.

    In 1999 the state GOP did not get involved in the race for the 29th district. This year this seat will be targeted by Richmond. Money is flowing into this campaign unlike previous years and Colgan can’t depend on fighting against an underfunded campaign by a relative unknown as he has in the past.

    Colgan’s record on unconstitutionally funding non-state entities leaves him vulnerable as a devotee of state funded pork projects. In previous years that hasn’t been much of an issue, but “bringing home the bacon” (Colgan’s words) is decidedly less appealing to this electorate, and has the potential to be a significant wedge issue.

    Just food for thought.

  11. AWCheney said on 28 Mar 2007 at 11:14 pm:
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    “Fitzsimmonds spent a lot of time last year working for candidates campaigning within the 29th District and getting his name recognition up.”

    Yeah, like Steve Chapman. That one’s going to bite him in the glutious maximus more than he might believe, especially that second time around.

  12. asmith said on 29 Mar 2007 at 11:19 am:
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    Riley, Kaine did the right thing. It might upset the campaign committees but he did the right thing. I’m led to believe that Colgan will run, even if his friends are all gone and the millions he can spend. With JMDD, Cooch, O’Brien, Rerras, and outside chance at Chi-Chi seat, the Dems have to hold their own seats, because they won’t get an inside flush. They at least have a shot at 2-4, but they have to hold Colgan’s seat. The race for Chi-Chi’s seat will be tougher than you GOP types think.

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