Category Archives: Wonk Salon

Virginia’s Top Stories in 2014

mcd convictedBy Peter Galuszka

The Year 2014 was quite eventful if unsettling. It represented some major turning points for the Old Dominion.

Here are my picks for the top stories:

  • Robert F. McDonnell becomes the highest-ranking former or serving state official to be convicted of corruption. The six-week-long trial from July to September of the Republican former governor and his wife, Maureen, was international news. In terms of trash, it offered everything – greed, tackiness, a dysfunctional marriage, a relationship “triangle,” and an inner glimpse of how things work at the state capital.  More importantly, it ends forever the conceit that there is a “Virginia Way” in which politicians are gentlemen above reproach, the status quo prevails and ordinary voters should be kept as far away from the political process as possible. It also shows the unfinished job of reforming ethics. The hidden heroes are honest state bureaucrats who resisted top-down pushes to vet dubious vitamin pills plus the State Police who did their investigative duty.
  • Eric Cantor loses. Cantor, another Republican, had been riding high as the 7th District Congressman and House Majority Leader. A wunderkind of the Richmond business elite, Cantor was positioned to be House Speaker and was considered invulnerable, at least until David Brat, an unknown college economics professor and populist libertarian, exploited fractures in the state GOP to win a stunning primary upset. Cantor immediately landed in a high-paying lobbying job for a financial house.
  • Terry McAuliffe takes over. The Democrat Washington insider and Clinton crony beat hard-right fanatic Kenneth Cuccinelli in a tight 2013 race. He bet almost everything on getting the GOP-run General Assembly to expand Medicaid benefits to 400,000 low income Virginians. He lost and will try again. He’s done a pretty good job at snaring new business, notably the $2 billion Shandong-Tralin paper mill from China for Chesterfield County. It will employ 2,000.
  • Roads projects blow up. Leftover highway messes such as the bypass of U.S. 29 in Charlottesville finally got spiked for now. Big questions remain about what happened to the $400 million or so that the McDonnell Administration spent on the unwanted U.S. 460 road to nowhere in southeastern Virginia.
  • Gay marriage becomes legal. A U.S. District Judge in Norfolk found Virginia’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court pushed opening gay marriage farther. The rulings helped turn the page on the state’s prejudicial past, such as the ban on interracial marriage that lasted until the late 1960s.
  • Fracking changes state energy picture. A flood of natural gas from West Virginia and Pennsylvania has utilities like Dominion Resources pushing gas projects. It’s been nixing coal plants and delaying new nukes and renewables. Dominion is also shaking things up by pitching a $5 billion, 550-mile-long pipeline through some of the state’s most picturesque areas – just one of several pipelines being pitched. The EPA has stirred things up with complex new rules in cutting carbon emissions and the state’s business community and their buddies at the State Corporation Commission have organized a massive opposition campaign. McAuliffe, meanwhile, has issued his “everything” energy plan that looks remarkably like former governor McDonnell’s.
  • State struggles with budget gaps. Sequestration of federal spending and defense cuts have sent officials scrambling to plug a $2.4 billion gap in the biennial budget. It is back to the same old smoke and mirrors to raise taxes while not seeming to. Obvious solutions – such as raising taxes on gasoline and tobacco – remain off limits.
  • College rape became a hot issue after Rolling Stone printed a flawed story about an alleged gang rape of a female student at the prestigious University of Virginia in 2012. Progressives pushed for raising awareness while conservatives took full advantage of the reporter’s reporting gaps to pretend that sex abuse is not really an issue.
  • Poverty is on the radar screen, especially in Richmond which has poverty rate of 27 percent (70 percent in some neighborhoods) and other spots such as Newport News. Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones got a lot of national press attention for his campaign to eradicate poverty but it is really hard to understand what he’s actually doing or whether it is successful. The real attention in Richmond is on such essentials as replacing the Diamond baseball stadium, justifying a training camp for the Washington Redskins and giving big subsidies for a rich San Diego brewer of craft beer.
  • Day care regulation. Virginia has a horrible reputation for allowing small, home day care centers to operate without regulation. Dozens have children have died over the past few years at them. This year there were deaths at centers in Midlothian and Lynchburg.
  • The continued madness of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. This out-of-control slush fund in the tobacco belt continued its waywardness by talking with Democratic State Sen. Phil Pucket about a six-figure job just as Puckett was to resign and deny a swing vote in the senate in favor of expanding Medicaid. The commission also drew attention for inside plays by the politically powerful Kilgore family and giving $30 million in an unsolicited grant to utility Dominion.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

President Barack Obama!

By Peter Galuszka

President Barack Obama’s re-election and success with Virginia in Tuesday’s contest could provide  a fresh opportunity to solidify more economic recovery than what have otherwise may have happened. It could be a real chance for bipartisan progress.

Here’s my takeaway at 2:30 a.m.:

  • Virginia has again shown that it is morphing into a different kind of state. Losing some but not all power are the Old Republicans and their new iterations. Gaining power are Democrats, many of them newcomers with diverse backgrounds.
  • Bye, bye Tea Party. The anti-government, anti-spending curmudgeons of  two years ago are quickly fading in influence. Good thing. They had been a major and negative force trumping any bipartisan progress. Although Eric Cantor got re-elected, he’ll have a harder time playing obstructionist since he’ll no longer have a parade to try to race to get in front of and lead. And maybe we can give those God-awful Patrick Henry costumes to Goodwill.
  • Obamacare will not be repealed. GOP hasn’t the votes. Alleluia. Although flawed, Obamacare means that more people will be insured and health insurers won’t be able to get away with such practices as denying coverage for “pre-existing” conditions. No goofy vouchers for Medicare recipients. Not with Democrats controlling the Senate. Let’s get on with price transparency and breaking the stranglehold of Big Insurance and Big Pharma.
  • Hello manufacturing. Goodbye “Knowledge Economy.”  Obama can now solidify gains in the reviving American economy and help us once again make real things instead of just be providers of services that only help export jobs.
  • No more lying ads. We won’t have to listen to Romney  falsehoods about how Obama has a ‘War on Coal” and how he helped kill a crappy Bill’s Barbecue chain and send Jeep jobs to China.
  • Toodles, Ayn Rand. We won’t have to listen to the importance of selfishness by such faddish True Believers as Paul Ryan who was surprisingly irrelevant in the campaign. Now we can concentrate on helping Americans, not lecturing them on their irresponsible, spend thrift ways.
  • Energy. Inevitable changes will proceed, including towards cleaner natural gas, away from dirtier coal and towards renewables. Now we might start paying serious attention to greenhouse gases and make coal mines safer.
  • George Allen’s defeat means we won’t have to turn our clocks back two decades.
  • It will be harder to wage the War on Women with social conservatives trying to dictate unwanted oversight of their personal matters. Medieval advocates of “legal rape” can crawl back in their holes. It looks like Roe V. Wade is secure.
  • All in all a great night.

In Praise of Tar Heels

By Peter Galuszka

Virginia is my state of choice although I am hardly a Virginian and have long had a hate-love affair with the Old Dominion. It is a beautiful state and well located, but there can be a certain problem with some of the people, especially in the capital area, who may think a bit more highly of themselves than they should be entitled to.

Another state that is much like Virginia in beauty is its southern neighbor, the Tar Heel state of North Carolina, which has long been called a “vale of humility between two mountains of conceit.” One mountain, of course, is Virginia.

My family and I have lived off an on for years in N.C. and one of my takeaways is just how wonderful and unassuming the people area, with the possible exception of John Edwards.

So, it is with sadness that I note the passing of two prominent Tar Heels who went far to promote the the talent and down-home friendliness common to the area.

The first is Doc Watson, the blind pioneer of finger-style guitar playing who died May 29 at age 89. I first heard Watson’s music back in the 1960s and have heard him perform several times. Nothing was too complicated musically for the man from Deep Gap and he defined the movement towards roots, bluegrass and Old Time country music.

Yet Watson could come up with some powerful blues as well and tempered all with his humble personality, which seemed in marked contrast to Bill Monroe, the patrician-acting, so-called “founder” of bluegrass.

The second man was Andy Griffith who died a few days ago. He was native of Mount Airy, which he helped recreate in the fictional Mayberry of his hit TV shows which I watched religiously as a boy. The cornball humor went over the top, but Andy was always there handing out wise and steady advice that was eminently marketable for decades to come.

Griffith was a serious actor who had performed on Broadway and had his start in The Lost Colony on the Outer Banks, where he had retired and died of a heart attack.

To be sure, there are many parts of Virginia that have some of the same values that both men projected. But they can never be Tar Heels.


I want to be an underclass lover

Lay it down like a big ole’ brother

No mind who gets stuck

With the leftover

I get my F&%#

Without too much workover

Don’t care about the deficit

Don’t give a damn about the debt

’cause when it comes to lov’in

You ain’t seen noth’ yet

Ya know, the over class

They got theirs!

Henry the Eighth

And all them squares

And their deficit

Almost as big as mine

So hang on honey

Here it comes

Just a second now, we’re headin’




¡Viva la Revolución!

Estimado Jefe!

Usted nunca debe salir de la ciudad, señor! Ahora que usted está ausente, la revolución comienza! Amados lectores de ya no ver los artículos que glorifican a los ricos y privilegiados. Vamos a ayudar a la tierra y los pobres y redistribuir los fondos de cobertura. ¡Viva la Revolución!


The Wonk Salon, November 21, 2011

U.S. Industries Need a “Competitiveness Audit”
Progressive Policy Institute
Local, state and federal government need a “competitiveness audit” of American industries to guide the allocation of economic development resources. Target those industries that have a chance of becoming economically competitive and write off the losers.

New Technologies More Effective than Compact Development at Cutting Greenhouse Gases

Reason Foundation
If your goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in electric cars paired with electricity from hydro-power would accomplish the goal far more cost effectively than mandating more compact development.

South Carolina Colleges Too Expensive, Graduation Rates Too Low
South Carolina Policy Council
Everybody’s applying a critical eye now to state systems of higher education, even South Carolina. The interests of individual institutions outweigh those of the state.

Time to Focus on Community College Graduation Rates
Center for an Urban Future
Community colleges are a key vehicle for upward social mobility, but New York’s are falling short of the potential. Increasing the graduation rate by 10 percentage points could give a $71 million one-year boost to the state and students.

How to Make College More Affordable: Expand Tax Credits
Third Way
College is increasingly unaffordable. So let’s do more of what caused the problem in the first place — increase tuition subsidies, this time through a consolidation and expansion of tax credits.

The Wonk Salon, November 18, 2011

Pitfalls in Assessing the Quality of Distance Learning
Government Accountability Office
The Department of Education,which provided $134 billion a year in Title IV funds to college students last year, is interested in tracking the effectiveness of distance learning. Too bad the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

Preparing for the Workforce: Apprenticeships vs. General Education
National Bureau of Economic Research
Vocational education may improve the odds of a student landing a job when he enters the workforce, but narrower skills make him less adaptable — and less employable — over the long run.

Feds Can’t Reliably Track State Awards to DBEs
Accountability Office
The feds want to increase participation of disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) in state highway contracts receiving federal funding. Trouble is, they don’t have the data to know if their goals are being met.

Low-Cost Strategies for Helping the Poor
Center for Enterprise Development
With continuing shortfalls, states can’t afford to bolster social safety net programs. But they can pursue low-cost strategies for helping the poor by creating incentives for them to learn, earn, save, invest and protect.

The Wonk Salon, November 17, 2011

Students without Borders
Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy
Providing education in virtual classrooms costs 65% of what it does in traditional bricks-and-mortar classrooms. But Virginia’s education funding formulas get in the way of more widespread adoption. Chris Braunlich has a plan.

By 2030, K-12 Education Will Be Privatized
Hoover Institution
Eventually, the United State will emulate the example of South Korea, Japan, India and Sweden, which encourage vigorous private-sector competition in educational services and achieve far better results.

What a Broadband Boost Would Mean for Rural New England
Maine Heritage Policy Center
A seven percentage-point increase in broadband adoption in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont would increase annual economic output by $1.4 billion, create or save $27,221 jobs, and boost annual income by $1 billion.

Income Segregation Has Grown Since 1970
US2010 Project
Not only are the rich getting richer, they’re living in places where they don’t have to mix with the hoi polloi.

The Wonk Salon, November 15, 2011

What Do We Do With Violent Sexual Predators When They Leave Prison?
Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission
Virginia’s methodology for assessing the risk posed by violent sexual predators when they leave prison is flawed, leaving it vulnerable to using out-of-date actuarial science and limiting input from qualified professionals.

Challenges to Growth of Virginia’s Bioeconomy
Southeast Agriculture & Forestry Energy Resources Alliance
In Virginia the “bioeconomy” of biopower, biofuels and bio-based consumer products is limited mainly to biomass burned in industrial boilers and to biodiesel.

Revitalizing Georgia’s Forestry Sector
Southeast Agriculture & Forestry Energy Resources Alliance
Georgia does wood like Iowa does corn. Trouble is, wood is dependent upon the housing sector, which is in the dumps. So the state is hoping to spark innovation and new markets by putting industry, academic and government player together.

Reforming Primary Care
National Academy for State Health Policy
As Obamacare is implemented nationally, states are wrestling with how to create new, integrated models of primary care. State budget cuts aren’t making the job any easier.