Politics and fishPublished 11:44pm Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Minutes before this year’s speaker took to the stage at Wednesday’s 66th annual Wakefield Ruritan Club Shad Planking, two old pals sat on a tailgate explaining their differing political views.
Both wearing stickers advising they are NRA members who also vote, Suffolk’s Bennie Williams, 82, said he was a Republican, then scratched that and said he was a conservative, and 91-year-old James Faison of Chesapeake said he was a Democrat.
Then, perhaps inspired by his friend, Faison also changed his mind. “I don’t always vote Democrat,” he said. “I vote for the best man.”
Such was the spirit of the Wakefield Ruritan Club’s 2014 Shad Planking. The clearing among the pines, the electioneering from small armies of out-of-towners, many of the faces and — naturally — the repast remained the same as always, but things perhaps seemed a bit less political.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, was speaker at the Shad Planking for the fourth occasion. For this shared honor, he and former Lt. Gov. John Hager, a Republican, received plaques fashioned from shad planks.
Warner touted some achievements in Southside Virginia that he said he was party to: returning manufacturing jobs to Surry County, bringing broadband to Isle of Wight County, offering support after Hurricane Isabel.
But, he said, “Nothing matches Shad Planking.”
“Of course, I know among this crowd I represent an endangered species — a Virginia Democrat. Not unlike Republican women, our numbers here are few,” Warner joked.
“They say the face of Virginia is changing. (But) I have been coming to the Shad Planking for nearly 25 years, and as I look out over this crowd, the face of Virginia looks just about the same as it ever was: just a little more wrinkled.”
Warner said he has something in common with Ed Gillespie, the frontrunner among four seeking the Republican nomination to oppose him in the November elections.
“We both were born in places other than Virginia,” Warner said. “We both were party chairmen. And, in November, we both will have faced a Senator Warner on the ballot. Unlike 1996, this year I am rooting for the Senator.”
He was referring, of course, to his opponent in that contest, Republican John Warner.
Virginians believe in working together for the common good, Mark Warner said, adding, “Our best results require the efforts of people of goodwill in both political parties.”
He continued, “Reaching across the aisle in Washington is not as easy or as welcome as in Richmond. The Virginia way — though difficult many times to achieve — is the better way.”
Richmond’s David Beach, at the event with son Justin Beach, remarked that he loves the atmosphere.
“It’s an interesting assortment of people,” David Beach said. “There were no Democratic speakers last year, so at least there’s some variety” this year, with Warner.
Back to the two old buddies sitting on the tailgate under the pine trees: Williams, the Republican — or conservative — said he and Faison, the Democrat — who “votes for the best man” — always like to go back and look at the shad being cooked, the way Native Americans did it.
“We see the (candidates’) booths and look at the information they put out. Pick up some of it,” Williams added.
“We eat early – before they get speaking – then sit a little while and rest.”
He couldn’t remember how times he and Faison had driven back down 460 after a Shad Planking, but he said he knows they’ve never argued over their opposing views.
“I don’t think him and I have ever had a word — politically — against each other,” Williams said.