Del. Ken Plum: Evolution of Women’s Rights

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.

Women first came to the English colony at Jamestown Island in 1619–400 years ago, and hence their arrival is part of the American Evolution 1619-2019 commemoration going on throughout the Commonwealth. As with the other events that marked the historic significance of this year and that I have written about in this column, the real meaning of the events comes about in examining the decades and centuries that followed from 1619. There is no surprise that the land developers who were making investments in the new colony would advertise free voyage to women to come to this new land of potential opportunity and freedom from poverty and oppression they may have felt at home. If the colony was to have success in developing economic opportunities and stability that families would bring, it needed women to come and find themselves adventure…and a husband.

English women who came were not slaves although they no doubt had to work hard to start a life and a home in the wilderness. If they came with an indenture to pay off their voyage fare, they could work off their obligation over a number of years. But just like in the society they left, even with the indenture paid off, women were not free or in the same category as men. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence nearly a century and a half later, he proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” We speculate that if he were writing a document today that he would say “all persons,” but his writing at the time reflected women’s lesser role in society. The story of women’s rights continues to evolve even until today.

The capital of Virginia moved to Richmond in 1780, but it was not until this week that a memorial noting the contribution of women to the Commonwealth’s history was finally dedicated on Capitol grounds. The twelve women chosen to be depicted as bronze statues in the Virginia Women’s Monument represent women from all corners of the Commonwealth, both widely-celebrated women, as well as those with previously unknown but equally important stories. Many more women will be memorialized on the Wall of Honor and in the accompanying virtual educational modules. To get to know these women, most of whom I dare to say few have heard of, visit Women’s Monument.

Also recognizing the struggle of women for their rights, the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association (TPSM) is building a national memorial to American suffragists–with a special focus on those imprisoned at Occoquan, VA, who endured harsh conditions and abuse to win voting rights for American women. For more information on the women who led the suffragist movement and the hardships they endured, visit suffragistmemorial.org. The nineteenth amendment ensuring women the right to vote was not ratified until 1920. Virginia rejected it in 1920 and did not vote for ratification until 1952.

A fitting tribute to Virginia women 400 years after their arrival would be passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by the General Assembly at its next legislative session.

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Del. Ken Plum: We Will be Watching You

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.

For the second week in a row my column opens with a reference to sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who spoke to the United Nations Climate Action Summit last week after having sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat. Her message was hard hitting. As she had said to a Congressional committee, it was not necessary that she speak for a long period of time for the scientists had already spoken in the numerous reports on climate change that had been written. As a leader who had inspired weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide her message was clear to the world leaders: “We will be watching you…How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!”

Gun violence is an issue about which young people have become increasingly concerned as well. A student who was at the high school in Parkland, Florida, when there was the mass shooting there has been quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “You see these shootings on TV every day and very little happening around it. It’s painful to watch. And I think it’s been really hard for me and many other students and people that we work with to find hope in this time.” Once again, the young people are watching.

Students from the high school in Parkland have formed an organization called March for Our Lives whose very name indicates the seriousness with which they are approaching the issue of gun violence. They have more than 100 chapters nationwide. Their proposed plan to combat gun violence, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America,” goes well beyond the limited measures being debated in the adult world. Their plan creates a national licensing program with a gun registry, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a waiting period for gun purchases, and a mandatory buy-back of assault weapons. Their program may seem extreme to many, but it deserves careful attention for it is written by young people who have the experience of having survived a mass shooting where their friends around them did not survive. Once again, we can expect that these young people and others will be watching what we adults do about this issue if indeed anything is done.

Many years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant in the Shenandoah Valley with a man who as a devout member of the Brethren Church. He would regularly remind me that we should live our lives as though someone is watching us for we could be sure that someone is watching us and observing our ethics, honesty and sincerity. We may be able to talk a good game, but those observing our behavior can learn more about us than we may care for them to know. In the political world these days there is way too much talk and too little action on critical life and death issues. Young people are watching and are calling us out!

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Del. Ken Plum: Afraid of an Unknown Future

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.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. Thunberg has a strong reputation as a climate activist having staged weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide. Having a young person speak about climate issues is appropriate considering the higher-level interest shown by young people over adults on climate-related concerns. After all, it is their future that is being discussed.

Results of a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week found that young people include climate change among the issues they think are most important facing the country. Eighty-six percent of youth think that human activity is causing climate change. Of considerable concern is the finding that 57 percent of the youth polled said that climate change makes them feel afraid. It is their future, and they feel afraid of the future we adults are leaving them. The good news is that 54 percent feel motivated to do something about it.

But young people fortunately are not alone in being fearful of climate change and motivated to do something about it. The 2019 Virginia Climate Crisis Forum held at the First Baptist Church in Vienna attracted nearly 300 activists to focus on climate justice. The forum was moderated by William Barber, III, son of the famous Rev. Dr. William Barber II, and Karenna Gore, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. Reflecting the broad interest in the issue, panelists included representatives of the Green New Deal of Virginia, People Demanding Action, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions and others. Emphasis of the discussion was on working together to repair a damaged climate while ensuring that everyone most impacted–including low-income people, people of color, the vulnerable, and those on the front lines–are part of every solution and not disproportionally impacted.

Coming out of the Virginia Clean Energy Summit also held last week was an announcement by Governor Ralph Northam that the goal in Virginia is that by 2030, 30 percent of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear. In his Executive Order establishing the goals, the Governor expressed the concerns being heard from the young people and in the various meetings on the issue: “Climate change is an urgent and pressing challenge for Virginia. As recent storms, heat waves, and flooding events have reminded us, climate disruption poses potentially devastating risk to Virginia.” Reflecting the concern about economic justice, the Governor’s Executive Order stated that “These clean energy resources shall be deployed to maximize the economic and environmental benefit to under-served communities while mitigating any impact to those communities.”

Young people remind us that there are ample reasons to be afraid of an unknown future with climate change. The best response to that fear is to intensify the discussions such as have been going on while taking positive steps like that by the Governor to reverse impact on climate change.

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Del. Ken Plum: Purpose of a Corporation

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 most of my columns are about issues that need resolution and challenges that state government must meet, a column focused on what others are doing to improve life in our communities is appropriate from time to time. If we allow ourselves to relax for a few moments to see and marvel in some good news, it does not mean that we are any less committed to improving the world or that we will lose our momentum in trying to do so. There are many more stories of progress that I hope to share in this short space in the future, but an event last month deserves our immediate attention.

The Business Roundtable made up of 181 CEO’s of America’s biggest companies issued a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” last month that makes a dramatic shift from past statements that emphasized shareholder primacy to a “fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.” The broadened purpose is explained to include delivering value to customers, investing in employees, dealing ethically and fairly with suppliers, and supporting communities in which they are located. (opportunity. businessroundtable.org)

Socially responsible actions taken voluntarily on the part of many companies may have spurred the new Business Roundtable statement, but the hope is that other corporations will follow with actions that are as positive for their workers and the communities they serve as they are for the bottom line. As the Roundtable statement explained, “investing in our employees…starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.” Maybe there will be a future where my bill to increase the paltry $7.25 an hour minimum wage in Virginia will be supported by local Chambers of Commerce instead of outright opposition they have expressed in the past. Concern for workers at the minimum should be that they are paid a wage on which they can live.

The Roundtable statement acknowledged that “while each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.” Among the stakeholders are the communities in which businesses are located to which the Roundtable members expressed that “we respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” The consumer continues to have the choice of buying products that are made in a sustainable way and to refuse to purchase those that are not.

The auto manufacturers who made an agreement with the state of California to follow strict emission standards for automobiles regardless of the irresponsible action by the federal government to lower standards are to be applauded and supported by other states in the court suit. How ironic would it be if the courts decided that companies could not gain a competitive advantage by being more environmentally responsible.

The Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation concludes that “each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.” Those same “stakeholders” are referred to in government as “constituencies.” When the common goals of business and society as reflected through its government are recognized, success will be realized by stakeholders and constituencies!

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Del. Ken Plum: Elections Are Annual Events 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.

Labor Day is the traditional time that election campaigns get underway, but in Virginia with an election schedule different from that in most states election campaigns seem to be continuous. Voters in most states have the year off, but Virginia voters this November will face ballots filled with candidates for local and state elections. And next year when all states have federal elections for members of Congress and the presidency Virginians will have those elections too. If the outcomes were not so important people in the Commonwealth could grow weary over all these elections. Some of the low turnout at the polls on election day could probably be attributed to voter fatigue.

If someone has not yet knocked on your door or sent you information in snail mail or social media, you need to get ready for the flurry of campaigning that is about to happen. On November 5 voters will elect all 100 members of the House of Delegates and the 40 members of the Senate. In addition to the many critical issues facing the state, the elections this year will determine if the Republicans maintain their razor thin majorities in both houses or whether the Democrats will take one or both houses. Polling indicates that the Democrats are in a very strong position for a coup. Find out your election district if you have forgotten by going to Voter Information.

At the local level in Fairfax County voters will elect their representatives on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and on the Fairfax County School Board. In addition voters will elect three at-large members of the School Board. The election also includes the sheriff and the Commonwealth’s attorney. That’s a lot of candidates to be knocking on your door, calling you on the phone, and sending you dozens of slick brightly colored post cards touting their strengths and sometimes alerting you to the weaknesses in their opponents. As has been observed many times the system may seem to have its abuses and flaws, but no one has been able to come up with a better system.

As a change-up to traditional campaigning I sponsor a free family picnic to get entire families involved for everyone is welcome and as a way to reduce the costs of campaigns to constituents who are expected to contribute at most events. Bring your family and join us at Temporary Road Park in Reston at the corner of North Shore Drive and Temporary Road on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 4 to 6 pm. Let us know you are coming at [email protected] so that we have enough food prepared. Other candidates are expected to come.

We can enjoy the end of the summer holiday season and the beginning of the fall campaigns in a relaxed environment. The issues before us are too important to not participate in the process regardless of your political persuasion. Our outdoor social can get us in the mood for yet another round of voting in Virginia.

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Del. Ken Plum: Electric Vehicles to be the Norm

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.

 

In 1996, I had the great learning experience of chairing the Northern Virginia Electric Vehicle Launch Committee through the sponsorship of the Electric Transportation Coalition (ETC) and the US Departments of Energy and Transportation. The national goal to clean up the air we breathe was the impetus to the study we did in our region as was being done in nine other suburban regions throughout the country. The one-inch thick report we produced–“The Path to an EV Ready Community”–provided a guide that is still relevant and valuable today.
General Motors came out with its EV-1 vehicle which I had the pleasure to drive for a day; prospects were looking good for electric vehicles until suddenly the bottom dropped out of the market. All big manufacturers dropped their testing and production of electric vehicles. Our report was clearly ahead of its time.
Fast forward a couple of decades and electric vehicles have come into their own. All manufacturers I know of are predicting that over the next couple of decades electric vehicles will be the only cars and trucks they produce. They are environmentally clean, outperform traditional cars, need less maintenance, and are safer.
Hybrids that use traditional engines with electric assist have virtually taken over the market. Jane and I felt like pioneers in 2003 when we bought our first Prius. It got great gas mileage, required little maintenance, had less harmful emissions, and ran until we finally traded it in with more than 150,000 miles. Our experiences with the Priuses we bought in 2007 and 2012 were the same.
The path to electric vehicles that my earlier study had considered has made huge strides over the past several years. While Tesla is probably the best known of the electric vehicles, most manufacturers have an all-electric option. Chevrolet has the Bolt and Nissan has the Leaf among the better known models. They will help us reduce our carbon footprint, clean up the air, and more easily adapt to the many new automatic features that are becoming available.
But the shift in the power sources of our vehicles brings new challenges, all of which must be recognized and can be met. At a session “Juicing Up for Electric Vehicles” at the recent National Conference of State Legislatures I attended some of the issues were discussed. How should the sale of electricity be provided and regulated if necessary? Will utilities be able to handle the increased demand? How can equity and access be assured for drivers in the market if prices go up?
Coming with the electric vehicles are many automated features that can make driving safer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that of the over 37,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, more than 90% had a human error factor. Maybe the new cars will be able to have safety engineered into them.

Continuing my story about electric vehicles that began more than two decades ago, Jane and I purchased a Tesla a week ago. It is environmentally friendly, has many safety features, and will be very comfortable for my numerous trips to Richmond!

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Del. Ken Plum: Laboratories of Democracy

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.

State Senator Toi Hutchinson of Illinois who is president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) spoke last week in Jamestown as part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the United States. She was eloquent in describing the evolution of legislative bodies in the states: “That evolution is breathtaking–from that rudimentary gathering of a handful of land-owning, white men to professional legislative bodies filled with the best and brightest of every race, every creed and every gender. Legislatures now serve as the place where ordinary hard-working Americans become extraordinary ambassadors of their neighborhoods, towns and cities and strive together to secure the blessings of liberty.” (full text of her remarks)

I am attending the annual meeting of the NCSL this week. NCSL uses the term “laboratories of democracy” in describing the states. The attendance at its annual meeting reflects the diversity that President Hutchinson described in her remarks at Jamestown. The Virginia General Assembly has made major strides in becoming more diverse the last several years as more people reflecting diversity have come forward to run for office and have been welcomed by the voters. Recent court decisions that wiped out some of the gerrymandering that kept white men in charge will no doubt add to the diversity in election winners this November.

Just as in any laboratory setting, the results of some experiments are worth keeping and others are just as well cast aside. Too many states are still involved in passing laws to restrict those who can vote and to legalize discrimination against certain classes of people. Fortunately few if any of these people show up at this conference but rather go to other meetings where they might feel more comfortable. NCSL for the most part tends to attract middle-of-the-road moderates to progressives.

With the federal government reneging on so many matters that might best be resolved with common solutions across state lines, the states are having to step up to respond to these issues. The current federal administration continues to deny climate change, but it is the people in the states who are getting their feet wet and who are suffering the consequences of climate change including extreme weather events. I look forward to attending sessions with expert speakers and panels who will present what is happening in states that are taking environmental issues seriously.

Criminal justice reform, educational reforms including the expansion of early childhood education, new approaches to mental health, cybersecurity, and a fair census and resulting redistricting are a short list of topics that will be on my mind and the minds of legislators from other states with whom I will have an opportunity to interact during the several days of the conference. I will share some of what I have learned or confirmed in future columns.

As at any meeting, discussions that take place at the breaks and social gatherings can be the most profitable. I know there will be an overwhelming number of attendees who will be gravely concerned about what is happening with our national leadership and institutions. That makes work as state legislators even more important as we work to maintain our laboratories of democracy.

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Del. Ken Plum: Beginning of Representative Government in America

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.

Four hundred years ago yesterday, July 30, 1619, a group of 22 colonists met in the wooden and mud church on Jamestowne Island as instructed by the investors of the colony “to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia” and to provide “just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.” They adjourned on August 4. That event is variously described as the beginning of representative government in America and as the beginning of the oldest continuous law-making body in the western hemisphere. It merits the commemoration it is receiving.

In order to fully understand the importance of a signature event as this one, I believe it is important to put it into perspective as our knowledge of what happened afterwards allows us to do. While termed the beginning of representative government, the first legislative meeting was anything but representative. Only white males could vote or serve in the Assembly. The indigenous people — called Indians because one of the purposes of sailing to this new world was to find a shorter route to India — were not able to participate even though they had inhabited the land for at least 15,000 years. Not only were they kept out of the Assembly, they were forced off their lands where they had their homes, governance, religion, and farms. In less than a half century the immigrants had taken over the land and displaced the indigenous people.

Nor could women take part in that first Assembly because they did not arrive in Virginia until 1619 and did not secure the vote until three centuries later! Enslaved people from Africa did not arrive in the colony until 1619 and not only were they not in the First Assembly but they were the subject of laws in subsequent sessions of oppressive slave codes that denied them basic human rights. It was necessary in the beginnings of the Assembly to belong to and pay taxes to the established church.

The history of Virginia and of America has been to move from this humble beginning and through decades and centuries of events to evolve into what is more closely a representative government. The planners of the events surrounding 1619 have correctly I believe termed it “evolution.” Contrary to what some may have us believe, our state and our country did not start out meeting the ideals and vision that we have. We have built on a humble beginning to evolve into the country we are today.

I trust that this important celebration will not be allowed to be taken over by an ignorance of what happened at Jamestowne and turned into a biased partisan view to justify the terrible actions of government today against people of color, people from other lands, and people in the LGBTQ communities. We do not need to try to return to a past that was much more imperfect than we sometimes care to admit. I am attending the Commemorative Session of the General Assembly to learn more about the past and how we can learn from our experiences and evolve further into a more perfect union. I will not be attending the session with POTUS.

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Del. Ken Plum: The Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop

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.

In last week’s column I suggested that the record-breaking for brevity, 90-minute session of the General Assembly came about because of a dysfunctional House of Delegates and a lack of leadership by the Speaker of the House. Further evidence unfolding since I wrote that column strengthens my concern and adds to it the problem that in the Virginia House of Delegates the “fox is guarding the chicken coop.”

The Special Session of the General Assembly that was called by Governor Ralph Northam in response to increasing gun violence should have provided a forum for debate to determine a response by the legislature to keep the people of Virginia safe. Few sessions general or special have attracted as much public attention as this one with hundreds of advocates at the Capitol representing all sides of the issue.

One side got high-level special attention. Ordinary citizens and state-wide and national groups concerned about gun violence attended a rally at the Bell Tower in Capitol Square and spent the rest of the morning visiting legislative offices and milling about the street between the Pocahontas Building where legislative offices are and the State Capitol. The National Rifle Association (NRA) representatives were in the Speaker of the House of Delegates Conference Room picking up their red caps and tee shirts and no doubt getting reassurances that everything was going to be alright.

A website inviting NRA members to the event encouraged their attendance: “Governor Ralph Northam and his gun ban allies are ready to push their extreme anti-gun agenda when the General Assembly convenes its special session tomorrow–July 9th. Your NRA is calling on members and Second Amendment supporters to join in the fight against Gov. Northam’s misguided gun control proposals by coming to Richmond on July 9th to personally urge their elected officials to stand up for our rights and oppose the Northam gun ban agenda.”

The most astonishing part of the announcement came in the details of the event: “WHERE: Pocahontas Building, 6th Floor, House Conference Room.” That just happens to be the Conference Room of the Speaker of the House of Delegates!

On this topic the Speaker effectively relinquished any impartial role of conducting the business of the House and became the host for those opposing common-sense gun safety laws that according to dozens of public opinion polls are supported by an overwhelming majority of Virginians. It brings back memories of the time this same Speaker moved from his position as Speaker to take the floor of the House of Delegates to speak passionately against a women’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health.

The announcement included some red meat to encourage participation: “Our members are concerned that Gov. Northam’s special session is a political stunt aimed at distracting from his scandals…”

With the cooperation of the Speaker of the House of Delegates we clearly have the fox guarding the chicken coop in Virginia.

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Del. Ken Plum: A Dysfunctional House

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 House of Delegates broke all records for brevity last week when it adjourned 90 minutes after convening. It was not because the 100-member body had become so efficient that it got all its work done; to the contrary it demonstrated how dysfunctional the body has become over the last several decades.

Brought together at the call of the Governor as he is constitutionally authorized to do, the House and the State Senate were asked to enact legislation in response to the gun violence that takes the lives of more than 1,000 citizens of our state each year including the most recent tragic mass murders of a dozen people in a Virginia Beach municipal building. The Republican majorities in both houses instead chose, on a partisan vote, to adjourn the Special Session before legislation on gun safety could even be discussed. Tellingly, the Special Session is adjourned until November 18 which happens to also be past the date of the next election.

The charade of sending the eight bills the Governor had recommended, along with the two dozen or so others that had been introduced, to the Crime Commission for study is laughable. All these bills had been introduced before and defeated in small subcommittees. There is little more that can be said about these bills other than they become more popular with the public as gun violence increases. The bill I introduced on universal background checks has been thoroughly examined over many years and in public opinion has an approval rate among voters hovering around 90 percent.

The argument that there was not time to hear the bills doesn’t ring true when you consider that a regular session of the General Assembly earlier this year considered more than 2,500 bills and resolutions in about a month and a half. All the weaving and bobbing and flimsy excuses are intended to cover up that the House of Delegates and the State Senate under present leadership have become dysfunctional.

The rules under which the Special Session was to be conducted were kept from the members and the public until the session convened even though the leadership had known the date for weeks from the Governor’s call for the session. Even more the sinister plan to do nothing by adjourning both houses came as a surprise to everyone but the smallest number of members in the Republican leadership.

One of the biggest problems in the House with its organization and operation is that the Speaker serves not as Speaker of the House but as head of the Republican majority. As a result there is no neutral arbiter to convene and conduct the business of the House. When I talked with the Right Honourable John Bercow M.P. of the British House of Commons a couple of months ago he spoke of his role as a neutral person who ensures that the House operates fairly. There is no pretense in the Virginia House that the Speaker is anything other than head of the majority party and operates the House not in fairness or impartiality but to the advantage of the majority even if that majority is secured by only one or two votes.

The House is dysfunctional as it currently operates and needs reform in the role of the Speaker.

 

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Del. Ken Plum: Threats to Our Government as We Know It

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 threats to our democratic-republican form of government are more numerous than weeks of this column could enumerate. While I will not mention the more obvious ones brought on by the current administration in Washington, I do want to focus on two that have come about in the recent past — one just last week. They impact all levels of government and come about not from the executive branch of government or the dysfunctional Congress but rather from the judicial branch and its highest level, the Supreme Court! While I have always viewed the Supreme Court as a safety backstop that would save our republic from harm by the Congress or the president, in recent years it is the Court that has become one of the real threats to democratic governance.

One of the biggest inhibitors of advancement on progressive issues in Virginia has been the unrestrained ability of the members of the party in power at the time of the decennial census to choose the voters they want to represent for the next decade by gerrymandering district boundaries. For some of us there has been a struggle to put in place a non-partisan method of drawing district lines. With the great organization OneVirginia2021’s efforts there has been real progress towards meeting that goal. A Constitutional amendment passed the last session of the General Assembly that would establish what is described as a non-partisan and transparent process for redistricting. It must pass the 2020 session without change in order to be sent to the voters in a referendum before becoming part of the state constitution.

In the meantime lawsuits were successful in federal courts to have the Virginia Congressional and House of Delegates districts redrawn to eliminate discrimination based on race. The Supreme Court refused to review the new House of Delegates districts drawn by a lower federal court on a technicality that the current members bringing the suit did not have standing.

Of great concern, however, is the Supreme Court decision last week saying in effect that federal courts do not have the power to redraw politically gerrymandered district lines. The outcome could be more devastating to a republican form of government as the dominant party would be left free to establish itself in power without a way to challenge it.

The Supreme Court has historically sidestepped cases in the past that would have brought them into resolving partisan redistricting. I am fearful that the Court’s decision will result in rampant gerrymandering of legislative districts creating unparalleled control of legislatures. This unfortunate decision by the Supreme Court may have been exceeded in its partisan implications only by Citizens United that many people feel may have been the Court’s greatest mistake by bringing uncontrolled corporate influence into elections.

As usual the checks, although extremely limited to these kinds of bad decisions, continue to be voting the very best people into elective office.

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Del. Ken Plum: The Glory That Was Greece

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.

From my earliest years of study of history, I was always fascinated with the story of Ancient Greece. A goal that I had for decades was realized recently as Jane and I vacationed for nearly two weeks in Greece. We were not disappointed as we stood on the soil and envisioned from the ruins the glory that must have been Greece.

Greece is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and this column will use some broad generalizations to condense that history and create a context for the influence of Greek culture on world history. Linking the ancient classical Greek period and the Hellenic periods together, the Ancient Greek civilization extended from about 800 BC and lasted until about 400 AD. During this classical or golden age of Greece, the incredible accomplishments of the Greeks were recorded forever in history.

As an online entry describes it, “Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of Western Civilization. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture of the modern world, particularly during the Renaissance in Western Europe and again during various neo-classical revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and the Americas.”

Historians agree that Greek intellectual achievements have been unparalleled in the history of the Western world whether you are talking about philosophy, literature, mathematics, science, art, architecture, or mythology. Greek intellectual leaders like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle continue to influence the way we think about the way we govern, what we value, and what our ideals are. Their architectural achievements continue to be admired even as most of their most successful structures are in ruin as much from war and destruction as from the passage of time.

While the Parthenon is but a shell of its original magnificence with the pillage, destruction, and weathering it has endured, its significance cannot be overstated as to what happened within its walls. I had seen some of the incredible sculpture that had graced the building in the British Museum as it had been stolen from the edifice by the British in its occupation of the country. The new Archaeological Museum at the Acropolis is ultra-modern and contains dozens of sculptures from the Golden Age and would be a most suitable place for the British to return the art they made off with during their occupation.

Making your way up the steep steps of the Acropolis is a long distance and a long time from Ancient Greece to today that encompasses many conquests, occupations and failures. I am glad that we went to see the remains on the Acropolis and the site where the first Olympians trained and competed. As beautiful as the country and the waters that nearly surround it are, the country is not a major power. In recent times it has been rescued by its neighbors.

Great civilizations have not endured forever even as their influence may still be present. Are we living in a time when our own glory might at some future date be described in the past tense?

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Del. Ken Plum: The Speaker of the House

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 Speaker of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain, the Right Honourable John Bercow M.P., spoke in the chamber of the House of Delegates in the State Capitol in Richmond recently. His speech was not to the members of the House of Delegates specifically although I and several other members were in attendance. He was addressing persons participating in the events as part of American Evolution, Virginia to America 1619 – 2019, the celebration of the 400th anniversary of historic events in the Virginia colony including the meeting of the first representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere at Jamestown in 1619.

Speaker Bercow lived up to his reputation of being a very entertaining speaker with lots of stories and humorous details of his service in Parliament with its centuries of traditions and customs. Many routines in the House of Commons or the House of Lords can be explained by happenings centuries ago and by interactions with the British monarchy. Speaker Bercow clearly knows his history and uses it to create a context for understanding the operation of Parliament today.

Ironically the Speaker of the House of Commons — who clearly loves to speak — has a role that does not require him to speak often or engage in debate in the House. He explains his role as being obliged to be impartial in debate and to be a kind of referee to ensure that debates are held fairly for all participating parties. While he is a member of Parliament and is a member of a political party, he sets aside partisanship in his role as Speaker. His success in the role is evidenced by his continued unanimous re-election as Speaker by the members of the House of Commons.

In the earliest years as the parliamentary system of government evolved in Great Britain the speaker’s role was to be the person who spoke in the Parliament on behalf of the monarch. He made the king’s interest known to the law makers. As the form of government evolved, however, and with the decline in the power of the monarch, the speaker became the person to make the views of the members of Parliament known to the king. It was a bit of a role reversal as Parliament gained power with the ministers of government as part of its membership and the monarch assuming more of a ceremonial role.

The Founding Fathers writing the constitutions for the colonies as they became states and for the United States as a nation rejected the strong monarchical and parliamentary system of government in favor of separation of powers and checks and balances.

Speaker Bercow is a strong believer in the necessity of his being impartial in his role as Speaker of the House. At the same time he makes clear that he is in no way impartial in his support for representative government and is passionate about liberal democracy. Certainly the Speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia could lead to more effective government in the Commonwealth were the person occupying the position an impartial leader and not the leader of the majority party.

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Del. Ken Plum: Special Session on Gun Violence

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.

Virginians are lovers of history, including this Virginian as regular readers of this column know. This year Virginia is celebrating 400 years since the first representative legislative body met at Jamestown. Virginia is the Mother of Presidents. Virginia is for lovers of all kinds of things!

One bit of history that continues to loom large in Virginia’s psyche these days with as little mention as possible from the state apologists is the prevalence of gun violence in the Commonwealth. Twelve years ago the campus of Virginia Tech was the scene of the largest mass murder of its time. While other mass murders have occurred since then, VA Tech through no direct fault of its own continues to hold the record for the most people killed on a college campus.

Virginia last week made history again. Virginia Beach was the scene of the biggest mass murder so far this year. A dubious distinction that we would least like to have. Virginia lost 1,028 people to gun violence in 2017, and as the Governor described it, that is almost three people a day; that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents.

For Governor Ralph Northam and for me and countless other Virginians, we long ago have had enough. As Governor Northam said in a press conference which I took part in last week: “No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence. I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”

The laws he is seeking to get passed have been introduced in the General Assembly during its regular sessions without success. In a special session called by the Governor that will be held on July 9, only bills intended to end gun violence will be considered. And the Governor requested that “members of the General Assembly engage in an open and transparent debate and that the bills brought before the legislature are put to a vote by the entire General Assembly.”

Bills related to gun violence that have been introduced in the regular session including my bill to require universal background checks have been routinely referred by the Speaker of the House to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee where they are sent to a subcommittee of six members. The members of the subcommittee are appointed by the Speaker of the House, four of whom have perfect voting records of opposing any gun safety legislation. My background check bill and the approximate 15 other bills related to preventing gun violence were defeated on a predictable vote of 2 to 4 with limited discussion or debate. Yes, that’s right. Four members who are buddies with the NRA get to make the decision of 140 elected members of the General Assembly!

It is time for Virginia to make history again by leading the nation in doing the right thing to end gun violence. Voters, please pay close attention to how your elected representatives vote!

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Del. Ken Plum: Renewing My Job Application

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.

Later today I will be renewing my application with voters in the 36th legislative district to keep my job as their representative in the Virginia House of Delegates. My campaign kick-off reception will be from 6 p.m to 7:30 pm at The Lake House of Reston at 11450 Baron Cameron Avenue, across the street from the entrance to Lake Anne. All are welcome to attend this free event with special guests former Governor Terry McAuliffe and House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st).

A question I have gotten every odd-numbered year I have run for office since 1973 is what got me interested in working for the people as an elected representative in the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly. As clear an answer I can give is to explain that history was always my favorite subject in school. A field trip to Jamestown when I was in fourth grade really piqued my interest. I came to learn that otherwise ordinary people we studied about shaped our history through their service in government and in the community. At that very young age I started dreaming about serving in the legislature and went on to study history through graduate school to prepare myself to serve. Since my election in 1981 I have been in office continuously making me now the longest serving member in the House of Delegates.

We hear calls for “term limits,” but Virginia has a very definitive term limit system. To be a member of the House of Delegates one must stand for election every two years and win a plurality of votes in the district to stay in office. This is my 20th such re-application to continue the work I have been doing. While I clearly have a lot of experience, I offer an informed vision for the future of the Commonwealth as my strongest asset.

It is not certain yet if I will have an opponent in this year’s election. Even if I run unopposed, I still intend to campaign in a way that takes advantage of voter interest to talk about the advances we have made in the Commonwealth and the miles we still need to go. My efforts will not be confined to my district as I will be campaigning in other districts on behalf of level-headed, socially progressive, and morally strong candidates who can contribute to a majority in the House of Delegates to accomplish needed changes that I write about almost weekly in this column.

Join me this evening if you can. I want to be able to tell you directly how honored I am to work for you and how earnest I am in reapplying for the job. Please be in touch with me at [email protected] with your questions and concerns.

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