Sunday, May 31, 2009

23rd House of Delegates District Republican Primary Profile: Jeff Helgeson vs. Scott Garrett

The Lynchburg News Advance has done candidate profiles for both GOP Primary Candidates in the 23rd House of Delegates District. Financial Advisor, Jeff Helgeson, has much closer ties to Liberty University and has received money from Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Campbell Co.). Retired Surgeon, Scott Garrett, is the least conservative of the two but has strong ties to the Lynchburg community.

The News Advance has also done a rundown of how both have voted on some of the most controversial issues over the last few years. The winner of the June 9th Primary will face Delegate Shannon Valentine (D-Lynchburg). This seat was held by former Delegate and current Kaine Administration Official Preston Bryant (R-Lynchburg). This is one of the seats that the Democratic Party has to hold if they are going to get the six seat needed to regain control of the House of Delegates.

GOP Statewide Ticket doesn't get much more conservative than McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli

While it was a foregone conclusion that Bob McDonnell was going to be the nominee for Governor and Bill Bolling was probably going to repeat as the Lt. Governor nominee, the Virginia GOP rounded out the ticket with social conservative "Grand Stander" Ken Cuccinelli (The Cooch!). This is one of the most conservative statewide tickets that I can recall or know about.

When you are a political party devoid of ideas, solutions, and takes their marching orders and campaign strategy from the likes of Liberty University and Regent, you revert back to your true nature.

I think that Steve Shannon will do quite nicely against the Cooch. Now we just have to wait and see how the rest of the Democratic ticket shakes out on June 9th.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Virginia GOP holding their Convention this weekend but which version of the GOP will emerge?

The last statewide win the Virginia GOP has savored, besides George W. Bush winning Virginia in 2004, was Senator John Warner in 2002. The GOP hasn’t even sniffed the Governor’s Mansion since 2001, with the exception for meetings with Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine over coffee and doughnuts. To say the Virginia GOP is hungry to regain Governorship would be an understatement.

The Virginia GOP has continued to see their huge majority in the House of Delegates shrink to where the Democrats now need six seats to regain control. They have lost their majority of the State Senate, lost both U.S. Senate seats to the Democrats and to top everything off, Virginia went for a Democratic Presidential candidate for the first time since 1964 and Democrats now have six of the eleven U.S. House seats.

If these were normal times (whatever those might be), the political wisdom and the law of averages would point to a GOP victory in November. Due to the financial crisis and the recession, on top of bitter in-fighting and a growing perception that the GOP is the political party of exclusion and old white guys, they will be lucky to hold onto any of their current House of Delegate seats. The question becomes, can the Virginia GOP stop the hemorrhaging of their base and stay a viable political party in Virginia?

The Republican Party as a whole is a far cry from being the Party of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or even Eisenhower. The GOP has shifted so far to the right that it is safe to say that they have now become what they labeled and assailed Democrats as, completely out of touch and out of the mainstream of American Values. The voices of reason in the GOP have virtually been drowned out by the voices of intolerance like Rush Limbaugh, former Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Newt Gengrich, and evangelical faith leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Who knows what version of the Republican Party of Virginia will emerge from this weekend’s Convention. Will it be the Virginia GOP of Jeff Frederick, Chris Saxman, Jim Gilmore, Steve Newman, Morgan Griffith, or Virgil Goode? Or will it be the Virginia GOP of Harry Blevins, Preston Bryant, Vince Callahan, Harvey Morgan, or former U.S. Senator John Warner? As a progressive, a populist, a Democrat, I hope that it is the former but as a citizen of this Commonwealth, I can live with the latter.

Roanoke City Manager could be on her way out

It was probably only a matter of time since the most recent election of the new City Council, but Roanoke City Council will be considering the future of City Manager, Darlene Burcham, possibly as early as Monday. According to the Roanoke Times, a majority of the City Council is prepared to set a date for Burcham's departure as they proceed through her annual performance review.

Burcham has been Roanoke's City Manager since 1999. She began her career in local government in the 1960s and has served in many capacities from Social Services, to assistant county administrator, acting county administrator, and prior to her tenure in Roanoke she was Director of Human Services and Assistant City Manager in Norfolk.

Early during her tenure as Roanoke's City Manager, she was praised for her hands on approach and attention to detail. Over the course of time, she has increasingly been criticized for her micro-managing style. She has become a lightning rod for descent and controversy and calls for her ouster have been very loud at times.

One of the points of contention came with the decision to build the new Social Security building in the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood of Roanoke. This was met with stiff resistance from neighborhood residence who saw this move as another land grab that hearkened back to the days of Urban Renewal in African American neighborhoods which saw blocks of houses being condemned in the name of Eminent Domain.

While there were other and more appropriate sites for the Social Security Building, Darlene Burcham and the rest of the City Management team continued to push for the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood site. Only after the Social Security Administration learned, contrary to reports from Darlene Burcham and City Council members supportive of the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood site, that there was significant resistance from local residence did Roanoke City Council pursue other downtown locations. The new Social Security Building now sits on the site of the old Jefferson Lodge, which had fallen into disrepair and was a haven for drugs and other illegal activities.

The reason why I am droning on and on about this one issues, is because I worked with residence in this neighborhood to fight City Hall to chose a more appropriate site. Sometimes local government, in efforts to revitalize parts of the community that are in distress or lagging behind the rest of the community, forget the past and the politics of what they are doing. This was one of those instances and under Burcham's leadership knew that this was the wrong place for this project.

This has been festering for a while, but this might be the right time for her departure. City Managers and County Administrators have very tough jobs. Just ask former Amherst County Administrator Rodney Taylor, who appears to have been shown the door for actually doing a good job and not bowing to the good ol' boys system of local government. In the case of Darlene Burcham, her abrasive and micro-management style may have finally been her downfall. City Managers and County Administrators have to be good at running the day-to-day stuff and also have the political skill and finesse to see the forest beyond the trees. Darlene doesn't seem to have any of the latter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Coming to Jesus Meeting? Falwell and LU Democrats Club to meet today

This should be interesting. Liberty University Chancellor, Jerry Falwell, and the disavowed Democrats Club are scheduled to meet today according to the Lynchburg News Advance. So, it goes without saying that this is a "coming to Jesus meeting" of sorts. But, the question is for which party? More to come...

Update - 3:30 pm:

Jan Dervish, Secretary of the LU College Democrats, responds to Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s op-ed from last week regarding the decision to ban the LU College Democrats Club. In a very well written op-ed in today's Lynchburg News Advance, Dervish states that as a condition of the LU College Democrats being recognized by the University, they had to include in their Constitution that they were 1) Pro-life and 2) support Traditional Marriage." It seems that there is a bit of the "Animal House" double secret probation going on from the LU Administration, changing the rules and conditions after they have already complied with the request of the University to include those two clauses. Doesn't God punish liars and perpetrators of dishonesty?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Did he call the President a RACIST?

Well, it didn't take long for Conservatives to gather their torches and pitchforks to march SCOTUS Nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to the nearest lake to throw her in to see if she sinks or floats. Again, leading the Conservative Mob is Rush Limbaugh. At this point I'm not quit sure if Rush is just throwing the label of "racist" out there about the the first Latina to be nominated for the SCOTUS,to get a rise out of people and fan the flames of GOP intolerance but, did he also just call President Obama a "racist" too? Judge for your self:

"Here you have a racist – you might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist," Limbaugh said of that comment.

"And the [liberals] of course say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism," he continued. "Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one."

Picture by:

Unemployment Benefits: Separating myth from reality on the GOP Rejection of the $125 million

The Virginian Pilot has a great piece on what it means to take the $125 million to extend and expand Federal Unemployment Benefits. As they point out, the General Assembly still has until 2011 to accept the $125 million. The GOP has put out a whole lot of mis-information about taking the money, and there is also some inaccuracies perpetuated by Democrats too. But, the lion's share of the blame to turn down the money and the reasons for it still hang around the necks of the House GOP. Read the piece for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I grew up in a family where many of them served. I am a supporter of our Military. They go where they are ordered by our elected leaders. While I can voice my opposition to the way our President (current and past) and the Congress (current and past) engage in foreign policy and how they use our men and women in uniform, I fully endorse their service to this country.

I think we took a big step as a nation with the election of Barack Obama and the new Congress, we still have a long way to go. Our foreign policy has to make sense and have moral justification rather than self-righteous absolutism and indignation. My father served, my two brother-in-laws served, I've had uncles that have served, and I now have a niece and nephew who currently serve. I think that somewhere along the line, I've had at least one member of my family serve during every major military action from World War Two through today.

CNN has been promoting the Map of the Fallen from the Google Earth team. This is truly an amazing program and a fitting tribute to our current service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Please use this day to remember all those that served.

Terry McAuliffe BBQ’s with Roanoke Supporters

After spending the day with my family at Festival in the Park, I took a little time for myself to go to my first Democratic Statewide Candidate event. I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from partisan politics at the state level for a few years, other than non-partisan grassroots organizing. But, I have been following the developments over the previous months. I will admit I have mixed feelings about Terry McAliffe’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor.

I’ve been involved in progressive politics since 1998 and over the course of that time I’ve seen what makes a good candidate and what doesn’t. I’ve also experienced being the on outsider campaign and working for the preferred candidate of the state caucuses and national committees. I’ve been a part of races where the national committees have endorsed and my candidate beat them and I’ve been on the other end of it too.

When I interned on my first race, the Monica Lewinski scandal was in full gear. The DNC hadn’t developed much of a grassroots fundraising strategy and where pretty much addicted to the big money major donors. This is where my mixed feelings about Terry McAliffe come in. While he did a lot of things to lay the foundation for the Democratic National Committee to compete on a level playing field with the RNC, he also led a party that didn’t adjust quickly enough to the changes in FEC (Federal Election Commission) fundraising rules that made federal candidates focus more of their fundraising on grassroots money. I also had the misfortune of working with a person on a campaign that talked a big game but didn’t produce as advertised, and touted their connection to the new DNC Chair at the time, Terry McAliffe. So, I did not have a favorable view of McAliffe and his entrance into the Governor’s race. His candidacy has shaken up the Democratic nomination contest.

As I arrived and got out of my car, I saw Elaine Owen. I’ve gotten to know her over the last few years, since the last Governor’s race. We have supported different candidates more times than we have agreed, as it relates to nomination contest. But, in the end we have agreed to disagree on candidates and when the primary was over, gotten to work in our own capacities to elect the party nominee. I also saw Roanoke Vice-Mayor Sherman Lee and his son there. I have gotten to know Councilman Lee over the years since the 2004 Presidential and through my community organizing work. It was also good to see my friend Jonte Jones attend the event. We got to know each other over the last few years since a 2005 Roanoke City Council Candidate Forum and my work on circulating petitions to increase the state minimum wage. It was good to reconnect with these folks. Also in attendance was one of the rebuked/disavowed Liberty University Democratic Club members and Marie Childress the club advisor. We spoke for a few minute about the situation and what kind of effect this could have on the House District 23 race. The picture is still a little murky but I am sure this will play into the race.

All in all, once the candidate arrived (I haven’t known any candidate to be on time), it was a good event. Terry did his stump and assessment of where this race is with 18 days out from the June 9th Primary. He took questions and I asked him about holding corporate polluters accountable (Dominion Power and the Fly Ash contamination issue in Chesapeake). Sometimes it’s hard for a candidate to answer the question asked and not pivot to the rehearsed response on energy independence, but he answered it eventually. The thing that I have been impressed with is that he is running a tactically sound race and being in the places that make the most sense. I am warming up, but it is likely that I will just wait until this contest is over and rally behind our nominee. Here are some more pics of the BBQ.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Update: Liberty University Political Intolerance hits the airwaves

I received an email from the Signer Campaign that Rachel Maddow did a piece on Liberty University "disavowing" the Young Democrats on campus. I also came across this second video, done by the Democratic Party of Virginia with important contact information for the Liberty University Administration Official a the eye of this storm (Hint, hint, wink, wink).

I'm off to Festival in the Park in Roanoke and then stopping by the McAliffe BBQ later in the day. (THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF TERRY MCALIFFE. I'm just going to eat his groceries and see if he remembers me.) Have a safe and fun Memorial Day Weekend! Enjoy the videos.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Liberty University Political Intolerance UPDATE

Just about every liberal and many of the conservative blogs have posted something about LU banning the Young Democrats from their campus. It's now hit the mainstream national media, here on CNN and here on MSNBC.

Again, they are a private school but they do take money from the Federal Government in the form of Federal Student Loans. I hope the bad press also leads to a hit in their enrollment. Then again, it might help it out.

Uranium Mining Update: Some small victories but the study is approved

According to a Media General story in the Lynchburg News Advance today, the Uranium Mining Sub-committee has approved the study on an 8 – 2 vote to determine if mining uranium can be done safely in Virginia. While most expected that it would, there were some small victories and a few minor surprised from General Assembly members who typically do not factor in public health concerns when they vote on business issues. Delegates Janis (R-56th District) and Abbott (I-59th District) were the two opposing votes.

The small victory I mentioned was moving the public health and environmental impacts to the top of the Statement of Task document, replacing the global market trend item as #1.

Delegate Danny Marshal (R-Danville) voiced his objection to going ahead with the study. More than 100 people attended the meeting and about 20 made public comments.

It seems that the committee members have gotten the message that the public health and safety should be the top priority. But I really don’t know what this study is going to tell them that we don’t already know. Uranium is radioactive. If not mined and stored properly and safely, it will cause widespread health problems and will kill any land development possibilities for thousands of years due to the environmental damage and contaminated water sources.

It will take two years to complete the study, so until then…

Liberty University REBUKES campus Democratic Club

In line with the continued efforts to purify the Republican Party and squelch political descent on campus, Liberty University sacked the College Democrats Club. While it is a private college and they are within their rights to make and enforce any policies to run their school, this is a very alarming move on the part of Liberty University.

While I am no lawyer, I do wonder if this crosses the line as far as their non-profit status? It is clear they are engaged in overt partisan activities and only recognize clubs and organizations that support the Republican Party ideology and platform. I wonder if this move would impact their SACS accreditation (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) and their eligibility for federal Stafford and Plus loan payments?

If their views and doctrines are so weak that they can't stand up to scrutiny and debate, then maybe their version of Christianity is nothing more than a dressed up cult. Get thee behind me Democrats! So much for the love of Christ and the concept of tolerance.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

ENDORSEMENT: Carlos Brown for House District 69

While the contest in House District 69 is mainly an intra-party affair for the Democratic Nomination, and supporting one candidate over another in these situations can sometimes come back to bit you, I am going to take a chance in this instance for one reason alone. I know Carlos Brown.

Carlos and I went to High School together, played Football together, and I know how hard he works. Carlos’ list of accomplishments include being a Class Officer every year he was in High School, Class President, Student Body President, graduating in the top of his class at Great Bridge High School, student-athlete, acceptance to UVA for undergrad, and acceptance to UVA Law School. These are the things that he accomplished just in the time that we kept in contact with each other. As most things go with schoolmates, we lost touch for a few years and reconnected at a Candidate Training in 2003. You can visit his campaign web site to see what else he has accomplished since his days at UoooVeeeAyyyyeeee (I’m a Tar Heel fan and a part-time Graduate Student at Duke. Talk about being conflicted and needing therapy). It’s an impressive resume, to say the least.

This endorsement is more than just one schoolmate supporting another. Carlos will be a strong voice for fairness and equity in the House of Delegates, which is deficient in those qualities with the current partisan make-up. While the seat, currently held by Delegate Frank Hall who is not running for re-election, is a solid Democratic district we still need to have Delegates that will support the issues that are important to real people and not special interests. While I cannot vote for Carlos Brown, he does have my complete support and I encourage you to do the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Uranium Mining Sub-Committee meeting this Thursday!!!

I received this information yesterday. The Uranium Mining Sub-Committee will be meeting this Thursday, May 21st at 2:30 pm in the General Assembly Building. While the focus of this issue has been on Pittsylvania County since they have the largest Uranium deposit on the East Coast (if not the country), this sub-committe will be making recommendations that impact the entire "Commonwealth." It has not been talked about as much that if the moratorium on Uranium Mining is lifted in Virginia, it affects the entire state. There is Uranium all over Virginia.

As I’ve posted before, if it's such a challenge to properly dispose and store coal ash (Fly Ash) then what kind of a challenge do you think it will be to dispose and store mined Uranium and spent fuel rods from Nuclear Power Plants? I want cheap, clean energy as much as the next person but,… IT HAS TO BE SUSTAINABLE, RENEWABLE, AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE!

If you can get to Richmond tomorrow, please attend the meeting and voice your concerns. If you can’t please contact the members of the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee, listed below:

Virginia Coal and Energy Commission

Chairman: Delegate R. Lee Ware (804)598-6696
Senator Phillip Puckett (276)979-8181
Senator Frank Wagner (757)671-2250
Senator John Watkins (804)379-2063
Delegate Watkins Abbitt, Jr. (434)352-2880
Delegate Kristen Amundson (703)619-0444
Delegate Charles Carrico (276)773-9600
Delegate W. R. "Bill" Janis (804)726-5856
Delegate Terry Kilgore (276)386-7011
Delegate Clarence Phillips (276)762-9758
Citizen Harry D. Childress former head of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
Dr. Michael Karmis, Liaison (540) 231-7057 or (540)231-5273

Here is some more information about the purpose of the Uranium Mining Sub-Committee and their Statement of Task. Note that concern for public health and environmental impact doesn’t get listed until numbers 7, 8, and 9. Global Market trends is #1. Are they serious?!!!

Uranium Mining in Virginia
Statement of Task

Uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia has been prohibited since 1982 by a state moratorium, although approval for restricted uranium exploration in the state was granted in 2007. A National Research Council study will examine the scientific, technical, environmental, human health and safety, and regulatory aspects of uranium mining, milling, and processing as they relate to the Commonwealth of Virginia. In particular, the study will:

1) Review global and national uranium market trends.
2) Identify and briefly describe the main types of uranium deposits worldwide including, for example, geologic characteristics, mining operations, and best practices.
3) Review the geologic, environmental, geographic, climatic, and cultural settings and exploration status of uranium resources in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
4) Review the primary technical options and best practices approaches for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation that might be applicable within the Commonwealth of Virginia, including discussion of improvements made since 1980 in the design, construction, and monitoring of tailings impoundments (“cells”).
5) Review the state and federal regulatory framework for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.
6) Review federal requirements for secure handling of uranium materials, including personnel, transportation, site security, and material control and accountability.
7) Assess the potential short- and long-term occupational and public health and safety considerations from uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation, including the potential human health effects from exposure to “daughter” products of radioactive decay of uranium.
8) Identify the issues that may need to be considered regarding the quality and quantity of groundwater and surface water, and the quality of soil and air from uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation. As relevant, water and waste management and severe weather effects or other stochastic events may also be considered.
9) Assess the potential ecosystem issues for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.
11) Identify baseline data and approaches necessary to monitor environmental and human impacts associated with uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.
12) Briefly characterize a potential public education and outreach program in the Commonwealth of Virginia for a uranium mining operation (for example, health and safety issues, inspection and enforcement, community right-to-know, emergency planning).
By addressing these questions, the study will provide independent, expert advice that can be used to inform decisions about the future of uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, the study will not make recommendations about whether or not uranium mining should be permitted nor will the study include site-specific assessments.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rep. Eric Cantor using taxpayer money to help resuscitate the GOP

I heard someone say recently that politics is sometimes like squeezing a balloon (or sausage). You squeeze one end and the other end grows. Harry Reid on one end, low poll numbers and approval ratings. Now Congressman Eric Cantor walking the very fine line between legal and illegal, ethical and unethical.

According to a Roanoke Times Editorial on May 19th, Congressman Cantor seems to be using his own Congressional Staffers, on Government time and out of their taxpayer funded offices, to work on reviving the GOP in their campaign to remake their no original idea, white male southern image. The Editorial points out that it might not be illegal, but it is certainly questionable use of a taxpayer paid Congressional Staff. The Virginia GOP just can't catch a break these days (Jeff Frederick, Joe May, McDonnell supporting turning down extension of unemployment benefits from the Federal Stimulus package, etc...). What else can they screw-up?

Chips are down for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in recent poll

Even though it's 18 months out until the next election for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the latest poll numbers do not bode well for him. According to CNN, the latest poll conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Las Vegas Review-Journal show that only a third support re-electing Senator Reid and his approval rating is at 38%.

The only positive out of this, there are no credible GOP challengers. The messy divorce between Governor Jim Gibbons and former State Assembly Woman Dawn Gibbons, as well as other investigations of the Governor, have been a drag on potential GOP contenders in Nevada. Senator Reid hasn't had a tough race since 1998 when he edged out Nevada's now junior Senator, John Ensign, by less than 400 votes.

When I worked out in Northern Nevada in 2000, I had a chance to meet Senator Reid at a campaign event at the Carpenter's Union Hall, where he stood on top of the counter and spoke to rally Democrats leading up to Election Day. When you are one of the leaders of the Democratic Party, you are always under the microscope. He has 18 months to turn things around and to also see who might be challenging him.

Lynchburg City Councilman proposes cutting funding to schools to pay for public safety?

Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, localities are faced with making tough choices about which city services get what level of funding. Recently the Lynchburg City Council made a decision that does not include a cost of living increase for the Lynchburg City Police and to also cut the starting pay for rookie police officers. This vote by the City Council has garnered the Hill City the distinction as the only locality in the state that has cut funding for public safety employees. This has led many in the Lynchburg City Police Department to re-evaluate their careers in law enforcement with the City of Lynchburg.

It is understandable the tough choices localities have to make but the proposal by Lynchburg City Councilman, Jeff Helgeson, to cut funding for the Lynchburg Public Schools to restore full funding to the Police Department was strongly rejected by the rest of the members of City Council as well as other members of the Police Department. Councilmen Jeff Helgeson and T. Scott Garrett, M.D. are vying for the Republican nomination in June Primary to face Delegate Shannon Valentine (D-23) in November General Election.

The decision to cut funding to the Police Department by the City Council was a bad decision. The proposal by City Councilman and Republican House Candidate Jeff Helgeson, to cut funding from an already struggling school system in order to restore funding to a scrutinized and embattled Police Department is shocking. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, which happens more than it should, is not a solution to closing budget shortfalls or addressing systemic problems for both the Lynchburg City Police and Public Schools.

More education, not less, has proven to be the best way to prevent crime. A well paid, highly trained police department that adheres to sound community policing practices that profile for crimes and not the color of a person’s skin should never be underfunded. The only economic development tools that Republican House Candidates Jeff Helgeson and Dr. T. Scott Garrett can offer are cutting taxes?

The problem isn’t that the taxes of people who have teaching and law enforcement job are too high, the problem is many people that have jobs that pay these Working Class salaries are out of work. Maybe if Helgeson and Garrett spent less time at “Tea Parties” and more time working for real, sustainable solutions to fully funding vital services like Public Education and Law Enforcement, then the Lynchburg City Council wouldn’t have to choose between teachers and police officers.

Lynchburg City Police and other public safety employees will hold a rally at the bottom of Monument Terrace on May 26th from noon to 5:00 pm when City Council will vote on the final version of the new budget. Let’s hope the Lynchburg City Council will find a way to address this problem and that they can continue to hold back the Grover Norquist platform of Helgeson and Garrett, that of shrinking the size of government so they can drown it in a bathtub.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Unemployed and Poor Virginians Under the Boot of Republicans

Yet again Virginia is held up as an example of the difference between the haves and have-nots. The Monday, May 18, 2009 edition of the Virginian Pilot has an Editorial that cites two reports on how stingy Virginia is as far as distribution of benefits to the 739,000 that live below the poverty level in the “Commonwealth,” which is set at less than $20,650 per year for a family of four in Virginia. Keep in mind, Virginia is touted as one of the top states to do business and boasts a per-capita personal annual income of $41,561 with Northern Virginia leading the rest of the state with $53,595. That’s the average income for one person in Virginia.

The New York Times report highlighted some things that we already knew:

  • Per-capita Medicaid spending, Virginia ranks 47th out of 50 states.
  • Only 29% of unemployed in Virginia are receiving benefits.
  • Only four other states are stingier than Virginia in distributing jobless benefits, unemployment benefits that are meant for those that had jobs and are looking for new employment.
  • 71% of low-income children are enrolled in health insurance programs, while only 34% of poor adults are covered due to eligibility rules that block those that make more than $6,000 per year.

Virginia has stayed true to form, most recently when the Republican controlled House of Delegates block efforts by Governor Kaine and the rest of the General Assembly to temporarily allow the extension of unemployment benefits out of money from the federal stimulus to the tune of $125 million.

The second report, which I cited in my posting on May 9th, from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis made several recommendations for expansion of jobless aid and health insurance. One of those recommendations was to take advantage of federal incentives tied to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). In 2007, fewer than 50,500 children were enrolled TANF in Virginia out of the 96,000 that live in deep poverty (defined as annual incomes less than $11,000 for a family of four).

The Commonwealth Institute also pushed for reforms to Virginia’s regressive tax code. Despite taking wage earners off the tax rolls that make less than $22,000 per year, low-income Virginians are paying nearly nine times as much in sales taxes, fees, and other excise taxes than the top one percent of Virginians.

Fiscal conservatives, tax and budget hawks, are infamous for statements like “It’s your money. You know better how to spend it than the government.” If it’s our money, then why are Virginia’s House Republicans so stingy when it comes to money that we (me, you, and all Virginians) have paid into the social safety nets like TANF, unemployment benefits, and low-income health insurance? What’s the use of having a social safety net if we can’t get our money when we need it the most and in times of economic distress? Virginia’s General Assembly Republicans need to stop holding our money hostage that we’ve paid into, just for times like these. What hard learned lesson do Virginia Republicans hope to teach the working poor and unemployed by not giving them access to their money? It reminds me of Robin Hood, all over again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Obama picks potential rival for Ambassador to China

Talk about bringing 'em inside the tent. This is quite a coup! Seems like the right pick for the job too. Let's hope he doesn't pull a Sen. Gregg on Obama. Obama names potential rival as envoy to China

Friday, May 15, 2009

ENDORSEMENT: Mike Signer for Lt. Governor

Considering that Jody Wagner is in lock-step with Del. Chris Saxman on Right-to-Work, wanting to make it part of the Constitution of Virginia and supports At-Will employment practices, this is an easy choice for me.

Mike Signer for Lt. Governor!

Bowerbank Drops Out of Lt. Governor Race, Endorses Jody Wagner?

This is quite a surprise and a bit puzzling. Read Jon Bowerbank's complete statement on Blue Virginia.

What is puzzling to me is that earlier in the week Bowerbank blasted Jody Wagner and the Lt. Governor Debate that was moderated by Wagner endorser, George Burke. Huh. Interesting. I guess it's down to two.

Update: 8:37 pm

According to WDBJ 7 (CBS) out of Roanoke, Bowerbank has bowed out. (Sorry, I couldn't resist) Hats off to Lowell Feld at Blue Virginia for helping break this.

Interrogation or Torture: How far departed are we from the Spanish Inquisition?

The sexy, political hot potato this week is parsing the definitions of interrogation, enhanced interrogation [techniques], and torture. First, let me state that I want my nation to be safe from enemies, foreign or domestic. In many ways, I pray that our Federal Government has in its arsenal a person of singular determination and purpose to protect our nation at any cost as a Jack Bauer in the TV series 24, played by actor Kiefer Sutherland. But I pray the most that our nation still has a soul, the ability to realize the cost of compromised values, and diminished national purpose.

How much longer will it take to quench our righteous anger for the attacks of September 11th? When will those that smeared the line between right and wrong realize that the justification of enhanced interrogation, some methods that are enhanced while others do equate to torture, in order to gather human intelligence have not yielded the results as advertised? Even the Christian Church during the Spanish Inquisition learned that many of their methods produced only the answers that would end the enhanced persuasive questioning or hasten death. This lesson was learned around 500 years ago, but obviously not very well.

I was watching Larry King Live a few nights ago and former Minnesota Governor, Jessie “The Body” Ventura, was a guest. Prior to his Pro Wrestling and Political career, he served his country as a Navy SEAL. He went through the most intensive combat training known in modern warfare. Part of that training covered Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE Training. I would assume that the “Resistance” segment of the training involves having the trainees experience various forms of torture.

Former Governor and Navy SEAL Jessie Ventura identified waterboarding as one of the things he experienced during this training and classified it as torture. Some of the conversations I’ve been listening to during this debate on what constitutes torture, have tried to sanction the use of waterboarding as a legitimate enhanced interrogation technique because our military pilots and special forces experience it during SERE. We know that waterboarding is torture and the leaders of our military, covert intelligence community and government know this too.

The military personnel most likely to be in a situation where they could fall into enemy hand are put through this training because it is likely they will be tortured and they need to know how best to resist and endure these methods. This justification for enhanced interrogation methods that are torture, just because we train our own military how to cope with torture, is another example of compromised values among a long list of others.

I am in total disagreement with the position of Kevin Roberts in his Op-ed printed in the May 15th edition of the Roanoke Times. We cannot continue to compromise our values on this issue, which Mr. Robert is willing to do. Just like the lessons learned from rooting out heretics during the Spanish Inquisition, the effectiveness of torture to gain information produces less than reliable intelligence and can serve to strengthen the resolve of our enemies. In this way, we are not that far removed from the practices of torture during the Spanish Inquisition. Our methods are just more refined.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sewage Sludge: Yesterday’s Meals from NY/NJ Coming to Campbell County?

Treated sewage sludge as fertilizer? Well, if farmers and gardeners use cow and chicken manure then why not use human treated bio-solid waste as fertilizer? This was the general premise behind the formation of a Virginia General Assembly legislative panel to study and determine if treated sewage sludge was safe for use as fertilizer on farms. According to today’s Editorial in the Lynchburg News Advance, this was the intent but again it seems the General Assembly, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t provide enough funding for the study to answer questions about potential affects to water quality, the food chain, and potential human health problems.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, the Budget and Tax Hawks in the General Assembly have a “I should’ve had a V8” moment and fund a comprehensive study and it determines that human bio-solid waste is OK to use as fertilizer, then why do we need to import the remains of someone’s dinner? There are plenty of septic tanks in rural Virginia. Why couldn’t we just recycle our own “natural resources” to make our gardens grow?

Years ago when I was growing up in Southside Hampton Roads, the news covered a barge carrying trash from New York and New Jersey, sailing up and down the East Coast. They were trying to find a place that would take it. Virginia was one of those places they thought would take it. I don’t remember if Virginia did take it, but someone did. The prospect of another Garbage Barge coming from New York and New Jersey, this time in liquid form, and dumping it on Virginia when we don’t even know if it is safe to do is disconcerting. Residence of Campbell County should attend the June 11th DEQ public information meeting about the permit request. Until a comprehensive study is fully funded and completed to determine if treated sewage sludge is safe to use as fertilizer, not one drop should touch Virginia Soil.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gay Marriage and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

These two hot button issues are again part of the national conversation, but for different reasons. American’s love to watch a train wreck. This all goes back to the “opposite marriage” answer by Miss. California, Carrie Prejean, during the Miss USA Pageant when asked about her position on Gay Marriage by gossip columnist Perez Hilton. I am a white male, married to a beautiful woman, and have two beautiful daughters. I am in a, what Carrie Prejean calls “opposite marriage”, or Traditional Marriage. Does this make me a bad person? No. Does this mean that I am opposed to Gay Marriage or Civil Union? No. What does this say about me? Nothing, except that I am in a committed, loving relationship with someone of the opposite sex.

I don’t agree with Carrie Prejean but I respect her courage for stating her position on marriage before the nation. What is most frustrating, scream at the top of my lungs infuriating, is the small minded, supermarket tabloid, snarky, elitist, self-promoting behavior of Perez Hilton. Talk about the Republicans and a circular firing squad! Its behavior like Hilton’s that kills any momentum for equal rights the GLBT community makes. Hilton didn’t like the answer that Prejean gave to his question, so he goes on his blog and trashes her. I can understand the passion and anger from the Gay Community over the pseudo social issue of “Marriage Protection,” but come on! Does Hilton really think that asking a gotcha question and trashing that person for giving their honest opinion for which he doesn’t share, advances the movement for equal rights in our society for the GLBT community?

Then we come to the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the latest casualty of this policy, Army National Guard and West Point graduate Lt. Dan Choi. Choi was an Army Linguist who speaks fluent Arabic. He was discharged, not for doing a bad job as an Arabic linguist which is a high need specialty, but because he came out of the closet.

Both of these issues come down to the comfort level people have with issues of sexuality. It has nothing to do with protecting the institution of marriage, good order and discipline, or unit cohesion. It is all about being comfortable with a person’s sexual orientation. Gay men and women are a part of our communities and a part of this world. They have been throughout recorded history and even before. A person’s sexual orientation has no bearing on my sexual preferences.

Protecting the institution of marriage has nothing to do with protecting marriage, but everything to do with marginalizing members of our national community. The only people that can protect my marriage are me and my wife. It is up to us if our marriage is loving, successful, and protected. Not a law that denies certain citizens of our society the rights that we have as an “opposite marriage” couple. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a flawed policy that needs to end. The sexual orientation of our men and women in uniform has nothing to do with their ability to perform the job they are trained to do. We are losing highly trained, highly specialized, and valuable human resources to fight terrorism all because of someone’s comfort level with sexuality. Straights, heterosexuals, get over it! It doesn’t affect your and its none of your business.

Just like the Republican Party of today, the Gay Community’s worst enemy is themselves. When the face of the GLBT movement are people like Perez Hilton, it hurts all the efforts of gays and straight allies to fight for equal rights and recognition. It takes away from effort to end failed policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Trashing someone for their beliefs and the way they choose to live their lives is hypocritical when members of the Gay Community have been fighting the same criticism and marginalization. People like Perez Hilton need to get off their high horse and look in the mirror before they trash someone for their beliefs and opinions which are protected under the Constitution.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blue Virginia Live Blog with Lt. Governor Candidate Jon Bowerbank Tomorrow

Please join the Live Blog with Democratic Lt. Governor Candidate Jon Bowerbank tomorrow, Wednesday, May 13th, from Noon to 1:00 pm at Blue Virginia. You can leave questions for Jon in the comments section ahead of time.

The Lt. Governor's race has been a rather sleepy event, but time is ticking away for the June 9th Primary and things are starting to heat up. Out of the three Democratic Lt. Governor Candidates, Jon Bowerbank is the only one, so far, that both me and my wife have received any Direct Mail. Not saying that Jon has my vote, but he has at least communicated with me. See you tomorrow over at Blue Virginia...

McAuliffe's Wednesday Celebrity Tour Recovers from Slow Start

The McAuliffe Campaign seemed to recover nicely from a reported low turnout event in Norfolk on Wednesday. As I said before, I don't have a dog in this hunt. But, I will add that Terry McAuliffe is the only candidate so far that has addressed the issue of Payday and Car Title Lending through their campaign media plan.

While this doesn't mean that he has my vote, his stock has moved up considerably for me. I have worked on this issue and I am surprised and disappointed that neither Deeds or Moran have made this more a part of their issue platform. Why is it that the only person out of the three Gubernatorial Candidates that is openly addressing the Predatory Lending issues of Payday and Car Title Lending is the only one that has not been elected to public office in Virginia? This is a softball issue and Terry McAuliffe is hitting it out of the park. More on Predatory Lending later...

Monday, May 11, 2009

McAliffe's Midday Event Goes Over Like a Lead Ballon

First, I don't have a dog in this hunt. I've had a few conversations with different people about the Gov. race and I'm not overly excited about any of the candidates. With that said, what I do know about McAliffe's campaign and the number of people he's hire to work in Virginia, turning out 30 or so people for an event with a celebrity is really bad staff work. They've been building for this event for what, two weeks?

Before I got into politics I worked in the hotel business for four years. I learned that for every bad meal, bad stay, bad experience that person will tell 10 other people. If everything goes well and they have an enjoyable experience they will recommend you to two or three people. My point? When something goes bad, word spreads fast. I hope the other events went better for T-Mac, because you can't get much worse.

Right-to-Work and At-Will Employment

When I was still in college, finishing up my Undergraduate Degree, I worked in a high-end hotel in Chapel Hill, NC. In the back next to the time clock was the poster that listed your rights and responsibilities as an employee. Among those was the explanation of Right-to-Work. At the time, I didn’t fully understand it and my Supervisor explained to me that it meant that I did not have to join a Union if I didn’t want to. OK, so what does that have to do with anything? As I become more politically aware and did more work in progressive politics, I learned exactly what it meant to live and work in a Right-to-Work state.

For starters, it weakened Organized Labor’s political power to fight for better wages, better benefits, and to make sure that Union members were not terminated without cause, or At-Will. While I am a pretty independent minded person and I don’t want anyone telling me that I have to join something as a condition of my employment or as part of my way of earning a living, the part that is not talked about as much is the At-Will employment aspect.

The possibility of your job being terminated without cause has always been very unsettling to me. I have always felt that employers have a disproportionate amount of power over employees in this respect. Right-to-Work and At-Will employment are tied together very closely here in Virginia. While I can see some rational with not having to join a Union as a condition of my employment, I am absolutely opposed to the At-Will doctrine for a number of reasons.

While the At-Will doctrine can be exercised by either the employee or the employer, the opportunity for workplace abuses on the part of the employer is much greater. While I can certainly appreciate the rights of the employer, being able to hire people that are qualified and will do work that will make your business or company successful, there has to be a limit to being able to terminate someone without cause. I’ve worked with many different types of people over the years, many of whom I just as soon forget for a wide range of reasons, but what if that annoying co-worker has a point about the way things are done at their place of work and complains? Despite being annoying, they do good work, are reliable, and come to work on time, is it right to fire this person for speaking up or expressing their opinion? If sexual discrimination, or any discrimination for that matter, is occurring in the work place and someone speaks up, is it fair that that person be fired. If the employer is changing a posted schedule for employees without giving them enough notice and the employee speaks up or complains, is it right to fire them? There are other scenarios, but these are some of the ones that seem to be the most common.

In a post on a blog a few months ago, I was disappointed to read that one of the Democratic Candidates for Lt. Governor was a strong supporter of Virginia’s Right-to-Work law. Again, I can see some rational about not being forced to join a Union as a condition of employment, but the At-Will doctrine that is so closely tied to Right-to-Work law needs to change. My suggestion would be to allow businesses or companies to have the right to terminate without cause within a 60 to 90 day probationary period. After this, if an employee is to be fire it has to be for cause. The At-Will doctrine puts too much of the burden on the terminated employee to show they were fired for improper reasons, and too much power in the hands of the employer. Any other thoughts?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day - Honor them with Equal Pay!

I hope that all mothers out there have a wonderful Mother's Day. In honor of Mother's Day, and for that matter all women, Equal Pay is one of the best ways that we can support all the working moms out there. While there has been progress, we are still not there.

During my first semester as a Graduate Student at Duke, I took a class called Self in the World. The class is an introductory course that all Graduate Liberal Studies students must take. It is designed to re-acclimate students that have been out of the academic process for a while and exposes the students to a wide range of academic disciplines. As part of the course, we had guest lecturers during the semester and one of them was a Sociologist. Some of her recent work focused on the 2000 Census and shared histories of different groups of people, or cohorts. One of the topics of conversation was the changing role of women since World War Two and Equal Pay issues.

During the class conversation I asked the question, being the progressive I am and also as they say in the legal profession "Never ask a question you don't already know the answer," if women will ever achieve equal pay? Knowing that she is also a person that quantifies the information that she researches, her answer was no. The Feminists and Women's Rights advocates in the class were aghast! How could that be, and coming from one of their own? The simple answer, is biology.

Pre-20th Century, women had very few choices or say in the direction their lives took. Things began to change as women gained Suffrage in the early part of the Century. When World War Two came around, women were the ones left with the numbers to fill the void in the factories left by the men that went off to fight. As they say, the rest is history. From that time on, women have been a permanent fixture in the workforce and have faced sexism and gender bias as far as jobs and professions that have been open to them. While the ERA has help in a number of way, especially in shrinking the pay gap between women and men in the same exact job. The one thing that will always be a factor in the fight for equal pay is that women have to take time off for pregnancy and child birth. This was the point that our Guest Lecturer was trying to make.

While according to this one expert, who is also a woman, it is unlikely that women will every truly have equal pay. They might come close, but the blessings of motherhood are also the very thing that women have to make choices around concerning their professional growth. While this might seem unfair, it should not be looked upon as a disadvantage to any woman,but a reality of life that all women in western style democracies face. Time away from professional life to start a family creates gaps in employment. Depending on the employeer, it is totally subjective as to how they view time taken by women to start or grow a family. In my opinion, this is where the focus on Pay Equity should be. Working to eliminate misconceptions and stigmas associated with women who make the choice to start or grow their family will help close the pay gap even futher.

In the case of my wife and our family, she is the mother of my two beautiful daughters, earned her MBA between pregnancies and works full time in a very demanding job. In my family, she is the bread winner and she juggles the demands as well as anyone I know. I am proud of her and thankful for the millions of mothers and women who came before her to fight for the opportunities that she now has. Happy Mother's Day and let's continue to strive for Equal Pay.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stamp out Hunger - May 9th

Today is Stamp out Hunger Day, the day that Letter Carriers will be collecting non-perishable items that we put in our mailboxes (for you mellinials out there, Snail Mail Boxes) for America's 2nd Harvest Food Banks across the country. So, if you haven't already please spare any non-perishable food you and, put it in a plastic bag and place it next you your Mail Box.

In light of Stamp out Hunger Day, I felt it appropriate to mention a report that was presented this week by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis at the Governor's Poverty Summit. The report, Poverty in Our Time, highlights the fact that even during times of economic growth and prosperity for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the level of poverty has remained relatively the same for the last 20 years. In case you don't know about the Commonwealth Institute, they are a progressive Think Tank that is based in Richmond and they do excellent work.

We know that 10 out of the last 20 years the Virginia GOP has been in control of at least one house of the General Assembly. Progress will only be made in this area if control of the House of Delegates changes and Democrats retain the Governorship. Do your part today and donate some food.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dominion Power flushes their toilet and it ends up in Chesapeake

What are the chances that environmental justice issues from Virginia and West Virginia’s coal regions would end up in the well water of Chesapeake residents? Could it be that was only a matter of time? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is yes. An editorial in today’s Virginian Pilot makes the point that Dominion Power’s credibility is seeping down the preverbal drain as fast as the heavy metals that seeped into the well water of Chesapeake residents around the golf course that was built on top of fly ash. What is fly ash? Fly ash is coal-combustion waste product, or what is left over after Coal Fired power plants burn the coal to provide electricity to Virginia residents. How did fly ash end up under a golf course in my home town of Chesapeake? That’s the money question.

It is very expensive to safely dispose of the coal by-product. As a cost saving measure, fly ash is commonly used in a wide range of construction projects, from bricks and concrete blocks to structural fill. This is what the fly ash was used for at the Battlefield Golf Course, to create hills and hazards as part of the course. The fly ash contains heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium. As fate would have it, when Mountain Top Removal occurs in the coal regions of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other coal states, these same heavy metals end up in the rivers, streams, and drinking water of residence in these areas. These heavy metals have been directly linked to respiratory illnesses, various forms of cancer, not to mention developmental issues as well as mental and physical birth defects.

On December 22, 2008, an earthen retaining wall that holds coal ash by-product gave way and spilled slurry into the Emory River in eastern Tennessee. A report by the Tennessee Valley Authority on the spill showed that the slurry contained arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium. This is the same stuff that showed up in the well water of Chesapeake residence around the golf course and is now in the Emory River and surrounding water tables where thousands of people get their drinking water. These environmental justice issues have been affecting western Virginians for years, but since this has not happened in the back yards of people in the eastern part of Virginia, why should they care? It has happened and people around the Battlefield Golf Course care a great deal. So, why wasn’t there a study done to determine the likelihood of ground and well water contamination from the use of fly ash? Turns out Dominion Power did a study back in 2001 and didn’t like the results, so they did another one that was more favorable to disposing of their coal waste, thus convincing the Chesapeake City Council to approve the golf course construction and enabling them to move forward.

Dominion Power has some explaining to do, but now has a credibility problem. So much for being a good corporate citizen. This begs the question, if there are so many problems with storage and disposal of coal waste, then how are we suppose to deal with these same issues but with the possibility of open pit uranium mining in Pittsylvania County where the water flows into Lake Gaston which is the source of drinking water for Virginia Beach and several other localities in Southside Hampton Roads? I guess we will have to wait for this independent study to be completed before we can have those discussions.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

VA Republicans: Following in the Footsteps of Gilmore

Considering the economic times we live, I wish I could say that it surprised me when Virginia Republicans voted to turn down the $125 million in Federal Stimulus money to extend unemployment benefits that would also include part time workers or people in approved job training programs. Well it didn't, but I was holding out hope that they would un-tether themselves from the short leash Virginia's Business Lobby has chained to their collars. The extension of unemployment benefits is entirely a temporary measure and will not require the states to make the extension permanent.

There seemed to be a familiar pattern to the latest GOP pimp slap of Virginia's struggling working families. Then a friend in Roanoke reminded me of how Jim Gilmore and the GOP totally botched the implementation of the Federal 2:1 match of FAMIS from 1997-2001. According to a Daily Press article by Lisa Finneran back in 2008, the Gilmore Administration and General Assembly Republicans "didn't get started until the end of 1998, a full year after federal funds became available, and then spent little money on advertising and training, leaving local social services departments scrambling to figure out how to administer it." They also made qualifying and receiving benefits extremely difficult, so much so that parents had to "cooperate with child support officials as a condition of getting insurance." Virginia was the only state with this requirement. Keep in mind, FAMIS was established to help children in families that made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but could not afford private health insurance. It took Gilmore and the General Assembly Republicans until 2001 to finally get it right.

Back to the issue at hand. While funding of SCHIP and FAMIS is still important and it also ties into the whole issue of Health Care Reform, turning away $125 million in unemployment benefits to help struggling families here in Virginia and send that money away to other states is just crazy. These are people that had jobs, did work and earned a living, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In extreme circumstances, unemployment benefits are extended to continue proving assistance to struggling workers as they continue to look new jobs. I don't know about you, but I call these extreme circumstances.

Despite the claims from Republicans that the extension of unemployment benefits will cause businesses to pay more taxes, what about the money that workers paid into the unemployment insurance fund? It's their money too, paid out of their earnings for just such circumstances.

At this point any money that is put in the hands of out of work people (full time, part time, or people in job training programs) goes directly back into local economies and at least helps to keep people in their homes a little longer and buy food for their families. I guess Virginia Republicans won't be happy until every social safety net is cut and there are tent cities and shanty towns all over Virginia. Fortunately for us, Virginia is no longer under the one-party control of the GOP. There is really no difference between the national GOP or the state GOP. Virginia Republicans, following in the footsteps of Gilmore. The question remains, will it take the Virginia GOP one year or four years to figure out that turning down the $125 million was the wrong decision?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fate of the Voting Rights Act rests with the SCOTUS

The Roanoke Times has an Editorial in today's edition about the upcoming oral arguments challenging a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Our nation has made significant progress in the area of protecting minority voting rights since 1965. After working to get a social justice agenda passed in the Virginia General Assembly, specifically the Republican controlled House of Delegates, the striking down of the "preclearance" requirement would open a door to a past that I hoped was shut forever in Virginia. This requirement refers to Virginia and six other southern states (plus Alaska and Arizona), along with specific counties and towns in seven other states with poor civil rights and voting rights records.

Virginia's record of disenfranchisement continues today. Examples of this range from defeats of legislation for no-excuse absentee voting and in-person voting to restoration of voting rights for certain felons in the Republican controlled House of Delegates during the 2009 General Assembly session. The laws these two pieces of legislation would change have been in place for a long time and are designed to justify suppression of minority voter participation. Recently, while not voting rights related, CNN reported on a Southern Poverty Law Center study that concludes "Low-income Latinos are routinely discriminated against in the South." While this is specific to Latinos, it is clear the practice of discrimination and marginalization is still the way things are done by those in power in the South.

What should be done if the Supreme Court of the United States strikes down the "preclearance" requirement of the Voting Rights Act?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Throwing my cap over the wall...

I've been kicking around the idea of a blog for a while now and I feel the time is right to throw my cap over the wall. Over the past few years as blogs have taken off, I have visited many and posted my thoughts and opinions on several. There are many blogs out there that play the game of "gotcha" and subsequently do their best to belittle and tear down people. There are just as many that have constructive discussion and will call people out on the carpet to hold them accountable for those comments and actions that are inaccurate, false, or just flat out wrong. This blog will follow the latter approach and offer commentary and analysis on national, state, and regional politics and issues and how they affect REAL PEOPLE.

I chose to name this blog Off K Street, as a way to describe my way of thinking and also how I will approach these discussions. Most people in this country and my home state of Virginia do not think like the political power brokers of K Street in Washington, D.C. There is a huge disconnect between the K Street agendas and what is really going on outside of Washington and even Richmond. Over the course of this blog endeavor I will be commenting on a wide range of issues, current events, political leaders and candidates for office.

Occasionally I will make an appeal to take ACTION and ask readers of my blog to hold their political leaders accountable by meeting or contacting them to support policies of fairness, equity, protects consumers, promotes shared responsibility and considers the common good. Sometimes, the political leaders we consider allies are the very ones we have to hold accountable. I have learned over the years that you can never assume that just because someone has a D or R next to their name, that they will support or oppose the issues and policies that are important to us.

There are lots of people out there that are nervous about all the changes that the shift in our nation's politics will bring. This is understandable. Change is never easy, but when stale thinking and ways of doing things don't work anymore what other choice to you have than to try something different? By throwing my cap over the wall, it will force me to look at the challenges that are in front of me and figure out how I get over the wall to get my cap. Now, this is all very metaphorical but I think it fits the times we live.

Collectively as a nation, we bought into this notion of instant gratification, being entitled to things that we haven't really earned, having accumulated $11 TRILLION in National Debt with a 30 year keg party and stuck our sons, daughters, and the next generation of Americans with the tab. We built this wall, this towering financial obstacle, and now we have to figure out how to get our cap back. Beyond the wall is not just our cap, but opportunities to do things right and better than before.

I have been active in progressive politics and social justice since my first campaign internship back in 1998 while I was a student at North Carolina Central University. Since then, I have traveled this great nation and met lots of people: conservatives and liberals, idealists and syncs, political and apolitical alike. I have friends and colleagues that share many of my views and just as many that are at the other end of what I believe. With that being said, I subscribe to the belief of Voltaire that I might not agree with what you say or believe, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. I also believe that if we only subscribe to one view, one way of thinking, then we end up like the tattered Republican Party of today. Progressives and liberals don't have all the answers either, and we run the risk of going too far to the left. As a nation, we have made good progress on a wide range of social issues but we have also retreated on just as many. I hope that my commentary and analysis generates lively and engaging discussion that also moves people to action. I look forward to your comments and hearing what you have to say.