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Del. Ken Plum: About Time for the ERA

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex has had a long and tortuous history. With the almost daily unfolding stories of abuse of women from lower pay, discrimination in employment, physical and mental abuse and other degradation, it has become obvious that it is about time for the ERA.

Alice Paul of the women’s suffragist movement is credited with writing the first draft of the ERA that was introduced in Congress in 1921. An amendment for submission to the states for ratification as required by Article V of the Constitution did not pass both houses of Congress until 1972 with a deadline of March 22, 1979 for the states to act. That deadline has been extended twice as the required 38 state ratification has never been met.

Currently 37 states have ratified the ERA although several states have sought under questionable legality to rescind their ratification. Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have never ratified the ERA, but the State Senate has ratified it in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Senate resolutions were never reported from the House Privileges and Elections Committee nor were resolutions introduced by House members ever reported from committee. I have been a supporter of the ERA during my entire tenure in the House of Delegates and co-patron of resolutions to ratify it; I have never had an opportunity to vote on it because the conservative House Privileges and Elections Committee has never had enough favorable votes to report it to the floor.

I am hopeful that the Virginia legislature will step up to be the state to finally ratify the ERA. Even with a favorable vote there are certain to be court challenges to the ratification because of the missed deadlines and because of efforts by some states to rescind their earlier ratifications. Even with these challenges the Virginia General Assembly should take action. The outcome of the 2016 state elections with the increased number of women in the House of Delegates should be enough to nudge Virginia forward. The phenomenal increase in activity by women in various political organizations in Virginia will send a signal to candidates for the House of Delegates in 2019 that they need to support the ERA.

The arguments of the past that women would be drafted into the armed services if the amendment was ratified no longer seem legitimate with women already providing outstanding service in the military. The high-profile stories of women being harassed and abused in work and social situations provide support for the ERA being part of the Constitution.

Virginia’s declaration of rights drafted by George Mason became the model for the Bill of Rights of our federal Constitution. Just as Virginia led in the fight to enumerate our rights, the Virginia General Assembly can lead again albeit a little tardy by being the final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s about time!

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Del. Ken Plum: Shedding Light on Solar Energy in Virginia

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

While many of us express concern that we do not see as many solar collectors on Virginia roof-tops as we would like, the Commonwealth is showing significant progress on turning sunlight into electrical energy. As with any major change there are some hazy areas that need to be considered as well.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as reported in the August 2018 issue of Virginia Business magazine, Virginia currently ranks 17th nationally with 631.3 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The ranking is a significant jump from 2016 when the state ranked 29th nationally. Even with the advanced standing, only 0.59 percent of the state’s electricity comes from solar. By way of contrast, North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity with 4,412 megawatts brought about by generous tax incentives. For North Carolina that is nearly five percent of their electricity supply.

Virginia’s future with solar appears bright with 59 notices of intent with the Department of Environmental Quality to install 2,646 megawatts of solar according to the Virginia Business article. Driving the expansion of solar energy is a sharp drop in price from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents per kilowatt this year and an insistence on the part of technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, all of whom have a presence in Virginia, that their electric power come from solar systems. The Grid Transformation and Security Act passed by the General Assembly this year requires 5,000 new megawatts of solar and wind energy to be developed. Included in that total is 500 megawatts of small, roof-top panels.

Middlesex County Public Schools opened this year with two of its three schools powered by solar energy. Although a small, rural school system, Middlesex has the largest ground-mounted solar system of any school division in the state and is expected to save over two million dollars per year. Excess electricity generated is sent to the grid for credit for any electricity the schools takes from the grid at night through a net-metering arrangement.

Some shadows along the way can be expected with such a massive shift in the way electricity is produced. It takes about eight acres of land for each megawatt produced. Solar farms take up large amounts of land. Just last week the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to deny a conditional-use permit for a 178-acre utility scale solar facility in the County. The supervisors indicated that they had questions about the project for which they did not receive adequate answers. One factor is likely to have been the results of a study by the American Battlefield Trust that indicated the project would be visible from some of the half-dozen signal stations around Culpeper County that were used during the Civil War to detect troop movement. The County depends on a high level of tourism based on its Civil War battlefields and apparently does not want to jeopardize its attraction to Civil War buffs.

The clouds will pass, and Virginia is on its way to a bright future with solar energy.

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Del. Ken Plum: De-Gerrymandering Continued

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Sorry, but this is yet another column on the continuing effort to de-gerrymander House of Delegates districts in Virginia as directed by the federal courts. In this instance, it was the Republican Party who in the majority after the 2010 census drew district lines that were designed to keep them in the majority until the next census in 2020 when lines must be drawn again. They ran into trouble when to dilute the votes of African Americans who traditionally vote Democratic they packed them into eleven districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions. A panel of federal judges found the practice violated the constitutional rights of the individuals involved and ordered the districts to be redrawn. The Governor called the General Assembly into special session last week to carry out the court’s directive. The legislature went home without success after one day of effort.

Why is the Republican majority failing to do as the court directed? The reason is quite simple. If it took an unconstitutional drawing of district lines to maintain their majority in the House of Delegates, an undoing of those lines would likely take away their majority. Is the court favoring Democrats in what they are doing? No, the court is protecting the constitutional rights of individuals. The court does not take into account partisan outcomes. You simply cannot deny equal representation in the legislature of a class of people without running afoul of their constitutional protections.

When the court found Virginia’s Congressional districts to be unconstitutional several years ago, the remedy of that situation was new districts that resulted in the election of an additional African American congressman from the state that up to that point had only one. Both happen also to be Democrats.

The court has denied an appeal from the Republicans of their directive to resolve the unconstitutional districts. If the General Assembly fails to carry out the court’s mandate, the court will redraw the districts themselves. Presumably there would be special elections held right away in the new districts.

In the meantime, House Democrats have proposed a redrawing of the legislative lines to make the districts constitutional which unsurprisingly could result in the election of as many as five new Democrats. The authors of the new maps insist that they did what needed to be done to follow the court’s directive and not what would give them more seats. The day of the special session was spent with the Republicans picking apart the proposed map in an attempt to show that it was too partisan.

Republicans called the map hypocritical, and one of my Democratic colleagues, Delegate Steve Heretick, called it a “self-serving political power grab.” I draw two conclusions from the last several months: The court needs to take immediate remedial action to correct the constitutional problems with the current districts, and the General Assembly at its next legislative session must pass a constitutional amendment establishing a truly independent commission to do redistricting. The amendment would need to pass a second session of the General Assembly and a referendum of the people. Legislative bodies simply cannot rise above their own self-interests to do the job fairly.

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Del. Ken Plum: Un-Gerrymandering Legislative Districts in Virginia

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

On August 30, I and my colleagues in the General Assembly will return to the State Capitol in Richmond at the request of Governor Ralph Northam to un-gerrymander eleven House of Delegates districts that have been found by a panel of federal judges to be unconstitutional. The court’s action was based on a finding that the districts as drawn violated the equal protection of the law afforded to everyone by the United States Constitution.

In the redistricting of 2011, the Republicans who had a majority in the House of Delegates packed African Americans in the Richmond-Hampton Roads regions into the eleven districts that have been found unconstitutional. From a partisan perspective the packing resulted in African Americans who historically vote Democratic to be limited in their influence over voting outcomes throughout the region. From a legal perspective African Americans were denied their constitutional protection from the gerrymandering that put them into fewer districts over which they might have an influence.

The requirement to un-gerrymander legislative districts in Virginia is not new. Most recently and earlier this year the congressional districts in the Richmond-Hampton Roads region were found to be unconstitutional. When the districts were redrawn Democrats won an additional congressional seat with an African American candidate.

Unraveling a partisan gerrymander is not easy. With the congressional districts, the courts had to redraw them because the General Assembly could not come to an agreement as to how it should be done. There is serious concern as to whether the General Assembly will be able to redraw the district lines for the House of Delegates or whether it will revert to the courts for correction. With any of these revisions there are likely to be winners and losers, and legislative bodies have not shown the ability to draw lines that will disadvantage a member(s) in re-election. With the congressional redistricting, for example, one member of Congress lost a seat to the African American candidate who ran in a newly redrawn district.

To correct the clear racial discrimination in the eleven districts that have been found to be unconstitutional, it will be necessary to redraw more than thirty district lines as currently constituted. As the redrawing takes place some voters will find themselves in new districts as will some incumbent legislators. The election outcomes are likely to be different as the racial bias of how the districts have been drawn is removed.

The courts have not taken up cases of gerrymandering when allegations of partisan discrimination are alleged. The courts are interested in issues of constitutional protections most often found when racial discrimination can be shown. Issues of removing partisanship from the redistricting process, as some have expressed it–to have the people choose their elected representatives instead of legislators choosing their constituents–have been resolved in other places by having an independent, nonpartisan commission draw the lines. I first introduced a bill to establish such a commission in Virginia in 1982 and have introduced such a bill many times.

The General Assembly must carry out its responsibility to undo the racially discriminating districts that currently exist. Additionally, it should take the next step to put an independent non-partisan commission in place.

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Del. Ken Plum: Isolating the Children

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The federal administration policy of breaking up families as an intentional strategy aimed at refugee families has shocked the conscience of most Americans. Taking innocent children out of the arms of their mothers or fathers and shuffling them off to a “facility” without any explanation or known plans for their future has to be one of the cruelest acts of the federal government ever and is completely abhorrent to the moral standards of most Americans.

At the same time we condemn these evil acts of a misdirected federal agency and work in every way in the courts and through the ballot box to get these policies changed, it is important that the subject of isolating children be viewed in its larger context. As more is learned about the traumatic effects separation and isolation can have on the future emotional stability, mental health, and behavior of children, the necessity of reforming the way that our juvenile justice system functions becomes obvious.

Information gathered by The Commonwealth Institute shows that almost three-quarters of youth who have been held in the state’s juvenile prisons are convicted of another crime within three years of release. Data shows the longer a child is held in a facility the more likely it is they will commit a crime.

I recently talked with Valerie Slater who heads RISE for Youth: United Families, Safe Communities on my television show “Virginia Report.” Listen to that conversation on YouTube. She points out that racial disparities in Virginia’s juvenile system are higher than the national average. In Virginia, black youth are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers, and youth of Latino heritage are 2½ times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Likewise, the higher the rate of poverty in their community the more likely children are to be sent to youth prisons. As Valerie wrote recently, “we must dismantle, once and for all, the systems that allow the institutionalization of children. The best way to protect and rehabilitate children is to ensure their parents are the foundation of their support, whether in their homes, communities or suitable community-based environments. There are community-based alternatives to youth prisons that work better, cost less, and help young people get the support they need to get back on track.”

At the recent meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) I learned of the important work being done by a committee in NCSL to identify the principles that states should adhere to in reforming their juvenile justice systems. It is being demonstrated in states that it is possible to reform the system to reduce crime and recidivism, enhance public safety, and produce good citizens from those who in the past may have been referred to as criminals. I am pleased that Virginia is making improvements, but we must stay vigilant to continue progress.

As a nation of high moral standards, we must insist that the youngest and most vulnerable among us have an opportunity to succeed even if they are in our poorest communities or seeking asylum for their safety among us.

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Del. Ken Plum: Back to School

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit one of my grandsons’ school, and I was genuinely impressed. Parents were invited to come by last week to meet the teachers because his school started on August 15. It was one of the friendliest environments I have experienced–smiles everywhere, genuinely warm greetings for all, and an obvious feeling of caring for all children and parents and grandparents coming into the school. My grandson was clearly eager to get back to school and to see his teachers. He has some special needs that require additional understanding and assistance, and he is clearly getting it in his school setting.

The teachers and administrators wore the school’s special tee shirt and were giving high-fives all around. As one who taught in the classroom for several years, many old memories came back to me. I remember the need to always be “on” in the school day for students who needed help or attention. In most careers we can coast on a bad day and make up for it later; not so with teaching. You are always the center of attention and must be appropriately responsive to student needs whenever they occur. Students can learn as much about life from your body language and attitude as they can from the subject you are teaching them.

While teachers are assigned a grade level or a subject area, ultimately teachers are teaching children more than just content. I am convinced my son who teaches students in automotive technology is teaching as much about attitude, work habits, developing confidence and being a good citizen as he is about an automobile. Our daughter who teaches multiply challenged children at the elementary level is demonstrating for parents, the school, and the community the inherent value and potential for every student regardless of the challenges they might face. My wife who was a preschool teacher and director demonstrated how important it is that young children get off to a good start and is now teaching other teachers to do the same.

Increasingly school divisions are getting an exception to the “Kings Dominion Law” requiring that schools begin after Labor Day. Fairfax County Public Schools is one district now starting before Labor Day. I have always opposed the current law and have voted to repeal it many times. A bill carried over from the past session for further consideration would leave the decision of the starting date for schools up to the local school division based on the unique circumstances of the community.

The legislature can do much more to support the education of our children than dabble in the starting date for schools. Pay for Virginia teachers lags below the national average by about $4,000. Clearly, teachers do not stay in the profession for the money, but they should not have to suffer with low pay because they chose to educate our children. At least in the community, we can express appreciation and offer our thank you to our teachers for the important work they do!

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Del. Ken Plum: Old Dogs and New Tricks

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Regardless of the old adage, it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, if old dogs are to survive in a modern world characterized by rapid change they must adopt many new tricks of survival and adaptation. Those who do not are headed to the scrap pile of history to serve as examples for those who follow.

As I have mentioned in this column many times, the forerunner of the Virginia General Assembly met first in 1619 making it the oldest continuous legislative body in this hemisphere. Sometimes our current General Assembly meets serious challenges as the leader in change for the good, but too often it acts as a barrier to change that was needed.

I was reminded of this in my recent attendance at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). NCSL describes the states as the laboratories of democracy where different histories, culture, and geography define each of the 50 states with similar challenges for which various approaches to governance are tried. As I explained last week, we can learn a great deal from each other as we meet together. I will share several examples that I think make my point.

All states are struggling with making higher education more accessible, affordable and relevant. Most state higher education systems are based on models that date back centuries. Most agree that those models are not meeting the needs of the students of today. I attended a session at NCSL where the president of the University of Arizona spoke on the changes he has brought about at his school in increasing enrollment, raising the graduation rate, reducing student debt, and increasing research dollars all while decreasing the per student costs.

His story is a very impressive one that can be most easily explained by his setting aside the usual model of university organization and operation and the adoption of an enterprise model that combines good educational policies with successful business practices. We need to take a hard look at adopting some of these successful practices in Virginia.

The conference was in California that is suffering through historically high temperatures, a very serious drought and wildfires that are devouring thousands of acres. My cell phone was set to alert me of happenings back home in Virginia. I got regular alerts of heavy rains, lightning, flash flooding and road closures. It is obvious that the federal government is not going to provide leadership on climate change that is at the root of these issues, and the states must take on the responsibility.

A final example of the need for the old dogs of state legislatures to step up and provide leadership is in juvenile justice reform. We must reduce the classroom to prison pipeline by intervening early with young people in need of services and assistance to keep kids out of prisons that increase rather than resolve their problems. It is less expensive and more humane. Virginia is doing a much better job in this area, but I was also impressed with what I heard is going on in Kentucky and California.

Old and new legislative leaders must learn new solutions!

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Del. Ken Plum: In-Service Training

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The only common requirement for holding elective office is that one be a registered voter in the state meaning then of course that you must be at least 18 years of age.

You do not need to be a resident of the district you hope to represent although you will have to move into the district if you win. The concept of a citizen legislature is that it is made up of people from all walks of life in the community who can collectively speak for the community at large.
Supposedly there would be no professional politicians–just regular every-day folks. Such an approach should work out well to have the community broadly represented.

In the past, because of laws and practices, most legislatures have been filled mostly with old white men. Recent years have seen a shift including in Virginia as more women are running for office and getting elected. This year has more women, young people, and people of color running than ever before.

With the diversification of who sits in the legislature the challenge becomes taking people of many different backgrounds, perspectives and constituencies and bringing them together to work for consensus on legislation to get a majority vote. While skills acquired in business and civic activities teach many of the soft skills of interpersonal relationships and team building that are transferable to a legislative body, there are unique differences that are important to recognize.

Most legislatures with whom I am familiar have orientation programs to acquaint new members with where the bathrooms are, rules of order in committee meetings and on the floor, and operating procedures around the capitol. Putting legislation together, developing a strategy for its passage, and keeping constituents back home happy are most often handled by the political party caucuses or helpful mentors.

Another source of in-service training I have found invaluable are conferences put together by professional associations, specifically the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). I am at their national conference this week. NCSL keeps up with what is happening in state capitols around the country and through publications, conferences and consultancy keeps legislators informed. The association is truly non-partisan, although its leadership–chosen from among state legislators across the country–maintain their party allegiance while the staff is able to stay out of the partisanship.

Virginia of course had the first representative legislature in the western world beginning in 1619. Not everyone followed the Virginia model however in writing their constitution of organizing their legislatures. I continue to be amazed as I work with colleagues from around the country as to the number of different ways that legislative bodies can organize themselves and do their business. No one has a corner on the best way to do the people’s business, but we can learn from taking a look at how other states conduct their business.

NCSL refers to the states as the laboratories of democracy. The description is appropriate as we all face mostly the same challenges. Our responses are different, however. By getting together for what some would call a conference, but what I think is more appropriately called in-service training, we can do a better job for the people we represent.

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Del. Ken Plum: Some Good News

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

This past week was horrible for our country! How much longer can we sustain the decline of our liberties and way of governing? I feel a sense of despair.

But, at the same time, good things are happening. I am going to focus on them in this column but with the assurance to you that I am not giving up on helping to turn our country around.

I shook hands with Bryce Harper last week! My grandson assures me that is a very big deal. Harper was in our community for the dedication of the Bryce Harper Sports Complex at the Fred Crabtree Park by Crossfield Elementary School. I know that the late Fred Crabtree who was a friend of mine would have been elated as he spent his life working to ensure that children have a place to play ball. I was impressed with Harper’s message to the young people who were there to be the best they can be whether it is playing baseball, soccer, piano or dancing. Harper went on that evening to win the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby.

Two weeks ago, my two sons who are now in their fifties (!) invited me to go with them to visit the area near Shenandoah, Virginia, where I grew up and that they remember visiting as young children. Nothing stays the same. The home that my Mom and Dad kept immaculate with the grass mowed and a garden full of vegetables is now a shambles for lack of maintenance and the accumulation of junk. Regardless, we had a good time sharing stories about their grandparents and their growing up.

President Obama gave a speech last week in South Africa, and it was marvelous! His understanding of the broad course of history, appreciation of human struggles and their outcomes, and his dedication to our institutions and moral values continue to give me a sense of hope. I have listened to his speech twice so far and will no doubt listen to it more times in the future. It is available online through several sources.

Special Olympics celebrated its 50th anniversary. How inspiring to hear the story of its founding, its amazing success, and the tireless effort of so many volunteers who make possible the activities for some of the most challenged among us. Thanks to all who are so unselfishly a part of such a wonderful program to help others.

Herndon-Reston Indivisibles, who organized soon after the last election, went to Lafayette Park at least three evenings in a row in addition to many other vigils and marches to publicly express their displeasure at the policies of the current administration and the need for citizens to stand up to the damage being done. They are inspiring to me and will ultimately be an important part of getting our country back on track.

I have to remind myself of all that is going on in our families and our communities that is really good and that demands protecting. After this inspiring break to remember the good things I need now to get back to work saving our governmental institutions and moral values! Thanks to all who provide the good news and the inspiration.

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Del. Ken Plum: A Budget Surplus?

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Newspaper headlines last week declared “State posts surplus of more than $500 million.” Such headlines about a “surplus” in Virginia’s budget appear with some regularity. I checked the meaning of “surplus” the old-fashioned way–in Webster’s Dictionary: “an amount or quantity in excess of what is needed.”

Hardly is the term surplus applicable to Virginia’s current situation. More accurately the excess cash the state had on the day it finalized its books should be termed an unappropriated balance or an amount of revenues received beyond the forecasted amount.

Why is the distinction I am making important? To suggest that the state has a surplus of money over what it needs is to totally discount unmet needs in the state that do not even make their way into budget consideration. It would be nice to have more money than needed allowing all taxpayers to get a refund. It is also important that the state not have to go into debt to meet current obligations.

A full assessment of the cost of government if the state met its clear obligations has never been made to my knowledge. Such an assessment would allow for an honest discussion of whether the state has a temporary receipt of cash beyond what it expected or has a surplus of cash beyond what it needs. I have ranted in this space before about my concern with the misleading way the state handles its budgeting.

I believe one example will make my point that there is no reasonable way the state could be considered to have a surplus when there are such outstanding unmet needs in the areas for which the state has a responsibility–that example is funding for public schools. On the same day that the half-billion dollar “surplus” was announced, The Commonwealth Institute issued a report, “State K-12 Funding in Virginia: Incremental Progress and Opportunities for Long-Term Solutions,” that found that if public schools were funded today at the same level they were in 2009 an additional three-quarter billion dollars would have been provided–all the surplus and about half that amount more.

Instead, school staffing in Virginia has declined by 1,242 positions while enrollment has increased by more than 50,000 students since 2009. A promise by the state to fund fifty-five percent of the cost of public schools with localities picking up the remaining forty-five percent has been flipped with localities having to pick up a much greater amount since the recession. Virginia ranks forty among the fifty states in the state funding it provides for public schools.

This example focuses on the inadequacy of the level of public school funding, but other examples could be given in the areas of mental health services and public health and safety. The conservative approach of forecasting revenue and the tight limitation on spending will keep Virginia with a more than balanced budget. If realistic state responsibilities were factored in, we could have a realistic balanced budget. Instead, we have underfunded programs and services with persons scratching their heads wondering how we could have a surplus with so much more left to do.

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Del. Ken Plum: Heat of the Election Season

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

On the fourth of July last week I rode on a float in the Fairfax City Independence Day Parade, one of the largest in the state, with local Democrats promoting the candidacies of Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Gerry Connelly for re-election and the election of Jennifer Wexton for Congress in the Tenth District. It brought back some pleasant old memories. When I first ran for elective office in the mid-1970s, I was running for the House of Delegates in what was then the 18th District.

It was represented by five at-large delegates. After the courts declared the Virginia redistricting unconstitutional after the 1970 census because it short-changed Northern Virginia in representation, the legislature simply divided Fairfax County into two halves with each half having five at-large members.

When I was first elected in 1978 I was part of a five-person delegation of three Democrats and two Republicans who represented the northern half of Fairfax County from Herndon to Baileys Crossroads including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. These large districts were declared unconstitutional in 1982, and single-member districts including District 36 were put into place and have been adjusted each census to reflect the changing population and a bit of gerrymandering of some districts to protect incumbents.

Except for Fourth of July celebrations political campaigns largely got underway after Labor Day. It seems that now they are perpetual. Door knocking on hot summer weekends was questionable when your body was dripping in sweat. Now there are regularly scheduled canvasses each weekend regardless of the heat. There is no better formula for success than direct contact with voters. In the fall the days get shorter and there is less opportunity to knock on doors in the evenings. Ringing doorbells after dark may lose as many votes as gained. Regardless of the heat, candidates need to be out and about to see voters.

At the parade and at neighborhood canvassing I have visited I have been impressed at the dedication of people who are volunteering to help identify, register and persuade voters. While I am overwhelmingly anxious about the direction of our country, I am encouraged and reassured by the volunteers I meet. They are determined to save our democratic institutions and to put us back on the path of a caring and open society.

When a volunteer comes to your door, please thank them for their work on behalf of our democracy. When volunteers from the other persuasion come by be polite and civil. Have faith that they will eventually see the light and join us. I am sure that we will win the vote in November, and we will go back to living together after that.

Thankfully I rode on a float in the parade because the heat was exhausting. It felt good to hear the cheers and see the friendly waves. Nothing like a parade to cheer you up. When the heat of the election season is past, I am confident that our country will have sent a message that we are returning to the moral values we share.

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Del. Ken Plum: You Hit Me First!

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Every parent of two or more children has experienced this scenario: Two children in the back seat of a vehicle get bored. When no one is looking, the first child pokes or pinches the other. The victim yells or screams with lots of drama as to how they have been hurt or offended.

That gives the second child license to strike back just as the parents take note of what is happening. At that moment it looks like the second child is the offender and is given a punishment. The first child is amused, giggles and enjoys that the brother or sister having done nothing is suddenly in trouble.

This little tale is innocent enough as children grow up and learn through experience how to interact and relate to others. Not so innocent and very serious is the situation we have been witnessing for more than a year. The administration uses vile language that is offensive to all but some of its most ardent supporters.

The advocates for democracy and a fair and sane governmental framework criticize the administration. Representatives of the administration respond with name calling, falsehoods and extreme claims and criticisms. Any response by those who disagree is received with further name calling and false claims. Who is to blame for this exchange?

The administration has been successful at pointing fingers at their critics putting them on the defensive. These exchanges can be really tough to unravel especially with an administration that is willing to make up their own reality and tell out-right lies to justify their actions. Shouting matches often ensue; in the worst cases threats are made, and in an all-too-frequent occurrence violence takes place.

While I fully understand the desire on the part of some to yell and scream (I do so to myself frequently), the vile language and threats are examples of speaking past each other. I want to express in as strong terms as I can how upset and concerned I am about the actions of the government and this administration over the past months. I view them as a real threat to our democracy, immoral, and the lowest point we have seen as a society.

I will be present at as many vigils and marches as I can to join with those who want major and immediate changes to what is happening to our country. I will not call for nor participate in violence. I will support court actions to stop harmful activities by the administration as much as possible.

Most importantly I will work for Senate and Congressional candidates who are committed to stopping the damage of this administration and taking back our country from the special interests that have been allowed to run rampant in using the government for their personal profit. I will be tireless and will work to enlist people to join me and the thousands who are committed to reversing these dangerous directions.

I am not going to let the administration convince anyone else that someone else hit first. We need to stick together, be strategic in our responses, and be smarter than they are to reverse what is happening in our country. We can do that this November at the ballot boxes.

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Del. Ken Plum: Keep Families Together

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now

Last week I joined with nearly fifty of my colleagues in the House of Delegates in signing a joint letter to all the Virginia senators and representatives in the United States Congress about “our outrage at the cruel and systematic separation of immigrant children and their families at the U.S. border with Mexico.”

While immigration issues are mainly federal responsibility, the actions on the part of the current administration have been so horrendous that we felt an obligation to speak out. We asked our Virginia delegation to intercede with the administration to cease the policy and to reunite the children involved with their families without delay.

Since our letter there have been some pronouncements from the administration about changes in the policy, but it remains entirely unclear what will happen with the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families and are being held in mass facilities that seem more like prisons than homes.

It is equally unclear as to whether a continuation of a zero-tolerance policy on border entry will simply replace prisons for children with adult prisons. I am pleased that Governor Ralph Northam has withdrawn the use of any Virginia National Guard forces from being involved in implementing this inhumane program.

The politics of building fear of immigrants to further political goals stinks as does the attempted use of children as pawns to bargain for a disastrously conceived wall with our neighbors. Beyond the politics are the long-term human rights issues that many thought and most hoped America was beyond. The negative long-term impact on the children involved cannot be over-looked or not addressed. Nor can the impact be underestimated of sending people back to a country from which they were seeking asylum in fear for their lives.

Earlier this month, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) along with 540 other organizations wrote to the administration as part of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign stating their opposition to actions that would separate children from their parents. As NAEYC stated it, “There are no ends that justify these means.”

The organization that is well respected for its research on the education of young children went on to state, “The research is clear, and so are our core values…We have an obligation to create and advance policy solutions that support child well-being and strengthen the bonds between all children and their families.”

Part of that research has found the traumatic impact of separation on young children can negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. As NAEYC said, “You don’t have to be either a parent or an educator to understand that separating children from their families–and putting them in a place where they cannot be hugged, touched, or loved–causes harm. And not the kind of harm that is easily repaired. This is the kind of harm that is significant and long-lasting, interfering with positive child development and well-being.”

Please take some time and join me in expressing to the administration our opposition to their policies and actions on immigration.

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Del. Ken Plum: Virginia is for Loving

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

It is somewhat ironic that Loving Day in Virginia, celebrated annually on June 12, has nothing to do with the famous “Virginia is for Lovers” public relations slogan but has much to do about ending a period in history when Virginia was less than loving. Loving Day in Virginia relates to an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, who were married in the District of Columbia and tried to live near where they grew up in Virginia. They were found guilty of violating state law and banished from their home state for twenty-five years.

The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia prohibited marriage between persons classified as white and people classified as colored. Although Mildred and Richard were residents of Caroline County, they went to the District of Columbia to get married to get around this anti-miscegenation law. They returned to live in their home but were arrested because Virginia law did not recognize the D.C. marriage, and furthermore it was also against the law to go outside the state to be married and return as an interracial couple.

The laws under which the Lovings were convicted were eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. One of their lawyers with whom I was later to serve in the House of Delegates, Bernard “Bernie” Cohen, told the Justices that Richard Loving had sent a message to them. “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court invalidated the Virginia law and all other state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case (Loving v Virginia) decided in 1967 is considered a landmark civil rights case that helped to dismantle Jim Crow laws and establish a precedent that was cited in 2015 to invalidate laws prohibiting same-sex marriages.

It is important to recognize Loving Day for the courageous action on the part of Mildred and Richard Loving to allow their case to go forward with the help of the ACLU to challenge an unjust law. Some of our greatest gains in civil rights have come through the courts as legislatures have too many times lacked the political will to do what is right when it might not be popular with some people. It can also be chilling to recognize that this step forward took place just over fifty years ago. We need to study our history and carefully review our current political and societal mores to ensure that such discrimination is not continuing today. Overcoming discrimination and racial biases are not topics of the past but continue to today. We need to support those like the Lovings who stepped up to undo an injustice.

Some long for the “good ole days.” My reading of history suggests that better days are ahead of us. A divided and discriminatory society of the past is not to be celebrated. Virginia needs to be a Commonwealth of lovers of justice, equality and peace.

File photo

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Tuesday Morning Notes

First Look: Wegmans — Wegmans is coming to Brookfield Properties’ four million-square-foot redevelopment of the 36-acre Reston Crescent site. In a recently submitted proposed to Fairfax County, The first new building will feature an urban-style Wegmans resting underneath 380 apartment units. [Washington Business Journal]

Dump the pump — Local officials want drivers to dump the pump and hop onto public transit on Thursday. Are you up for the challenge? [Fairfax County Government]

Artificial intelligence 2.0 — “NCI Inc. is pushing to bring more artificial intelligence to government customers to help them boost efficiency and save money. The Reston contractor is starting to sell Shai, or Scaling Humans with Artificial Intelligence.” [Washington Business Journal]

Ken Plum fundraiser — The state delegate is raising money for his campaign. A breakfast-style fundraiser is slated for tomorrow with tickets ranging from $35 to $1,000 each. [Ken Plum]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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