Redistricting: the First Stab at Statewide Maps

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission started out by dividing the state into eight regions. Its original plan was to proceed with drawing House and Senate districts, region by region, starting with Northern Virginia. That quickly proved to be inefficient, slow, and impractical.  Last week the map drawers  were instructed to produce statewide House and Senate maps. As part of their guidance, they were told to “respect” political subdivisions as much as possible, while adhering to the compactness and equal population requirements.

Today, they produced those maps for the Commission members, and the public, to view and comment on. I will use one county with which I am familiar, Halifax, to illustrate two aspects of the redistricting process: how different, legitimate approaches can produce different results and the partisanship dilemmas. Continue reading

Dominion Dips Toe into Battery Storage

by James A. Bacon

Last week Dominion Energy announced a slew of new solar and energy-storage projects, which it describes as a “significant step” toward achieving the net-zero carbon goals for Virginia’s electric grid under the Virginia Clean Energy Act.

The proposed investments include 11 utility-scale projects, two small-scale distributed solar projects, one combined solar and energy-storage project, and one stand-alone energy storage project. Aside from receiving State Corporation Commission approval, the projects will require state environmental permits and local zoning approval.

Once in operation, the projects will be able to provide 1,000 megawatts of electricity, or roughly enough to power 250,000 homes at peak output. Dominion said the package of projects would add $1.13 to the typical residential customer’s monthly bill.

Dominion’s announcement raises questions. If utility-scale solar is the most economical form of electricity generation, how come rates will be going up? Continue reading

The Real Election Integrity Issue in VA this Year

by Paul Goldman

Virginia is on track to hold an unconstitutional, illegal election this November 2. The Governor knows it. The Lieutenant Governor knows it. The Attorney General knows it; indeed, he is in court fighting my effort as the lawyer for the defendants in Goldman v Northam, et al, which is a federal action against the Governor and the Virginia Board of Elections. (The case is number 3:21 – cv – 00420 and all the documents can be found in the federal court PACER system, free to all Virginians).

The upcoming November elections for the House of Delegates are flat-out unconstitutional. The constitutionality was decided in a previous federal case in Virginia (Cosner v. Dalton, et al, 52 F. Supp. 350 (E.D. Va. 1981). The defendants were John Dalton, then Governor of Virginia, and the top officers of the of Elections. In Cosner, the federal court merely applied the law as first articulated in the seminal case of Reynolds v Simms (377 U.S. 533). In 1964, the United States Supreme Court had declared the equal protection clause of the 14th applicable to the apportionment of the districts in state legislatures.

“Simply stated, an individual’s right to vote for state legislators is unconstitutionally impaired when its weight is in a substantial fashion diluted when compared with voters of citizens living in other parts of the state.” Reynolds at 568.

In the ensuing decades, Attorneys General of Virginia and their counterparts in other states have been in federal courts around the country trying to define the term “in a substantial fashion” as a statistical marker for legal purposes. Legendary Virginian Henry Howell, the leading anti-Byrd Democrat at the statewide election level, became the first in Virginia to put the Reynold’s decision to a constitutional test in the case of Mahan v Howell, 410 U.S. 315 (1973). Continue reading

Convicted, But Innocent–Emerson Stevens

Emerson Stevens with his attorneys, Jennifer Givens and Deidre Enright.   Photo credit: Alec Sieber/ UVa School of Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In August, Governor Northam granted a full pardon to Emerson Stevens. Stevens had been convicted of killing a young mother of two in 1985 in a small fishing village on the Northern Neck. The pardon was based on evidence that “reflects Mr. Stevens’ innocence.”

Stevens maintained from the beginning that he was innocent. His first trial ended in a hung jury. The second jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 164 years in prison.

He was paroled in 2017 after being held in jail and prison for more than 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Although free on parole, he continued to fight to clear his name. Continue reading

The Reconstruction Story Rarely Told

by James A. Bacon

America’s culture wars are national in scope, but they hit especially close to home in Virginia, which was, before the current cultural cleansing, home to many monuments to Confederate soldiers and generals. Central to the struggle over history is a desire by many to replace narratives that whitewashed the evils of slavery and segregation with “true” narratives that highlight White guilt. The danger is that the narratives now in vogue will be no more reflective of reality than the happy-darky renderings of 50-year-old Virginia history textbooks.

We can all agree today that slavery and segregation were moral abominations. But the history as morality tale — of unremitting evil perpetrated by Whites against Blacks — leaves out a lot. History is complicated. The history of Reconstruction and its aftermath is extremely complicated.

As a starting point for studying Southern history, you would do well by reading Philip Leigh’s book, “Southern Reconstruction. I thought I was fairly well versed in American history. It turns out that there was much I did not know. Continue reading

Jeanine’s Memes

From the Bull Elephant

SCC Staff: Dominion Should Refund $312M, Cut Rates, Due to $1.14B Excess Profits

SCC Staff summary showing how $1.14 billion in Dominion Energy Virginia excess profits get whittled down to only a possible $312 million refund.  Step one, not shown, is the law allows the company to keep the first 70 basis points of excess profit no questions asked.  Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Customers of Dominion Energy Virginia are due a refund of $312 million and the company’s future base rates should be reduced by another $50 million annually, the utility accounting staff at the State Corporation Commission concluded in testimony filed September 17.

Patrick W. Carr, deputy director of the division of utility accounting and finance, was joined in filing testimony by ten other members of that staff, but he provided the baseline result in his opening summary.

In the staff’s opinion, Dominion earned $1.143 billion of profit in excess of its allowed 9.2% return on equity during the four year period it reviewed, 2017 through 2020. The company will vigorously dispute those claims in rebuttal testimony, it is safe to predict.

The State Corporation Commission is entering the key phase of its so-called “triennial review,” which in Dominion’s case covers an extra year because that is what it asked of the Virginia General Assembly, and the Assembly seldom declines DEV’s requests. This is the first full audit of the company’s finances since 2015, which covered the two prior years of 2013 and 2014. Continue reading

A Small Victory for Pluralism at UVa

UVA President Jim Ryan (left) poses with members of the Young Americans for Freedom at the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.

by James A. Bacon

I’m beginning to have a smidgeon of sympathy for University of Virginia President Jim Ryan.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Ryan attended an event sponsored by the Virginia branch of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to commemorate the lives lost in the terrorist attacks. YAF is an avowedly conservative group, and the keynote speaker, retired Col. Dan Moy, is a UVa lecturer but also chairman of the Republican Party of Charlottesville. Nevertheless, the ceremony, which featured 2,977 miniature flags in the grounds, one for each American live lost — was not overtly partisan. Unless you happen to think that remembering lives lost to terrorism is itself partisan.

Ryan tweeted his appreciation to YAF. “Many thanks to YAF @ UVA for organizing this morning’s moving event commemorating the lives lost on September 11th,” he wrote.

The tweet immediately generated blowback. As the Cavalier Daily student newspaper reports, “students and other social media users” critiqued Ryan’s choice to thank YAF. On Instagram, his post generated 52 comments, most condemning the recognition of YAF. On Twitter, Ryan’s post received mostly negative 27 replies. Continue reading

Virginians Seek Help for Problem Gambling as Industry Expands

by Carolyn Hawley

In the first six months of 2021, individuals requesting help for gambling-related problems made 394 phone calls to the Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline. That compares to 335 intakes in all of 2020, and 311 intakes in 2019 — meaning the Commonwealth is seeing a significant increase in call volume made by individuals with gambling problems or family members who are concerned for them.

The increase in help-seeking phone calls corresponds with the expansion of gambling availability within the Commonwealth. Data from other states suggests that when gambling expands, rates of problem gambling tend to rise, although these often level off. Most importantly, it signifies an urgency need to grow a network of professionals to treat this rising need. Continue reading

VDH Still Can’t Count

by Carol J. Bova

In a blog post published yesterday, I noted that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 dashboard breaks down vaccination status by racial/ethnic group and by age, but not by racial/ethnic groups and age.

Thinking that VDH might possess the data, even if it had chosen not to publish it, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The answer can be seen in the screen grab above: “The record does not exist.” Continue reading

“White Supremacy with a Hug”

by James A. Bacon

Josh Thompson, an English teacher at Blacksburg High School in Montgomery County, explains in the TikTok video above how Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (BPIS), the disciplinary approach used by Virginia public schools, amounts to “white supremacy with a hug.” BPIS was touted originally as a reform of the traditional disciplinary system, which relied more heavily upon punishments and was considered racist because Blacks were sanctioned disproportionately. But in the minds of some, PBIS is itself racist.

Fortunately, the Northam administration has not embraced the PBIS-as-white-supremacy critique…. not yet. I re-post Thompson’s TikTok here as an example of the kind of thinking that flows logically from the social-justice theories being batted around in Virginia public schools and could soon work their way into the mainstream. Continue reading

Questions McAuliffe Will Never Be Asked… But Should Be

Photo credit: Steve Helber/AP.

by James A. Bacon

Aspiring Governor Terry McAuliffe has referred to concerns about Critical Race Theory in public schools as a “right-wing conspiracy.” Likewise, the media has downplayed the CRT controversy roiling many school systems by dismissing CRT as an obscure academic legal theory that is “not taught in schools.” That response, of course, is a rhetorical dodge. Radical social justice doctrines, however you label them, are being pushed by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia’s education schools, many school districts, in staff and teacher training sessions. and sometimes even in classrooms.

Susan Page of USA Today, moderator of the gubernatorial debate between Democrat McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin last night, missed a chance to pin down exactly what McAuliffe thinks about what is happening in Virginia schools.

Page pressed Youngkin on matters that might put him at odds with elements of his Republican coalition. What is his stance on abortion? Does he think Democrats will steal the election this fall? What does he think about vaccine mandates? All fair questions, to be sure. But, based on media accounts (I did not watch the debate) she failed to query McAuliffe about his views on the most sweeping overhaul of Virginia public education system since the dismantling of Massive Resistance.

Here are some questions she could have asked the candidates. Continue reading

Follow the Science. Yeah, Right

by Kerry Dougherty

Ever since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve been wondering what it would take for Americans to finally say they’d had enough.

Enough of absurd and ineffective regulations imposed on them by leaders hiding behind claims that they were simply “following the science.”

I was furious early in the spring of 2020, when Virginia’s governor — who was “following the science” — forbade SITTING ON THE BEACH. Remember that slice of crazy? It was OK to walk, run or fish on the beach, but no sitting.

That was followed by even more “follow the science “ idiocy: no football or volleyball on beaches. No loud music. No umbrellas. The constant wiping down of handrails to the beach with disinfectant, even though we knew the virus couldn’t survive in summer heat and direct sunlight.

Then came football season, and the governor ordered “crowds” at outdoor events be limited to 250 spectators, regardless of the size of the venue.

Hey, he was just following the science. Continue reading

Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Virginia Breeze

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) subsidizes three bus routes connecting communities in Southside and Southwest Virginia to population centers to the north. One of those, the Valley Flyer, links Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, ferrying college students to Northern Virginia and back. It carried more than 2,800 passengers in the 1st quarter of 2021. The farebox recovery was 45%, and the average cost per passengers was a modest $45.33, according to DRPT’s Virginia Breeze Bus Lines 1st Quarter 2021 report. Not bad as far as public transportation goes.

A second line, the Capital Connector, connects Martinsville with Richmond and Northern Virginia. It carried 820 passengers in the 1st quarter, for a 10% farebox recovery and an average cost per passenger of $231.60. Not so good.

Then there is the Piedmont Express, commencing in Danville and running through Altavista, Lynchburg, Amherst, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Warrenton, Gainesville and Dulles airport before terminating in Washington. The 1st quarter passenger count was 269, the farebox recovery 5%, and the average cost per passenger $729.63. Continue reading

Richmond Wants to Kill Its Gas Utility, Also Ending Service in Henrico, Chesterfield

Pending Termination

by Steve Haner

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the (Richmond) Council hereby commits to working with the City’s Administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in City-owned renewable energy and hereby recognizes that the continued operation of the City’s gas utility is an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net-Zero emissions in accordance Resolution No. 2020-R024, adopted June 8, 2020.

Translation:  The Richmond Gas Works, a municipal owned public service utility, is targeted for closure.   Council sees its continued operation as “an obstacle.”  The 117,600 customers (as of 2018) will need to run their lives and businesses without natural gas.  Those customers are not confined to the city itself but are also located in Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

Disclosure:  The neighborhood where Jim Bacon and I live, miles from the city line, is served by Richmond Gas Works.  Just last year at some expense I converted a traditional 80 gallon electric water heater to a tankless gas unit.  The goal was to save energy (it did), but if this happens, I’m back to the less efficient approach and my least favorite power company digs deeper into my pocket.

Every single candidate for the legislature in Richmond, Henrico or Chesterfield needs to tell the voters whether they will let this stand or oppose this effort to kill natural gas options.  It will end up before the General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission or the courts or all three.  The resolution itself contemplates needing legislation to accomplish its goals.   The city probably has a legal (and enforceable) obligation to continue service under current law. Continue reading