February 14, 2019
CULPEPER, VA – Ben Hixon, Democratic Party candidate for the 17th Senate, welcomes Amy Laufer to the race and pledges to support her should she be the nominee. He released the following statement:
I’d like to congratulate Amy Laufer for officially joining the campaign to defeat Bryce Reeves, and I pledge to support her should she be our nominee.
A competitive primary will increase the likelihood that we defeat Bryce Reeves in November, which is why we’re fortunate that Amy is also running and that the 17th Senate District nominating committee has voted for a state-run primary instead of a caucus. I have long been a fierce advocate for the benefits of state-run primaries. When I ran for the Democratic nomination to the House of Delegates in the 30th district against Nick Freitas in 2017, we used a caucus instead of a state-run primary. Even though I won the caucus, I believed it was a major missed opportunity to generate attention to the race, to sharpen myself as a candidate, and to allow more voters to participate in the nomination process.
In 2018 under my chairmanship, the Culpeper County Democratic Committee played a pivotal role in securing a primary in the 7th Congressional District to choose our nominee against Dave Brat. We were the only county committee to pass a resolution in favor of a primary. I authored the resolution and presented it in person to the 7th Congressional District Democratic Committee. The district committee was deadlocked between a primary and a caucus, and its first round of voting resulted in a tied vote.
District Chairwoman Abbi Easter graciously allowed me to remain during the closed door session and continue to speak on behalf of a primary, and eventually the committee voted in favor of a primary instead of a caucus. Abigail Spanberger’s primary victory against a formidable opponent, Dan Ward, gave her campaign an adrenaline shot of momentum that never faded and carried Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger to victory over Congressman Dave Brat. Competitive primaries are not only more Democratic; they also create better candidates for the general election.
Senator Reeves does not represent the values of tolerance and neighborliness held by our district, and he has used his position as our State Senator as a political stepping stone to run for higher office. I’m looking forward to a friendly campaign with Amy Laufer over the next four months, and then to the Democratic Party nominee defeating Bryce Reeves in November and flipping the Virginia Senate.
Ben is a computer scientist and researcher with multiple publications in the field of artificial intelligence. He is the immediate past Chairman of the Democratic Party of Culpeper County and in 2017 was the Democratic Party nominee against Delegate Nick Freitas for the 30th district of the House of Delegates. The 17th Senate district is considered a toss-up and comprises Orange County, Fredericksburg City, and parts of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Albermarle, and Louisa Counties. Ben lives in Culpeper with his partner of 15 years, Christopher, a librarian.
Hixon for Senate
wITH PASSING COMMENTS ON LOCAL, STATE, AND NATIONAL POLITICS
Readers of the Star Exponent have known me for some years now. Since August of 2014 one hundred and ten columns have appeared in these pages without ever missing a deadline. I have been assisted in this effort by able friends, most notably David Reuther, but also Thom Faircloth and George DeSerres, all of Culpeper. This has been a demanding experience, but a very fulfilling one. I am pleased to announce that I am passing the baton to David, and I am sure you will continue to enjoy this column under his leadership. Many thanks to Editor Emily Jennings for facilitating this transition.
I am far from alone in thinking the State of the Union address was not a unifying message. It wasn’t one that would make Democrats want to work with him. President Donald Trump mildly suggested bipartisanship while still throwing red meat to his base. He tangled with Democratic women who cheered and congratulated each other when he pointed out their gains in the House of Representatives. His response? “You weren’t supposed to do that.” He did not acknowledge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She did, however, give him that pointed handclap that has now famously gone viral.
There was no mention of Robert Mueller as Trump proclaimed to Congress: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States—and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.” That line fell incredibly flat, as even Republicans balked at applause. Inexplicably, there was no mention of the meaningless government shutdown that cost billions of dollars, and inflicted suffering and financial pain not only on federal employees and contractors but also on the communities where they work and live throughout the nation. There was no mention of continuing gun violence, and no mention of climate change.
Now, after attempting to control all three branches of government for the past two years, Trump cries “presidential harassment” as the legislative branch begins to once again practice its legitimate oversight as part of our Constitutional checks and balances.
Meanwhile, Virginia is experiencing its own political dumpster fire as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General continue to be embroiled in their own individual scandals. Ralph Northam’s yearbook photos and the allegations against Justin Fairfax were sprung on unsuspecting citizens by “Big League Politics,” a far-right media website founded by a former reporter for the Daily Caller and Breitbart News, also known for their extremism and conspiracy theories. Mark Herring, at least, confessed to and begged forgiveness for his blackface antics before being exposed.
There is good news, believe it or not.
Locally, Amy Laufer, who has served on the Charlottesville school board, will be formally kicking off her campaign for the Democratic state senate nomination against Culpeper’s incumbent Republican Senator Bryce Reeves (SD17) on Saturday, February 16th. She will be visiting constituents all over the district, which is made up of Fredericksburg, Orange County and parts of Louisa, Spotsylvania, Culpeper and Albemarle counties. She will be at the Raven’s Nest on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 4 to 4:45 p.m. She will face Ben Hixon in the June Democratic primary election.
While the Virginia GOP appears to prefer relegating Virginia women and girls to the 19th century by voting against the 2019 Equal Rights Amendment Act, we Democrats must keep our chins up, and never give up or give in. We might think about forgiveness. We have elections to win in November.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the February 9th edition of the Culpeper Star-Exponent, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
The decision to commit to the option to proceed with the prospect of the Shannon Hill industrial site was controversial to some. However, every member of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors has sworn to uphold what they believe to be right, serving in the best interests of all residents of our county. Decisions are supposed to be devoid of politics and personal interests, even when unpopular to some.
During my career, there have been many moments of truth. To meet the challenge one must conduct heavy research and analysis and then test results with learned individuals. The conclusion is further evaluated by the cost of doing it or not.
In this case, there was no risk involved because the cost of the land with the option was so low, it provides us with the fail-safe of future resale should we not proceed. The risk of not doing this, however, is paramount.
The opportunity of having a successful, modest industrial site located in a designated growth area that would derive substantial income to offset escalating expenses deserves our support. Every board member should always be considering valid alternatives to the much easier solution to offset rising expenses and raising taxes.
I have a history of being more conservative with other people’s money than my own. Being on the board of supervisors carries considerable responsibility which must be met through “the courage of one’s convictions.”
Green Springs District Supervisor
To simply state there is a loss of trust in our elected officials, is such a gross understatement as to be almost laughable with the current state of affairs.
From D.C.with the lies,misinformation and blame-slinging during the 35-day federal government shutdown, to the growing turmoil in the General Assembly in Richmond, to our secret megasite, with its hidden agendas, grossly over exaggerated numbers and false claims, regional partners, and stunning reversal by our local board of supervisors, I think I speak for most people when I say, “we don’t trust you.”
And, there is little hope that we will trust you again as long as you remain in office. Don’t try to rationalize or explain, we don’t believe you.
Calling this a good business decision, as Supervisors Tommy Barlow and Willie Gentry did before reversing their previous votes, is a joke. If it was a good business decision, taxpayers would support it and someone would have already developed it. It’s only a “good” business decision if the county spends another $30 million to $40 million in tax dollars to provide water, sewage treatment and a gas line to the property, and a “good” industry moves here to accept our handout.
This land purchase just gives supervisors a chance to throw more good money after bad, our tax money, to expand on their already bad mistake, the James River water line, still not providing one drop of water to Louisa County. And, the board will only allow the water for industry, none to single family housing? We know we can’t trust you to keep that promise either.
In a sad, ironic twist, last Sunday’s Richmond Times Dispatch contained an article with the headline, “Industrial megasites sit empty in Virginia despite hefty spending.” Speakers have been mentioning that unfortunate little fact to the board since this secret plan was outed. Megasites sit empty all over Virginia. To megasite proponents it’s because Virginia hasn’t spent enough tax money, $100 million in Virginia so far, to get sites ready or made incentives, tax breaks and other giveaways, large enough to the biggest, richest corporations in the world.
In reality, megasites aren’t coming because industry isn’t building them. Times have changed. Our planners, in secret, have been looking backwards into the past for solutions for our future.
Want confirmation we can’t trust them, check the numbers their consultants came up with for this megasite. In four years, unknown industries will be spending $200 million a year in Louisa and will spend that much every year for the next 15 years. And, that $200 million a year is the low estimate Mangum Consultants came up with, but admit, often, they could be wrong. Could be wrong, that we believe.
One thing the board can trust, the whole county is still watching, closely, unlike Supervisor Bob Babyok’s lie that only a handful of site locals are opposed. Trust that, because we know we can’t trust you.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 31st edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
I was very disappointed to see the misleading cartoon on your Jan. 17 editorial page. The cartoon falsely implies that Congresswoman Pelosi ignored government workers while on vacation in Hawaii.
What the cartoon does not say is that Pelosi’s trip occurred before she was Speaker of the House. It ignores the fact that, at that time, she had no authority to bring legislation before the House for a vote. There is no mention of the multiple bills she did pass in the House after she became Speaker that would have reopened the government, but that these bills were never brought to the floor of the Senate for a vote by Senator McConnell.
At the same time, it also ignores the role of President Trump in causing the shutdown with no mention of how he flip-flopped and suddenly rejected a compromise he had previously said he would accept.
In short, the cartoon completely misrepresents the cause of the disastrous government shutdown that just ended.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 31st edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
At the last Louisa County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, before the vote to buy the land for the Regional Business Park, there was discussion about how to maintain the rural character of Louisa County. One member of the board referred to Zion Crossroads as a “lost cause,” meaning it was already ruined. It had to be ruined to preserve the rest of the county.
How much of the county do we have to resign to having “lost” in order to preserve the rest? Are Shannon Hill and Gum Spring to become “lost causes” as well?
The prevailing wisdom among our county staff and leadership appears to be that we do indeed have to follow this model in which part of the county has to be sacrificed to keep other (ever decreasing) parts rural.
There’s something wrong with this thinking.
We need to find another way. We need to think outside of the prevailing development models.
We need to find a way to make rural areas self-supporting rather than rely on despoiling one area for the benefit of another.
Raising taxes is one way. We need to find other ways. We know farming alone isn’t going to pay the bills.
Family-owned businesses making products that add value to agricultural products is another way. We have successful wineries and cider-makers. We have blacksmiths and compostmakers. We have cabinet-makers. I would be happy to live next door to any of these.
Let’s determine how many more such businesses it will take to support our schools and libraries and fire departments. Forty million dollars could go a long way to help our own Louisa citizens who dream of having their own businesses get the training and start-up capital they would need.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 31st edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
Last week, we remembered the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 90 years old this month. Now, more than ever, we must continue to drive out hate and work together to make this country and state a better place than we found it.
Our elected officials in the state legislature must advance economic and social justice through priorities including housing rights, voting rights and putting an end to the discriminatory and hate-based acts that have gripped our state.
As Bryan Stevenson writes, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” We must let this sentiment and Dr. King’s legacy be our guiding compass for the difficult days ahead.
I will keep fighting to ensure that the voices of the depressed do not stay silent and instead address the inequalities that affect the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 31st edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
The hostage situation is over; the president has lifted the government shutdown. If this is a teachable moment, what have we learned? Probably one of the surprises is how vital public services are to the general health and welfare of the modern American society. Public safety systems were under significant stress and were beginning to break down, such as air traffic control. Even paperwork agencies need to run smoothly in the modern world. An example is the processing of tax returns—many people rely on that annual refund check. We thought we were talking about border security, only to find that the lack of people at their desks was stalling justice in the court system.
The shutdown exposed a new wrinkle in American governing practice. To make it look like the number of government employees is low, many offices depend on contractors. While government workers will receive their duly authorized pay, contractors apparently may not.
That realization was why Jon Russell’s Jan. 13 column, “How to survive the government shutdown,” left me cold. Not only did he dismiss federal government services, Jon felt it necessary to demonstrate a condescending attitude toward federal employees. He writes, “...most people see Washington, D.C. as a place where the well-protected, beautiful people live on our dime.” Does he not know that the vast majority of federal employees and contractors are distributed in local communities all across America? There was no acknowledgement that air traffic controllers and TSA agents live right here in Culpeper.
We are talking about public servants who have mortgages, car payments, school expenses and health treatments that have to be postponed because a month’s pay has been delayed. Beautiful people? Who had to go to a food bank? Are public servants so disposable in Russell’s eyes that we should joke about a predicament from which American citizens have no means to protect themselves? I agree with Jon’s suggestion, however—next shutdown go to a local restaurant, but take a furloughed neighbor with you.
Editor’s Note: this letter originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’s permission.
For several decades, the Republican Party employed a very simple, yet effective approach to governance. Be obnoxious dicks, wrapping their dickitude in phony cloaks of concern and respectability. A mentality found at every level of governance; from the halls of Congress, to state legislative bodies, all the way down to local officials.
Something that the folks of Louisa County are familiar with after watching their Board of Supervisors resurrect a proposal for a “Business Park,” they voted against a few months ago.
Still, when it come to insufferable chutzpa, few things can top Dolt 45 proudly telling the world, “I’m gonna be a dick! I’m gonna be the biggest dick you ever saw! And I’m going to be so proud to be a dick that it’ll make me an even bigger one.” Knowing that every day that the government remained closed was another day Republicans could undermine our faith in government with disingenuous claims that “the government is the problem,” and “See? You didn’t need it.”
When in fact, government never was the problem, bad notions of governance, particularly ideologically based ones the Republican Party favors have always been the problem. Now that their shutdown is over and Republican controlled Senate and Dolt 45 have folded like cheap suits, their ability to spin their obstructionism with cheap platitudes became less creditable.
Of course, they will ignore this, throwing as much sand in the gears of government as humanly possible. For example, the House Intelligence Committee that our Congresswoman, Abigail Spanberger sits on can’t begin work until House Minority Leader Mike McCarthy selects the corresponding Republican Senate members. Since he has appointed Republican’s to virtually every other committee, except this one and the ones shown below, one has to ask what the holdup is?
Given his counterpart in the Senates role in prolonging the shutdown expect to see more “creative” obstructionism in the future.
With Virginia being the purplest of the five states holding elections this year, what happens in Commonwealth should indicate how the 2020 elections will unfold. More relevantly, whichever Party controls the House of Delegates and Senate after this year will be in the driver’s seat in establishing the States legislative boundaries during the 2020 redistricting process.
To illustrate the damage that such partisan gerrymandering has on the legislative process, look at what happened in Virginia after the 2010 redistricting. Where the subsequent 2011 state wide election saw Democrats lose 7 seats in the House of Delegates, and 4 seats in the Senate, with the Republican’s controlling both chambers and the Commonwealth’s legislative priorities from 2011 all the way to this years election.
That they were able to pass most of their donors, particularly Dominion Powers legislative priorities after the people of Virginia elected two consecutive Democratic Governors is a testament to the power of packing the General Assembly with partisan foot soldiers.
Beyond gerrymandering, one of the biggest reasons Republican’s why have been so successful in Virginia’s State legislative elections was because many seats, particularly in the House of Delegates went uncontested, and it’s a long term trend in the Commonwealth, and we are seeing it happen in other states as well.
And it’s something the people of Louisa County are quite familiar with after watching former Delegate Peter Farrell (56thHD) running unopposed in three consecutive elections.
If the results of Virginia’s elections in 2017, which saw the Democrats, turn a near Republican supermajority in the House of Delegates (66-34) into a 51-49 deficit is any indication Virginia’s voters are tired of politics as usual. The bad news is that Democrats will now have to hold most of the 15 seats they took in 2017, while picking up 2 additional seats.
The good news is that Democrats are favored to keep most of those seats, and assuming the court ordered redistricting takes place before the election, several more key Republican Delegates will be in danger of losing their seats.
While this begs the question of whether the General Assembly will ever allow a non-partisan independent panel to set those borders, and be allowed to submit their recommendations to the General Assembly for a straight yea/nay vote. It is safe to say that will never happen as long as the Republicans control either chamber of the General Assembly, and there are those willing to sacrifice principles for power.
Ordinarily, most voters little reason to pay attention to what happens in State elections outside of their district. Since these are not “normal” times, these graphics below highlight the seats the Democrats need to hold, as well as some of the most reprehensible Republican Delegates, many of which are long past their expiration date.
Which brings us to the 2018 Congressional election, which saw a 50-year high in voter turnout, and the Democrats taking 3 Congressional seats including, Abigail Spanberger knocking off the despised Dave Brat in the 7th CD.
With all 140 General Assembly seats on the ballot this year, both Party’s candidates are going to have their hands full, particularly since the 2017 House of Delegates elections came with a hefty price tag. With both sides burning millions more than in any other election over the past two decades. With roughly half of that going into the 15 races won by Democrats.
If the results of the 2017 House races were any indication, many of this years Senate races will also be trending blue.
Of particular interest to those folks living in the 7th CD, is the fact that the former Republican strongholds of Henrico and Chesterfield counties went heavily for Abigail Spanberger in her victory over Brat, and they encompass a large part of the 10th, 11th, and 12th Senate Districts.
Seats currently held by some of the Commonwealths worst politicians; Glen Sturtevant, “Church Lady” Amanda Chase, and Siobhan Dunnavant. The graphic below shows the most significant of these Senate races.
Virginia’s Republicans are keenly aware that in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election that “2017 was a wake-up call,” and are desperately doing whatever they can to keep 2019 from being a repeat of the past two years. With state races increasingly supported by out of district money around the country, Virginia’s Republican will have no problem on that front.
Support that starts with the Koch Brothers multi headed hydra, providing untraceable amounts of money laundered thru Freedom Partners. To front groups, like American’s for Prosperity, providing them with all the “political advocacy” and attack ads their candidates need. Finally, database services (i360), to assist them with targeting the “right” voters.
What is different about this year’s election is that this will be the first year Virginia’s Republicans test their latest tactic, one that starts with building their "bench" by running candidates for all of County Constitutional officer’s positions, the Board of Supervisors and the school board. I’ve heard through multiple unofficial sources, that this is happening in Louisa, Goochland, and Hanover counties, and I suspect in many other counties around the state.
While it’s illegal to run for School Board as a member of any Party, that hasn’t keep many clandestine Republicans from governing as unaffiliated “independents” in other counties, nor is it likely to stop the Party of “the illegal we do immediately, and the unconstitutional just takes longer” from doing the same in Louisa.
Even though our local paper, the Central Virginian, and indeed many other local/regional papers are content to dismiss this recent development off as “conspiracy theory,” it doesn’t change the fact that Duane Adams received unprecedented levels of support from State Party and parties unknown, during his 2017 campaign for the Mineral District Supervisors race.
Nor is any coincidence that we’ve seen a marked increase in pointless bickering over the course of the past two years on the Board of Supervisors over the broadband project, and now the Industrial Park. While many suspect that Supervisors Adams, Williams and Wade are orchestrating this ideological takeover of local government, proof is hard to come by.
And we’ve seen similar things happen in year’s past in Fluvanna, Hanover, Goochland and Chesterfield County’s. Whether these efforts to take over government at every level represents quantity over quality, or whether even the Koch Brothers have enough money to finance them remains to be seen.
What we have seen in the past few years is a marked increase in civic participation in Louisa County, and other counties around the state. Take Sara Gaborik, chairwoman of the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee, observation that “The energy and enthusiasm are there because people recognize local elections matter,” and “We’ve allowed the Board of Supervisors and School Board to do what they’ve been doing with no checks and balances. Now people are showing up to their meetings and monitoring everything they are doing.”
Plain and simple more community involvement in civic affairs leads to greater government accountability. While the Republicans general message appears to be “We’ve been running this county well for a long time – and if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.” Perhaps, but it's more likely that they haven’t made much if any effort to keep up with their communities values.
Kellen Squire who’s ran the 58th House District in 2017 noted at last weeks Indivisible Louisa meeting, that while Democrats don’t have as deep a bench as the Republicans, we do have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change that.
Given that this is an “off/odd election year” in Virginia, the biggest question for Democrats throughout the State is, will there be a drop off in turn out? Keep in mind that Democrats picked up 15 seats in 2017 largely because of a unprecedented surge of Democratic voters across the State, while Republican turnout didn’t appreciably change.
If we want to see all the progress we’ve made in the past few years continue, we're going to have to up our game in 2019. So make it your business to get out there and support your local and State candidate as well as candidates from surrounding jurisdictions. Otherwise, the Republicans will keep control of one or both chambers of the General Assembly.
“I am proud to shut down the government. I will take the mantle for this shutdown. I‘m not going to blame you for it,” President Donald Trump insisted to Democratic leaders at the White House on national television. It has been four weeks since one quarter of the Federal Government was shut down over the demand for a border wall—which Trump said throughout and after his campaign that Mexico would pay for—and there is no end in sight.
800,000 Federal employees are either on unpaid leave—to be reimbursed after the shutdown ends for no work performed—or they have been designated as “essential personnel” who must work without pay, and will be reimbursed when the government reopens. 50,000 additional personnel were called back this week to work without pay, joining others who have now missed their first paychecks, including many employed by TSA and the Coast Guard—trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages, rent, utilities, life insurance payments, credit card payments, and medical expenses.
Hundreds of thousands more federal contractors are off the job and will most likely not be able to recoup their missed paychecks. Garbage is uncollected and bathrooms are filthy at our national parks. There are long lines at airports. Tax refunds could be delayed. The federal government will likely owe interest penalties on late payments to contractors and to states if not paid on time.
Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, our new 7th District House Representative, pointed out in her op-ed Wednesday, Jan. 16, in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, that “we need to strengthen our national security in a long-term, comprehensive, and cost-effective manner. But we should be able to engage in these critical discussions without keeping the government closed.” She expanded on this following a meeting she attended with six other Democrats at the White House with President Trump Wednesday afternoon.
In mid-December, bipartisan House and Senate bills which Trump said he would sign were ready for the White House. The Senate bill was approved unanimously. But after commentators Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham of Fox News lambasted Trump for making concessions, he reversed course. Subsequently, the House has passed six bills with the same language as the Senate’s, but Republican majority leader McConnell has emasculated “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
Trump owns all of this. It’s Mueller time.
Editor’s Note: this letter originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’s permission.
The original Equal Rights Amendment was introduced into Congress in 1923. Here we are in 2019 still trying to get it added to the U.S. Constitution.
The original version died in Congress. A second version was introduced in 1972 and passed. Thirty-seven states have now ratified it. If thirty-eight states ratify the amendment, it will become part of the Constitution.
The ERA will be considered in the Virginia legislature in 2019. It would be an amazing step forward if Virginia becomes the state that takes the ERA over the finish line.
Some have argued over the years that the ERA is not necessary or will actually be harmful to women.
Is it necessary? A recent 2015 poll by the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality showed that 94 percent of Americans believe that the Constitution should guarantee equal rights for men and women, and 80 percent believe it is already there.
It is not there. No less a constitutional authority than Justice Antonin Scalia said that there is no protection against discrimination on the basis of sex in the Constitution.
Would the ERA harm women? There have been arguments over the years that women would be drafted and be forced to enter combat. Congress has always had the power to draft women into service and women are now serving voluntarily in combat areas. The Pentagon has recommended that women be included in the Selective Service Registration.
The Virginia legislature should take note that the vast majority of citizens support the inclusion of the ERA into the U.S. Constitution and ratify the amendment in the next legislative session.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 7th edition of the Free Lance Star, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the government being on shutdown. I’m tired of Washington not getting down to the business of governing. The shutdown hasn’t touched my life personally yet, but I know friends and neighbors who are either government employees or government contractors who have lost their salaries during the shutdown. They are using up their savings and struggling to pay the bills.
I’ve never been a fan of term limits, but I am rethinking that. If you can’t get the business of government done, you shouldn’t be there. And you shouldn’t be paid either. Our recently elected Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is doing the right thing by requesting her salary be withheld until the shutdown is over. More representatives in Congress and in the administration should do the same. They should refuse to be paid, or we should refuse to pay them, until they can do their job and keep the government open.
Abigail Spanberger campaigned on and brings to the table a sense of bipartisanship and an attitude of “Let’s get the job done.” She’s willing to work across the aisle to get things done for the people. She is even willing to challenge the leadership in her own party, as evidenced by her recent vote against Nancy Pelosi as speaker, a promise she made during her campaign. She has joined the Blue Dog Caucus in the house, which is known for coming up with bipartisan solutions that can get votes from both sides of the aisle, and get bills passed.
Spanberger also brings some much needed experience and oversight to our national security. Her years working in the Central Intelligence Agency and having been deployed abroad as an agent gives her a realistic perspective on many of the situations we read about in the papers or see on television. You have to admit, we need some experienced folks overseeing some of the crazy things that our present administration is doing.
Under this administration, we have given up our role as a world leader in trade, diplomacy and the military. We have cast aside our traditional allies, calling them adversaries instead. We are in uncharted waters with an inexperienced and erratic president and, frankly, our national security is at risk. We need some experienced folks like Spanberger to help evaluate and help chart our course forward on national security.
Another quality Spanberger brings to the table is her perspective as a woman, a wife and a mother. The more different points of view we have looking at the issues, the better and more sustainable our solutions to problems will be. Corporate and labor research has born this out over and over again.
Abigail Spanberger went to Washington to get things done, to solve problems, regardless of which party the solutions come from. If if works and gets the job done, act on it and get it passed. That’s her approach.
First order of business, reopen the Government and get back to doing the work of the people. We need the US Government open for business again.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 10th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
Delegate John McGuire came to Louisa recently to meet with constituents. I went to thank him both for taking time to come to Louisa and his work on the bipartisan Equal Rights Amendment last year. Not only did he support the ERA, but he cosponsored it.
I wondered why he has not signed on for the 2019 session, and was dismayed when Mr. McGuire claimed he had been “tricked” into cosponsoring. When asked what his hesitation might be, he said that it was already in the Constitution. This is not true, as there would be no reason to seek an amendment.
Many believe gender equality was passed in the 1970s, but it wasn’t. The ERA was first proposed in 1923 and passed by Congress in 1972. Thirty-eight states are required to pass it to be added to the Constitution. By 1982, 35 states had passed it. In March 2017, Nevada became the 36th and in May 2018, Illinois became the 37th.
Virginia could make history by becoming the 38th and last state. The upcoming legislative session marks the 400th anniversary of the House of Burgesses’ first session in Jamestown. What an opportune time for Virginia to continue to make history.
The Commonwealth has a poor record of validating women’s rights. While the 19th amendment was passed in 1920 and gave women the right to vote, the Virginia General Assembly stubbornly withheld its ratification until 1952. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 allowed women to open a bank account in their own name, get a credit card and apply for a loan. That was not that long ago. Now is a great time for our Commonwealth to support more than half of its population. More than 50 percent of Virginians are females, while 49.2 percent are males.
There is currently a patchwork of state and federal laws across the United States which could be simplified by passing the ERA. The late U.S. Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia said, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
We should respect the opinion of this conservative jurist and constitutional scholar, and end discrimination against women in our country. Additionally the American Bar Association, which represents over 400,000 attorneys, has urged the Virginia General Assembly to pass this legislation. They too would like to see discrimination ended in all 50 states.
The ERA simply reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This seems straightforward enough.
It is time to end the legal disparities between men and women. Let’s make history. The time is now. If you believe in equality, contact Mr. McGuire and let him know that you want him to flip back to support the ERA. For Louisa, for the 56th district, for our Commonwealth and for our country, urge Mr. McGuire to recognize women as full citizens deserving of equal rights under all laws.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the January 10th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
I don’t know what they teach in the school system anymore, but I do remember that they used to teach things like history, civics, and government. Good things to know. It’s not something we’re aware of on a daily basis anymore – in spite of the news accounts being broadcast daily – but these are things that affect our lives more than we realize or even want to admit. For those who remember, as well as those who only have a vague memory, of the branches of government and how they work, we should be paying closer attention to how dysfunctional they are in circa 2018.
For the past two years, the Executive Branch has been in the state of chaos that it created, and which has never been equaled in this country, with all signs pointing to a pursuit for the kind of power only available in Third World countries subjugated by petty dictators. The Legislative Branch is paralyzed by the dictates of ideology from a party corrupted by the influence of funds from Super PACs that have worked for decades to get the largest Return On Investment for the contributions from the wealthy and corporations. The Judicial Branch, relatively benign, has been infiltrated by Justices who, slowly but increasingly, view the rights of individuals as an impediment to the maneuverings of Big Business and the wealthy.
For those who remember their civics classes, or are somehow aware, these three branches of government are supposed to provide checks and balances to ensure that the powers of no single branch becomes excessive.
Circa 2018, how well is that working?
The answer speaks for itself every day that we read or listen to the news: local, state, national, and international.
We get mocked by the Executive Branch for being, somehow, different.
We get ignored by the Legislative Branch, especially those who have “other” commitments. We get slowly battered by an anachronistic thinking Judicial Branch.
The three branches of government haven’t been able to cooperate and work together for the best interest of the general public. Why should that be so difficult? Maybe it’s because no one told us we should be counting to four branches of government instead of just three. The fourth branch of government has been idle and secretly tucked away to make sure it doesn’t take away, or interferes, with the powers of the other three – because it can.
That fourth branch of government is WE, US, THE GOVERNED, THE PUBLIC.
WE FORGOT ABOUT US!!!
Thomas Jefferson wrote that “a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.” With all the means of communication available to us in the times of modern technology – that includes radio, television, cellphones, internet, and personal computers – what are we really informed about? In general, the public seems to pay more attention to the “fantastic” and leaves behind the boring details of reality. And, the reality is that we have successfully allowed the other branches of government to do as they please, at least, whatever they think they can get away with.
Our civics lessons, if we had any, have been forgotten or ignored. Those lessons talked about engaging in “dangerous” activities – participating in government. Specifically, the greatest power the people have comes from the 1st Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This very important quote, about redress of grievances, has technically been complied with by politicians and government administrators. We should take a close look to see how this right has been subverted, especially how it relates to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Our public officials and the well-paid lobbyists have formed a unique partnership that, de facto, restricts the access and visibility of the electorate. Regardless of the level of government, there are some remaining “opportunities” provided – by the government and administrators – for the public to make comments about legislation, regulations, public projects, or private projects subsidized by the government. Before any topics are presented for final approval, there have been monetary expenditures by large business interests – for their lobbyists and in performing studies – to evangelize the appropriate politicians and present only their interests to the public as being beneficial. The lobbying puts the priorities of the business entity over those of the public interest. Presentations are compiled after months or years of effort into voluminous documents containing the jargon of the industry, creating tomes that confound even the most intelligent of English speaking people and the “validity” of those presentations cannot be questioned because of the price tag. We, the public, aren’t funded in the same way as business and have little influence to the decision process. These seeming “opportunities” are, in fact, limitations to the discourse of the public with our elected officials.
We, the public, don’t get to lobby.
Yet, when it comes time for public comments, the playing field isn’t level. It never is. The public – the one that pays for an expensive project and suffers the consequences of its failure – is relegated to a position of minimal impact in trying to “redress grievances” if it can. Any individual member of the public is prevented from interfering with the goals of a government or a bureaucracy intent on pursuing its own objectives. The contribution of a single individual – whether simply concerned, informed, or a subject matter expert – is ignored only because of the dollar value of the project and the trivialization of the individual. How does a single citizen measure up against the combined forces of government, bureaucracy, and business? Or, how do the forces of government, bureaucracy, and business resist against the combined of efforts of a well-informed electorate?
And still, the need to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” remains without an adequate response because there is no real answer forthcoming. There isn’t time allowed in the system for such frivolities. That “petition” is intentionally stagnated as if Franz Kafka retrieved it from “The Castle” and updated it to the present.
Another arbitrary restriction foisted onto the public is the definition of “peaceably” as it relates to assembly of “the people.” With the backdrop of British subjugation centuries ago and the American Revolution, avoiding violence was a significant motive for advocating discussion over armed resistance. As time went by, and technology – radio, television, and internet – began to increasingly interfere with the normal communication between the public and government, it became easier to mistake listening to a medium as a substitute for participation in the government process. It also became easier for the government to manipulate the process for administration without the bother of objections from a public unaware that those restrictions are imposed as an arbitrary default mechanism. After all, we did see it on the news from our couch, which seems to be the only place most of us “peaceably” assemble and avoid offending the officials who are supposed to be working for us and our best interest.
Where is the Fourth Branch of Government now? Slowly, over time, it’s been fractured and factioned. We have become invisible – sometimes annoying to our elected officials. Many traditional special interest groups have wrongly and greedily concluded that their own survival is threatened when someone else wants the same liberties and benefits. What is misconstrued and manipulated is the fact that those liberties and benefits are available to all and have been denied or taken from others. The Fourth Branch of Government has been lulled into a state of being comatose shortly after atrophy replaced critical thinking, dialogue, and active participation. Why do we think that someone else knows what we want better than we do? If a complete stranger approached us on the street to offer advice, we wouldn’t listen. How significantly different is the public official from the stranger? There are too many people and their interactions for the intimacy of trust to be granted without a watchful eye.
We can easily point the blame to anyone else – the current operational model from the Executive Branch – but that does nothing if we ignore the whole picture. By ignoring, we fail to see how all the pieces fit and work together – or not fit and work together in too many cases. And if we’re real clever and are able to discern all the dysfunctions we see before our eyes, then we’ll be able to understand the words of Pogo, the Great Swamp Philosopher:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The weapons used against us are: propaganda, deceit, influence, diversion, and fear. And those weapons are effective, each in its own way. A simple sleight of hand. Keep the spotlight on a different subject. And while the spotlight draws attention, we’re left in the dark. We’re presented with false choices that have nothing to do with an issue. An example of that tactic was recently demonstrated by an outgoing Republican Congressional Representative when asked about environmental pollution. His arrogance was in full display when he responded, “Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be poor?” This is not a choice – this is about living healthy lives. We’re offered limited choices by our elected officials when they’re supposed to act on our behalf. Whether intentional, or not, all the facts and options aren’t always made available for public scrutiny. The result is a decision guided for us that’s not always directed to our wants and needs.
It shouldn’t be too late to use the information we have – while we still have any – and combat the attempts to keep us ignorant.
“We have the vote!” you say.
But we only use that vote during the election cycle. In addition to the vote, we need a voice. The vote isn’t always loud enough or in time.
There are two other excellent tools we should have for our use to make politicians accountable, and they’ve been hidden from us.
Recall and Referendum: On Demand!!
On Demand, so we don’t have to wait an election cycle while unnecessary abuses and corruption accumulate.
On Demand, so we control our own destiny instead of abdicating that power to a few who can have different motives.
On Demand Recall, to rid ourselves of corrupt, inept, unresponsive officials.
On Demand Referendum, to pass the laws we, the public, want or to repeal those that serve no useful purpose other than taking up space in the legislative archives.
This is no great epiphany for me. It’s not a revelation of any kind. It’s simply a matter or realizing that our freedoms have been under constant attack without any rational response in any practical way for past decades. There is a precedent for thinking about these things and if all of us don’t recognize the source of the following words, then we’re truly dysfunctional as the most important branch of the government and can simply return to our miserable non-existence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Editor’s Note: This op-ed originally appeared in Richmond2Day, and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
It is always proper to reflect at the end of the year, by remembering the heroes and the events that were singularly outstanding. The funerals of Senator John McCain and President George H. W. Bush highlighted their values, many of which are being tossed aside today.
Vice President Biden eulogized McCain as a hero whose character, courage, honor, integrity, and even his understated optimism were integral to his being. “He loved basic values: fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding Americans were part of something much bigger than ourselves.”
In the Senate, Biden said McCain saw friendships and worthy opponents and was not into using party membership as a tripwire to shun another human being, let alone representatives of voting citizens. President Obama added in his remarks that “when John spoke of virtues like service and valor, they weren’t just words to him, it was a truth that he had lived and for which he was prepared to die.” McCain’s commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and to the dignity of every human being, was part of his core.
At his now-famous 2008 town hall meeting, McCain tried to allay fear—he said Obama “is a decent person and a person you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States,” and politely scolded a woman who repeated the Republican trope about birtherism by saying, “No ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen, and I just happen to disagree with him on fundamental issues.”
President Bush was another Navy combat aviator whose experiences led him to commit himself to public service. From the rigors of combat in the Pacific, to the House of Representatives, ambassador to the UN, director of the CIA, and as vice president, Bush was the quintessential public servant.
At the funeral, historian Jon Meacham described Bush as “America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th-century founding father. He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of Washington and of Adams, of TR and of FDR, of Truman and of Eisenhower, of men who believed in causes larger than themselves.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney said of Bush that “every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute, and brave.”
Bush’s son, George W., concluded with the same themes: “He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.” Bush added that historians will say his father was “a diplomat of unmatched skill, a Commander in Chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.”
In today’s America there is little room for optimism as we mourn men of character like Senator McCain and President Bush. With these funerals and eulogies behind us, we see more clearly than ever that in President Trump’s world, rawness, crudeness, and shunning are more acceptable. We knew that before the government shutdown, before the Mueller investigation, before the Trump charity was shuttered, before the Defense Secretary resigned in protest, decrying America’s walking away from its allies, friends, and those who thought America would protect them.
We knew that before tweets substituted for knowledgeable position papers. We even see it at the local level where the Culpeper Republicans censured two elected state senators for working in a bipartisan manner. Bipartisanship has become evil. The thrust of politics has become the maintenance of ideological purity, ignoring the needs and wishes of We The People.
Editor’s Note: this originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.
Something is not right at the Mineral Post Office!
The Louisa County Democratic Party has had the same post office box at the Mineral Post Office for many years. I generally check our box a couple times per week. We do not receive a large volume of mail, but the first of the month is our high volume period— bank statements, donation checks, etc.
On Nov. 9, I checked the box for the third time that week, and when we still hadn’t received any mail, I decided to talk with the clerk.
I went inside and talked to the clerk and she went to check. She came and told me our box had been closed. I asked why, and she said she did not know, but asked if we had paid our rental fee. I said yes, and another clerk checked the computer list verifying we were paid through March 2019.
I asked who had closed the box, and they said they did not know, as any clerk could have physically closed (blocked) it. I asked when the box was closed. They said they had no way of knowing.
I asked why they didn’t put a notice in the box before it was closed so we (or any renter) would know there was an issue. They had no answer.
I asked where our mail is and they said they were supposed to hold it for 10 days before returning it, but they didn’t know when the box was closed, so they did not know if it had been returned or not.
I asked to speak to the postmaster and I was told he was would return next week.
On Nov. 13, I met with Mineral Postmaster Blain Crickenberger. He admitted our post office box should never have been closed. When asked who closed the box, he said he did not know, as he did not have any one person designated as responsible for post office boxes. Note: The Louisa post office has one employee designated in-charge of post office boxes.
I asked about closure notices, and he admitted we should have received several closure notices starting a month before the box was closed. Note: I learned later they are supposed to provide three notices over four weeks before closing the box.
I asked where our mail was, and he said it should be at the post office, but he did not know where it was. Postmaster Crickenberger commented that this was just some screwup and he would look into it.
For us, this seems to be much more than just a simple screw-up. There appears to be no procedures in place to control and/or monitor postal box activities, our checks and our missing mail have still not been recovered, and the fact this happened during the run-up to a very contentious election adds another level of intrigue.
Your guess is as good as ours as to what actually happened.
We have referred this to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service for investigation.
As I said at the beginning, Something is not right at the Mineral Post Office!
Chairman, Louisa Democratic Committee
Editor's Note: this letter originally appeared in the December 20th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
In addition, the CV printed an article about this in their December 20th issue, and it is summarized here: Blain Crickenberger, the Mineral postmaster, described the closing as “a simple mistake.” Saying that he still does not know which of his 19 full- and part-time employees closed the box, and that “I’ll probably assign it to one individual [now],”
No one other than the Democratic Committee has complained to the post office that their box was closed without their knowledge, Crickenberger said.
An employee at the Bumpass post office, which has four full-time and two part time staff, said that depending on who’s available, two to three workers handle their post office boxes. And Chris Lloyd, an employee at the Louisa post office, said renters there receive two written notices before a box is blocked. As a courtesy, they hold mail for a period of time after a box is blocked to give the renter a chance to pay what is due.
Schatz said he didn’t know how much mail that should have been delivered wasn’t. Three donors who had mailed checks to the committee had to re-send them because they were never received, Schatz said.
Pete Brown, a special agent for the inspector general in Richmond, said the complaint was likely referred to post office management. It could come back to his agency if there is any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, such as mail tampering.
Well…the U.S. is in a trade war with China. But if the U.S. complaint is about Chinese subsidies for state-backed enterprises, overcapacity in steel and other basic industries, and on the practice of forcing investors to hand over valuable technology, why are Culpeper soybean farmers being punished?
America is a vast continental economy that produces a multitude of goods and services. Post-war WWII trade agreements focused on creating opportunities for free trade and market access. Trade disputes are not uncommon as one economy adjusts to its role in the world and seeks a balance of accommodations from its trading partners. Usually delegations meet back and forth and over time reach those negotiated accommodations.
These days, however, America is playing its hand differently. Rather than enter negotiations, the current administration started out by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. This blunt tactic is an unusual way to start negotiations, it is is equivalent to a union calling a strike and shutting the plant down, before negotiations begin.
This blundering tactic took everyone by surprise. Confusion continues as presidential tweets mischaracterize the role of tariffs and who pays. As we learned in Economics 101, a U.S tariff is a tax on the U.S. economy. It raises the price of all the parts used to make a product. In a free enterprise economy, all businesses are cost sensitive. Hence, steel users such as Harley-Davison and General Motors reacted in a manner that any economist could predict. They moved to offset the tariffs’ new costs by announcing they would move production to a location with cheaper material and labor costs, or close plants.
A student of an International Relations 101 class could predict China’s initial response. Seeing the tariff move as heavy handed and heading an economy that is the second largest GNP in the world, it is difficult to see that China would just knuckle under. Its vast holding of U.S. Treasury Bills would also give it confidence to resist. Academic observers note that the list of U.S. demands and deadline presented to China at Buenos Aires read like the terms for a surrender rather than a basis for negotiation.
The Chinese leadership also could take confidence in the response of the American stock market. Earlier this week when the administration announced a Buenos Aires agreement, the American stock market soared. Later in the week when it was realized that Trump’s assertions of success were lies, the stock market fell 800 points.
China responded to the blunt U.S. move by instituting its own tariffs. But for Culpeper, the Chinese soybean tariffs are key. American farmers sold more than $12 billion worth of soybeans to China last year, the world’s largest buyer of soybeans.
From the perspective of a Culpeper soybean producer, the trade war with China has depressed prices, because there is now considerable stock that can’t be sold. Farmers are looking at loans they assumed under a steady market. Storing the harvest requires money and capacity for silage. There is limited silo capacity in Culpeper, so crops will need to be stored in the open, on the ground. There will be spoilage. The Nebraska farm bureau reports losses of $1 billion so far. Farmers shouldn’t be victims of government-caused market disruptions. The government should let free enterprise work.
We often think of the high pursuit of diplomacy as something that happens over the horizon. Rarely do we think foreign policy could jeopardize the family farm. The stakes in the trade war between China and the United States could be that serious, and that local.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’ permission.
Those of you who have been following the commentary in Blue Louisa from members of the Culpeper Dems, Mike McClary and Dave Reuther know that their op-ed’s are also printed in the Culpeper Star Exponent.
What you may not know is that up until the tail end of last year, the Star Exponent also printed Dr. Tom Neviaser’s far right batshit crazy screeds. Long story short, after one of the editors questioned the accuracy of his claims, he walked off in a huff.
At least until last month, where he took his act to the Culpeper Times, part of the insidenova chain of local weekly papers. While the screenshot below of last months op-ed is relatively tame compared to his previous rants in the CSE, the quantity of disjointed RW talking points crammed into such a short op-ed is worth noting.
In response, Dave Reuther penned this letter to the editor, which appeared in this week’s issue.
A letter that the Culpeper Times chose to title “Spanberger shouldn’t copy Republican tactics.” Whether their choice represents an attempt to drum up reader interest, or is a ham-fisted to attempt to negate the letters content is immaterial.
What is relevant is that such actions represent one of modern journalism's deadly sins; the promotion of false equivalencies. By reprising Dr. Neviaser’s “As I See It” column, and not challenging his claims before they are printed, the Culpeper Times is effectively giving his serial falsehoods credence.
And there will be at best, a limited response to such deceptive op-eds given most local papers strict word limitations. Something the Central Virginians readers are quite familiar with, where year’s worth of far right syndicated content are seldom commented on.
The danger of such systemic habituation, like a frog in a pot of water slowly brought to a boil, is how effectively it serves to normalize extreme ideas, to where few will even remember why X, Y or Z was such a bad idea to begin with.
Another dubious practice is the reflexive presumption that there are always two sides to any issue, one which assumes that both sides are; A) equally valid and B) are arguing in good faith. Like their coverage of the October Brat/Spanberger debate.
Clearly many of the thing’s Brat said during that debate were; inflammatory, misleading, or flat out lies. Other than pointing out his Tourettes like repetition of Nancy Peloisi, there was little mention of the veracity of his other claims, or Spanberger’s for that matter.
If one didn’t watch a video of the debate, it would have been easy to think that based on what they read, particularly in the smaller local papers, that this debate was accurately reported. When in reality, both the Culpeper Times and the Central Virginian’s coverage of the debate were heavy on the factoids, and light on critical commentary.
A journalistic malpractice which allows disingenuous extremists like Brat, Bryce Reeves, and John McGuire, to say almost anything, without any meaningful response from the local community.
So how comfortable is that warm water feeling now?
Dave Reuther and Jon Taylor
Many of Blue Louisa’s readers will recall how after redrawing of legislative boundaries in 2011 that Republicans gained enough seats for a supermajority in the House, and a tie in the Senate, and how only one out of 140 seats changed hands after the 2015 election.
What they may not know is just how badly such partisan gerrymandering distorts the outcome of state elections. By any standard, the outcome of Virginia’s 2015 election was a statistical outlier, one that far exceeds historical averages of 97% of incumbents being re-elected.
For example, during this year’s election, Democrats in Wisconsin out voted Republicans statewide by 8%, yet won 28% fewer seats.
Even with this years “blue wave,” which saw Democrats retake the House in Congress there remains a persistent pattern of “underperformance” in Republican controlled states.
What makes this practice so insidious is that legislators in “safe’ seats are effectively insulated from any pressure from, or need to respond to their constituents. Moreover, for most of this decade, Virginia’s Republican controlled General Assembly has done what ever their donors, particularly Dominion Power wants.
Even after losing the Governors mansion in 2013, they continued to browbeat successive Democratic administrations into submission. Now that they face losing both chambers, they will do whatever is necessary to maintain that power, supported by Speaker Cox’s Colonial Leadership Trust PAC, a host of national PAC’s, and unknown quantities of mystery money.
Next year, Virginia will be the purplest of the states holding “off year” elections, what happens in the Commonwealth will be a strong indication of how the 2020 elections will go. Considering that the state Democratic Party spent a lion’s share of their resources retaking 15 seats in the House last year, if they are to retake the General Assembly, it is critical that the national Party support their candidates.
The best chances of retaking the Senate are in three districts adjacent to and within the 7th Congressional District, where Democrat Abigail Spanberger’s victory over Dave Brat was their first in 48 years. The same electoral calculus, which propelled Spanberger to success in Henrico and Chesterfield County’s will continue to be a significant factor in 10th, 11th, and 12th Senate District races, where three extreme incumbents; Sturtevant, Dunnavant, and Chase hold those seats.
While with the exception of outlying parts of Fredericksburg, Bryce Reeves 17th Senate district is mostly rural, as is 56th District Delegate, John McGuire. Fortunately, neither McGuire nor Reeves will be able to conduct business as usual next year.
Especially after what happened to soon to be former Congressman, Dave Brat it should be clear that limiting their public interactions to “members only” meetings, and group clown halls is a loosing strategy.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether in the face of this challenge to their authority, if the Republican controlled General Assembly is capable of maintaining their genteel “Virginia Way” facade, or if they will attempt to retain power regardless of the elections results as we’ve seen recently in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina.
On November 19, 2018, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors held its regular scheduled meeting, which is open to the public for comments. The main topic of concern was the vote for investing taxpayer dollars into the development of an industrial park in the Shannon Hill area of Louisa County. As expected, there was a large public turnout to voice opposition to this form of development. The public comments were contentious with unanimous disapproval to continuing the project. The question was asked and no Louisa County citizen indicated support for this funding.
The due diligence reports were concluded and the financial aspect did not adequately support economic expansion of the type that was proposed. With so much public animosity displayed against this venture and the lack of financial justification, you have to wonder why the Board of Supervisors was split 3 to 3 on the vote to continue this development. As it finally, turned out, the Board voted to defeat the expansion and the wish of the citizens was granted. But why should there have been so much controversy and angst to overcome in the first place?
While participating in this endeavor I also took great pains to make sure that I observed and understood as much as possible. I learned a number of things – some unsurprising and some disturbing. A retrospective of events, even regular and seemingly insignificant, is always a good idea before setting out to repeat the same mistakes. My personal retrospective follows the chronology, which may be a better way to explain the progression.
Louisa County Procurement Process Needs Significant Improvement
In the business world there are assorted Good Business Practices or Good Management Practices, which don’t preclude implementation by government agencies whether federal state, or local. Procuring goods and services by the Louisa County Administration has to be performed, keeping in mind the best interest of the citizens of the County. Getting information to help with a decision about how to spend millions of taxpayer dollars requires more scrutiny and insight than what was available for the Shannon Hill Expansion; something that should have been done with better effectiveness. Below are the missing components from an effective process for the procurement of services in Louisa County.
This isn’t a complete list of missing components that should have been resolved with a documented procurement process, but it should be evident that there are a number of things that would work better if some Good Business Practices were known and implemented.
Louisa County Evaluation Of Due Diligence Report For Deciding The Development Project
One specific report that was anxiously waited for was the Economic Due Diligence Report. This is a 49 page document that became available approximately November 8, 2018. The next time the topic would come up for discussion would be at the November 19, 2018 Board of Supervisors meeting, which would be open to the public for comments. Given the amount of time available – from receiving the Due Diligence Report, to reviewing it, to understanding it, and preparing for the meeting – these steps were challenging.
That challenge would be enough for the members of the Board to read and understand by the November 19 meeting, but the public was especially disadvantaged because it didn’t know when the report was available, where it would be posted, and in most cases would be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with trying to read and understand a relatively complex technical document on short notice. Even the elected officials on the Board must’ve had some difficulty because none addressed any of the report’s critical findings listed below.
Public Comments About The Megasite Were Stifled
The claim that public comments are stifled is real, in fact, it becomes more obvious by examining events and the process of public meetings. If you ask about what constitutional right voters exercise by attending public meetings, most would guess the answer is the 1st Amendment of Freedom of Speech. That answer is anecdotal without the formality of a valid survey. There appears to be one part of the 1stAmendment that often gets forgotten, maybe because it doesn’t sound as dramatic: “… petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Members of the Board of Supervisors frequently make comments that sometimes sound critical – that the public should participate more than it does. This invitation sometimes sounds more like an admonishment than a welcome, but it’s true, the public should play a larger role in how it’s governed. There should be more thought to determine why there may be little public participation and more work in solving how to solicit larger public involvement.
Lead time for review and comprehension of documents is too short
As mentioned previously, the Due Diligence Report became available approximately November 8 with an expected Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for November 19. The next Board meeting would be December 3 because of a December 4 deadline for committing to continue the project. Given the length and technical nature of the report it is unreasonable to assume that the pubic, in general, has the experience with reading and understanding the content within the timeframe and still comment about the flaws and any possible merits with any comfortable degree of confidence. This would even be a daunting task for the Board members, which may well have been, since there was little discussion about the Critical Findings that invalidate the basis for funding the Megasite. The most significant finding is the report author’s disclaimer about using the report to make a decision based on the report.
With the report written the way it was, it inherently discourages those without the background to analyze the information. Reports of this kind should include a section written specifically for the general public using layman terms.
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” – attributed to Albert Einstein
Limited public speaking time
The right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” implies that the Freedom of Speech is not abridged in a way that would impact that petition. For some people, 3 minutes is insufficient to express and explain the specific nature of a grievance especially with information is presented with the complexity of the Due Diligence Report. The problem is aggravated by the short time between receiving the report and appearing at the public meeting. The problem may be further exacerbated by invoking parliamentary rules, such as, Robert’s Rules of Order, or similar restrictions. The formal rules of order may be necessary for a small group of public servants but this imposes an unfamiliar burden on an unsuspecting public. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some “Rules of Engagement” but those should be clear, understandable, and unintimidating. Some parliamentary procedures are intended to facilitate discussion, but discussion is limited with a format that doesn’t allow for an immediate exchange of ideas and rebuttals.
Rationale is missing for decisions
During the public meetings, it appeared that the Board of Supervisors had expectations for the public to present its case against the Megasite without emotions. Because it is the “public,” that could very well be an unreasonable expectation. People get emotional about increased traffic, destroying scenery, interruptions in livelihood, and a whole host of even “tiny” assaults on lifestyle.
That’s the public!
That’s the voting public!!
In some sense, the process of public meetings and decision making should be treated along the lines of due process. Advocacy, for or against the Megasite, needs clear and adequate rationale to justify decisions on behalf of the public. A simple “Yes” or “No” doesn’t do that because there’s no indication that our elected representatives even understand the issues well enough to make a decision, one way or the other. Without including a discussion of why the vote was made, there’s little confidence the voter can have about the capability of its elected representatives.
In many ways, the Board of Supervisors owes the voting public more than just a public meeting to be heard. The voting public needs to be listened to. Comments from some of the members of the Board of Supervisors indicted that the hearing part functions much better than the listening part. That perception is enhanced again when some members of the Board claim that if the voters are unhappy with a decision, that member can be voted out in the next election. After some research, it appears that Virginia is one of two states that have a legislative recall mechanism for elected state and local officials.
All the above represents what I observed and what I concluded, mostly about the interactions between the public and the officials that were elected to represent it. Looking at this from a communication point of view, the picture is dismal, but it can be shored up with outreach by the Board of Supervisors that would hopefully lead to more interest and enthusiasm by the public. The occasional high-emotion motivator, like the Megasite, could be avoided with long-term consistent involvement by the public, and a Board of Supervisors that focuses on soliciting what the public wants rather than assuming that it can determine what the public needs. With the right discussion methods in place, the public can be satisfied and the Board of Supervisors can make its own work easier.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in Richmond2Day, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
Editor’s commentary: Transparency has never one of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors priorities, who IMHO value getting along to go along above all else, even if it means getting nothing done.
And after what would be a humbling experience for most, it remains to be seen if they are capable of learning, or will they continue to govern along the path of least resistance? And will we see even more extreme candidates, like Williams and Adams emerge next year?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.