Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why did the chicken cross the road?

A couple of paid ads in today's Staunton paper are of interest:
Perhaps reflecting the fractured local GOP, the Constitution Party of Augusta is having an organizational meeting at the Waynesboro Public Library this week. Appealing to far right Republicans, the ad promises a (unnamed) speaker and discussion on "means and methods of reasserting our Liberty!!" You may recall the Constitution Party had a booth at some county fairs and was attempting to get Chuck Baldwin on the ballot for president. Baldwin eventually ran on the Independent Green ticket in Virginia. 
The other ad titled "Message to Staunton and Augusta County Republicans" was paid for by the John Brownlee for Attorney General campaign. The ad promotes a reception for the candidate hosted by Chief Jim Williams and Dr. Steven Nichols. Both of these gentlemen serve in appointed positions that, while quite political, are generally seen as nonpartisan. Williams is Staunton Police Chief and Nichols is Superintendent of Staunton Public Schools. So why did these well known men cross the long and winding road into clearly partisan turf? Will conservative Republicans who support Ken Cuccinelli for AG sit idly by? Will Democratic leaning members of Staunton City Council cry foul? We may have a bird's eye view to any blowback. 

Greg Marrow announces challenge

Dr. Greg Marrow, a resident of McGaheysville and a Harrisonburg optometrist, announced he will challenge Steve Landes for the 25th District House of Delegates seat. Marrow's announcement adds another district to the growing list of incumbent Republicans in the central Valley facing challenges. Jeff Price has been in the race to unseat Ben Cline in the 24th District for months. Gene Hart is challenging Matt Lohr in the 26th District. So far, no candidates have emerged to challenge Todd Gilbert in the 15th or Chris Saxman in the 20th, but there are rumors of at least one potential candidate considering a run against Saxman.
The 25th District includes portions of Rockingham and Augusta counties, the City of Waynesboro, and three western Albemarle precincts. Landes hasn't faced a serious challenge since he was first elected  in 1995. With unemployment rising (Waynesboro has reached nearly 8%), more Charlottesville area residents moving to eastern Augusta County and Waynesboro, and frustration with the ultra-partisan GOP leadership in House of Delegates, Marrow will find an opening in even in the most conservative parts of the sprawling district. He says a cornerstone of this campaign will be encouraging economic development and helping manufacturers to use green/alternative energy to grow their businesses and create jobs.
Landes, who one observer at his pre-session town hall meetings described as looking "tired and uninspired," broke ranks and angered conservative Republicans with his support for the smoking ban in restaurants. Then, marching to the party line and trying to cover his own seat, he voted in support of the gerrymander.
But, before becoming the Democratic candidate, Dr. Marrow may face a challenge for the nomination. According to the grist mill, James Noel of Mount Sidney is circulating petitions - so far, he's made no official announcement that's been reported by the media.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Declare!

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled a Virginia man owns a very rare 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence. Richard Adams, Jr. bought the historic document in 2001 for $475,000. The State of Maine, which found out about the purchase through a tip, sought to retrieve it claiming it is the property of the town of Wiscasset where it was held by the town clerk in 1776.
Maine argued that it was an official town document and should be returned. But, Adam's attorney successfully argued that since the clerk had transcribed the Declaration into the town record books - that transcription is the official town record.
About 250 copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed in Massachusetts for reading in towns and villages. At that time, Maine was part of Masschusetts. Only 11 of those originals still exist.
While Adams won the suit and can claim legal ownership, we should all hope he donates or sells it to an appropriate museum. The Declaration of Independence, and all its original copies, are the property, indeed the inheritance, of the American people.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slay the gerrymander

CCC has previously posted about redistricting, gerrymandering, and the negative consequences for our democracy. Research across the nation clearly demonstrates gerrymandering reduces competition between the parties, heightens voter apathy while lowering voter participation, protects incumbents, reduces accountability of elected officials, and has other negative consequences.
About a dozen states have created independent commissions to draw legislative districts and several others have advisory or backup panels to help deal with the partisan bickering and gridlock redistricting often produces. For several General Assembly sessions, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) has worked on a constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission. In 2008 this legislation passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but was killed by Republicans in a subcommittee of the House Privileges & Elections committee. Among those voting to kill it was Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta). Because a constitutional amendment takes passage in two sessions of the General Assembly, with an intervening election, and approval by voters in a referendum, redistricting reform will not pass in time for Virginia's next redistricting following the 2010 census.
But, maybe something can be done over the next decade to assure that redistricting reform will be in place for the 2021 session of the General Assembly. The Virginia News Letter has an in-depth study of the negative consequences of this old political practice, Gerrymandering 's Long History in Virginia: Will This Decade Mark the End? From the introduction:
Every 10 years, a new U.S. census sets the stage for a round of political redistricting in Virginia and the nation. It also brings the likelihood that the boundaries of some newly drawn voting districts will be manipulated in an obvious effort to benefit one political party. This popular but unfair practice is called gerrymandering. Virginia, with a history of gerrymandering going back to the earliest days of the nation, should begin a reform process immediately to prepare for the redistricting that the 2010 census will require. Stroupe, chief of staff at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and a member of the state Commission on Civics Education, recommends that the legislature strongly consider establishing an independent panel of current or former state judges to assist in redistricting.
Gerrymandering isn't always the reason for low political competition and low voter turnout. But, to the extent this form of political manipulation results in voter apathy and suppression, it serves as a significant limitation on one of the greatest exercises of liberty possessed by the citizens of this state and nation. Stroupe writes, “It is time the ‘Cradle of Democracy’ became the ‘Graveyard of Gerrymandering.’”
Kenneth Stroupe's essay should be required reading for candidates for statewide office and for the House of Delegates. Those who opposed the bill must be held accountable in November 09.

Good Deeds

Only one person running for governor is juggling a campaign along with working on the people's business. Senator Creigh Deeds kept his Senate seat to represent his constituents, is on the campaign trail to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and gave up a couple months of fundraising (state law prohibits it of members during the session). All the while he has to deal with sniping from opponents and Republican legislators who don't judge Deed's bills on merit as they rush to deny him legislative victories.
The Roanoke Times has an excellent article on Deeds maintaining legislative focus while in the middle of a statewide campaign.

Pecking at the payday birds

SB 1470 has passed the General Assembly and will soon be on the governor's desk. It prohibits payday lenders from offering open-end lines of credit. The predatory lenders began offering these lines of credit after the legislature placed modest limits on their lending practices. The open-ended loans have no cap on interest and their use is generally seen as a way to dodge the law passed last year.
But, there is something fowl about this bill - it does not include any regulation of increasingly pervasive car title lenders. Virginia should have real limits and real regulatory teeth of both payday and car title lenders. Governor Tim Kaine hasn't said what he'll do with the bill. Sign it and accept a half-baked bird.... err, bill that may take the wind out of the wings of future action. Or veto it and tell the legislature to get it right next year.
Given that this is Kaine's last year, that the predators will probably lavish House candidates with grist this November, and we don't know who will be the commonwealth's Big Bird this time next year, CCC urges Governor Kaine to sign SB 1470. A glass half full is better than one totally empty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Changing colors?

According to an article (may require log-in) in the WaPo, Bob McDonnell would have us believe he's really a middle of the road moderate. Eying vote-rich NOVA and seeing blue in all the major population centers of the Commonwealth, McDonnell says,
"We're all liberals at heart. We just don't want to pay for it."
Don't buy the lie that McDonnell is a liberal at heart - or even close to being a moderate. Raised on the political knee of Pat Roberston he's right wing - far right! 
He is right when he says Republicans don't want to pay for it. The Iraq War is on our children's and grandchildren's backs. What strikes me is that McDonnell is endorsing the notion that government should shirk its fundamental responsibilities to the people and the responsibility of sound fiscal management. McDonnell could be like George W. Bush running up the deficit or Jim Gilmore practically running Virginia into bankruptcy.
A nonpolitical acquaintance who has had direct dealings with Bob McDonnell described him as "slick and self-serving." His current repositioning certainly illustrates that characteristic. Like a chameleon, McDonnell seeks to change his colors to match the environment - but he's still the same cold blooded right winger.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It takes a community college

On Monday morning, one piece of Senator Creigh Deeds' community college plan will be voted on in the House of Delegates. Creigh's bill will help Virginians who attend community college to continue their pursuit of higher education at a four-year college or university by expanding the community college transfer program. This bill improves our transfer credit program by extending it to students who have earned 60 college credits, but have yet to obtain an associate's degree.
Sign the petition - tell your delegate to support Virginia students and families and to help grow our economy.

Another dead turtle

The House of Delegates ran over the eastern box turtle... again! In 1999 and again this year a bill had proposed to make the slow moving terrestrial turtle the state reptile. But, Delegate Frank Hargrove (R-Hanover) wondered why a critter famous for hiding its head in its shell and getting run over on rural roads should be the official anything.
Perhaps Delegate Hargrove is saving the eastern box turtle as the official symbol of House Republicans. They often pull their heads into their collective shell to avoid dealing with real issues facing Virginians and the reptilian right wingers are in danger of getting squashed on the electoral highway this November.
Cold blooded.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cleaning up the smokehouse

The General Assembly agreed to a compromise bill to ban most smoking in restaurants. Governor Tim Kaine says he'll sign it quickly, although it won't become effective until December. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-13 with Creigh Deeds voting in favor and Emmett Hanger voting against. In the House of Delegates, the vote was 60-39 with Steve Landes supporting the ban and Chris Saxman and Ben Cline voting no.
Smoking will be banned in most restaurants, exceptions being private clubs and restaurants with separately ventilated smoking rooms. The ban does not apply to outside dining areas.
The battle over the compromise bill cut across party lines but the rifts were felt most keenly on the GOP side of the aisle. Many Republicans, favoring a "don't work with the governor on anything" mentality, were beyond miffed when Speaker Bill Howell appeared with Governor Tim Kaine to support a compromise earlier this month. Majority leader Morgan Griffin parted ways from the speaker and there was open talk of choosing a new speaker for the next session - if the GOP stays in control of the chamber.
Final passage in the House found 21 Republicans voting with the speaker and that pissed of the Americans for Prosperity. Ben Marchi, speaking for the right wing group noted:
"A lot of conservatives were surprised that the Speaker would go off on his own and have talks with the Governor without even consulting his caucus."
The divisions in the GOP ranks bode well for the Democrats this November who need to pick up six seats to gain control of the House of Delegates. Delegates like Steve Landes may find some conservatives hedging support because of his yes vote on this one issue. On the other hand, opponents of the bill will have to answer for voting against a reasonable and good policy that is supported by a majority of Virginians.
Gubernatorial candidates may find political smoke blowing in the wind this November, too. Senator Creigh Deeds voted for the ban and the other two Democrats say they support it (of course, they are bystanders to the General Assembly). Republican Bob McDonnell blew warm smoke up conservatives' skirts by opposing the ban.
Republicans, trying to dodge backlash, were successful at delaying implementation until after the election.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An axe for Saxman's bills

Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20) saw several of his bills get a well-deserved axe in the Virginia Senate yesterday. The delegate had ginned up lots of attention for a constitutional amendment to protect Virginia's right-to-work laws. Totally unnecessary - those laws are well enshrined in state law and culture. It was all grandstanding for the anti-union crowd.
Saxman also saw his bill to designate royalties from off-shore drilling go to Chesapeake Bay cleanup, transportation, and renewable energy. While CCC can support each of those goals, there is one problem - Virginia gets zero royalties because there is currently a federal moratorium on off-shore drilling. Another bit of grandstanding to kiss up to the "Drill Here, Drill Now" fanatics. The delegate's bill was ill-timed - bring it up again if/when there is off-shore drilling. It makes no sense to mandate specific spending today when future priorities may be very different.
And the Staunton delegate again cringed when his tax credits for organizations that provide scholarships bit the dust. He's been pushing some variation of tax credits/vouchers for private schools since he's been in the General Assembly. It is never the right time for public money (either vouchers or tax breaks) to support private schools (unless they meet the same SOL standards of public schools), but these tax credits at a time of severe budget shortfalls was absurd. Senator Emmett Hanger abstained - in previous years he's voted against his GOP friend.
Tonight is the night for Delegate Saxman's 15,000 home conference call for him to listen to voters. He'll probably talk about each of the kill bills to eek out a little political propaganda. Ought to be interesting to find out (not that we ever will) how many people (1) answer the phone, (2) stay on the call more than a few minutes, and (3) get a chance to ask the delegate a question. I'm all in favor of communication between the people and elected officials, but the possibility that Delegate Saxman does more listening than talking is as remote as the Dolly Sods. Bob Dickerman, the Staunton Democratic Chair, said it better in his letter to the editor.
Cross-posted at We Will RockDem.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Delegate Chicken-Heart

Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta) was one of four Republicans on a subcommittee of the House Privileges & Elections committee that killed SB 926. The bill would have created a seven member commission to, beginning in 2011, draw General Assembly and congressional districts without regard to political considerations. The bill was sponsored by Senator Creigh Deeds and had passed the Senate by a 39-0 vote.
It is quite apparent to anyone who has observed the redistricting process that when legislators draw their own districts, they do so with their next campaign foremost in mind. To hell with drawing commonsense district lines that respect communities. To hell with good government. To hell with democracy. Legislators primarily think in terms of protecting their own neck or screwing the other party.
Landes, sticking his head deep into the sands of partisanship, denied the current system protects incumbents (how do you spell POULTRY LITTER?). Landes then dodged talking about the issue:
"One of the problems I've had in the many years I've been here is the legislative branch more and more gives up its authority to other groups or the executive branch..."
By the way, Landes' assertion is absurd and he's either not being forthcoming or didn't understand the bill. The General Assembly would have retained final say on districts created by the commission. Sure there would have been pressure on them to accept the commission's districts, but legislators could override if there was broad support to do so.
Delegate Landes, always the partisan on steroids, was marching to the party line that wants to deny Senator Deeds, a gubernatorial candidate, any legislative successes. Playing politics is more important than good policy. It is more important than democracy. It is apparently more important than the GOP's beloved tax breaks - the House killed another Deeds' bill (SB 1216) that would have created a sales tax exemption for renewable energy systems like wind powered electric generators and solar panels. The partisan chickens in the House didn't even consider the merits of the bill - they killed it on a procedural motion.
Senator Deeds responded to the defeat of SB 926 by saying he wanted an end to "bitter partisanship" in the State Capitol. He continued:
"I think you'll come out with a more moderate form of government. You'll end up with a more problem-solving, focused legislature, whether it's Democratic or Republican."
Senator Deeds has been working on building a bipartisan consensus on this legislation for several sessions. It is ashamed that four partisans on a subcommittee can undo that good work - but such is the legislative process. Deeds promised that as Governor he would appoint an advisory panel on redistricting and use his veto/amendment powers to help craft a plan to remove partisanship from the process.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fox in the General Assembly Hen House

Predatory payday and car title foxes appear to have again snuck into and out of the Richmond hen house with all the eggs.
CCC has often commented (here's one) on the payday and car title lenders shameful practices that rip off consumers - usually ones who have fallen upon hard times and don't take time to understand the consequences of dealing with these predators. This year, our lawmakers, who are supposed to look out for the common good, have again helped these foxes to all the eggs they want.
This session there were bills to regulate these lenders and to end the use of open-end loans which came into use as a way to dodge last year's weak regulations. The industry responded by deploying a dozen or more lobbyists to prowl the halls and elevators of the General Assembly Building, reminding legislators of past campaign contributions and the promise of more to come. Lobbyist Jeff Smith, representing the Virginia Financial Services Association, a group representing small lenders which are not involved in payday or car title lending, warning that the bills would knock those lenders out of revolving loans and could affect employment at HSBC, a British bank with a processing center in SE Virginia.
Smith was either wrong or conveniently misrepresented the truth - HSBC would not be affected by the bills. More troubling is Smith's apparent amnesia about his also representing Consumer Loans of America, one of the nation's largest payday and car title lenders.
It is easy chop off Jeff Smith's head for his "lobbying" activities. But, it is far more appropriate to ask our legislators what the cluck they are thinking. Or, if they are thinking at all. I guess they were just too busy denying the right to vote to former felons, making sure Virginia remains a right-to-work state, and teaching elementary kids about all the benefits of marriage to enact some reasonable restrictions on these vicious predators.
More info in prior posts and here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quotes from the grist mill

"So I suppose you have to first ask the question, can we improve on a document drafted by George Mason?"
~ House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong commenting on Delegate Chris Saxman's proposed bill to rewrite provisions of Virginia's constitution.
"Cantor may think the greatest economic crisis in 70 years is a joke, but we don't."
~ AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee remarking on a profanity-laced video clip sent out by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor's office. More.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blue Risin'

Success breeds success. With Virginia voting Democratic in a presidential election for the first time since 1964, electing a second Democrat as U.S. Senator, and holding a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, there is optimism about continuing the blue risin' in November '09. A few examples:
Speaker of the House of Delegates, Bill Howell, will face an opponent for the 28th District seat. Stafford County Board of Supervisors Chairman George Schwartz announced that he will run for the Virginia House of Delegates. Schwartz said:
"My term as supervisor is coming to a close. I think I've accomplished what I set out to do. I have every confidence that the board will continue on the track it is presently on next year, and the time is right to take on this next challenge."
As speaker, Bill Howell hasn't been quite the Darth Vader that his predecessor was, but sometimes it is close. At any rate, on the key partisan issues, House Republicans usually march in carefully controlled lockstep to Howell's marching orders. Signs of a crack - some GOP delegates (along with some tobacco Democrats) watered down the restaurant smoking ban agreed to by Governor Kaine and Speaker Howell.
There will be an open seat 52nd District. Jeff Frederick who wears three hats - delegate, Virginia GOP chair, and dunce - announced he won't seek reelection. He's pushing his wife, Amy, to run for the seat. Many observers think this Prince William district, which is trending Democratic and embarrassed by Frederick's strange behaviors, will flip this year.
Here, in the most Republican area of the commonwealth, the central Shenandoah Valley, it looks like Republicans will face challenges in most districts.
In the 24th District, Jeff Price has been on the campaign trail for months and appears to be the likely nominee to take on Ben Cline. Price is a businessman and family man whose wife is a school teacher. From what I can tell, Price wasn't too political in the past, at least not in a partisan way. But, he became frustrated with the extreme Republican dogma, gridlock in the House of Delegates, and with the inept representation provided by Cline. He's run an energetic and creative campaign for the past six months meeting with small groups in Amherst, Rockbridge, and Augusta.
In the 26th District that comprises Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham, Gene Hart is taking on Matt Lohr. Like Cline, Lohr is a party line type guy. Hart calls for "Leadership That Works" which seems to mean ending partisanship and seeking practical solutions. Hart is an attorney with a solo practice in Harrisonburg and his wife is a special education teacher.
In the 25th District, Steve Landes will certainly face an opponent - two Democrats are apparently seeking the nomination which will be decided at the June 9 primary when the statewide candidates will be chosen. James Noel began gathering signatures on petitions a month or so ago and has visited local committees. More recently, Dr. Greg Marrow has expressed interest in running; he's a laser eye surgeon and a cofounder of Seven Generations. The 25th includes Waynesboro and the NE part of Augusta, eastern Rockingam, and a few western Albemarle precincts. Noel is from Augusta; Marrow from Rockingham.
The 20th District includes Staunton, Highland, parts of Augusta and Rockingham, including Bridgewater and Massanetta Springs. At this point, the very partisan incumbent, Chris Saxman, is unopposed as no Democrat has announced intentions to run. Not too surprising since the 20th is a gerrymandered district with solid Republican leanings in the rural areas. But, Democrats point to Staunton becoming increasingly blue and inroads in other areas as well. Some local party activists are hopeful that Bruce Elder might jump into the race. It sounds enticing, but Elder seems to be enjoying his influential role on Staunton City Council. While other names have surfaced and one individual seems to be actively weighting the pros/cons, there haven't been any announcements. Yet!
Similar Democratic activity can be found around the state and there is a good chance many Republican delegates will face real opposition. All of which bodes well for the Democrats picking up the half dozen seats necessary to control the House of Delegates.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still thinking...?

Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) says he is "still thinking" about getting into the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Delegate Steve Shannon (D-Fairfax) currently has that race to himself. But, Senator Edwards is also on a list, with 16 others, under consideration for appointment as a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Edwards says he has been encouraged by senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner to seek that appointment by President Barack Obama.
I don't know the timeline for this appointment, but there is a timeline for Senator Edwards to get in the game if he wants to run for attorney general. Petitions to be placed on the primary ballot are due by March 24. We can expect Edwards to say yea or nay to the attorney general contest shortly after the General Assembly adjourns at the end of February.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Playing Chicken?

Last Monday Governor Tim Kaine invited Virginia's congressional delegation to breakfast to discuss the commonwealth's economic and budget situations and the stimulus bill pending in Congress. The breakfast is a time-honored annual tradition that brings together the top elected officials to discuss issues facing the state and ways our representatives in Congress can help address them. Typically, the representatives and senators attend, or if they can't, will send a top aide.
This year, in a bit of political chicken, all the Republicans (including Bob Goodlatte) stayed away. None even sent an aide. That's right, they boycotted because (pick your fowl excuse):
  • Rep. Eric Cantor, a house whip, couldn't be there because he was on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan and Iraq - Kaine picked the date to exclude him, or
  • For the first time in years there were more Democratic than Republican seats at the table, or
  • Governor Tim Kaine is also the DNC chair and it would be a partisan breakfast.
Mr. Cantor, whose absence is excused, could have done as Rep. Rick Boucher did - send his chief of staff.
Rep. Randy Forbes said he didn't want to have breakfast with a man who would later be plotting Forbes' defeat in the next election. So, Mr. Forbes, why did Democrats join the meeting with former Governor Jim Gilmore when he was also the RNC chair?
The most likely reason for their absence is that Virginia, like nearly every other state no matter which party governs it, is looking for help in the economic stimulus bill. All of the Republicans in Virginia's congressional delegation, following party marching orders, voted no.
Whatever the reason for their petty boycott of this meeting of Virginia's elected officials, it is a very bad time to play the old partisan game of chicken. To move our nation forward, we need more talking and listening, not less. Your 6th District constituents were not represented at this meeting, Mr. Goodlatte. You didn't have input, nor did you learn about critical issues facing my family and our communities in the Shenandoah Valley.
To everything there is a season: a time for partisan politics, and a time for statesmanship and good government. Apparently our elected Republican leaders have yet to learn this lesson.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smoke Filled Rooms

Last week Governor Tim Kaine and Speaker of the House Bill Howell announced a compromise deal to dramatically curb smoking in restaurants. Yesterday the House of Delegates passed a bill curbing smoking, but with several amendments that could flick its butt out the window.
Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) offered several smoke and mirror amendments that the House added to the legislation, however the Governor and Senate may not accept them:
  • Instead of a separately ventilated smoking room, restaurants could just close a door,
  • Facilities which do not admit minors would be exempt,
  • A restaurant hosting a private function where the whole facility is booked could permit smoking at that function.
Senator Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he would not support any of Kilgore's amendments when the House version comes to the Senate. It is also possible Governor Kaine could strip out the amendments. The bill, with the amendments, passed the House 61-38. Without the amendments passage would be a very close call.
The Republican amendments represent a bit of a GOP smack down for the Speaker's leadership who stood with Governor in announcing the compromise. And, could it be that some House Republicans simply want to deny a victory to the Governor who has made the smoking ban a priority!
That said, this is one of those bills that seems to divide as much along geography as it does along party lines. Many delegates from tobacco growing areas, of both parties, opposed the bill.
Several years ago while visiting in a county neighboring Delegate Kilgore's, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. Upon entering, we picked up the stench of tobacco smoke although the place was mostly empty at the time. As it filled with patrons - most looked like farmers or tradesmen - we noticed the vast majority lit up, some several times, over their salisbury steak, BBQ, or burgers. The dining room quickly became a smoke filled haze. With two children and all of us wanting to get some fresh air, we finished up our lunch (which was very good) and headed outside. It was then I saw the sign above the door:
If you want to ban smoking, you can kiss my butt.
That was 8-10 years ago and since then public acceptance of a smoking ban in restaurants has grown. According to some polls 75% of Virginians support a ban. Our economy has changed. Our understanding of the health risks of tobacco have grown. Virginia's demographics have shifted. It is time to pass the bill, without the Kilgore amendments.
Yes, Virginia has changed. But, aren't those tobacco leaves in the beautiful design on the ceiling in the General Assembly chambers?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Not so sweet after all

Just last week Hershey Chocolate Co, in Stuarts Draft was conducting a hiring fair. Now they are firing employees... or damned close to it. According to NBC29 Hershey's will furlough about 150 employees for a month. If the economy doesn't improve, many of those furloughs will likely be permanent.
Meanwhile hypocritical Republicans in Congress, including Bob Goodlatte who sent out a flatulent newsletter "explaining" himself, are dawdling around. Yep, Mr. Goodlatte, who had no trouble spending billions in Iraq and helping George W. Bush in running up the national debt for a war that had nothing to do with our security, can't help rescue his county and his constituents. Is he for "big government" only when it means WAR?
Bob, I have news for you. This is war. War against fear that feeds on itself. Americans lives at stake. American families. In times like these we expect our elected officials to... lead, follow, or get the Hell out of the way. You've let us down, Bob.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Big doin's at the J-J Dinner

Riley has an excellent account of the Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on his blog, Blue Ridge Data. Check it out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Grist from the General Assembly

The Senate passed SB 1470 that would end open-ended credit lines by payday lenders. Now a House committee has endorsed similar legislation in HB 1709. After the weak regulations passed last year, some payday lenders tried to dodge the intent of the legislation by offering the open-end loans with no limits on interest rates. Hopefully, our wise legislators will move to crack down on car title lenders as well. How about limiting rates on the usurious "rapid refund loans" at the storefront tax preparers, too.
A Senate committee passed SB 827 to require instruction in the "benefits, challenges, responsibilities and value" of marriage in the family life curriculum fro grades K-12. The House has already passed similar legislation. In a prior post, CCC was critical of this feel-good legislation that is at best redundant. It was amended in the Senate to include "challenges and responsibilities" of marriage - perhaps a slight improvement. The bill has received support by such diverse groups as the Family Foundation of Virginia and the Equality Virginia.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dining out safely... or not?

Governor Tim Kaine, House Speaker William Howell, and other key legislative leaders announced a compromise bill to ban smoking in restaurants. The deal allows exceptions for private clubs and restaurants with a designated smoking room that is physically separated and independently ventilated from non-smoking dining areas. This is good legislation and great news for the health of Virginians. There is no debate about the dangers of second-hand smoke. Finally, I guess, the tired bullshit argument about "smoker rights" blew away. I never could find it in the Bill of Rights.
On the other hand, there is Senator Emmett Hanger's bill to allow individuals to carry a concealed weapon into restaurants/bars serving alcoholic beverages. Emmett is a good guy, but this bill is a dumb... no make that a dumber idea. Alcohol and guns do not mix. It is concealed for Christ's sake... how am I to know what the guy sitting next to me is packing? The bill has passed the Senate, will probably pass the House, but faces likely veto by the Governor. One more good reason crazy Bob McDonnell should never reside in the Executive Mansion!
So, you'll no longer be able to blow smoke in my face, but the crazy SOB in the next booth may blow my f#@&ing brains out. Where is the logic?

How sweet it is!

With some of the sweetest news of these sour economic times, the Hershey Plant in Stuarts Draft announced it is hiring! Unemployment in nearby Waynesboro is above the national average and things not much better in the region, so Hershey's kiss is a needed shot in the arm of the local economy. Just how big a shot isn't known as Hershey hasn't said how many positions they'll be filling. But, it certainly won't be enough for all the people who are seeking a job. At their hiring fair at the Waynesboro Best Western they accepted almost 1,000 applications yesterday and expect at least that many more before their Friday deadline. More on WHSV.
There's been other good economic news for Virginia over the past few days. Hilton Hotel will move its headquarters from California to Fairfax County, investing some $17 million and creating over 300 jobs. Other recent announcements include LASCO Bathware locating in Halifax County thereby creating 50 jobs and a new Harris Teeter distribution center being built in King George County with an investment of $100 million and the potential of over 335 new jobs! Of course, each of these projects will also boost construction and other trades. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sierra Club in the Valley

Snow Day! The Sierra Club has things going on in the Shenandoah Valley and across Virginia. Sit by the fire - mark your calendar for the these events and contact the officials to keep our Commonwealth green.
The Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club is presenting the following program events. All meetings are free and open to the public. Contact for more information
  • "The State of the Shenandoah River: What We Need to Know and What We Can Do" will be presented by Jeff Kelbie of Shenandoah Riverkeeper on February 17, 7:30pm at Clementine Cafe, 153 South Main Street, Harrisonburg.
  • Michael Testerman, Vice-Chair of Rail Solution will provide an overview of current transportation planning and efforts to develop the rail alternative to highway expansion. March 17, 7:30 PM at Clemtine Cafe, 153 South Main Street Harrisonburg.
The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter urges you to support Senate Bills 1447 (McEachin) and 1440 (Herring). Their legislation calls for a mandatory 19% reduction in projected energy demand by 2025 while rewarding utilities for their efficiency investments. This will create jobs and reduce our use of electricity. For more information and contact visit Article XI: To Preserve and Protect.
Finally, let officials at the George Washington National Forest know what you think as they develop their new plan. At 1.1 million acres, the GWNF is the largest National Forest in the eastern United States and is vital to Virginia's environmental and economic health. Tell them to write a plan to provide for species protection, for protecting downstream rivers and drinking water, maintaining its large tracts of roadless areas, and for low-impact recreational activities. More info. Comments may be made at GWNF or emailed to (put "Comment on George Washington Plan Revision" in the subject line.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday - pass the popcorn

Super Bowl Sunday. Game starts in just minutes. The weather has been mild so I spent a little time outside. Didn't really miss the hubba hubba on NBC.... much adoo about less than nothing. Did make a point of watching the two Springsteen interviews and Matt Lauer's talk with Barack Obama.
On the game... I really don't give a rat's ass (apparently many other Americans don't either), but will root for the Cardinals because they are seen by most as underdogs. Plus, with Rush Limbaugh being a Steeler fan, that brand is crap.
I am a huge Springsteen fan and have been wondering (along with millions of others) how he'll cram the energy of a 3+ hour concert into 12 minutes. If anybody can do it, the Boss and the E Street Band can. So, what's on the playlist? Gotta think he does Born to Run. Maybe Working on a Dream. He's been recruited for years and finally agreed to the Super Bowl in '09. I think it is his optimism for the U.S.A. with an Obama Administration. Born in the U.S.A. on the playlist? BTW, his new album, CD... whatever... "Working On A Dream" is f%$#ing great! Been renaissance of sorts... "The Rising," "Magic," and "Working On A Dream" all speak to the soul of our nation and are performed with precision and unbelievable vitality.
The commercials will be fun, but again they are a flash in the pan. Hope they provide a little economic stimulus for the short term. Guess they did for NBC.
May the best team win. I'll have some popcorn. Pizza. Gimmie another beer. Now kick it off, already!