Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

New Admissions Policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Will Stand

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson challenging the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the changes in the admissions policy for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.  The result is that the changes in the school’s admission policy adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in 2020 will stand.  Justices Thomas and Alito dissented from the decision not to grant certiorari.  (Their dissents begin on page 30 of the linked document.)

This issue has been discussed extensively on this blog.  For some background, see here.

The Fight Against Invasives

Image credit: National Geographic

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One fascinating aspect of the General Assembly is legislation that does not make headlines but is important to a fervent group of Virginians and that could have an impact on the state as a whole.

In recent years, the problem of invasive plants has gained the attention of legislators. In 2009, the General Assembly defined an invasive plant as one “that is not native to the ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic harm or harm to human health.”

The requirement that an introduced plant must cause harm in order for it to be considered invasive is the key to the definition. That means the daffodils that are now adding some cheer to my backyard in the middle of winter are not invasive. On the other hand, the English ivy in my yard is invasive.

That statutory definition does not identify the specific plants that should be considered invasive. Consequently, there could be disagreements among “plant people” and confusion in the general public. Last year, the General Assembly directed the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to “create a list of invasive plant species” by January 1, 2024. It also prohibited any state agency from planting, selling, or propagating any plant on that list, except under narrowly defined situations. (The Virginia Mercury has described this years-long history in detail.) Continue reading

A Traditional Conservative Issues Warning

Liz Cheney Photo credit: Richmond Forum

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Liz Cheney was in Richmond Saturday night delivering her warning about Donald Trump.

Cheney represented Wyoming in the U.S House of Representatives and held the No. 3 leadership position in the Republican caucus.  She served on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

Her speech was this month’s offering of The Richmond Forum, a long-running public subscription lecture series.  According to the president of The Forum, Cheney was booked about a year ago, before her high-profile role in the 2024 Presidential election campaign could have been known.

Cheney’s message was simple:  if elected President this year, Donald Trump will destroy constitutional democracy in the United States.

Another takeaway:  congressional Republicans have been infected by a “plague of cowardice.”

For her Virginia audience, Cheney had effusive praise for U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger.  She said that Spanberger was only the second Democrat she had ever endorsed.

Apparently, all the media outlets in the Richmond area were asleep.

Doing the Math

Image credit: National Review

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have a dilemma. I can’t decide if I am just like most old farts who think “the way I used to do it” is the right way and the modern way is all screwed up, or if I am just out of touch with the modern way.

Here is the situation. As I have mentioned before, I volunteer in the local elementary school. I meet with a group of fifth-graders twice a week for about 25 minutes to help them with math. Most of the students in the group last fall simply did not know the multiplication tables well.  Therefore, I decided to drill them on those tables.

After their mid-year assessment, I got a different group of students. Almost all of these students know the multiplication tables. I realized I need to give them something more challenging. I asked a couple of students to show me how they would go about multiplying a double-digit number and a single digit, such as 14 x 7. One boy did the calculation in his head. The other student wrote it out.

The approach goes like this: multiply 7 times the number in the “ones” column—28. Multiply 7 times the number in the “tens” column—70. Add the two: 98.  This is done with a matrix of boxes into which the 28 is placed in one box, and 70 in the other and the two sums are then added. The “old” way of putting 8 in the “ones” column and “carrying” the 2 to the “tens” column is totally foreign to these students. Continue reading

The Speaker Rules

Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), Speaker of the House of Delegates Picture credit: Axios

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates is widely regarded as the second-most powerful figure, after the Governor, in Virginia state government. Speaker Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), elevated to the position this session after only two terms in the House, has let the power go to his head. Rather than acting like the presiding officer of the whole House, he is behaving like a partisan dictator.

Two events, perhaps related, earlier this week illustrate this attitude.

To help with the understanding of these events, it would be best to state some of the ground rules:

  • The Speaker appoints delegates to committees;
  • The Speaker assigns bills to committees;
  • The Speaker chairs the House Rules Committee;
  • The Rules Committee, unlike other committees, can send bills to the Floor without recommendation;
  • House Rules require that no amendment to a bill can be on a subject that is different from the one under consideration. This is known as the “germaneness rule”;
  • The Speaker can rule on questions of parliamentary procedure;
  • The Speaker’s rulings can be challenged. (Invariably, the members of the majority party, the Speaker’s party, will vote to uphold the Speaker’s rulings.);
  • The federal Hyde amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.

Continue reading

Dueling Fiscal Impact Statements

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) Photo credit: Falls Church News-Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Providing a fiscal impact statement (FIS) for legislation is a positive aspect of the legislative process. The statement can alert the legislators to the possible fiscal implications of a bill under consideration and its estimated cost. Thus, legislators are in a position to make a more informed decision about supporting the bill.

The process for preparing FISs has been described and discussed in detail in an earlier post on this blog. There is a bill currently under consideration that nicely illustrates the ways in which fiscal impact statements can be misused. Before going into specifics, it would be useful to review how that happens.

As with many things intended to be positive, FISs have a negative aspect, as well. For example, legislators can hide behind them. Subject-matter committees are supposed to make the policy decision on a bill and, if it is approved, refer it to the House Appropriations Committee or the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, as applicable, for the consideration of the fiscal impact. The money committees, in theory, are supposed to limit their consideration to whether the projected fiscal impact can be handled in the budget. In reality, however, those committees also take the policy aspects of those bills into consideration. As a result, legislators on the subject-matter committees who may think a bill is bad for any of several reasons, but do not want to oppose it for political reasons, can vote for it, knowing it will be referred to the money committee, which will likely kill it. Continue reading

Biting the Hand that You Need

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

If you are a Virginia governor entering the last two years of your term with your party in the minority in both houses of the legislature and are depending on the other party to help you put in place a major project which would be part of your legacy, why would you publicly insult that party gratuitously?

In a speech this weekend at Washington and Lee University, Governor Youngkin had this to say: “Today’s progressive Democratic Party does not believe in — nor do they want — a strong America, an America with no rivals; they are content to concede, to compromise away, to abandon the very foundations that have made America exceptional.”

Senate Democrats promptly announced that the bill to create an authority to oversee the $2 billion development for a professional basketball and hockey arena would not be on the agenda for Monday’s meeting of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. Sen Scott Surovell, (D-Fairfax), the Senate Majority Leader explained that the speech “pretty much destroyed any sense that there was “good faith” in discussions between the administration and Democrats. Monday is the last day each house can consider its own bills, with the exception of the budget bill.

I wonder if Youngkin was aware of his party leader’s attitude about America’s “foundations” — treaties are not to be honored; America’s support is for sale; he would encourage Russia to do ”whatever the hell it wanted to” if an ally were not putting up as much as he thought they should.

Checking up on Steve Descano

Steve Descano. Commonwralth’s Attorney, Fairfax. Photo credit: WTOP

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Contributors and many readers of this blog have been highly critical of Steve Descano, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Fairfax County.  They belittle him as being a Soros-backed, “woke” prosecutor, soft on crime. They seem to have missed Descano’s involvement in a recent high-profile case.

As described by The Washington Post, the defendant in the case had agreed to allow his home to serve as a delivery point for marijuana that was going to be sold by the victim. There had been a dispute between the defendant and the victim. When the victim knocked on the door of the defendant’s apartment, he sneaked out the back door, retrieved an AR-15 -style rifle from his car, and opened fire on the victim, killing him, and spraying bullets into adjacent occupied apartments. Continue reading

But It’s Just a Little Bit of Money

Rep. Ben Cline (Va.-6th District)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Ben Cline, the Commonwealth’s Republican member of the U.S House of Representatives from the 6th District, is very upset about the level of federal spending and the state of the federal deficit.

Cline is chairman of the Republican Study Committee’s Budget and Spending Task Force.  In a press release last year, he lamented the trillions in new spending authorized by the Democrats in recent years and the $31.92 trillion in national debt. (He does not mention the trillions in debt rung up during the Trump years.)  The study committee has a proposal that would “balance the budget in just seven years, cut spending by $16.3 trillion over 10 years and reduce Americans’ taxes by $5.1 trillion over 10 years.”

As part of that overall plan, Cline’s task force produced an alternative budget for 2024.  I have to give Cline and the task force some credit.  Usually, when conservatives call for spending cuts, they refuse to say what specific items should be cut or eliminated.  That is not the case with this document.  It has over 120 pages listing specific programs for elimination or reduced funding.  After dealing with Social Security, Medicare, and defense, the budget has about 30 pages of specific mandatory and discretionary spending programs it recommends eliminating or reducing. Continue reading

Didn’t We Settle This Divisive Concept Long Ago?

John C. Calhoun (National Portrait Gallery)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Glenn Youngkin has signed on to a constitutional position that Virginia and other Southern states used to justify secession from the United States over 170 years ago.

Here, in a nutshell, are the events that led to this situation:

  • Greg Abbott ordered razor wire placed in the Rio Grande River to deter immigrants from crossing;
  • U.S. Border Patrol agents tried to remove the wire but were prevented from doing so by the Texas State Patrol and the Texas National Guard;
  • The United States sued;
  • A lower court ordered the Border Patrol not to attempt to remove the razor wire;
  • In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the lower court order. There were no written opinions accompanying the decision;
  • Despite the Supreme Court decision, Gov. Abbot still refuses to allow the Border Patrol access to certain crossing points, thereby denying that federal authority supersedes the state;
  • Almost all the Republican governors issued a statement saying that because the federal government “has abdicated its constitutional compact duties to the states,” Texas has the right to exert control over the international border in order to defend itself;
  • Governor Glenn Youngkin was one of the signatories.

Shades of John C. Calhoun! This compact theory and nullification were put to rest at Appomattox in 1865.

If, as Gov. Youngkin believes, a governor can defy the Supreme Court regarding immigration, what is to stop a future Democratic Virginia governor and legislature from ignoring Supreme Court rulings and enacting strict gun control measures on the grounds that the national government has broken its compact to ensure public safety?

For more analysis and commentary on this development see here and here. For a more measured analysis, see here.

Competition for Schools

Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the good bills introduced in the General Assembly this year would bring a measure of competition in public schools. Put in by Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), SB 552 would require school districts to allow students to attend any school in the district. Currently, districts are allowed to adopt such open enrollment policies, but are not required to do so. Typically, students must attend the school within the attendance zone where they live.

The legislation would enable an elementary school student in the eastern part of Henrico County, for example, where the reading scores in schools are very low, to attend an elementary school in the western part of the county, which has schools with high reading scores. If the requests for “nonresident” students to attend a particular school exceed that school’s enrollment capacity, a lottery would be used to decide which nonresident students got to attend that school.

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to develop model policies and guidelines to implement the legislation. Under the provisions of the legislation as introduced, the Board would have to act quickly. The bill requires the policies and guidelines to be adopted by August 1, 2024, to enable the open enrollment process to be in effect for the next school year, 2024-2025. Continue reading

Richmond Shoots Itself in the Foot–Again

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

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It never ceases to amaze me how the City of Richmond seems unable to accomplish even the most basic functions of government right.

The latest snafu occurred in the office of the General Registrar. A fourth of the voters requesting absentee ballots for the upcoming Democratic presidential primary election received outdated instructions. The instructions, dated 2021, said that absentee voters need to include a witness signature. Legislation enacted by the 2023 General Assembly eliminated that requirement.

That might be excused as a simple oversight involving a recent change in the statutory requirements. Except, this is the second time that it has happened.  Last fall, some Richmond voters got the same wrong instructions with their absentee ballots.

General Registrar Keith Balmer blamed the office’s vendor for the mistakes.

This is simple, basic stuff that should not happen, especially twice within a few months. Continue reading

The Monster at the End of the Book

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

We have created a monster. The genie is out of the bottle. Whatever metaphor you want to use, there is no going back and the way forward poses great dangers. The monster or genie is AI.

The media are full of the promising possibilities of AI improving our lives—great leaps in medicine, science, technology, manufacturing, etc. There is less discussion of the effects of having leaders in business and government, as well as the bureaucrats in those spheres, who are incapable of composing a coherent paragraph on their own due to their reliance on ChatGPT through high school and college.

What really concerns me is the potential of AI for politics; elections in particular. Candidates, or, more likely, sympathetic groups, could release recordings having opposing candidates seeming to say what they did not say. For example, residents of New Hampshire recently received a robocall with what sounded like the voice of Joe Biden urging them to skip the primary election there.

For the upcoming election, think of the effect of a video surfacing that showed Trump doing what the Steele dossier alleged he did in Russia. There is no doubt this is possible. After all, last fall, a group of teenage boys in New Jersey, being teenage boys, circulated pictures of girls in their classes with nude bodies (not theirs). Experts say that all it takes is an iPhone and easily accessible AI software.

I have been mulling all this over for a while. It turns out that I was not thinking broadly enough. In addition to being a possible weapon, the existence of AI provides politicians “plausible deniability,” as one expert explained. FOX News recently ran an ad comprised of well-documented gaffes of Trump. He responded, “The perverts and losers at the failed and once disbanded Lincoln Project, and others, are using A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) in their Fake television commercials in order to make me look as bad and pathetic as Crooked Joe Biden, not an easy thing to do.”

I should not have been surprised at this response. After all, this is a man who insists, in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, that the 2020 election was stolen. And millions of people accept his version. I expect that, at some point in the upcoming year, Trump or some group allied with him, will be claiming that all the footage showing the January 6 attack on the Capitol was AI-generated.

It used to be said, “Seeing is believing.” That is no longer true. We are entering a world in which we will not know what to believe. We will not know whether to believe that what we see, pictures, video, film, etc., is real or AI-generated. Truth will become elusive. Or, perhaps truth and reality will cease to exist as objective concepts and become whatever one defines it to be at that moment.

A Doggone Tale

State Sen. Tammy Mulchi (R-Mecklenburg)    Photo credit: Mecklenburg Sun

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent special election in Southside Virginia is a stark illustration of  how a small special interest group can exercise out-sized power.

In mid-December, long-time state Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Mecklenburg), announced he was resigning from the Senate, shortly after having been re-elected to a seventh term.  He had received a diagnosis of cancer in October and was facing a strict regimen of treatment.  Gov. Glenn Youngkin set Jan. 9 as the date for a special election to fill the seat.

Ruff’s announcement caught most people by surprise.  According to the reporting of David Poole in the Mecklenburg Sun , two people who were not surprised by the announcement were Tammy Mulchi, Ruff’s legislative aide, whom he endorsed in his resignation announcement, and Kirby Burch, the leader of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance.  Both got advance notice from Ruff of his impending resignation announcement. Continue reading

It’s a Different House Courts

Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax), chair, Subcommittee on Criminal Laws

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Long-time observers can attest to the significant changes that have occurred in the legislature over the decades. Perhaps nowhere are these changes more evident than with the House Courts of Justice Committee and its Subcommittee on Criminal Law.

This committee and its criminal law subcommittee had a reputation as being tough, and many legislators, especially non-lawyers, dreaded appearing before them. Its members were some of the most senior members of the House and most were experienced trial lawyers. It was a rowdy and colorful group. The committee handled more legislation than any other committee.

For many years, the legendary A.L. Philpott (D-Henry), widely acknowledged as having the deepest knowledge of criminal law of any legislator, reigned over the committee and subcommittee. During most of the current century, Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), another delegate with extensive experience with criminal law, chaired the subcommittee and then the full committee.

The committee and subcommittee had the reputation of being hard-nosed about criminal law. However, being experienced trial lawyers, most members were cognizant of the possibility of proposed legislation having unintended consequences if not worded precisely. Therefore, they would often go over bills line by line to ensure that the meaning of the proposed language was clear. Continue reading