Friday, May 29, 2009

Endorsement - Governor

My endorsement of Creigh Deeds for Governor should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading CCC for a while. The Deeds badge has been on the site for a couple months and a number of previous posts have praised the work of the Bath County Senator. Anyone who knows me personally is also aware that I've been a consistent supporter of Creigh - my truck has sported a Deeds bumper sticker for six or eight months and I've openly stated my support whenever appropriate and possible. I've attended nearly every Deeds event in the area.
Before explaining my support for Deeds, I will point out that I have lots of respect for Brian Moran. While I hope Creigh gets the nomination, I hope Brian will try again. He has much to offer the people of Virginia. As for the other fellow in the race, I think he'd be a double-shot poison pill for Virginia Democrats - if nominated he will simultaneously divide the party while uniting Republicans. All the money in the world won't overcome that.
So, why the support for Creigh Deeds for Governor? 
First, I've known the man for 12-15 years. He is honest, honorable, caring, smart, hardworking, and a host of other desirable characteristics we too rarely find in our public servants. A Governor Deeds will make Virginians proud.
Second, he is clearly the most immersed in policy and policy making of all of the candidates of either party. He's a bit of a policy wonk, but at the same time is steeped in the practical ins and outs of Richmond politics. Creigh knows the ropes and knows when to yank them hard and when to allow a little slack. He will be a get 'er done Governor.
Third, Creigh Deeds is our absolute best chance to beat reactionary Bob and a state and national GOP desperate for a win in Virginia. Creigh will unite Democrats, attract some moderate suburban Republicans, and pick up a majority of the independents. That is a winning combination for Virginia Democrats - a fact demonstrated by the likes of Warner, Kaine, and Webb.
Join me in voting for Creigh Deeds in the Democratic Primary. Together we'll carry on the tradition of responsive and good government in Virginia.

Endorsement - Lt. Governor

A whole flock of Democratic candidates gathered for the Lt. Governor contest, but nearly all have flown the coop and we're looking at two choices. Nevertheless, this race is difficult for many Democrats. For one thing, both candidates, Jody Wagner and Mike Signer are good solid individuals and each would make a fine Lt. Governor. For another thing, many folks just aren't paying close attention to the race - in addition to all the nonpolitical distractions of springtime, happenings in D.C. and the gubernatorial race are sucking most of the air out of the media and money from donors.
But, the nomination of the Lt. Governor candidate is important for a number of reasons. The Lt. Governor presides over the Virginia Senate and can be an ambassador for various policy initiatives. Most importantly however, the Lt. Governor is poised to run for Governor four years down the road. So, this nomination is as much about the future as it is today.
So, while we have two good candidates, assessments and choices have to be made in the best interests of Virginia and of the Democratic Party. CCC endorses Jody Wagner for Lt. Governor.
I've known Jody for years and have followed her impressive career in Virginia politics - in my mind, this was her trump card. She is has a more varied experience, a depth of background, and a record of achievement that her opponent cannot match. Jody served in both the Warner and Kaine administrations with distinction. During the Warner years she was Virginia Treasurer and an essential part of putting the Commonwealth's fiscal house in order after the disaster wrought by the last Republican in the Executive Mansion. Governor Kaine tapped Jody to serve as Secretary of Finance where she helped him prepare plans for the coming recession that turned out to be deeper than almost anyone predicted.
With Jody on the statewide ticket, Democrats will enjoy a gender and geographic balance that will help our other statewide candidates as well as many candidates for House of Delegates.
CCC is pleased to support Jody Wagner for Lt. Governor.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Endorsement - 25th District

Over the next few days, CCC will announce endorsements in the June 9 Democratic Primary. Today - the 25th House of Delegates contest between Dr. Greg Marrow and James Noel.
After several election cycles where many area districts saw uncontested races, for Valley Democrats to have two candidates in one district seemed like a blessing, an extravagance even. But intra-party contests, in either a primary or caucus, can be divisive. Luckily for Democrats, that doesn't seem to be the case this time - other than some early internal sparring, the contest been Marrow and Noel has been gentlemanly and fairly low-key. Nevertheless, the process has revealed one candidate to be ready for the nomination, ready to take a spirited battle to an entrenched incumbent, and ready to represent all residents of the 25th District - Greg Marrow.
Marrow, a Harrisonburg eye doctor, has dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. He's been everywhere attending events, talking to local Democratic activists, and learning the lay of the land in the 25th. In the process he has proven himself to be articulate, informed on key issues, and well organized. Marrow is comfortable in one-on-one conversations and standing before large groups; he listens and understands; he does his homework on issues - all essential skills for a candidate and, more importantly, for a representative of the people.
The sprawling 25th District, which includes Waynesboro and parts of Rockingham, Augusta, and Albemarle counties, is begging for leadership - for a change. Greg Marrow will deliver it - CCC enthusiastically endorses him in the Democratic primary.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fighting Green

Three Democrats - Gene Hart, Greg Marrow, and Erik Curren - joined nearly 50 Staunton and Augusta residents to discuss a variety of environmental and jobs issues at the Staunton Public Library on Tuesday night. Responding to questions, the candidates for House of Delegates laid out a forward looking vision for making sure the central Shenandoah Valley harvests green - both in our beautiful scenery and in our wallets - as our nation transitions from a fossil fuel to a renewable energy future. There is more at The News Leader and WHSV.
Another clear message came out of the forum - these guys will fight and will hold the incumbents accountable for their actions, or the lack thereof, in Richmond. In response to an audience question, they totally dismantled the backward looking GOP mantra of "drill here, drill now." While they don't agree on every issue, Democratic candidates in the region have shared values to present to voters. 2009 promises to be a bruising campaign where once-comfortable incumbents will need to dig deeper and get beyond simple sound bites. Game on!
Gene Hart is running in District 26, Greg Marrow is a candidate in District 25, and Erik Curren is running in District 20. They promise future forums on transportation, education, and other issues important to Valley voters.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Green jobs, green candidates

There has been a lot of talk about "green jobs" and moving toward a "greener economy." Those terms are sometimes used pretty loosely and I often think we talk past each other, not really understanding exactly what each other means. Then there are those who deny global warming and who only want to "drill here, drill now."
While I don't expect many of that latter group to attend, the rest of us can learn a little more about green issues at a forum tonight. Perhaps we'll communicate better about issues that will affect our future. I hope to attend. Here are the details:
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
7:30pm - 9:00pm
Staunton Public Library Public Meeting Room
The emerging Green Economy offers the Shenandoah Valley one of the strongest ways to create new jobs and build local prosperity while preserving our area’s unique assets. Valley Democratic delegate candidates expected to discuss their ideas and answer questions include:
Erik Curren, 20th district
Gene Hart, 26th district
John Lesinski, 15th district
Greg Marrow 25th district
Jeff Price, 24th district
Oh yeah, I hear there will be a few refreshments, too.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The call was easy. The person who took it was polite and efficient, quickly finding my info and informing me of the amount of the refund. When asked why I wanted to unsubscribe from the newspaper, there was a muffled chuckle... or was it a gulp... to my words? My response was that I like the news and sports coverage in the Daily News-Record, but that the hateful editorials had bothered me for months. The double entendre in the title for today's editorial had, I said, crossed the line - it was trash. Trash for which I would no longer pay.
I believe in freedom of the press. I also believe consumers can and should vote with their dollars.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Country roads take me home?

A few days ago a friend called asking for directions on the country roads in my neck of the woods. He had a house number and road name and very sketchy (and wrong) directions from the homeowner. His Tom Tom couldn't find that house number and neither could Google maps. It ended well because my familiarity with the roads corrected the directions and supplemented the technology.
Technology that is wonderful, but not perfect. The map data bases, upon which all this technology depends, have errors. For example, the houses on my road are numbered backwards from what how the Post Office numbered them, so using  your Garmin or Magellan lands you a couple miles away. A new FedEx guy left here the other day scratching his head. Hope it is accurate if I need 911.
Now a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office questions the future reliability of our Global Positioning System. Developed by the Department of Defense and managed by the U.S. Air Force, GPS is a global navigation system of between 24 and 32 satellites that was used for military navigation, maps, etc. President Bill Clinton opened it up for civilian uses and you know the rest of the story - it is used in car navigation systems, by hobbyists for geocaching and waymarking, by cell phones, by first responders, by hunters, and by FedEx. In short, just about everyone is touched by GPS nearly every day.
Now, the GAO has expressed concerns about necessary maintenance and replacement of the satellites that are the backbone of the system. The reasons are many and complicated - ranging from costs, to technical problems, to changing vendors because of mergers and buyouts. But, whatever the causes, the report predicts a possible degradation of service as early as 2010.
If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.
There's more background in this article at TidBITS. 
Now, how do I get to the church for the wedding this weekend?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Right wing disinformation machine

About once a week I'll tune in to a little right wing talk radio on WSVA/550 out of Harrisonburg. We need to listen to the misinformation that callers to shows like "Candid Comment" often spread like chicken litter on fields in the spring. I admit it can be tough to stay tuned in to such one-sided idiocy, but the frequent distortions, lies, and slanders need to be answered before they become accepted as truth. A lot of locals, especially older folks, listen to that stuff religiously.
One afternoon late last week I listened in for a few minutes of Neal Boortz. A caller asked how small business could cut costs of health insurance for employees. Boortz launched into a "comparison" of health insurance and automobile insurance (which is pretty expensive, too). I won't relate his entire rant, but Boortz basically said, like car insurance, health policies should only cover for catastrophic losses and should not pay for oil changes, new wipers, and other routine maintenance. The caller, and I imagine many of his listeners, voiced agreement. More fodder for their grist mill of anti-Obama and anti-national health insurance propaganda.
I don't need to go into all the fundamental differences between the two types of insurance. Health is purchased for yourself (or family) while car insurance is mostly to protect someone else - either the person you run into or the bank that holds the car title. Good maintenance on your body and regular doctor checkups will have a direct impact on future health and costs. Failing to change the oil or waxing have virtually no impact on a future auto insurance claim. True, bald tires or burnt out bulbs could contribute to an accident, but most states have required inspections and there is the threat of flashing lights in the rear view mirror.
The list of differences is longer, but you get the point - Boortz's homespun analogy is fundamentally flawed and misleading, but it nevertheless influences the public dialogue. So next time you hear someone spreading BS, find a way to correct it. Perhaps just talk to the person in the room with you. Maybe by a letter to the editor or a blog post. If the show is in real time, call in. We can't let the lying liars have the last word - too many dumb clucks will believe it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring rain, frost?

Most areas of the Valley received some nice spring rain as boomers rolled through late yesterday. The moisture ought to kick the grass and gardens into higher gear - if the tomatoes and other tender plants can dodge the patchy frost that may hit early tomorrow morning. Usually I adhere to the wisdom of waiting until May 20th or even the 25th, but not this year. I'm optimistic that we'll be OK, but I may get burned by my impatience. The long range looks safe if we get by tomorrow.
Spent yesterday afternoon doing a "rain dance," by which I mean washing and polishing a couple of vehicles. Sure enough, I was buffing off the last of the haze when the first big cold drops hit. My reward is seeing the drops beaded on shiny hoods. Used Nu Finish which I've found lasts a long time and is easy to apply and buff. Is it just me, or does a shiny car seem to run better? Actually a clean smooth surface should help MPG just a little. Checked tire pressures, too. With gas prices creeping up, every little advantage helps!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just as...

Just as I was rethinking my position on the Virginia lieutenant governor contest and have been increasingly impressed with Jon Bowerbank, he decides to drop out of the race. In recent weeks, his positions and energetic campaign made me wonder if he'd be the strongest candidate. I've known, admired, and personally liked Jody Wagner since I was part of a political class with her many years ago. But, Bowerbank seemed to be hitting the right chords for many Democrats and I'll admit he'd gotten my attention.
In deciding to end his campaign, Bowerbank said he couldn't devote his full energies to the campaign and added:
Now simply wasn’t my time. I resolutely believe, however, that my time will come. In the future I intend to again offer myself for public service. When that time comes I will be prepared to run and to serve.
Bowerbank endorsed Jody Wagner, saying in a written statement:
I have gotten to know Jody well on the campaign trail and believe she would be a great nominee and a great lieutenant governor.
With this development, I enthusiastically endorse Jody Wagner for lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth. She is clearly the best candidate and is well prepared to be lieutenant governor of Virginia. Visit her website and learn more about Jody. Donate a few dollars while you are there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jim McCloskey's cartoon misses the mark

I usually like Jim McCloskey's cartoons in The News Leader. Even when I disagree with his point, the cartoons are well-drawn and thought provoking, sometimes bringing readers to the edge of anger. Papers much larger than The News Leader would be blessed to have such a fine political cartoonist. But, I really fail to understand what point he is trying to make with the one published on May 12 (original here).
To imply that Terry McAuliffe doesn't have a brain is absurd - he's one of the most accomplished national political operatives in the United States. McCloskey could have said he isn't Virginia "blue blood" or something like that, but no brain? Gimme a break.
And Brian Moran without a heart? Where does that come from? Moran's heart is shown in a variety of issues that demonstrate he cares about everyday folks - most notably on health care. On a personal level he seems friendly and caring. No heart? Missed again, Jim.
So our cartoonist thinks Creigh Deeds has no chance. True he hasn't raised the money that his opponents have, but he's raised more money in more parts of Virginia than the other guys. He's a well-know favorite among party activists. Some polls have shown that among likely Democratic primary voters, Deeds does quite well. He has a very good chance. Strike three, Jim.
Our cute little girl wishes for "a choice." Perhaps I can get McCloskey's point... if his point is that a six year old wouldn't pay much attention to the details of the campaign and may only see three white guys about the same age running for governor. While they do agree on core principles (they are all Democrats after all) and their views on some issues are similar, a closer examination reveals significant differences on other issues. Young lady, that's your homework assignment.
Their backgrounds and experiences in Virginia government are quite different. McAuliffe comes from the world of national politics and most didn't even know he lived in the Commonwealth until a few months ago. Moran was honed by the hustle and bustle NOVA. Deeds sprang from rural/small town politics and, of the three, has produced the longest service and greatest record of accomplishment in Virginia government. Stylistically, they'd be different chief executives as well. For example, McAuliffe is the brash big presence in the room while Deeds would be a more quiet consensus builder working with both chambers of the General Assembly.
Over in the GOP, there really is NO CHOICE - Bob McDonnell is default nominee. While I'd never suggest he doesn't have a brain, many of his right wing views confirm he doesn't have a heart and he'll say about anything to win a vote. If the Democrats unite behind their nominee, one must wonder about his chances.
So Jim, I'll look forward to your next cartoon. I'm sure it will be a good one. Maybe a great one!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Can fundamentalist Christians evolve?

Staunton native Francis Collins, author of The Language of God and founder of The BioLogos Foundation, believes fundamentalist Christians can evolve to not only accept modern scientific principles, but that journey itself will also strengthen their faith. On the other side of the debate, Collins believes atheists are wrong to simply reject the teachings of various faiths. The mission of The BioLogos Foundation
". . . addresses the core themes of science and religion, and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life."
Collins is an accomplished scientist. He is a physician and geneticist who directed the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Project. His work is noted for discovering disease genes - advances that have made, and will continue to make possible dramatic advances in health and disease treatment. Collins is also a evangelical Christian. As his medical career progressed, he realized that there are some questions, such as death and dying, for which science didn't give him all the answers.
I'm neither a scientist nor a religious person. I do believe that science provides the keys to human advancement, even human survival on planet Earth. The scientific method and inquiry is nudging us to understanding truths about life, our environment, indeed the universe. On matters of faith I am a skeptic. But, I am also intrigued by the essential role religion plays in the lives of friends and family. I believe firmly in freedom of religion and that religion and government should occupy separate spheres.
The dialogue about the compatibility of science and faith that Collins and The BioLogos Foundation are helping to initiate will help to bridge the gulf between the two sides. While Collins wants to help atheists and skeptics understand some truths about faith, he seems to understand the greater challenge is to help fundamentalist educators and families understand that evolution and other scientific facts in no way undermine their faith in God.
Wherever you stand, whatever you believe, this is a conversation worth having - without all the shouting that has too often characterized it. Columnist Kathleen Parker recently commented on Collins' work in Evolving Faith. How about starting your own conversation in your family, among your friends, in your church. Unless we all evolve, we'll diminish the great promise of human potential.

Goodlatte reliable ally in politics of division

Some Republicans in the House of Representatives are so blindly partisan that they'll vote against constituents and common sense in order to get their jabs in at President Barack Obama and their Democratic colleagues. Here in the 6th District of Virginia, we're "lucky" to have such a congressman - one who votes the party line even when patently wrong.
Earlier this month the House of Representatives voted 357-70 to curb credit card companies from charging excessive fees and jacking up interest rates unreasonably. Only two Virginia representatives voted with the minority - the minority whip Eric Cantor (R-7th) and Bob Goodlatte (R-6th). Cantor attempted to explain his vote by taking a line from Capital One which argued some people would have credit denied (sounds eerily similar to the payday lender line). Capital One is a big player in Cantor's district, but the real reason for his vote was the politics of division - it is Cantor's job #1 as minority leader to oppose anything and everything the Democrats are for.
What about Goodlatte? As far as I know he hasn't explained his vote on this bill, but ever since he was first elected he's been a reliable vote for the GOP leadership - when in the majority and now that they are an incredible shrinking minority. On the credit card bill, Goodlatte clearly forgot his constituents, fairness, and common sense. He owes 6th District residents an explanation. Don't hold your breath! Besides, we already know the answer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

GOP worries in the Shenandoah Valley

While the national Republicans seem to be imploding with each passing day, there is new evidence they are increasingly worried about what for years has been considered safe turf - the Shenandoah Valley. Craig Orndorff, a 22 year old native of Shenandoah County, has been hired by the RNC to be the party's Shenandoah Valley field representative for the 2009 elections. He'll have an office in Harrisonburg and presumably a budget. The job description, according to his blog
In my capacity I’ll be doing alot of work in the field, and via the written word, photos, and video, I hope to bring you a glimpse of the campaign that is often underreported in the media–the grassroots.
Orndorff's credentials include being legislative assistant for Delegate Todd Gilbert and working for various other Republicans and activities in the Shenandoah Co. Republican Committee.
From a Democratic perspective, this is great news! The very fact that the RNC has to cover their ass in this region speaks volumes about the progress the Democratic Party has made in the past several years. In nearly every locality, Barack Obama did far better than Democratic presidential candidates have done in many cycles. Mark Warner carried nearly every area and even where he didn't win, came very close. Democrats have picked up local offices, especially in the cities. And, all of the local Democratic committees are active, engaged, with growing membership!
Plus, if the GOP spends more money and resources here, that's less for them to utilize in other parts of the state. The prospects for a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates are looking brighter!
Meanwhile some local GOP committees and the RPV are bickering among themselves. Maybe Craig's first mission is to break out a peace pipe?
What probably got the RNC's attention is the blue tide that is risin' all over the Valley in '09. Democrats have strong candidates in every House of Delegates district. While they've been working to find solutions, the Party of NO is back on their heels after turning their backs on Virginia's unemployed.
Orndorff's post is titled "Change is a-comin'." Craig, maybe you missed the message: change is already here and we're moving forward.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Going Green

Jeff Mellot's How 'Green' Is Our Valley? takes an interesting look at personal income in central valley communities. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis based on 105 "localities" (Augusta County, Staunton, Waynesboro are considered as one, for example) we find these interesting comparisons on per capita personal income in 2007, the most recent figures available (state rank):
  • Virginia $41,727 (8th highest in the nation)
  • Charlottesville/Albemarle $45,275 (8)
  • Winchester/Frederick $34,417 (33)
  • Staunton/W'boro/Augusta $31,161 (49)
  • Shenandoah Co. $30,340 (53)
  • Harrisonburg/Rockingham $28,589 (65)
  • Page County $25,166 (89)
Apparently, impressions can sometimes be deceiving. For example, with all the hustle and bustle around Harrisonburg many would think that region would be higher than the surrounding areas. One explanation is that the large student populations at JMU, EMU, and Bridgewater pull down the averages. If that's the case, where would Charlottesville/Albemarle rank without UVA students in the mix?
If you are a numbers geek, you'll be in heaven checking out all the details about personal income at the Bureau of Economic Analysis' BEARFACTS.

Reassessment furor ends in a whisper

The hue and cry about reassessments in Augusta County apparently ended with barely a whisper last night when the Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 to lower the tax rate to 48¢. It had been 58¢ since the 1980s. In passing the $72 million budget that is almost 5% less than last year's, supervisors reduced spending in some areas, gave no raises, and eliminated or froze 18 positions in the various offices including some affecting public safety.
Even with the increase in assessed values, with the cut in the tax rate many of the county's homeowners will see a decrease in their real estate tax. On the home front, my taxes will drop about $80 per year in spite of the improvements we've made and a (deserved) higher assessment. Many farmers with pasture and cornfields in land use will also enjoy a reduction on that part of their real estate tax. 
All that's left is for the Circuit Court judge to dismiss the groundless lawsuit brought by perpetual gadfly Francis Chester and send him back to his sheep. One good outcome of all the publicity was getting that hypocrite to pay back taxes. But, from where I roost, he and his cohorts owe residents an apology for fanning the flames of fear and division with his rants and misinformation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Not in Virginia's Backyard

A couple of breaking stories remind us of what is special about Virginia heritage and environment. 
Orange County  Actor Robert Duvall, a descendent of General Robert E. Lee, invaded Orange County to deliver a simple message to Walmart - not here, not on this sacred land. The mass retailer wants to build a "Supercenter" about a mile from the Wilderness Battlefield. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant fought a bloody battle 145 years ago at the site. Over 250 historians, including filmmaker Ken Burns and David McCullough, have joined the effort to block the Wal-Mart project so close to a important piece of Virginia and American history. 
Orange County planners will have a public hearing on May 21. The final decision rests with the Board of Supervisors. Contact them a urge them to say NO to Walmart at this location. Learn more at NO WILDERNESS WALMART.
Duvall spoke from the porch of Ellwood Manor. A photo of our July of 2006 visit. The former plantation has been partially renovated.
This monument is a short distance from Ellwood Manor. More info.
Augusta County  Arthur J. Fisher has been finded $145,000 by the State Water Control Board for destroying a rare Virginia wetlands. Quarles Pond, near Stuarts Draft, is the largest sinkhole pond in the Shenandoah Valley and it believed to be 15,000 years old. It supported a number of rare insects and plants. The fine is the largest wetlands penalty imposed in the state. In 2003, Mr. Fisher had been notified he would need a permit for any construction disturbing the wetlands. In addition to the fine, the consent order requires he restore the wetlands and will be subject to monitoring for 10 years.
Some things are precious and need to be preserved even if private landowners are inconvenienced and cannot use their land as they may desire. Yes, at times private property rights must give way to the greater good for our generation and the next.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Growing old; new realities

A new study by Qian Cai in The Virginia News Letter, "Virginia's Diverse and Growing Older Population," examines the changing demographics and resulting societal, economic, and public policy implications. Because of advances over mortality and a lower fertility rate, persons over 65 will double to 1.8 million and become about 19% (up from 12% today) of the state's population over the next two decades.
Obviously, federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare will be impacted. So too, will state and local policies concerning seniors including suitable housing, public transportation, recreation, availability of health care services. Family structures may change, for example baby boomers had fewer children and often had them in their 20s and 30s meaning there are fewer children to take care of aging parents and those children will be more likely to still be raising and educating their own children.
While the greatest number of seniors will be found in urban communities like NOVA, Hampton Roads, and the Richmond metro area, some rural areas will have a greater percentage of seniors. The Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, Highland County, and Covington are among the localities expected to have a high percentage of older residents. Consider the consequences for availability of medical care and transportation in those areas. Another finding - poverty rates are higher among rural seniors.
There is much more to be found in this comprehensive report. As we elect a new Governor and House of Delegates, it is critical that the issues that will arise because of the Commonwealth's changing demographics be part of the discussion today. Voters and candidates will be wise to think and plan long-term if our seniors of today and tomorrow are to enjoy a life of dignity. Younger voters, you are in this too - you will be the taxpayers who will pay for it.
The Virginia News Letter is a publication of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gunston Hall

We are visiting my daughter in Fairfax County and took a trip to Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason (1725-1792). Mason is not as well known as other founders, probably because he never sought national office and cherished his family and privacy at Gunston Hall.
Mason was one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia and a "neighbor" of George Washington. Although he'd served in local office and in the House of Burgesses, during the 1770s Mason became more politically active in the growing resistance to the British. In 1772 he helped write the Fairfax Resolves and in 1776 drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights which was copied by other states and served as a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights.
After the Revolution, Mason because disillusioned with politics, returned to Gunston Hall, and married his second wife. But, the call for a new national government drew his attention and he was one of Virginia's delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1887, where he was one of the most vocal participants. At the conclusion of the Convention, Mason surprised many when he refused to sign the document, citing the lack of a declaration of rights as his primary objection. He also pointed to various flaws in the Constitution that he thought would lead the nation into either monarchy or a corrupt aristocracy.
Gunston Hall as today's visitors approach. In Mason's time, only locals would have arrived from this direction on horseback or coach. While Mason's home does not seem large by the standards of Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and other well-to-to Virginia planters, the dormer style upstairs provided the home with eight bedrooms.
The kitchen at Gunston Hall was, as typical of the times, in a separate building about 50' from the main house. Other outbuildings included a dairy, a smokehouse, a school house, and slave quarters. Mason was the second largest slave holder in the region, after George Washington. Mason never freed his slaves.
The view of Gunston Hall from his gardens. The boxwood is an original! The gardens are in the process of being restored with Mason's design and the plants typical of the late 1700s. The small building is the school house. In the distance behind the camera is the Potomac River. During Mason's time all the trees were cut so there was a clear view of the river from the house; today only a glimpse is possible off to one side. Most of Mason's "important guests" arrived by boat, so this would have been their approach as they came for a visit.
A teacher was often imported from Europe and they were praised, but given only modest accommodations. This object was in the school teacher's room above the classroom. Do you know what it is?
Couldn't get this shy fellow to smile for the camera. Picture taken in a nearby park where we took a hike.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Talkin' in the 25th

In the 25th House of Delegates district Democrats have two candidates - one will become the nominee by virtue of the June 9 primary. I haven't heard of any planned debates, so this may be as good as it gets - earlier this week The News Leader hosted online chats with Jim Noel and Greg Marrow. In the interest of keeping CCC readers up-to-date, here are links to the transcripts.
No, this isn't really a debate, but many questions overlap and you will get a better sense of the two men, the issues each will focus on, and how they would take on the incumbent, Steve Landes. The 25th district includes Waynesboro, and parts of Albemarle, Augusta, and Rockingham counties.
I'd welcome your comments and reactions after you've checked out both candidates.

Assessing reassessments III

I've had a couple of earlier posts - Assessing reassessments and Assessing reassessments II - where I commented on the numbers, the dollars, and the politics of the controversial reassessments in Augusta County. At this point, Mr. Chester's lawsuit is awaiting trial unless the judge dismisses it - which will be the likely outcome. Chester is clueless and the suit groundless. Of course, he's taken his services to the people of Page County to aid them in their tax battles. All I can say, Page people beware.
Back in Augusta County, the Board of Supervisors is poised to approve a 48¢ tax rate, a decrease from the current 58¢ rate that has been in effect since the 1980s. That is less than revenue neutral! A couple months ago a rowdy and rude mob - that's really not too strong a term - filled a public hearing to bash the supervisors. The other night only two people spoke up on the tax rate cut. Hum!
So, what will that mean? Well, some taxpayers, me included, will see a modest increase because of the new higher assessed value. But, let me emphasize modest. And my property is assessed a bit lower than a recent appraisal that was done for a refinance. I've heard from about a couple dozen homeowners who have "enjoyed" a similar epiphany. 
Many farmers who have their property in land use taxation will actually see their taxes decrease significantly. Why - because agricultural and forestry lands are taxed on the land use value rather than the assessed value. Land use didn't change. Good for them -  perhaps that will help preserve our farmland and open spaces.
Meanwhile, up the road in Harrisonburg, assessments are up 7.7%. Hey, weren't Augusta's up 28% or something like that? Yep, but this is apples and oranges... and figs, and grapes, and raspberries. How so?
Well, first of all Harrisonburg reassesses annually while Augusta is on a 4-year cycle. In short, Harrisonburg saw these increases in a year when the real estate market melted down! Most of the Augusta increases occurred in the first three years. Other differences - Harrisonburg's increases were driven by commercial property while the biggest uproar in Augusta was over agricultural land of which there is little in the city; some in Augusta never fully understood the land use part of the equation. The increases for homes in Harrisonburg generally ranged between 1% and 5%, but again that was in one year (a down year at that), not four.
So, even considering the apples and oranges and the figs and grapes... it seems to me that Augusta's reassessments were pretty much in line with actual values. Were there mistakes - sure; many of them. Remember this is a mass assessment for which the county paid about $15 per parcel - in short, it is a drive-by assessment. There was an appeals process (nearly everyone I've talked to who availed themselves of this opportunity got some relief) and there is an ongoing Board of Equalization.
What about raspberries? The raspberries are for the rude and mean-spirited #^$%*@&! who shouted at and badgered the supervisors. The most rotten raspberries are reserved for the self-serving Francis Chester and all who encouraged this demeaning of our government by the people for their own narrow purposes.

Hoos risin'

Being a fan of the University of Virginia can sometimes be tough, especially if you focus on the big name sports of football and men's basketball. In the world of UVA football, a big surprise win one Saturday is often followed by a disappointing loss the next. A few years back, I finally gave up the live-or-die by the latest game mentality - and have been a happier, if a bit less passionate fan. Basketball has mostly been a downer the past couple of years, but I have my hopes for the new coach, the style of play he'll bring, and the players he'll recruit. We should all give him several seasons of breathing space to put a successful program together.
Springtime, however, is bright for the Hoos where a number of the teams are nationally ranked and provide some of the most exciting sports in the Commonwealth.
  • Men's tennis is ranked #1
  • Baseball is ranked #11
  • Women's lacrosse is ranked #9
  • Men's lacrosse is ranked #4 and has been #1
  • Women's golf is #3
  • Women's rowing is #15
Men's lacrosse coach, Dom Starsia, seems in awe of the Cavaliers' across-the-board successes:
This spring has been astonishing in a lot of ways. It does create a competitive atmosphere that is healthy for everybody.
UVA has done it with hard work by athletes, quality coaches, and providing full funding for all sports. That means teams have full coaching staffs and the maximum number of scholarships for every sport. Donors put up big bucks to build a baseball stadium and indoor tennis facility, among other improvements, that didn't make the headlines of JPJ Arena or Scott Stadium. It wasn't always this way - as recently as 2001 a UVA committee recommended dropping baseball and men's tennis to club status. There's more in Spring Sports Flourishing at Virginia.
It seems to me that UVA athletics is doing many things right and successes will also bloom in the marquee sports that grab fans' attention. I'm waiting for that year when I can just smile, or smirk, when I greet one of my many friends who are rabid VA Tech supporters. ;>)