My mom and dad had little or no formal education which was not that unusual for children in large families growing up in rural Virginia in the 1920s. What they lacked in schooling they made up in basic values of honesty and hard work. Their ambition for their three sons of which I was the youngest was to finish school which for them meant high school. Mom’s advice to me for I had obvious interests in doing more than graduating high school and working a local job was captured in the words of the country music song of Earl Scruggs and later Ricky Skaggs, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin.'”
Going off to college as the first in my family to do so was a frightening experience but one that soon became a labor of love. I could not learn enough about the world around me and most especially about history and politics. I was a product of a public school system in Virginia, and even as a youngster I knew that the story of the state was much more complex and involved than the glorification of its history presented in the state-approved textbooks. My love of learning led me to finish an undergraduate degree in history and political history at the then Old Dominion College. I went on to the University of Virginia where I received a master’s degree in teaching the social studies in 1967. That program had an internship experience that led to me being placed in Fairfax County Public Schools from which I retired thirty years later.
I refused to use the state-approved textbook on Virginia history in my classroom because of the distortions and misinformation it contained. My school administrator supported me, and a few years later I consulted with FCPS when it produced its own edition of a more-accurate Virginia history textbook. Also about the same time, I announced my candidacy for the House of Delegates and was elected on my third try. My interest was not to change school textbooks but to help alter the course of the state’s history to remedy the many wrongs of its past and to make it a state where all people had equal opportunity. I knew about the inequality of opportunity in the state by my volunteer work with the Community Action Agency.Setting aside challenges related to the pandemic and the craziness of the current federal administration, I feel a greater sense of hope for the Commonwealth than I believe I have ever had. I have written often about the transformative General Assembly session this year and the passage of much-needed legislation on fairness and equality that had been debated and never passed for years. This month the General Assembly will take another important step in reforming our criminal justice system.
As my friend and historian Bent Tarter wrote recently in a column “Black Lives and Confederate Monuments,” (www.virginiaforum.org) “We all have much to learn, or we will continue to repeat the sorry sequences of violence that exacerbate rather than solve problems. Learning, one of my college teachers explained, should involve a change in behavior.” As a native Virginian I sense that now more than ever we will at long last be seeing changes in behavior in the Commonwealth.
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!
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 threats to our democratic-republican form of government are more numerous than weeks of this column could enumerate. While I will not mention the more obvious ones brought on by the current administration in Washington, I do want to focus on two that have come about in the recent past — one just last week. They impact all levels of government and come about not from the executive branch of government or the dysfunctional Congress but rather from the judicial branch and its highest level, the Supreme Court! While I have always viewed the Supreme Court as a safety backstop that would save our republic from harm by the Congress or the president, in recent years it is the Court that has become one of the real threats to democratic governance.
One of the biggest inhibitors of advancement on progressive issues in Virginia has been the unrestrained ability of the members of the party in power at the time of the decennial census to choose the voters they want to represent for the next decade by gerrymandering district boundaries. For some of us there has been a struggle to put in place a non-partisan method of drawing district lines. With the great organization OneVirginia2021’s efforts there has been real progress towards meeting that goal. A Constitutional amendment passed the last session of the General Assembly that would establish what is described as a non-partisan and transparent process for redistricting. It must pass the 2020 session without change in order to be sent to the voters in a referendum before becoming part of the state constitution.
In the meantime lawsuits were successful in federal courts to have the Virginia Congressional and House of Delegates districts redrawn to eliminate discrimination based on race. The Supreme Court refused to review the new House of Delegates districts drawn by a lower federal court on a technicality that the current members bringing the suit did not have standing.
Of great concern, however, is the Supreme Court decision last week saying in effect that federal courts do not have the power to redraw politically gerrymandered district lines. The outcome could be more devastating to a republican form of government as the dominant party would be left free to establish itself in power without a way to challenge it.
The Supreme Court has historically sidestepped cases in the past that would have brought them into resolving partisan redistricting. I am fearful that the Court’s decision will result in rampant gerrymandering of legislative districts creating unparalleled control of legislatures. This unfortunate decision by the Supreme Court may have been exceeded in its partisan implications only by Citizens United that many people feel may have been the Court’s greatest mistake by bringing uncontrolled corporate influence into elections.
As usual the checks, although extremely limited to these kinds of bad decisions, continue to be voting the very best people into elective office.
Updated at 3:25 p.m. — Deputy Minority Leader Mark Sickles was recently added to the event.
An upcoming Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce event plans to examine how the current political climate will likely impact businesses across the state.
The event next Wednesday (March 13) features House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District), Deputy Minority Leader Mark Sickles (D-43rd District) and Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Attendees can expect to learn about how Gov. Ralph Northam’s policies and a narrowly divided General Assembly may affect businesses for the next two years. Cox will provide insight into which passed bills will impact the business community.
The event will be held from 7:30-10 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Reston (1800 Presidents Street). Online registration will close on Tuesday (March 12).
Image via @SpeakerCox/Twitter
He joins Del. Sam Rasoul as the second Muslim — they are both Democrats — in Virginia’s General Assembly, according to a press release from his campaign.
Samirah, who is the son of Palestinian refugees, was separated from his father in middle school when his father was barred from re-entering the U.S.
The special election yesterday (Feb. 19) to fill now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s former seat was the first time Virginia voters took to the polls after a series of scandals erupted in the state, starting with unearthed racist photos on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook.
The scandals continued with sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and with Attorney General Mark Herring’s admission that he wore blackface. News reports revealed that Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) was a top editor of a yearbook that included photos of people in blackface and racial slurs.
Before the special election, Samirah faced attacks after a conservative website published two of his social media posts from five years ago, including one where he said sending money to Israel was worse than sending it to the Ku Klux Klan, according to news reports.
Samirah apologized for the posts, which he said were used in “a slander campaign questioning my views on Israel and my Jewish friends,” in a two-page statement posted on Facebook.
“I am so sorry that my ill-chosen words added to the pain of the Jewish community and I seek your understanding and compassion as I prove to you our common humanity,” the statement said.
Samirah was just shy of receiving 60 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results from Virginia’s Department of Elections.
Republican Gregg Nelson, a U.S. Air Force veteran, received 34 percent of the votes and Connie Haines Hutchinson, a former vice mayor of the Herndon Town Council who ran as an Independent, received almost 6 percent of the votes.
In total, 6,283 people voted in the special election.
Boysko took to Twitter to congratulate Samirah on his win.
— Jennifer Boysko (@JenniferBoysko) February 20, 2019
Samirah ran a campaign focused on healthcare, transportation and education.
Now in office, Samirah is planning “to build on the 2018 Virginia Medicaid expansion and bringing healthcare costs down across the state by ensuring that the healthcare marketplace is competitive and accessible to all,” according to the press release.
Photos from the Virginia House Democrats on Twitter show Samirah being sworn in today.
— VA House Democrats (@VAHouseDems) February 20, 2019
Photo via Samirah for Delegate/Facebook
Fatal Herndon car crash on Saturday — “Detectives are asking for the public’s help in identifying two victims from this morning’s [Feb. 16] fatal single vehicle crash. Officers responded to the crash around 4:26 a.m. on southbound Route 28 near the McLearen Road exit.” [Fairfax County Police Department]
Winter storm on its way — Heads up for tomorrow: expect sleet, ice and several inches of snow. The National Weather Service’s Winter Storm Warning will be in effect from 1 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Feb. 20). [National Weather Service]
Bus meeting tonight — The rescheduled meeting for public input on local bus service provided by Fairfax Connector in the Herndon-Reston area will take place from 6-8 p.m. tonight at the Herndon Senior Center (873 Grace Street). [DC Commute Times]
Election for 86th District seat — Voting today will decide the replacement for now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s former seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. The county has information about where, when and how to vote in the special election. [Fairfax County]
Interactive show at Great Falls Senior Center — The Great Falls Senior Center welcomes back Mary Ann Jung’s interactive show today. Jung, who has been recreating historical women for more than 30 years, will portray Margaret Brent, a colonial woman who was America’s first female landowner, lawyer and first to demand the vote in the 1640s. Lunch will be provided. [Great Falls Senior Center]
Rolling in the money — “[Reston-based] Sequoia Holdings Inc., a leading provider of software and cloud engineering services for the U.S. intelligence community, has received an equity investment from Chart National, L.P., a New York-based private equity fund with deep relationships within the intelligence community and the U.S. Department of Defense.” [Business Wire]
Happy Valentine’s Day — Hundreds of locals from Reston and Herndon recently created 10,000 handwritten valentines as part of volunteering efforts for two initiatives produced by the Barbara Foundation of Reston. [Connection Newspapers]
Girl Power! Book Club — Book lovers can share their love of reading and head to Scrawl Books to discuss “Into White” by Randi Pink at 7 p.m. [Scrawl Books]
Reston company nabs NASA IT contract — “Leidos Holdings Inc. has been awarded an information technology contract with NASA potentially worth almost $3 billion that it’s calling a ‘marquee’ win.” [Washington Business Journal]
Money and politics — The candidates vying for the 86th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates recently disclosed their campaign finances. Democrat Ibraheem Samirah has raised the most — $73,243 — followed by Republican Gregg Nelson, who has raised $23,359. [VAPAP]
Fire at Herndon home — Crews responded to a fire in the 2100 block of Oram Place around 2:30 a.m. The fire was in the basement and extended to parts of the upper floors. The fire is now out and no injuries have been reported. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]
P.S. — Reston Now recently rounded up several Valentine’s Day events this week. Some of them are happening today.
Photo via J. Sibiga Photography/Flickr pool
Hutchinson is running on a campaign to improve education, revamp transportation, lower medical costs and ensure Northern Virginia gets support from the Commonwealth.
Ever since she ran for the Herndon Town Council in 1990, Hutchinson said she is dedicated to “give my time and talents to improve the quality of life in my hometown,” according to her website, adding that her seven terms on the council gave her the background and knowledge to represent the area in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Hutchinson, who claims that her main issues are nonpartisan, decided to run as an Independent for the 86th District seat because elected officials in Herndon run as Independents “in order to allow cooperation and collaboration without divisive party politics,” her website says.
Currently, Hutchinson is the general manager at The Borenstein Group, according to her LinkedIn. She is also the treasurer of the Herndon Hospitality Association, a nonprofit she founded to assist Herndon’s hospitality industry.
In 1992, she became a member of the Herndon Town Council, and she served as vice mayor during the 2008-2010 term and again in 2012-2014. Prior to that, Hutchinson served on the town’s architectural and heritage preservation review boards.
She has also been involved with the Optimist Club of Herndon, Herndon Recreation, Inc., Herndon Youth Soccer and the parent-teacher associations for Herndon Elementary School and Herndon Middle School.
Hutchinson is a Herndon native, and her four children attended Herndon schools, according to her website.
Hutchinson will face Republican Gregg Nelson and Democrat Ibraheem Samirah in the special election set for Feb. 19.
Photo via Connie Haines Hutchinson/website
The General Assembly had not been in session for more than two weeks until the differences between the House of Delegates and the State Senate became obvious. The Founding Fathers who conceived the structure of government built-in safeguards and checks and balances to ensure that a runaway government would be less possible. Two houses in the legislature were part of that scheme.
The lower house would be elected by a popular vote, but in the federal model the so-called “upper house” was first elected by state legislatures before the popular vote was instituted. Another major difference in Virginia is that in the House of Delegates, 100 members were given two-year terms and smaller districts. The 40-member Senate was given four-year terms and districts two-and-a-half the size of delegate districts.
The result is that in some parts of the state there are election contests where the delegate and the senator reflect different values and positions on issues. That is not the case in my district where Sen. Janet Howell and I have taken the same position on every issue I can remember. These structural differences bring about different results as is being dramatically shown in the current General Assembly session.
In alternate election cycles, as is the case this year, senators and delegates all run for office. In light of the last election for House seats, I approached this legislative session with the hope that there might be more flexibility in the House leadership that might result in the consideration of bills that had been summarily defeated in past sessions. My hopes have already been dashed.
Even this early the session has demonstrated the differences that the two-house legislature presents. Certainly, there has been strong public support for Virginia being the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Senate passed a resolution for ratification, but was defeated in a subcommittee in the House.
This major struggle between the two houses is the same for establishing an impartial and nonpartisan system for legislative redistricting. The Senate has passed a bill to establish such a process while House leadership is expressing opposition. Since the legislation is a constitutional amendment, it is important that a resolution is passed this year and next to go to a popular referendum in 2020 in time for redistricting after the 2020 census results are known.
Sometimes differences between the two houses can be resolved in a conference committee if both houses pass bills on the same subject. If differences are not resolved, the bill dies. Legislation must be passed in identical form from both houses to be sent to the governor for signature. If the governor disagrees with the bill sent to him, he can send down amendments or veto the legislation. It takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to override a veto.
Legislating with a two-house body can be cumbersome and difficult. Sometimes it seems to be easier to say how bills are defeated rather than how they pass. In either case, voters can be assured that the two-house legislature ensures full consideration of issues.
Nearly one month away from the special election for the 86th District seat, the Fairfax County Republican Committee will hold a meeting on Saturday (Jan. 19) to nominate a candidate.
Yesterday (Jan. 14), the committee put a call for a mass meeting to nominate a Republican candidate for the now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s vacated seat, which represents parts of Fairfax County and Loudoun County.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Fairfax Christian School at 22870 Pacific Blvd in Dulles with a start time of 9 a.m. Only Republicans in the 86th District can participate in the mass meeting, according to the website.
Candidates have until 9 a.m. on Friday (Jan. 18) to provide a written statement of intent to Committee Chairman Amanda Morris.
The special election is set for Feb. 19.
On Saturday (Jan. 12), Ibraheem Samirah was nominated to represent the Democratic Party.
Voters have an upcoming special general election for the 86th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
On Saturday (Jan. 12), Ibraheem Samirah was nominated to represent the Democratic Party to fill State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s vacated seat.
Samirah will run in the special election set for Feb. 19 with a campaign focused on healthcare, transportation and education.
“I am deeply humbled that voters chose me to be their democratic nominee to represent them in the House of Delegates,” Samirah said in a press release. “I entered this race to fight for the progressive values we all share–such as affordable healthcare, decreased transportation costs and improved early-childhood education.”
Samirah is a first-generation Muslim American who is the son of Palestinian refugees. He was separated from his father in middle school when his father was barred from re-entering the U.S.
He is currently a dentist at District Smiles.
He faced three other Democratic candidates — Kofi Annan, Mike O’Reilly and Chad Thompson — for the nomination and won with a little more than 35 percent of the vote. More than 2,000 people voted in the primary.
“Ibraheem will be a tireless and effective advocate for Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and we look forward to having him join our caucus and help us make Virginia better for everyone,” House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Trevor Southerland said in a statement.
Boysko also congratulated Samirah, saying she pledges her support to work with him in the Virginia General Assembly.
“I know Ibraheem will continue the great work we have done in working to reduce gun violence, supporting our schools and teachers, and building an economy that works for everyone,” she said in a statement.
Local Republicans have not announced plans to nominate a candidate, according to the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
Photo via Samirah for Delegate/Facebook
The Virginia House of Delegates has an opening for a seat that represents Herndon.
Del. Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat currently representing the 86th District, won the special election yesterday (Jan. 8) to take over the 33rd District seat in the State Senate vacated by Jennifer Wexton when she became a Congresswoman.
Boysko won with just under 70 percent of the vote, while her opponent, Republican Joe May, received about 30 percent. With Boysko moving to the State Senate, voters will get choose who will fill her district seat, which includes Herndon.
Several Democratic candidates announced they will vie for the seat, including:
- Chad Thompson — a public affairs consultant who lives in Herndon
- Kofi Annan — the president of the Fairfax County NAACP
- Ibraheem Samirah — a dentist at District Smiles who is a first-generation Muslim American
- Mike O’Reilly — a former Herndon mayor who is now a lawyer and the owner of the O’Reilly Law Firm
The Democratic candidates will vie for the spot at the primary on Saturday (Jan. 12).
Herndon residents who are registered voters in the 86th District can vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Dranesville Elementary School (1515 Powells Tavern Place).
Reston lawmakers are gearing up to tackle gun violence and criminal justice reform ahead of the General Assembly kicking off a new session on Wednesday (Jan. 9).
The delegate and state senator representing Reston have been crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature.
A review of the General Assembly’s online database gives a glimpse into what they plan to address.
Del. Ken Plum (D-36th District) plans to introduce legislation for universal background checks for gun purchases, according to a press release from Plum’s office.
That bill is a part of a package of legislation that is meant to prevent gun violence and improve safety, which Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced.
Plum, who will be the bill’s chief patron in the Virginia House of Delegates, said the bill “will close a significant loophole in Virginia law and require background checks on all firearm sales including private or online sales.”
Additionally, Plum said in the press release that he agrees with Northam’s assertion that “this legislative package of reasonable gun violence reforms appropriately balances Second Amendment Rights with public safety.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) has prefiled several bills as a chief patron that address criminal justice. Howell wants to change the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for any person who leaves a loaded and unsecured gun in a place that could endanger a minor.
In a separate move, she wants to allow evidence of prior statements that are inconsistent with testimony at a hearing or trial for a criminal case admissible.
Howell outlines three main criteria:
- If the testifying witness faces cross-examination
- If the prior statement was made under an oath at a trial, hearing or the proceeding
- If it narrates or explains the witness’s knowledge of the event
Howell also is trying to allow the local school board of a school division located in Planning District 8 — which includes Fairfax County — to set the school calendar and determine the opening day of the school year.
She also wants to require licensed assisted living facilities with six or more residents to have a temporary emergency electrical power source available on site in case of an interruption of the electric power supply. The temporary power supply must be enough to power necessary medical equipment and refrigerators, along with heating, cooling, lighting and at least one elevator.
Currently, assisted living facilities are not required to maintain a power source on site.
(Updated at 3:54 p.m.) Former Herndon Mayor Mike O’Reilly announced on Friday (Dec. 14) that he will vie for the Virginia House of Delegates seat representing the 86th District, which includes Herndon.
Del. Jennifer Boysko, who currently holds the seat, plans to run for the State Senate seat to replace Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton in the special election on Jan. 8.
“I am running for the House of Delegates to fight for more affordable healthcare, more funding for education and transportation in Northern Virginia, protection of women’s rights, protection from gun violence and to protect the environment,” O’Reilly said in a press release.
O’Reilly was elected Mayor of Herndon in 2004. As mayor, he helped reduce the tax rate, opened a new police station, opened the Senior Center at Herndon Harbor House and completed a rewrite of Herndon’s zoning ordinance.
O’Reilly, who has lived in Herndon for more than 35 years, is married and has four children.
O’Reilly served five years as a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, where he negotiated the design, financing and construction of the first phase for the Silver Line project and the procurement and contract award for the second phase.
He chaired for ten years the Governing Board of the Fairfax Falls Church Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness and also chaired the Board for Arts Herndon.
Photo via Michael O’Reilly