Senator John Warner announced his retirement on the steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia last Friday. Virginia’s political and civic life will be the poorer for it.
That may surprise those of you who know me as a yellow dog Democrat. It may further surprise you that I have voted for Senator Warner not once but twice! (In different elections, I assure you) In both cases, Democrats ran no one against Warner.
The first time that happened, I wrote a column in the Northern Virginia Sun, criticizing the Democrats for not running a candidate and announced that I was voting for Warner as the best candidate on the ballot. The day after the column appeared, the chair of the state Democratic Party called to chastise me, saying that I should have opted to vote for no one. “Fine,” I retorted. “I’ll just write another column saying that the chair of the party says Virginians should not vote!” That was the end of that.
I loved lobbying Senator Warner in the many years I represented the direct mail industry. He and his staff were accessible, intelligent, and often accommodating, even if they did not agree with me.
In one instance, he proved to be a lobbyist’s dream. I had arranged a meeting with the heads of several Virginia catalog companies. We filed into his office and sat in a semi-circle waiting for the Senator. He regally walked through the door, shook hands with all of them, many of whom he knew, sat down and said, “Dick and I have discussed your issues and I agree with your position on all of them. So let’s talk about something else.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!
A couple of years ago, I taught a course on Congress for the Arlington Learning in Retirement Institute. While we had not scheduled a meeting with the Senator, we stopped by his office to pick up tickets to the Senate chamber and an escort to take us there.
As we filed in the front door of the office, we saw a tall figure in shirt sleeves walking down the hall carrying a box lunch. He walked into the Senator’s private office. My students were very impressed that such a prominent Senator would humbly walk to the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building to pick up his own brown bag lunch.
Warner was first elected to the Senate in 1978. He was selected as the Republican Party nominee after Richard Obenshain, the original party nominee, was killed in a small plane crash in August. I remember it well because we had rented the Obenshain cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and were there when the announcement came over the radio.
From that tragic beginning came what will be thirty years of distinguished service to the Commonwealth and the nation.
John Warner is the paragon of what a great senator can and should be. While a conservative in his basic political beliefs, his principal interest as a legislator is to work together with people of all political stripes to best govern and protect the country. In doing so, he has often broken away from the political straight jacket that defines too much of the partisan politics of today’s Congress. He has always behaved as a gentleman and a scholar, the ideal Senator in my book.
Republican or Democrat, we can all be proud that John Warner represented all of us in the United States Senate. He will be missed.