Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bob's Math

I recently received an email from the Goodlatte Press that said, in part:
... the House of Representatives passed one of the most fiscally irresponsible budgets. The $3.4 trillion legislation, which I voted against, spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. It will significantly increase the tax burden on American families and small businesses to pay for new wasteful government spending while heaping trillions of dollars of debt on future generations.
Whoa Bob! Where is all your newfound fiscal prudence? Didn't you vote enthusiastically to go to war in Iraq and to keep funding it every year? Well, check out what that "smart decision" has cost American taxpayers by the end of April, 2009: $664,773,597,656! The Washington Post, says the Iraq War will cost $3 trillion. If we are lucky!
According to the National Priorities Project, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost Virginia's 6th District taxpayers $1.7 trillion since 2001. Again, if we are lucky. With that, we could have funded the following:
  • 479,992 People with Health Care for One Year OR
  • 1,414,889 Homes with Renewable Electricity for One Year OR
  • 36,608 Public Safety Officers for One year OR
  • 25,918 Music and Arts Teachers for One Year OR
  • 213,340 Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR
  • 320,408 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5350 OR
  • 11,186 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 864,000 Children with Health Care for One Year OR
  • 239,077 Head Start Places for Children for One Year OR
  • 24,956 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
  • 27,091 Port Container Inspectors for One year
So, Rep. Goodlatte, before you complain about the Obama budget perhaps you should go through a fiscal reality check. The cost of Bush's wars have drained our nation and is among the reasons the economic downturn. President Obama's budget is big, but cleaning up eight years of mess, which you voted for again and again, is expensive and will take some time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Recalling Hard Times in Craigsville

Like many small towns, Craigsville, Virginia has gone through some difficult times. The small town in western Augusta County went through a especially tough spell when the Lehigh Portland Cement plant closed. Steve Tuttle, in his Newsweek essay, After the Plant Closed Down, described it this way:
"In 1968, when I was an 8-year-old boy, my family had a really, really bad day. My dad, my grandfather and other male relatives from both sides all lost their jobs at once, when the Lehigh Portland Cement factory in Craigsville, Va., closed its doors for good."
Tuttle says Craigsville "never recovered" from those economic hard times. In some ways that is true - the drive-in movie has fallen down, only a few country stores remain, and restaurants have come and mostly gone. There is no big factory dominating the town's economy. But, like many other Americans began doing in the 70s and 80s, folks from Craigsville commute to Staunton, or Harrisonburg, and beyond for employment (plus groceries and Wal-Mart). Nearby Augusta Correctional Center, which houses nearly 1,100 inmates, is now a major regional employer. So, Craigsville didn't "recover" what it had before the Lehigh closing, but it has moved on to become something different and, in its own rural/small town way, is doing quite well.
Maybe losing those smokestacks was a good thing!
The economic and societal dislocations of Craigsville have been repeated in many other small towns across the United States. Our current economic spasms will find them happening in towns and cities. Tuttle's thoughtful essay reminds us that, like individuals and families, even forgotten communities can find a way to survive, to reinvent, to move forward, and be good places to live.

Camp Todd

My son, dog, and I took a little time out for hiking, camping, cooking over an open fire along the Little River near Camp Todd in the George Washington National Forest. With rain in the forecast for today, we got our exploring done yesterday and headed home just as the showers started this morning.
Camp Todd is the site of an early 1800s cabin, perhaps a small settlement. I can imagine a difficult life, but there was fresh water, fish, deer, bear, berries to keep folks going. Plenty of firewood, but one can imagine bitter cold winters. A long way to town by foot or horse, too! The rocky soil and small shaded valley would have made crops virtually impossible. Later the Forest Service had a building at same spot, but it has also been removed.
Summer-like conditions have things greening up at this elevation, but it is about a week behind the Valley. Yes, we packed out our trash and left the campsite cleaner than we found it.
A few pics from our little get-away.
Buds and leaves are just beginning to pop.
The forest canopy will fill in over the next few weeks. With late April temps in the low 80s deep in the GWNF, the trees may be getting an early start. We enjoyed wall-to-wall blue skies until later in the evening when a few clouds rolled in. But, most of the night was star-studded - no tent necessary! We lucked out - rain held off until about 8:00 AM, after breakfast.
After a hike, kicked-back in the sun, enjoying a cold one and the company of a good dog. We started the fire to build up coals for grilled chicken, baked potatoes, a grilled veggie packet and homemade bread. Good eatin'. How come it always tastes better around a campfire?
A few early wildflowers can be spotted. Others peeking out, just on the verge. After this rain, with predicted temps fairly mild, more will be popping up over the next weeks. The North River Gorge Trail is especially noted for wildflowers.
Little River has a good flow that predicted showers over the next week should sustain and perhaps build. The water is cold! There were a few fishermen seeking elusive trout, but the area was mostly devoid of mankind - which made it a very nice place to be!

House warming

Lewis Medlin, a Bedford businessman and chair of the Bedford County Democratic Committee announced he'll challenge independent Delegate Lacey Putney for the 19th House District. Putney, who has been in the House of Delegates since 1962, is 81 and often sides with conservatives in the House GOP.
Medlin ran against Putney in 2007. He is 59, married with four children, and runs E-Z Mount Bracket Co. which he founded with his father in 1978. He will kick off his campaign this week focusing on reducing the real estate tax for seniors, employment, and education. The 19th includes the city of Bedford and much of Bedford and Botetourt counties. More.
In the 24th House District we've known for months that Jeff Price would be taking on Ben Cline. He has been visiting local Democratic committees and joining Democrats at a variety of events. Price will formally announce his candidacy at Noon on May 8 in front of the Amherst County Courthouse. Walking tours of Buena Vista (1:00-2:30 pm) and Lexington (3:00 to 3:45 pm) will be followed by another announcement in front of the Rockbridge County Courthouse at 4:00 pm. More info at Jeff's website.
A couple years ago many of the incumbent delegates in the Shenandoah Valley got an E-Z Pass to reelection. This time the Democrats are stepping up with good candidates in nearly every district. The "just say NO" GOP has some 'splainin' to do. Voters will be all ears.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Raking in the corn

While the numbers aren't new and neither are many of the conclusions, an article on the gubernatorial race fundraising in The News Leader today is worth a read. Sure, most of this has been rehashed in newspapers and blogs every time a new round of fundraising reports is filed. Still, there are some interesting points:
  • 2009 will probably break the 2005 record of $41 million. Part of the reason is the GOP desperation for a win in a state trending blue. Another aspect is our odd-year elections, which means Virginia is one of the few games for the big national money. And, don't discount Terry McAuliffe's fundraising prowess.
  • Brian Moran does well in his base of NOVA, but in spite of leaving the House of Delegates to focus on his campaign and fundraising, he didn't exactly overwhelm Creigh Deeds who stayed in the Senate and was prohibited from fundraising for a month and a half. I like Brian, but it seems to me this three-way race has kind of left him without a natural statewide base.
  • Terry McAuliffe can certainly find the fat wallets, twist the arms, and raise serious money - $4.2 million ain't chicken feed. But, with two-thirds coming from out of state, McAuliffe's fundraising highlights his greatest vulnerability - the perception that he's a national Democrat, not a Virginia Democrat.
  • Creigh Deeds has been the most successful fundraiser in more regions of the state than his opponents. Traditionally, Virginia has been a low-turnout state in primaries - meaning party activists usually determine the nominee. That base admires Deeds and the fact that he's been a Democratic team player for years. Since we have an open primary, some independents and moderate Republicans (who are uncomfortable with right wing Bob; but they'll be there for him if McAuliffe is the nominee) may vote. Deeds has support in both groups and that may provide just the edge necessary in a tight vote split three ways.
June 9 seems so far away. And, so close.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Democratic candidates stand UP for Virginia

Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates took a stand for Virginia's unemployed and for boosting economies in Valley communities at a Harrisonburg rally yesterday. In front of the Virginia Employment Commission Workforce Center, 20th district candidate Erik Curren, 25th district candidates Greg Marrow and James Noel, 26th district candidate Gene Hart, 24th district candidate Jeff Price, and 15th district candidate John Leniski signed the petition demanding the GOP return to the General Assembly to committed to deal constructively with the unemployment.
House of Delegates Republicans blocked the use of $125 million in federal stimulus funds to expand benefits for unemployed, saying the costs may eventually be passed on to businesses. The Speaker of the House made the absurd statement that using the funds would actually increase unemployment. Democrats counter the funds will help families in need and will boost local economies where unemployment is worst. Plus, the changes in unemployment eligibility could be rolled back when the stimulus funds end.
Erik Curren and Greg Marrow had recent letters (Erik's and Greg's) specifically explaining their positions on using the federal stimulus funds to assist unemployed in The News Leader.
You can join Governor Tim Kaine and these courageous candidates and Stand UP for Virginia - sign the online version of the petition. There is more about the Harrisonburg rally, including pictures, at the Daily News-Record. More coverage on NBC29.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Ray Nance, the last of the Bedford Boys, died on Sunday and was laid to rest today. He was 94. A 21-gun salute marked his passing.
Nance was one of 32 Virginia National Guardsmen from Bedford, VA who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Nineteen were killed and five others injured. The death toll per capita is one of the highest ever suffered by an American community. That is a major reason the National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford.
The memorial is an easy day trip for those of us in the Shenandoah Valley. Make the trip for yourself. Make the trip to learn more about an important event in American and world history. Make the trip for Ray Nance and the Bedford Boys.

Blowin' In the Wind... not yet!

The Forest Service has taken the wind out of the sails of a proposed wind farm in the George Washington National Forest - for the time being, anyhow. Freedomworks, a Harpers Ferry renewable energy firm, had plans to build 131 wind turbines, each 400 feet tall, along the Virginia/West Virginia line in the GWNF in Shenandoah, Rockingham, and Hardy counties. The system could produce 215 megawats and sold to the state grid. Freedomworks had already received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Forest Service said the plan fell short on three points that are part of the George Washington National Forest Land and Resources Management Plan:
  • The turbines would not blend into the landscape,
  • Freedomworks failed to prove the project couldn't be done on private land, and
  • the project would require building 19 miles of roads in an area where only 2 miles of road should be built.
There is a good chance the decision could be reversed. With the Obama administration and Congress pushing more renewable energy there may be new directives and guidelines coming from D.C. And the Forest Service spokesman added that if Freedomworks can address the issues "in any way" the permit may be revisited. It is hard to see how the turbines can "blend into the landscape," but the other two issues seem ripe for compromise.
Wind turbines, especially large farms like this one, seem to divide environmentalists. Yes, they should be located and designed to minimize impact to wildlife, sensitive plants, and the beauty of the area. But, if we are serious about renewable energy, Americans and environmentalists are going to have to find a middle ground and adjust our NIMBY mentality on these types of projects. Our future depends on it.
There is more in the Daily News-Record.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day update

Earth friendly things I did today:
  • Took plastic for recycling. Since my locality doesn't collect plastic at trash collection sites, I have to go to a commercial place, but I partnered the trip with other errands. Had two big bins of plastic saved over several months.
  • Planted 6 red raspberry canes.
  • Improved my compost bin.
  • Picked up trash along a short stretch of a rural road.
  • Bought synthetic motor oil. I'm hoping it will deliver the promised fuel economy improvement and allow me to lengthen the change intervals to 5,000 - 6,000 miles (I've been kind of a fanatic about the 3,000 mile change) thereby creating less waste oil. Yes, I recycle all my used oil (and paper, cardboard, cans, glass).
And, something I did because of the environmental consequences of intensive farming in parts of the Shenandoah Valley... I ordered a UV water disinfecting system and filtration upgrades to better treat our well water. Limestone, fissures, animal poop, pesticides.... you never know what is seeping into the aquifer.
I hope you did something nice for Mother Earth today!

Earth Day, CFLs, and Chicken Poop

Do something, today, tomorrow, or everyday to celebrate Earth Day and to improve our planet. Pick up trash along the road; change to efficient light bulbs; remember to turn off unused lights, computers, and TVs around your home; turn down the heat and wear a sweater; turn up the AC and use a ceiling fan. Small things done by many people add up to a big difference. Want to do more? There are plenty of opportunities this week to join with others for even greater impact.
The best Earth Day activities are those that keep on helping Mother Earth. They are especially good when they also benefit you - for example those CFL bulbs or Energy Star appliances will cut your power bill and save money over time. Or, get yourself involved in long term activities that help - I've just become part of helping to monitor streams as part of a very extensive program by Friends of the Shenandoah River. We also just planted several evergreens, blackberries, and will add raspberries this weekend.
In addition to events and programs, notable things are happening across the state. VA Tech is converting its diesel fleet to B-10 Biodiesel, a 10% biodiesel/90% regular diesel mix that has been shown to cut emissions. Last year a friend in NOVA converted her VW Beetle to run on used cooking oil or diesel. She gets the oil from several local restaurants (has ads on the car), runs it through a filter in her garage, and gets 90% of her fuel for free. She says the Beetle runs better on used french fry and chicken frying oil than on regular diesel. Would that be corn oil?
Of particular interest here in the central Shenandoah Valley is the possibility of taking something we have tons of - poultry litter - and converting it to something to help wean us off foreign oil. VA Tech is working on a mobile processor that superheats the litter and converts it to oil for heating (poultry houses use lots of heat in the winter), fertilizer, and noncombustible gasses. There are some bugs to work out, but it is innovation like this - which has practical uses and economic viability - that will help provide solutions to our environmental and energy problems. More about the litter in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fair play

With today's edition, The News Leader has now given three delegates, Chris Saxman (R-20), Ben Cline (R-24), and Steve Landes (R-25) generous column space to explain why they voted against accepting federal stimulus money to assist unemployed Virginians and boost our local economies.
This is an issue keenly followed across the state, especially in areas with rapidly rising unemployment. In Augusta County and Staunton it tops 7% and things are even more dire in Waynesboro where the unemployment rate is over 10%. There is a possibility the governor will call a special session to that a fresh look ways to use the federal funding to benefit Virginians.
In the spirit of fair play and a robust debate, The News Leader should offer comparable column space to the individuals who will be challenging those delegates this fall. In the 20th, the Democratic nominee is Erik Curren, in the 24th Jeff Price is the only announced candidate for the Democratic nomination, and in the 25th Greg Marrow and James Noel are running for the nomination which will be decided in the June 9 primary.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Clearing out the smoke

This past Wednesday, the annual Wakefield Shad Planking, a time-honored political right of passage in Virginia, was held just off Rt. 460 in a Sussex County grove. Rain had dampened the pines, but you can be assured those in attendance enjoyed the beer, the smoke, thousands of yard signs jamming the roads, and the shad.
Enjoyed the shad? A oily and boney fish smoked all day with a over-salted basting sauce! Must be an acquired taste - one I will probably never come by. But, I must say their fried fish is great. No, I wasn't there this year - last time I made it was 2006 when only Jim Webb gave himself much of a chance and even Cooter's bluegrass music lured few to his booth. George Allen was working the crowd with his arrogant smirk of confidence that would be wiped off his face a few months later.
So, this must-attend event brought together all the gubernatorial candidates for a day of beer, banter, and bluster. Well, not quite. Actually, the biggest news to come out of the Shad Planking was about the candidate who chose not to attend - Senator Creigh Deeds. While Democrats Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran shared the stage with Republican Bob McDonnell for speeches that nobody remembers, Creigh Deeds was about as far away as you can get and still be in Virginia - the beautiful town of Abingdon.
Deeds joined U.S. Representative Rick Boucher for a day of campaigning in the great southwestern corner of the Commonwealth. The themes of the day were Deed's plans for jobs and education, but the real messages were (1) Deeds marches to his own drummer, (2) one of the most respected Virginia Democrats is squarely in his corner, and (3) Deeds prefers trout to shad (well, I just made the last one up... but once I did attend a Deeds' event with delicious grilled trout). Boucher endorsed Deeds last December and this was a great opportunity for the two men to send a message not only to folks in Abingdon, but to all small town and rural Virginians that Creigh Deeds has the best chance for a Democratic win this November:
Creigh Deeds does indeed march to his own drummer. It is the same drummer that kept him working in the Virginia Senate rather than resign for more campaigning and fundraising. It the same drummer that finds him taking up issues for regular families all across the state. It is the same drummer says raising big campaign dollars is less important than listening to and talking with Virginians. It must be the same drummer he learned in mountains of Bath County that served him (and his constituents) well through many years in the General Assembly.
So while his opponents were speechifying and blowing enough political smoke to outdo theguys doing the shad, Deeds was doing what he does best - talking with real folks about real issues and real solutions. Yeah, the big out-of-state money may be betting on another horse, but on June 9 this dark horse may just surprise everybody.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


By the numbers

The four gubernatorial candidates released their fundraising numbers for the period from January 1 to March 31 and to nobody's surprise they racked up some big numbers. A total of $7.8 million was raised during the period.
Terry McAuliffe raised over half of the total, $4.2 million, with a whopping 82% from out-of-state donors.
Senator Creigh Deeds, who was restricted from fundraising for about half the period because the General Assembly was in session, raised $600,000 with nearly all, 93%, coming from in-state donors.
Brian Moran raised $800,000 with 90% coming from in-state donors.
While one can applaud McAuliffe's fundraising prowess, you have to admit the other two candidates have people power. Those in-state donors and their families will actually show up and be voting in the primary. McAuliffe big bucks may not translate to votes on June 9 - in fact, they may work against him if Virginia Democrats get the feeling (already have the feeling) that he's buying the nomination.
On the Republican side, Bob McDonnell raised $2.2 million with 62% coming from out-of-state. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hart plans campaign kick-off

Gene Hart, Democratic candidate for House of Delegates District 26, will kick-off his campaign with a rally on Friday, April 24 at 5:00 PM in the upstairs dining room at Cally's Restaurant on Court Square in Harrisonburg.
The 26th seat is currently misrepresented by Matt Lohr and includes Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham County. Gotta love the wall-to-wall Democratic candidates takin' it to the Republicans in the Valley!

Erik Curren kicks off campaign

Erik Curren, the Democratic nominee for the 20th District House of Delegates, formally launched his campaign yesterday with a rally at the Train Station in Staunton and a gathering in the assembly hall at the Bridgewater Town Hall. Donning a green hard hat symbolic of jobs, especially green jobs, Curren repeated what may be a theme of his campaign, "We can do better." The crowd enthusiastically agreed! 
Joining Curren at the Train Station was his treasurer, Staunton City Councilman Ophie Kier, shown in the photo "borrowed" from CobaltVA.
At both events, Curren criticized Chris Saxman for voting NO on accepting federal stimulus funds to help Virginia's unemployed and contrasted his views on topics from renewable energy to education with those of the incumbent's. Yes, we CAN do better!
In response to a question about how he see the job of representing the people, Curren emphasized he is committed to actually listening to voters and considering all points of view. Yes, WE can do better!
Curren chose the Staunton Train Station as a subtle jab at Saxman for the lack of progress on dealing with Virginia's transportation needs. House Republicans have again and again rejected honest solutions to dealing with roads, rails, and other transportation needs. Remember how a couple years ago the GOP tried to fix roads with "abusive driver fees" that angered everyone and were later repealed? Yes, we can do BETTER!
There's more at the News Leader, Daily News-Record, and NBC29. One quibble with a couple of those reports - since the deadline for the primary was last Friday and Curren was the only one to file, he is not the "presumptive nominee" or "expected to be nominated later this spring" - Erik Curren is the Democratic nominee for the 20th District House of Delegates.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stand UP for VA

Republicans in the General Assembly made a mistake - Virginians know it, but some in the GOP just can't seem to admit it. Marching in lockstep with their gubernatorial candidate, "heartless" Bob McDonnell, House Republicans rejected $125 million in federal stimulus funds targeted to help unemployed Virginians.
The number of people without jobs is rising, affecting thousands of Virginia families. Nearly 300,000 Virginians are unemployed (and this doesn't count the underemployed) and the statewide unemployment rate is 6.6%. In the central Valley, it tops 7% in many localities, and the unemployment rate is over 10% in Waynesboro (Hello, calling Delegate Steve Landes... is anybody home?). The federal unemployment funds would have helped 8,000 Virginians in job training programs and seeking part-time work. In addition to helping families, money would have flowed into local businesses boosting those communities most hammered by the economic downturn.
So, what to do? The vote is done, the mistake made, right? Well, it is never to late for the let-'em-eat cake Republicans to admit a mistake and correct it. Governor Kaine wants to call a special session to focus on unemployment, but there is no point if no Republicans will man-up and agree to revisit the issue. We don't need all of them to change - just four or five reasonable Republicans would get the job done. Delegate Landes might answer that call - you can contact him at It is less likely that right wing ideologues will even listen. You can Stand Up for VA and send a clear message to all House Republicans by signing the petition:
We, the undersigned, are outraged by the House of Delegates’ decision to follow the lead of gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and vote to send $125 million of our federal tax dollars back to Washington.
With nearly 300,000 Virginians out of work - and more people joining their ranks every day through no fault of their own - it’s clear that Virginia families are hurting.
We demand that the General Assembly go back to Richmond, fix this mistake, and do what's right for Virginians. It's time for our elected leaders to stand up for Virginia and vote to accept the economic relief we deserve.
Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over till its over." He was, of course, referring to baseball. The same is true in politics - this battle to do the right thing isn't over unless we sit silently on the sidelines. Sign the petition. Do it now!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blue Tide Risin' II

CCC has been reporting on the number of Democrats eager to take on incumbent Republicans in the Shenandoah Valley. A challenger in the 15th District has been rumored for a month or so and a story in today's DNR confirms that retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John Lesinsky, a Democrat from Little Washington, will challenge Todd Gilbert. Gilbert is a reliable vote in the House of Delegate's right wing band of brothers. The 15th includes a small corner of Rockingham County and all of Page, Shenandoah and Rappahannock counties.
Across the mountain in traditionally friendlier Democratic turf, NBC29 reports that Republican Rob Bell will be challenged by Cynthia Neff, a 57 year old former IBM executive, for the 58th District House of Delegates seat. Neff is active in several charitable causes and promises an aggressive campaign pointing out where the incumbent has let the people down. The 58th District includes Fluvanna County and parts of Albemarle, Greene, and Orange counties.

Happy Birthday TJ

Happy 266th Birthday, Mr. Jefferson!
On this date in 1643 our 3rd president, author of the Declaration of Independence, and founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia. A birthday celebration is planned at Monticello this afternoon.
I've sometimes wondered what Mr. Jefferson would think if we could bring him back to observe and comment on the United States of America in 2009.
  • He'd likely be very surprised and very proud of Barack Obama in the White House.
  • He'd be appalled about the undue role of religion in the public sqaure.
  • He'd marvel at the progress of science but be shocked at those who use ideology to question its findings.
  • He'd be proud of his university, but (after learning the games) probably wish UVA would achieve more success on the football field and basketball court.
  • He'd be dismayed at the Bush administration's dismantling of our constitutional rights.
  • He'd offer suggestions (based on his own experience) for dealing with piracy on the high seas.
On this his birthday, it is instructive to read what he deemed the important accomplishments of his life. Jefferson died at Monticello on the 5oth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His epitaph:
DIED JULY 4, 1826
More on Thomas Jefferson in his Official White House Biography and on Wikipedia.
What do you think would shock, amuse, or pleasantly surprise Mr. Jefferson if he walked among us today?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saving Goshen Pass?

A few months ago, the Boy Scouts of America announced Goshen was its first choice of location for their national jamboree. The event occurs every four years and would bring about 240,000 scouts and leaders to small mountain town with about 400 residents, a couple gas stations, a Dollar Store, a branch library, and a restaurant or two. Located in the northwestern corner of Rockbridge County, many would think Goshen is in the middle of nowhere, but their website claims its central location between Staunton, Lexington, Hot Springs, and Clifton Forge puts it "in the middle of everywhere." Is Clifton Forge anywhere, somewhere, or nowhere?
The headwaters of the Maury River are nearby and Goshen Pass is a popular canoeing, kayaking, and swimming destination. Hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping are popular recreational activities in the George Washington National Forest. So, why wouldn't folks in Goshen and surrounding areas welcome the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree? After all Scouts enjoy the outdoors, should be good stewards of the land and water, and the jamboree is only every four years which seems like a minimal hassle for the economic infusion it would bring to the area.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of "not in my backyard," groups have formed in opposition to the Boy Scouts' plans. Save Goshen Pass claims to be saving a special place and highlights the following objections:
We are concerned about the narrow and winding country roads, lack of adequate sewage treatment, volume of people overwhelming the fragile area, effects on wildlife, and the infrastructure that will change the natural resources of Goshen Pass forever.
One of the organizers of the opposition, Linda Larsen of nearby Rockbridge Baths, claims over 600 residents have signed petitions opposing the Boy Scouts' plans and that some 1,400 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to their cause. Checking posts reveals other concerns - lack of clarity about the Boy Scouts' plans, how extensive would development at the site be, would the site be rented to other groups or used for other large scouting events between jamborees, additional local services required but the nonprofit Scouts don't pay taxes. Save Goshen Pass is closely affiliated with Friends of the Maury, a group long dedicated to preserving the stunningly beautiful river.
In announcing the search for a new site for their National Jamboree, the Boy Scouts cited the following desirable characteristics guiding their selection:
  • Have spectacular natural beauty
  • Have water for recreational activities
  • Be at least 5,000 acres and available for donation, long-term lease (100+ years), or sale
  • Be located within 25 miles of an interstate or a four-lane divided highway
  • Be located within 150 miles of a commercial service airport with medium or large hub status
  • Be located in an area with adequate medical services
  • Be accessible year-round via standard modes of transportation
It seems to me that the Boy Scouts have met most of their requirements. Yeah, it is pushing the 25 miles from a major road and it will be quite a hike for medical services in Lexington or Augusta Medical Center; but don't Scouts learn first-aid, plus I'm sure they'd bring in medical professionals for the jamboree. Now perhaps they can proffer some assurances about the extent of the development and sewage treatment. It would also go a long way if the Boy Scouts could make assurances about community service - river and roadside cleanups, trail maintenance, and other good deeds - they'd bring to the area.
So, I think there is room for compromise, consensus, and an outcome that benefits all concerned. In the meantime my advice to both sides: Be Prepared.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Time to turn off the wireless?

Perhaps we should turn off the wireless in the State Capitol during floor sessions of the Virginia General Assembly? Or at least install a good firewall like used in schools.
According to student journalists at the Capitol News Service @ VCU, a number of delegates were surfing the web rather than paying attention to the debates and votes that affect all Virginians. Yes, our esteemed "leaders" were found visiting friends on Facebook, shopping for guns and furniture, checking out Civil War relics, and instant messaging. Staunton Delegate Chris Saxman was engrossed in the The Drudge Report.
Come on guys and gals, this ain't middle school. We send you to Richmond to do the people's business, not shop till you drop, social network, or read online tabloids. Besides, even lowly state employees can be disciplined for using state computers for playing games, surfing the net, or visiting irrelevant sites during business hours - shouldn't the same rules apply to the big birds? Cluck!

Deadline passes

The deadline for filing to run in the June 9 Democratic primary was 5:00 PM yesterday and it passed with no last minute surprises in the central Shenandoah Valley.
In the 20th House of Delegates District, Erik Curren was the only person to file and will be declared the nominee. Curren has announced a formal launch of his campaign with two events on Tuesday, April 14: at 11:45 AM at the Staunton Train Station and at 2:00 PM at Bridgewater Town Hall. Curren will take on the incumbent Chris Saxman.
In the 25th House of Delegates District, Dr. Greg Marrow and Jim Noel filed and will square off in the primary. The winner will take on incumbent Steve Landes.
With both Landes and Saxman voting to turn down $125 million in federal stimulus funds to assist the unemployed, it appears the Democrats have a ready-made issue with which to kick off their campaigns. True, employment in the area isn't as high as in other areas of the state, but it is rising and has topped 10% in Waynesboro. The GOP opposition seemed to be based on a fear that when the federal funds ran out, there would be unfunded mandates passed on to businesses in the form of higher taxes. Hey, how about a sunset provision?
Kind of a GOP Déjà vu - remember when Virginia turned down $15 million in Goals 2000 education funding because they didn't like the strings attached only to later accept the funds? Hum.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Creigh Deeds scares the bejesus out of opponents

Gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds has gone far beyond anyone's expectations for fundraising. Remember, Deeds kept his seat in the Senate of Virginia to do the people's business. In doing so, he passed up 46 days of fundraising and campaigning while his opponents were stumping and hitting up everyone and their uncle for a donation.
But Deeds surprised everyone, perhaps even the candidate himself, by raising more money in 44 days than he'd raised in the previous six months! He now has $1.2 million cash-on-hand... an astonishing 97% from Virginians. Sure, Terry McAuliffe has raised more... but how much is from out-of-state from people who don't know Virginia or care about our issues?
Creigh has the issues, the Virginia experience, the policy expertise, and the heart to carry on in the Warner/Kaine tradition that has moved Virginia forward. He is the only candidate who can whip RightWingBob in November. But, first he needs to win the June 9 primary. Want to help? Let me tell you where to go! If that isn't your cup of tea, go here to volunteer.

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Honored

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank was recently honored as the top food bank in the U.S. for its work in feeding the hungry. BRAFB received the "2009 Feeding America Member of the Year" award at the Feeding America Annual Conference last week. The award is based on going above and beyond the core mission of food banks - last year BRAFB distributed 10.8 million lbs. of food, a 24% increase in just one year. The "Kids Cafe" and the "BackPack" programs are great example of their outreach. The award is quite an honor considering there are over 200 food banks in the country. Read more about the award and the work of the BRAFB.
Given the yesterday's vote in which GOP legislators killed expanded unemployment benefits, the work of Virginia food banks and food pantries is more important than ever. You can help the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank or a local food pantry (such as the Verona Community Food Pantry, PO Box 187, Verona VA 24482) by making a tax-deductible donation.

Republican family values

General Assembly Republicans, with cheerleading from Bob McDonnell, rejected changes in Virginia law that would have expanded unemployment benefits to be paid for by $125 million in federal stimulus funds. Their argument that the costs would be passed on to small business rings hollow - when the federal funds ended, the Commonwealth could have reverted to the current law.
The proposal passed the Senate along party lines, but was rejected in the House of Delegates with 53 Republicans lining up against it. Governor Kaine called the House vote a "huge mistake" and, his voice shaking with anger said,
"There are an awful lot of people who are hurting in Virginia... and the message to them seems to be, just, 'We don't care; we don't care. Fend for yourselves.' "
The governor hinted the fight isn't over, noting the mistake could be corrected. Just how isn't clear as the governor didn't specify any steps that his office may take.
So, we are passing up money that would help stimulate local economies across Virginia. Will this $125 million now go to unemployed in other states, thereby pumping up their economies? More importantly, many Virginia families will have a little less for food, a little less for kids' clothes, a little less for school supplies.
So much for Republican family values.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shootout at the Richmond Corral?

Governor Tim Kaine vetoed a dozen bills, most expanding the death penalty or allowing concealed weapons in more places. Through the years, the governor has been very consistent on these issues and the vetoes shouldn't have surprised anyone. It is likely the General Assembly will uphold most of the vetoes. Most likely overrides are the bills dealing with the death penalty for a person convicted of killing a fire marshall or auxiliary police officer, allowing retired law-enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons into bars, and one exempting active-duty military from a state law limiting handgun purchases to one a month 
A bigger battle looms over the question of taking about $125 million in federal stimulus money for expanded unemployment benefits. What's the fight about... seems like a no-brainer? To accept the money, Virginia would have to change laws to allow part time workers who get laid off to receive unemployment compensation.
Democrats generally support taking the federal money to help the increasing number of unemployed all across the state. That money won't just sit in their bank accounts - it will be spent in communities for food, clothes, and all sorts of necessities thus helping to stimulate the both the local and national economies.
Republicans are saying whoa... not so fast. Siding with the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, they say it will increase red tape (the second most recited chant of conservatives) and will increase spending by the unemployment trust fund that may lead to higher taxes (guess what their most recited chant is).
But, this issue may not be quite as simple as Democrat v. Republican. Some GOP delegates from areas with rising unemployment are facing constituent pressure to support taking the federal stimulus money. This is an election year for all delegates - both incumbents and challengers will be looking to make political hay on this one.
And there is one other lingering question - will the legislators fill judicial slots left unfilled during the regular session? A failure to do so will leave a smudge on a central premise of democracy - justice.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Senator Warner plans Valley visits

Senator Mark Warner will hold constituent meetings in the central Shenandoah Valley on Thursday, April 16. He will be in Staunton at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel from 11:00 AM to Noon and in Harrisonburg at the JMU Grafton Theater from 1:00 to 2:00 PM.

Deeds files petition

Everybody knew Senator Creigh Deeds would be filing his petitions for the gubernatorial primary this week - after all, the deadline is Friday. According to a press release distributed Monday, he actually filed nearly 16,000 signatures late last week. Deeds praised the "tremendous showing of grassroots support." Deeds will be on the ballot along with Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran for the June 9 primary.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New Bird in the 20th

Erik Curren, Director of Marketing and Sales at the American Shakespeare Center, will challenge Chris Saxman for the 20th District House of Delegates seat. Curren has been exploring the opportunity for the past couple of months and said he's been encouraged by colleagues in business and the community, by party leaders, and by friends and family. While he knows taking on an incumbent is tough, Curren says folks tell him they want a delegate who will listen, be more responsive, and be less dogmatic.
The filing deadline is April 10 and it appears Curren will be the only candidate to have completed the paperwork and collected the signatures to be certified for the June 9 Democratic primary.
Curren is active in a number of community activities including Staunton Green 2020, a recently formed citizens group focusing on raising awareness about clean energy and economic development for the the Queen City. His campaign for delegate will probably focus on those issues, transportation, and preserving the quality of life in the Shenandoah Valley. He has expressed strong support for public education, a position that stands in sharp contrast to Saxman.
Curren is a graduate of Washington and Lee and earned a PhD at the University of California, Irvine. He's taught English abroad and several places in the United States, including Blue Ridge Community College. He lives in historic downtown Staunton.
The 20th District includes Staunton, Highland County, much of western Augusta County, and several precincts in southern Rockingham County. He promises to run on issues, not personalities, and sees the campaign as "project in participatory democracy for the area where citizens can be involved in a discussion of the most promising opportunities and solutions for the area and state."
Over the past few months, Erik has earned a reputation for asking questions and listening to the answers rather than talking to potential voters. That is as refreshing as our warm spring days!

The Big Number

Senator Creigh Deeds stopped by Jess' Lunch in downtown Harrisonburg on Saturday to promote his campaign for governor, talk transportation, and (I hope) enjoy a couple of the famous dogs. While other issues were on the agenda, Deeds talked transportation. Local media has been hyping up the possible rest area closures and some politicians are playing the Happy Meal fix - leasing rest area rights to private companies. While that may help keep rest areas open, Deeds knows a far more comprehensive solution is needed if Virginia is to build and maintain the kind of transportation system our future economy demands.
The DNR article mentioned Deeds is closely trailing this opponents in a recent poll. The really BIG number in the poll is the 46% undecided just two months from the primary. With Senator Deeds essentially taking January and February off during the session of the General Assembly, the amazing thing is that he is hanging right in there with Moran and McAuliffe. There seems to a little McAuliffe fatigue setting in while Deeds is enjoying a bit of a surge now that he's back on the stump.
The poll also showed Deeds as the favorite of 18-29 year old voters - many of whom were energized by the Obama campaign. His challenge will be getting them to the polls for a primary which usually has fairly low turnout. Low turnout means each of those new voters he can get to the polls carry even more weight.

Spring has sprung

Spring is getting to the Valley... a day here and there. Most Virginians probably enjoyed this past weekend's blue skies, bright sun, and warm temps. I visited family on the far side of the state, staying off the interstates and enjoying the back roads of the Commonwealth. Also got in a little fishing and enjoyed homemade crab cakes. Umm, good.
Back home on Sunday afternoon, I worked on odd jobs outside in the warm sun. All that will change today with showers and wind and chilly temperatures (did the weather guy just utter the S-word?). But, next weekend looks nice. April has always been one of my favorite months, I guess precisely because of all the changes in the weather, the greening of the grass, buds popping on trees, the promise of fresh veggies and smell of freshly mowed grass.
So, all in all, a most excellent weekend for most Virginians. Guess the same can't be said for Jeff Frederick's weekend - he probably didn't even notice the blue skies. All-in-all, I was hoping he'd keep his "job." He was so fun, provided so much comic relief, and pissed off so many Republicans. I suspect this drama isn't over and hope for some fun at the GOP state convention.
It is great fun reading some of the reaction at Valley blogs like rightsideVA and Spank That Donkey who are in the finger pointing business - a circular firing squad may play out over the next weeks. Seems Lynn Mitchell, aka swacgirl, played a little CYOA, reversed position and voted to dump the "grassroots" (from the VAGOP Dictionary: Grassroots: noun term appropriated from broad political use meaning regular folks' involvement, that now means right wing and ultra-conservative Republican who feels abandoned by his/her party; mostly found in the rural regions) leader, Jeff Frederick. The vote was close, enhancing the betrayal felt by the "grassroots." For her part, swacgirl remains mum, posting pictures of flowers and quoting the Bible. The next meeting of the Augusta GOP might be rowdy - alert the Sheriff's Dept. that extra security may be needed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Idiots among us

A fellow by the name of David Patterson of Lyndhurst, VA blamed the News Leader's downsizing on that paper's left wing slant. Hum, does this clown have a clue? The News Leader is a far cry from... gasp... liberal. Let's look at recent news to see what's happening in the newspaper business.
The News Virginian, with a right wing editorial slant, has gone through a couple rounds of layoffs and there are rumors it may end the print edition and go totally online. The Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg, off the right edge of the earth politically, has downsized the newspaper. And just today, the Republican... I mean Richmond Times-Dispatch, is reported to be laying off 90 employees. And, as previously noted, the wonderful eightyone is going out of business.
Mr. Patterson, the decline of the News Leader has nothing to do with the opinions expressed on the editorial page, it has everything to do with the changing media environment, TV, the internet, and the collapsing economy inherited from George Bush. Your letter was yet another example of a right wing brain duped and doped by Fox.

Stone plans to step down

Dr. Phillip Stone, president of Bridgewater College since 1994, announced he will retire at the end of the 2009-10 academic year. Under his tenure, Bridgewater College grew in enrollment, built impressive new academic buildings, achieved success on the football field and other athletics, and educated many young people who I've had the pleasure of watching develop into productive citizens. The official BC press release has many more details about Stone's work at Bridgewater College.
In his typical classy way, Stone announced his retirement early, giving the trustees a long window to seek a replacement. His shoes will be tough to fill.

April Showers Bring....

The recent rains have me thinking about.... gardening. Well yes, that is true. You know what they say about April showers. Actually, with the warmer weather and the recent rain, some of us are anticipating more opportunities for canoeing and kayaking on the Valley's many rivers. While I used to get into early spring floats, with time and aging I actually prefer warmer days (and water) for activities on the rivers. It is true we didn't get those big snows that melt slowly and replenish the rivers well into the summer months. But, spring rains are helping. Hopefully, April will be wet and the river levels will remain good well into June and July. To keep track of water levels in your favorite stream or river, check out the USGS Real-Time Data for Virginia Stream Flows.
Today's Roanoke Times has a good article on floating the Roanoke River - which is one of the region's rivers I've never dipped a paddle into. It also has a cautionary reminder about the dangers for kayakers and canoeists - a kayaker drowned in the Maury River near Goshen Pass last Sunday. Always paddle within your skill level and do not go alone. Remember a dunking on a 90° summer afternoon isn't nearly as dangerous one on a blustery 45° morning. Wear a life vest. I've always made it a rule to not go on the river when the water level is rising, rather I wait for the crest and enjoy the river while the levels are still high enough to be exciting, but they are dropping. I recall a drowning where a kayaker became entangled in a strainer (limbs/brush) and couldn't free himself or get help quickly enough in the fast rising North River. In short, there are times you should be a little chicken when dealing with whitewater!
Good resources for anybody canoeing or kayaking Virginia rivers are Roger Corbett's Virginia Whitewater and Corbett does a great job describing the all the major canoeing/kayaking rivers, including info and maps detailing put-ins/take-outs, hazards, low-water paddling, scenery, and the area history. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains ramps and other river access points and has good maps and other info on boating and fishing.
Some of my favorite floats and paddles over the years:
  • The last few years we've enjoyed the South Fork of the Shenandoah River near Bentonville. Mostly Class I and II, with an occasional II+. Nice scenery. Since there are several rental outfits along this stretch, and it is close to NOVA, the river can be busy on weekends and holidays. Midweek is usually quiet. Nice tent-only camping at Shenandoah River State Park.
  • Don't forget the rest of the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Nearly every stretch of the river from Port Republic to Front Royal has some good canoeing. But, do a little research before jumping in the river. Some areas are pretty slow, others have hazards that you may not want to deal with.
  • The Maury River from Buena Vista to the James River is fun, fairly secluded, has good fishing, and can be a day trip or overnighter.
  • The James River above and through Balcony Falls is great. You can break it into segments for day trips or string them together for a one or two night camping trip. Above the falls it is mostly Class I and II but the falls, even with normal water levels on a summer day, is Class III. Be prepared to get wet and/or lose unsecured gear. I've never done the falls in cold weather, but if you are running it in March and April a wet suit makes sense. Below Balcony and a couple other smaller falls is a long stretch of flat water to the take-out. This is a year-round river and can be fun even with low water levels. This popular area can be very busy on weekends.
  • The upper James from Iron Gate to Buchanan is fun, secluded, and good for an overnight trip. I spent a very cold and blustery March weekend on it a few years back.
  • The New River is fun and challenging. Stretches are great for a day trip and there are good areas for one or two night canoe/camping/fishing trips. Another year-round river.
  • The North Fork of the Shenandoah through the bends section near Woodstock is mostly secluded, has good fishing, and is fun. I can still taste the "surf & turf" we enjoyed along the bank while camping - grilled rib eyes and pumpkinseed. Other parts of the North Fork have good kayaking and canoeing, too.
  • We've had fun day trips on the Middle River and North River. The upper part of North River, through the gorge, is usually only canoeable a few days in the spring and your skill level and equipment better be top notch.
So, on this rainy April day, don't bemoan the gloomy weather. It is good for our gardens and our rivers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Private birds

Governor Tim Kaine has signed HB 1587 (Marshall) and SB 1431 (Cuccinelli) that prohibit the state from complying with provisions of the federal Real ID Act that compromises individual privacy rights by collecting biometric and financial data from citizens. Virginia is the 22nd state to pass legislation rejecting parts of Real ID. This law requires states to issue IDs, approved by the U.S. Government, for any person wishing to board commercial aircraft or go into federal facilities. The confidential and personal info required for the ID would be stored in a federal data base - we'd be vulnerable to identity theft and other invasions of personal privacy.
The sponsors, Delegate Marshall and Senator Cuccinelli, are two of the most conservative members of the General Assembly. This issue has united Americans of all stripes - conservative, liberal, and moderate. It is interesting to this bird that Marshall and Cuccinelli probably can't find "privacy" in the United States Constitution, they DO find privacy rights important in this instance. However, ask them about privacy rights when it comes to reproductive rights!!
But, back to Real ID. For more information about Real ID and its "Big Brother" consequences, check out the ACLU's Press Release. To thank Governor Kaine for signing the bill, click here.
In a related story, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles announced it is changing drivers licenses to include enhanced security features required by Real ID. Among the changes are black & white laser engraved photos, raised lettering, shades of various colors, and a hologram of the official seal of the Commonwealth that can can only be seen under a black light. The new security features are supposed to make licenses tamper-proof and help prevent forgeries. Where did I read that the bad guys are always two steps ahead of the government?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Blue Tide Risin'

It is now becoming clear that Democrats will field strong and aggressive candidates in ALL of the House of Delegates races in the central Shenandoah Valley. This region has been taken for granted by the GOP for years as they've waltzed into office with easy wins and, more often than not, unopposed. Everyone knows bumping off  incumbents will be tough, but every Democrat I've talked to is encouraged and energized by the prospect of such good candidates in every single district.
In the 20th District (Staunton, Highland, parts of Augusta and Rockingham), a candidate from the Staunton end of the district is committed to running. This person has filed the paperwork, started putting an organization in place, is networking with both Democrats and Republicans frustrated by the current representation that is more bent on ideology than practical results for constituents. We should hear an announcement in the next couple of weeks.
A footnote on the 20th - an interesting discussion with a Rockingham Republican revealed that there is growing dissatisfaction with the current representation. This politician told me Chris Saxman would have an opponent... a Republican opponent. As the conversation progressed, he backed off somewhat, saying that intraparty opposition would likely emerge in 2011, if Saxman is still in office seeking reelection. Wonder who...?
In the 15th District (Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and part of Rockingham) the Democrats have a challenger to Todd Gilbert. Like in the 20th, this individual should be announcing in the next few weeks.
In the 26th District (Harrisonburg, part of Rockingham) attorney Gene Hart has been in the race for sometime. From what I am hearing, his organization is in place and his fundraising going well.
In the 24th District (Rockbridge, Buena Vista, Lexington, parts of Amherst and Augusta) Jeff Price has been out and about talking to voters for months. Jeff is a businessman in Amherst and been meeting with Democratic, teacher, environmental, business, and many other groups since last fall.
In the 25th District (Waynesboro and parts of Augusta, Rockingham, and Albemarle) there are two Democrats vying for the nomination. Dr. Greg Marrow has a very organized campaign that has been reaching out to Democrats and raising money in every corner of the sprawling district. His opponent is James Noel of Mt. Sidney.
It has been fun watching the incumbents position themselves as it becomes more apparent they'll have to talk to voters and justify their actions (or lack thereof). Todd Gilbert is out there with the ever-popular VDOT bashing responding to rest area closures and the other cost savings proposed by the agency. Apparently he's doesn't connect his votes to their lack of funding. Chris Saxman is claiming credit for keeping the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents open (Governor Kaine proposed closing it to save money), but everyone knows both houses of the General Assembly and legislators of both parties supported funding it. And Steve Landes got a fluff piece on TV3 to explain why tweaking old laws consumes so much of his legislative time.
With the Democrats needing just 6 seats to gain control of the House of Delegates, a couple of these races could reach critical mass. Stay tuned for a busy summer and fall of Virginia politics.

April 1

Francis Chester says he will file suit in the Augusta County Circuit Court today demanding that the reassessments be rolled back to the 2005 level. A groundless suit filed by this "lawyer" on April Fool's Day. It couldn't have been scripted any better.
The real butts of this joke are the taxpayers of Augusta County who will have to pay the costs of defending against a frivolous case.