Democratic Party Politics Is All in the Family for Virgil Goode

Article excerpt

Rep. Virgil Goode is a conservative Democrat serving his first term from Virginia's large 5th District, a mostly rural area that runs from Charlottesville to the state's border with North Carolina. Asked what role the federal government should have in our lives, Goode tells Insight "as little a role as possible." He's a Blue Dog Democrat who feels most at home with fellow conservative and moderate Democrats. Often asked why he isn't a Republican, Goode responds "Because my father was a Democrat " -- a reply that both humorous and serious because there is a very deep strain of tradition at the core of this freshman congressman politics, and that loyalty to tradition means he identifies with his father's political party even when much that the party stands for must seem foreign to him.

Insight: Politics comes kind of naturally to you?

Virgil H. Goode Jr.: The chief reason I'm in politics is that my father was involved in politics and I grew up going to committee meetings and political conventions. I can remember, this was before seatbelts and car seats for kids were invented, my dad would be out campaigning and my sister and I would be in the front seat. And we'd be going along like this, with his arm holding us in the front seat while he drove. That was on dirt roads.

My father had been in the state House of Delegates and he was commonwealth attorney of Virginia for 24 years. He was very active in the local Democratic Party. He heard William Jennings Bryan speak, and two of his great uncles had been in [Maj. Gen. George] Pickett's charge [at Gettysburg]. They both went up the hill and were among the lucky few who came back down again.

Father went to the national convention in 1960 as a supporter of Lyndon Johnson, but I remember he came back very impressed with the Kennedy organization, which he said was truly amazing. He had the desire to run for the US. Congress, but it never did work out for him.

Insight: You got the chance to go into politics early.

VHG: Yes. The circumstances were right. The local state senator, whose grandson is now working as an intern in my office, died just after I was graduated from law school. The members of the House of Delegates who represented the area said they weren't interested in running for the Virginia Senate. It was a wide-open field, a six-way race, and I came out on top.

My father really helped me in my first race in 1973 and my second one in '75. He was commonwealth attorney from 1947 to '71, and he lost in 1971, so he had the opportunity to campaign for me. A lot of people were sorry they'd voted him out and that ended up helping me a lot.

Insight: Any special memories about that first campaign?

VHG: I'll never forget going into one store during the campaign with a guy who had been a member of the board of supervisors in one of the localities, and we went into the store and they started giving him a hard time, and me along with him. I thought, "Oh, my land, we're not making headway in this store, we ought to just leave."

And then one of them said to the local political guy, "We haven't seen you since the last election," and that supervisor looked right at him and he said, "You know what I haven't needed you since the last election." Everybody laughed and it broke the ice.

Insight: How do you like Washington?

VHG: I think people are pretty much the same wherever. Now there's some aspects of Washington that are different from home. The traffic is a good example. And more rush. I like being here. But if I had my "rather" -- somewhere I'd rather live -- I'd rather live at home.

Insight: What do you and your wife do for entertainment?

VHG: Once it starts here, [a congressman's] job is really something you've got to move in to all the time, and there are always different things coming up. Lucy, my wife, she's been to the Kennedy Center a couple of times and she's gone to some of the museums, but I haven't gotten anywhere. …