In the wake of her hotly contested Republican primary victory, Panny Rhodes speaks about her campaign, her agenda, the GOP and the importance of getting involved.
Woman of the House
It looks just like a campaign headquarters should two days after the votes have been cast and a victor declared.
Amid the disheveled piles of election posters and stacks of boxes filled with literature, 68th District incumbent Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes breathes a sigh of satisfaction and takes a break.
Rhodes, first elected to a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates in 1991, has earned a break. It was a contentious campaign during which Gov. James Gilmore, Congressman Thomas Bliley and Attorney General Mark Earley all endorsed Rhodes' competitor, insurance executive Ruble Hord. But Rhodes relied on the support of moderate Republicans, Democrats and some Republican heavy-hitters, such as Sen. John Warner, to beat Hord last Tuesday by a margin of more than 1,500 votes of the 7,014 cast.
Rhodes, temporarily off the campaign trail and clad comfortably in a sleeveless sweater top, leads the way past a life-size cardboard cutout of George and Barbara Bush, a "Panny Rhodes" sticker plastered prominently on the former president's lapel, into what's left of her headquarters office to speak about the campaign, what's next, and how she came to be involved in government.
What does this victory mean to you personally and politically?
Well, I think what I've said all along is, I have always voted on the basis of the issues and principles, and worked very hard at that. And I think my colleagues know that. That I study the issues, and I get all the input I can, and I really do vote for the principles. And to me that says ... that my constituents and I don't think they're a lot different from other Virginians they do appreciate that. That they do want representation that listens to them and tries to vote on principle.
Where are you and Gov. Gilmore right now?
I haven't talked with him. He did issue a statement where he congratulated me and I appreciate that.
Do you think you will be able to work together in the coming term?
I don't think that's a problem. And the reason I don't is, that I think to me that's part of what the election was about. This is not about people and personalities, and anything, except what's best for the citizens of Virginia. So you know, I'm delighted to work on issues that benefit Virginians.
Do you have an agenda yet for the coming term? What are some of your priorities going to be?
Well, what they have been. In spite of the campaign, I have always been interested in good responsible ways to cut taxes. Especially when we have the economic climate we've got now, with the revenues coming into the state the way they are. So I think where we can responsibly cut taxes we certainly should. Probably one of the two other things I have spent time on and probably will, is education and health care. I've been very involved in the educational arena, I've been on the education committee since I've been in the House, and I'm ... firmly behind us making our public school system the best it can be. I think that's as important as anything we can do for Virginia.
And in the area of health care ... I do think that we have to make sure that health care is accessible and that health care is reasonable, and it has to be from both a citizens' consumer point of view and from a business point of view, because businesses are strapped too with trying to provide insurance coverage. So I think we in the legislature have to balance these two sides, and that is, patient accessibility and fairness, and quality, all of the issues that patients are concerned with, and at the same time watching that businesses will be able to provide health care.
Do you think that Gilmore's endorsement of Ruble Hord helped or hurt your campaign?
It's hard to say. I think it made people far more aware of the campaign. ... So that where people might have been kind of complacent, I think they then really began to look at the campaign.
How do you feel about the Republican Party right now? Is it a big tent or a small tent?
I think we absolutely have to be a big tent if we're going to be a governing majority party. And I believe ... that I represent an enormous part of the Republican party, a moderate part of the Republican party. I think we're a huge part of the makeup of the Republican party and I think we do need to include everyone. And that means, obviously, there are many parts of the Republican party that I would not agree with totally, but that part of being in a large organization that has general principles that we believe in, but has differing points of view at the same time.
How much do you think the Democratic vote helped you in the election?
I don't know, I have no idea. I certainly know I have always had support from across, from Republicans, and independents, and Democrats. I've always tried to represent my whole constituency. That's what I think I'm elected to do, you know, what's best for everybody. So I'm sure it was there. ... We had tremendous, wonderful Republican support. And I know there were Democrats out there that also supported me, absolutely.
How significant was the support of women in your victory?
I have no idea. I know that there were women who felt very strongly. And I have never felt that gender was the issue at all. I however do think that in politics in general, in Virginia, there aren't enough women, only because we have a point of view, I mean we bring a life experience. I have always said, to me, the legislature is the strongest when lots of views are represented, because that's how you come up with what's good for everybody.
And that means whether it's black and white, or rich and poor, or urban and rural, or men and women, whatever. And different professions and different occupations. That's the rich mix that makes the legislature really work. And I think we have a scarcity of women serving in the legislature, and I think it's a shame. Certainly on my side of the aisle in the House, I've been there the longest and have the most experience, and I think its a shame to lose that.
But having said all of that, it's not a gender issue, it's never been a gender issue. It's competence, it's principle, it's all the things that I think make a good legislator, no matter what they are.
What drives you to be involved in politics?
I have been, for most of my adult life, very involved in my community. I care a lot about families, children and I also have a mathematical background, so budget, finance, is something that's important to me too.
If we don't have people becoming involved, and people going down there, and we just turn it over to people who relish nothing but the political ins and outs, we lose. We lose dramatically as a legislature, as a state. And sure it's difficult. ... But I think that's part of public service, and I hope we can encourage more people who really want to do it for the right reasons, to become involved. I talk to groups all the time, and I talk to young people, about the importance of it, and about getting involved. And I certainly hope that the difficulties of doing it don't keep people