Virginia Pundit Watch

Will Vehrs



Budget Battle Leftovers


How do pundits in states with full-time legislatures cope? Virginia commentators have seemed exhausted since the budget deal was struck. Gov. Mark R. Warner’s victory and Republican disarray is the simplistic story line and they’re sticking to it. The budget bill veto session held June 16th was barely noticed. A total of 43 budget amendments were considered, but only one merited more than perfunctory coverage.


Wil LaViest of the Daily Press noted the one headline decision from the General Assembly gathering on June 16th — the overwhelming vote to substantively fund a scholarship program for those denied an education by Virginia’s Massive Resistance campaign in the 50’s and 60’s. LaViest credited the dogged work of Farmville Herald editor Robert Woodley and quoted his eloquent reaction: "We won ... the sword of Massive Resistance has turned into the plow share of massive redemption."


Taking shots at the split in the Republican Party of Virginia was the theme of the week. Hugh Lessig and Kimball Payne of the Daily Press previewed a Republican retreat that would feature former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder as keynote speaker. They wrote, less than optimistically,


The tax debate split House Republicans, and getting most of them under one roof for a weekend may soothe some of those wounds.

Or not


Jeff Schapiro, writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, used almost every play on words possible as he described GOP discomfort with the legislative scorecards issued by the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education, known as “Virginia FREE.” Ha, ha, there’s no “FREE ride” and get ready for a “FREE-for-all.” Virginia FREE gave high marks to Republican legislators who voted to raise taxes, while ranking anti-tax Republicans poorly. Schapiro managed to get in a dig at former Gov. Jim Gilmore, claiming the FREE report card is an easy story to tell for Democrats, just like Gilmore’s “three-word ditty: ‘no car tax.’"


Champion of the Gilmore shots was the reliably partisan Gordon Morse of the Daily Press. Morse used President Reagan’s passing to unfavorably compare Gilmore to the former president: “At least with Ronald Reagan, you had a decent man of good humor ….”


Less predictable criticism of Republicans came from Melanie Scarborough of the Washington Post. She actually defended 8th District Congressman Jim Moran:


Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) benefits from the precedent set by Bill Clinton: Although many voters consider him personally unfit for office, they deem him professionally apt. So in a primary earlier this month, Democrats held their noses and nominated Moran to run for another term.


That may not be all bad.


Moran performs a function that has been largely abdicated by Virginia's Republican representatives: He dares to criticize and attempts to curb George W. Bush's excesses.


Watch pundits continue to explore perceived and real problems within the GOP. There’s plenty of material.


A Cloud in the Sunny Sky


Gov. Warner is on a roll, energized by his budget victory and favorable notices in the national press as a dark horse vice-presidential candidate. If a dark cloud threatens the sunny skies of the Warner Administration, it is the findings of a Washington Post investigative report on conditions in Virginia’s adult assisted living facilities.


Department of Social Services Director Maurice Jones responded to the Post charges with the now-familiar combination of empathy (“I am heartbroken by the suffering”), calibration (“the overwhelming majority of staff members at assisted-living facilities make the best interests of their patients their top priority”), and spin (“the state has made important strides in recent years in the licensing of assisted-living facilities”). 


Jones promised the usual litany of more inspections and tougher penalties, but he also seemed to recognize that assisted living facilities could also benefit from other approaches, such as assistance with management practices and training for the largely unskilled workforce found at most adult homes.


Another Voice in the Chorus


Respected Brookings Institute scholar Jonathan Rauch strongly criticized Virginia’s Marriage Affirmation Act in a Washington Post op-ed that was widely linked on political and social policy websites around the country. He compared the Act to Jim Crow laws and called upon the General Assembly to “salvage its good name by repudiating and repealing the law.”


Billboard Morality


Brian Gottstein of the Roanoke Times skewered a new program from the Virginia Department of Health. The Department is sponsoring outdoor billboards in Richmond and Roanoke to discourage sex with minors: “Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor – don't go there.” Gottstein is outraged at the derisive attention the billboards are drawing:


National news outlets picked up the story of this new ad campaign and broadcast it across the country this week. What an embarrassment! It makes Virginia look backward and it makes our men look like pedophiles.


A press release from the VDH states: “The campaign hopes to change the norms around relationships with minors, making it no longer acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors.”

When was it ever acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors? What planet are these people from?


A Simpler Place


Tired of big-time media? Marc Fisher of the Washington Post takes us back to a kinder, gentler media outlet, radio station WAMM in Shenandoah County. It’s “the only place on the radio where anyone cares about elections in Toms Brook or Strasburg, or the games played by high school teams, or the needs of county residents when the weather turns dangerous.” The goal of the station, according to Peggy Boston, the station’s chairman, is clear: “We don't want to become suburban Winchester. We're the only thing in the county, and we want to sound like the county." To those who live in busy Northern Virginia, Metro Richmond, or Hampton Roads, sometimes the idea of being suburban Winchester is almost nirvana.


-- June 21, 2004














Will Vehrs grew up in Prince William County. He has a degree in American history from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from Chapman University. Will's experience includes a stint with a Fortune 500 company and economic development work in state government. His "Punditwatch" column appears on and Jewish World Review, as well as on his own Punditwatch website. He also writes for the Quasipundit political site.