Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Is This What is Meant by Cult of Personality?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The primary race for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District seat is a microcosm of what the modern Republican party has become. Both candidates, Bob Good, the incumbent, and John McGuire, a member of the Virginia Senate, are ultra-conservative. There is probably not any substantive difference between them on policy issues. Yet, they and their opponents are at each other’s throats. The issue:  who is more supportive of Donald Trump.

The Virginia Political Newsletter has compiled a summary of the confrontations, including one in a church; the allegations, the cease-and-desist letter and the court suits. It is juicy reading.

The Cost of DEI? That’s the Easy Part.

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This whole argument over the cost of DEI at UVa. is a tempest in a teapot in budget terms. Even if one accepts the inflated figure of $20 million put forth by Open the Books, that is less than one percent of UVa.’s adopted budget of $2.40 billion for the academic division for the next academic year. At the Department of Planning and Budget (DPB), we would call that a “rounding error.”

The university administration would likely be delighted for the Board of Visitors to spend a lot of time arguing about that one percent—what is the definition of a DEI employee, what proportion of salary should be included, etc. There would be that much less time for the members to spend on trying to get a grasp of the bigger picture—the $2.4 billion and how that is spent. Continue reading

An Alternative Interpretation of the EV Statute

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This is a follow-up to Steve Haner’s article on Gov. Youngkin’s announcement that Virginia will not be bound by California regulations on electric vehicles after this year.

The Governor’s announcement is a lawyer’s dream. There are different ways to interpret the laws and regulations involved and, so, off to court we go.

First, some background to refresh your memory. The 2021 General Assembly passed legislation saying the Air Pollution Board may adopt a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) regulation, using the California standards. The language also included some “shalls” placing conditions on that authority.

The Air Pollution Board adopted such a regulation. The regulation includes, by reference, specific California regulations. Those California regulations are listed in a section of the Virginia regulation.

California decided to upgrade its ZEV regulation. However, instead of amending the regulation on the books, it repealed it, effective the end of this year, and adopted new regulations. Therefore, the Virginia regulation adopts a California regulation by reference that will no longer be in effect after this year. (In the documents that are flying around, the current California regulation is referred to as ACC I and the new one as ACC II. (“ACC” is the acronym for “Advanced Clean Cars”, not Atlantic Coast Conference.) Continue reading

Lest We Forget 80 Years Ago Today

Omaha Beach Landing
Photo credit: U.S. Army Center of Military History

Psst! The economy is doing really well.

We all see and hear those complaints about inflation and economic woes. Here is a contrary analysis, from The Wall Street Journal, no less:

Growing investment income and household wealth have joined near-full employment and rising wages to keep millions of Americans… spending their way through price hikes. The economy’s charge through higher interest rates is putting unprecedented sums into consumers’ pockets, pushing U.S. asset values to records and helping many high earners avoid the withering effects of inflation…. Federal data suggest Americans’ wage and wealth growth in recent years spanned every income bracket. In sheer dollar terms, white people, the rich, the college-educated and baby boomers have bagged disproportionate wealth gain such as homes–often locked in with low-rate mortgages–and stocks.

Study of DEI at UVa is Shoddy Work

Adam Andrzejewski

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Today I participated in a Zoom webinar with our Jim Bacon and Adam Andrzejewski of Open the Books. The title of the session was “How the Open-Government Movement Can Revolutionize Public Policy At UVA.”  In reality, it was a rant against DEI and how UVa is “pushing this radical ideology.”

The focus was the report by Andrzejewski’s organization, Open the Books, that UVa has 235 employees on its payroll supporting and “pushing” DEI throughout the institution at a cost of $20 million. After the session was over, I took Andrzejewski up on his invitation to examine the report. Its claims are exaggerated and misleading and are based on flimsy assumptions.

Before discussing the report in detail, I want to make two things clear:

  1. I have long contended, on this blog and elsewhere, that higher education administration is bloated. That feeling was reinforced as I went through the names in Open the Books.  The same question kept popping up in my mind as I went through the list of deans, associate deans, directors, etc.: “What do all these people actually do?”
  2. Although I support the aims of DEI, I think higher education has gone into overkill mode on the issue. For example, I recently participated in a program sponsored by a state institution of higher education, consisting of several sessions. Each session opened with a segment on DEI, which seemed out of place and sometimes strained to fit into the topic of the program.

Those are legitimate issues for debate. What is not acceptable is throwing out numbers that are misleading and have little basis in fact. Continue reading

Remember and Honor

Richmond’s Electoral Woes Continue

Keith Balmer, Richmond City General Registrar, Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The situation with the Richmond city registrar just keeps getting worse. For once, however, one cannot blame the city administration or city council. The registrar is appointed by, and answers to, the Richmond electoral board, which is comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat. Nevertheless, the city can exercise some control over the money spent by the registrar.

The saga started in 2021 when the electoral board, with Democrats in the majority, fired the long-time registrar, Kirk Showalter. No public explanation was given for firing Showalter, who had been in the office for 25 years, serving both Republican and Democratic boards. There had been public allegations that she had not been courteous to a former City Council member, had failed to follow FOIA procedures, had moved slowly in notifying absentee voters of errors in their ballots that they could correct, and had demeaned Black staff members. She was also blamed for an outbreak of COVID in the Registrar’s office. However, she was well respected by registrars throughout the state.

The board appointed Keith Balmer to the position of registrar. Balmer, who had been employed by the Virginia Dept. of Elections, garnered high praise from the electoral board members. Jim Nachman, the chair of the board, called him “eminently qualified” and cited “his knowledge and experience, [and] how he conducts himself and how he interacts with people, the staff at the registrar’s office and the public.” Continue reading

The Society that Guns Have Made

Charae Williams Keys wears her late husband’s wedding ring on a necklace. Photo credit: New York Times

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent event in Ohio is a vivid illustration of what we are coming to as a society in which firearms are ubiquitous.

Here is an excerpt from a long article in The New York Times in which the incident is described:

Mr. [Jason] Keys and his wife, Charae Williams Keys, were getting into their car after a Father’s Day visit in 2021 with her grandparents in a leafy neighborhood near Walnut Hill Park in Columbus, Ohio. A 72-year-old neighbor carrying a rifle accosted them in the belief, he later told the police, that Mr. Keys had let the air out of his daughter’s tires and poisoned his lawn.

Mr. Keys, who was carrying a pistol in his waistband, and his father-in-law tried to disarm the man, knocking him to the ground, while another relative ran back inside to get a .22 rifle. While Ms. Keys ducked behind the car to call 911, she heard multiple gunshots. She emerged to find her husband mortally wounded.

It took a moment for everyone to realize that the shots had come from a fourth gun across the street. Elias Smith, a 24-year-old ex-Marine, had stepped to his front door with a so-called ghost gun, an AR-style rifle that Mr. Smith had assembled from parts ordered online. Within seconds, he opened fire, hitting Mr. Keys five times.

‘What are you shooting for?’ a relative of Mr. Keys can be heard asking on surveillance video that captured parts of the incident.

Mr. Smith answered, ‘I don’t know.’

Jason Keys died.  Elias Smith is serving 15 years to life in prison.  His trial included evidence that he suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.  Three lives ruined. All because guns were available to settle an argument that could have been settled with words or, at the worst, with fists.

Off the Interstate: “God’s Thumbprint”

Burke’s Garden,   Photo credit: Va. Dept. of Historic Resources

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I first encountered Burke’s Garden many years ago the first time I drove to Southwest Virginia.  I was enchanted with it and visit it every time I go to Southwest Virginia.  The latest visit was late last month when I was on the way back to Richmond from visiting my grandson in college in Kentucky.

I don’t remember how I found out about Burke’s Garden.  I certainly did not stumble upon it.  One does not stumble across Burke’s Garden.  One has to be looking for it.

To get there, you take a local road south from the town of Tazewell.  That road will lead up a mountain with the usual S-curves and hairpin turns.  Upon coming down the other side of the mountain, you will be in a large, fertile, green valley completely surrounded by mountains.  The road you came in on is the only paved way out.  (There is a forest service road at the other end of the valley but whether it is passable varies.  Some descriptions of it advise those attempting to travel it have a chain saw handy.)

Radford University geologists explain that the area was once a large dome comprised of shale and limestone capped by harder sandstone. As the forces of erosion cut through the sandstone, the softer rock beneath it eroded more quickly, forming the valley floor with hard sandstone forming the ridges around the edge of the valley. Continue reading

Greasing the Skids for the Budget

Oxen hauling logs over greased skids Photo courtesy of Museum at Campbell River

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia General Assembly can be efficient when it puts its mind to it.

Consider the 2024 Special Session that convened on Monday.  The House convened at noon and adjourned at 3:15. The Senate stayed around a little bit longer.  It convened at noon and adjourned at 3:51.  (Technically, both houses actually recessed, rather than adjourned, but that was done so they could come back into session later in the year if they so desire.)

During that period of a little over three hours, both houses accomplished the following: introduced guests in the galleries,  recessed so that their money committees could consider the budget bill, elected eight judges, passed a bunch of commending resolutions, and passed the budget bill.

Speaking of the budget bill, here is the legislative history of that most important piece of legislation:

Sat.  May 11

  • Prefiled
  • Referred to the House Appropriations Committee

Mon. May 13

  • Reported from House Appropriations Committee
  • Read first time
  • Constitutional readings dispensed
  • Passed by House  (94-6)
  • Constitutional reading dispensed by Senate
  • Referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • Reported from Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • Read second time
  • Constitutional reading dispensed
  • Passed by Senate (39-1)
  • Enrolled
  • Signed by Speaker
  • Signed by President of the Senate
  • Signed by the Governor Continue reading

No Need to Call the Budget Bluff

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin and General Assembly leaders have reached a deal on the budget for the next biennium. Based on press reports, it is difficult to say who won this battle. That’s the hallmark of a compromise.

The process started off in December with the governor saying the state had more than enough money to fund its needs and, thus, he proposed an overall cut in tax revenue. The legislature responded by saying, “Oh, no. There are a lot of unmet needs. We need all the extra revenue that is available and more on top of that.” Therefore, they proposed a tax increase. The governor responded with a bushel of proposed amendments that would have undone much of what the legislature had proposed. The Democratic majorities in both chambers rejected those amendments. Both sides agreed to adjourn and negotiate.

In the meantime, the Virginia economy was perking along and producing even more tax revenue than projected. Now the Democrats have the money they need to fund their priorities without raising taxes. The compromise proposal provides healthy raises for state employees and teachers, more funding for K-12, more money for higher ed so as to discourage tuition increases, money for Metro in Northern Virginia and for toll relief in Hampton Roads, and lots more money for mental health services. The result is that the Governor does not get his proposed tax decrease and the Democrats do not get their proposed tax increase but do have enough proposed funding to pay for their highest priorities. In a way, the Democrats seem the winners, but the governor has not objected to the uses of the additional money. In fact, his proposed budget included additional money in all these areas, just not as much as the Democrats wanted.

So far, there has been no mention in the press whether all this additional available revenue will be sustainable in the future. In budget terms, is the proposed budget “structurally balanced’? Is there a lot of one-time revenue included that will not be available for future biennia? Some of the staff at the Department of Planning and Budget and the staffs of the money committees, as well as some of the General Assembly leaders, have a good idea as to the answer to this question, but they will not be talking about it. Continue reading

Ban Cellphones in Schools? It Can be Done!

Photo credit: U.S. News and World Report

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Schools around the country, including in Virginia, are beginning to effectively ban students’ use of cellphones in schools.

According to available data, about 75 percent of schools in the country ban the non-academic use of cellphones during school hours. However, in most cases, the ban is enforced sporadically. Teachers are put on the spot to enforce it, which creates another source of tension in the classroom. Enforcement is inconsistent— some teachers are OK with some cellphone use; others might feel that they would not be supported by the administration; others might not want to deal with angry parents over the issue.

Technology has made the implementation of a ban much easier. Yondr, a San Francisco-based company, makes a magnetically sealed pouch that can be used to keep cellphones unavailable for use. They have been used at concerts to prevent attendees from filming performances, but schools have been their biggest customers recently. It works simply: When students arrive at school, if they are carrying their cellphones, they place the devices in the pouches which, when closed, are magnetically sealed. During the day, the cellphones cannot be accessed. When leaving the school, the pouches can be unlocked with a docking device. Continue reading

A Question for Some Supreme Court Justices

I have a question for the originalists on the U.S. Supreme Court (Thomas and Alito) and textualists (Gorsuch):  where in the Constitution does it say that the president is immune from prosecution (partial or full immunity)?–RWH

Give Me this Kind of Accountability

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Frequently, some commenters on this blog complain about politicians not being accountable and hold up the private sector as a model for accountability.  (For purposes of this discussion, we will ignore the fact that politicians have to go before the voters periodically and get reelected.)

Here is a recent example of accountability in the private sector, as reported in The New York Times. Over the last year the stock of Paramount has fallen 48 percent. The CEO did not pursue a possible deal that would have been lucrative for Paramount. The owner of a controlling share of the company is reported to feel that the CEO has not moved with enough urgency to get Paramount on firmer footing. She was unhappy with a long-range plan he had prepared and gave approval to three other senior executives to address the board of directors and express their misgivings about the direction of the company.

Today, Paramount announced that the CEO was stepping down effective immediately. In other words, he was fired.

But there is no need to shed any tears for him. He won’t need to file for unemployment benefits. Reportedly, “he is entitled to a severance package of $50.6 million, with $31 million of that in the form of cash for the two years after his employment is terminated.” Yep, that is some accountability.