Category Archives: Elections

Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

State of affairs / affairs of state.  Multiple scandals have rocked Virginia’s state government this week.  All three of our state’s top officials stand accused of substantial wrongdoing.  Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted to dressing in blackface during their college / medical school days. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault.  The stories have become national news – read the New York Post article here. Given this chaos one wonders how the good people at Amazon feel about their decision to put one-half of their new headquarters in The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m guessing we’ll hear more about that in the near future. In the meantime, Virginians need to ask two key questions – how did we get here and what can we do about it.   Continue reading

Five Virginia Politicians Thwart the People and Democracy in Marijuana Reform Legislation

We the people elite.  A number of proposed bills to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana were put forth in the ongoing General Assembly session.  These bills were systematically killed in subcommittee by a tiny fraction of the General Assembly.  Generally speaking, five Republican Delegates decided that the proposed marijuana reform bills should not reach the full committee let alone the entirety of the General Assembly for a vote.  These five legislators know, or should have known, that the vast majority of Virginians (in poll after poll) favor the decriminalization of marijuana. Continue reading

Va 2019 General Assembly session – prefiled House of Delegates bills

Click here to see the 9 weird laws

Much ado about nothing.  As of this morning there were 83 prefiled bills for the House of Delegates and 225 prefiled bills for the State Senate.  With a few exceptions the House prefiles are pretty “ho hum”.  I will examine the Senate prefiles in a subsequent column.

One from column A and two from column B.  I use a somewhat arbitrary approach to categorizing the prefiled bills.  By my analysis … governmental process (17), education (12), crime and courts (10), election reform (8), finance and taxes (7), health care (6), nonsense (6), environment (6), transportation (4), campaign reform (4) and energy (2).

Governmental process.  These are the day to day clarifications, corrections and amplifications needed to make existing legislation more effective.  For example, HB246 clarifies the role of the code commission in preparing legislation at the direction of the General Assembly.  One of these bills will further depress Jim Bacon’s journalistic sensibilities.  HB1629 eliminates the requirement that Virginia procurement contracts be reported in newspapers.  Mixed in with the proposed routine legislation are some zingers.  For example, there are three separate bills to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HJ577, HJ579, HJ583).  There are also four bills proposing changes  to the Virginia Constitution.  HJ578 would add a right to vote to the state constitution, HJ582 would establish a redistricting committee, HJ584 would allow the governor to run for a second consecutive term and HJ585 has the governor and lieutenant governor running as a single ticket instead of separate offices.

Education.  The only theme in the education prefiles is an attempt to provide financial incentives for localities to rebuild the physical plant of their schools.  One of the more interesting bills would allow commercial advertising on school buses (HB809) while another would guarantee that our children’s God given right to wear unscented sun block not be abridged (HB330).

Crime and courts.  Bail bondsmen and bondswomen are forbidden from having sex with their clients (HB525) and shooting a police dog, or even showing a gun to a police dog,  becomes a more serious crime (HB1616).  Other than that, pretty mundane stuff.

Finance and taxes.  Way too many people and too many companies are paying taxes (HB966) and veterinarians really need a break from those pesky sales taxes (HB747).

Potpourri.  The remaining categories contain a few interesting ideas.  Del Rasoul wants to ban the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation (HB1635), Del Cole wants to give I95 some love (HJ580, HJ581) and he also has the radical idea that campaign contributions should not be for personal use (HB1617).  In fact, Del Cole’s proposed legislation is putting him perilously close to making my very short list of competent Virginia legislators.

Closer to home.  My delegate, Kathleen Murphy, continues to propose jaw dropping, eye popping examples of legislative uselessness.  She proposes to let her pals skirt Virginia traffic laws by displaying a special sticker on their cars (HB295) and offers some odd rules on distance learning reciprocity (HB659).  I guess issues like mass transportation don’t cross her mind these days.

— Don Rippert.

Virginia to Consider New Marijuana Decriminalization bill in 2019 General Assembly Session

If at first you don’t succeed … State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) has pre-filed a 2019 bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. The matter will be taken up in the General Assembly session in early 2019.  Last year Ebbin patroned a similar bill that was defeated 9-6 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee along party lines.

Still illegal.  The new Ebbin bill, like the one in 2018, proposes to decriminalize (rather than legalize) the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Old Dominion. The law presently in place provides for a maximum $500 fine and up to a 30 day jail term for the first offense.  Penalties escalate for subsequent offenses. Ebbin’s proposed bill makes possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense with fines of $50 to $250 depending on a variety of circumstances such as whether it was the first offense or a subsequent offense.

Another loser for the RPV / GOP.  The vast majority of Americans and Virginians support the decriminalization of marijuana. In fact, a notable majority of Americans and Virginians go so far as to support legalization of marijuana. Yet the supposedly liberty loving, regulation hating Republican Party has done everything it can to oppose both decriminalization and legalization. As previously mentioned, the nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee blocked full house consideration of Sen Ebbin’s bill in 2018. At the national level it’s much the same. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has written a “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” .  It’s a pretty simple plan … take control of the House then enact marijuana reform. Up until now that blueprint was blocked by the House Rules Committee led by its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).  But things are different now that the Democrats have taken control of the house.  Plant prohibitionists like Rep Sessions are no longer calling the shots.

2019. Another year, another marijuana decriminalization bill in the Virginia General Assembly. What will become of SB997 in 2019? My guess is for a repeat of 2018 with Republicans killing the bill in committee.

Demographic changes? There has been a lot of discussion about the recent federal election on this blog. Much has been made of how the success of Democrats in Virginia is an inevitable consequence of demographics and the influx of those from outside Virginia. Some have even taken to calling Virginia the southernmost northeastern state. Balderdash. The real problem is that Virginia’s Republican politicians and the RPV are clueless. The question of marijuana reform crosses demographic boundaries. Middle-aged adults are using marijuana at an increasing rate. Last year, all nine of the Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to block the decriminalization bill. At the same time 76% of the Virginians these Republicans claim to represent support marijuana decriminalization. Meanwhile, arrests in Virginia for marijuana rose 20% in the last year. Arrests for a “crime” that more than three quarters of Virginians don’t think should be a crime are skyrocketing while the aged political elite in the RPV blocks so much as a full vote on the matter. I wonder why the Republicans keep losing in Virginia? It has far more to due with a lack of competence than a change in demographics.

— Don Rippert

No Excuses for Chesterfield Voting Problems

I’ve been an election officer twice now, for the June primary and now for this massive mid-term election, so that makes me a real expert, right?  Hardly.  But I read the Richmond Times-Dispatch story about the problems Tuesday in Chesterfield County with deeper insight than I would have a year ago.

Know first that after the tables are set up and Apple poll book is turned on and the signs taped up, before the doors open, the seven of us at Precinct 115 raised our right hands and recited the oath, then signed it.  There is a quiet moment when the blood of the patriots who secured and preserved this sacred right is remembered, if not specifically mentioned.

To prepare for my two stints inside the poll I’ve attended four training classes, the first of them taking most of a Saturday.  During those classes the level of preparation behind the process becomes evident.  Even more enlightening is the process of counting and recording and preserving every scrap of paper and data in the hours after the doors close.

It is a very hands-on process prone to human error, and surprisingly decentralized, with local registrars and electoral boards the key individuals.  The problems outlined in that story are inexcusable and land squarely at the top.

Everybody knew that the turnout for this election would skyrocket. Please. The assumption should have been plan and equip for a presidential year turnout, because that is what we almost had.  Did everybody just forget the crowds from 2016, 2012, 2008?  The Chesterfield officials complain about a 60 percent turnout causing congestion, and inside our Richmond City precinct almost 68 percent voted in person very smoothly.

Whining about the turnout should be dismissed.  But not all the human error involved is at the local level.  A lot of lip service is given to how important this process is and then other considerations screw it up.

Local and state officials are too quick to change precinct lines or divide an existing precinct between two different congressional or legislative districts.  The reason is usually driven by some kind of gerrymandering process, and the next gerrymander for some legislative districts will be now be designed by a federal court.  The result – and they should know this – is high levels of confusion.

On top of the 1,042 people who walked into our precinct and voted Tuesday, there were easily another 200 who had to be sent to another place because of a change after the 2017 election. “But I voted here last year” or “why wasn’t I notified” were the common complaints.  One piece of mail is not notice.

Thank goodness the electronic poll book identifies their new voting place.  Thank goodness after the initial morning rush we never had long lines again (despite the 68 percent turnout.)  But if there were Chesterfield precincts where the boundaries had also been jumbled, people may have waited a long time before the person checking the list sent them away.

Another major hang-up, I’m sure, were the constitutional amendments.  Few people had even heard about them, let alone made up their minds.  Our greeter was handing out the official brochure and a surprising number of people stopped cold and tried to read that or looked at the chart on the wall.  The General Assembly puts these things on the ballot with near-zero resources to educate votes, badly gumming up the voting process.

Finally, there is human error in the assumption that somebody else will do this job and we don’t have to.  Given the low pay for the day ($130 for 16 hours!)  it’s basically a volunteer activity and should be promoted that way.  Do not assume your locality has enough qualified people. I repeat my earlier invitation – join the elite!

I’ve enjoyed getting to know the crew where I work (not my home precinct) and look forward to next time.  I need to buy some honey from the fellow who serves as our chief officer, a somewhat thankless job (thanks, Ames.)

I hope the 90-something-year-old WW II vet wearing that worn Eighth Air Force ball cap who walked slowly in on his cane comes back next time.  He and his peers refreshed the Tree of Liberty well.  Absentee?  Not for him.  I understand the arguments for easier remote or early voting, and Chesterfield just added to them, but there is something to this ritual that is every bit as powerful as any religious ceremony.

UPDATE:  Also worth reading.  

Blue Wave Does Not Change Do-Nothing Consensus

The 2018 Congressional elections have been dubbed by some as “the most important mid-term elections in history,” but that’s mostly partisan blather. Democrats did indeed re-take control of the House of Representatives. But two more years of hyper-partisan gridlock will not change the nation’s perilous fiscal trajectory.

While many bemoan the lack of consensus in Washington, there is in fact a consensus — a consensus to ignore growing deficits and the surge in the national debt, except as a club to be wielded hypocritically against the other party. No one wants to touch entitlements. No one is serious about cutting discretionary domestic spending. And no one has articulated a scaled-back foreign policy that would permit a prudent shrinking of military spending.

As Trump and his antagonists mud-wrestle one another and the news media focus on political spectacle to the exclusion of all else, deficits will continue to climb, the national debt will continue piling up, un-cuttable interest on the national debt will consume an ever-increasing share of spending, and the Medicare and Social Security trust funds will get two years closer to depletion. The Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is scheduled to run out in eight years, Social Security’s Old Age and Survivors fund in 16 years. If you think politics are ugly now, just wait.

I would say that Americans are like ostriches with our heads stuck in the sand — but that would be an insult to ostriches.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Insofar as the 2018 elections can be said to have been a blue wave, the epicenter of that wave was Virginia. The switch of three congressional seats from red to blue portend gathering strength for the Democratic Party in the Old Dominion. If the electoral trends of the past two years continue — and there is no sign that they won’t — Democrats will take control of the General Assembly in 2019, seize the machinery of redistricting, and ensconce themselves in power for the next generation.

For the moment at least, the Republican Party is in no condition to resist the blue tsunami. Corey Stewart was an unmitigated electoral disaster. Being Trumpier than Trump is not a winning electoral formula in Virginia. But pursuing a moderate, technocratic formula didn’t work much better for Ed Gillespie in the 2017 gubernatorial race. The GOP has roped itself to the shrinking demographic base of rural/small town Virginia. It has no coherent message. It is floundering.

A blue Virginia portends a more activist government, more spending on “social justice” priorities, and higher taxes. Steve Haner’s recent piece, “Taxaginia,” lays out where we’re heading in 2019. Admittedly, the blue wave this year was propelled in great measure by culture-war issues — in particular the #MeToo movement and suburban women’s revulsion against Donald Grab-Them-By-the-Pussy Trump. But if you think the electorate will exercise a moderating influence on the tax-and-spend proclivities of the political class, just consider the referendum on Question No. 1.

Seventy-one percent of Virginians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that would subsidize continued building in flood-prone areas. Given all the other fiscal challenges Virginia faces — unfunded pensions, under-funded capital spending, budgeting sleight-of-hand, and all the rest chronicled on this blog — the vote was utter folly. Virginians are in fiscal denial. I once thought of state/local government as the bulwark against federal collapse. I’m no longer so hopeful.

Update: Looks like John Rubino at Dollarcollapse.com and I are in sync on our appraisal of the national election. Writes John today:

As contentious as the US midterm elections were, there was never a scenario in which they mattered. Any possible configuration of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate would have yielded pretty much the same set of economic policies going forward: Ever-higher debt, upward trending interest rates and (through the combination of those two) rising volatility. … The system is on autopilot and it matters exactly not at all which party or which configuration of parties is running the asylum.

Thumbs Down on One Amendment, Thumbs Up on the Other

Bacon’s Rebellion doesn’t do candidate endorsements — this is a public policy blog, not a political blog. But we do express our preferences for and against proposed constitutional amendments. And it happens that there are two proposed amendments on the ballot this year. The first one reads:

Should a county, city, or town be authorized to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if flooding resiliency improvements have been made on the property?

And the Bacon’s Rebellion answer is, “No.” As a guiding principle, we oppose special exemptions and carve-outs from taxes. Taxes should be applied consistently across the population. Granting breaks to one group encourages other groups to lobby for special treatment as well. The accumulation of exemptions over time erodes revenues, which forces tax rates higher.

In rare instances the benefits of a tax exemption may be so compelling that the general principle can be ignored. This is not such a case. The idea behind the amendment is to reward property owners for making properties subject to recurrent flooding more resilient. A classic example would be to lift houses onto stilts.

My question is simple: Why would we want to encourage anyone to build or rebuild in a floodprone area, no matter how resilient the construction? There is a much better way to give property owners an incentive to make their buildings more flood resistant — it’s called flood insurance. Government should stop subsidizing flood insurance and make people pay for the risk they’re taking when they build in areas subject to periodic inundation. You’ve made your house more flood-proof? Fine, get a break on your flood insurance rates — not your property tax bill.

Making an individual property more resilient does nothing to make the government infrastructure serving that property more resilient. If anything, local governments should make property owners pay higher property taxes for locating in floodprone areas so they can afford to pay for hardening and repairing the roads, bridges, and utilities that make those areas habitable. Granting tax relief is the diametric opposite of what needs to be done. This proposed constitutional amendment is a fiscal folly that would only compound growing liability in coastal areas.

The second amendment reads as follows:

Shall the real property tax exemption for a primary residence that is currently provided to the surviving spouses of veterans who had a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability be amended to allow the surviving spouse to move to a different primary residence and still claim the exemption?

This amendment also violates my stricture against tax exemptions and carve-outs. And there is no compelling public benefit that would warrant an exception. So, I see no logical reason for the amendment. But I support it anyway on purely emotional grounds.

I have seen veterans permanently disfigured and disabled from IEDs, and I feel strongly that there is no way our society can fully compensate them — or their families — for their sacrifices on behalf of our country. Granting a property tax exemption to surviving spouses is big gesture affecting a relatively small number of people. There is no moral hazard here. The subsidy won’t encourage soldiers to run off and get hideous war wounds. Women won’t start marrying disabled vets so they can get a tax break after their husbands die. Unlike subsidies for property owners in floodprone areas, we won’t get more of what we don’t want. So, although I harbor strong reservations about the amendment, I’ll still vote for it.

Transparency? No, Alignment Drives PAC Decisions

Money In Politics

Abigail Spanberger won’t take money from corporate political action committees but will from ideological political action committees because the issue PACs have their position statements on their web pages.

Spanberger said that Friday to a business organization that donates no political money, Virginia FREE, but there were plenty of big donors or their representatives in the room.  Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch was there but didn’t really cover her remarks, other than to note she didn’t mention President Donald Trump (so he kindly did that for her.)

Continuing an argument I have made before, Spanberger’s careful tiptoe through this minefield is additional evidence of the powerful corrupting nature of our campaign finance system.  She tried to put a nice spin on her position that business money is too tainted to accept, blaming that in large part on voter perception.  When “face to face with voters” she hears that in Virginia corporate money has too much influence.

Here is what she says on her campaign web page:  “As we’ve increasingly dealt with the effects of special interests in campaign finance, it’s important that all elected officials take a stand against letting a small group of funders influence our elections. And because my commitment to campaign finance reform starts now, with my campaign, I will not accept any corporate PAC donations.”

Abigail Spanberger

Federal election rules have caps on donations that reformers at the Virginia state level can only dream about.  Corporations cannot write checks directly but must set up political action committees collecting funds from employees using the same strict limits.  She is probably correct however that the average voter has no clue about that.

In response to a line of questions from Virginia FREE director Chris Saxman she said hers was really a “a pro-business stance” because it allows her to meet with business leaders and lobbyists with no talk of money.  It’s “taken off the table.”

But then Saxman asked her about all the groups she does take money from.  Business PACs are only a subset of the giving world.  Special interests abound on all sides.  That’s when she said a big difference is those groups have their agendas on full and open display, but with a company “I can’t go to their website and see what those priorities are.”

Continue reading

Has NoVa Finally Woken Up?

VA-10.  State Senator Jennifer Wexton (D) hopes to unseat Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District.  A typically gerrymandered Virginia district, the 10th stretches from inside the Capital Beltway to well west of Winchester.  As a resident of the 10th I watch the elections in that district closely.  This one is shaping up to be a doozy.  Far left Jennifer Wexton is running on an anti-Trump platform while trying to avoid taking a position on any issue relevant to the constituents she hopes to represent.  Meanwhile, Barbara Comstock is running as an embarrassed Republican who tries to avoid gazing east at the current occupant of the Oval Office.  Think Nelson Rockafeller in drag.  All in all I think Barbara Comstock has done a better job of explaining herself and focusing on issues that are relevant to her district.  One issue in particular stands out for me – the allegation that Wexton has sold out Northern Virginia during her time in the General Assembly.

Don’t get Wexton’ed.  Recent negative ads run by the National Republican Congressional Committee (presumably) on behalf of Barbara Comstock hit a point that hasn’t been hit before.  The ads call out Jennifer Wexton for her role in the General Assembly’s massive rip off of Northern Virginia.  The 30 second ads are punchy and direct.  One ad has a graphic that shows money raining out of NoVa into Richmond.  It cites high tolls and NoVa – only taxes.  Needless to say, Jennifer Wexton is the highlighted villain.  Another ad shows traffic jams and tolls in NoVa then cuts to a single car effortlessly driving down an otherwise empty road claiming, “The rest of the state rides for free.”  As far as I’m concerned, the ads are completely on target and finally call out the gutless NoVa politicians we have elected for selling out their constituents.

I wish I could drive I295.  For many people from Northern Virginia there certainly seems to be a vast sucking sound coming from the General Assembly in Richmond.  There also seems to be a two class system when it comes to a lot of things including transportation.  Take Richmond for example … the city, not the state government.  The OMB defines the greater Richmond area as comprising thirteen counties, including the principal cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights. As of 2016, it had a population of 1,263,617.  Somehow, this qualifies the area for a 4 lane “beltway” called I295.  Meanwhile, the greater Washington area has a population of 6.1m as of 2016.  It also has a 4 lane beltway in NoVa.  An area with 4.7 times the population of Richmond somehow ends up with the same sized highway encircling it as Richmond gets?  And Jennifer Wexton thinks that’s all fine and dandy?  Comstock’s right – let’s not get Wexton’ed.

Thanks, Barbara.  Jennifer Wexton is hardly alone in selling out her constituents.  All 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election in 2019 including every state politician claiming to represent Northern Virginia.  It’s high time that all of NoVa’s politicians are taken to task for selling out their constituents.  Hopefully these ads and others like them will continue to haunt the comfy re-election dreams of our political class in Northern Virginia.  If our politicians want to argue about their role in grifting NoVa the approach is easy … clearly and quantitatively document the amount of money taken by state and local government in NoVa and compare it to the amount of money spent by state and local government in NoVa.  Then … defend the difference.  I happen to know that a number of General Assembly members from NoVa read this blog (at least occasionally).  Any of you who read this – are you up for the challenge of demonstrating the fairness of your actions vis-a-vis inflows and outflows of money from NoVa?  I won’t hold my breath.

— Don Rippert

For Your Viewing Pleasure: Television Ad Spending Now Online

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

The Virginia Public Access Project has begun publishing this campaign season a new data set for Virginia congressional elections — television ad spending. You can view total spending for the campaign to date, as I show here with the hotly contested Comstock/Wexton and Brat/Spanberger races. Or, if you’re a total junky, you can check the weekly updates.

The biggest-spending race involves 10th district Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock and her Democratic challenger, Jennifer Wexton. To reach 10th district voters, advertisers have to buy air time in the super-expensive Washington media market. It is interesting to note that more money has been spent on television advertising than the campaigns have reported raising. That’s because most of the ads are being purchased by outside, non-campaign-affiliated groups — just one more way that big money can influence politics by means other than donating to political campaigns directly.

Thank you, VPAP, for this making available enhanced contribution to campaign-finance transparency.

The second most expensive race is the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and Republican challenger Corey Stewart. From a money perspective, that campaign is a joke. Kaine has spent $4.2 million so far on television ads (all his own campaign’s money) versus 0 for Stewart. That’s not a contest, it’s a stomping. Like President Trump whom he emulates, Stewart is the non-Establishment candidate — and his pitiful fund-raising record shows it. But he lacks candidate Trump’s knack for generating unlimited free air time and press coverage. Only his more reckless and indefensible statements generate attention. Stewart is more doomed than the Titanic.

Then there’s the 2nd congressional campaign in my back door between Republican incumbent Dave Brat, who famously upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a few years back, and his Democratic challenger Abigail Spanberger. Spanberger has spent more money on television advertising overall than Brat, all of it coming from her own campaign resources. But Brat and anti-Spanberger groups have come on strong in recent weeks.

While the VPAP data adds a new dimension to campaign analysis, it leaves unanswered an increasingly relevant question: How effective is television advertising? Campaigns and outside groups spend massive sums, but in the age of Social Media it’s not at all clear that the ads move voters.

The conventional wisdom is that attack ads are more effective than positive ads. But I think that positive ads can be useful in building name recognition for a new, unknown candidate. As for attack ads, I ignore them or discount them entirely. Any time I see an attack ad, I don’t gasp, thinking, how could candidate X have done or said such a thing? Rather, I ask myself, “How is this ad distorting the truth or omitting context?” I suspect most other voters do the same.

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

JLARC Exposes Partisan Bias of Election Officials but Ignores Most Compelling Evidence

Well, well, well, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) has been vindicated. In 2016 and 2018, the conservative public interest group documented more than 1,000 instances in which non-citizens were registered to vote in Virginia elections and that 200 in which they had actually voted — based on numbers from localities accounting for only 20% of Virginia’s population. (See our summary of the PILF report here.)

PILF charged that the McAuliffe administration’s Department of Elections had actively tried to block the research project by telling local registrars not to cooperate. As the PILF report noted:

Virginia state election officials are obstructing access to public records that reveal the extent to which non-citizens are participating in our elections. These obstructionist tactics have led to PILF … obtaining data from only a handful of Virginia counties so far. But the information from a few counties demonstrates a massive problem.

The mainstream media totally ignored the story, and many Bacon’s Rebellion readers pooh-poohed PILF’s findings. But yesterday the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission presented its report on Virginia’s election oversight system. The Richmond Times-Dispatch summarized the most disturbing findings:

Jamie Bitz, a chief legislative analyst for JLARC, said interviews with local voter registrars and state elections staffers showed there was “a perception of political bias that was reflected in decisions about certain policies and certain agency operations.”

In an interview after the meeting, Bitz said JLARC was told that former agency leaders directed staff to help Democratic groups avoid campaign finance laws and rules that require political groups to put their names on ads.

“We heard of one example where the previous deputy commissioner at the agency very openly stated to a number of people, including to one high-level elections official in Virginia, that one of her key responsibilities was to help Hillary Clinton be elected president,” Bitz said.

The JLARC report did not address the specific charges raised by PILF, but it does confirm that the Department of Elections under the McAuliffe administration had a blatant partisan bent. (The study also said that Elections under Governor Ralph Northam has improved.)

While the JLARC study provides a useful overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the system, it is disappointing that it shows cognizance of the extensive, thoroughly documented work performed by PILF, or even to address the same issues. For example, JLARC lists several ways in which Virginia’s system of elections is vulnerable to fraud:

  • An individual is not eligible to vote—because of court action—but casts a vote.
  • An individual is not eligible to vote—not a resident of Virginia—but casts a vote.
  • An individual fraudulently uses the identity of a person who is no longer a resident of Virginia to cast a vote.
  • An individual fraudulently uses the identity of a deceased person to cast a vote.
  • An individual who is not a U.S. citizen fraudulently affirms their citizenship and subsequently casts a vote.

Remarkably, the report fails to address the charges raised by PILF, which focused on a sixth type of fraud — in which individuals affirm their non-citizenship at the Department of Motor Vehicles and vote anyway. 

“It is nearly impossible to quantify the likelihood or occurrence of voter fraud in Virginia,” the JLARC report goes on to say. “It is likely that some instances of voter fraud occur but are not discovered or do not result in fraud convictions. There are anecdotes of voter fraud in Virginia, but JLARC staff were not presented with any verifiable evidence of large-scale voter fraud of this type.”

Contrary to JLARC’s contention that the incidence is “impossible to quantify,” PILF did quantify an exact number for cooperating localities — and JLARC easily could have followed PILF’s methodology to do the same for the entire state.

Bacon’s bottom line: The JLARC report is simultaneously disturbing, based on evidence it uncovered, and disappointing, based on the evidence it ignored. The problem that PILF identified — registration of non-citizens and, to a lesser extent, voting by non-citizens — continues to go unaddressed. One can argue that the phenomenon is not pervasive enough to sway any but the tightest of elections, but that makes the problem no less real.

AI – Nirvana or Apocalypse (for Virginia)?

Smells like tech spirit – Artificial Intelligence may be on its way to becoming the buzziest buzz-term in the buzzword laden history of the buzz-o-sphere.  No prior trend has engendered the societal debate that AI has sparked.  Scientistsbillionairespoliticianspoetspriestsbutchersbakers and candlestick makers have all gotten into the game.  Ok, the candlestick maker reference was hogwash but give that industry time … something will come up.  Everybody has an opinion and the opinions are “all over the map”.  Artificial intelligence will either be the recreation of Eden on Earth (without the troublesome snakes and apples) or the kind of zombie apocalypse that gives zombies nightmares.  Either way. it seems clear that AI will have a profound effect on how we live, work and play in Virginia.

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”   Concerns about computers getting too big for their britches go back a long way.  Generation after generation had their fears of computer overlords generally mucking things up.  The average American Baby Boomer first learned the perils of artificial intelligence in 1968 from HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame.  Thirty three years later everybody laughed when 2001 came and went without any psychotic computers in evidence (give or take the Apple Newton).  But here we are 17 years later and there are some very serious people with some very serious concerns.  Why did concerns about AI go from the realm of entertainment to a serious debate about the start of nirvana vs the end of mankind?

The winter of their discontent.  AI has gone through a series of boom and bust cycles over the decades from the hype of the 1970s and 80s to the last of the so-called AI winters from about 1990 through 2011.  In some ways the public’s fascination with AI elevated the highs and made the lows all that much lower.  In 1981 Japan’s MITI funded the Fifth Generation Computer Systems project with $850M.  The ambitious program would build a new generation of computers designed for AI along with the AI software needed to make the dream come true.  An impressive list of goals was drawn up.  Ten years later the goals had not been met.  Twenty, even thirty years later many of the goals from 1981 were still elusive.  Then, in 2011, came one of those bizarre occurrences that sort of change everything.

Your answer must be in the form of a question.  In January 2011 IBM’s AI platform, named Watson, played Jeopardy! against the two best human Jeopardy! players in history and beat them soundly.  The AI winter was over.  In reality, AI research had been going on at IBM and elsewhere during the so-called AI winter but the Jeopardy! contest reawakened the public’s fascination with AI.  AI research was often called something other than AI during the AI winter because of the stigma AI had developed.  Kind of like the way liberals now call themselves progressives.  There were neural networks, expert systems, knowledge engineering, etc.  However, it was AI.  The Watson Jeopardy! match put AI back in the public’s imagination and it’s been “off to the races” ever since.

The Last Question.  Google followed IBM with a more impressive AI demonstration.  In 2016, using its Deep Mind AI platform, Google defeated the reigning human Go master.  Go is a 3,000 year old Chinese board game that has been notoriously hard for AI platforms to successfully play due to the mind-boggling number of possible moves.  These advances, and many more, explain why the debate over AI and the future of mankind has reached such a fever pitch.  It appears that this time … AI is finally real.

Come out Virginia.  Don’t let ’em wait.  You backward states start much too late.  Ok, apologies to Billy Joel but Virginia has a long history of denying the present and ignoring the future.  In a world where Russian bots already stand accused of meddling in American elections Virginia needs a frank discussion regarding the escalating capabilities of automation and AI.  Will bots affect the 2019 Virginia elections?  How will automation impact Virginia’s economy?  Was it coincidence that Steve Haner’s by-line started appearing on BaconsRebellion about the same time that AI-powered bots began posting on social media?

— Don Rippert

Saul Trumpinsky – Donald Trump and Saul Alinsky

Yes Virginia, there is a United States. Most posts published on this blog are dedicated to Virginia-specific issues. This post is an exception. It is an attempt to understand the unexpected popularity of Donald Trump. While all states are impacted by the federal government and national politics, Virginia is perhaps the most affected state. The proximity of Northern Virginia to the nation’s capital as well as the military influence over Hampton Roads’ economy make the federal government particularly important to Virginia. So it behooves us to understand the president and how the heck he got elected.

Saul who? Saul Alinsky was a Chicago-born community organizer and writer. He was best known for his book Rules for Radicals published in 1971. Even before his famous (or infamous) book Alinsky was on the political radar. In 1966 William F. Buckley wrote an article in his “On the Right” column calling Alinsky an iconoclast and “close to being an organizational genius.” However, as would be the case with many critics on the left and right, Buckley ultimately found Alinsky’s approach ineffective. Famously, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate thesis was a 92-page critique of Mr. Alinsky and his methods. Back in 1969, 22-year-old Clinton was sympathetic to Alinsky’s concerns but ultimately found his approach ineffective. Even Hoover’s FBI kept a close eye on Alinsky during the late 1960s. But the 1960s came and went and Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was written and discussed, and then faded from view. There were momentary flare-ups around Hillary Clinton becoming First Lady and Barack Obama becoming president. However, Alinsky was largely relegated to those creaky crevices of the cultural cranium as a curious cartoon-like character. Or … was he?

Donald Trump and the resurrection of Saul Alinsky. As far back as early 2016 the right wing-media outlet Newsmax began to see parallels between Donald Trump’s approach as a candidate and Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. After being elected some of President Trump’s conservative critics continued to associate Trump’s actions with the Alinsky brand. Could it be? Could this odd collection of #neverTrumpers have unraveled the secret to Donald Trump’s inexplicable election success? Is he simply following Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals? Repeated searches of Trumpian philosophy found no fond commentary by The Donald for The Saul. However, there are many points of commonality between Trump and Alinsky.

A baker’s dozen.  Alinsky outlines 13 specific rules in his book. Donald Trump is following 12 of them. To wit (along with the Trump translation or Trumplation):

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” (Trumplation: constant exaggeration.)
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” (Trumplation: Make America Great Again. A simple, understandable motto.)
  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.” (Trumplation: Canada’s 243% tariff on U.S. dairy products … who knew?)
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” (Trumplation: Slam Hillary Clinton for taking millions for giving speeches to banks.)
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” (Trumplation: Crooked Hillary, Corrupt Kaine.)
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” (Trumplation: campaign speeches that look like revival meetings, “deplorables” as a badge of honor.”)
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Trumplation: (Whatever happened to the NFL kneeling “controversy”?)
  8. “Keep the pressure on.” (Trumplation: From North Korea to the EU to London to Helsinki backed by an unending chorus of tweets.)
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”  (Trumplation: Nominate me or I’ll go third party.)
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”  (Trumplation: One Donald Trump tweeting, many Democrats attempting to rebut.)
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside” (Trumplation: Forget my business deals, look at Crooked Hillary, Crooked Hillary, Crooked Hillary …)
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”  (Trumplation: The only rule he seems to have missed although GDP growth through corporate tax cuts might be an example.)
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”  (Trumplation: target individuals not institutions – Carmen Yulin Cruz, Stephen Colbert, Megyn Kelly.)

Advise to President Trump. Read Hillary’s thesis. She did get an “A”. Alinsky’s tactics work well at first but fail to create a lasting unity among their adherents. They generate notoriety at a rapid rate but the momentum doesn’t last. Charles “the Hammer” Martel may have defeated the Moors at Tours but it was his grandson King Charles (aka Charlemagne or “Charles the Great”) who forged an empire. Hammers are forgotten while greatness is not. Hammer time is over. What’s next Mr. President? You’ve taken the rules for radicals as far as they will go. It’s time to start writing “lessons for leaders.”

— Don Rippert

“Pterodactyl Tim” Kaine Watch: Lying about SCOTUS Nominee

The Age of Innocence.  Tim Kaine was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, but grew up in Overland Park, Kansas. All that folksy Midwestern-ness seemed to imbue Kaine with a decency and honesty that people noticed. One imagines a young man so innocent and naive that he would sneak behind the barn and do nothing. Kaine even interrupted his studies at Harvard Law to help Jesuit missionaries in Honduras run the prophetically named El Progresso School.

Once upon a time in Virginia. Tim Kaine entered politics the old fashioned way – he married into it. While at Harvard, Kaine met his future wife, the daughter of former Virginia governor Linwood Holton. From there Kaine’s political career proceeded rapidly. 1994 – Richmond City Council, 1998 – Mayor of Richmond, 2001 – Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, 2005 – Governor of Virginia. Through all of those Virginia-based positions Kaine was seen as diligent and likable, even by those who disagreed with his leftist views.

Creature from the black lagoon. Kaine’s journey to the dark side began when he became the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2009. He was no longer operating within the corrupt-but-friendly confines of the bourbon-and-branch water set in Richmond. Now he was dealing with the mentally deranged, venomous reptiles-from-hell in the D.C. swamp. He went from Timmy the Sweet to the Lizard of Oz. His election as U.S. Senator from Virginia in 2013 may have pulled him from the deepest cesspool of Washington’s primordial ooze but he was about to make a move that would cement his position as a central character from the original Star Wars cantina scene.

When you lie down with dogs … …you get up with fleas. In the case of being Hillary Clinton’s running mate – bionic, radioactive killer fleas that infect their host dog with an overwhelming addiction to misrepresentation, deceit and outright lying. Pterodactyl Timmy was hatched in the nest of the high-flying reptiles of the Clinton crime family.

No such Gorsuch. After conversion to the reptilian class Kaine unleashed one of his most outlandish lies. Aiming his beady lizard gaze at then-Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch Kaine claimed on Twitter that,

He has cavalierly referred to contraceptive use – a constitutionally protected right for 50+ yrs – as ‘the wrongdoing of others.’

Kaine’s quote refers to an opinion then Judge Gorsuch wrote in the famous (or infamous) Hobby Lobby case. He was trying to describe how the owners of the Hobby Lobby company felt about contraceptives. In no way, shape or form could anybody have interpreted Gorsuch’s words as being his own opinion of contraceptives. You can find Judge Gorsuch’s opinion here. You can read Mark Hemmingway’s take on the incident here. In true swamp-dweller fashion Kaine hoped that by telling the big lie he could perhaps sideswipe Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. In this case it turned out Kaine’s dishonesty was exceeded only by his incompetence. Neil Gorsuch is now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

General orders. Kaine could have simply apologized, perhaps claiming that Twitter was a poorly chosen vehicle for expressing that opinion. But he didn’t. Instead, he wrote a six-page explanation with a 1,000 word summary of how his lie was actually unvarnished truth. Kaine could have saved himself some time by studying General George Washington. It was he who said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Unfortunately, Pterodactyl Timmy couldn’t find that quote in his bag of carpet. His bad excuse fell on deaf ears. Ramesh Ponnuru over at Bloomberg was having none of it.

Here we go again. On Monday President Trump will put forth his nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Will the high-flying reptile of the D.C. swamp (Pterodactyl Timmy) be able to refrain from further lies about this nominee? Let’s hope so. The last three former governors of Virginia have been Pterodactyl Timmy, Rolex Bob and Terry McCronyCapitalism (whatever happened to that golf cart company, anyway?).  We’re getting a bad reputation.

— Don Rippert

Now The House of Delegates Map Must Change

VPAP map showing 11 districts rejected by the court this week, and others likely to change along with them. An interactive version is linked.

The predominant consideration in a legislator’s mind in any effort to draw legislative districts is first, will I get re-elected and second, will enough of my friends get elected or re-elected so we can form a gang and control this place?  The third consideration is can we get this plan signed by the governor and (in Virginia) get it approved by the federal guardians of the Voting Rights Act?

Compactness, contiguity, community of interest – a strong stand in favor of those works well in campaign speeches. Close the doors and turn on the mapping software, however, and they’re back to numbers one, two and three. The third consideration, federal approval, may now leap to number one.

No piece of legislation has been more important to the rise of the Republican Party in the Old South than the Voting Rights Act, because with the creation of every “minority-majority district” the surrounding districts also change demographically. The South’s (and not just the South, by the way) racist efforts to suppress African-American registration and to draw districts that cracked, stacked and packed them to further dilute their political power brought a just and powerful retribution. The impact on black representation was strong and immediate, but so were the corollary benefits for Republicans.

In 1991 the Republicans were the minority in the Virginia House and were victims of a gerrymander. The only effective challenge put up was a GOP complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice involving the House seat then held by the late C. Hardaway Marks of Hopewell, parts of which could have been used to create a new minority-majority district next door. It was so ordered and Marks’ seat went red.

The 1991 plans on both sides created substantially more black majority districts and were the first legislative plans to maximize Section 5 compliance as then interpreted. Within a decade the GOP controlled both chambers. There were many reasons but the Voting Rights Act played a role.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Judicial interpretation of Section 5 of that federal law is changing. A couple of years ago a federal court redrew Virginia’s congressional seats, effectively replacing Republican Randy Forbes with Democrat Donald McEachin. Now comes a 2-1 U.S. District Court ruling that as many as 33 of 100 House of Delegates seats need to be redrafted because the Republican mapmakers used a fixed 55 percent minimum for the black voting age population (BVAP) in 11 specific districts held by Democrats. The one-seat GOP majority in the House is now even more tenuous. (VPAP has done a marvelous map and the interactive version is here.)

The opinion and the dissent run to 188 pages, but the parts of the majority decision I read boil down to these sentences: “The state has sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin” and speaking of the consultant used by the GOP: “Insofar as he sought to obtain partisan political advantage by splitting (precincts) in particular ways, he did so by relying on race as a proxy for political preference.”

Given the black voting patterns these days, which may be even more set in stone now than 40 years ago, it is hard not to see that as proxy. What has changed in 40 years is white voting patterns.

Since the initial passage of the Voting Rights Act, Virginia has elected one African-American governor, has twice elected an African-American lieutenant governor, and has twice voted for an African-American for president. The justification for the Voting Rights Act Section 5 requirements in the first place was a strong pattern of racial voting among white voters, strong enough that no black candidate stood a chance unless the district was tailored for his or her success. That is not today’s Virginia.

The ground was already shaky under that foundation by 1991, with Governor Douglas Wilder on the Third Floor and then-state Senator Bobby Scott of Newport News winning in a 65 percent white district. Neither Scott nor Wilder passed on the chance to demand 1991 plans with more minority-majority districts, however, and Republicans in the Senate cooperated with that desire and negotiated a map equally beneficial to them.

Reading the new district court majority opinion, the presumption that African-American candidates need that demographic boost still binds the action of the legislature, and the plan adopted certainly provided it. The problem was uniform reliance on that 55 percent minimum target, which was chosen after careful analysis of the voting patterns in just one legislative district – the rural Southside district held by Del. Roslyn Tyler of Jarrett.

The court accepted the arguments of the plaintiffs that every district needed its own analysis, and many could produce a district open to a black candidate winning with far less than a 55 percent BVAP. It noted that the Tyler district’s results were skewed by the presence of large non-voting prison populations, and by the fiercest pattern in the state of racial pattern voting by its white citizens.  The mandate to the General Assembly is go back and reevaluate all 11 other districts individually, change their lines and those of surrounding districts, and get it done by Halloween.

What wonderful timing for Democrats defending their U.S. Senate seat against a GOP challenger who might have interesting comments to make on the role of federal courts and the wisdom of the Voting Rights Act. That mandate and deadline will be appealed but now that is complicated by the coming period of a 4-4 Supreme Court until a new justice is approved and sworn.

Odds are very good this ruling will stand and the General Assembly will have a new House map for the 2019 election containing several Republican-held districts with higher numbers of African-American voters. Permissible “proxy” or not, the partisan impact is predictable.