by D.J. Rippert
The Gathering Storm. Virginia’s General Assembly has hit a rough patch and that patch is getting rougher. First, a bizarre and dysfunctional 2012 General Assembly session had Virginia’s state legislature featured as the butt of late night talk show jokes. Then, a homophobic fight against the appointment of openly gay judge Tracy Thorne-Begland has been essentially reversed by a Richmond Circuit Court judge. Meanwhile, erstwhile General Assembly member, current Attorney General and governor hopeful Ken Cuccinelli has been slapped back on both his anti-Obamacare suit and his effort to force the release of Thomas Mann’s climate change e-mails. Finally, Bob McDonnell’s proximity to the top of Mitt Romney’s VP candidate list seems to be falling like a stone through water as Virginia’s structural economic and infrastructure problems become increasingly apparent.
The Tone in Tidewater. While the state legislature in Richmond has many ways that it demonstrates its intransigence and incompetence, transportation remains the cornerstone of its dysfunction. A recent “Best State for Business” article dropped the Commonwealth several notches on the list based, in large part, on a very substantial failure of state infrastructure. The last serious attempt to reform transportation in Virginia, passed by the lawyer-laden General Assembly, was immediately and unanimously found to be unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court. The opinion of the court was clear. Justice Bernard S. Goodwyn wrote that “the General Assembly has failed to adhere to the mandates of accountability and transparency that the Constitution requires when the General Assembly exercises the legislative taxing authority permitted by the Constitution.” The Clown’s Show’s response? Embark on a hare brained scheme where various roads have their tolls raised to sky high levels so that new road construction can be undertaken without having to raise the gas tax – frozen in cents/gallon since 1986. Some in Tidewater think that this latest measure from our representatives in Richmond may be just as unconstitutional as HB3202.
Fighting a two front war. One hallmark of the General Assembly’s ability to remain in power despite its many failures has been its policy of isolating Northern Virginia from the rest of the state. This policy is predicated on taking huge sums of money out of Northern Virginia to fund various priorities across the state while freezing the gas tax that would help address Northern Virginia’s most pressing priority – transportation. The silent complicity of long time Northern Virginia state legislators such as Janet Howell have only aided and abetted Virginia’s political elite in this policy.
However, the state government in Richmond has now made the historical mistake of opening a second front in its war against the urbanized areas of the state – namely, it is trying to impose the same hapless policies it has imposed on Northern Virginia on Tidewater. The reaction from Tidewater not only targets the specific actions of the General Assembly, it also provides focus on the overall ineptness of the General Assembly. As the Pilot Online editorial states when discussing possible “blow back” from the lawsuit, “But blame for that development shouldn’t be assigned to the people who demand that state leaders abide by the state constitution. It should go to the elected leaders themselves, who have failed for the better part of two decades to exercise their authority to craft responsible solutions to the problems they’ve been sent to Richmond to address.” My, my. Tidewater is starting to sound a lot like NoVa.
The sun is setting on the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. Its 25-year reign of terror against the residents of Virginia is becoming ever more apparent to those residents. Its radical ideas are mocked on late night TV and its incompetent decisions are frequently overturned by rational people outside the state legislature. Now, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has managed to antagonize both the largest and the second largest population centers in the state.