Category Archives: Elections

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.

Will the Real Corey Stewart Please Stand Up?

Minnesota Confederate? Corey Stewart was born in Duluth, Minnesota. He grew up in Minnesota attending St. Olaf College before transferring to Georgetown University to finish his BS degree. He then went back to Minnesota to attend law school before moving permanently to Northern Virginia. So it comes as something of a surprise that this transplanted Minnesotan has such a taste for the Confederate flag. Corey Stewart is a hard man to categorize.

Take my wife, please. Corey Stewart was first elected to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in 2003 at the relatively young age of 35. Three years later he became the Chairman of the PWC BoS, a position he still holds. His initial notoriety came from the aggressive anti-illegal immigrant posture taken by the entire PWC BoS starting in 2007. The board allowed county police to check the immigration status of anyone, even if the person in question was not suspected of any wrongdoing. The board then cut off all county aid to illegal immigrants. While some say Stewart is anti-immigrant, there is apparently one immigrant that Stewart likes – his wife Maria. Maria is from Sweden and met Corey while they were both teaching English in Japan. Why am I suddenly hearing Chuck Berry lyrics in my head … “I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France”?

If at first you don’t succeed. Stewart is a fixture as Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. He’s won four elections to that post getting 57% of the vote in the last of these elections (2015). However, he failed to get the Republican nomination for Lt Governor in 2013, was fired by the Trump Campaign from his post of Virginia campaign manager in 2016 and failed to get the Republican nomination for Governor in 2017. Today, he has won the Republican nomination for US Senate and is running against Tim Kaine. Stewart is widely expected to lose.

Unusual behavior. During his run for Governor Stewart gave away an AR-15 for Christmas. When asked why he was giving away an AR-15, Stewart said that he just couldn’t find a man portable mini-gun to give away. Actually he never said that. However, he did claim in a March, 2018 tweet that that you’re more likely to be killed by Hillary Clinton than an AR-15. During 2017 he used his position on the PWC BoS to support the construction of a mosque in the so-called Rural Crescent area of Prince William County. He was singled out for thanks by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS).  He also faced a recall petition for supporting the Mosque. After losing the Governor’s primary to Ed Gillespie Stewart took to Reddit to call Gillespie a “cuckservative” but then went on to support Gillespie’s campaign.

A hard man to summarize. Stewart is the Minnesota Confederate who supposedly hates immigrants but is married to one. He pushes anti-illegal immigrant laws while supporting the construction of a mosque at risk to his own political career. He can’t lose as BoS Chairman but can’t win much of anything else. He gratuitously insults opponents from his own party and then endorses them for office. He pals around with ultra-right winger Paul Nehlen and then repudiates him after finding out that Nehlen issued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic tweets in 2016.

Conclusion? I have no conclusion. Corey Stewart is a paradox shrouded in inconsistency while wearing dichotomy’s clothes. I’ll wait for this election to play out a bit more before making a final judgement on Corey Stewart. However, if I were a hashtag artist today I’d have to consider #loon, #sloppy, #impulse_control_issues. But I don’t buy #racist.

— Don Rippert

Comstock Supports the Tax Cuts. Do her Democratic Foes?

Alfredo Ortiz

by Alfredo Ortiz

Democrats have put Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, represented by Republican Barbara Comstock, in their crosshairs in their attempt to take back the House of Representatives on Election Day in November.

Seven opportunistic Democratic challengers have entered the race so far, recognizing their chance to represent this historic swing district that favored Hillary Clinton by ten percentage points in 2016, and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam by a similar margin in 2017. Politico has named this race one of the top-10 to watch on Election Day.

Last October, Public Policy Polling found Rep. Comstock trailing a generic Democrat opponent by nine points, with a favorability rating of just 32 percent. “She’s a clear underdog,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, the day after the election last year.

But a lot has changed since then. Most notably, Congressional Republicans, including Comstock, passed historic tax cuts over the opposition of every Congressional Democrat. Virginia 10 voters deserve to know whether Comstock’s Democratic challengers would carry out national Democratic leaders’ promise and vote to repeal these tax cuts if they are victorious.

The answer to this question is especially important in Virginia’s 10th District because tax cuts have disproportionately helped its residents. The median income in the counties that make up the district are among the highest in the nation at over $120,000, meaning the median constituent is taking home thousands of dollars more each year as a result of less federal tax withholding.

Virginia’s 10th has also significantly benefited from the trend of hundreds of major national employers directing billions of dollars to millions of employees because of their tax cut savings. For instance, Capital One Bank, one of Virginia’s biggest employers whose headquarters are located in the 10th District, used its tax cut savings to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. And Walmart, the state’s largest employer, raised its base wage to $11 and gave its employees significant bonuses because of the tax cut.

Verizon and BB&T, the third and fifth largest employers in Northern Virginia, respectively, are also rewarding their employees with share payouts or $1,200 bonuses. And other major state employers including Bank of America, The Home Depot, AT&T, Starbucks, and Comcast are giving their employees up to $1,000 bonuses because of the tax cuts Rep. Comstock helped pass. These are the same tax cuts that  congressional Democrats called “theApocalypse,” “the worst bill in the history of the United States Congress,” “a heist,” and “highway robbery.”

Despite this vast evidence demonstrating that tax cuts have been a major success in allowing ordinary Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money, leading Democrats are doubling-down on their opposition and promising to repeal them if they retake Congress. Pelosi has called for “replace and repeal.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer has called for “a drastic overhaul.” Such moves would raise taxes on ordinary residents of Virginia’s 10th District and tens of million Americans across the country.

Democrats’ unwillingness to admit they made a mistake by opposing tax cuts has coincided with their House of Representatives polling advantage being cut in half. Democratic challengers in Virginia’s 10th District haven’t been clear about whether they would repeal the tax cuts if they win in November. Voters must demand to know where they stand on this issue given the implications for their paychecks. The answers might make the the difference between Democrats hitting their target or not.

Alfredo Ortiz is president and CEO of the Job Creators Network.

Sorry, Donald, But Virginia’s Vote Was a Repudiation of You

Clean sweep for Virginia Democrats yesterday.

Donald Trump may be the only person in the world who didn’t interpret the landslide results of Virginia’s election yesterday as a repudiation of him and his policies. “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” the president tweeted in response to election returns showing that Democrats swept the races for statewide office and made spectacular gains in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates.

But according to exit polls cited in Politico, half of Virginia voters said that expressing approval or disapproval of Trump factored into their vote. Thirty-four percent voted to oppose him compared to 17% who voted to support him. Governor-elect Ralph Northam ran especially well among a key swing group, white women with a college degree, winning the demographic by a 16-point margin, 58% to 42%. Hillary Clinton won it by only 6 points in the presidential election last year.

The statistics back up observations from my social milieu in western Henrico County. My Democratic friends were enraged by Trump’s election, whom they never imagined would actually win in 2016, and they mobilized to support the “resistance,” joining marches, contributing money, and soliciting candidates to run in local races. The level of intensity, formidable after Trump’s election, was reinforced by the backlash against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. By contrast, my suburban Republican friends were apologetic, defensive, and dispirited by Trump.

Trump has said that an improving economy will dampen the electoral wildfires, and it might. The respite from eight years of Obama-era over-regulation seem to be giving the economy a little extra oomph. However, in my observation the anti-Trump furies are not close to burning themselves out. Virginia’s election results likely foreshadow a Democratic wave in the national elections next year.

Trump did not factor into my vote. The election was for state and local offices, not a referendum on the president. But then, I’m pretty clearly out of sync with majority opinion in Virginia.

Roanoke, Shenandoah Valley, Southwest, and the 23229 Zip Code Keeping Gillespie in the Race

Graphic credit: Virginia Public Access Project

According to Virginia Public Access Project data, Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam has raised 50% more money than Republican Ed Gillespie — and almost 30 times more than Libertarian Cliff Hyra. The map above shows the distribution of in-state dollars by region. (Drill down by region and you can see the contribution count broken down by zip code.) The in-state contributions are a better reflection of Virginia voter sentiment than money totals that include out-of-state dough.

As is readily visible from the map, the east-west divide is pronounced. The Roanoke region, Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley lean to Gillespie. The rest of the state leans to Northam. Look at the data by zip code, though, and the picture is less uniform. Here’s a map of the Richmond region.

I was surprised to see how dominant Northam is in the Richmond region, which has a reputation — decreasingly deserved with each election — of leaning Republican and conservative. But the map is somewhat deceptive. I checked out my zip code, 23229 (seen in the yellow circle), in western Henrico County. Not only is 23229 one of the biggest-donating zips in the state, it leans to Gillespie by a nine-to-one margin.

Inhabitants of my zip chipped in $1,260,000 to the Gillespie campaign, versus $125,000 for Northam. That’s one-quarter of Gillespie’s entire in-state campaign take — and more than that vast swath of red west of the Blue Ridge. Remarkably, as far as I know, Gillespie has never visited the district (unless he appeared at discrete fund-raisers in private homes). He’d be well advised to come and shake that money tree as hard as he can.

Update: And how many votes will these campaign expenditures buy? Well, it depends on how much the campaigns devote to advertising. And the effect of advertising is just about zero. Literally, zero. From am upcoming publication in the American Political Science Review by Joshua L. Kalla and David E. Broockman. “We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero. … A systematic meta-analysis of 40 field experiments estimates an average effect of zero in general elections.”

Virginia Voters on Trump and Statues

A problem for Gillespie

Go figure. Virginia voters give president Trump low approval ratings, yet a majority favors leaving Civil War statues in place — a policy that Trump has vocally and publicly endorsed.

Trump’s approval rating among likely Virginia voters stands at 35%, according to a survey by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released today. Antipathy toward the president is almost unanimous (96%) among Democrats. Republicans are ambivalent, with 75% approving of the president’s job and 16% disapproving.

A problem for Ralph Northam

Conversely, 54% of voters say they oppose removing Civil War statues from public spaces, while 36% support removal. Republican candidate for governor Ed Gillespie says he favors keeping the statues while adding historical context, while Democratic candidate Ralph Northam says he prefers moving the statues to museums.

In divining the impact of Trump and the statue controversy on the gubernatorial race, Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd observed in a press release, “Gillespie appears to have a Donald Trump problem, but Northam may have a Robert E. Lee problem.”

Forty-seven percent of voters favor Northam, compared to 41% who prefer Gillespie and 4% who stand with Libertarian Party candidate Cliff Hyra.

More Choices this Election — in a Two-Party Duopoly Kind of Way


Fired up by Donald Trump, Virginia Democrats aren’t just proclaiming themselves the “Resistance,” they are running one of the biggest slates of House of Delegates candidates of recent years.

The graphic above, taken from the Virginia Public Access Project, indicates that two-thirds of the House seats are being contested by either a major party candidate or “other” candidates (independents and Libertarians, for the most part).

What’s not clear from this snapshot is how many of these races are truly competitive. All “other” candidates are a long shots, and even some of the major-party nominees  in gerrymandered districts are running kamikaze missions.

I’m heartened to see the heightened interest in state-level politics, but I’m concerned by the dearth of outsiders running for office. In this time of dissatisfaction and unrest, the two-party duopoly still has a stranglehold over the political process. Nothing much will change in an election that whittles down the Republican majority in the House by five or six seats. But just imagine the new political dynamic if five or six independents (preferably of a libertarian persuasion) won election.

Virginia’s political system is poised for an upheaval. As it stands, Virginians have a choice between economically liberal, socially liberal Democrats and economically conservative and socially conservative Republicans. Yet a majority of the electorate, I would argue, is libertarian — economically conservative and socially liberal. (That’s an oversimplification, but it holds true as a generality.)

Bottom line: It’s a good thing that Virginians will have more choices at the ballot box this year. But the range of choices is limited. Political competition is not nearly as robust as it needs to be.

Hyra’s Ideas on Taxes Deserve a Wide Hearing

Cliff Hyra in campaign mode. Photo credit: Richmond Magazine

I’m glad to see that the Richmond Times-Dispatch actually gave some ink to the official campaign launch of Libertarian Party nominee Cliff Hyra. As far as I can tell from my perusal of the Virginia Public Access Project’s daily VaNews digest, the T-D was the only major newspaper to do so.

(However, Richmond Magazine did publish an interview with Hyra here, and Bearing Drift covered his campaign announcement here.)

Hyra’s predecessor, Robert Sarvis, won 6.5% of the vote running against Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. While the Libertarian Party is not threatening to win a statewide office any time soon, its candidates do bring fresh perspectives to otherwise stale debates.

Hyra, a 34-year-old patent attorney residing in a suburb north of Richmond, could liven up the campaign. His big themes are innovation and inclusion. He advocates a cut in the state income tax, legalization of marijuana, pardons for prison inmates convicted for drug offenses, more charter schools, and elimination of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need restrictions on healthcare facilities. 

That’s certainly not a package of proposals you’re likely to see from anyone in either the Republican or Democratic parties.

Hyra’s tax proposal differs from Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s by spreading the benefits more widely among taxpayers. Where Gillespie would cut existing tax brackets 10% across the board, conferring the biggest benefits upon higher-income taxpayers in higher tax brackets, Hyra would raise household exemptions up to $60,000. All taxpayers would benefit, but working class and middle-income citizens would enjoy a bigger break as a percentage of income than the well-to-do.

Unlike some Libertarian candidates, Hyra has concrete ideas on how to pay for the tax cuts — and they don’t require any hocus-pocus assumptions that cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to pay for themselves. He proposes dusting off the recommendations of the 2002 Wilder Commission, proposed during the Warner administration, to see if some never-implemented ideas might be resurrected. Specifically, he would look to see if the state’s real estate portfolio could be administered at lower cost, and if excess property could be sold.

Hyra proposes to save more money through reforms to the criminal justice system — fewer inmates might allow the state to close a prison. Also — I offer this free advice — he could consider rolling back tax breaks, exemptions and deductions in the state income tax code, which usually go to the well-heeled, to pay for his tax break. Hyra’s idea could accomplish the seemingly impossible: cut taxes, make the tax code more progressive, yet not stick it to the rich.

Hyra’s ideas on taxes probably could use some polishing. But his proposal certainly is credible enough to deserves airing in the campaign. I would love to see Hyra and Gillespie go one-on-one on how best to structure tax cuts and pay for them. Perhaps Democrat Ralph Northam could chime in on why tax cuts are not a good idea at all. Citizens would benefit from a more vigorous discussion of the issues facing Virginia.

I hope the media treat Hyra as more than a curiosity, and I hope he fares well enough in the opinion polls to warrant inclusion in the major candidate debates. That would make the debates worth watching!

Update: Bart Hinkle, the Times-Dispatch libertarian editorial page editor, writes favorably about Hyra here.

Your Money Ain’t No Good Here, Dems Tell Utilities

Antipathy toward Virginia’s electric power companies is entering the realm of electoral politics. More than 50 Democratic candidates running for the Virginia House of Delegates have signed a pledge saying that they will “never” accept campaign contributions from Dominion Virginia Power or Appalachian Power, reports Graham Moomaw with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The pledge was circulated by Activate Virginia, a progressive Political Action Committee dedicated to electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, calling for a “principled stand” against the fossil-fuel industry to prevent “environmental catastrophe,” Moomaw writes. Activate Virginia did not circulate the petition to House of Delegates incumbents, most of who have already accepted campaign contributions from electric utilities.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Dominion has donated $767,000 to political candidates in 2016-2017, while Appalachian Power has contributed $278,000.

The Activate Virginia initiative threatens to drive a wedge in the Democratic Party between those who place environmental priorities foremost and those who seek a balance between environmental and economic-development considerations. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, viewed as the establishment Democratic candidate, has accepted Dominion money. Rival Tom Perriello has called upon him to reject further donations, saying that Virginia’s next governor “must aggressively promote clean, renewable energy.”

Although Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart has been highly critical of Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to dispose of coal ash, Dominion and Apco are less toxic to Republican sensibilities. Cutting CO2 emissions isn’t a priority for Republicans, who tend to be skeptical of the idea that global warming presents a crisis for human health and prosperity.

A confluence of factors has caused the surge in anti-utility sentiment.

First is a shift in fuel mix from coal to other energy sources that has prompted utilities to re-engineer their electric transmission systems and natural gas delivery systems. The result has been a wave of major new or upgraded infrastructure projects, both electric transmission lines and natural gas pipelines, which are visually intrusive and potentially environmentally disruptive.

Second is the relatively slow pace in Virginia of adopting renewable energy, especially solar. Under the current regulatory structure, Dominion and Apco have no incentive to cooperate with independent companies seeking to build solar projects and sell electricity directly to consumers. Instead of seeking regulatory reforms to alter the incentives — a formidable undertaking — environmentalists have taken to attacking Dominion and Apco for pursuing their self interest.

Third is the unexpected emergence of coal ash disposal as a major environmental issue. No one anticipated this two years ago when the Environmental Protection Agency enacted regulations to close coal ash pits in order to prevent spills into public waterways. The debate over how best to dispose of the ash — whether to bury in place or to convey millions of tons to lined landfills — has become enormously contentious.

Fourth is a regulatory freeze in base electric rates, negotiated in a legislative deal two years ago in response to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The Trump administration likely will seek to scuttle the plan, which would render the need for a rate freeze moot. Critics contend that the freeze has allowed Dominion and Apco to lock hundreds of millions of dollars of excess profits in place; the utilities deny the charges.

Because these conflicts are complex and deep-rooted with no easy resolution, they will persist for years. Indeed, multi-billion dollar decisions over the future of nuclear power in Virginia could add a new element to the debate. Popular agitation over electric-utility policies could well intensify, and utility campaign contributions, now dispensed without regard to political party, could well become a partisan litmus test.