Best wishes and a thank-you to Rep. Tom Perriello (D, VA-05)

Rep. Tom Perriello (D, VA-05). AP stock photo.

I haven’t gotten much into politics as a blogger unless it directly affects scientific research or research funding.

But I wanted to offer my best wishes and gratitude to an impressive young politician, Rep. Tom Perriello, who lost his bid for re-election last night in the 5th congressional district of Virginia. George Packer has a nice retrospective on that election from last night on the Interesting Times blog at The New Yorker.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tom and hearing him speak earlier this year at the dedication of the gravestone for Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cancer tumor gave rise to the first immortalized human cancer cell line in 1951 as well as my Ph.D. dissertation and this year’s runaway best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot. My detailed recollections with photos can be found reposted here. We had converged at a Baptist church on a Saturday morning in the Lacks hometown, Clover, Virginia, at the southern end of the massive 5th district, barely an hour-and-half drive from the Research Triangle area of North Carolina.

This is what I wrote then:

. . .[T]he next speaker [was] a remarkable young man, freshman congressman Rep. Tom Perriello (I can say that because he’s about a decade my junior). An undergrad and law graduate of Yale University, this native of Virginia’s 5th district reflected on his work in West Africa where polio continues to afflict millions despite the millions saved in Western nations thanks to the role HeLa cells played early in vaccine development. Perriello excerpted a resolution he read into the Congressional Record last Friday honoring Henrietta Lacks (“Honoring Henrietta Pleasant-Lacks” full text and PDF).

As a side note, I drove past many advertisements for his Republican opponent, Robert Hurt, that read, “HURT U.S. Congress.”

My immediate thoughts were, no thank you – you’ve hurt it enough already.

Perriello is an energetic politician who causes Republicans to froth because of his dedication to the military, international relations, workforce development, and establishment of faith-based aid groups while also putting forth such heresy and tyranny as affordable health care and asking his campaign workers to also “tithe” hours on community service projects unrelated to the election. His district runs from the North Carolina border to north of Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, where his support is quite strong. I took it as a compliment that Rep. Perriello stopped me afterward to say I’d make a good politician – if it meant being like him, I would.

I got the sense that this was not just a public appearance for Perriello. He seemed genuinely moved by the day’s celebration and the significance of marking the memory of a women and recognizing the injustices done to her family.

Perriello fought a hard battle and experienced some opposition activism when the propane tank line at his brother’s house was cut after a Lynchburg Tea Party blogger posted what they thought was Tom’s address and encouraged readers to “stop by.”

But I’m not the only one among our science writing community who is impressed with Rep. Perriello. Wired magazine contributing editor, Brendan Koerner, posted these two tweets last night:

Sad to learn that @tomperriello is losing in VA-05. One of the smartest, most decent men I’ve ever called a friend. We need more like him.

@katherineabell But he’s deeply committed to making a difference, so he won’t disappear. I’m curious as to what he’ll do next.

Good luck, Tom, and thank you for your hard work, especially your role in commemorating Ms. Henrietta Lacks in the Congressional Record.

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4 Responses to Best wishes and a thank-you to Rep. Tom Perriello (D, VA-05)

  1. So very sorry you did not win yesterday. You were the best guy for Virginia and now we go back to the old nasty days. I hope this loss will cause you to fight back and go on with the progressive movement. We need people like you, Grayson and Feingold. Don’t give up the ship, it MUST be saved from sinking and you can do it.
    Best wishes to you and your family.

  2. Tamara Sanders says:

    In response to Katherine Bell’s question, maybe Tom will get a real job. He’s never had one before.

  3. David Kroll says:

    From here:

    After graduating from Yale, Perriello worked in the western African country of Sierra Leone, helping give amputees and others a voice in peace talks during the 11th year of a civil war.

    Perriello also helped establish a war crimes court in the area and is proud of his effort to establish regime change in neighboring Liberia.

    He became special adviser and spokesman for the international prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power. Perriello after that was a national security analyst for the Century Foundation and has worked in Darfur and twice in Afghanistan, where he compiled a report with suggestions on how to improve its security situation.

    He also created and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, bringing various faith communities together to fight for children’s health insurance, raising the minimum wage, environmental stewardship and responsible solutions in Iraq.

    And what kind of job do you have, Ms. Sanders?

  4. Mary Knudson says:

    So nice to see you write about a good guy who lost an election. From what you describe that he has already done, he will undoubtedly keep finding ways to do good things.