Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Election’s Over; Time to Govern

Dan Gecker, President, Virginia Board of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The fall in the NAEP test scores of Virginia fourth-graders is alarming. A decrease itself is not surprising; in fact, it was expected in the wake of the disruption in schools caused by the pandemic. It is the magnitude of the decrease that is surprising and alarming.  That it was the largest decrease in the country is also embarrassing.

Governor Youngkin declared it “catastrophic” and proceeded to blame his predecessors.

It should be pointed out that the Northam administration and the “mainstream media” had begun sounding alarms several years ago. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, much criticized on this blog, declared in 2018 that “Virginia’s failing grade on reading SOLs must not be tolerated.” The administration began to take steps after the release of the 2019 NAEP scores to address the problem.  James Lane, then Superintendent of Public Instruction, expressed his dismay over the widening gap in the reading scores and declared the Department of Education (DOE) would examine the methods used by divisions in which students had scored well with an eye to determining whether those methods could be replicated in other divisions.  He also scheduled a statewide literacy summit in early 2020 in Charlottesville to address the problem. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and whatever was decided at that summit took a back seat to the efforts just to keep schools operating at some level during the crisis.  As the pandemic eased and schools re-opened to in-person instruction, it was recently pointed out on this blog that the Northam administration’s outgoing budget “prioritized reading initiatives for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.” Continue reading

Ah, Those Woke Prosecutors!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a quiz. Below is the description of a crime that was released by the public information office of a Virginia locality. The killer pled guilty to charges of first-degree murder, attempted robbery (2 counts) and use of a firearm (3 counts). The judge sentenced him to 63 years in prison with 33 years suspended, leaving 30 years to serve. As the news release noted, “This was the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement.” See if you can guess the jurisdiction and Commonwealth’s attorney that accepted such a plea agreement for a murderer, rather than go to trial.

On the morning of November 29, 2018, the victim, Devin Bell, was alone in his home. Bobby Cason, who was unknown to Bell, knocked on his door. Bell did not open the door but had a strange conversation with Cason, and then noticed that Cason continued to hang around the condominium complex. Bell contacted some friends to come to help him check out the situation.

After Bell’s friends arrived at the complex, Cason ran up to one of them, armed with a handgun with an extended magazine, and demanded the man’s property. The man had nothing but a cup of coffee, so Cason turned toward Bell and said he “needed something.” Bell pulled out his cell phone and told Cason to take it. Cason then pulled a second handgun from his pocket and demanded that Bell take him inside his house. A struggle ensued during which Cason shot Bell. Bell collapsed a short distance away, where he died. Cason fled the scene with both guns. The medical examiner determined that the muzzle of the gun was pressed against Bell’s neck when he was shot.

Cason was linked to the crime through Ring doorbell footage. He was wearing latex gloves at the time. Police found a latex glove near Bell’s body, which was later analyzed by the Department of Forensic Science. Cason’s DNA was found on the glove.

Although no handguns were recovered, police found at Cason’s grandparents’ house a magazine containing bullets of the same type as the shell casing found near Bell’s body. At his grandparents’ and parents’ houses, police also recovered shoes and a latex glove matching Cason’s attire in the Ring doorbell footage. Continue reading

State Treasury Brings In More General Fund Revenues Than Projected

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Some commenters on this blog have expressed serious concern about the choices facing Governor Youngkin this fall in the development of his recommended amendments to the state’s two-year budget. They cite the prospects of recession and the uncertainty created by such prospects. They can rest a little easier for now.

The Secretary of Finance has informed the Governor that the Commonwealth’s first quarter general fund revenues for the current fiscal year are $500 million ahead of projections, or 7.6%. In September alone, after adjusting for timing differences, “total general fund revenues increased 10.7 percent for the month compared to a year ago.” Continue reading

Bias-Based Traffic Stops — A Rejoinder

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Department of Criminal Justice Services has published its annual report on traffic stop data. In a recent article on this blog, Jim Bacon rendered his verdict on whether the data shows police bias in traffic stops: Still No Proof.

The report shows that, in the period of July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, Black drivers were stopped at a rate disproportionate to their estimated proportion of the Commonwealth’s total population. DCJS concluded there was, statewide, “moderate overrepresentation” of Black drivers in traffic stops.

Despite the finding of overrepresentation of Black drivers, the report is replete with caveats about the implications to be drawn from such finding. Specifically, the report says the finding of disparities “does not allow us to determine or measure specific reasons for these disparities. Most importantly for this study, this analysis does not allow us to determine the extent to which these disparities may or may not be due to bias-based profiling or to other factors that can vary depending on race or ethnicity.” The authors of the report go on to enumerate some of those other possible factors that could have influenced the disparities. It is upon this basis that Jim Bacon rests his verdict of “Still No Proof.”

Three high profile Democratic members of the General Assembly reacted angrily to the report’s conclusion that an analysis of the data did not, in and of itself, demonstrate that bias-based profiling was the reason for the disparities. “Obviously, bias is still a factor. It’s disingenuous not to arrive at that conclusion….It’s shameful but not surprising that Governor Youngkin continues to deny these truths,” fulminated Don Scott (Portsmouth), the House Minority Leader. He was joined in his indignation by Sen. Mamie Locke (Hampton) and Del. Jeff Bourne (Richmond). Continue reading

Oops! Look What We Just Found!

Susan Beals, Commissioner of Elections Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin Department of Elections just recently began processing more than 107,000 voter registration applications dating back to last spring. This is after early voting had begun.

These applications involved residents who had registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The snafu is blamed on a computer “glitch” that caused “intermittent network issues within the Department of Elections” that resulted in the Department of Elections not picking up on the applications. No one in that office seemed to notice the sudden drop-off in “motor voter” registrations that began in May.

The result is that local registrars had bunches of new registration applications dumped on them during their busiest part of the year. The Chesterfield registrar suddenly had about 5,000 applications to process, for example; Henrico had about 4,500; and Hanover, 1,100. Continue reading

More on Virginia Sheriffs

Governor Youngkin and incoming officers of Virginia Sheriffs Association  Photo Credit:  Virginia Sheriffs Association

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This article is a follow-up to Jim McCarthy’s article on sheriffs.  My main purpose is to provide some details and more context to the discussion of the position of sheriff in Virginia.

The sheriff is a “constitutional officer.” Article VII, Section 4 of the state constitution directs that in each county and city there shall be elected, among other positions, a sheriff. The provision goes on to say, “The duties and compensation of such officers shall be prescribed by general law or special act.”

The general powers of a sheriff include law enforcement, jail operation, court security, and service of process. However, state law authorizes cities and towns to establish any departments set out in their charters. As a result, all cities and most towns have charter provisions allowing them to establish a police department. Therefore, sheriffs in cities are limited to administering the jail, providing security in the courts, and serving process papers. Continue reading

Some Things Never Change

I am reading a recent biography of Patrick Henry and I came across a quote that just begs to be shared on this blog. One of Henry’s neighbors and friends in 1759 was Thomas Johnson, a member of the House of Burgesses from Louisa County. In the journal of the House, Johnson is recorded as describing the General Assembly as a place of “Plots, Schemes, and Contrivances” where “one holds the Lamb while the other skins.”

Don Rippert, with his criticism of the “plantation elite,” and Thomas Johnson would have gotten along quite well together.

Transformation to Achieve Effectiveness and Efficiency–Again

Eric Moeller, Chief Transformation Officer

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Amid great fanfare as one of his Day One actions, Governor Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order No. 5, establishing the position Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer within the Office of the Governor.

The Governor identified the responsibilities of the position to be “to help build a culture of transparency, accountability, and constructive challenge across our government; ensure employees at all levels of government are reminded that our government works for the citizens of Virginia; drive changes improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government through tracking key performance metrics; identify, coordinate, and lead targeted transformation efforts.”

Leaving aside the questionable implications that there is currently not a culture of transparency, accountability, etc. and that state employees are not aware that they are paid with taxpayer money, the primary thrust of the position would be “improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government.” Continue reading

Budget Earmarks for Nonstate Entities

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For many years, the most interesting and fun portion of the state Appropriation Act was a section near the end entitled, “State Grants to Nonstate Entities-Nonstate Agencies.” The 2000 Appropriation Act, appropriating almost $36 million for these nonstate entities, is a good example. It included funding for historic courthouses, local museums and historical societies, and the houses of Founding Fathers, as well as for larger, statewide museums and organizations.

Most of the amounts provided were small, especially in the context of the overall Appropriation Act. However, they were important to the local recipients and served to add to the political capital of the local legislators who sponsored the appropriations.

In 2011, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli threw what seemed to be a monkey wrench into this process. In an official opinion, he declared that such appropriations, although they may “serve noble purposes,” were in violation of the state constitution. Article IV, Section 16, of the Virginia Constitution plainly prohibits “any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate…to any charitable institution which is not owned or controlled by the Commonwealth.” For years the legislature had operated under the legal fiction that such appropriations were not to “charitable” organizations, but for “historical” or “cultural” ones. Indeed the title of the budget program used for these appropriations is “Financial Assistance for Cultural and Artistic Affairs.” The Attorney General’s opinion ended that charade. Continue reading

Imaginary Protection Against Imaginary Threats

Jason Miyares, Attorney General of Virginia

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Attorney General Jason Miyares has taken another step to politicize his office and the enforcement of election laws. As reported by the Virginia Mercury, Miyares has announced the formation of a 20-member “Election Integrity Unit.” The purpose of the unit is to ensure the “legality and purity” of elections.

There has been no evidence, or even credible allegations, of serious fraud in Virginia elections. However, the Attorney General seems to feel that there is a need to have 20 members of his staff working on prosecuting election fraud.

In truth, this is just a political stunt. This “unit” will not have its own budget. The members of the “unit” will not be dedicated to investigating and prosecuting fraud. Rather, the unit will consist of staff members who work on other issues, in addition to election issues. In other words, election fraud will be an incidental part of their jobs. Continue reading

Schools of Education and DOE Regulations–A Closer Look

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have long been skeptical of Virginia’s teacher licensure requirements in general and of education courses at colleges and universities, in particular.

In this vein, I was eagerly anticipating Jim Sherlock’s series of articles on this blog about teacher licensure and those schools of education. I agree with one of his main premises:  to the extent that schools of education faculty are involved in the drafting of teacher licensure requirements, particularly what should be in a bachelor’s degree in education, those requirements will be heavily tilted toward courses in schools of education, rather than in the field of concentration.

The articles have been disappointing.  For example, the most recent one promises to show “how the rules for licensure of teachers and other school staff have changed and impacted teacher education.”

The article fails to live up to its promise.  It is chock full of assertions and recriminations aimed at Democrats that are backed up by little evidence.  In fact, one of his major pieces of evidence refutes his assertions. Continue reading

Taking on Workforce Development — Again

Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training, Woodbridge Campus, Northern Virginia Community College,

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) reports that Governor Glenn Youngkin plans to present a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development efforts to the 2023 General Assembly. I commend the Governor for taking this issue on. It is the sort of “good government” initiative that needs to be done, but requires a lot of work for which there is little political payback, even if it is successful.

“Workforce development” is a broad term. From one perspective, one of the primary functions of all the public education programs supported by the state from kindergarten through graduate school is to provide Virginians the skills and knowledge they will need to enter the workforce. However, in the context being discussed in this article, the term refers to smaller, specifically targeted programs.

These programs are spread throughout state government in a myriad of agencies. The RTD article describes it as spanning “12 state agencies and 20 outside groups and some 800 programs.” The existence of local workforce investment boards and the availability of federal funding adds to the complexity. Another complicating factor is the activity of some state agencies in this area that is likely not included in the traditional list of workforce development programs. Continue reading

Those Violent Red States

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Crime is again a top story, both in the national media and on this blog.

Many on this blog seem to think they have identified what is behind the recent rise in crime, especially homicides and other violent crimes. Two years ago, Jim Bacon pointed out that the Commonwealth had the fourth lowest crime rate in the nation. Now, he does not seem so optimistic, lamenting, “What we’re seeing now is the result of a thorough de-legitimization of the criminal justice system by America’s political, media and cultural elites.” Other commenters voice the same alarm, blaming progressives, “woke” prosecutors, and general soft-on-crime policies. Essentially, they blame Democratic leaders. See here, here, and here.

The facts tell a different story. According to the most recent data from the FBI, Virginia still has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Its rate of 208.7 violent crimes per 100,000 population is the sixth lowest, lower than even that of super-conservative Wyoming (234.2). For a table showing all the violent crime rates, see Crime rates. Continue reading

More Assistance for Veterans

Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) speaking at opening of new community center for veterans Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A new community center for veterans in Virginia Beach just opened.

If you are thinking the new Jones & Cabacoy Veterans Care Center, built and operated by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, will provide nursing home care to veterans, you would be mistaken. Or, perhaps you were thinking of the Virginia Beach Vet Center, operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to offer counseling for needs such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the psychological effects of military sexual trauma (MST). Again, you would be mistaken.

No, this is the RNC Veterans Community Center, operated by the Republican National Committee. Savannah Viar, the committee’s regional communications director, told The Virginian Pilot that the purpose of the center is to train veterans who want to campaign for Republican candidates. “It basically teaches them the best practices for door knocking, phone banking, poll watching and poll working,” she said. “They come in and go through that training class and then they can use what they learn to go out and participate in GOTV (get out the vote) efforts.” Continue reading

Getting Rid of the Bad Apples

Photo credit: ABC News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a tendency in government to enact reform or establish new programs and then move on. Often, there is little or no circling back, by government or the media, to examine how the changes have been implemented or what effect they have had.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I intend to discuss the implementation of some of the changes in the criminal justice system enacted by the 2020 General Assembly. As with any major changes in a complex system, two years will have been insufficient time for many major effects to become evident. However, it is fair to examine how well their implementation is progressing.

Of all the criminal justice and law-enforcement reforms considered by the General Assembly in its 2020 Special Session, the need to get the “bad apples” out of law enforcement probably was the one that attracted the most support from all factions, including the law enforcement community. Continue reading