Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stop the presses

The Charlottesville Daily Progress announced six more layoffs, four in the newsroom. Just across the mountain in Waynesboro, the News Virginian (already a pretty small operation) is laying off one. And a few more miles to the west, a rumor became fact when the News Leader announced it is shutting down its 40 year old Staunton press and will outsource printing to the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg. The News Leader will cut eight full-time and 15 part-time jobs. Publisher Roger Watson says readers won't see much difference, only the printing will no longer be done in Staunton.
Editor David Fritz noted this is part of a nationwide trend hitting smaller newspapers as well as the large ones. Fritz said he didn't expect the News Leader to stop the print edition all together, but noted,
"I can't tell you the last time I've been thoroughly surprised by something I read in print. It's always a case where I heard about it earlier on the internet or on broadcast. Print has not been the medium for breaking news for quite a long time now."
My prediction - within several years, even if the economy improves, the Central Valley will lose at least one print newspaper (maybe a merger) or the papers will rely on their online edition with perhaps a weekly print compilation of local news with a large advertising section. The challenge will be to actually make money with an online edition - yes, that is much cheaper than running the presses, but will people actually pay for something they are now getting for free?
A bit of irony - newspapers' online editions are getting better and better, have interactive discussions, are more timely in reporting breaking news. Newspapers are helping to write their own obituary for the print edition - as more people get news online, fewer subscribe for the print edition and fewer advertisers buy space. Death by success?
As with most societal and economic changes, the ongoing demise of print newspapers has both good and bad consequences.
  • Will newspaper boxes disappear along rural roads? Hardly seems economic or environmentally friendly to have someone driving all the back roads to drop off a skinny newspaper every morning.
  • Will I have to use my own paper and ink to print vendors coupons? Will coupons even survive without a Sunday paper?
  • What will I start the wood stove with? Just crumple up the laptop!
  • Will we have to change laws about legal notices for public hearings? How about hiring a town crier to stand on the courthouse steps?
I grew up in a town with both a morning and an evening paper. Then the evening news on TV killed the evening newspaper. We survived that transition. Now, the internet and 24/7 news on TV is threatening to kill all but the strongest print editions of the daily paper. We'll survive this one, too.
Well, back to the newspaper... I mean laptop. Oh Hell, I'll just grab another cup of coffee and sit in the sun pondering how the loss of another print newspaper may affect my life. Or won't?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has introduced a bill to set up a bipartisan blue ribbon commission to study, evaluate, and make recommendations for reforming America's criminal justice system, The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009. In his floor speech introducing the bill, Senator Webb said
"America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. With five percent of the world's population, our country houses twenty-five percent of the world's prison population. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980. And four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. Our neighborhoods are at risk from gang violence, including transnational gang violence. We should be devoting precious law enforcement capabilities toward making our communities safer.
There is great appreciation from most in this country that we are doing something drastically wrong. And I am committed to getting this legislation passed and enacted into law this year."
Senator Arlen Spector (R-PA) is the principal Republican cosponsor. Senator Webb will be hitting the media this weekend to discuss the need for a top to bottom review and overhaul of our criminal justice system. He will be on NPR's All Things Considered at 5:00 pm on Sunday and authored Parade's cover story, "What's Wrong With Our Prisons?"
Or, maybe we should ask, what's right with our prisons?
Full text and fact sheet on The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Governor vetoes bad bills

Governor Tim Kaine's office announced the vetoes of several bills in which CCC has passed through the grist mill and rejected as spoiled grain. Among the vetoes:
Senator Emmett Hanger's SB 1035 would have allowed concealed weapons in restaurants and bars serving alcohol. The governor noted that this bill would put employees and patrons of these establishments at risk and that many in the law enforcement community opposed it. He also vetoed SB 877 that would have allowed retired law enforcement to carry concealed weapons in restaurants and bars selling alcohol. The governor found no compelling reason for retired officers to do so.
The governor also vetoed SB 1069, HB 2358, SB 961, HB 2638 and SB 1409, all of which expand the capital murder statute to increase the number of offenders who would be eligible for capital punishment. The governor noted that Virginia is already second in the nation (behind Texas) in the number of executions. The most controversial, SB 961/HB 2358 patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Todd Gilbert, would have redefined the triggerman rule so principals in the second degree and accessories before the fact could be charged as principals in certain first degree cases. 
The General Assembly reconvenes on April 8 to consider the governor's vetoes and amendments. Contact your legislator and urge him/her to sustain the governor's vetoes of these bad bills.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No pecking in the Valley grist?

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates have agreed to a series of five debates, but not one is in the Shenandoah Valley or even very close to the 6th District.
The campaigns of Creigh Deeds, Brian Moran, and Terry McAuliffe announced yesterday that the candidates will debate five times around the Commonwealth - April 19 in Williamsburg, April 23 in Hampton, April 28 in Danville, April 29 in Blacksburg, and May 19 in Annandale. Details and formats of the debates are still being debated. They've also agree to several joint appearances - again, none in the Valley.
Nearly a dozen local Democratic committees in the Shenandoah Valley, led by Rockingham and Harrisonburg, had been working for a couple months to bring the candidates to a forum/debate at JMU. Apparently they've been stiffed. A quick glance at the locations shows the first two debates only about 20 miles apart while voters in big regions of the state, including the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia, are left to read about it in the newspaper.
It is interesting that areas in which Senator Creigh Deeds is best known, the Valley and Charlottesville, will not host a debate. Could it be the Moran and McAuliffe campaigns were a bit chicken about giving Creigh the podium in front of a friendly home crowd? Cluck!
The primary is June 9. There is plenty of opportunity within the schedule and time before the primary for the campaigns to agree to a couple more debates in other areas of the state. Lots of Democrats hope they will do it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Assessing reassessments II

Pastures Supervisor Tracy Pyles says it is time for the battle over reassessments to end and for the county to move on to the budget and other matters. He also told the News Leader that he does not support Francis Chester's threatened lawsuit or the recall petition.
The wounds from this battle will be raw for a while, but I have no doubt the BOS can rebuild a working relationship that puts the residents of the county first. There will be challenges enough in finalizing a budget that features a cut in the real estate tax rate from 58¢ to 48¢ per hundred dollars of value (basically revenue neutral), layoffs, and cuts in services.
While the memories of the reassessment are still fresh, the board and residents should resolve to work for changes in the way the state required reassessments are conducted. Some may be achieved locally while others may need authorization or help from Richmond. A starter list:
  • Reassessments should be done every two years to improve timeliness and accuracy while reducing sticker shock.
  • Reassessments should be done in-house by a independent office shielded as much as possible from political pressures. The Commonwealth should pass legislation and funding to assist with technology, training, and legal safeguards.
  • Legislation should be passed to place the burden on the assessor to justify large increases (say over 8 or 10% annualized) rather than being on the landowner to show why the increase is unjustified.
Sometimes our biggest disagreements can result in the best positive steps forward. Hopefully, that will be the case this time.

GOP birds flock to open seat

The number of Republicans jumping into the fray for the 17th House of Delegates district is growing. You'll recall incumbent William Fralin surprised his party by deciding to step down. The GOP flock now includes:
  • Josh Johnson, 29, a Roanoke lawyer
  • Melvin Williams, 36, a Roanoke lawyer
  • Mike Wray, 59, a Roanoke County supervisor
  • Chris Head, 46, a Botetourt County businessman
  • Bill Cleaveland, a Botetourt County lawyer
The only announced Democrat is Gwen Mason, 49, a Roanoke City councilwoman.
Both parties will nominate candidates at the June 9 primary. More in The Roanoke Times.

Petition race

Terry McAuliffe became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to file petitions for the June 9 primary. He filed 17,243 signatures with the State Board of Elections yesterday. Jody Wagner filed 17,858 signatures for lieutenant governor. It is a bit of "race" to file first - which should earn McAuliffe and Wagner top spots on the ballot and a bit of publicity this week.
To qualify for the ballot, candidates have to secure at least 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters with at least 400 in each of the state's 11 congressional districts. Some observers think the top spot on the ballot is worth one-half to one percent in the vote - something I personally discount for the top of the ticket with three well known candidates. It may be more valuable to Wagner in the lieutenant governor contest where candidates are not nearly so well known to primary voters.
Later in the day, Brian Moran submitted 16,928 signatures. Creigh Deeds is expected to submit petitions in the next week. Wagner and Jon Bowerbank have been in the lieutenant governor race the longest, giving them an advantage over late entries Pat Edmonson and Michael Signer in the tedious signature gathering process. While both should have their petition drives finished by April 10, it is possible one will not make the deadline. Why am I thinking of  Emmett Hanger?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Delegates and other cracked corn

Todd Gilbert (R-15) announced he'll seek a third term. The 15th district includes Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock, and part of Rockingham counties. So far, no Democrat has announced a challenge to the far right conservative. Hopefully one will... soon. The clock is ticking on the nomination process.
In the 20th District, Delegate Chris Saxman may be thinking he's home free. According to some GOP blogs, Democrat Tracy Pyles will not run. Pyles had been rumored to be interested in taking on the incumbent who he faced Saxman when the district was first gerrymandered... err, created. Rumors persist that the Democrats will field a strong candidate who has given long thought and study to taking on one of the most ideological and partisan delegates in the General Assembly.
In the 17th District (parts of Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Botetourt County) there were rumors today that Sam Rasoul would announce his candidacy. Rasoul floated a press release strongly hinting he was running and called a 1:00 PM press conference - it was picked up and reported on TV midday news and several blogs. Instead, Rasoul used his time in the sun to endorse Gwen Mason, a Roanoke City Councilwoman, who had previously announced. Sam misplayed his hand this time - nobody likes to be mislead.

Assessing reassessments

The reassessment battles that have been raging in Augusta County appear to be nearing an end. The Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 to accept the reassessment and move toward drafting a budget as required by state law. The supervisors are all committed to lowering the tax rate and will probably do so in a way that produces a low single digit percentage gain in overall county revenues. Yes, some landowners will see higher tax increases but others may actually find their taxes go down. When tax bills go out in May there will be a burst of anger from some but most residents will find their bills haven't unreasonably increased.
In a way, the reassessment brouhaha is part of a larger populist anger fueled by the fears and uncertainties of our economic downturn. We're seeing it in reactions to the AIG bonuses and outrage over Bernie Madoff, even among those of us who didn't lose a dime in his giant ponzi scheme. Newsweek has an excellent cover story about populist outrage in American history.
But, back to Augusta County where some lingering playlets will grab more headlines:
  • Francis Chester will file his lawsuit, the judge will find it groundless, and toss it out. Mr. Chester will declare victory.
  • Residents pushing a recall of the supervisors will find it tough going. They like to cite the "10,000 signatures" Mr. Chester got, but his petition was basically a PR campaign and met virtually none of the safeguards required of a petition required for a legally binding procedure such as a recall. Besides, Virginia law does not permit a recall in the same sense as California and other states. So, even if they get the required minimum number of legal signatures, the petitions go before a judge to determine if any supervisors are guilty of misuse of office, neglect of duty, or incompetence. They aren't. End of story.
Moving forward, what are some lessons learned from all this? A few reflections on reassessment and a couple suggestions for the future:
  • When times are tough, people are fearful, and taxes are the topic, demagogues find fertile conditions. Perhaps they perform a useful service by providing an emotional outlet.
  • We should never confuse the thrill of politics with good governance as some like the former local GOP chair and his blogging cohort have done. Watching them at the March 11 public hearing was akin to watching parents exhibiting bad sportsmanship at a local high school basketball game.
  • Many people who spoke at the public hearing seem to think the assessors are setting market values, when the opposite is actually true. One friend wondered how he can sell his now multimillion dollar farm to a child or grandchild. He can, if he wants to sell it below market value. But, if he needs the cash for his retirement, he'll probably put the farm on the open market and get the highest price he can - which would likely be above the assessment.
  • The firm hired to conduct the reassessments should not participate in the political fray. It is okay to explain the technical and procedural aspects of reassessment, it is not okay to engage in political shouting and name calling.
  • People who give their time and energy to serve on local committees and boards, such as the Board of Assessors, deserve our thanks, not our scorn.
  • It is interesting that Republicans who usually push privatization, don't much like the private firm, Blue Ridge Mass Appraisals, who conducted the reassessment. They probably won't like this either - a better approach than hiring out for reassessments would be in-house appraisals by local governments. Since periodic reassessment is required under the the Code of Virginia, the General Assembly should provide the technology and training to assist counties and cities in establishing a politically shielded office to conduct reassessments.
  • Some have suggested reassessing every six years rather than the four year cycle which Augusta County now uses (some localities are on a two year cycle). Changing to a six year reassessment cycle is a very bad idea for a couple of compelling reasons. The sticker shock is bad enough after four years - can residents imagine the jump if they'd been comparing to 2003 rather than 2005? Conducing reassessments every two years would reduce the sticker shock and likely produce more accurate results. Perhaps even more important - a six year reassessment cycle would make it longer than the four year term of office of a supervisor with undemocratic electoral and accountability consequences. 
Time to move on to other things - like writing a lean budget that has a lower tax rate while protecting the essential core services of public education, public safety, and public health. I hope the supervisors and the people can put the past behind them and move forward on this difficult task.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

eightyone going out of business

eightyone, a monthly magazine featuring contemporary issues, arts, people, and events in the central Shenandoah Valley, announced that it will publish its final issue in April. Publisher and editor Deona Landes Houff said many businesses have reduced their purchases of ad space and current revenues just don't support continuing publication. Six employees will lose jobs and contributing writers will lose a source of income.
eightyone began publication in 1998 and grew to a circulation of about 13,000 mostly in Augusta and Rockingham counties as well as the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro.
I enjoyed reading eightyone which I'd pick up for free in a store or read while waiting in a lobby. eightyone was, in my opinion, the cream of the local crop of similar publications. I even won a contest a few years ago! But, like others, I wondered how it and similar magazines could survive without subscribers and advertisers that can be fickle even in good times. With the economic downturn hammering long-established newspapers, it isn't too surprising that eightyone found the going especially tough.
eightyone's exit will probably help other regional news and culture magazines such Charlottesville's weekly, The Hook, and Waynesboro's, The New Dominion. Perhaps they'll pick up some advertising and readers. Some solicit donations to help pay costs, but that's a tough sell - with everything available online for free, only the best publications will survive people's and businesses' closed wallets. Besides my donations will go to food pantries, Habit for Humanity, and other organizations helping people truly in need.
eightyone, you will be missed. Thanks for your contributions to the Shenandoah Valley's quality of life.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Good news from the farm

In these bad economic times, a little good news from Virginia farms is in order. The Commonwealth's farm exports jumped 27% in 2008 and topped $2.2 billion. All sorts of commodities - soybeans, tobacco, wheat, corn, meat, and poultry products - are part of the increase. Products were shipped to a variety of nations ranging from Switzerland to Vietnam. Rockingham and Augusta counties are the two largest agricultural producers so this good news hits close to home. Also credited is the role of Virginia's port of Hampton Roads. More.

A house divided

As you read here in the previous post, the Jeff Frederick saga is dividing Virginia Republicans every way imaginable. Most elected Republicans and those higher up in the party regime seem to favor booting the embattled chair. But, Frederick appears to have considerable support among activists, especially in local committees that have a strong contingent of right wingers (they call themselves "grassroots").
A noteworthy example - earlier this week the Augusta Republican Committee passed a resolution of support for Jeff Frederick. The vote was 10-9. The resolution says, in part, that Frederick is "doing the job he was elected to do, namely to make the state party the servant of the local unit and not its master.” 
Bill Shirley, the Augusta GOP chair, was noncommittal about the resolution and apparently didn't vote on it. He simply urged Republicans to pay attention to the issues swirling around Frederick before making up their minds. RightsideVA, in a post on the News Virginian's website, lays bare the rift:
Is it possible that we now have another level of “Party Govt” who feel that they are better at deciding what is right for the party and that the “Grassroot Citizens” should just trust their decision with disregard to any backroom deal to save their own position in the party?...
Stay tuned! The roof of this house divided is sagging under the strain. To be continued through April 4 and beyond.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Desperate measures

Faced with his looming ouster, Virginia Republican Chair Jeff Frederick fired off a lengthy email to GOP activists in an attempt to stop the daily bleeding. In recent weeks, the party's gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, the Speaker of the House of Delegates Bill Howell, the Virginia Senate Republicans, and all five GOP congressmen have called for Frederick's removal. The party's central committee has drawn up 10 charges of mismanagement and misuse/abuse of power - the most serious being sending party business to a firm Frederick owns, damaging the reputation of the party, and making unauthorized expenditures.
Although it looks like many of the GOP big guns are lined up against him, Frederick has a record pulling out a victory from what looks like defeat. He was twice elected to the House of Delegates in spite of Democrats pulling out all the stops in a fairly friendly district. Frederick became chair by besting former Lt. Governor John Hager at last year's state convention, overcoming many of the same party insiders who now oppose him.
While his email addresses the charges against him, it is basically a rallying cry for the grassroots radical right wingers that put him into the chairmanship, to rise up again against the "small minority" of party elite who Frederick says want to turn the Virginia Republican Party into a "rubber stamp for for its longtime insiders."
The divisions can be felt all the way down to local committees and elected officials. Some of the elected, those elite insiders, are backing Frederick's ouster - one Rockingham County elected Republican's spittle flew at the mere mention of his name. But, the party activists on many committees are comprised are far right supporters of Frederick and can be expected to rally to his right side.
The State Central Committee meets on April 4 (wouldn't April 1 be more appropriate?). Let the fight be joined, the words bitter, the scars deep, and the divisions lingering for all of 2009!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Opening a new coop

Creigh Deeds for Governor officially opened its statewide headquarters on Ridge St. in Charlottesville today. While there will be several other headquarters opened around the state, the Charlottesville office will be the hub of Deed's campaign. More on NBC29.

Another bird in the flock

According to TippingPoint at Cobalt6, Jim Noel has formally announced he is running for the Democratic nomination for the 25th House of Delegates district. Noel will face Dr. Greg Marrow in a June 9 primary to select a nominee to take on incumbent Steve Landes. Noel is 42 and a facilities planner at Perdue in Bridgewater. He lives in Mt. Sidney with his wife and three children.
CCC previously reported that Noel was gathering signatures for the primary. He has visited several of the local Democratic committees and recently spoke at the reassessment hearing in Augusta County. After the hearing, Noel was seen talking to voters and gathering signatures for the primary on the steps of the Government Center.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Clipped wings

It used to be that Democrats loved to make fun of Jeff Frederick, chair of the Virginia GOP and radical right's favorite poster boy. The swac girls and Kurts of the Shenandoah Valley were enthralled with the boy wonder and helped to put him in power, but now seem to be distancing themselves from the fool. They act like they don't even know him.
McCloskey's cartoon sums it up nicely - Jeff Frederick has become the poster boy of the failure of the not only the Virginia Republican Party, but specifically underscores the bankruptcy of the party's right wing. 
"In these grim times, voters seek leaders who are seasoned and thoughtful. Yet the GOP displays--Jeff Frederick? Even the Boy Scouts would know better."
Junior G(OP) Man, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 3/13/09
"Jeff Frederick seems eminently qualified to serve as chairman of the Republican Club at Sean Hannity Middle School. The delegate from Prince William serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia instead. There's the rub."
The Right Thing, Richmond Times-Dispatch 3/13/09

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bob McDonnell speaks out of both sides of his mouth

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has been cruising the state conducting grassroots meetings with Republican activists. Although billed as open meetings, they are not widely advertised except by their internal messages, word of mouth, and occasionally on blogs. 
You may recall an earlier CCC post about McDonnell telling the Washington Post that he is a moderate. That article was reprinted in newspapers around the state. Well, the wingnuts of the GOP apparently don't like the sound of "moderate" one bit!
According to some who have been to the meetings, folks are showing up with the article in hand, wanting to know what he meant by claiming to be a moderate, and demanding that he explain himself. McDonnell, after assuring himself the door is closed, usually says something about the press not be present so he can tell those present the truth. He then launches into a tirade defending his commitment to ultraconservative principles on the hardcore social and economic issues that are red meat for the right wing who have shown up.
I'm not sure who should be more pissed off about Bob McDonnell's duplicity: the media for being lied to, the GOP conservatives for being stabbed in the back for political expedience, the readers of newspapers because reporters don't ask the tough questions, or the voters who are being sold a bill of goods by a slick talking two-faced liar.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Technical foul

Seems gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has been called for a violation by the NCAA. Earlier this week, McDonnell's website advertised a basketball tournament contest called McDonnell's March Madness. That's when officials blew the whistle and charged him with a foul under trademark law - the term "March Madness" has long been protected. Even if they wanted to allow him to use the term, as a nonprofit (for tax purposes) organization, the NCAA cannot permit a politician to use the words in a political campaign.
McDonnell, a former attorney general who one would think is on top of the law, was benched briefly. Besides John McCain had tried the same slogan thing... and also had to back down. After a couple days the McDonnell website sported a new slogan, "McDonnell's Bracket Madness." Doesn't quite have the same ring to it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


dem•a•gogue: noun - a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.
Etymology: Greek dēmagōgos, from dēmos people (perhaps akin to Greek daiesthai to divide) + agōgos leading, from agein to lead.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm seeing blue

Blue Commonwealth has a couple of nice tools for anyone interested in the House of Delegates races this fall. The first is an interactive map of the districts. Check out the statewide map and then click on a district to find out who represents it, which localities are included, and the Obama/Warner vote percentages for '08. The other resource is an online spreadsheet giving district by district statistical info on voters' performance in '08.
A big thanks to Blue Commonwealth for these tools and all the other great information and links.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another GOP delegate flies the coop

Delegate Clarke Hogan (R-South Boston) represents the 6oth House District that includes Charlotte, Halifax, and parts of Nottoway, and Prince Edward counties. Sunday afternoon Delegate Hogan caught his party and constituents off-guard by announcing he would not seek reelection. He cited business responsibilities as the reason for stepping aside.
Hogan was first elected in 2001 and served on the House Appropriations Committee, the Rules Committee, and the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee. He indicated no desire to "anoint" a successor and said the next delegate should get elected in his or her own right.
Another surprise for Republicans and another open seat giving the Democrats a chance for a steal. Their quest to win back a majority in the House of Delegates improves with each passing week.

Flocking around II

As predicted, the candidates are starting to gather at the grist of an open seat in 17th District House of Delegates. You'll recall that William Fralin surprised everyone by announcing he'd be stepping down.
Yesterday, a couple birds of different colors announced they'd be running. Gwen Mason, a Roanoke City Councilwoman, formally announced what everyone knew - she'd be a candidate for the Democratic nomination. She called for "sound investment of public money" and promised to forge a close relationship between state and local officials. Her announcement apparently preempted fellow member of city council, David Trinkle, who said it would be distracting to have two members running at the same time. Eric Thomas, a realtor, said he'd make a decision about running soon.
On the GOP side, lawyer Melvin Williams became the first to enter the race. Pulling a well worn page from the Republican playbook, Williams called himself business-friendly and a solid conservative who believes in family values. Cluck, Cluck, Cluck. Perhaps most important - where does he stand on Jeff Frederick as State GOP Chair? Roanoke County Supervisor, Mike Wray, is also mulling a run.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Court clucks

Do bloggers have the same rights as a journalist in the MSM? Can the blogger be forced to hand over his notes and sources or identify people who post anonymously on the blog?
Public Citizen, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia say YES, the blogger enjoys the same rights, and NO, the blogger cannot be forced to reveal sources or the identity of posters. The three organizations filed suit on March 6 to back up those views.
The case involves Waldo Jaquith whose blog, cvillenews.com, commented about a defamation lawsuit filed against The HooK by Thomas Garrett, a local author and "Hollywood publicist." Garrett then subpoenaed Jaquith and cvillenews.com seeking information about anyone who posted on, or even visited, the blog entry. He also demanded any other information Jaquith had relating to the story.
The lawsuit argues that the United States Constitution protects the freedom of expression of a solitary individual on the courthouse steps just as it does for newspapers or other MSM. Paul Levy of Public Citizen noted: 
Bloggers such as Jaquith may not be 'traditional' journalists, but they play an integral part in the way people get their news today."
The brief also argues that the First Amendment protects anonymous comments. Kent Willis of the ACLU of Virginia summed it up nicely:
"If this subpoena is allowed to stand, bloggers will have to look over their shoulders whenever they express their opinions on a pending lawsuit. The chilling effect on free speech on the Internet could be devastating."
The world of the media is changing - traditional print newspapers are shrinking or totally stopping the presses. Increasingly Americans get news online at blogs or websites of traditional media sources. A blog can be a simple personal diary with infrequent postings and few visitors. Or, it can have multiple daily postings with hard news (often missed in the MSM) and riveting opinion. Some better known blogs rival the readership of many newspapers. Even small town newspapers have an online edition with a blog. This new citizen-journalism deserves the same constitutional protections as The Recorder, which serves Bath and Highland counties, or the New York Times which serves the world. Our democracy demands it!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Future Deeds

Now that the General Assembly has adjourned, Senator Creigh Deeds is back on the campaign trail seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor. I, for one, admire the fact that Creigh attended to the people's business by remaining in the legislature. But, it did mean he had to forego fundraising and many campaign opportunities that were open to his opponents.
So, who would you rather have as Governor of our Commonwealth - someone who was on the phone raising money and smoozing with insiders, or a public servant meeting his responsibilities as an elected member of the General Assembly? In spite of being sidelined from the campaign trail, a recent survey shows Deeds is neck and neck with his opponents. That might tell you something about where Virginian Democrats' heads and hearts are as the primary nears.
Creigh visited Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Charlottesville yesterday discussing the state budget, education, transportation, redistricting, appointments of judges, and many other issues facing Virginians. There was a packed house at every stop.
Photo credit: The News Leader

Savaged by lack of corn

Richard Savage has dropped out the race for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. He cited his inability to raise money, blaming it on the economic downturn. Since the economy is the same for every candidate, the true blame probably rests closer to his coop. Savage's exit leaves the following candidates in a crowded race:
The best known are Bowerbank, a Russell Co. businessman and supervisor, and Wagner, a former Secretary of Finance who also ran for Congress. Both have been in the race for months, have visited all regions of the state, and enjoyed modest fundraising success. Wagner, because of her long time political activism and connections in the party, is the frontrunner. Edmonson, a member of the Virginia Beach School Board, entered the race last and has been aggressively sending emails to Democratic activists. Signer is a former gubernatorial aide who, from what I can tell, has made little effort in the Shenandoah Valley.

Maybe now

The News Leader's headline story today is about a Staunton attorney being a defendant in a $1.4 million lawsuit. The attorney is also up for appointment as judge for the Staunton and Augusta General District Courts. While I have no idea about the merits of this suit, the fact of its existence appears to place a cloud over his potential selection.
The judgeship should not be allowed to remain vacant while legislators wrangle. Nor, should a decision be held hostage to the resolution of this suit - which could take months or years. Maybe now this person might withdraw from consideration thus helping to end the gridlock over this appointment so the vacancy can be filled at the reconvened session.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Challenge to an incumbent

Delegate Onzlee Ware of the 11th House of Delegates district (parts of Roanoke and Roanoke Co.) will face a challenger for the Democratic nomination. Martin "MJ" Jeffrey, an activist who has previously run for office, announced he will open up an intra-party battle to be settled at a primary on June 9. 
Jeffrey accused Ware of not representing his constituents and speculated that he'd been influenced by special interests like payday lenders and tobacco companies. The formal campaign kickoff will be on Saturday at the Roanoke City Market Building.
Delegate Ware said he will defend his seat with an aggressive campaign for the nomination. From my perch, I predict he will be successful.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Flocking around

When Republican William Fralin announced he'd be stepping down from his 17th District House of Delegates seat, everyone knew candidates from both parties would flock to this open seat. The first to announce is Gwen Mason, who currently serves on the Roanoke City Council.
The district was gerrymandered after the 2000 Census to make it even friendlier to the GOP - hence, the optimism of Delegate Morgan Griffith, a Salem Republican and House majority leader. But, Mason, who may get strong support from The Farm Team, notes the demographics and times have changed:
"I think when you have an economy like this, people are looking to the Democrats for leadership to turn the country around. Someone rooted in the community who has basic understanding of local government, who's prepared to fight for southwestern Virginia in a state chamber tilted heavily toward Northern Virginia. We need those voices. We need that presence."
Other Democrats said to be mulling a run are David Trinkle, who also serves on Roanoke City Council, and Eric Thomas, a realtor and the son of former Delegate Vic Thomas.
The Republicans haven't announced any names, but Griffith said there are good candidates "floating out there." I know lots of people who think most Republicans are increasingly "floating out there." One name that gets frequent mention is Mike Wray, a former Roanoke County supervisor. Wray says the speculation is "premature."
Fralin threw out some fresh cracked corn with his announcement - you can be sure the number of birds flocking around will quickly grow.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When the lease runs out

The tiny hamlet of Williamsville in the northeastern corner of Bath County, VA is in danger of losing something precious to some 136 families - the Post Office. The Williamsville Post Office has but 14 boxes with old fashioned combination locks. There is no parking lot. It generates only $40 per day of revenue.
The owner of the building says he doesn't want to renew the lease - is there really a higher paying tenant out there? Faced with the news, the Postal Service took a hard look at the dollars and sense of keeping such a small Post Office. Closing it seemed like the best option - but not for those 136 families and the local phone company who would have to travel 25+ miles to Millboro to pick up packages or mail certified letters.
Death of a zip code and community? Perhaps. But, being anonymous has certain advantages. Believe me.
More about going postal at the Roanoke Times.

Point Proven!

A couple days ago I posted about Virginia's broken system of appointing judges, pointing to the partisanship and gridlock that infests the process. Now, as if to prove one of my points, Delegate Chris Saxman is throwing political bricks at Senator (and gubernatorial candidate) Creigh Deeds for the failure of the General Assembly to appoint a judge for the Staunton and Augusta County General District Courts.
As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. So, while he points his finger across the aisle, Delegate Saxman should gaze long and hard in the mirror. He is equally (if not more) guilty.
The problem is a system that actually encourages the blind partisanship and and bickering over what should be a nonpartisan appointment to an independent branch of government. It is a system that fosters gridlock leaving courts without judges, bottlenecks in court dockets, and justice denied.
Delegate Saxman, instead of getting your feathers up in political posturing, how about working to fix the problem?

Moran visits the 'Burg

Except for a few patrons at the door of the public library, Harrisonburg's Main St. was mostly deserted with a cold wind. But at Clementine's, the mood upstairs was festive with a lively younger crowd. Downstairs is a small bar and large rustic meeting room with sofas and chairs and local art that give it a feel of a living room complete with a large TV. The owners make this inviting space available to a variety of groups - it has become a casual meeting place for a variety of progressive groups like the local Democrats and the Sierra Club.
Clementine's is an important part of the renaissance of the once near-dead downtown. Thirty years ago there was Advance Auto, an A&N Store, Whetzel Seed Co., and a Woolworth's along with furniture, shoe, and clothing stores. Those that didn't die moved to the Valley Mall area or down Rt. 11. For a while, the only thing that attracted me to court square was Jess's Lunch - if you've been there you know what I'm talking about; if not, you should go for a dog and the cultural experience. Now downtown boasts several restaurants, Court Square Theater, small museums and historical attractions. Glad to see the new energy.
Last night nearly 60 people filled the room to meet gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran. He arrived just after the starting time and began shaking hands and taking time to chat with every person. Since the event was hosted by the JMU Democrats, about half the crowd were probably not able to buy a beer - but one young man was celebrating his 21st! Also spotted were House of Delegates candidates Greg Marrow (25th) and Gene Hart (26th), and Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner, the state's youngest mayor.
With the frontpage of his website scrolling pictures behind him, Moran talked about clean and green energy, saying NO to a coal-fired generator at Surry, improving health care for all Virginians, job creation, and much more. In response to a question about I-81, Moran expressed strong support for rail as the long term solution. On another question about redistricting, Moran said as Governor he'd make sure there was bipartisan (or did he say nonpartisan?) review of the districts. He praised Senator and gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds who has been the strongest legislative proponent of creating a bipartisan redistricting commission.
Moran stumbled a bit on a student's question about a redefinition of the triggerman rule. Senator Obenshains' SB 961 expands the death penalty by allowing accessories before the fact and others indirectly involved in capital crimes to be eligible for the death penalty. Moran expressed support for the death penalty for the most heinous crimes, but seemed a bit confused about the bill and finally said he wasn't familiar with the legislation from this session. He recovered a bit to talk about the principle - it sounded like he opposes expansion of the death penalty. BTW, while we are on the topic, contact Governor Kaine and ask him to veto SB 961 its companion HB 2358.
With an audience that likely leans to Creigh Deeds (at least the older birds), Brian Moran connected. He spoke about how competing in the primary has forced him to focus on issues and and people while sharpening his positions and words. It is clear Brian Moran has done just that!
More at the Daily News-Record where I shamelessly "borrowed" the pic.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pitchfork Rebellion

Virginia is one of only two states in which the legislature appoints judges, frequently in a partisan deal made largely behind closed doors. The other state with legislative judicial appointments is South Carolina. Some other states elect judges complete with all the campaign funds, lobbyists, and political parties - talk about partisan and potentially corrupting.
But, about 30 states use a variation of the Missouri Plan which attempts to remove most of the partisanship. Judges are selected on the basis of merit through a process that uses a nonpartisan commission to review applications, interview candidates, and select three names which are submitted to the governor. Usually the governor picks one, but if not, the commission selects one after 6o days. Not to be left out, the voters also have a say. After serving for a year the judge stands for a retention election at the next general election.
CCC commented on the Virginia's system of Judging Judges back in August. The 2009 session of the General Assembly saw some of the same deal making and gridlock over appointments that characterized prior sessions. Also bitter arguments over the evaluations of judges. The legislature ended this year with vacancies in several courts (although rumor is they may try to deal with that at the reconvened session next month).
Meanwhile, a citizens group calling itself the Pitchfork Rebellion is calling for term limits for judges, citizen input in the selection of judges, open hearings, and a new judicial evaluation system. It grew out of dissatisfaction with the selection of judges in Fairfax Co., Hampton Roads, and Chesterfield Co. Organizers connected with each other online and now plan to set up a nonprofit group to coordinate activities and raise the issue statewide. Elizabeth Hering of Leesburg, one of the leaders of the movement, said:
"Overall, our goal is to take back our courts and achieve some measure of judicial accountability in Virginia and weed out bad jurists. No man should be above the law. However, we have a judiciary with absolute, unfettered power."
In fundamental ways, the judge selection process shares some striking similarities with the redistricting process for legislative seats. Both processes:
  • are controlled by the General Assembly
  • bring out the worst abuses of partisanship
  • sometimes result in unnecessary gridlock
  • are more about holding power than good government
  • run contrary to ideals of democracy - citizen involvement, liberty, fairness, and accountability of public officials
  • have been successfully reformed in other states by delegating responsibility to nonpartisan commissions
  • require (for meaningful and lasting reform) amending the Virginia Constitution
Things move slowly in Virginia politics. There is a bit of arrogance that we do things right in the Commonwealth and can't learn better ways from other states. It often takes many years and multiple sessions to finally enact good ideas. With a gubernatorial election and 100 members of the House of Delegates facing voters (in their gerrymandered districts), 2009 would be a good time to put reform of redistricting and the selection of judges squarely on the front burner of political discussions. Grab your pitchfork!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Daddy, I gotta pee (and other stories)

VDOT, the Virginia Department of Transportation, has announced cutbacks that everyone will feel - commuters, truckers, and the traveling family. The agency is trying to cut about $2.6 billion in spending and plans to layoff over 1,400 employees.
The headliner in the Shenandoah Valley has been VDOT's plan to close 25 rest areas statewide, including all of them along I-81's 323 miles from Tennessee to West Virginia. That's a long way to go without a potty break and more than a minor inconvenience for truckers who use the rest areas to catch a few winks - for them, and all who share the busy corridor, it is a real safety issue. Perhaps one of the consequences will be more business at the fast food and mom & pop stores that are found at most exits. Junior may need to pee, but once there the family may want a Happy Meal or drink. Another consequence will be more trucks parked along exits and perhaps in shopping centers and Wal-Mart lots found in nearby towns and cities.
VDOT also anticipates consolidating their five offices in the Staunton District. The plan is to close the Verona and Luray offices and shift duties and employees to the Edinburg, Harrisonburg, and Lexington offices. The Harrisonburg office would become the managing office overseeing a huge geographic area. Local governments worry about the implications for response time for snow removal, clearing fallen trees, and especially for cleaning up after accidents.
Of course, projects are on-hold or cancelled, perhaps pending stimulus money coming to the rescue for some. Lesser known consequences for rural areas will be greatly reduced maintenance and no dust abatement for gravel roads (I've read that Augusta County has more miles of these roads than any county in the state; other Valley counties have significant mileage, too). Might be good for business of alignment shops and car washes, but not for the residents of those roads. Mowing and pruning of limbs, snow removal, dead animal pick-ups will all be cut back with convenience and safety implications. Country roads take me home...?
If you want to comment on VDOT's plans, you can do so by email, by visiting the VDOT website, or attending a public hearing at the Augusta County Government Center in Verona on March 12 at 6:00 PM. Other meetings are scheduled around the state.

Will birds flock to an open seat?

Delegate William Fralin (R-Roanoke) announced he will not seek reelection this November. He said the demands of his job as general counsel and VP of Medical Facilities of Virginia, a nursing home company, were forcing him to give up his political career, at least for now.
Fralin was seen as a moderate who occasionally angered GOP leadership, especially when he broke ranks and supported Governor Mark Warner's tax increase. He represents a district that includes parts of Roanoke, Roanoke Co., and Botetourt Co. While the district leans Republican, this open seat is certainly winnable by the right Democrat, especially as the state and region has trended blue. No candidates have yet announced, but Democratic Roanoke City Councilwoman Gwen Mason said she'd "think long and hard" about running. For his part, Fralin said he would not be part of the search for a Republican candidate.
This is one more sign that the GOP may have trouble holding on to the House of Delegates. And Fralin may not be the last to step aside. As more Republicans, who have had years of unopposed elections and now face the prospect of serious opposition, we may see one or two more decide now is the time to exit stage right. We'll know over the next few months.