Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time To Reform the Patriot Act

Remember the Patriot Act? Yeah, the one that abused civil liberties and knocked the United States Constitution for a loop. Well, at the end of this year several sections of the Patriot Act will expire and Congress is just beginning consideration of what to do.
The USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3485) offers significant changes that will restore some of our rights, including:
  • Protection of the privacy of homes and businesses by ensuring that the "library records provision" does not authorize collection of library or bookstore records that contain information on the patron;
  • Protection of our First Amendment rights by requiring the government to convince a judge that a national security gag order is necessary;
  • Protection of privacy of records by amending the national security letter statues to guarantee that the government can get the financial, communication, and credit records only of people believed to be terrorists or spies.
Not included in H.R. 3485, but should be:
  • A limitation on prosecution to individuals who actually intend to aid terrorists;
  • A requirement on the government to show, when obtaining a warrant, to show the records actually relate to a suspected terrorist or spy.
Contact Rep. Bob Goodlatte, or your representative, and urge him/her to cosponsor or at least support these basic reforms to the Patriot Act. Yeah, I know talking to Bob is usually a frustrating experience. But, this is important... we're talking about our constitutional rights. So, get this job done, now!

Cuccinelli: Affable Extremist

As a candidate for attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli has profited from an affability and quick wit that have tended to mask his extremist views. As a lawmaker in Richmond, he has displayed contempt for non-English speakers; for those who care about global warming; and for the First Amendment. Many of his fellow Republicans regard him as occupying the far-right fringe of the party, the ultimate small tenter. The more immediate concern is this: If he is elected attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli would drive away qualified lawyers from an office that functions as the state government's law firm, and, given his bizarre ideas, he would very likely become an embarrassment for the commonwealth.
Ken Cuccinelli's quick smile is a Halloween mask disguising the fact that he an evil spirit of a distant and ugly past. He is exactly the wrong man to elect as Virginia's Attorney General in 2009. Read more in Mr. Cuccinelli's Bigotry.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Down; Up

Virginia Western Community College has become the latest to announce cuts of positions as their budget goes down while enrollment goes up. At VWCC it was two layoffs and 15 retirements that balanced the books... for now. Unless revenues pick up, there could be more layoffs there and at other community colleges in about six months.
The story has been echoed at many other community colleges. Some school have have been able to minimize the impact on the classroom by savings in energy use, conferences, travel, maintenance, etc. Most schools are utilizing more part-time faculty who, because they don't receive benefits, are less expensive on a per student basis. Some full-time faculty are teaching an extra class. Class sizes are up.
Virginia's community colleges do not cap enrollment. Unlike UVA or JMU who can meet some budget constraints by limiting the number of students accepted, our community colleges take everyone. And those numbers are increasing as unemployed Virginians seek new job skills or look to get a great tuition deal on basic courses that will transfer to a four-year college. Community colleges are reporting double digit enrollment increases, with some experiencing jumps of 25-30%.
With expectations that Virginia's budget situation will get worse before it gets better, pressure will increase on community colleges - budgets are likely to go down while enrollments continue to go up. Governor Kaine's last budget, the new governor, and the General Assembly should recognize the importance of community colleges in building a trained and skilled workforce for the state. If at all possible, the Virginia Community College System should be spared additional cuts - the 23 colleges, located on 40 campuses, serving some 262,444 students do too much good work to be slammed again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Witch's Cauldron

A scary Halloween from artist Zina Saunders at Drawger...
"Double, double, toil and trouble," chant Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as they stir up the pot against health care reform.
A few incantations from the trio's trick or treat bag: Congresswoman Bachmann says sex clinics will result from Health Care Reform, Ann Coulter says Obama's plan encourages assisted suicide for the elderly, and Rush Limbaugh says Obama's health care plan is right out of Hitler's playbook.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battlefield Preservation

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) today applauded members of the U.S. House and Senate for including the largest ever single-year allocation for the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Interior Appropriations Act Conference Report. The conference report includes $9 million for the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, a mechanism that utilizes government matching grants and private funds to permanently protect historic Civil War battlefields throughout the nation. "This is tremendous news that could not come at a more critical time," said CWPT President James Lighthizer. Each day 30 acres of hallowed Civil War battlefield ground are paved over and lost forever. This money will allow us to preserve historic land that would otherwise be lost to development and urban sprawl."
The CWPT thanked a number of legislators for their hard work and support in getting this measure passed, among them Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who stated:
"It is welcome news that our $9 million funding request for battlefield preservation was accepted in the Interior Appropriations bill. As America prepares for the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, it is more important than ever that we preserve these landmarks for future generations to learn about the history of our nation."

He's been there for Virginia

Creigh Deeds has been there for Virginia. Now he needs you to be there for him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vote Green, Live Green

Lost in all the negative ads, the whirlwind about healthcare reform, and the daily drumbeat of economic news are how candidates in Virginia stand on protecting our environment. Fortunately, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has great website that allows you to compare the statewide and House of Delegates candidates. If voting with a green conscience is important to you, check it out.
With the motto of "Conservation Is Conservative," a grassroots group is dedicated to bringing back the GOP's conservation best exemplified by President Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans for Environmental Protection found few friends among party leaders just a few years ago, but now that some in the party are soul-searching the group hopes to move to a greener GOP. Among the issues being pushed are constructive input on climate change and an end to mountaintop removal coal mining which David Jenkins, the group's VP for government and political affairs says, "offends everybody's environmental sensitivities...." Republicans for Environmental Protection may be on to something - although only 8 out of 178 House Republicans voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a recent Zogby poll found 45% of Republican voters were favorable to the legislation. There's more in Sierra Magazine.
And on a lighter note, how about POWER TO THE PEE-PLE. Drought is causing water shortages in many areas such as Australia, China, and parts of South America. With climate change, scientists expect more severe droughts in our future. An environmental group in Brazil, SOS Mata Atlantica has a suggestion to save a flush a day. Their animated TV ad is in Portuguese, but a whiz kid like you will get the message.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Legal, ethical, and bad for representative democracy

There is something going on that smells like road kill on hot August afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley. Our 140 lawmakers can derive income from various state or local government agencies without it being a conflict of interest or disclosure of the money. In fact, no Virginia law even requires they disclose any income from a government agency. This is a story about something that is quite legal and ethical in most situations... but is it good for our representative democracy? Maybe not, but it is apparently good for some wallets.
Eight members of the General Assembly "earn" income from Virginia colleges and universities. Now some no doubt really do earn their pay. For example, Delegate Dan Bowling of Tazwell County has been a professor at Southwest Virginia Community College for years and earns just over $65,000. He was a professor before being elected to the General Assembly and like a person in any other profession should have the right to purse their occupation and serve as a legislator.
Another good example where all this seems above board and quite legitimate is that of Delegate Bill Janis of Goochland County. Delegate Janis earns a grand total of about $4,500 as an adjunct professor at W&M and VCU. Relatively speaking about the same cracked corn I earn as an adjunct at a private college.
But, the hen house is clucking about Senator Thomas Norment of Williamsburg who is paid $160,000 as a part time professor at W&M. It is hard for many to justify that salary for a part time position - just how many courses/students does Senator Norment teach? Or is the pay based on other "duties?" Then Attorney General Bob McDonnell held the arrangement was not a conflict of interest. Would the ruling have been the same for someone of the other party?
Of course, there is the clear conflict of interest in the case of Delegate Phil Hamilton of Newport News. Totally tossing the moral compass, Hamilton lobbied for and gladly accepted a $40,000 a year salary from ODU for a position he used his seat the House of Delegates to fund. Hamilton is being investigated by a federal grand jury and the House of Delegates. Hopefully, the voters will render those investigations moot.
The General Assembly now requires that members disclose annual income of $10,000 or more. But they are exempt from disclosing any and all income from state agencies or local governments. Some choose to disclose, others do not. Many in the General Assembly argue that voters can always kick out members who are too cozy or do favors for the agency that pays them. That is true... if we know about those relationships. The legal exemption on disclosure and generous conflict of interest rules certainly inhibit that.
Perhaps something good will come out of Phil Hamilton's ethical lapse. In the next session, the General Assembly should require full disclosure of income exceeding $10,000 that legislators earn from any any source including any state agency, local government, or school board. The disclosure should be reasonably specific about the services rendered. Then voters will have at least some of the information needed to decide if they need to kick any of the rascals out.
On a side (but related) note, Delegate Todd Gilbert works as a prosecutor in the Frederick County Commonwealth's Attorney's office. So, he is employed in the executive branch, working daily in the judicial branch, and was elected to the legislative branch. Can anybody spell "separation of powers?"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re-post: Bob McDonnell speaks out of both sides of his mouth

I originally posted this on March 14 when Bob McDonnell had just breezed down Rt. 11 reassuring right wingers that he was an ultraconservative although he appeared to be running as a Mark Warner moderate. It bears repeating. Perhaps it helps explain all the litter spewing forth from his campaign. My post was based on notes taken by a friend who "snuck" into the room at the Augusta Co. Government Center.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has been cruising the state conducting grassroots meetings with Republican activists. Although billed as open meetings, they are not widely advertised except by their internal messages, word of mouth, and occasionally on blogs.
You may recall an earlier CCC post about McDonnell telling the Washington Post that he is a moderate. That article was reprinted in newspapers around the state. Well, the wingnuts of the GOP apparently don't like the sound of "moderate" one bit!
According to some who have been to the meetings, folks are showing up with the article in hand, wanting to know what he meant by claiming to be a moderate, and demanding that he explain himself. McDonnell, after assuring himself the door is closed, usually says something about the press not be present so he can tell those present the truth. He then launches into a tirade defending his commitment to ultraconservative principles on the hardcore social and economic issues that are red meat for the right wing who have shown up.
I'm not sure who should be more pissed off about Bob McDonnell's duplicity: the media for being lied to, the GOP conservatives for being stabbed in the back for political expedience, the readers of newspapers because reporters don't ask the tough questions, or the voters who are being sold a bill of goods by a slick talking two-faced liar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Ventured to NOVA this weekend to visit our daughter and celebrate her new job that she'll be starting on Monday. While there we were absolutely thrilled to catch up with old friends Kevin and Mary. Kevin is one-half of MarshallArtz as their site notes a "guitar duo performing a distinctive original blend of rock, jazz, and blues forged together in a kick-ass acoustic style. The duo features the combined talents of Brad Marshall on lead, rhythm, and slide guitar and Kevin Artz on rhythm and fingerstyle guitar, vocals and harmonica."
In the early 80s I'd occasionally accompany Kevin and Mary to gigs in places like Lexington and Charlottesville. Now MarshallArtz plays at clubs, pubs, colleges, and events in NOVA, D.C., and Maryland. They've got several CDs of original music and live performances feature a mix of their original songs plus classics of folk, rock, and blues.
Below, MarshallArtz performs the Beatles classic, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
If you get the chance, check them out sometime. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, October 23, 2009

In Case You Missed Gov. Kaine's Announcements

In all the distractions about sleeping pilots, revival of the public option, and the beautiful weather keeping us busy outside, you may have missed several interesting and important press releases from Governor Tim Kaine. Each, in their own way, are good news for Virginia.
The Governor announced that the Virginia Outdoors Foundation approved 17,000 acres to be placed under conservation easements. Also, the Roanoke City Council agreed to support plans to establish two perpetual conservation easements on Mill Mountain and the surrounding 600 acre park. In 2006 Governor Kaine announced a goal of preserving 400,000 acres within 10 years. To date, about 350,000 acres of open land has been preserved. The Governor has led in the creation of 12 natural preserves, six new state forests, two new state parks, and three wildlife management areas.
Governor Kaine also announced that 119 bridges across the Commonwealth will be replaced or repaired using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Many of these bridges are in the Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia including six in Rockingham, three in Augusta, three in Rockbridge, and 17 in Nelson. Most are obviously smaller bridges but all were deficient and, if left unattended, would become unsafe. The contracts, to private contractors, will total $50.7 million = jobs, paychecks, boosts to local economies. The Commonwealth is receiving $694.5 million in highway funding from AARA.
Governor Kaine also released his statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on the Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009. He is absolutely right that federal recognition of the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Tribe – Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe is long over due.
Two years after the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, it is especially tragic that these tribes still have yet to receive equal status with the 562 other Federally Recognized Tribes in the United States.
Now is the time to honor their heritage.
Virginia’s Tribes are unique. Unlike most tribes that obtained federal recognition when they signed peace treaties with the United States government, Tribes in Virginia signed their peace treaties with the British Monarchy. Hostilities between the Tribes and the European settlers effectively ended in 1677 with the Treaty of the Middle Plantation, yet these Tribes continued to be tested by centuries of racial hostility, state-sanctioned coercive actions, and systematic mistreatment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

Creigh Deeds and the gubernatorial race captured the attention of Newsweek:
For more than 20 years, [Creigh] Deeds has served the people of Bath County locally and in the Virginia Legislature. They like him in part because he is one of them, and because he's nothing like the picture that pops into your head when you think of a politician. Deeds is the opposite of slick and rehearsed. His accent is country South, not Southern genteel. His campaign speeches ramble. He sometimes tells stories that are funny and endearing, but that don't seem to have a point. "People said a fella from Bath County can't be the nominee," he told a crowd in Danville last month. "Now they're saying a fella from Bath County can't be governor." The punch line of the story: "But I know you gotta do right by people … I grew up on a dirt farm. We ate hogs and deer."
Read the entire article in Newsweek; October 26, 2009; Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virginians/Creigh Deeds Agree: Close the Loophole

According to a poll conducted by Christopher Newport University's Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy, 80% of Virginians want to close the "gun-show loophole" that allows anyone to buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer without a background check. The same sale at the same show from a licensed dealer requires the buyer undergo a criminal background check.
Driven by the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, Senator Creigh Deeds worked for several sessions to find a bipartisan compromise that will close the gun-show loophole while at the same time preserving the rights of legitimate buyers to purchase a gun. Of course, to the National Rifle Association, any restriction no matter how common sense and reasonable, pulls their hair trigger. Although Deeds wrote the constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to hunt and fish and has an A rating and was endorsed by the NRA in 2005, his due diligence and hard work seeking a way to close this dangerous loophole earned their ire this year. Even with an "A?"
But, as the poll indicates, Creigh Deeds is very much in line with the vast majority of Virginians on closing the loophole. It also found that 63% of Virginians agree with Deeds that redistricting of legislative districts should be done by a bipartisan commission. Fundamental to our democracy, killing the gerrymander is an issue which Deeds has worked on for years and promises to accomplish as Governor.
As we consider who to vote for on Election Day, this poll reminds us of something more than the fact the Deeds is in tune with voters in the Commonwealth. Creigh Deeds has taken on tough issues with a tenacity rarely seen in politicians. For Creigh it is all about finding solutions to tough problems. Solutions that do the greatest good for the greatest number.
The CNU survey was was conducted Oct. 8-13 in cooperation with The Virginian-Pilot and WVEC-TV. It has a MOE of ± 4.4 percentage points.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Virginia Budget - A Train Wreck About to Happen

In the current issue of The Virginia News Letter, James J. Regimbald Jr. warns that the worst of Virginia's budget woes will occur in the 2010-12 biennium and that "painful changes to state government and policy are forthcoming." That seems to fly in the face of what we're hearing in the national media - the recession is easing, the big financial institutions are doing well, brighter days are ahead.
Regimbald doesn't dispute those rosy forecasts, but he points out that Virginia's reserves are essentially gone, deferred obligations will come due, and (most importantly) federal stimulus funds that helped keep the state, local governments, and public schools afloat will run out. He, like most economists, expects job creation to lag the recovery - unemployment will continue to be paid while tax receipts remain low.
What are our options? First, do everything possible to encourage job creation in Virginia by prioritizing Virginia’s investments in education and improvements to our infrastructure. A healthy economy is the only long-term answer to a healthy public sector. Next, Virginia’s government is going to continue to get smaller and even core programs are going to be reduced further. Finally, determine whether Virginia’s tax structure and rates are adequate to sustain a high quality public education, public safety, health and welfare, and transportation system that Virginians have come to expect. This debate may result in the roll back of tax relief that has been provided over the last decade.
If you look carefully at the words and plans of the gubernatorial candidates, you will find one, Creigh Deeds, willing to honestly discuss the looming train wreck with voters while the other, Bob McDonnell continues playing dodgeball on transportation while engaging in smoke and mirrors budgeting. As the Washington Post points out:
And rather than leveling with Virginians about the cost of his approach, as Mr. Deeds has done, Mr. McDonnell lacks the political spine to say what programs he would attempt to gut, or even reshape, in order to deal with transportation needs.
It all comes down to trust. McDonnell has run a slick campaign to re-image himself. If he wins, which Bob McDonnell will show up? How would he deal with the train wreck? Because of his mixed signals and double talk, Virginia voters don't really know. We know Creigh Deeds. He talks straight. What you see is what you get. We can trust Creigh Deeds. More insights from the WaPo:
[Creigh Deeds'] record in the legislature ably blended the conservative interests of his constituents with an agenda reflecting the prosperous, politically moderate face of modern-day Virginia. He has been a longtime champion of a more enlightened, bipartisan system of drawing voting districts, a stance to which Mr. McDonnell only recently gravitated. He has played a constructive role in economic development by shaping the Governor's Economic Opportunity Fund, which provides incentives for investors in Virginia, and he has stood for responsible environmental policies, including green jobs and alternative energy research. Despite his rural roots, Mr. Deeds has been ideologically flexible....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tearing the mountains down

Last week I traveled with the Sierra Club and other concerned groups and individuals to Wise County, VA to attend a public hearing conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers on "Nationwide Permit 21." I readily admit I knew virtually nothing about NWP 21 just seven days ago. But, I was generally familiar with mountaintop removal coal mining that I'd seen firsthand on visits to southwest Virginia and Kentucky over the past two decades.
The hearing was held at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, VA. Local police were out in force in the parking lot and outside the hearing room (didn't see any inside).
In case you are not familiar with mountaintop removal coal mining, it involves blowing up the tops of mountains to reach seams of coal. Millions of tons of waste rock and debris is then dumped into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and totally covering small springs and streams that are the headwaters of our great rives. This destructive mining technique, has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of land by 2020. The mountaintop removal coal mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding, and even wipes out entire villages in the hollows of Appalachia.
Photo taken October 16, 2009 near Appalachia in Wise County, VA. Fog shrouded much of the area making good photos difficult.
There was some "friendly" conversation between folks on each side of the issue. But, make no mistake, the hearing was filled with tension and attempts by some pro-coal folks to shout down the opposition. That tension was most keenly felt by opponents of mountaintop removal who live every day with harassment and shunning. The room, which held 428 was packed and perhaps that many more waited outside. Some on the pro-coal side chanted "tea Party" and talk radio antigovernment rhetoric. There was even a whack job lawyer who reminded me of Francis Chester.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards is among a coalition of groups trying to end this destructive practice.
So, what was this hearing all about?
Currently NWP 21 authorizes "discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States associated with surface coal mining and reclamation operations provided the activities are already authorized...." In short, it provides a blank check authorization for such mountaintop removal coal mining. It is set to expire in March of 2012.
In June of 2009 the Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding that would implement further environmental protections for mountaintop removal coal mining in six states including Virginia. The Virginia counties affected include the well-known mining areas of southwest Virginia and extend northward to Bath, Highland, and Rockbridge counties.
One major impact of changing NWP 21 would be that each mountaintop removal site would have to receive individual authorization, including an opportunity for public comment. Compared to the current rubber stamp process, this would give the Corps far more information upon which to base their analysis of the environmental impacts of a new or expanded site.
I was struck by the fact that currently individual permits are not required for mountaintop coal mining that can take off up to 1,000 feet of a mountain over hundreds of acres in the ecologically diverse Appalachian Mountains. And most of that mountaintop ends up filling valleys, hollows, creeks, and springs that sustain our lives in so many ways.
Then I remembered that a neighbor who wants to erect a residential windmill has to go through a permitting process including a public hearing. Yes, we have private property rights, but it is critical that the use of one's property does not adversely affect his neighbors. This windmill won't tear up the land, won't spoil the water, and other than visual impact will have little effect on neighbors. Yet, a coal company can blow of the top of mountain without even having a public hearing.
To comment on NWP 21 and stop the rubber stamp permits to coal companies and the raping of our mountains and valleys, visit the Sierra Club. For more information on mountaintop removal coal mining check out these groups who are fighting for us every day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

WaPo Set To Endorse Deeds

Concluding with the words below, the Washington Post will endorse Creigh Deeds for Governor. A link will be added tomorrow. It is a thoughtful, accurate, and timely assessment of the importance of this gubernatorial election... please read it carefully.
"Mr. Deeds, lagging in the polls, lacks Mr. McDonnell's knack for crisp articulation. But if he has not always been the most adroit advocate for astute policies, that is preferable to Mr. McDonnell's silver-tongued embrace of ideas that would mire Virginia in a traffic-clogged, backward-looking past. Virginians should not confuse Mr. McDonnell's adept oratory for wisdom, nor Mr. Deeds's plain speech for indirection. In fact, it is Mr. Deeds whose ideas hold the promise of a prosperous future."
The full endorsement, Mr. Deeds for Governor, is here. Read its thoughtful analysis closely. McDonnell has run a great campaign but we can't trust him with our Commonwealth. Deeds' campaign has been shaky at times, but we can trust him with our future. Creigh Deeds will make a great Governor.

Shenandoah Valley Democratic Coalition for Professional Women

~ Concerned Women of the Valley: Let Our Voices be Heard ~
Thursday, October 22 @ 6:00 PM
Kate Collins Middle School, Waynesboro
Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates, and representatives from the Deeds, Wagner and Shannon campaigns; will respond to questions on issues of interest to women voters, from a panel of women professionals. Questions from the audience will also be addressed. Issues to be addressed include:
  • Affordable & Comprehensive Health Care for All Virginians
  • Sustaining Progress in Equality for All Virginians
  • Economic Opportunity for a Diverse Workforce
  • Continuous Improvement of Public Education
  • Environmental Protection & Sustainable Development
  • Public Safety
Sponsored by Shenandoah Valley Democratic Coalition for Professional Women. For more information contact Dr. Lori Wilson @ 757.635.0497, Mona Troensegaard @ 540.649.4866, or

Friday, October 16, 2009

Republican lies about VA economics

If you listen to the chicken sh*t being spread by Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, and Republican spin masters (liars), you'd think the Commonwealth of Virginia is a high tax state, run inefficiently, and deep in debt. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Virginia ranks as one of the highest states in per capita income and well below the national average in tax burden. Under Governor Mark Warner and Governor Tim Kaine, Virginia has won accolades for state government management, delivering a quality education, and creating a business-friendly environment. As the Washington Post points out:
In fact, the Republican rhetoric points to a real dilemma for its own candidates: how to reconcile the fact that Virginia is regularly ranked among the best-managed states, the best states in which to raise a family and the best states in which to do business with the fact that it has been run by Democratic governors for the past eight years.
After eight years of George Allen and Jim Gilmore Virginia was in the dumper... the budget in shambles, the bond rating tanking, schools declining, local governments in disarray. Then came the rescue by Mark Warner and Tim Kaine; supported by quality legislators like Creigh Deeds carrying the flag in the Virginia Senate and Jody Wagner crunching the numbers as Secretary of Finance.
In the last weeks of this strange campaign, Virginians will focus like a laser beam on truth and reality. Republican lies will bubble to the surface like spilt oil in a farm pond. Watch for these races to tighten up quickly.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Conscience and Spine

[Senator Jim] Webb has called our prison system a "national disgrace,” and he’s right: the U.S. incarcerates 2.3 million people (25 percent of the planet’s prisoners), and monitors another 5 million on probation or parole (more than 60 percent of whom will end up back in the clink).
The Atlantic profiles Senator Webb in its Brave Thinkers series commending his "conscience and spine" for taking on an unpopular and forgotten problem in his freshman term.

Red Bricks

Staunton has laid out the red carpet... I mean the red bricks... as part of a marketing campaign to attract attention, tourists, and business for 17 art galleries, theaters, and museums, all within an easy walk. Tourism already supports nearly 600 jobs and nets about $2 million in taxes which organizers expect to grow under the new promotion. Pointing to Richmond's Carytown and Charlottesville's downtown mall, Erik Curren, chair of the Staunton Arts & Culture Council, said,
“Many states and cities around the country are realizing that the arts and culture mean good business. We want our name to resonate across the eastern seaboard for what Staunton has to offer that's welcoming and unique.”
The promotion will expand the marketing dollars and reach of members such as the American Shakespeare Center, the Co-Art Gallery, and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. The council has created a colorful and informative Red Brick District brochure and will feature a series of events during the Arts-and-Culture Week that begins Saturday, October 17. Among the highlights:
  • the Augusta County Historical Society will host a free workshop for adults, "When Bad Things Happen to Good Documents" on how how to care for family photographs and papers;
  • the cast and musicians from ShenanArts’ upcoming show Cotton Patch Gospel will perform in various locations on Beverley Street;
  • a free tour of Blackfriars Playhouse.
Of note: Erik Curren is one of the key people behind the Staunton Arts & Culture Council and is also running for 20th District House of Delegates. His evident leadership and initiative is yet another reason voters should should send him to Richmond. He is a mover and a shaker!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

McDonnell's Consistent Record

In yesterday's News Leader, the superintendent of Staunton Public Schools, Steven Nichols said he didn't want to sound "doom and gloom" but it was hard to read the article without getting that distinct feeling. The only thing that kept Staunton and most other school districts from large scale layoffs, big cuts in academic and sports programs, and other drastic measures was the federal stimulus money. I guess Nichols didn't totally believe his reassuring words either, because, as he anticipated future budgets he said, "we're in real trouble."
So, that got me to wondering about Bob McDonnells' commitment to k-12 education in the Commonwealth. I know Creigh Deeds is a strong supporter of children and public education - I have had the privilege of occasionally working on education issues with him since he served in the House of Delegates. But, what about Bob McDonnell? In these tough economic times, it is important to know where the men stand and how much of a priority education is while writing a budget.
In his infamous 1989 thesis McDonnell wrote that public schools should only provide a "minimum level of self-sufficiency." He also implied that increased school funding was linked to failing SAT scores. What the cluck? He thinks minimum self-sufficiency is good enough for Virginia's kids? If Bob McDonnell and his friends had been steering the ship of state, Virginia would never have been named the best place for a child to be born and grow up. We'd probably never have been named the best place to do business either... a quality and well educated (not minimum education/skills) is essential to attracting new business and keeping our existing ones.
Bob McDonnell has dishonestly making himself appear to be a moderate much like Mark Warner. But, when it comes to funding public eduction, Bob McDonnell has never delivered. For example, McDonnell opposed Warner's budget amendment that committed an additional $1.5 billion to education, the largest increase in Virginia history. To paraphrase a famous gentleman from Texas, I know Mark Warner, Bob McDonnell is no Mark Warner... not when is comes to a commitment to K-12 education. Or, in any other way!
Bob McDonnell's "plan" for fixing Virginia's transportation problems is to borrow (get out the credit card) and to take $5.4 billion out of the General Fund. Now all that sounds painless, right? Well, economists understand (even if McDonnell doesn't) that everything has a cost, known as opportunity cost. Since the General Fund pays for K-12 and higher education, for public safety, for parks, and most other core services, if McDonnell robs Peter to pay Paul the cost will be borne by local schools, by Sheriff's Departments, and by local government. What? The McDonnell plan will mean fewer teachers, fewer deputies on patrol, and may force my county to raise taxes? Yep... it is dishonest budgeting that I'd call shift and shaft. No wonder a number of fiscally responsible Republican leaders who understand the state budget are supporting Creigh Deeds, his sound transportation plan, and his career-long commitment to education.
We can at least say Bob McDonnell is consistent. Consistently bad for public education.

Fear, Lies, and Bob's Ad

We've all seen Bob McDonnell's ad that claims Creigh Deeds will raise every family's taxes by $7,800 over four years. Sounds pretty scary, right? And that's exactly what McDonnell's big Republican Party donations are buying - fear based on falsehoods. That has been their only strategy at the national level and they're bringing it to the Commonwealth. takes a long hard look at the ad and finds it filled with distortions, which in this bird's opinion are just a nice way of saying lies. Lies McDonnell calculates will spread fear among families struggling in the tough economy.
Lie #1 - McDonnell's ad says Deeds would ad 20¢ to a gallon of gas. The truth - Deeds has not proposed a gas tax increase; he has said that if a bipartisan commission proposed revenue increases (not necessarily a gas tax) and the General Assembly concurred, he would sign the bill. Creigh explained his plan in an op-ed in the Washington Post (emphasis mine):
The day after I'm elected, I will begin assembling a bipartisan commission to craft a comprehensive transportation package....
There must be a nexus between funding and those who use our transportation system -- Virginians and those from other states. Virginia needs a bipartisan plan... All funding options are on the table except taking money from education and other obligations met by Virginia's general fund.
I will not let lawmakers go home until we pass a comprehensive transportation plan -- our economic future depends on this.
Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution.
Lie #2 - McDonnell's lies continue when he accuses Deeds of supporting federal cap and trade legislation (Bob seems intent on running against D.C. rather than facing up to Virginia issues) that would cost families $1,700 over four years. The truth - Deeds doesn't support the current federal legislation. And that $1,700 is a gross distortion designed to elicit fear.
Factcheck's bottom line: the McDonnell ad's figure of $7,800 is "mostly hot air." i.e. lies.
That's how I sum up Bob's entire campaign - hot air distorting Creigh Deeds' record while blowing smoke to obscure his own rightwingpatrobertsontalibanbob past. If McDonnell can't talk straight to Virginians now, could we trust him to do so as governor?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Curren to Bell "You hit it in the rough"

Dickie Bell has been saying to anyone who will listen that he is a conservative and supports only fiscally responsible policies. Well, anyone who knows Bell has questions about his history of "fiscal responsibility." Today Erik Curren called him out on the issues of fiscal responsibility, prudent city management, and failing to put public safety before the nine iron. Curren's press release:
Staunton, Va. -- October 12, 2009 -- Staunton City Councilman Richard P. "Dickie" Bell voted against building Staunton's new fire station but he voted for spending $600,000 on the city's public golf course, which raises questions for Bell's opponent, Democratic nominee for 20th District Delegate Erik Curren.
Residents of the 20th District take fire and rescue protection for granted. But when a family or business suffers the tragedy of a major fire or other emergency, their distance from the nearest fire station can mean the difference between life and death, or between damage and demolition.
"Firefighters and other first responders risk their lives daily," said Curren. "Surely we owe firefighters the resources they need to get to the scene as quickly as possible. And we owe it to our families and businesses to make sure that our communities have sufficient fire stations to keep us safe."
Curren questions whether 20th District Republican nominee Dickie Bell appreciates the importance of adequately funding fire and rescue services.
"In this campaign, my opponent has said that he would fund core services at the state level. Yet, he refused to support expanding fire protection in Staunton. Does that mean he would not adequately fund public safety, a key core service, at the state level? Voters have a right to know."
Despite Bell's no-vote, Staunton did approve and build Fire and Rescue Station Number Two on Grubert Avenue. Since it opened in the spring of 2006, the new substation has already saved lives and prevented millions of dollars in property damage, according to local officials.
When fire breaks out, every minute in response time is crucial, because a fire can double in size every 30 seconds and completely engulf a building in seven minutes. With the new substation, 96% of the city is within five minutes of a firehouse, according to Staunton Fire Chief Scott Garber.
Curiously, though he voted against the fire station, Bell voted to spend more than $600,000 to pay for a new irrigation system for Staunton's public golf course in Gypsy Hill Park. Bell himself is an avid golfer who plays at the course on a regular basis.
"My opponent's priorities seem mixed up," Curren said. "Does he consider golf to be a core service of government? My opponent seems to think that taxpayers should pay for a golf course but not for better fire protection. Voters are right to ask, if my opponent were sent to Richmond, would he put special interests and frivolous spending ahead of the public interest and core services like transportation, education, and public safety? If so, that's not fiscal conservatism -- that's fiscal irresponsibility."

Hope and Opportunity Tour

More than two dozen Staunton/Augusta Democrats gathered at Carded Graphics in the Green Hills Industrial Park to be part of DPVA Chairman Richard Cranwell's "Hope and Opportunity Tour" for Creigh Deeds. The always entertaining and enlightening Cranwell used facts, wit, and a broad smile to deliver his core message - if Virginians want to move Virginia's economy forward, in all parts of the state, Creigh Deeds is the man to do it.
About 30 supporters gathered at Carded Graphics to hear DPVA Chair Richard Cranwell. Also speaking was Staunton Councilman Bruce Elder, Rockingham Democratic Chair Lowell Fulk. In the crowd was Staunton Councilman Dave Metz and 20th House District candidate Erik Curren.
Comparing the Deeds plan with the McDonnell "plan," Cranwell pointed out in stark terms that under the Deeds plan, small businesses, which are a hallmark of the Shenandoah Valley economy, will get tax breaks for creating one job... and the next one job. McDonnell's "plan" is focused on larger businesses creating 50 jobs. Now that all sounds good, but very few businesses in the Valley have that many employees now, much less being able to create that many new jobs. In short, McDonnell has forgotten all about rural Virginia.
Cranwell explained how Deeds' long term commitment to economic development, to K-12 and higher education, to a good transportation system are all designed to continue the Warner/Kaine policies that made Virginia the "best managed state," the "best state to do business," and the "best state to raise a child." Pointing to the state-of-the-art facility at Carded Graphics, he noted that a grant from the Governor's Opportunity Fund helped to make it possible. And by the way, who was the chief architect of the legislation that created GOF? Creigh Deeds! And who opposed it and subsequently fought against increasing funding? Bob McDonnell.
The choice, Cranwell said, is crystal clear. We can move Virginia forward with Creigh Deeds or return to the failed Gilmore politics of "No!"
The PA system boomed an announcement to employees during Cranwell's talk prompting a moment of silence and reflection on his statement of the obvious - "the choice in this election is crystal clear."
Staunton City Councilman Bruce Elder reinforced Cranwell's themes relating how Creigh has always been a good friend of the Valley while McDonnell, who claims several hometowns around the state, hardly knows the Valley exists except for zipping down I-81 or flying into Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport for a quick rally. And gone again.
Richard Cranwell talks business with Erik Curren (right) after the formal presentation ended. Curren is running for 20th District House of Delegates. Curren has put out a detailed business plan that shares similarities with the Deed's plan. His opponent, Dickie Bell, has no plan except for saying things like "drill here, drill now." In the Valley??
The "Hope and Opportunity Tour" started early in the day in Winchester and included a stop at Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative in Hinton. Cranwell departed for additional stops in Danville and Lynchburg. Tomorrow he'll head south on I-81 to Wytheville, Bluefield, Marion, and Bristol.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When free ain't free

You've seen the goofball singing about his woes because he failed to get his free annual credit report. Now the guy has a point - we should all monitor our credit reports on a regular basis for inaccurate or out-of-date information, for signs of identity theft, and to be aware of a personal asset that is increasingly valuable in today's credit markets. So why are the three consumer credit reporting agencies - TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian - spending big bucks for something they are required by federal law to give away for free?
If you've ever visited, you know the answer. Upon arriving at the site you are bombarded with ads for additional proprietary (for pay) services from each credit reporting agency. To navigate through the free site, you go into multiple pages of ads, some placed in ways that appear designed to confuse and lead the consumer away from free to pay.
Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, the Federal Trade Commission is required to amend the rules governing annual free credit reports by February 22, 2010. The FTC is accepting public comment through November 30, 2009. Read the proposed changes and submit your own comments at
Below is a summary of my comments:
  • Credit bureaus should not be allowed to advertise additional pay services until AFTER the consumer has received the free credit report.
  • Links to credit bureau websites should be on the website only AFTER the consumer has received the free credit report. Links to pay services before that point are confusing and often lead consumers away from the site.
  • If consumers click links on that take them to a proprietary page, they should be greeted by a bold warning and disclosure: "THIS IS NOT THE FREE CREDIT REPORT PROVIDED FOR BY FEDERAL LAW."
Let the FTC know what you think about free annual credit reports. If we can make the process of keeping track of our credit as straightforward and easy as possible, without confusion and distractions, perhaps more Americans will take charge of their credit. That will be good news for everyone... except identity thieves.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Should Elected Officials Take Pay Cuts?

John Lesinski, Democratic candidate in the 15th House of Delegates district, has proposed that legislators' pay be suspended until the economy improves. The suggestion is part of Lesinski's Business Plan that was recently posted to his website laying out ideas for cutting government waste, creating jobs, and rebuilding Virginia's economy.
Lesinski may be on to something with his suggestion about suspending the pay of members of the General Assembly while the Virginia budget is experiencing an extreme crunch. It gets to the idea of shared pain and shared responsibility. When there isn't enough corn to go around....
In the spirit of what Lesinski seeks, I'd suggest a modification. All elected officials of our state government should take pay reductions... not a total suspension of pay... by the same percentage that the budget has been cut. As the economy improves and funds are restored to the Virginia budget, pay would likewise be restored. All members of the General Assembly as well as the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General would be included. Perhaps top-level policy making appointees, for example the members of the Cabinet, should join in the shared sacrifice.
When state employees are losing jobs, when government services are cut, when citizens are hurting, those who make the decisions that affect so many lives must feel similar pain and bear some tangible responsibility. Kudos to John Lesinsik for laying this fresh idea on the table.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shot in the arm; kick in the butt

I got my seasonal flu shot at CVS yesterday. Because CVS is the prescription provider with a relationship with my insurance company, I figured it would be covered in full or with a copay. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes I was informed that my insurance (covers lots of people in these parts) wasn't one of those accepted. Seems the company giving the shots was a subcontractor. I went ahead and paid the $30 and made sure I held on to my receipt hoping Southern Health would reimburse me.
The retired Navy veteran in line behind me, nudged me and showed me his Medicare card. He was a talkative and well-informed guy who started the conversation by saying "we should have Medicare for all. Works great." He went on to talk about all the misinformation (he actually said "lies") that had been spread a the town hall meetings. We had a long conversation which ended when it was my turn to get stuck. The last thing he said was, "President Obama promised a public option and said he'd veto anything that falls short. We need to hold him to it."
First we need to get a strong public option to the President's desk. And that means getting it through the Senate. Rachel Maddow has a suggestion for cracking heads and twisting arms:
To wrap up my story, I came home and called the insurance company's customer service. After dancing through the phone tree and listening to messages I finally got to a rep. She was very polite and helpful... and seemed surprised that my card wasn't accepted. She promised to mail a reimbursement form and indicated I should get about $20 back.
You might say "all's well that end's well." Perhaps so. But, why should something this simple be such a hassle? How many similarly situated people would forget to call or would lose the receipt... or worse, not gotten the flu shot? It shouldn't be this tough
The Navy vet had it right. We need Medicare for all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Secret Socialist?

I don't often troll by to read swacgirl's gibberish, but I wanted to see how she'd misreported Francis Chester's day in court. When she finally posted something, it was a doozy of a stinker - we can all agree that comparing Francis Chester to Thomas Jefferson as a modern day incarnation of the "Citizen Farmer Patriot" is beyond absurd. I'd call it chicken sh*t.
But, that's not the subject of this post. Seems swacgirl/Lynn Mitchell is a closet socialist. Yep, if you scroll a bit on her blog you'll find she really admires government involvement in private business and government ownership of our most precious resources.
The evidence - she extolls the virtues of the Staunton trolley, which is city-owned and free to anyone. Damn the city - a private entrepreneur is denied the chance to make a profit! Then in series of posts she sings the praises of our National Parks and Shenandoah National Park in particular. Our National Parks are one of the greatest examples of government acquiring (sometimes by eminent domain) our most treasured resources for the common good so that all may enjoy them no matter their economic means. Mountaintop KOA, anyone?
I like the trolley (but have never taken a ride) and love our National Parks. But, then again, I believe government can be a positive influence in people's lives and think many government programs are good even if they don't benefit me personally. Lynn, and her ilk only like government when they reap the rewards. Does she have a problem living in a "commonwealth?"

Global Warming Is Good

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including its local chapters here in the Valley, has a long history poo pooing the solid scientific proof on global warming. Now the Chamber seems to have changed its mind and even thinks climate change and warmer temperatures are a good thing. Cluck?
So, the good news is one of the largest business groups has acknowledged the fact fact of global warming (next up... the world is a globe), in part because a number of their member businesses have already reached that conclusion.
But, the bad news is the Chamber seems to think it is a good thing. Back in June the EPA found that high levels of carbon dioxide presents a danger to human health. In a response, the Chamber made some downright crazy assertions:
  • "Humans have become less susceptible to the effects of heat due to a combination of adaptations, particularly air conditioning. The availability of air conditioning is expected to continue to increase." Hey, this bird doesn't have AC... oh, it will be good for business of cooling contractors and electric companies.
  • "Reduced exposure to cold days is a significant factor in the increased life expectancy experienced in the U.S. over the past 30 years. This benefit from reduced exposure to cold can be further attributed to people migrating to warmer climates." Florida is coming to me so I don't have to migrate.
  • "[T]he scientific evidence is clear that cold is a more potent hazard than heat." Is that why poultry houses have heaters but no air conditioning?
Read more about the Chamber of Horrors... I mean Commerce, at Mother Jones.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Courage and Common Sense

Jeff Price recently received the endorsement of the Rockbridge Advocate (subscription required), a news magazine that bills itself as "independent as a hog on ice."
In a thoughtful letter from the editor, the Advocate first turned its microscope on Ben Cline, who is running on his (non)record... for example, claiming credit for construction at the Horse Center and bringing a community college campus to Buena Vista. The Advocate ripped apart each of Cline's empty boasts and bluntly stated that Cline has no place to claim credit for those projects or for much else:
It's not unusual for politicians to claim credit for everything good that happens in their districts during their tenure. But Ben (Cline) really has remarkably little to show for his years in Richmond - other than picking up some tips on being a career politician.
And one tip that he's refined is to avoid saying anything that might possibly offend a voter, and dodge any question that can't be answered by saying something about government waste, apple pie, etc. etc.
Turning to Price, the Advocate praised him for straight answers to questions while Cline engaged in "soft-shoe song and dance." Price, who is actually a family man, who actually runs a small business, who actually grew up on a farm didn't pretend to know all the answers, but at a recent forum addressed questions on those and other topics directly. The Advocate endorsed Price over the empty shell Cline, concluding:
Jeff Price doesn't have an ideological agenda or any great political ambitions. He knows how to listen and work hard. He's got some courage and a whole lot of common sense. And that's just what we need in Richmond.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lower Your Carbon Footprint

With Governor Kaine's announcement of the annual sales tax holiday on energy efficient products and the new Energy Efficiency Rebate program, this is a great time to lower your carbon footprint, save on heating and utility costs, and save on taxes.
According to researchers at Oregon State University, some changes around your house can do big things for the environment. For example:
  • Recycling newspaper, magazines, glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel cans: 19 tons of CO2 saved
  • Replacing old refrigerator with energy-efficient model: 21 tons saved
  • Replacing ten 75-w incandescent bulbs with 25-w Energy-efficient lights: 40 tons saved
  • Replacing single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows: 133 tons saved
  • Increasing car's fuel economy from 20 to 30 mpg: 163 tons saved
Recycling is easy and free to do. The rebate and sales tax holiday can help with three of the bullets. You probably won't buy a new car this fall, but hopefully your next one will get at least 50% better mileage than your current one.

Bell Bails

Dickie Bell, who agreed to four live debates, has reneged on his promise. They say a man is only as good as his word.
You may recall that shortly after Bell was nominated, Erik Curren proposed a series of live debates in each of the localities in the 20th District. After some hemming and hawing, Bell agreed to the concept and the campaigns began negotiating on dates, formats, etc. But, apparently the Bell campaign never really intended to fulfill his promise as he employed a strategy of delay and refusing to respond to run out the clock. Tis the season for weaving and bobbing for apples.
Now comes the word that Dickie Bell will only agree to one debate to be held in a sparsely populated Highland County. Bell argues that this week's debate on TV3 will have to suffice for the rest of us. Of course, there is no live audience and no interaction directly with voters. Maybe Dickie is afraid of catching something if he meets the people?
The more we see of Dickie Bell, the less there is to like. He refuses to talk issues. The only thing he works hard on is debate dodging. He loathes voters. Maybe he skipped the part in civic class about representative democracy?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Curren/Bell to debate... sort of

Erik Curren and Dickie Bell will finally debate, although not before a live audience of voters as most of us probably anticipated. Sponsored by The News Leader and WHSV, the debate will air live on TV3 at 7PM on Tuesday, October 6 and will stream online at and
You may recall that Curren proposed, and Bell accepted, the concept of four debates with one in each of the jurisdictions within the 20th District. Since then Bell has adopted a strategy of weaving, bobbing, and delaying so there may not may never be debates that bring the candidates face to face with voters. So, the televised debate may be as good as it gets.
Over in the 25th District, Del. Steve Landes has inexcusably bailed out of the debate with Dr. Greg Marrow because of his "concerns of the (News Leader) editorial board not being fair and balanced...." Landes said he wanted a different moderator before the format and moderator were even discussed, according to Cindy Corell at The News Leader [emphasis added]. After getting thrashed by Marrow in a debate last week, Landes has apparently gone into hibernation mode.
With strong Democratic challengers for the first time in several election cycles, Valley Republicans don't quite seem to know how to proceed. Suddenly hollow records and bankrupt ideas are being challenged. It seems most Valley Repubs have adopted a strategy of keeping their mouths shut and laying low. If voters remain complacent, that strategy could work, but it could just as easily backfire in the last weeks of the campaign as people awake to the GOP evasion. Nobody likes candidates who hide from their own record, views, and voters. You are supposed to run for something, not from yourself.
Back in the 20th District we find Erik Curren proposing a well thought out plan to create jobs. Dickie Bell, as seems to be his mode of operation, was caught flatfooted and could only react to reporters' questions. Think we need more debates?
So let's see. In the 20th District we have a forward thinking candidate like Erik Curren who is putting ideas on the table OR we have Dickie Bell who is kicked back on his heels blindly reacting to Curren's proposals with generic talking points. What the hell do you expect, he didn't even think ahead enough to deal with his employment issues. And in the 25th, Del. Landes is hiding from Dr. Greg Marrow and the voters, apparently refusing more debates and blaming the media, his opponent... anybody but himself for his woes.
Election Day is but a month away. Tick Tock. The choices get clearer by the day.

Will he ever just go away?

Yesterday, Francis Chester got his day in court. And he'll get another sometime after mid November. Perfect timing for this turkey.
You can read accounts in the News Leader or the News Virginian for background on the cases which Chester filed against the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Board of Supervisors. But, media reports miss much of this "drama" that continues playing out not only in the Augusta County Circuit Court, but also among right wing teabaggers and bloggers.
About two dozen spectators endured bad acoustics and an inadequate sound system trying to hear the judge, lawyers, and witnesses discuss the issue of sanctions against Chester who had a little band of supporters and piled his "petitions" high on the table in front of him. Most others in the courtroom were from the county government or the news media. Two members of the Board of Supervisors - Wendell Coleman and Nancy Sorrells - were there. On a beautiful fall afternoon, there had to be better activities than sitting on hard seats in a majestic but gloomy courtroom.
A few random observations:
Chester's attacks on Commissioner Shrewsbury were mostly hollow attempts to question her and her employees' salaries and the amount of time they spent researching his demands. He made cracks about computing average salaries in his head while she used a calculator, but it was hard to discern his point on that or anything else. I guess he's trying to reduce the amount of any sanction, but beyond that, it is hard to see any coherent strategy by the "country lawyer."
At one point the attorney representing the county requested a five minute recess. He promptly left with the County Administrator, the Commissioner of the Revenue, and others to discuss strategy. Mr. Chester was left sitting until he and Lynn Mitchell, aka swacgirl, slipped out the backdoor. Guess that constitutes his brain trust. I awaited a hard hitting defense when the trial resumed. I was to be disappointed.
Chester had asked the judge for a "nonsuit" to withdraw his original cases as a way to dodge sanctions. Judge Victor Ludwig would have none of that since doing so would place a time limit on the county's sanction case. The judge ordered the county to file a written brief in 30 days with Chester's response two weeks later. He noted a number of issues he wanted argued in the briefs including the Virginia Code that deals with sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits and several legal precedents. For example, shouldn't Mr. Chester have been aware that Virginia does not permit class action suits and that Boards of Supervisors have immunity.
After the judge finished outlining the relevant Code sections and case law to address in the briefs, Mr. Chester requested that the judge again give him the citations. Before patiently doing so, Judge Ludwig admonished him saying, "Those are cases you should have known before you walked in the door, Mr. Chester."
Chester brought this litigation as part of a broader political campaign against the reassessment. To him, suing raised his credibility in the eyes of his supporters and gave him more fodder to fire up the crowd. But, judges rightfully bristle at anyone's attempt to use the courts in this way, especially when there is no sound basis in the law. For that reason, the court should sanction Chester to deter him (and other lawyers) from wasting the court's time and to pay the county back for some of the costs incurred in meeting all his irrational demands.
Like most states, Virginia law holds that frivolous litigation occurs when a competent attorney knows or should know the claim has no merit and little chance of success. So, Mr. Chester may have some creative arguments up his sleeve that can convince the judge that sanctions should not apply to him. But, I'm not holding my breath.