Candidate Terry McAuliffe promised during his campaign for governor that he would work to build a new economy in Virginia. A reduction of federal spending in the state along with the decline of traditional mining and manufacturing jobs had left the Virginia economy sluggish.
If there was any doubt as to what Gov. McAuliffe had in mind, one only needs to look at his performance in office. His latest performance figures — although these numbers increase daily — are 1,027 new projects, 215,100 jobs created and $165 billion in capital investments. No other governor has come close to these kinds of numbers. But he clearly is not done yet.
Just last week, Gov. McAuliffe announced that Facebook will bring more than $1 billion of new investment to the Commonwealth. Facebook is directly investing $750 million to establish a 970,000-square-foot data center in the White Oak Technology Park in Henrico County. The project will bring thousands of construction jobs to the region and more than 100 full-time operational jobs. Virginia is already a leader in data centers with a record number in Loudoun County.
An exciting aspect to this new project is that with a new renewable energy tariff designed by Dominion Energy Virginia and Facebook, hundreds of millions of additional dollars will be invested in the construction of multiple solar facilities in the Commonwealth to service Facebook’s Henrico data center with 100 percent renewable energy. That feature continues a trend that has been going on in Virginia in the use of solar-generated electricity with new and expanded business projects.
In another project, Amazon is behind what had been the state’s largest planned solar installation to date, an 80-megawatt system in Accomack County. Early last year another solar project was introduced that spurred Virginia’s solar energy market by a partnership among the state, Dominion Virginia Power and Microsoft Corp. to bring a 20-megawatt solar farm to Fauquier County. The 260,000 panels on 125 acres represented more solar energy than was available across all of Virginia two years ago.
Recent evidence demonstrates that the new economy of the Commonwealth is being recognized nationally. Recently, Virginia was ranked in Area Development magazine’s 2017 “Top States for Doing Business” annual survey for the first time since 2010. Overall, the Commonwealth placed 11th out of 20 states ranked in the prestigious annual site consultants’ survey.
The Commonwealth ranked in the Top 10 in five of 12 subcategories that impact companies’ location and facility plans, including: Cooperative & Responsive State Government, fifth; Leading Workforce Development Programs, seventh; Competitive Labor Environment, eighth; Favorable Regulatory Environment, ninth; and Speed of Permitting, ninth. These rankings represent significant advances for Virginia as the state has not placed in any subcategories since 2013. This year also marks the first time Virginia has ever placed in the Cooperative & Responsive State Government, Competitive Labor Environment, and Speed of Permitting categories.
The new economy is proving to be good for jobs, with record low unemployment, and good for communities that were struggling to recover from the Great Recession. At the same time, it is good for the environment, with record growth in solar energy production.
For many years, I have been involved in various demonstrations and vigils to bring attention to the sobering facts about gun violence in our society. I have always been astonished at the number of people taking part in these events who have personal stories to tell about the way gun violence has affected their lives.
There are parents involved in working to end gun violence whose children were either killed or wounded in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School travel the country telling their stories and campaigning for commonsense gun safety laws. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head, campaigns against gun violence even though her wounds slow her down. Ask your friends or neighbors if they know anyone whose life was changed because of gun violence — you may be surprised at the numbers who say yes.
My involvement in the movement to end gun violence grows out of my service as an elected official who believes that my actions need to reflect my belief that the government has a responsibility as stated in our founding documents to protect life and liberty. I am also greatly concerned with the individuals and organizations who continue to distort our history and the meaning of our Constitution to try to make the case that gun rights are absolute even though there are qualifiers on all our other rights in the Constitution. The appeal that the right to bear arms is a protection of all our other rights presents a frightening prospect for our future with the extremism that has become so commonplace.
Last week, an incident reminded me that any one of us could without any notice become more aware of the dangers of gun violence than we could ever imagine. One of our children was on the way to a meeting in an office building when it became necessary to turn around because the building was ringed with police cars. Had the meeting been an hour earlier, our child would have been among those evacuated because an active shooter was on the loose. Some of those removed from the building were the children in its day care center.
For unknown reasons, the shooter decided to shoot only himself and not harm others. It is uncomfortable to realize had the timing or his motivation been different how many others would have suffered the trauma of gun violence. Now his family and acquaintances bear the pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are nearly 43,000 suicides per year, and almost exactly half those occur with firearms. Public service announcements attempt to educate people who have depressed family members or friends to keep firearms out of their easy reach. There is no time to reconsider or to seek help on personal issues once the trigger has been pulled. From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006. Everytown for Gun Safety reports its research shows that on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns, with seven of those being children.
How much more uncomfortable do we need to become before the public insists that commonsense gun-safety laws are passed?
Fairfax County is celebrating the 275th anniversary of its formation, when in 1742 it was split off from Prince William County to be a separate county encompassing what we now know as the current county plus Loudoun and Arlington counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. It was named for Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, who had a proprietary of 5,282,000 acres. For a time a part of the county that is now Arlington County and the City of Alexandria was a part of the 10 square miles that made up the District of Columbia, until those jurisdictions were returned to Virginia.
Fairfax County is compared today with jurisdictions throughout the country as it leads in economic growth and development in many ways. That national comparison was not always appropriate. In its early years, it was a struggling community, raising tobacco with the labor of enslaved black persons. By 1749, the county’s population was 28 percent enslaved persons; by 1782, that number had reached 41 percent.
The county’s early fame came from its two most important residents: George Mason, who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution and whose work led to the Bill of Rights in our national Constitution; and George Washington, who as our first President brought the country together and whose service in office set important precedents that continue today.
Surprisingly, Fairfax County voted with the South to secede from the Union leading up to the Civil War. While the County was not the scene of major military battles, there were many skirmishes and an almost constant flow of troops passing through it. After the war and Reconstruction, investments started to flow to the county that helped its recovery. Although still an agricultural community at that time, the following decades brought significant changes that led to the community as we know it today.
Not surprisingly, one of the big issues was transportation. In the early years most settlements were along the rivers that provided a means for transporting tobacco and crops. As inland developments occurred, there was no governmental mechanism for building roads. Those that were in place were narrow without a hard surface. New turnpikes supported by tolls included the Little River Turnpike, Columbia Turnpike, Leesburg Turnpike and Falls Bridge Turnpike. The start of railroads before the Civil War accelerated with the electric trolley lines that followed. It is estimated that as many as a million passengers or more were carried per year by the Washington, Alexandria and Mt. Vernon electric railways that ran 30 trips per day.
The growth of the federal government after the Great Depression and the World Wars brought huge growth to Fairfax County. Its population of 40,000 grew to 98,000 in 1950, and by 1970 was 454,000. It is now approaching 1.2 million people. Recognized as among the best places in the country to live and to start a business, we have clearly left behind our humble beginnings.
It is worthwhile to remember our history and the 275th anniversary provides many different opportunities. (www.fxva.com/275/)
Much to my dismay last week, I received in the mail an envelope with the return address of the National Rifle Association of America headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. I knew immediately it was not a letter admonishing me for regularly taking part in the vigil to end gun violence held in front of their office on the 14th of each month.
No, the colorful envelope had two dozen pictures of various rifles, handguns and what I call machine guns. I was urged to open the envelope to take part in the “exciting NRA sweepstakes.” With the usual disclaimer that I did not have to join the NRA in order to win, the flyer announced in a list with pictures that the first prize in the sweepstakes was “12 World-Class Firearms” including four pistols, four rifle/shotguns and four other firearms that looked like military weapons to me. Second prize was nine such guns, and third prize was seven super firearms!
If I did not choose to take the guns, I could substitute a “trophy bull elk hunt in New Mexico; a bison, bird and deer hunt in North Dakota; or a black bear hunt in Ontario.” If I entered the sweepstakes by Oct. 31, I would be “eligible for a chance to win a top-of-the-line LaRue Tactical Rifle and 7,200 rounds of ammo!”
Needless to say, I will not be entering the sweepstakes, although I was tempted to so that if I won I could have the guns melted down and turned into some peaceful art symbols.
As disturbing to me as the military-style weapons offered as prizes was the language in the letter telling me why I should not just enter the sweepstakes but why I should join the NRA. Not a single mention was made that I might be a hobbyist, I might like hunting, I might be a marksman, etc. The entire pitch was about the threat of the government taking away people’s guns.
“NRA needs you as a fighting, card-carrying member more than ever before. … That’s because the Second Amendment is the one freedom that gives you and me the power to protect every other freedom in our Bill of Rights. … And because of gun owners like you, NRA has beaten back hundreds of attacks on our rights, from gun licensing to gun rationing, taxes and surtaxes on guns and ammo, ammo bans, gun bans, bans on gun shows, and more.”
Despite the rhetoric in the mailer, the reality I see is drastically different than Mr. [Wayne] LaPierre described in his letter. The U.S. Congress is currently debating the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017” which, among other provisions, would allow the use of armor-piercing bullets and ease the importation of foreign-made assault rifles. One of its very frightening provisions would allow the use of silencers on guns. Proponents argue that gun users’ ears can be harmed by the sound. What about the practice in industry of having ear plugs or ear coverings? Imagine the slaughter a terrorist could do with a silenced gun!
For some it seems that we are never armed enough. I believe that opinion is more of a threat to our society than are common-sense gun safety measures.
A Kentucky school administrator recently expressed sentiments that I feel but could not write as clearly as she did. In an op-ed piece in the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader she wrote:
“Social justice, civil discourse, empathy, historical context and civic engagement are at the heart of preventing and resolving instances like the one we witnessed there (in Charlottesville). … If we subscribe to the belief that hate is a learned behavior, we must also take ownership for failing to provide an educational space to combat the inequality that haunts minorities every day and that paralyzes our nation in times of tragedy. … History matters. Civic engagement matters. And, because of their decline, social justice, civil discourse, and empathy have become lost arts in a nation of people who can no longer talk to one another.”
As a former teacher of history and government, I especially appreciated her call for “a strong social studies curriculum that provides equitable opportunities for civic engagement, civil discourse and historical context.”
The ignorance of history shown by those who have been leading the opposition to removing Confederate statues is appalling. The statues were erected during times when white supremacy efforts termed the “Lost Cause” were at their strongest. Beginning in the late 19th century there were many movements to glorify the Old South and to justify the Civil War, or the “War of Northern Aggression” as they called it, and the erection of statues was part of it. Paralleling those activities was the passage of legislation that virtually took away the right of African Americans to vote and that separated the races in public schools and most every aspect of society. The second surge of erecting statues came when the white supremacists were opposing the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Viewed in their historic context, these statutes represented a repression of social justice, failure of civil discourse and lack of empathy on the part of those supporting them.
Equally as appalling is the lack of knowledge or the unwillingness to admit the central role that immigrants have played in our history. The history of the land we now call Virginia did not begin when the English arrived in 1607; a civilization existed here for at least 15,000 years before that time. That makes all of us except for Native Americans descendant of immigrants.
There is seldom a day that passes that I do not meet someone who may be brand new or first- or second-generation Americans who are making our communities, society and economy stronger and better. Many choose to ignore the history of immigrants especially most recently that of dependent children. They may be undocumented, but they are not “illegals” — people are not illegal.
Certainly, our immigration system needs work. Endless paperwork, complex bureaucracy and an entanglement of laws sometime stand in the way of people who should be given a path to citizenship that can be navigated. I thought that Richard Cohen, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, expressed it best when he said of the decision to rescind DACA that it was “one of the most senseless, heartless, inhumane acts of any president in recent memory.”
We should know better and certainly we must insist that all act better!
Chamber’s Legislative Scorecard Released — The Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership annually grades local members of the Virginia General Assembly on their support of legislation that positively affects business, economic development, workforce development and related issues. Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who represent Reston, both scored in the middle of the pack. [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]
Extreme Drunkenness Caused Crash That Killed Herndon Man — The driver in a July wrong-way head-on crash on U.S. 50 in Annapolis, which killed herself and a 34-year-old Herndon man, had a blood-alcohol content of .34. That’s more than four times the legal limit in Maryland. [WTOP]
Dominion Sending Workers to Help After Irma — Dominion Energy has mobilized more than 700 employees and contractors to respond to electric restoration efforts in after Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and left millions without power. [Dominion Energy]
N.C. Real Estate Company Opening Reston Office — Commercial realtors The Morgan Cos. will move into 11955 Freedom Drive, Suite 11000 at Reston Town Center. It will be their third office, following ones in Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale. [Virginia Business]
SLHS Seahawks 3-0 on Season — The South Lakes High School Seahawks football team stayed undefeated last week with a 49-7 win over Oakton. Statistical leaders included QB Devin Miles (6-6, 154 yards, 2 TDs), RB Spencer Alston (109 yards rushing, 121 yards receiving, 4 TDs), RB Albert Mensah (60 yards rushing, 1 TD) and DL Spencer Coppage (sack, interception, forced fumble). Reserve QB Will Shapiro also threw a touchdown pass, connecting with WR Kazim Khan. SLHS will play its first home game of the season Friday night against Dominion. [South Lakes Athletics]
Virginia’s population of 8,382,993 makes it the 12th largest of the states, but the median family household income of $66,262 in the Commonwealth makes it the eighth wealthiest state in the country.
With that introduction of statistics at my most recent State of the Commonwealth Breakfast, one might expect that nothing but good news would follow. Rather, what followed was a list of what might best be described as missed opportunities.
While overall numbers are impressive, the wealth of the state is not uniformly enjoyed. There clearly is a “golden crescent” in the state that runs from Northern Virginia, where it is most bright, south to Richmond and east to Hampton Roads, where it loses some luster. The crescent, if considered by itself, would be one of the wealthiest and best educated in the country. With few exceptions, outside the crescent Virginians are struggling with incomes of one-half to one-third of that in its richest regions. Virginia as a state is doing well, but there are many within the state who are suffering. It would be impossible to replicate the advantages that Northern Virginia has being situated next to the nation’s capital, nor can the misfortunes of the death of industries like tobacco, coal and textiles be easily reversed. Given our overall wealth, there is a legitimate question as to whether we are doing as well as we should.
In public education funding, for example, the state direct aid per student has fallen. According to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, per student funding of $5,966 in 2009 (in FY 17 dollars) is projected to be $5,326 in 2018. The result is that a greater share of education funding has been shifted to localities. In the 2008-09 school year, the state provided 44.1 percent of public school funding; in the 2015-2016 school year, the state share dropped to 41.3 percent. In past decades when Standards of Quality (SOQ) for schools were first adopted, the expectation was that the state would fund 60 percent of education costs. At the same time funding has decreased, the SOQs have been reduced. In 2016, localities spent $3.5 billion above the required local effort to fund the operation of its schools.
The news does not get much better in other areas. Virginia’s Medicaid program is the 48th stingiest among the states in providing benefits to those in need and one of the most difficult for which to qualify. At the same time, Gov. McAuliffe reminded the legislative money committees that he has “called for Virginia to expand Medicaid for three and a half years now. In that time, we have forever forfeited a whopping $10.4 billion of our federal tax dollars. We have missed an opportunity to cover 400,000 low-income Virginians.”
How can we be so rich as a state and yet so poor in funding programs? Since 2004, Virginia has ranked in the lowest five states in state and local revenue as a percentage of personal income. In state and local revenue as a percentage of gross state product, Virginia ranks 49th. Our state sales tax rate is 41st lowest among the states.
The state of the Commonwealth is that we get what we pay for.
Virginia has more Confederate monuments than any other state in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). With 223 by SPLC count, Virginia tops other states like Texas with 178, Georgia with 174 and South Carolina with 112.
Drive through most any small town in the Commonwealth and the statue of an unnamed Confederate soldier can be found on a pedestal near the center of town, near the courthouse, or sometimes by the cemetery. Messages of valor and honor are often chiseled into the pedestal.
A notable exception is Richmond, once capital of the Confederacy. It has a whole street, Monument Avenue, with five different Confederate leaders — Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury — sculpted at a super-human scale on an extra-high pedestal to ensure that everyone must look up at them.
More and more individuals and communities are raising questions about the appropriateness of the statues. After all, they attempt to put in a place of honor individuals who led armies against the United States of America. They were in armies that fought for the right of Southerners to own slaves. Contrary to the argument that the Civil War was about states’ rights, the right that was being claimed by the Southern states including Virginia was a right to own another human being to be used as slave labor. Why should anyone leading such an effort be glorified?
The role the men depicted in the statues played in defending slavery is repulsive enough, but the events leading up to erecting the statues make them even more problematic. The statues were not erected near the end of the Civil War, but were put in place between 1896 and 1915 during the “Lost Cause” effort to rewrite history and portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble.
In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld that “separate but equal” was constitutional. Following that ruling, Virginia and the other southern states started passing Jim Crow laws that almost eliminated African Americans from voting and separated the races in schools, buses, social events and most of life. Southerners started spinning their tales of how wonderful the South had been before “the War of Northern Aggression” and how honorable were the men who served in the Confederacy, leading to the monuments.
That history is important for all to learn. It should be taught and explored in our schools. Likewise, the artifacts of the period should be preserved in our museums along with the statues of individuals who played a role in the history. Public spaces should be reserved for the comfort and enjoyment of all our citizens. They need not be part of sending an underlying message that it was acceptable to take part in an insurrection for the purpose of being able to enslave others.
The monuments need to be shipped off to museums where they can be viewed in their historic context. Otherwise, we face a monumental problem of demonstrations like the one that took place in Charlottesville happening again.
Recent years have seen a growing number of yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and license plates with the coiled rattlesnake on them. Popular with the Tea Party, the license plates are requested by the car owner as are other vanity plates. The message they are intended to convey has never been entirely clear to me, and I suspect with the recent activities of some alt-right groups there may be some who will roll up their flags and change their license plates.
Certainly, no one would want to be confused with the white supremacists or neo-Nazis when they may have a simple annoyance or personal issue with the government. It is safe to say that the symbols involved are an expression of displeasure with the government. For some time, I have been reviewing the role of government and ways in which the resulting activity might be interpreted as “treading” on citizens. For each, I have made my own judgment as to whether I lose any freedoms as a result of what the government is doing and whether I object to being tread upon.
- I want all children to have access to educational programs that will ensure that they realize their fullest potential. I say to government leaders, tread on me to make that happen.
- I want to live in a community, state and world that are environmentally safe and clean. For the actions that the government must take to accomplish clean air and water and a sustainable environment, I say tread on me. To keep our communities safe from criminals, tread on me to make that happen. To ensure that our constitutional rights and our liberties are protected, tread on me to make sure I can continue to live free.
- To be sure governments at all levels are held accountable to operate within the Constitution; tread on me to accomplish an effective judicial system to keep us protected. There are some inconveniences that may affect me and I will feel tread upon personally, but in an organized society we sometimes make small sacrifices for the greater good. We all need help sometimes in recognizing that we are not the only person in the world and that our moments of feeling tread upon must be looked at in perspective of our shared humanity.
- Tread on me to pay for the rights and privileges and infrastructure of our world through the taxes and fees I pay. They are the price for living in a free and comfortable world. I do want those taxes to be based on income level and shared by those who can afford to pay more. Tread on me to support help for the disabled and for the disadvantaged to become productive members of our society and rise to a level where they can share more of the tax burden.
Maybe it would be nice to live in a world alone with no worry of anyone else, but that is not reality. There are real and reasonable times when we may feel tread upon for the good of society.
The “Unite the Right” event that happened in Charlottesville this past weekend could have happened in any community in America, but apparently it was the discussion about removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park that led to the white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers, and hate mongers to converge on the city. To bring their message of hate from distant places to Charlottesville, where its University has a world-class law school that teaches the rule of law and where its most famous resident who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom lived, created a startling contrast.
The photograph widely circulated on social media of the Tiki torch carrying thugs marching on the lawn of the University of Virginia with the Rotunda of the University in the background heightened that contrast of the ignorance of those involved in the march of our history and the rule of law and their shouts of “Heil Trump,” “white power,” and other racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic language. They demanded their rights to assemble and speak while waving Nazi flags. They wanted their rights as white persons with no recognition of the rights of anyone who might not look like them. They wanted to use their liberties as Americans to tear at the very fabric of what makes America great.
As the President of the University of Virginia Teresa Sullivan expressed in a letter to alumni, “The University supports the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly. Acts of violence, however, are not protected by the First Amendment. Violence and bigotry are not political positions. We strongly condemn intimidating and abhorrent behavior intended to strike fear and sow division in our community.” Too bad the President of the United States did not speak so clearly about the event.
One Nazi sympathizer who seemingly could not control his hate for society as he knows it rammed the only weapon he had available, his car, into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring more than a dozen. Fortunately, none of the agitators fired the guns they were carrying, for certainly a bloodbath would have followed.
Where did these people come from? Apparently, from all over the country. It was a rally to unite right wing causes of white supremacists, alt-right and Nazi sympathizers. They apparently felt safe crawling out from the figurative rocks under which they live and parade in public with torches to spread their revolting messages of hatred. They did not just happen. When leadership at all levels of government support openly and forcefully the rule of law under which we live and there is a general understanding of our history, these people do not have many public displays of their beliefs. But when leaders from the highest levels of government give them a wink and a nod, they move out into the sunlight. They do not represent any of what makes America great. In contrast, their disgusting and vile behavior makes us appreciate the real meaning of freedom for all and should motivate us to fight against those who would seek to take our country down a road of bigotry and exclusion.
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.
Never in my years in politics have I gotten as many questions from people as to what they can do to be more active in political affairs.
While the circumstances at the federal level that have given rise to this question are deplorable, there is a need to take advantage of this new or renewed interest on the part of citizens to get involved with their government. For folks who have been involved as volunteers in political campaigns or as advocates in issue-oriented organizations the lack of awareness and knowledge of the governmental processes on the part of their new helpers and associates is astonishing.
Even so, it is absolutely essential that the new interests be acknowledged and respected and activities and mentoring take place to ensure that the maximum number of people participate in civic affairs and upcoming elections. I was pleased that a civic engagement fair that I sponsored on a Saturday morning earlier this year attracted more than 300 attendees. The goal of the event was to match up organizations with potential volunteers and members. New movements like Indivisible have sprung up around the country, with the local Herndon-Reston Indivisible attracting as many as 400 attendees at one of its early meetings. The group has formed several very active interest groups.
Strong interest in more involvement in civic affairs is of course not limited to this region or state; it is national in scope. The most recent issue of the Council of State Governments publication, Capitol Ideas, has civic engagement as its theme. It looks at such concerns as “the key to repair trust in government” and “how technology reshaped civic engagement.” If one word was used to summarize the articles in this edition of the journal read by state government officials nationwide, it would be education. An article entitled “Civic Education: A Key to Trust” includes a harsh review of the way civics is taught in the public schools: “Unfortunately, the nation’s schools have been generally unhelpful in providing the kind of information that can teach their students how their governments actually work.” The result is that only 23 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above proficiency in civics, according to research by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2014.
Improving civic education in our schools is critical to expanding engagement in the future, but action needs to be taken to involve more adults right now. The most obvious place to start is with voter participation in elections. Among the 35 nations involved in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranked a shameful 31st in voter turnout. Laws need to be changed and increased emphasis needs to be given to removing barriers to voting and to getting people to the polls.
The recent influx of citizens interested in working for civic engagement can do a great deal to improve our political system — starting by encouraging others to vote on Election Day.
Taking a break can be good for one’s mental and physical health. If time and resource limitations stand in the way of a traditional vacation, I heartily recommend a staycation or, better yet, several of them over a period of time. These short breaks from routine activities of life and work can be energizing and invigorating. You save the money of a hotel by sleeping at home with short trips away during the day. And you save time by not traveling a long distance.
Virginia is one of the best places I know for a staycation. I offer several examples here and will in future columns, but I in no way will exhaust the list of things to see and do. I’ll leave out amusement parks, for they are well known. Keep an open mind and approach your day away from your responsibilities — with or without others — with a positive attitude and let yourself be entertained and educated by what is around you.
No reservations are needed and on the day of your staycation do not schedule anything in the evening so you won’t be concerned as to what time you return. If you can pay for a night or two away, consider a bed and breakfast or a small cabin or camp, if you are up to it. I have yet to try Airbnb, but it seems like a fine option.
One great example of a staycation is to head south to Jefferson’s home, Monticello. It will take about two and half hours, or longer depending on your stops along the way, to get to this wonderful historic site. Leaving a little early in the morning will allow time for periodic stops and a more relaxing trip.
If you’re heading out early you may not be ready on the way down to stop at Smokin Billy’s Bar-B-Q, but note the location of his trailer alongside Route 29 (5282 Lee Highway) before you get to Warrenton for your stop on the way back. If it’s smoking, stop! Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. (www.smokinbillysbbq.com).
Further on down Route 29 past Warrenton is Moo-Thru — “real ice cream from real dairy farmers.” You will recognize it by the lines of people outside. It will make you forget your worries. (www.moothru.com)
Follow the signs in Charlottesville to get to Monticello, Italian for “little mountain,” Jefferson’s home that he spent about 40 years building. Even if you do not like history, you will come to respect even more the genius of Thomas Jefferson: architect, builder, philosopher, scientist, farmer and, as he asked to be remembered, “Author of the Declaration of Independence, Statute of Virginia Religious Freedom, and Founder of the University of Virginia.” Learn the critical role of slaves in building and running his estate. Discuss on the way home the contradictions in his statement that “all men are created equal” and his ownership of slaves.
Head home and get some ice cream or barbecue or stop at Yoder’s Market on Route 29 for some interesting shopping or eating. It will be a full but restful day. I look forward to going on another staycation with you in the near future.
While there are a myriad of issues facing government, some advocacy groups are working on changes to the basic way government works as a fundamental means to respond to a host of issues. There are many such advocacy organizations; this column describes a few.
Probably most people would agree with the contention that “there is too much money in politics!” If the influence of big money could be removed from political campaigns and from the legislative process, we would have better government and many issues would be resolved. Every Voice is an organization addressing this issue. In its most recent survey of candidates running in Virginia elections the group introduced its survey by stating that “People of all political stripes believe politicians are influenced by their dependency on wealthy donors and therefore don’t always act in the public interest. This perception fuels cynicism and drives distrust of politicians and our government.” Every Voice goes on to point out that “Virginia is one of just a handful of states with absolutely no contribution limits on what wealthy and corporate donors can give to candidates running for office.”
At the same time, there are states like Maine, Arizona and Connecticut that have made reforms in campaign financing, providing candidates the opportunity to raise money for their campaigns through small donations and limited public funds if they agree not to accept big donations. I support such a movement in Virginia. While my political stance on issues has never attracted big donors, I would support a statutory limit on the size of donations, especially those from corporations. While this action is important for Virginia, it is even more critical at the federal level to limit corporate contributions in elections.
Another group working in Virginia to bring about systemic change to the way the government operates is OneVirginia2021 that focuses on legislative redistricting. Under the present system of drawing legislative district boundaries in Virginia and in most states, the organization contends legislators pick their voters rather than the voters picking their legislators. Known for years as “gerrymandering” as boundary lines are drawn around friendly voters to ensure the outcome of elections, OneVirginia2021 has adopted the term “gerryrigged” to describe the same activity. Their documentary by the same name explains the process and its impact on election outcomes and legislative activity (“GerryRIGGED“).
In the early 1980s, I worked with Common Cause, another organization that proposes basic changes to improve governance, on this issue and introduced the first bill in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to propose that an independent, non-partisan commission be given the responsibility of drawing legislative district lines after each federal census. OneVirginia2021 has done a remarkable job of informing citizens and of enlisting voter support for candidates who support independent and non-partisan redistricting.
Working on individual issues facing the government and society is very important. Equally as important is working on reforms that would make our government work better.
During the primary election season when both parties in Virginia were making their selection of a candidate for governor, one candidate who went on to get his party’s nomination proposed the clincher of a policy proposal to secure his success in the election: a billion-dollar tax cut!
For those who have been around the state for some time it may sound familiar; the successful car tax cutting proposal that elected a previous governor is still costing the state about a billion dollars each year. That cut was particularly ironic in that it had the state cutting a local tax by reimbursing the localities for taxpayers. It was great for Northern Virginians as less wealthy downstate taxpayers reimburse the wealthiest jurisdictions in a reverse “Robin Hood” plan.
Before voters jump at a promise of reduced taxes, I hope there will be a serious consideration of the consequences. Virginia prides itself on being a “balanced budget” state; its revenues cover its operational expenses. Borrowing is permitted under the State Constitution for capital projects when approved by voters unless the project raises enough revenue to pay for itself. All that is good with a major exception. At no time does the state quantify its needs in order to determine what the cost of government would be if the state met its responsibility in providing funding. Two examples are offered below to make my point.
The first example is the state’s refusal to fund education at the level it has in the past and that is required by the Constitution. A report by the Commonwealth Institute, “State Cuts Mean Fewer Staff and Resources for Virginia Students,” in April 2017 makes the point.
“Statewide, state support has fallen 11 percent per student since 2009 in real dollars. This has impacted the ability of schools to maintain staffing and facilities. Across the state, school divisions have about 2,800 fewer staff than they had in 2009, despite growing enrollment. If they had kept pace with enrollment growth, Virginia’s schools would have 10,400 more staff instructing students and making sure the schools run smoothly.”
The other example is in health care. The Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic in Wise County is well known having been featured on an edition of 60 Minutes. There, thousands of Virginians receive their health care for the year in a weekend clinic held on the local fair grounds. The federal Affordable Care Act did not help as the legislature would not take federal monies to expand Medicaid that would have helped these people in need. The state turned its back on nearly $5 billion paid into the federal system by Virginia taxpayers because it did not want to have anything to do with what it termed Obamacare. What has happened in the meantime? A second RAM weekend clinic has been opened in Lee County nearby to Wise in Southwest Virginia, and a new clinic has been started in Emporia in Greensville County in Southside Virginia.
We definitely need to balance our budget, but we need to balance it against our needs. How could we seriously propose to cut our income when there continues to be such extensive unmet needs in the Commonwealth?
Proposals are now before the Congress to change the Affordable Care Act. While there have been years of rhetoric on changing the plan that got dubbed “Obamacare,” changing it in a way that would continue to extend care to the most vulnerable people in our country has proven elusive. The proposals that have come forward look more like tax cuts for the very rich than health care for the very poor.
Recently, the Board of Medical Assistance Services that provides oversight for the various health care programs in Virginia wrote to Gov. Terry McAuliffe with their concerns about the new federal proposals. Their letter (available here) was very frank in its assessment.
The proposals before Congress they wrote “will inflict a serious cost burden to the Commonwealth, will expose Virginia taxpayers to an increased tax burden, will significantly harm Virginia’s Medicaid program, will derail important medical innovation, and will hobble Virginia’s ability to care for our citizens most in need.”
Most of the letter is devoted to the technical changes proposed in the new legislation that would reduce coverage to Virginia residents while increasing costs to the state. Most of the potential damage stems from the proposed shift to per capita block grant funding, but other technical changes will cost the Commonwealth citizens in services and in money. Using 2016 as a baseline would be especially costly to Virginia.
That provision alone would exclude the new Addiction Recovery and Treatment Services (ARTS) program designed to address Virginia’s opioid epidemic, declared a public health emergency by Virginia’s Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, MD, MPH. Another example is that the per capita cap baseline would exclude Virginia’s $46 million developmental disability system investment that also begins this year.
In a tone that is unusual for a Board made up of professionals and citizens, the letter went on to conclude, “We have attempted to provide some high level examples of the financial damage that the AHCA would inflict on Virginia, but cannot lose sight of the reality of what that means. It is not just the impact on Virginia’s fiscal health, it is also the impact on the health of individual Virginians. That, in the end, is the purpose of Medicaid and of all the other health measures we take as citizens. One of our Board members provides a striking example. She would have to choose between no nursing care for her daughter who receives 12-16 hours per day via Medicaid (their primary insurance nursing benefit is only $500 per year) or pay more than $86,000 per year out of pocket for nursing care, in addition to having to pay for items such as durable medical equipment and medical enteral formula that would no longer be covered by Medicaid. There are thousands of such examples within our Commonwealth.
Finally, we wish to emphasize one more issue: providing help to our fellow Virginians in need, who cannot help themselves, is a moral imperative, a moral test that we cannot and should not fail. We, as the Board of Medical Assistance Services, strenuously and unanimously urge you to oppose the AHCA or any similar bill that inflicts such undeniable damage to our Commonwealth and her citizens.”
Thank you Board for telling it like it is. Hopefully members of Congress, especially members from Virginia, will hear your plea and respond appropriately!