The Herndon Town Council is currently considering an ordinance that would largely ban firearms on town property.
Specifically, the proposed measure would “prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property,” including public parks, community centers, and public streets during permitted events.
The ordinance includes some exceptions for law enforcement, security, and active-duty military personnel who are engaged in official duties. Unloaded firearms could also be allowed for educational activities or displays.
However, Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem announced on Tuesday (April 13) that a decision on the ordinance has been deferred until the town can hold a public hearing on the issue and staff can provide more information on the potential fiscal impacts of a ban.
Herndon Town Attorney Lesa Yeatts wrote in a staff report that possible budgetary considerations could include the costs of posting and removing signage required by Virginia law and enhancements to security measures like guards and metal detectors.
Town Manager Bill Ashton is not scheduled to report back to the town council until May 6, but in the meantime, what do you think of the proposal? Should people be allowed to have guns on town property?
Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash
The Herndon Town Council has deferred action on an ordinance that would prohibit firearms on town property.
Mayor Sheila Olem announced Tuesday (April 13) at the council’s meeting that it will hold off on any action with the firearm ordinance until Town Manager Bill Ashton can come back with additional information on the subject.
Olem added the council would also like to hold an advertised public hearing on the matter so it “can gather input from our residents.”
“Following last week’s work session discussion on the item, the council’s consensus was that we should give the town manager time to analyze the budgetary impacts of this,” Olem said.
Ashton will return to the council on May 6 to present his findings during a strategic planning session.
The proposed ordinance follows initial discussions the council had in September after Virginia adopted legislation allowing localities to institute ordinances to prohibit firearms on their public property.
The ordinance, if passed, would prohibit the “possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof” on town property.
The town property listed in Herndon’s proposed ordinance includes any building used or owned by the town, or any authority or local government entity controlled by the town for governmental purposes. The ordinance extends to public parks and recreation or community centers owned or operated by the town.
The ordinance would not to apply military personnel when acting within their official capacity, sworn or retired law enforcement officers, on duty private security hired by the town, and for educational programs or historical reenactments conducted or permitted by the town and wherein the firearms used are not loaded.
A violation of this ordinance would constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Photo via Thomas Def/Unsplash
The Herndon Town Council is considering adopting a new law that would prohibit the possession of firearms and ammunition on town property.
At its work session tomorrow (April 6), the town council will discuss creating a law that would prohibit “the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property, in Town buildings or on certain other areas owned by the Town.”
The council could vote to adopt the ordinance as written, defer consideration until budgetary impacts are determined, or advertise a public hearing to get public input.
This is the second time that the council has discussed a firearms ban as part of a work session after an initial conversation took place in September in response to Virginia General Assembly legislation that took effect last summer.
The state bill permitted localities to adopt their own ordinances prohibiting firearms in public facilities.
Herndon is a bit behind other local jurisdictions in considering a ban.
Arlington County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church have already instituted a ban on firearms on locality-owned property, including courthouses, public parks, and community centers, and at public events. Fairfax County also adopted a similar ordinance for all county-owned spaces in September.
The staff report notes that Herndon’s ordinance is similar to the county’s, but “tailored to Herndon.”
The proposed ordinance calls for “increased security measures” like metal detectors to prevent access to these areas while possessing a firearm. It also mandates that a written notice about the ordinance be posted at entrances to the areas where the prohibition is in effect.
The staff report says that, so far, there has been no opportunity to determine the fiscal impacts of the law, including installation of metal detectors and posting signage.
The ordinance would have some exemptions. For instance, law enforcement, security personnel hired by the town or the state, active duty military personnel would be allowed to have firearms on public property, and educational activities like static displays and historical reenactments would be permitted.
The ordinance could also potentially allow for lawfully possessed firearms stored in a locked, private motor vehicle that is lawfully parked on town property or a public street.
A violation of the ordinance would be punishable as a class one misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Back in September, nearly all of Herndon’s councilmembers reached a consensus that more public input was needed, along with further research into how the ban was being enacted in neighboring localities.
Several councilmembers noted that a ban on firearms on town-owned property would need to clearly communicate that all guns are not going to be confiscated individual owners. Councilmembers also raised concerns about whether the ban would hold up legally, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individual gun owners in the past.
However, more recently, the Supreme Court has declined to rule on such cases.
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The Fairfax County Police Department is investigating two reckless discharge incidents that took place on Nov. 14.
According to the department’s weekly crime report, someone driving a car on the 2000 block of Soapstone Drive fired a gun several times before leaving the area around 10:17 p.m.
In a separate incident, FCPD also investigated reports of a shooting on the parking lot of the Village Center at Dulles. Police believe a man fired a gun and left the area in a car.
Shell casings were discovered at the scene of both incidents. No injuries or property damage were reported.
After hours of passionate public input at their meeting Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a ban on carrying guns on county property.
The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance 8-1, immediately taking effect and applying to County buildings, parks, recreation and community centers.
The state law that let Fairfax County ban guns on public property, is something that Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been asking for decades. Similar bans were implemented in Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church.
“There is also a lot of fear in this community about guns,” McKay said. “So while gun rights advocates are concerned for their own safety, you have to understand there [are] a ton of people in this county worried about guns — period.”
In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new gun control law enabling local governments to ban guns on public property and spaces. The bill followed a charged legislative session in Richmond, where armed pro-gun protesters showed up to the state capital as the legislature was considering proposed gun control measures.
One of the drivers of the ban on guns on public property was a 2019 shooting in Virginia Beach, where a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building.
Before the vote, many speakers at the public hearing testified about the fear they have about guns and how state and local officials need to enact strong gun control measures to prevent a similar mass shooting from happening in Fairfax County.
Martina Leinz, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of Brady United Against Gun Violence, urged the Board of Supervisors to pass the ordnance saying there is a history of armed protesters showing up at gun control events on public spaces in Fairfax County, which she said was a form of intimidation.
“These should all be safe spaces that allow for the free and open exchange of speech and ideas without threat or intimidation by those carrying firearms,” Leinz said.
Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the Board of Supervisors and the lone vote against the ordinance, spoke for the many pro-gun residents who testified at Tuesday’s public hearing, saying that ordinance was about politics not about public safety.
“I don’t believe a ban on guns makes Fairfax County public places or our citizens any safer and for me, that’s the benchmark,” Herrity said.
The Board of Supervisors immediately voted on the ordinance after over five hours of public testimony on the bill, to Herrity’s dismay, who said the board should have waited to vote, so it could take the ordinance up in committee to review public comments before passing it.
Additionally, the ordinance will require county buildings to post signs at entrances alerting people of the ban on guns and ammunition in public spaces, something that some pro-gun advocates pointed out could be irrelevant to any potential criminal.
“Do we really think a mass shooter is going to turn around when they see a ‘no guns allowed’ sign,” Grant Kendall, who testified against the ordinance, said. “Will criminals, already committed to doing much worse be deterred? No, of course not and it’s ridiculous to think so.”
The ordinance has exemptions for those in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, those participating in collegiate sporting events, police officers or educational county programs. The ordinance will also exempt the Bull Run Shooting Center, a public gun range in Centreville.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is considering a weapons ban in county buildings, parks, recreation and community centers next week.
The proposal would ban the possession, carrying and transportation of firearms and ammunition in county areas, as well as permitted events and areas next to permitted events.
The plan follows the Virginia General Assembly’s passage of a bill that allows local regulation of firearms in certain areas. Gov. Ralph Northam approved the enabling legislation on April 22.
Here’s more on what the prohibition entails:
The proposed amendments exercise this new enabling authority in its entirety. Firearms, ammunition, components or combination thereof would be prohibited in buildings, parks, recreation and community centers owned or used by the County or authorities and entities created or controlled by the County such as the Fairfax County Park Authority. The prohibition would also be in effect at permitted events, events that would otherwise require a permit, and areas adjacent to those events, provided those events take place on a public street, road, alley, or sidewalk or public right-of-way or any other place of whatever nature that is open to the public. Appropriate signage must be posted in order to enforce the prohibition.
For now, it is unclear if the plan would ramp up security at county facilities, including security guards and metal detectors.
County staff is currently determining costs associated with signage requirements.
The board is expected to meet at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 15 to vote on the issue.
Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash
Like other gun stores around the country, a local gun store owner says that there’s an uptick in firearm sales.
An owner of Herndon Arms said that shortly after opening this morning, the store was busier than normal.
He added that there isn’t a specific type of firearm or weapon that has been selling more than the rest and that he wasn’t able to give any statistics or data.
Around the country, Time reported that people are fearful of the public panic that comes with rumors of empty grocery stores but public officials are reassuring everyone that there is not a food shortage around the United States.
In Virginia, people must be above 18 or 21 years of age to purchase weapons, depending on the type of firearm, and take courses before they can apply for a license.
People seeking more information can check out the Virginia State Police’s website, which has a list of frequently asked questions and contact information.
Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash
Northern Virginia’s Growth and Its Impact on Leasing — “From Arlington to Herndon, the economic upswing following 2008 continues to spur growth throughout many parts of Northern Virginia. According to JLL Research, the region reported its highest positive net absorption in nearly a decade by the end of 2019. Spearheaded by the “War on Terror,” the last comparable development and expansion period came from government and defense contractors vying for space in the early 2000s.” [Washington Business Journal]
Stateside: Ban on Assault Weapons Fails — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s push to ban the sale of assault weapons has failed after members of his own party balked at the proposal. Senators voted to shelve the bill for the year and ask the state crime commission to study the issue, an outcome that drew cheers from a committee room packed with gun advocates.” [WTOP]
Fairfax County Reconsiders Mother-in-Law Suites — “Fairfax County could soon substantially loosen its regulations governing accessory dwelling units, perhaps following the lead of D.C. and other local jurisdictions looking to expand available housing options for renters.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Dazzling is the only word I could think of to describe the amazing work that is going on in the Virginia General Assembly this legislative session. The annual meeting of the legislature is just approaching half-time of its annual session, but already significant policy changes are being debated and adopted. There is little new to the policies that are being adopted; many are in place in other states already. But in Richmond they seem revolutionary!
I have already written about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the early days of the session. The movement to ratify the ERA began in the early 1970s but was not successful in Virginia until nearly 50 years later! Since two ratification deadlines have already passed, the fate of the amendment with Virginia being the needed 38th state to ratify is uncertain. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is among the leaders seeking a judicial decision to validate the amendment’s ratification. Although the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified in 1920 and added to the Constitution, Virginia did not add its support to ratification until 1952!
While legislation must be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor to become law, here is a run-down on what has been approved so far by at least one house. By the time the legislature adjourns in early March this legislation is expected to be approved by both houses and sent to the governor. Numerous bills have been passed to ban discrimination against persons because of their sex; bills to protect LGBTQ+ persons would not have made it out of committee last year. Bills to ban discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications have passed as has a bill to ban conversion therapy.
Likewise, bills to protect public safety from the misuse of guns that would never have made it out of committee previously have passed in both houses of the Assembly. My bill to require universal background checks has passed as well as bills granting localities the right to ban guns in public spaces, increasing the penalties for leaving guns unsecured around children, and requiring people to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours. A “red flag” law that allows authorities to remove guns from individuals who have shown themselves to be a danger to themselves and to others has passed.
This week action is expected on bills that will open up the state to more solar and wind power and that will establish standards for the increased use of renewables in generating electricity. Plastic bags may be eliminated or taxed to reduce plastic pollution. I am sponsoring the Governor’s bill to advance the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay that is getting some push-back from the farming community that would be affected by regulations to clean up stream run-off. Numerous bills have already passed to make it easier to register to vote and to vote on election day, including no-excuse absentee voting.
There is more to come. Tune in next week or follow the sessions on live-streaming at House Chamber Live Stream for more dazzling action!
Del. Ken Plum, who represents the 36th district, has introduced a state bill that would institute universal background checks.
His proposal, which was filed on Monday, is part of a push by Democrats — who clinched the majority in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the first time in 26 years — to introduce gun safety bills.
Plum’s measure requires background checks for any firearm transfer and directs the state’s police department to create a process for transferors to obtain background checks from licensed firearms dealers.
Additionally, a transferee that receives a firearm from another person without undergoing a background check will be considered guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A number of exceptions are outlined in the proposed legislation.
State Sen. Richard Saslaw filed four bills in the Senate to limit handgun purchases by establishing an age requirement for gun use, prohibiting the sale or possession of an assault firearm and enforcing background checks.
Plum’s bill has been prefiled. Referral to a house committee is pending.
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!
Last week while Democrats in the North Carolina House of Representatives were attending a 9/11 remembrance service, Republicans called a surprise vote to overturn the Democratic governor’s veto of the state budget. While Democrats and media were told that there would be no voting during the morning session, Democrats’ attendance at the vigil allowed Republicans to get the three-fifths vote needed to over-ride the veto.
Reaction to the maneuver has been harsh. The Charlotte Observer in an editorial said that “the verdict is now plain. North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders–not actually leaders but connivers–are beyond shame.” The paper described what happened as a “stunning display of contempt for democracy…but this isn’t a case simply of hardball politics and sly legislative maneuvering. This is a case of breaking faith with the people…” The Senate must concur on the over-ride before it becomes effective.
Before Virginians get too smug about what happened in North Carolina we must remember what happened in the Virginia General Assembly about a month ago. With the continuing string of mass murders in the country–beginning about the time of the massacre at Virginia Tech that for a while was the largest ever and continuing through a mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building–Governor Ralph Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to consider several bills intended to reduce gun violence. The special session convened on July 9 to take up bills related to gun violence but without notice to Democrats or media the Republican majority adjourned 90 minutes later without taking up any of the bills and with a return date scheduled after the elections.
There were no bills among those introduced to respond to gun violence that would have confiscated guns or altered the Second Amendment. They were common-sense bills that according to all public opinion polls I have seen are supported by more than 80 percent and some by more than 90 percent of the public. The experience in Virginia can be described by the same terms of that in North Carolina: contempt for Democracy, a travesty of the process, legislative deceit. You may have seen news reports that the Republican floor leader in the Virginia House received a $200,000 campaign contribution from the NRA several weeks later.
Partisan control of the Virginia House and Senate are on the line this November 5 as all 140 seats are on the ballot. There are numerous critically important issues on the ballot that it would take several columns to enumerate. I do want to add one that gets too little discussion and that is legislative reform. Such reform includes independent drawing of legislative district lines, or getting rid of gerrymandering, that allows the abuses of legislative power in North Carolina and Virginia that are discussed here. As the Charlotte Observer said of the situation in North Carolina, “It was an illegitimate majority acting in an unethical way.”
What happened in both states demonstrates once again that the speakership be defined not as the head of the majority party but as an impartial and fair leader. In both instances the speakers of their respective houses should have stopped these episodes of legislating by skulduggery.
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.
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.
The General Assembly went into Special Session yesterday, July 9, at the call of Governor Ralph Northam to address gun violence after a shooter with a silencer on his pistol murdered a dozen persons in a municipal building in Virginia Beach. The outcome of the session in which legislators introduced eight different bills at the request of the Governor is unknown as I write this column. I introduced the bill that I have introduced at other sessions to expand criminal background checks for all firearm transactions or universal background checks.
Virginia has had a criminal background check for gun purchases for 30 years. The system was put in place after a bill that was heavily debated and that seemed certain to be defeated was passed with the support of a senior delegate, Vic Thomas, who was an avid NRA supporter. He concluded that it was a bill the public clearly wanted and should pass because it did not interfere with the Second Amendment. In what may have been the last time the NRA took such a position, it did not support but it did not oppose the bill’s passage. Governor Gerald Baliles signed the bill into law even though he had earlier opposed any gun control legislation.
The resulting instant background check system that was put into place continues operating today. It was the promise of an instant background check without the need to wait for days for approval that was the feature that led to the bill’s passage.
There was then that continues today a major flaw in the law as originally passed that supporters had hoped to correct but have not been successful in amending. The law only applies to purchases made with federally licensed gun dealers. That’s about half the gun sales in the state each year although exact statistics are unknown because of statutory limitations on gathering information about gun sales put in place with NRA advocacy. This flaw in the law created what is referred to as the “gun show loophole.” At any of the numerous gun shows that are held throughout the Commonwealth one can purchase a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer with an instant background check; at the next table at the show a person can purchase a gun from an unlicensed dealer with no identification needed and no questions asked.
The astonishing statistic is that in 2018 the Virginia State Police conducted 446,333 firearms transactions involving licensed dealers with 3,457 of the transactions denied because of previous criminal behavior. Had the loophole in the law been closed there may have been as many as a half million more checks with a proportionally high number of persons with criminal records being denied another weapon.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander, as I have always been told. With a successful system for background checks in place for thirty years without opposition or hiccups, all gun sales should go through the system with minor exceptions related to family members. According to many polls, the public supports universal background checks at levels around 90 percent. It is time for the legislature to act or be able to explain to the public in the coming political campaign why this old adage is not being followed.