Category Archives: Children and families

One Very Sad Day In Court

maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

One literally could have heard a pin drop in U.S. District Court in Richmond today.

William Burck, lawyer for  Maureen McDonnell, said in his opening argument in a trial that Virginia’s Former First Lady who has been indicted no 14 corruption charges along with her former governor husband was “collateral damage” in a deeply troubled marriage. She had developed a “crush” on the businessman who had given her and her husband more than $150,000 in loans, gifts and cash.

“Their marriage had broken down,” Burck said. “They were barely on speaking terms,” Burck said. Ms. McDonnell was angry and frustrated that her husband had been working 16-hour days in public service for 20 plus years and had little to show for it. They had five children. Big debt. Bob wasn’t paying attention to her.

As John L. Brownlee, McDonnell’s lawyer, said, McDonnell’s hard public service work “took a toll on his family and a terrible toll on his wife. He was not nearly as successful as a husband. He tried to keep from the public the most painful aspects of his marriage. He never humiliated her. He never scorned her.”

In pops Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a smooth-talking entrepreneur pushing a new anti-aging cream made in part from tobacco plants (although his firm, Star Scientific, had lost a couple hundred million over the previous decade.) Brownlee described the star witness for the prosecution as a “master manipulator.”

“This marriage broke apart and an outsider, another man, would invade and poison their marriage,” Brownlee said.

At one point, Maureen was said to have “hated” Bob who wrote a lengthy email to her trying to reconcile. In fact, Brownlee said, the Governor will read the email when he goes on the jury stand during the trial that is expected to last at least five weeks. When McDonnell sent the email, however, “that evening, Maureen was distracted by other interests.”

One could get snarky about this seemingly over-the-top soap opera. But no one in the courtroom seemed to be smirking. It is strange enough to be at a trial like this in a place like Virginia that considers itself above the petty corruption that plagues other states. It is even stranger to hear such excruciatingly personal and painful things about the state’s top former executive and his wife.

It could be that a “throw Maureen under the bus” strategy may work to get both of them off. After all, she wasn’t a public official and could do what she wanted as far as gifts. The prosecution’s opening statement drew a rather detailed and concise outline of just what and when the McDonnells solicited Williams’ largesse, right down to the “thank you” emails when money arrived in the bank to Maureen’s cell phone snap shot of Bob wearing slick, wraparound sunglasses while driving Williams’ Ferrari.

Giving the McDonnell’s the benefit of the doubt, I have to say I’ve heard this kind of story before among long-married couples suffering through middle age as their children are ready to fly away. Their stories may not be dramatic but I’ve got to admit that Bob McDonnell never seemed to exhibit such grabby behavior before.

This raises another tough question. What should “public service” be and how much should it take from one’s private life. More importantly, why can’t it support men and women who pursue it? Should it be only for the rich?

McDonnell slogged through relatively low-paying jobs like the General Assembly, Attorney General and Governor. He had five kids and a wife who seemed very freaked out by being First Lady – a role she apparently never wanted. She came from a Northern Virginia civil service family that didn’t exactly have a grand disposable income.

Consider two other Virginia governors –former and current. Mark Warner, now U.S. Senator, is rich from his telecommunications investments made years ago. At one point he was said to be worth a couple hundred million dollars. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, another former businessman, is likewise wealthy but probably not as rich as Warner.

Should these people be in office because they are rich? Should public service be available only to those with great portfolios? What would Thomas Jefferson say?

The McDonnell Trial Gets Underway

mcdonnells arraignedBy Peter Galuszka

This morning marks the start of the long-awaited corruption trial for Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen, the first ever involving the governor of a state that fancies itself above petty corruption.

McDonnell, a Republican, faces 14 felony counts in federal court including wire fraud and lying on a federal loan application. This morning’s session at U.D. District Court before Judge James Spencer will involve jury selection. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

It promises to be a cross between a soap opera and a reality show with overtones of a Greek tragedy. Involved are strong personalities, a classic triangle (the governor, his wife and Jonnie Williams, a businessman who is the feds star witness) and lots of big, big Virginia names. The lawyers’ list reads like the wine list at a five-star restaurant.

There will be lots of politics and lots of venality, such as why Ms. McDonnell insisted on Williams supplying luxury trinkets and money, whether the First Family, regarded as a fine example of Virginia public service, was living far beyond their means and why the state’s squeaky-clean image is a myth.

A few more takeaways:

  • This is a federal case, not a state one. There is no way the case could ever have gone anywhere in state court – the laws are nonexistent. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a federal case and, traditionally, federal courts are used to go after local politicians and business people. Remember that it was the feds who nailed Al Capone in federal court, not Chicago or Illinois state courts. Just arguing that state law doesn’t go that far is irrelevant.
  • It’s going to get very ugly. Much of the melodrama takes place in the governors’ Capitol Hill house ruled by Ms. McDonnell and from which the case originally stemmed. It had to do with an executive chef who was accused of theft and was tried. He blew the whistle on the relationship between McDonnells, the gifts and Williams. Now, we find that the defense may subpoena the housekeeper for previous Democratic Govs. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both now U.S. Senators. It could be an episode of “Housewives of the Executive Mansion.” Stay tuned.
  • There’s no getting around the politics. I have to admit that it seemed very curious last year that the McDonnell case seemed to spring up from nowhere in the governor’s last year in office (he can’t succeed himself). It happened during a bitter gubernatorial race between hard-right Republican Kenneth Cuccinelli and Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe. There were media leaks galore last summer which made for great, gossipy reading but one did wonder about the propriety of it all.
  • Suppose the McDonnells are acquitted? If so, what was all the Sound and Fury about? Blogger Paul Goldman, former head of the state Democratic Party, believes an acquittal could bring calls for the resignation of U.S. Atty. Gen Eric Holder. Sounds extreme.

All in all, the trial represents a transitional phase for Virginia. Its old ways, conceited and quaint they may have been, have faded. Welcome to the 21st Century, y’all!

Two UMW Daughters of the ’60s

Birmingham By Peter Galuszka

Just a few days ago, Elena Siddall, a Mathews County Republican activist and Tea Party Patriot, posted her account on the Rebellion of being a social worker in New York in the 1960s and the wrong-headedness of Saul Alinsky, a leftist organizer who had had a lot of influence back in the day, among others. I won’t comment on Ms. Siddall’s lively account and conservative point of view. But I do notice one thing: she is a 1963 graduate of what is now the University of Mary Washington, which then was considered the female side of the University of Virginia (campuses being segregated by sex back then).

I have a tie as well to Mary Wash, which is now coed. My daughter graduated from there last year and my cousin-in-law, now living in Tennessee, went there was well before moving on the U.Va. nursing. Our family experience at Mary Wash has been a big positive and I support the school. So, it is with considerable interest that I noticed that the Spring 2014 issue of the University of Mary Washington Magazine had a cover story of a different kind of graduate than Ms. Siddall with some very different views.

So, in the interest of providing some equal time among women who came of age during those years of intense ethical and political awareness, I thought I’d toss in the magazine story to further the debate and show that not every Eagle from Mary Wash thinks like Ms. Siddall (no disrespect intended).

The story has to do with Nan Grogan Orrock, class of ’65, the daughter of an Abingdon forest ranger, who got the civil rights fever when it wasn’t always easy for a young, white woman in Virginia to be an activist. But activist she was, from exhorting her classmates to join protests, to spending summers and other time in the Deep South demonstrating with African-Americans in SNCC, to staring down the real possibility of being beaten or killed and to even today, when she’s been active in the Georgia legislature shaking things up, such as trying to get the Confederate flag off public buildings.

The article, written by Mary Carter Bishop, class of ’67, is intriguing. The writer is a career journalist who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer in 1980 for the Philadelphia Inquirer when that paper was one of the liveliest and best in the nation.

As Bishop writes:Nan Grogan Orrock ’65 is among the South’s most veteran and well-respected advocates of social change. She is one of the longest-serving and most progressive members of the Georgia legislature and has left her mark on every sector of social justice: civil rights, women’s rights, worker rights, gay rights, environmental rights.

“She’s chased after cross-burning Ku Klux Klansmen, cut sugar cane in Cuba, started an alternative newspaper, organized unions, led strikes, been arrested a bunch of times, and still stands on picket lines. At 70, she’s far from done. I had to finally get to know her. The week before Christmas, I flew to Atlanta and sat down with her at the State Capitol.”

Please read both accounts – Ms. Siddall’s and Ms. Bishop’s article – and see ideas through opposite prisms of the 1960s involving two obviously very bright women.

Voluntary Sterilization? Great Idea!

Herald

Jessie Lee Herald

by James A. Bacon

Let us all applaud Ilona White, assistant prosecutor of Shenandoah County. She had the brilliant idea of offering Jessie Lee Herald, a 27-year-old man who had sired seven children by six different women, the option of undergoing a vasectomy in exchange for a five-year reduction in his prison term.

Her motive in offering the deal, she explained, was to prevent him from fathering any more children. “He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Not surprisingly, the deal evoked hand-wringing from civil libertarians. The deal calls to mind the involuntary sterilizations carried out in Virginia in the early 20th century under the banner of eugenics, said Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor. “This takes on the appearance of social engineering,” said Steve Benjamin, past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Sentencing conditions are designed to prevent future criminal behavior,” he added. “Fathering children is not criminal behavior.”

I am not moved in the slightest by those concerns. Garrett’s statement is ridiculous. Benjamin may make a valid point from a narrow legal perspective — fathering children may not be criminal behavior. The problem is… it’s a narrow legal perspective. It misses the larger issue at hand.

I will fully admit my boundless contempt for Herald, a man who has for years engaged in animalistic, indeed sociopathic, behavior with no serious consequence. Fathering seven children by six women — at the age of 27, no less! — is vile and reprehensible. He cannot possibly be a good father if he wanted to, and it is dubious that anyone so consumed with his own desires even cares. Herald cannot support that many children financially, and he cannot possibly find the time to undertake the non-pecuniary duties of fatherhood. By his own admission, his nephew — a man who has worked as a roofer and in a poultry plant — has financially supported “at least some” of his children. I don’t know how many children of his own the nephew has, but he is more of a man than Herald will ever be.

Among his other derelictions, Herald was convicted of child endangerment, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license in a crash in which his three-year-old son suffered minor injuries.

Society has no good solutions for reprobates like Herald. Mothers of the children can sue for child support, but if he has seven children, it’s highly unlikely that he is willing or able to live up to his obligations for all of them. So, what’s to be done? If you throw him in jail, he can’t earn any money or pay any child support at all. But if you let him out of jail, he’s likely to continue his reckless, irresponsible behavior.

That’s why Ilona White’s offer makes so much sense. The dirtbag gets out of jail early, giving him an opportunity to find gainful employment, earn money and meet at least some of his financial obligations to his children. But the vasectomy ensures that he won’t be spawning any more offspring. If anything, the deal wasn’t strict enough — it gives him a year to scrape up the money to pay for the procedure, during which time he can easily father another child or two… or three.

Amazingly, Herald had to wrestle with the decision. “It was not a no-brainer for him,” his attorney said. Apparently, he saw a big downside to denying himself the ability to impregnate more women and foisting the responsibility for raising his offspring onto single mothers, relatives or taxpayers. What a contemptibly selfish man!

The comparison with involuntary sterilization is, of course, totally absurd. First, Herald would undergo voluntary sterilization — just like millions of other American men do when they don’t want to father any more children. Secondly, he does not belong to one of the groups stigmatized by the eugenics movement on the basis of “undesirable” genetic characteristics. He is stigmatized for his reckless, anti-social behavior.

I think White’s solution is an excellent one. We should reject the superficial comparison with involuntary sterilization and eugenics, which were truly atrocious, and deal with the real social problems created by derelicts like Herald. There are dozens more, if not hundreds, of predatory males in Virginia who should be given the same alternative.

Denying Truth on the Outer Banks

Sun Realty

Sun Realty

By Peter Galuszka

North Carolina’s Outer Banks have always been a touchstone for me – in as much as anyone can associate permanence with sandy islands being perpetually tossed  around by tremendous wind and water forces.

The Banks and I go back to 1954 and Hurricane Hazel when I was an infant. They mark many parts of my life. So, I read with great interest The Washington Post story by Lori Montgomery about how real estate officials in Dare County and other coastal parts of North Carolina are trying to alter clear-cut scientific projections about how deeply the islands will be under water by 2100.

State officials say that the ocean should rise 39 inches by the end of the century. This would mean that 8,500 structures worth $1.4 billion would be useless. Naturally, this has upset the real estate industry which is pushing for a new projection of an 8-inch rise 30 years from now. Think of it like a photo in a rental brochure. You don’t choose shots of dark and stormy days. The skies must be blue.

Ditto science. The insanity is that so many still don’t believe what is going on with climate change and carbon dioxide pollution. Over the past several years, Virginians, many of whom vacation on the Outer Banks, endured and paid for former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal attacks against a former University of Virginia climatologist who linked global warming to human activity. The assaults went nowhere.

Instead of addressing such profoundly transitory events, too many in the region say it isn’t so or pick away at what is really happening as we speak. And as Mother Jones magazine points out, it isn’t because weather change deniers, usually conservatives, don’t understand science.

The Outer Banks are an extreme example because of their incredible fragility. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the islands knows that they are completely under the thumb because they are where two major ocean currents meet.

The only reason Hatteras has developed at all is the Bonner Bridge, an ill-conceived, 51-year-old span over Oregon Inlet so decrepit that it is often closed for repairs. Replacing it has been constantly delayed by the lack of funding and the threat of lawsuits. The federal government has been complicit for decades by spending at least hundreds of millions on sand replenishment programs or offering flood insurance coverage.

About 15 miles south of the bridge is Rodanthe, a flyspeck village just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuse. It is at the point of the Banks that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic and is under the strongest attack by ocean currents and storms. Route 12, the only way to evacuate by car when a hurricane comes, is on a narrow spit of constantly shifting sand trapped between the ocean and Pamlico Sound.

I’ve been going to Rodanthe for years. Starting in the 1980s, friends and I would pool our money and  rent one of the big beach houses. We have been constantly amazed how the distance between the structures and the surf is disappearing. One favorite spot was “Serendipity,” a skinny, tall beach house that we rented perhaps twice and featured fantastic views from the top-floor bar.

It was dressed up as a bed and breakfast in the movie ”Nights At Rodanthe,” a 2008 weeper starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The film was panned and the house was equally threatened. In fact, the next year, the owner had the whole thing placed on a truck and moved nearly a mile down the coast where there’s a little more sand.

More hurricanes followed, cutting a new inlet a few miles into Pea Island and its watery bird impoundments. The oceanfront houses we used to rent are in trouble. The ones across Route 12 now have dramatic new views.  A small, new bridge spans the inlet.

One can argue that building on the Banks is madness, global warming or not. There’s a lot of truth to this. But rising ocean water is truly going to accelerate the changes no matter how hard politicians or North Carolina’s real estate industry say it isn’t so.

Heroin: New Scourge of Suburbs

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Peter Galuszka

Heroin always seemed to be the drug of fast-living artists or the inner city poor.

Not any more, thanks to a shortage of prescription drugs such as oxycodone. Not only is heroin making a comeback in its tradition haunts, it is moving into the affluent suburbs.

That was the case on May 16 when a special unit of Chesterfield County police crept up to a tidy apartment building near Hull Street Road and its huge upscale housing developments of Brandermill and Woodlake.

Police had been acting on a tip they had traced back from a recent heroin overdose. They arrested Sean Kelly Heyward, 43, who lived in the apartment, and Jamal Nathan Gethers, 32, of Plainfield, N.J., and seized drug material and $34,820 in cash.

Corinne Geller, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, says that heroin-relate drugs have risen 125 percent to 108 from 2012 to 2013. Users tend to be people in their 20s to 50s who have middle to higher incomes and live in the suburbs from Fairfax to Richmond’s Henrico and Chesterfield to Hampton Roads.

“Heroin is not a drug of choice,” Capt. Brad Badgerow of the Chesterfield County police told me in an article I wrote for the Chesterfield Observer. It’s a second choice of sorts – the result of crackdowns on other abuse.

For some years, addicts got hooked on prescription drugs such as oxycodone or acetaminophen which were readily available at pharmacies and traded out from there. Police began cracking down on doctors who over-prescribed such drugs and police and community service organizations launched “take backs” where people could drug off prescription drugs they had at home, no questions asked. The result? Prices for such drugs can be three times what a hit of street heroin costs.

“You have someone who hurts his back and he gets on oxycodone,” says Badgerow. “He’s hooked but it gets too expensive so he moves on to heroin.” In Chesterfield last year, a teacher at an elementary school was arrested when heroin and paraphernalia were found on her car on school property.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced a task force to look into the problem. In the Richmond area, regional police and the Drug Enforcement Agency are planning a conference in a few days.

Combating Poverty with the Extended Family

extended_family

Graphic credit: Weldon Cooper Center. Click to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

One of the central debates about poverty in the United States has been the degree to which public policy should promote marriage. Children raised in two-parent families are less likely to grow up in poverty, goes the conservative argument. It’s not the marriage but the higher levels of education and income associated with marriage that make the difference, couner the liberals. (See my spin on a new reported issued by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, “Who Needs Dad When You’ve Got Uncle Sam?“)

In an update to its original report, Weldon Cooper has published an amazing statistic: In 2011, one in ten Virginia children lived in a residential extended family — most often in the household of a grandparent but often with an uncle or aunt. These arrangements, which typically in response to a major life event such as a job loss,  illness, divorce of break-up, are usually temporary. Half end within a year. Megan Juelfs-Swanson, author of the blog post and co-author of the study, acknowledges the value of extended families:

By banding together, the members of extended families pool economic resources, which may help to keep them above poverty. Furthermore, combined human resources can reduce other costs. For example, when grandma and grandpa watch minor grandchildren, it not only frees other members of the household to work but also eliminates the need for paid childcare. In these ways, extended families can act as a buffer against poverty.

But there are limits to what extended families can accomplish, the blog post says: “While forming extended families undoubtedly improved the economic conditions of some children, two out of five children in extended residential families live in households that struggle to make ends meet.”

Along those lines, the Times-Dispatch published a poignant story Sunday recounting the travails of two homeless Richmond teens who bounced between mother, father, aunts, cousins and grandparents, all with varying ability and willingness to care for them. Both teens rotated between relatives to spread the burden. The Richmond school system has identified enough children living this way — 34 at present — that it has developed a classification for them — “independent, unaccompanied youth.”

Although I disagreed with the thrust of the original study, I applaud Juelfs-Swanson for publishing this new data. It steers the debate away from simplistic discussions of the role of the nuclear family in combating poverty to a more complex, more nuanced discussion of the role of the extended family. Nuclear families — single mothers and their children — are embedded within a larger network of family relations. The debate about poverty needs to take that reality into consideration.

Brat and Cantor: Two Unsavory Choices

BratCantorWebBy Peter Galuszka

The hottest political race coming up is the Republican primary this Tuesday involving the 7th Congressional District now represented by Eric Cantor, a powerful conservative who is House Majority Leader and could possibly one day be Speaker of the House.

His opponent, college professor David Brat, has gotten much national attention because Brat is trying to out-Tea Party Cantor who tried to shed his Main Street background and led the insurgent Tea Party parade during their days of glory back in 2010.

But if you want to see just how intellectually barren both men are, read what they wrote in opposing columns in the Richmond newspaper this morning. They show just how out of touch they are and how they are dominated by a tiny group of hard-right fanatics who have split the state GOP.

Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in the quaint railroad town of Ashland that might be a set for a Jimmy Stewart movie.

He spends a lot of time debunking Cantor’s ridiculous claim that he is a “liberal” college professor but the very fact that he is doing this is a throwback to the Old Virginny days of yore. First, off, what is wrong with being a “liberal professor?” Are we supposed to have academics that pass a litmus test? Maybe Brat would have House UnAmerican Activities Committees on colleges to make sure that “liberal” professors don’t poison young minds.

Secondly, the use of the term is an exercise in euphemism that smacks of the Massive Resistance days when a candidate was accused of being a “social engineer” if he or she backed integration and civil rights.

And while Brat makes some fair points about Cantor masquerading as a budget hawk, his ideas on finally dealing with undocumented foreign-born residents are downright scary and are obviously intended as a populist ploy to the lower elements of voters.

Indeed, Brat’s column raises serious questions about just how well he understands economic reality, especially when it comes to immigration. Forces are aligning for some kind of long-overdue resolution of immigration. He claims Cantor backs amnesty for undocumented workers. (If so, what’s wrong with that?)

Brat paints a weird picture in which “illegals,” working in collusion with giant corporations, are stealing jobs from “real” Virginians. I won’t go into the borderline racist and nativist aspects of his statements. They smack of the older days of the No Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan that wanted to keep non-Protestants, such as Catholic Irish, Poles, Germans and Italians, or Chinese or Japanese, out of the country.

Strangely and even more troubling, Brat simply doesn’t understand the American labor market. One of the reason so many immigrants are in some sectors of the economy, such as construction and poultry processing, are because the jobs are dirty, messy and there aren’t enough native-American workers willing or able to do them. That is why turkey processing plants in the Shenandoah Valley have so many hard-working Hispanic immigrants. Ditto construction jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Professor Brat ignores the dilemma at the high-end of the economy. American universities are not producing enough software and other engineers so we have to import them through visa programs. Some companies are so hungry for foreign intellectual talent that immigrants end up working just across the border in Canada where it is easier to get visas although their efforts support American firms.

This may come as news to Brat in his little college town, but the world is becoming more global and, like it or not, there will be more foreign-born people working here and elsewhere. His complaint that illegals are getting soldier jobs that Americans might want is strange. The military needs to wind down after 13 years of war. One wonders if Brat even has a passport and has traveled overseas.

Cantor’s column is the usual Eddie Haskell boilerplate. He spends a lot of time tearing down the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have launched at least six unsuccessful assaults on it and still refuse to accept the Supreme Court’s decision of a couple of years ago.

Generously funded by the managed care industry, Cantor raises no alternatives to the current health care system that is plagued with overbilling, a lack of transparency and has cruelly prevented millions from getting coverage because of “pre-existing conditions.” Granted the roll out of exchanges was a mess last year, but health care sign ups have exceeded expectations in Virginia. The expected number was 134,800 in enrollment plans under the ACA. At the beginning of May it was 216,300.

Neither candidate talks about crucial issues such as income inequality, climate change or America’s changing role in world diplomacy. Neither talks about about poverty or smart growth or student debt.

Cantor is likely to win Tuesday but neither man seems worthy of leadership. They are just more evidence about how the right-wing fringe has been allowed to highjack the agenda. As this continues to happen, Virginia will be stuck in its ugly past.

Sen. Emmett Hanger’s Good Idea

emmett-hangerBy Peter Galuszka

Could some seemingly small technical changes in legislative tactics and voting powers on an obscure commission clear the way for passing a state budget and expanding Medicaid in some form?

Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican senator from Augusta, thinks so. If he’s right, there could be a way out for both Republican House Speaker Bill Howell and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe who are taking the stubborn impasse right up to the wire of June 30.

Hanger is proposing technically separating Medicaid expansion to 400,000 lower income Virginians from the budget debate, but with a twist.

There would be legislation linked to the budget requiring changes in the voting of a legislative commission known as the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) which was formed in 2013 and must agree that enough positive change in the Medicaid program is taking place to allow expansion. It would most likely occur through private insurance exchanges of some type.

“By October of this year we might be able to begin some limited enrollments,” Hanger told me in an interview.

I called him because, frankly, I didn’t understand media accounts of what he was proposing although the reports indicated that there could be some kind of breakthrough involved. My undergraduate degree is in international relations and I used to study diplomacy. I realize that such types of granular give and take can bring tremendous progress. I am intrigued.

Of course, I could be dead wrong and Virginia will not pass a $96 billion, two-year budget, the state will lose its good bond rating, government will shut down at least in part, teachers won’t get paid and those caught in health care limbo between Medicaid and Obamacare will remain there.

Talking with Hanger gave me some perspective that I didn’t have and haven’t read in the Mainstream media.

First, he said that the General Assembly has already approved Medicaid expansion. It did so last year with former Gov. Bob McDonnell in office. But it also created the 10 member legislative Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to identify problems and offer improvement suggestions for the state’s Medicaid program. No expansion can occur unless the commission approves. Hanger is chairman of MIRC.

By law, any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by a supermajority vote of the commission. That means that a majority of the five Senate members of the commission would have to say yes. Ditto a majority of the five House members.

Hanger’s proposal would make it a straight majority vote of six out of 10 members from both Senate and House sides. Plus, they won’t vote to approve expansion, only to disapprove it. In the meantime, MIRC would set clear metrics to benchmark what reforms are truly wanted.

Medicaid expansion would involve some kind of private health exchange (now dubbed “Marketplace Virginia”), and there would be added safeguards that there would be adequate copays by participants and ways to make sure that emergency rooms aren’t suddenly flooded with newly insured patients. He also wants a workable data system to keep track of patients and payments and other safeguards to prevent abuse. There are at least 17 categories of improvement areas.

The Senate would concede and use the House’s budget bill. The House would drop “Marketplace Virginia” from its bill and would concede that addressing additional Medicaid reforms would be required.

“Technically, it delinks Medicaid expansion from the budget bills,” says Hanger. But he adds that many seem to have forgotten that the General Assembly actually approved of Medicaid expansion last year “if a series of reforms were taken.” He says his plan would insure that just that happens and he believes it could happen quickly while the budget impasse is resolved separately.

He says that Howell, who has stubbornly resisted any Medicaid expansion this legislative session, seems amenable. So does McAuliffe.

The danger, of course, is that decoupling Medicaid from the budget bills takes away leverage points from both sides. Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw fears some kind of trick as do some Republicans.

My view is that sure there’s that risk, but it’s getting really late to keep playing chicken. My view also is that McAuliffe has done a hell of a lot more to compromise than Howell has.

Also, in my view, a private exchange is not the best way to go to expand Medicaid but the reality is that Virginia has a highly conservative legislature. Other conservative states such as Indiana have managed health care expansion through private exchanges, so I guess half a loaf is better than no loaf.

It seems that Hanger’s proposed deal might just get that, and not too late, either. It’s worth a look since the financial and health alternatives are truly terrible to contemplate.

Richmond Mayor Jones Bunts

richmond-flying-squirrels-comic-nutzyBy Peter Galuszka

In a blow to Richmond’s business elite, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has withdrawn, at least for now, his $80 million project to build a new minor league baseball stadium as part of a mixed-use, publicly-funded development in the city’s historic Shockoe Bottom.

The stadium had been up for a council vote Tuesday night but  ran into trouble when three swing vote councilmen indicated they’d vote it down. Jones says it may come back.

The new stadium which would be home to the Minor League AA Richmond Flying Squirrels was to anchor a new slave museum and mixed use development near the city’s Main Street station downtown. The current location is the crumbling Diamond on North Boulevard.

This is the third time a plan to move the stadium to congested Shockoe Bottom has run into trouble in 10 years. Failure to replace the Diamond was one reason why the AAA Richmond Braves bolted to the Atlanta suburbs a few years back. There are a number of reasons why the plan is dead, at least for now:

  • Secrecy. The third attempt sprang from Venture Richmond, a marketing group controlled by the city’s business elite. From the git go and true to form in corporate Richmond, everything was done behind closed doors. Even when Jones announced the plan formally in November, it was dotted with questions such as what to do about a slave museum since neighboring ground is hallowed with the blood and tears of slaves. Deadlines were missed and missed again to explain what the plan was all about.
  • Bad PR: The arrogance of the city’s controlling interests and the low esteem with which they hold ordinary citizens is breathtaking. The editorial section of the local paper ran story after story propagandizing for the Shockoe stadium. They even ran one incredibly tasteless and bizarre cartoon on a Sunday editorial page. A young-African-American woman, neatly coiffed and carrying design shipping bags, walks arm-in-arm with her studly, white husband wearing a Squirrels cap while playing catch with their mixed-race youngster. One assumes they are walking to the new ballpark past the slave museum. Get it? “Look how far we have gone from torturing slaves to our happy interracial family today.”
  • No other ideas allowed. A Chesterfield development firm came up with a counter proposal to build a new stadium near the Diamond site and add some badly-needed retail. The Mayor and his kin reacted vigorously to shut down the plan. Emails came up among the ruling elite that the plan was not to keep suburbanites in their comfort zones. A big advantage with the so-called RebKee idea is that no public money would be involved to keep the ballpark at its convenient and popular location.
  • Public money? Part of the Shockoe plan would have involved millions in public funds. Some $79.6 million would be funded through bonds let by the Richmond Economic Development Authority. Councilman Jonathan Baliles worried that the city had voted an amendment to be let off the hook for the bonds. They didn’t want to have the “moral obligation.” If not the city, then who gets the tab if it goes bad?
  • The fans don’t matter. Gee in all of this mess and intrigue, no one seems to be asking the Squirrels fans what they think. A few takeaways are that most of  them come from the suburbs and polls show that most like the current site just fine since it is where Interstates 95 and 64 connect. Many are moms and dads with 10-year-olds. Apparently in the thinking of the city’s ruling elite who push the idea of Richmond being “the capital of creativity,” these average suburbanites don’t count. They don’t fit the image of the hip, cool, tat-sleeved yuppie dabbling in the arts or software that they so badly want to use as marketing for the New Richmond they envision. Fact is, many fans with a van-load of kids probably aren’t interested in downing craft beer or designer cocktails right after the game. They probably want to get their tuckered-out tykes back to their boring, car-centric suburban homes. Apparently, they don’t count. I attended a Squirrels game a few weeks ago for Chesterfield Monthly and out of 12 families I spoke with only one wanted to leave the current Boulevard site.

My takeaway? The Squirrels are showing a lot more patience and class than the Braves. Either start something serious at the Boulevard site or come up with a few honest, open and clear proposals. It should not be up to just Richmond, however, even though they own the stadium, since their fan base is out of the city. And if Richmond fails, screw the city and built it at Short Pump or at some other suburban location. Try to stick with private money.