The General Assembly convened for its annual session on Wednesday. Hopes that the historic election results of November brought forth have dimmed somewhat as the drawing of lots to settle the results of the final district race gave the Republicans a one-member advantage to control the House of Delegates. Many wonderful people have been at work on the terms for a power-sharing agreement.
Now the incentives for such reform have diminished with the acceptance of a disputed ballot that led to the Democrats losing a seat that would have made for a partisan tie in the House and much more likelihood of a power-sharing arrangement. There is likely to be some reform of the process but not a change of one-party dominance that has thwarted efforts to deal with some major issues.
I continue to be impressed with the make-up of the House of Delegates as the new members are reflective of the people of Virginia. For the first time in our history women will make up half the membership of the Democratic caucus. The new members bring wonderful backgrounds, expertise, and life experiences that will bring a greater sense of reality to legislative debates. We will make progress on more issues for sure but maybe not as great as I led people to believe when election results were announced.
One of my greatest concerns is that the thousands of men and women who chose to take part in the electoral process for the first time in ways other than just voting not become disillusioned with the process and retreat from it. Make no mistake about it: the outcomes of the legislative and state-wide races in Virginia in 2017 were historic. Voter turnout in these races was greater than in any other year with the same seats to be filled. The solid Republican majority of 66 to 34 was reduced to 51 to 49. Senior members of the majority with more than adequate monies to finance their races lost to a public uprising. All involved in this process can rightfully be proud. All that activity has been focused on campaigning; now we must turn to governing.
I hope that all those who campaigned so hard for candidates will identify one or perhaps several issues upon which they can focus their attention and with the same techniques of phoning, social media, door knocking, rallying and more can help persuade members of the legislature to vote responsibly on the issues. Just as we sold voters on candidates, we need to sell legislators on important issues. Such campaigns can make a difference in the outcome of legislation.
Political parties on both sides will be eager to take credit for the outcomes of elections in which they participated. Without a doubt, the success of elections this cycle came from the women and men who volunteered–sometimes in organized groups or acting as individuals–that made the difference. Political parties can learn from these people. Please do stay involved, for your participation can make such an important difference as the General Assembly lumbers along.
For many years into the future the example of one vote making a difference will be the House of Delegates election in the 94th House district in Virginia. After all legal issues are resolved, a winner will be finally announced. The winner will have won by a single vote or by a drawing of lots as Virginia law prescribes. You simply cannot get an election outcome closer than that! Every vote does count. But the importance of that one vote goes beyond deciding who will represent the people in that district; it will also decide which of the two parties will have a majority in the House of Delegates or whether the parties will be tied! Too bad for the people who might have an interest in the outcome but did not bother to vote.
The one-vote outcome along with a wave of voter participation transformed the Commonwealth’s legislative control in the House from Republican dominance of 66 members to 34 Democratic legislators to an even division or an advantage of one depending on that one final vote. Legislation of importance like expanding health insurance to those in need to adequately funding schools and encouraging gun safety that could not make it through the majority party that has been dominated by ultra-conservatives is much more likely to receive a hearing with a greater chance of a favorable hearing.
I do not sense an appetite from the people with whom I have talked for political posturing and grand-standing. To the contrary, I believe there is a public expectation that we work out whatever we need in order to proceed with the business of the legislature and to resolving issues that have been left unaddressed for too long. The one-upmanship that too often dominates the political world needs to be set aside. There is important work that needs to get done.
A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that between 1970 and 2003 there have been 32 tied legislatures in 22 states. The report described various ways that states have dealt with the situation. The North Carolina House of Representatives resolved a tie in 2002 by having two speakers of the house, one from each party who alternated each day. Similar agreements were used in the Indiana House in 1988, the Michigan House in 1992 and the Nevada Assembly in 1994.
Wyoming’s law provides for a coin toss to pick the majority party. Indiana, Montana and South Dakota break a tie by selecting the party of a top official like the governor, the NCSL report said. Washington State had co-speakers for a session that was described as cumbersome but workable. When the Florida Senate tied, one party’s leader served as chamber president for the first year of the term, followed by the other party’s leader the second year.
The people have made their voices heard in a historic election turnout in 2017. Campaigning has ended; it is time to start governing. A power-sharing agreement can be worked out. Virginians will be the winners when a power-sharing agreement is in place.
The elected representatives will hold their annual pre-legislative session town hall at the Jo Ann Rose Gallery in Reston Community Center at Lake Anne (1609 Washington Plaza) on Tuesday, Dec. 19 from 7:30 – 9 p.m.
Plum, 76, is in his 37th year representing the 36th district in Virginia’s House of Delegates. The retired teacher and school administrator recently told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he is eyeing the top position in the House, posing a challenge to current House Minority Leader David Toscano, a Democrat of Charlottesville.
Howell has been a state senator since 1992, prior to which she was a PTA president, community association president and chair of the State Board of Social Services.
For more information about the town hall, call 703-758-9733.
Earlier last week there was a groundbreaking ceremony on the grounds of the State Capitol in Richmond for a memorial “recognizing the contributions of women across four centuries.” The first phase of the monument named “Voices from the Garden” will be an oval-shaped plaza that will contain 12 bronze statues depicting significant women in Virginia’s history. A glass Wall of Honor containing the names of several hundred additional women of note will surround the plaza. Supporters of the new monument claim it to be “the first of its kind on the grounds of a state capitol.” Certainly it is a step forward in recognizing the important place of women after English colonization and the transport of the first English women to the colony in 1619.
The grounds of the Capitol have been dominated by white men since Richmond became the capital of the Commonwealth in 1780. From the grand equestrian statue of George Washington that dominates the grounds to a lonely statue of senator and former governor Harry F. Byrd, only the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial opened in 2008 offers evidence of others than white men who contributed to Virginia’s history. The addition of the women’s memorial at a critically important time will help to fill in the blanks of history as will the Virginia Indian Tribute Memorial that is currently under construction.
Recognizing the historic contributions of women has become even more important at a time when the daily news brings information on the number of women having been sexually harassed by well-known political and entertainment figures. While those disclosures have brought attention to the situation, there needs to be recognition that we are only seeing the tip of a very great problem. Many women who are afraid, feel shame or powerlessness, or whose perpetrator is a relative, co-worker, or community member but who is not famous have had to suffer in silence. Now that the lid is sufficiently off, the issue will not be able to be swept away or ignored. The path forward is not entirely clear, but giving women the respect they have earned whether in history or as head of a family is an important step. A memorial on capitol grounds of a state that did not ratify until 1952 the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920 is an important step as well.
The greatest tribute to women in Virginia may have come with the outcome of the recent Virginia election. Pending final vote certification there will be 38 women in the Virginia General Assembly–27% versus the earlier 19%. The Democratic caucus in the House of Delegates will be nearly half women as it should be. Supporting these women candidates were thousands of women working to make a difference in numbers never before realized. Seeing these winning women candidates are thousands of young women who just witnessed a door opening for them. It is likely to be that Virginia will finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment as I have supported my entire career.
If there are any impartial observers left listening to the debate in Washington, D.C. on tax reform, they must be left scratching their heads over what they are hearing. When the wealthy have never had as much money as they have today, leadership in Congress is considering a tax bill that will cut the taxes of the very richest.
When income of the lowest to the middle classes has been stagnant or falling for decades, the latest tax reform proposals would raise their taxes. Under the guise of simplifying taxes, we are about to simply raise the taxes of those least able to pay and to enrich those who already have more money than they can spend in a century. Aren’t there enough sensible members of Congress left who have not sold out to the monied interests to put a stop to this craziness?
Members of Congress may tell me to tend to my own knitting at the state level, but actions at the federal level do impact state budgets. Virginia has been particularly dependent on federal spending even though there has been an effort to reduce that dependency in recent years. While Congress can approve an unbalanced budget like the one being discussed that will add more than $1.5 trillion to the national debt, states cannot afford that irresponsible luxury.
Virginia must pass a balanced biennium budget in 2018; the task will not be easy. A recent report by The Commonwealth Institute found that “Virginia’s current revenue system isn’t keeping up with changes and growth in the overall economy, and that’s putting the future prosperity of families and businesses at risk.” (The Commonwealth Institute, “A Tax System for Yesterday: Slow Revenue Growth amid Economic Change, November 13, 2017).
The Institute found that “the way the current revenue system works was designed decades ago, with provisions that no longer work for today’s economy…” For example, the shifts in consumer spending and growth in e-commerce nearly doubling in the last decade have contributed to a decline in state sales tax revenue relative to the total economy as internet sales mostly are not taxed. Likewise the shift of consumer spending from goods to services that are not taxed in Virginia added to the decline. There are opportunities in the tax code to update its corporate tax system to reduce opportunities for tax avoidance, according to The Institute.
The usual method of balancing the budget by simply dividing revenue among programs will no longer work in Virginia as the pace of growth of needs has out-stripped the growth in revenue. Some programs and services will once again be left under-funded. Shifting costs to local governments for things like public education has been resorted to in recent years, but that is a well that has largely dried up.
Virginia is going to need to do a serious accounting of its unmet needs with the public and the legislature deciding what we are going to seriously fund and what needs will go unmet. As the federal government plays with reforming the national tax structure, it is past time for Virginia to get serious about our own tax reform.
This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
What happens if a dog that chases vehicles catches one? What happens if a political party that struggles for nearly a decade to regain the majority in a political body realizes its goal? The question is not theoretical. Democrats in the House of Delegates have been working at a 34 to 66 seat disadvantage for the last several years.
In an election that produced results seemingly impossible, before recounts Democrats are down by one vote from being tied for control of the House. An even 50-50 or a one vote advantage are possible as soon as the official vote tallies in three elections are determined.
Regardless of the final number, the House of Delegates will have to operate more on consensus than on an absolute dominance of one party over the other. That is a good thing. Rather than either party having to play defense all the time, both parties will be responsible for the ultimate outcome of a legislative session. The new shift in the balance of power should be good for the Commonwealth.
There should be less bottling up tough bills in a committee or subcommittee without a hearing or vote. Legislators will be put on the spot to cast tough votes, but that is the way the legislative process should work. Some issues that have been side-stepped in recent years should reach the floor for a public vote.
For years members of the majority party of the House of Delegates have refused to allow a vote on health insurance for 400,000 of our most vulnerable citizens leaving more than 10 billion federal dollars on the table. I think the vote in the recent election reflected in part a disgust on the part of citizens for the legislators who refused to deal with a real public health issue. An early vote on agreeing to Medicaid expansion would send a signal to voters that their message has been received.
Election results also demonstrated the impact of gerry-rigging election district lines that has been going on for many years. Establishing a non-partisan redistricting commission as I have advocated for many years and as proposed by the OneVirginia2021 organization will reduce the politics in the redistricting process that will come again after the 2020 federal census. Voters will choose their representatives rather than having legislators choose their voters.
I believe that a newly constituted House of Delegates made up of members elected by the highest level of voter participation in decades will also be less prone to involve themselves in the personal lives and social issues of the times. Too much time has been expended in the recent past debating who someone should be able to love or marry or who should make health decisions for women.
Some incumbents may find difficulty adjusting to a wonderfully more diverse House membership or feel uncomfortable in a new power-sharing agreement with another party, but the outcome should be good for Virginia. What now? Great opportunities for moving Virginia forward!
This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
The recent election in Virginia brought about significant changes in the partisan composition of the House of Delegates. While the election of Dr. Ralph Northam as governor and attorney Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor along with the re-election of Attorney General Mark Herring kept the executive branch of government in Democratic hands, election results in the 100 House of Delegates districts were dramatically different.
Republicans went into the election with a strong advantage controlling 66 of the 100 seats. It appears with some recounts to take place that they will end up with 51 seats or maybe even tied with Democrats at 50 seats each.
No one that I know predicted such a major shift; some refer to the outcome of the election as a political tsunami. It was not simply that Republicans lost 17 seats when the most optimistic prediction was that Democrats would gain maybe ten or so seats. The majority party went into the election with a 66 to 34 advantage; they ended the election with the possibility of only a one member advantage or depending on the recount of votes a tie with Democrats.
Beyond the number of seats lost, the majority party lost their caucus whip, chairs of three major committees and two members of the Appropriations Committee including one of its conferees. Their caucus chairman seemed to have lost until a transposition of numbers was discovered that allowed him to hang on by a thread.
I served during the term beginning in the year 2000 when a power sharing agreement was reached allowing an evenly split body to go forward with its business. I thought the system worked effectively as there was a process for working together. In such an arrangement there can be an emphasis on solving problems rather than simply getting credit.
Most encouraging during this election cycle was the gain in the number of people voting in the election. The experience over many decades was that about 75% of voters go to the polls in presidential election years and less than 50% in years when the governor is elected. That number increased to about 60% this year.Those people who decided to go to the polls made the difference especially in the House of Delegates races.
A further exciting outcome of this election was the dramatic diversification of the membership of the House that had been dominated by white men throughout its history. Most of the losses of incumbents came about by women candidates defeating them. Not only are there more women, there are two Latino and two Asian women, the first transgender woman, and a lesbian. There will be more diversity in the General Assembly than ever before in its history. The Commonwealth will be better for it.
The challenge will be to bring the new members quickly into the process and embrace the strengths that diversity brings. The institution can accommodate the changes that the bloodless revolution of 2017 brought about to the degree that the leadership will permit it.
I am sure I will have some commentary on the outcome of the November 7 election in future columns, but as I write this column results are not yet known. No matter the outcome, I share the frustration experienced by many with the negativity that seems to inevitably overtake campaigns with high stakes. Political operatives who provide the advice upon which campaigns are planned continue to insist that negative advertising wins elections as it gets people’s attention and creates a fear or anger that moves voters to take part. I am not sure if anyone has measured how many people get turned off and decide not to vote because of the vicious ads.
Even more concerning to me than the half-truths and falsehoods that have slipped into campaigning is the cruelty that has moved into the operation of government. After years of complaining about the Affordable Care Act while in complete control of the Congress and now also the presidency, the Republicans have not been able to repeal and replace what they came to call Obamacare. The reason might simply be that provision of health care to all with coverage for pre-existing conditions in a developed nation is the right thing to do. Failing to achieve legislative success, the administration has set about trying to kill the program through administrative actions and neglect. That is where the cruelty sets in.
The first effort at killing the program came with an executive order to withhold subsidies which allowed insurance companies to keep premium increases to a minimum. With the loss of the subsidies, Anthem pulled out of Virginia in August leaving 60 jurisdictions with no insurer offering coverage; they reversed their action after intense efforts by Governor McAuliffe. The loss of federal support will be devastating in Virginia where 240,000 Virginians rely on subsidies to be able to afford insurance. There clearly must not be a lack of money in Washington with the huge tax cuts now being proposed for the very wealthy.
The cruelty does not end there. To reduce the program further the advertising budget to remind persons about open enrollment was slashed by 90 percent, and the time to enroll was reduced from 12 weeks to 6 weeks. The open enrollment started November 1 and will close on December 15. Tell anyone you know who might be eligible and spread the information through social media programs in which you participate that open enrollment ends on December 15.
A final crippling blow could be the administration announcement that it will not enforce the individual mandate that has been critical to keeping costs down by spreading the risk across a wide pool of participants. As though this is not enough, the Republican Congress and administration failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provided care to 65,000 children and 1,100 pregnant mothers in Virginia. We have a new insurance program in place in this country; it is called Trumpcare. It is a very cruel system!
Despite the downpour of rain on Tuesday, a steady stream of voters cast their votes at Armstrong Elementary School in Reston. As of 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 209,223 residents of Fairfax County voted in Virginia’s election.
The state is only of of two in the United States with statewide elections this year. Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam are vying for governor in what is expected to be a narrow contest, according to The New York Times. Libertarian Cliff Hyra is also running.
In the last election in 2013, turnout rested at 46.8 percent. With a little more than four hours before polls close, turnout this year sits at 30.6 percent, according to the county.
A record number of absentee ballots were cast this year, according to Fairfax County officials. More than 41,000 Virginians participated in early voting, up by roughly 61 percent from voting in 2013. Absentee voting was up in every jurisdictions in Virginia, except three, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a non-profit organization that provides information about local politics.
There are more than 684,041 active registered voters in Fairfax County. Throughout the day, voters trickled in at various polling sites throughout Reston and Fairfax County. By 10 a.m., nearly 16 percent or roughly 109,000 of registered voters already casted their ballot.
All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates are up for election. Fifty-five of those seats are contested.
Reston’s current Delegate, Democrat Ken Plum, is running without opposition in this election. Plum is currently serving his 36th year as the local Delegate for the 36th District, which includes Reston. Prior to his political appointment, he served for roughly 20 years as a public school teacher and administrator. Plum recently commented on his unopposed race for re-election in his weekly commentary.
Two candidates, Republican Jill Vogel and Justin Fairfax are running to replace Ralph Northam as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, a role which often presides over the State Senate, and has the power to break tie votes. The race for attorney general is between the current attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, and his opponent, Republican John Adams.
The Board of Supervisors has asked residents to approve the sale of $315 million in bonds. If approved, the county has published a list of school improvement projects they would use the money to pay for.
The American Civil Liberties Union received multiple reports from Virginia voters who said that they received calls falsely saying their polling place had changed. The civil liberties organization advised voters to confirm polling locations at elections.virginia.gov and report any issues by calling the organization at 804-644-8080.
Photo by Fatimah Waseem
The fall season brings beautifully colored leaves, wonderfully cool evenings and the ghosts and goblins of Halloween, but for me it also brings the jitters of the elections that occur the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every year in Virginia.
As one who has won many elections but has lost elections as well, the days and weeks leading up to Election Day can be nerve-racking. As well-planned as an election campaign might be, and as hard as the candidate and volunteers may have worked, outcomes are seldom certain. Last-minute attack ads or unrelated weather or news events can affect the outcome of elections.
An understandable question I often get is–why, without an opponent in this election, I would be nervous about it and would be campaigning so hard during the days and evenings leading up to it? There are several reasons.
The election season is the point in the year when the most people are paying attention to some of the issues on which I work throughout the year. It may be an old-fashioned idea, but I think campaigns are times when office-holders and office-seekers can have a dialogue about issues confronting the community and what should be done about them. Such discussions often get drowned out by all the trappings of campaigns like slogans, misleading brochures and commercials, and other distractions. My not having an opponent is not a choice of mine but should not keep me from having interaction with voters that I trust will leave all of us better informed. Not voting in the delegate race certainly is a choice voters have, but I seek votes as an affirmation of support for the work that I do.
I am also very active in political campaigns every year, whether I am on the ballot or not, because the outcomes of other campaigns are important to me. For example, this year it is critically important to me that Dr. Ralph Northam is elected Governor, Justin Fairfax is elected Lieutenant Governor, and Mark Herring is re-elected Attorney General. They share my values of supporting education, access to health care for all, common-sense gun safety laws to keep our neighbors safe, and ending discrimination in society. My efforts in the legislature can be enhanced or thwarted by those who occupy the executive branch positions.
The reality is that the outcomes of elections are determined by those who bother to vote. Presidential elections can get up to three-quarters of the voters to the polls, but state elections attract fewer than half of all voters. With the density of population in Northern Virginia, the large number of voters here can determine the statewide outcome. That is why I am working hard to help the get-out-the-vote campaigns that are now underway.
Above all, I get anxious this time of the year because I believe in democracy. Voting is one of the most critical ways we can respond to signs that some of our basic beliefs may be fraying. Let’s all participate in our democracy by voting this coming Tuesday, Nov. 7! Usual polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The strong positive response to my recent Staycation column caused me to think that I should write another one with travel suggestions for a different part of the Commonwealth. With the first column we went south through the beautiful Piedmont of Virginia.
For this trip I suggest that we go further west on I-66 to the Shenandoah Valley. Before turning south you might want to consider going north to Winchester on I-81 particularly during apple picking season. Also north is the wonderful Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (www.themsv.org) with its permanent exhibits as well as special shows.
Next door to the Museum is Historic Rosemont Manor, for many years the home of former governor and senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. whose machine ran Virginia politics for decades. It has limited lodging available to the public but can be rented for special events. Also in Winchester is the home of Patsy Cline, the queen of country music, which is open to the public.
There are many civil war sites in the Valley. A Civil War Trails map is available at www.civilwartraveler.com. You can also head south at Front Royal until you come to the entrance to the Skyline Drive. The views are beautiful; in the first segment you can see seven bends of the Shenandoah River. The Drive gets crowded during the fall foliage season, but the beauty of the drive makes it all worthwhile.
If you have not been to a natural cavern, get off the Skyline Drive at Route 11 heading west to Luray. Most people agree that the natural beauty of the Luray Caverns cannot be beaten. Luray is in Page County where I grew up as a youngster. Head further west on Route 211 until you get to I-81 that runs down the center of the Valley. For a more scenic drive consider going south on Route 11. It is a little narrower with slower speed limits, but remember–on a staycation we take our time to enjoy the sights.
The campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg is beautiful, especially the early limestone buildings. Stop on Court Square in town and have lunch at Capitol Ale House. Further south to Staunton a recommended stop is the American Frontier Culture Museum, an outdoor museum with homes from the seventeenth century relocated from England, Ireland, Germany and other countries to show the kind of housing the early settlers had. If you need a meal, stop at Mrs. Rowe’s (Mrs. Rowes Family Restaurant). You will think you are back in the 1960s. A slice of pie is a must, and you can buy Mrs. Rowe’s pie cookbook.
We have about reached our limits for a one-day trip, so we can head home. It will add to the time of your trip, but if you go east on Route 64 you can pick up the Skyline Drive at Afton Mountain. Heading north you can eat at Big Meadows Lodge or spend the night at Skyland Lodge where I worked in the summers during high school.
If you want, we can plan a longer trip where we go to beautiful Abingdon, home of the Barter Theater or further west on the Crooked Road of Country Music (Crooked Road). I have traveled around Virginia all my life and never get bored with it. Glad to have you along.
Any report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is met with skepticism in some quarters, because these were the same people whose findings found that climate is changing and that human behavior is one of the causes.
The so-called “climate change deniers” continue to insist, regardless of the scientific evidence to the contrary, that humans are not to blame if there is any change in the climate. We can deny the latest report of the UCS, “When Rising Seas Hit Home,” at our own peril, especially in Virginia.
The scientists found that “important consequences of climate change are more subtle and slower moving than disasters. One such consequence is sea level rise. Unlike the catastrophic flooding that can accompany hurricanes, sea level rise impacts can take time to manifest. The final result, late this century and beyond, may be neighborhoods underwater.”
In a state like Virginia, with a major region named “Tidewater,” the impact can be especially great. UCS has identified three Virginia communities that will face chronic inundation by 2035, and 21 more by 2100. In the highest level scenario considered by the scientists, 38 communities would be exposed to chronic inundation by the end of the century. Visit the website to see a list of communities that will be hardest hit. Of little surprise is the finding that in the highest scenario, by 2080, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and the Naval Air Station would have up to a quarter of their land chronically flooded.
These findings should come as no surprise to Virginians. In 2015, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) completed a study on this issue at the request of the General Assembly. Its report, “Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia,” found that “recurrent flooding already impacts all localities in Virginia’s coastal zone and is predicted to worsen over reasonable planning horizons of 20 to 50 years due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and other factors.” The scientists wisely did not use the term “climate change,” which continues to be politically charged among some of Virginia’s political leaders.
Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded a grant to VIMS that, along with its match, will total $1.25 million to support “nature-based infrastructure” to help coastal Virginia counter and recover from flood events. Nature-based infrastructure includes tidal wetlands and living shorelines that can help to blunt and even absorb the effects of rising seas and recurrent flooding.
These efforts are important, but the UCS found even bolder policy changes and enhanced coordination among all levels of government must happen to protect our coastal areas. UCS concluded its report, “And even as the Trump administration seeks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we must work at state and local levels and with other nations to cut global warming emissions aggressively in order to help slow the pace of sea level rise.” Maybe then we can keep our heads above water!
Last week, without provocation, a woman in the checkout line at a local grocery store told another customer — a Muslim woman — “I wish they didn’t let you in the country.”
In the exchange that was recorded on a camera phone, the woman to whom the remark was directed explained that she had been born in the United States. Rather than leave it at that, the first woman went on saying, “Obama’s not in office anymore; you don’t have a Muslim in there anymore. He’s gone — he may be in jail in the future.”
I realize that there are more people than I would like to acknowledge that have strong prejudices against others because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other reason. It continues to shock me when I see the ugliness of the expression of such prejudices as the recording of this event provided. As the woman to whom the remarks were directed pointed out, it’s abnormal to start a conversation like that with someone you do not know. There really is something wrong with people who are so blinded by their prejudices that they feel compelled to lash out at a person who has done them no wrong. The comments reflect a deep-seated hatred that comes out for reasons only a mental health expert could help discover.
What is particularly troubling these days is the blurring of the line between political convictions and prejudice toward individuals. In our deeply divided political landscape, too often political views become opportunities to demonize people who hold different views. Unfortunately talk radio, social media and some cable news shows tend to invite this destructive phenomenon.
In addition to the repulsiveness I feel about the hateful comments, I was also saddened that social media and news accounts described the scene as a store in Reston, Virginia. I know from a lot of personal experience the amount of effort that so many people have made over the years to ensure that Reston is an open, welcoming and inclusive community. While I understand why the store did nothing to address the situation, I wish somehow there had been a disclaimer on the video: The woman speaking does not represent the views of the people of Reston.
The situation reminds us that building community is not a one-time occurrence, a workshop, or a feel-good session. Building a community of respect and love is an ongoing process that we work at a little every day. We greet those we meet; we hug each other; we attend each other’s houses of worship; we show respect to others; we speak out against hate and prejudices; we listen to each other. We use appropriate channels to discuss political views, and whether in person or online we stick to the issues and don’t resort to personal attacks.
A display of hateful and ugly prejudice as we have just witnessed must bring us together in mutual support and respect as we want Reston and every other community to display.
Among the many institutions that seem to be under attack these days, the federal Department of Education and public schools are of great concern.
Public education predates the federal Department of Education, but the Department has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children. Left to their own devices, state and local school boards would go in many different directions that may leave quality and access more to chance than legal requirements.
I am reminded regularly by my constituents of their support for quality public schools, but last week I was reminded also of the range of controversy surrounding public education. A postcard I received in the mail had a picture of a yellow school bus on it with a caption: “The humanist machine.”
The card was from a group called Deconstructing the Coliseum whose stated purpose is “to eliminate humanist political policies, eliminate the machine (the civil government school system) that produces humanist politicians.” The text of the card goes on to explain that “The civil government is using force and coercion to advance its version of truth (humanism), under the guise of ‘public education.’ Thus, civil government schools must be abolished.”
Although this group has a Virginia address, I do not think that it would have many supporters in our community. Their ultra-conservative views are likely to get the attention of some downstate legislators.
As concerning are the views that are being espoused by the current federal Secretary of Education. As I understand her plan, public schools would be replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are held up by some as a panacea to cure ills real and concocted about public schools, but their results have been very mixed in the places where they have been opened.
The main issue for the proponents seems to be control. Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy, there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter school curriculum, standards and requirements without further supervision. There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.
Even with all their critics and those who remember wistfully how schools were when they attended, today’s public schools do an excellent job. Open to all students, they bring out the best in our children. They attempt to prepare our children for an unknown future. The school boards struggle every year with meeting needs that are greater than the resources available to them.
Whatever the perceived needs are in educating our children, there are none so great that would require the getting rid of “government schools” or replacing them with charter schools.
We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.
And we need, in this season of teacher appreciation, to thank the teachers for the exceptional work that they do.
Last week I attended the retirement reception for the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. The Honorable William Howell of Stafford is retiring after 30 years in the House with 14 years as Speaker. His tenure is the second longest in the modern period
The Republican majority in the House wasted no time in picking his successor, who was known during the last session as the “Speaker designee.”
Speaker Howell was the 54th Speaker of the House; Edmund Pendleton was the first, serving for one year in 1776. The predecessor to the House of Delegates, the House of Burgesses, under the Royal Colony of Virginia, had speakers as well.
The role of the speaker is to allow for orderly debate by requiring all speaking to go through the speaker–hence the name. Under today’s rules, as in the past, members must be recognized by the speaker to request to speak or to ask a question and must receive permission to speak. No debate is allowed among members without going through the speaker. While it may sound cumbersome, it actually works to keep debate orderly and to prevent the chaos that could result from members shouting at each other directly.
The role of the Speaker has evolved over the years. Far from just directing debate, the speaker has tremendous other powers. For example, the speaker appoints the members of committees, assigns bills to committees and renders opinions on enforcing rules and parliamentary procedures.
Up until 1950 there had been 48 persons who had served as Speaker of the House for an average of 3.5 years each. Since 1950 there have been six speakers serving an average of eleven years each. One speaker during that period left office after two years because of a sex scandal. If he is not considered, the remaining speakers have served for an average of 13 years.
I served under the last five speakers. My observation on the office of the speaker is that it has become increasingly partisan. In 1950 Delegate E. Blackburn Moore of Frederick County who was a leading lieutenant in the Byrd Machine became speaker and served in that role for 18 years. He ruled with an iron fist. Many of the stories that are still told about abusing the role of speaker come from his era when he refused to put Republicans on committees that met. The House was referred to as “Blackie’s House,” borrowing the name of a popular restaurant of the time.
His successor was the Gentleman from Mathews, the Honorable John Warren Cooke, who was the first speaker under whom I served. He was a sharp contrast to Moore and treated all members alike regardless of political party. Since his service the office has been held by a series of nice individuals of both parties who have expanded the role to be in practice, if not name, the majority leader of the House.