Category Archives: Gay rights

Cantor’s Brat Problem

BratBy Peter Galuszka

The jockeying for power among Virginia conservatives is certainly curious if not frightening. It seems the diminished Tea Party is trying to make a comeback and relive its heyday of 2010 at the expense of moderates.

I personally hope they don’t because the movement brings up far too much hateful baggage of xenophobia, racism and mindless cost cutting while posturing as true-blue Americans. The more they do this, the more they conjure up some unsavory memories in American history such as the Know-Nothings or the Ku Klux Klan.

The flash point seems to be David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph Macon College in Ashland. Brat is trying to give House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a run for his money, which in itself, is not a bad thing.

Cantor has long been the tool of the white Richmond area elite. He used to be solidly Main Street although he did try to jump ahead of the Tea Party parade in 2009 and 2010 and it seemed very awkward. By conservative standards, Cantor is much more of a moderate than one might expect. The Heritage Action for America rates Cantor at 52 percent for conservative voting. Robert Goodlatte gets a whopping 75 percent Mark Warner (good for him) only 2 percent.

This is where it gets weird. Brat complains that Cantor isn’t conservative enough or tough enough on undocumented workers and the like. Cantor fires back with over-the-top ads claiming that Brat is a closet liberal for having worked on a bi-partisan economics group for Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

Meanwhile, reliable GOP operative Linwood Cobb gets ousted by Tea Party firebrand Fred Gruber as head of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee.Cantor’s 7th District stretches from the booming, mostly white suburbs of Henrico County to rural, sleepy farmlands into Madison. There’s plenty of Main Street and Tea Party to spare in the district.

According to The Washington Post, the fringe conservatives in the GOP are angry that moderate Republicans are going forth with more sensible policies than sticking it to the innocent children of undocumented workers and trying to turn the clock backwards to ban same-sex marriage.

That just ain’t going to happen with lawsuits popping up all over the place and court rulings overturning. Eleven state and federal courts have ruled in favor of ending same-sex marriage bans, including Virginia. In fact, the Old Dominion’s case was heard at the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this week and it, another or all will end up at the Supreme Court at some point. The momentum is clearly towards allowing same-sex marriage.

Brat has said he wants to return power from the federal level to the states, but if it means facilitating discriminating marriage bans I hope he fails.

It will be fascinating watching this all play out. The Tea Party rode a wave of bitter frustration resulting from the Great Recession that cut across both parties. It hit upon a mixed, mash-up of themes involving populism, raw Americanism, anti-Obamaism, and so on. It has been, by turns, a reaction to the tremendous inequality imbalance and pure racism. In other words, it’s part of many unrelated and sometimes unsavory themes. I went to some Tea Party meetings and found some bright folks and also people I thought should be locked up as border-line dangerous.

What seems to be lacking now is any intelligent policy planning for the slowly growing economy. While the feds have bailed out failing banks, there’s little help for the average borrower who needs help. Thus, they are forced or choose to hang on to cash and spending is anemic.

If Brat is supposed to be an economist, one would assume he might understand these things. I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Virginia’s system of state and federal electoral districts is rigged so that a tiny minority of outspoken crackpots gets to be kingmaker. This is not likely to happen with Cantor during this June’s GOP primary but it a scary and real possibility.

And it is yet another reason why the Democrats like Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring are increasingly turning to or are considering turning to independent or executive actions (not supporting the same-sex ban, stripping back McDonnell-Cuccinelli-era regulation of abortion clinics, possibly expanding Medicaid by order).

The Brats and the Cantors have done plenty to destroy bipartisanship. The state and the nation face far more serious challenges than letting gays get married or putting the screws to a hard-working, tax-paying worker who happens to be undocumented because he or she was brought to this country at age four.

On the Road Again…

For a guy who doesn’t travel much, I’m doing a lot of travel recently. I’ll be on the road again and posting irregularly, if at all, for a week.

But, first, one more post for the road… Who knew that Richmond, Va., had a gay publication? Not stodgy, old-fogy me living in the ‘burbs. But it does, GayRVA.com. Earlier this week, Editor-in-Chief Brad Kutner interviewed three conservative/Republican pundits about their reaction to a decision by the Nevada Republican Party convention to drop opposition to same-sex marriage from its platform. I was one of the three, even though I don’t formally identify myself as a Republican.

Charlottesville blogger Rick Sincere and Times-Dispatch editorial page editor Robin Beres had more to say than I did (probably for good reason, for gay rights is not a subject I spend a lot of time thinking about). Bottom line: None of the three predicted that the Republican Party of Virginia would join the Nevada GOP any time soon but it’s pretty clear that attitudes are changing, even on the right side of the political spectrum.

Virginia’s Philosophical Crossroads

Judge-Arenda-Wright-Allen-Virginia

Judge Arenda Wright Allen

Standing before a trim, white, clapboard house off Lafayette Boulevard in Norfolk last week, friends and supporters of gay rights cheered loudly as two same sex couples approached a front-yard podium to celebrate their legal victory in having Virginia’s gay marriage ban overturned.

The night before, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, citing Abraham Lincoln and the unfairness of the state’s previous ban on interracial marriage, had declared Virginia’s ban unconstitutional.

It had been supported by the state’s conservatives and also by 57 percent of voters who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 declaring marriage as only for men and women. Popular opinion, however, appears to have shifted

It was an historic moment on a par with federal courts overturning racial segregation and other blunt violations of human rights. Seventeen states now allow gay marriage and a host of lawsuits tend to push overturning bans. Virginia is the first Southern state to do so.

Immediately, hard-right politicians such as Prince William County’s Bob Marshall called for the judge’s impeachment just as some demanded the ouster of the new state Attorney General, Mark Herring, for, correctly, refusing to defend the marriage ban.

The situation represents a huge shift in philosophy for the state. For years, Virginia has been dominated by conservative thinking that is enormously contradictory.

As Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro points out this morning, the tension is between promoting limited government and individual freedom in some areas (little regulation of business and politicians) and badly suppressing individual rights in cases such as marriage and abortion.

Just as history was being made in Norfolk federal court, the General Assembly was putting the finishing touches on useless new rules that do next to nothing to police Virginia’s incredibly lax governance of gift giving and political donations.

This comes after the state’s reputation was badly stained by the first-ever indictment of a former governor (Robert F. McDonnell) on federal corruption charges. So much for “the Virginia way” that touts Thomas Jefferson and the entire cadre for freedom.

I have always been frustrated by the state’s bi-polar attitudes about individual rights. Not a Virginian by birth, I was glad to leave the state in 1983 after reporting from it for about eight years. I was sick and tired of its genuflecting before big business on environment and labor issues. Little-regulated Big Business, after all, had given Virginians such presents the Kepone ecological disaster.

Years later, I was passing through Virginia from New York driving from New York to visit my parents in North Carolina. We stopped at a Denny’s and were told by a waitress that we could not order our cheeseburgers medium rare because that’s what the legislature had ruled. More recently, I ended up shelling out a few hundred bucks because my daughter needed new contact lenses and state rules require unneeded yearly optical exams. Apparently that’s due to lobbying by the state eye-care industry.

The philosophical contradictions are finally catching up. Even though proponents of gay rights at the Norfolk press conference made a big deal about Virginia being the first “southern” state to confront ending the gay marriage ban, I am not so sure the state is really “Southern” any more. Continue reading

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

It’s sad to see mccrorytwo states to which I have personal ties – North Carolina and West Virginia — in such bad ways.

The latest raw news comes from the Tar Heel state where we are seeing the handiwork of hard-right- Gov. Pat McCrory who has been on a tear for a year now bashing civil rights here, pulling back from regulation there.

The big news is Duke Energy’s spill of coal ash and contaminated water near Eden into the Dan River, which supplies Danville and potentially Virginia Beach with drinking water. Reports are creeping out that the McCrory regime has been pressuring the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to pull back from regulation.

According to Rachel Maddow, DENR officials had stepped in with environmentalists as plaintiffs on two occasions in lawsuits to get Duke Energy to clean up coal ash. But when a third suit was filed, McCrory, a former Charlotte Mayor and career Duke Energy employee, influenced a third lawsuit settlement against Duke to be delayed.

Also, not long before the Eden spill, the City of Burlington released sewage into the Haw River which flows into Lake Jordan serving drinking water to Cary, Apex and Pittsboro. DENR allegedly did not release news of the spill to the public.

Late last year, Amy Adams, a senior DENR official, resigned to protest the massive cuts McCrory and Republican legislators were forcing at her department, notably in its water quality section.

McCrory’s been on a Ken Cuccinelli-style rip in other ways such as cutting back on unemployment benefits in a top manufacturing state badly hit by the recession and globalization. He’s shut down abortion clinics by suddenly raising the sanitation rules to hospital levels, much like former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell did in Virginia.

A reaction to McCrory is building, however. Recently, I chatted with Jason Thigpen who served in the Army and was wounded in Iraq in 2009. When Thigpen returned to his home in southeastern North Carolina, he was upset that the state was sticking it to vets by making them pay out-of-state college tuition in cases where some had been state residents before deploying. So, he started an activist group to protect them.

Next, Thigpen decided to run for Congress. His views fit more neatly with the Republican Party but he simply could not take what McCrory was doing in Raleigh so he became a Democrat and is a contender in a primary this spring.

Why the switch? “I just couldn’t see what the GOP was doing with my state in Raleigh,” He told me. “Also, I didn’t like what they were doing with women. I had served with women in war and they come back to North Carolina and they are treated like second class citizens,” he said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is still struggling with its drinking water issues from a spill near Charleston. Although drinking water for 300,000 is said to be potable, children are reporting rashes.

Somehow, this conjures up another story involving a Republican governor – Arch Moore.

Back in 1972, Moore was governor when Pittston, a Virginia-based energy firm, had badly sited and built some damns to hold coal waste. After torrential rains, the dams burst and a sea of filthy water raced down the hollows, inundating small villages and killing 125 people. The state wanted a $100 million settlement from Pittston for the Buffalo Creek disaster, but Moore interceded and they settled for a measly $1 million.

Moore was later convicted of five felonies after he was caught extorting $573,000 from a coal company that wanted to reduce its payments to a state fund that compensated miners who got black lung disease.

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

Meanwhile, we in Virginia should breathe a sigh of relief considering just close it was dodging the bullet last election.

Why Virginia’s Gay Marriage Ban Is Toast

same-sex-marriage-hearing01.jpg w=560By Peter Galuszka

It’s happening faster than anyone could have imagined.

Virginia’s constitutional ban on gay marriage by defining marriage as only between “a man and a woman” seems heading very rapidly down the hole. That was the upshot from U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in Norfolk yesterday. After a two-hour hearing The Obama nominee said to expect a decision “very soon.”

What some lawyers think that means is that she will declare the Virginia ban unconstitutional and issue a preliminary injunction forcing corrective action for two gay couples in Norfolk and Chesterfield Count who were denied marriage licenses by the state last year. It could happen in a matter of days.

Similar lawsuits are pending in Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Utah. Gay marriage is now permitted in 17 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia. Lawyers on all sides see the issue as headed eventually for a decision by the Supreme Court. A Norfolk ruling likewise is expected to move very swiftly up the appeals ladder.

The hearing in Norfolk’s darkly paneled chamber oozed glamor and politics. Lead attorneys for the plaintiffs are Ted Olson and David Pies, regarded as rock stars for their high profile cases. They beat back California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court last year. They were on opposite sides when the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore ended up in the highest court.

Said Olson in Norfolk, “What the Commonwealth of Virginia is doing is taking away a fundamental right. It’s the right of individuals, not the right of state, that’s what’s being taken away.”

The other side has some politically charged counsel as well. One is Austin Nimock, a lawyer for the defense who is part of the conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom. He said that that a ruling against the ban would “change the basic concept of marriage in Virginia” and that the institution has been a state tradition “for 400 years.”

Virginia’s new and controversial Attorney General Mark Herring was there as well. He shocked state conservatives by refusing to defend the marriage ban. And despite all the gnashing of teeth among Baconauts and other right wingers about Herring’s supposed dereliction of duty, another attorney general has done the same. Pennsylvania’s Kathleen Kane refused to defend that state’s gay marriage ban last July.

Basically, the arguments break down in two ways. The plaintiffs argue that the Virginia law is unconstitutional and smacks of the state’s dark history of racist and wrong-headed laws. Among them are its support for segregation, a ban on interracial marriage and denying women spots at the Virginia Military Institute, which gets state funding.

The defense says that marriage is traditional and is important for procreation. Attorney Nimock pounded that theme over and over, claiming that 99 percent of all children in this country are the product of interaction between men and women. Another defense lawyer, David Oakley, claimed that if political opinion is changing, then the decision should be made by the General Assembly and voters.

The problem is, said the plaintiffs’ lawyers and I wholeheartedly agree, the Bill of Rights and the constitution are designed precisely to protect the rights of minorities. If voters or their legislators could strip away individual rights at the whim of the majority, we’d live in fascism. You would think that for all their posturing with the “Founders” and the three-cornered hats, the right wings, especially the Tea Party people, would get that. As for procreation, plenty of 80-year-olds get married and probably aren’t entering the union to have children.

Anyway, it’s all happening very fast. It is way out of the control of the state’s conservatives and some church groups. Better get ready for a huge change.

Note: for a richly reported account on the evolution of Richmond’s gay community check out this story in Style Weekly

Message to GOP: Shoe’s On The Other Foot

mcauliffeBy Peter Galuszka

Not three weeks ago, Newly elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe stood before the Virginia State Capitol and extolled a new era of bipartisanship in Richmond. It doesn’t seem to have lasted very long.

Whether by design or chance, a series of events have strengthened the state Democrats’ hand and terrified the Republicans who have dominated the agenda for the past four years.

Attorney General Mark Herring made the dramatic announcement that he would not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, saying it went against the U.S. Constitution.

McAuliffe partly sidestepped delegates from both parties who are proposing a toothless ethics reform in connection with the gifts scandal that led to the indictment of former GOP governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife. The new governor issued an executive order that forbids executive branch employees from accepting gifts of more than $100 and sets aside $100,000 for a State Ethics Commission that presumably would have true investigative power.

The latest news is that the Democrat won a special election for a state Senate seat that truly upsets the GOP’s apple cart. Not only do the Democrats now control the Senate, they have made a rule change that allows the chairman of the Rules Committee to kill bills that have been significantly altered by the House of Delegates. An example of such a bill is one in 2011 that would have addressed infections in hospitals but was turned by the House into a crackdown on abortion clinics.

McAuliffe and his team are now in a much better position to try to push ahead with the Medicaid expansion that conservative Republicans are fighting.

Naturally, there is much gnashing of teeth among GOP legislators, who claim the developments are “dangerous.” Herring’s move on gay marriage has prompted calls for his resignation. A bill to impeach him, supported by the Tea Party, is making the rounds.

My takeaway? Amusement. Not that long ago, the state was enduring hard-right attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal moves to advance his highly-politicized agenda, which didn’t have much to do with the needs of the state. Many of the very same conservative Republicans now screaming bloody murder worked hand and glove with Cuccinelli.

The shoe is on the other foot now.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

Thank God It’s Over: Seven Election Takeaways

cooch and macBy Peter Galuszka

The awful Virginia gubernatorial contest is over. Utter disaster has been averted with the defeat of strident rightwinger Kenneth Cuccinelli. Here are seven takeaways from Election Day:

1. Winner Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, now gets to deal with a contentious General Assembly where the GOP maintains firm control on the House of Delegates. The state may be stubbornly gridlock prone come January.

2. Amid all the confusion over implementing the Affordable Car Act, McAuliffe must do something for the 400,000 or so needy Virginians who can’t get federal health insurance subsidies. One reason is that Virginia’s conservatives have rejected expanding Medicaid. Good luck to McAuliffe on his coming effort to reverse this.

3. It should be crystal clear from Tuesday’s voting patterns that the Old Dominion has moved beyond the Tea Party craze and their various machinations. Moderate Republicans need to find some backbone and clean out the Tea Party types who manipulated the party convention that got rid of a winnable Bill Bolling and replaced him with losers like Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, who got creamed in the lieutenant governor’s race.

4. Once again, suburban and urban Virginians have shown that they hold the keys to power. The Walton family types from the rural hills may be perennially “red,” but they are fading into history much like that television show’s reruns.

5. Soon, we should learn whether Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will be indicted on corruption charges. Richmond’s focus needs to turn to ethics reform and the work of creating real institutions for dealing with these kinds of issues, such as a State Ethics Commission, although I realize this is unlikely.

6. Virginia has a ton of real problems such as the need to create sustainable jobs to wean the state away from an increasingly unreliable federal government sector. Roads remain a huge issue, as does maintaining and improving education, and pushing smarter growth planning policies.

That’s enough for the moment, but there is some good news I need to throw in:

7. Now that Cuccinelli is out of the way, the state won’t have to be sidetracked by the infuriating fringe issues that come along with him, such his climate change denial, assaults on women’s rights, bashing gays and immigrants and tendency to blame the government for everything wrong with the state.

The jury’s still out on a flawed McAuliffe, but let the healing and rebuilding begin.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Peter Galuszka

With apologies to Kris Kristofferson, this Sunday morning presents a grab bag of interesting morning newspaper stories and positions. To wit:

GiftGate Update, Getting the Stories Straight: According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Star Scientific boss Jonnie R. Williams Sr. told federal prosecutors he insisted on meeting personally with his then-buddy Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to make sure that McDonnell understood that Williams was lending Maureen McDonnell, the First Lady, $50,000 in 2011.

At the time the McDonnells were having serious debt issues because of some bad investments in vacation property. McDonnell paid back the loan, among to hers, but has consistently claimed he didn’t know about the loan to Maureen. His staff backs the claim in today’s TD story.

The Times-Dispatch also suggests that we’ll learn sometime after the election and before Thanksgiving if there will be federal indictments. Star Scientific has posted news releases saying it is in the clear. The Washington Post has reported that McDonnell’s defense has taken a blow because a judge is allowing prosecutors access to certain emails.

And, with today’s story, you have Williams and McDonnell directly contradicting each other. According to federal law, one doesn’t need a clear-cut, signed sealed and delivered “quo” for an indictment, just an attempt at doing something in exchange for something else. Some people on this blog keep saying “there’s no smoking gun,” which is a hackneyed and confusing phrase. What is the test for a “smoking gun?” It seems as if the feds are moving closer and closer to indictments.

 RTD Won’t Endorse Either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe: That’s even bigger news, showing how the staid old grey lady is changing for the better with Warren Buffett. Had J. Stewart Bryan still been publisher, you can bet they’d be for the Cooch, but maybe too much gay bashing got to the editorial board. It writes: “We find it impossible to endorse any of the 2013 candidates with even a minimal zeal.” The TD even went on a chose Democrat Ralph Northam over whack-job E.W. Jackson, another outrageous social conservative. They did go with Republican Mark Obenshain for attorney general, however.

Pouring Cold Water on the School Reform Craze: When one reads Bacons Rebellion, he or she is confronted with certain premises, Fox News style, that America’s public schools are in absolute shambles that only some weird combination of funding cuts, free market capitalism, terrorizing and shaming teachers and making a MOOC-age of our classrooms can correct.

Spin over to The Washington Post for a book review. The book, “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch, an education historian and adviser to both Bush I and Bill Clinton, pushes the idea today’s view that the problems of public schools are greatly exaggerated and solutions are being pushed by self-serving free-market types who want to make a profit somehow by “correcting” the schools.

There are problems, to be sure, but she writes: “The transfer of public funds to private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised, and unaccountable schools have opened the public coffers to profiteering fraud and exploitation by large and small entrepreneurs.”

Important stuff when you consider that some 90 percent of American’s children are in public schools. Only four percent are in charter schools. Come to think of it, Virginia has only five charter schools, which is rather incredible when you consider how much buzz they get in the right-wing echo chamber like this blog.

What “Boomergeddon?” Another common theme among conservatives that shows everything is coming apart is the general downgrade of the U.S. and not just its credit. True we had a hell of a mess this week, but it is wrong to assume that the U.S. is in some kind of death spiral, write Ely Ratner and Thomas Wright in the Post.

As the U.S. continues to recover from a terrific economic disaster, it is still making significant and steady progress. That is, compared to other companies. Anyone remember Jim Bacon’s book? It outlined the emergence of BIC (Brazil, India and China) to show just what chumps we Americans are. Turns out that Brazil’s growth is going from 7 to 1 percent, India’s economy has greatly slowed and China faces slowing growth and big inflation.

Now, that could be the real “War on Coal.” Now I’m not talking about EPA carbon dioxide regs; I’m talking about metallurgical coal exports from southwest Virginia to BIC steel mills. If their economies aren’t booming any more, maybe they aren’t using as much steel and don’t need as much met coal.

Let’s tell Jim Bacon. Anyone got his number?

The Cooch and the Pope

popeBy Peter Galuszka

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” says Pope Francis, leader of the globe’s Roman Catholics, regarding abortion, gays and contraception.

One wonders if Ken Cuccinelli gets the message. Or maybe even Bob McDonnell. The attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate and the sitting governor have worn their stridently conservative Catholic views on their sleeves for years.

Abusing his office, Cuccinelli has taken strong positions to punish homosexuals and make legal abortion much less available. McDonnell likewise has been shutting down women’s health clinics and became a national laughingstock in 2012 for the trans-vaginal fiasco.

Now you have the Church’s new pope signalling a major shift away from these wedge issues that have alienated millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Conservative Catholics have long embraced sexually related issues as a way to hold what they consider an eroding ethical line. But in doing so, they are ignoring equally important issues such as social justice and keeping the church’s thinking medieval.

Francis is a breath of fresh air after his reactionary predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, a strict doctrinaire who forced a policy of exclusivity in the Church that was very harmful. Ditto the rock star Polish Pope.

It is ironic that Francis has ascended not long after Bishop Walter Sullivan, the former head of the Diocese of Richmond, died. From the 1970s until 2002, Sullivan, a Washington native, pushed his liberal views regardless of who was offended in this highly right wing state. He was as against abortion as any Catholic clergyman but he extended the thinking on the sanctity of life to include prisoners on death row, according to recent biography, “The Good Bishop” by veteran author and essayist Phyliss Theroux who lives in Ashland.

I recently reviewed her book for Style Weekly.

Sullivan, who died Dec. 11 at age 84, was incensed that former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. took to executions with relish after the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Since then, Virginia has put to death 110 convicts, giving it a rank of No. 2 in the country after Texas. Sullivan drew attention to the issue by attending every execution he could.

In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was running up the defense budget to best “The Evil Empire,” Sullivan actually told a well-to-do parish heavy with military contractors in Virginia Beach that it was wrong to be associated with the making of nuclear weapons. It sparked outrage and also landed Sullivan on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The current Bishop of Richmond who replaced Sullivan is a traditionalist who has rolled back many of Sullivan’s outreach initiatives to gays, women, convicts and the poor. One wonders how he will respond to the Pope’s vision. The New York Times says the Old Guard will likely pretend Pope Francis did not say what he did.

There may also be an impact on Virginia politics since the key top players tend to be Catholic. Besides Cuccinelli and McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine are, although they espouse a much more inclusive version of the faith.

The most strident is Cuccinelli who attended Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit school in D.C. (Full disclosure, I graduated from another Jesuit high school in the D.C. area and hardly share Cuccinelli’s views.)

To some extent, Cuccinelli has toned down the anti-gay rhetoric, but one only has to review his record as attorney general and in the state Senate to see where he stands.

Who knows, maybe he could form a new Catholic church just as some arch-conservative Episcopalians did. In any event, it looks like the Church is at the start of some badly needed changes.

Cuccinelli’s Strange Obsession

anti-gay protest By Peter Galuszka

Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, now running as a Republican for governor, has had a number of strange obsessions: going doggedly after a climatologist over global warming issues he disagrees with and pushing to arm investigators involved with Medicaid fraud.

But nothing compares with Cuccinelli’s stubborn insistence that sodomy should be illegal even though the U.S. Supreme Court says that any such law is unconstitutional. The undercurrent seems to be that Cuccinelli is abnormally obsessed with sex and gays.

To get a feel for what he thinks is important, check out his Website. In July, it issued seven press releases. Three of them involved child pornography, sex crimes or prostitution. In June, the county was four out of 14 press releases and in May, four out of nine releases. One wonders if the attorney general actually believes that sex is the biggest legal problem Virginia faces.

He has been more famous for something else – his dogged insistence that Virginia challenge a federal court appeals knock-down of Virginia’s archaic anti-sodomy law that would make oral and anal sex a felony. Cuccinelli’s excuse is that he is trying to protect children against child abuse.

His argument has been taken apart in an Aug. 7 analysis “Ken Cuccinelli’s Sodomy Obsession” in Slate, the digital magazine.

Cuccinelli claims that Virginia’s anti-sodomy law, which sets no age limit, might be constitutional if the high court “would just interpret the terrifyingly broad sodomy law to apply only to sex involving 16 and 17-year-olds.”

In other words, he would be adding age limits to a law that doesn’t specify them. This gets a bit loopy.

Cuccinelli’s case in question involves the matter of 47-year-old William MacDonald who solicited oral sex from a 17-year-old woman. Nothing apparently happened but it turned out that the state couldn’t hit MacDonald with a statutory rape rap because the age for consent in Virginia is 15.

This is where it gets weird. As Slate puts it: “Asking a federal court to turn a state anti-sodomy law into an anti-statutory rape law means that if MacDonald had engaged in ordinary intercourse with a 17-year-old girl every day for a month, he would not face a felony conviction or be a sex offender.”

Cuccinelli’s revision would mean that the state’s sodomy law would mean those older than 15 can legally consent to sex, says Slate, yet have no right to sexual privacy in actually having sex. Put another way, the state could charge any 16 or 17-year-old with felony sodomy if they chose to have anal or oral sex rather than vaginal sex.

Many teenagers are sexually experienced by the age of 15, including gays. The unwritten message is that Cuccinelli must be targeting gays just as he targeted gays when he advised that state organizations like universities did not have to have policy statements banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Not only is Cuccinelli’s position highly discriminatory against gays and lesbians, it raises troubling questions about what he considers important in Virginia. The Old Dominion faces many problems such as clogged highways, creating jobs, eradicating poverty and improving health care.

Why should what goes on in the bedroom of a legal-aged teenager dominate his focus?

Richmond’s Remarkable Underground Press

By Peter Galuszka

alt_press2With its broad, tree-lined avenues, Georgian-style redbrick buildings and statues of Confederate generals, Richmond comes off a snooty and tranquil. Yet, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel, it is a place “with larger-than-life personalities and a façade of gentility and political etiquette covering an underworld of cut-throat, back-room politics and race hatred.”

In other words, it can be a great place to be a journalist.

For years, however, that was hard to do. The two newspapers, the Richmond News Leader and Times-Dispatch were among the most conservative in the nation. They acted as mouthpieces for the ruling elite while pushing intellectual arguments favoring white supremacy.

Who knew that Richmond has been a hotbed of underground press activity? But it was.

Such is the theme of an intriguing new book by Dale M. Brumfield, “Richmond Independent Press, A History of the Underground Zine Scene” (The History Press). Brumfield, who, like me, contributes regularly to Style Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Richmond, was a participant back in the 1980s as an editor of “ThroTTle” magazine.

Richmond’s renegade press got its start in the Beatnik days of the 1950s when artists, writers and gays hung out at the Village Restaurant and lived in the Fan, a Victorian neighborhood with low rents that was close to the Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University.

These were the days of Massive Resistance to integration that was a state policy cheered by the Richmond daily newspapers. African-Americans protesting for civil rights could count on a whipping from Richmond cops or a bite down from police dogs if they tried a sit-in at one of the swankier, whites-only luncheonettes downtown.alt_press1

In 1960, a mimeographed sheet appeared mysteriously on the city’s streets. It was titled, “The Ghost,” whose logo was a simple line drawing. It was “Published as Needed” by anonymous editors. One issue decried the fact that a basketball game between RPI and Virginia Union was canceled because “a negro” would be playing. Another story likened RPI dorm mothers to the Gestapo.

“The Ghost” vanished as quickly as it appeared. As the decade proceeded, Beatniks morphed into hippies. Around the country, new underground papers such as the “Berkeley Barb” and the “East Village Other” appeared that tried to take venerable godmother of the underground, “The Village Voice,” to radical new levels.

Richmond had its own “Sunflower” that featured psychedelic art and then “The Richmond Chronicle” that was more irreverent if not obscene, featuring R. Crump-style drawings. Much of the writing centered around the Fan and VCU, which was the old VPI. Monroe Park was famous for pot busts and the underground press openly identified narcotics agents. One newspaper enraged VCU big wigs by pushing a “puppy fry” in which a dog would be sacrificed. It was, of course, a hoax.

The most famous of the upstarts was “The Richmond Mercury” begun in the early 1970s by kin of Sidney Lewis, the famous and rich owner of Best Products and a major art collector. A bunch of Ivy League and University of Virginia grads, including Frankel, hit Richmond with tough investigative reporting uncommon in a city whose newspapers were controlled by Media General and the Bryan family.

Targets included the Chesapeake & Potomac telephone company, the State Corporation Commission, and Bill Scott, a Congressman declared the dumbest on Capitol Hill. One of the writers was Garrett Epps, a law professor who also wrote “The Shad Treatment” in 1977 which focused on the 1972 gubernatorial campaign of liberal Henry Howell and is one of the most revealing political novels ever written about Richmond and the Old Dominion.

Other off beat and provocative publications followed, including VCU’s Commonwealth Times, ThroTTle” and others that reflected the punk and heavy metal movements of the 1970s and 1980s.

These and minority newspapers like The Richmond Free Press offer a very different view than that projected by the daily newspapers and television stations. They show a special creativity and world view one wouldn’t expect in the Capital of the Confederacy. Who knew?

“Richmond Underground Press” is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at local bookstores.

Does Anyone Know What the Rules Are?

paula-deen-768By Peter Galuszka

The furor over celebrity chef Paula Deen’s use of a pejorative term against African-Americans is curious because it raises so many issues that still bubble in this country and still resonate in the South. They involved codes of appropriate behavior that are extremely hard to figure out.

Deen, whose buttery and sugary Dixie persona is a deliberate and highly profitable caricature, admitted in depositions that she said “N*&^%R” on occasions in the past and also told jokes about Jews and gays. For this admission, she was bounced off the Food Network and has sparked national debate about what is and isn’t socially correct.

It also comes, curiously, after some think tank types are trying to repaint the South as having morphed into a vibrant, enlightened place that left its baggage of racism and isolation at the station decades ago. This, at least, is what supporters of the “New South” (in its latest iteration) and “Richmond” such as blogger Jim Bacon want you to believe.

On Deen’s alleged slurs, let’s get this one out of the way right now. There is no question that there a triple, or quintuple, or whatever standards. When a hip hop artist says the “N” word or the “B” word, it is perfectly OK. When Quentin Taratino mixes up the “N” word along with “Samoan” during his foot massage scene during the 1994 classic film “Pulp Fiction” it is hysterically funny. But when a white-haired white woman born in 1947 in Georgia admits she used the “n” word long ago, it is cause for national revulsion.

Now I am not all for using the “N” word, finding it more vulgar than hateful, but I have to admit I have heard it before, make that a lot more, some years back.

It was in the South and it was in the era just after civil rights. Like Paula Deen, I had lived in the South, North Carolina specifically, in the 1950s when Jim Crow was in full swing, but I was really too young to remember much about it. When my Dad’s navy career took us to DC in the late 1950s, I remember blacks protesting their exclusion from the Glen Echo amusement park but I was still too young to understand the massive changes underway. Later, in high school in the DC area, I distinctly remember flying out of National Airport the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and seeing downtown 14th Street in flames.

A few years after that, I was working at my first journalism job at a small daily newspaper in Eastern North Carolina. It was a lovely, friendly place and went through desegregation without too much frenzy. There had been some shootouts involving the Ku Klux Klan in a small fishing town called Swan Quarter a few years before, but most of the heavy duty opposition had moved to metro places like Charlotte where there were big legal battles against merging school systems to give inner city black kids more of a break.

To be sure, there were plenty of vestiges of the Old South where Deen grew up as in Carolina. The little paper ran a column every Thursday  titled, incredibly, “Among the Colored” that featured club news among mostly middle-aged African-American women in organizations with titles such as ‘Les Mesdames.” Obituaries of white folk went on the front page and black people were relegated to the back. Editors had started printing black weddings next to white ones on the society page unless, of course, the family of the white bride objected and checked the box “Do not run next to colored.”

This covered the period of roughly 1971 to 1973 when I worked off and on at the little paper when I was in college in Boston and from 1974 to 1975 where I worked there as a reporter, photographer, lab manager and layout specialist until a job came through at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Many of my white, Southern contemporaries didn’t use the “N” word but others did, such as the dock builders I worked with for a while.

The ghosts of overt racism were fading into the background, but even in Virginia you could see them vaguely through the mist. When in Norfolk, I often used to go to DC on my days off and drove up country roads near West Point to beat traffic. There was still a derelict sign on an abandoned roadhouse proclaiming “Colored Only.”

I ended up leaving the South in 1983 and didn’t return except for family visits to North Carolina until 2000. The changes were subtle but impressive. The “N” word had really gone, biracial couples were more obvious and blacks had moved into the suburbs. My only real memory of the old times came when I was editing a state business magazine and put a picture of a black woman on the front page. It got snide comments from an ad manager, a Good Ole Boy from Southside who was, strangely, younger than I was.

I’d rather not get into the booster business of being an apologist for the South which still has its flaws. But I do find it hard to understand why Deen is being castigated so. I’m not that sympathetic since she does have a $17 million empire and is sure to get work. Her video apologies should work for her.

Looking around for explanations, I found this on Salon.com by Roxanne Gay:

“Writer Teju Cole succinctly identified why so many people are agog about the Deen revelations when he tweeted, “The real reason Paula Deen’s in the news is not because she’s racist, but because she broke the unwritten rules about how to be racist.”

The rules? I’m still unclear what they are. They seem to apply to a 66-year-old white woman from Albany, Ga., but not to a 38-year-old African-American hip hop star from Brooklyn. Go figure.

McAuliffe: Can a Schmoozer Transform?

By Peter Galuszka

On Easter Sunday, I was driving in a cold rain to Charlottesville for a family event. My cell phone started beeping with messages from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe.

He said he was on his way to his own family brunch but wanted to tap me for $5. I got similar messages from two other staffers.

Why bother me at Easter? Political analyst Larry Sabato wondered the same thing. In a tweet that day he complained about finding “11 obnoxious messages for $$$. Now I know the answer to the age old Q; Is nothing sacred?”

And that may be McAuliffe’s biggest problem as he faces arch-conservative Ken Cuccinelli in the off-year governor’s race. In my profile of him in Style Weekly, I note that McAuliffe is trying to rein in an expansive personality that has made him a top political schmoozer and fundraiser for Democrats from Jimmy Carter to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

A decades’ long political operative who has never been in elected office, he can be bombastic and smooth, as his recent dealings with GreenTech Automotive shows. He flirted with Virginia for a hybrid  car plant before going to Mississippi. He has been accused of somehow using the car plant to win special visas for foreign workers and maybe misleading the Virginia Economic Development Partnership about his intentions in the Old Dominion.

Meanwhile, he must overcome some of his misunderstandings of traditional Virginia thinking. However, it’s probably a good thing that he’s going to skip the Shad Planking in Wakefield tonight with its Confederate flags where Cuccinelli will be keynote speaker.

While polls are about 50-50 in the race, McAuliffe’s fundraising prowess has shown brightly. In the first quarter, he raised more than $5 million — more than double the take of Cuccinelli, who has hamstrung by not being allowed raise money during the General Assembly session because of his position as Attorney General. Read on…

(Also, here as a Q&A with McAuliffe)

Here Comes Cooch-ageddon!

Illustration credit: Ed Harrington, Style Weekly.

Hard right conservative Kenneth T. Cuccinelli has a very good chance of becoming the next governor. At least that’s my view 11 months out.

I disagree with Cuccinelli on almost everything and will spare my readers the list. But I do agree on one thing: he has proved to be a wily politician. He’s turned the Republican establishment on its head. His likely opponent Terry McAuliffe has yet to prove himself as a viable opponent if he is indeed the Democratic choice, as he now seems he will be. Cuccinelli’s off-year race will be one of the most closely watched by the national media.

Enough talking. Read my cover story in Richmond’s Style Weekly.