For connoisseurs of religion in congressional races, Virginia’s fifth district offers an interesting prospect this year. The fifth extends from liberal Charlottesville out into the state’s southern hinterland, known instate as Southside).
The incumbent is Virgil Goode, a Richmond native and Baptist who lives in Rocky Mountain, deep in the southwest corner of the district. Goode is a Democrat-turned-Republican who once upon a time was an enthusiastic backer of Doug Wilder, the first black governor of a Southern state since Reconstruction. In late 2006, however, he had his own special macaca moment, when he wrote his constituents a letter attacking Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, for choosing to do his private swearing-in ceremony by putting his hand on a Koran. Goode spun his remarks in anti-immigrant terms, contending that without immigration restriction, there would be many more Muslims in Congress. It read in part:
I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran…
The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.
This bit of populist rabble-rousing was trumped by Ellison’s decision to use the Koran translation owned by Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson and donated by him to the Library of Congress. Also, Ellison, an African American, was able to point out that he is a native of Detroit.
Challenging Goode is Tom Perriello, a native of the Charlottesville area and a social justice Catholic in the tradition of Maryland’s Sargent Shriver. With undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, he co-founded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Faithful America, organizations dedicated to putting religious folks together to work on a range of progressive causes, national and international. In the brave new world of faith-based Democratic politics, Perriello is one of the freshest faces.
Here’s the text of Perriello’s first radio ad, running on Christian radio stations in the district:
In the book of Micah, the prophet asks, what does the Lord require of you? The answer: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. I’m Tom Perriello, and my attempt to answer this call has taken my life in some interesting directions … I’ve worked overseas to bring warlords to justice and to end the genocide in Darfur. Back home, I’ve founded faith-based organizations that bring Catholics and evangelicals together to improve wages and expand children’s healthcare for working families. And now I’m running for Congress in the community where I was born and raised because I believe we deserve leaders who will focus on right and wrong instead of right and left –- leaders who will do the hard work required to bring good jobs back to Southside, to expand access to health care, protect our Social Security, and find responsible, timely solutions in Iraq. I’m Tom Perriello, and I approve this message because these are the values and priorities I will take to Congress. Paid for by Perriello for Congress.
This is a battle of the two Virginias.