There is seems to be an interesting parallel between the recent primary elections in New York's 21st Congressional District, that includes our area and in Virginia's Seventh District. Both elections produced an unexpected outcome.
The unseating of Congressman Eric Cantor in the Republican primary in Virginia's Seventh District, where only 65,000 people voted from a roster of 760,000, sent shockwaves around the nation. In New York, the victory of Congressional candidate Elise Stefanik, a novice in electoral politics, surprised many seasoned political observers.
It was the first time a House leader has lost his seat to a challenger who, to boot, was an unknown and a deeply under-financed candidate. It didn't take long for political analyst and TV talking heads to declare that while David Brat, a college professor, used the old-fashioned campaign method of ringing bells, Cantor was "otherwise engaged" in Washington, maneuvering to position himself as the next Speaker of the House.
He forgot, political observers said, the famous adage of the former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil that "every politics is local." Most probably, this was the case because Eric Cantor's political worldview didn't change from 2011, when he was the keynote speaker at the Charter Day exercises at the College of William & Mary.
His rise in American politics was meteoric. After just one term in the House of Representatives, he became Deputy Minority Whip in 2003, and by 2008 his standing in the Republican Party was such that he was rumored to be on the short-list of Sen. McCain's vice presidential choices.
During Cantor's visit at the campus of William & Mary, I had an opportunity to interview him. I noted that he is a staunch conservative, a consummate fundraiser for the Republican Party and a skilled negotiator. All that made him a formidable Majority Leader.
I asked Cantor what made him such a staunch conservative.
"Listening to my father telling how his mother's family came to America early in the last century, escaping persecution in Eastern Europe, and how her entrepreneurialism and hard work made her family prosper sums up what the Republican Party is all about," he said. "By giving equal opportunity to everyone, not necessarily equal outcome. But as long as everybody has a chance, that is what matters."
Cantor also reflected on the value of his legal education at W&M Law School.
"My training there has been a tremendous source of strength to me," he said. "It gave me a perspective, taught me how to think critically, and hopefully it will provide me with the ability to carry out the tremendous honor and responsibility I have in Congress."
As Majority Leader, he formulated the so-called Cantor Rule, which asked lawmakers ask themselves, "Are my efforts addressing job creation and the economy?"
Although, Cantor had a reputation of being a "personal stumbling block for the enactment of President Obama's legislative agenda, he insisted that his aim has always been to set legislative priorities. And while doing so, the legislators should not talking only to each other, "but to Americans around their kitchen tables."
The philosophy and politics that propelled him ahead in his political career was anchored in the belief that "we can be leaner and smarter and have more efficient government. ... We have to find waste and eliminate excessive regulations."
In the bestselling book, "Young Guns: A New generation of Conservative Leaders," written by Cantor and co-authored by Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy, the three espouse ideas Cantor deeply believes in. They are economic freedom, limited government, the sanctity of life and putting family first.
Cantor insists he is still a "true believer" in those principles. And America being a wondrous country, there is always possibility for a second act.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and in Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.