Category Archives: Politics

State Legislatures Control Budgets — Virginia’s More Than Most

Virginia General Assembly Building (new)

by David J. Toscano

For over a month, Virginia’s legislature and governor have been embroiled in a “two scorpions in a bottle” fight over the new biennial budget, which must be passed by June 30, 2024, to fund the government.   Last Wednesday, each of them loosened the cork in the carafe.  After Assembly -initiated discussions with the governor, Virginia leaders showed, for one moment at least, how the commonwealth operates differently from Washington, D.C. Rather than force Youngkin to take the political hit from vetoing the first Virginia budget in recent history, the House of Delegates used an unusual procedural move, and killed it themselves.  All sides committed to producing a new budget and to return on May 15 to pass it.  As Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”   

Budget battles in the Commonwealth are not unusual, but this one has been unique, both in the number of changes Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed to the bipartisan spending plan and the rhetoric that has accompanied the process. Youngkin called the bill a “backward budget” and traveled the state on this theme. Legislators fired back, did their own tour, and likened Youngkin’s actions to “ what spoiled brats do when they don’t get what they want.”

Last Wednesday, both sides returned to Richmond for the “reconvened” or “veto” session. The governor had vetoed a record number of bills, including measures to protect reproductive rights and enhance gun safety. Since overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote, the governor was successful with every veto.

The fight over the budget bill is different. Youngkin, like governors in 44 states and unlike our U.S. President, has the power to “line-item veto” specific provisions in the budget. His targets were thought to be a tax on digital services he originally proposed and language that requires the Commonwealth to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). But he abandoned this approach when legislators shrewdly drafted these provisions to make a line-item veto legally problematic.

It does not matter whether you are a Republican or Democratic governor; legislative power is clear in the budget process.  Several years ago, Governor McAuliffe learned how crafty legislative budget writing can frustrate key executive goals.   The governor hoped to expand Medicaid through the budget, but Republican leadership was resistant, and explicitly included language in the budget to prevent it. McAuliffe attempted to line-item veto that provision, only to have House Republican leadership opine that the Governor had no such constitutional or statutory power to do so. When it comes to the budget, legislators enjoy proclaiming “governors propose; the legislature disposes.” Continue reading

Diamonds Aren’t Forever

by Jon Baliles

The entire saga of the development of the Diamond District project in Richmond has come full circle in the last 18 months, as Mayor Levar Stoney, desperate for an economic development win after the failure of his Navy Hill boondoggle and two failed casino referendums, has rounded the bases trying to get a baseball stadium built before the franchise was going to be moved by the powers at Major League Baseball (MLB). Finally scoring a run, however, will come with a cost: $170 million to be exact, because that is how much debt the city will issue  to pay for building the stadium and surrounding infrastructure for the rest of the Diamond District development.

The big news broke last week about the new plan to build the baseball stadium but is also being accompanied by a new financing and development structure and procedures. The announcement unfortunately pre-empted the planned Part 3 of our baseball stadium series, which explained that, at this late date, the only option left to get the stadium built in time and not have MLB yank the franchise was for the city to issue general obligation (G.O.) bonds. That was the only evidence MLB was going to accept to prove the money to build the stadium was actually there and construction could actually begin, because all the talk from the city had been just one missed promise after another, and delay after delay.

The bomb was set to explode and the Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) played the last card they had left. They will put the onus of the debt and risk all on the city’s shoulders, issue the debt quickly and get the shovels turning to meet the deadline. But that is not at all how this process began, and it has changed drastically in the many months the city spent dithering. Continue reading

New Novel: Midnight’s Broken Toll

by Joe Fitzgerald 

All politics is personal. So it’s an open question why Mickey MacNamara runs for the state Senate. Is it to win the job or to hurt the man who holds the seat? The incumbent had a hand in the failures of Mickey’s father; Mickey has the time and resources to try and make him pay.

The opportunity to deliver the killing blow falls into Mickey’s lap late in the game. His October surprise ripples through his life and the lives of those around him. It echoes in ways he didn’t expect, can’t stop, and barely understands.

Careers in politics and journalism prepared the author to write Midnight’s Broken Toll. The music of his life runs through it like a soundtrack.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg.

 

The Cost of Not Voting

by Joe Fitzgerald 

If I were a more articulate man, I could explain what sorry shape the governments of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are in right now.

Rational people have little doubt about the county. The biggest government expense, the school system, is currently being run by people who do not know what they are doing. That’s one possibility anyway. The other is that they’re causing randomly divisive chaos on purpose.

In the city the schools are being run well, but the city council approves housing as if it were free. The schools will be overcrowded soon enough. Five years? Ten? We can’t afford to build another one.

Relationships are being destroyed. The city flirts with leaving the Chamber of Commerce. The county board casually damages the shared technical center. Massanutten Pique would describe their behavior. Continue reading

Can the Governor Veto RGGI?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s top priorities has been to extricate the Commonwealth from participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). One of the top priorities of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has been ensuring that the Commonwealth participates in RGGI.

For those readers unfamiliar with the purposes of RGGI and how it functions, along with the pros and cons of membership, those topics have been covered extensively in this blog. See here, here, and here.  This article will focus on the constitutional struggle between the governor and the legislature.

Brief legislature history

In 2020, the General Assembly authorized the director of the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to establish a market-based energy allowances trading program and the Governor to include the Commonwealth in RGGI. The Air Pollution Control Board (“the Board”) and the Governor exercised their authority to act, and Virginia became a RGGI participant on Jan.1, 2021.

When he took office in 2022, among the first executive orders issued by Gov. Younkin was one directing the DEQ director and the Board to begin taking steps to end Virginia’s participation in RGGI. The Board adopted the final repeal of the RGGI regulations in July 2023, to be effective at the end of the year. Environmental groups sued and those suits are still pending in court.

The next stage of this saga came as the new Democratic majority in the 2024 General Assembly adopted language in the budget bill prohibiting the use of state funds to “impede” the state from rejoining the RGGI and directing all relevant agencies to take steps to immediately rejoin the RGGI and continue participation. Although some Democrat legislators and environmentalists believe the language is vulnerable to a gubernatorial veto, court precedents and recent actions would augur a more favorable outlook on their account. Continue reading

Governor’s Budget Transformed

Gov. Youngkin addressing media about budget changes, with Senators Lucas and Locke looking on. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In my almost 50 years of working around, and following, the General Assembly, I do not think I have ever seen the legislature take apart a governor’s budget bill to the extent that this General Assembly just demolished Gov. Youngkin’s budget.

The change that had the most impact was the jettisoning of the governor’s proposed tax package. Steve Haner has previously described the legislature’s actions (here and here). To summarize, the legislature rejected the governor’s proposed tax cuts, embraced his proposal to expand the sales tax to digital services, and went one step further by expanding the sales tax to cover digital services between companies.

The Governor’s proposal would have resulted in about $1 billion less in general fund revenue over the biennium. The move by the legislature was projected to increase general fund revenue by $1 billion over the biennium. That is a $2 billion swing in general fund revenue available for appropriation. And the Democrats in the majority on the budget committees of both houses were happy to use that extra money to spend on their priorities, primarily K-12. One only has to peruse the conference report to see a plethora of appropriation increases. Continue reading

Anti-Trump, Anti-Biden Votes in Super Tuesday Primaries:  Will They Sway the November Election?

by Ken Reid

Depending on what media you watch and read, the Super Tuesday primary results are the death knell for either presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or for incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, who is likely to be renominated, too. 

Both candidates had sizable votes against them in their respective primaries. I am not a pundit like Larry Sabato at UVA, but I am a Republican and Nikki Haley voter in Fairfax County (which she won), and just looking at polling data and ballot results, I am of the mind that the “defection” rate among “no more Trumpers” will be higher than defections of far leftists and anti-Zionists from Biden.   

As a result, Trump stands to lose electoral votes he got in 2020, like North Carolina, unless he can make up for the loss of “Haley voters” among African Americans and Latinos, who (according to polls) seem to be persuadable. Biden may get some Haley voters, but the Green Party and other left-leaning third party candidates could depress his electoral vote tally.

In the Virginia Democratic Primary, 7.8% voted for author/lecturer Marianne Williamson and 3.5% voted for Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who withdrew from the race after Super Tuesday’s results.    

This means 11.3% of Virginia Democrat voters voted against Biden – and I believe that’s largely from Muslims and far Leftists who oppose the administration’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas, and perhaps some concerned with the president’s cognitive abilities.

But the anti-Biden vote in Virginia pales to what Trump might lose this fall with Haley voters who defect, particularly as Trump’s criminal trials move forward. Continue reading

Virginia Dems Have Their Panties in a Twist

by Kerry Dougherty

This is what triggers Virginia Democrats today:

There was an exchange at the Virginia Capitol between Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, who presides over the State Senate, and Sen. Danica Roem of Prince William County.

Roem identifies as a woman, although Roem was born a man. The politically correct crowd insists that failing to use feminine pronouns for someone like Roem is “misgendering.” A sin invented by the left.

Roem stormed out of the Senate chamber after Sears addressed her as “sir.” Several other senators with their panties in a twist followed. Eventually Sears apologized.

Sheesh.

Look, my main problem with the trans movement is when children are involved. And the trans movement is actively recruiting kids. It needs to stop.

Beyond that, children shouldn’t be chemically castrated, sterilized with hormone blockers or have their body parts carved up because they’re confused. And no child should be allowed to pretend to be a member of the opposite sex in school without the permission of their parents.

Biological males should be banned from playing sports with biological females and they need to be forbidden to enter traditional girls’ safe spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

That said, adults may do what they want. If a man wants to put on lipstick and wear a dress, fine.

What they cannot do is force the rest of us to play along. Continue reading

Must Be an Election Year: Kaine’s Staff Is Answering the Phone!

Sen. Tim Kaine

by Scott Dreyer

Life is full of surprises, and I got one today when I called the Roanoke office of US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)… and a real voice picked up! The receptionist was friendly and professional as I requested the senator help block the proposed Kroger buy-out of Albertson’s.

I then asked her why none of my calls to that office had been answered by a human being for quite some time. I told her, “I haven’t been marking my calendar, but I guess it’s been at least one year, maybe two, since I’ve called this office and gotten a human voice. For a long time, all my calls went to voicemail.”

She tried to assure me, “we listen to all the calls that go to voicemail and pass them along to the senator.”

I then replied: “That’s nice, but from a human point of view, it’s better to call and get a human voice than just voicemail. Besides, almost every time I call the offices for Sen. Warner or Congressman Cline, a real human answers the phone.” Continue reading

Partisan Poison: Va Dems Quash a Bill to Protect School Kids

Del. A.C. Cordoza

by Kerry Dougherty 

How exactly is Virginia’s General Assembly celebrating Black History Month?

By killing a bill to protect children in public school lavatories, introduced by Del. A.C. Cordoza of Hampton.

Cordoza is an African-American. And a Republican. He was famously denied membership in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus when he was elected in 2022.

Sadly, to the caucus, he’s not the right kind of Black man. Because his views are on the right.

Cordoza claims his bill that would require school personnel to check bathrooms every 30 minutes would not require added personnel nor would it cost taxpayers a dime.

It was tabled, he told the Virginia Mercury, because he’s a Republican.

While the proposed legislation was not expected to impact state spending, Cordoza said his bill was still forwarded from the House Education Committee to the House Appropriations Committee for review. It died in that committee without a hearing.

“It’s sent there to die,” said Cordoza, “to die quietly because they don’t want the world to know that they’re killing a bill to protect little girls in the bathroom, but they want to make sure that a Black Republican is not the one who does it.” said Del. A.C. Cordoza, R-Hampton.

It’s actually a practical suggestion, given that there have been a number of assaults in several school bathrooms, and perhaps some that have not been reported. Having an adult stick his or her head in the lavatory every 30 minutes would certainly discourage bullies and sex offenders. Continue reading

A Traditional Conservative Issues Warning

Liz Cheney Photo credit: Richmond Forum

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nasty Social Media Message Attacks Virginia’s Speaker of the House

Speaker Don Scott

by Kerry Dougherty

Great. Just what embattled Virginia Republicans need now: an ugly social media post attacking the new speaker of the House of Delegates over a crime he committed and did time for almost 30 years ago.

It’s no secret that Portsmouth Democrat Don Scott was convicted on drug charges in 1994 and served seven years in prison for his crime. He was released, turned his life around, became a lawyer, a member of the House of Delegates and was elected speaker this year.

The Washington Post sums up Scott’s biography this way:

Scott was convicted of carrying drug-related money across state lines just as he finished law school in Louisiana. Years after his release, Scott had his Virginia voting rights restored by then-governor Robert McDonnell (R), got his law license and has risen rapidly through the ranks at the General Assembly to become the first Black speaker in state history.

Oh, and when his friend and neighbor, Portsmouth Circuit Court Judge Johnny Morrison, needed a kidney, Scott donated his.

That’s an extraordinary act of generosity.

Look, I don’t agree with Scott’s politics and I think that most of the initiatives Virginia Democrats are pushing are radical and bad for the commonwealth. The party’s soft-on-crime positions are long-standing and detrimental to public safety.

But that has nothing to do with Scott’s past. Continue reading

The Speaker Rules

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

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 3 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

VPAP and CFReports let you go from “How about that?” to “Oh, my God!” in 5.2 seconds. They’re attractive to the kind of nerds who used to go through the encyclopedia or the World Almanac. Yes, I did. Why do you ask?

One local PAC became a subject for a dive into CFReports and VPAP when someone asked if it was true they paid for health insurance for one of their principals. The answer is that with Virginia’s campaign finance reporting rules, it’s hard to say.

VPAP and CFReports are explained in Part 1 of this series. A PAC, as explained there, is a political action committee. It raises money from political donors and spends it on political candidates or causes.

That cause for Rural Ground Game, RGG, is electing rural Democrats. The perceived need for the PAC is the myth that the Democratic Party ignores rural areas and therefore doesn’t win rural elections. The actual case is that Democrats don’t win rural elections because rural voters vote overwhelmingly Republican, but the myth is popular among those who run better against their fellow Democrats than against Republicans. Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 2 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a donor in CFReports named “no name.” He, she, or it is listed on the report as “Name, No.” This same donor is called “Unknown Entity” in VPAP. Or perhaps “Entity, Unknown.” (VPAP and CFReports are described in Part 1.)

This donor’s address shows up as Matt Cross’s house on his campaign reports. (The address is public record, but it feels like doxing to use it here.) “No Name” gave Cross $170 for his 2021 campaign for the Rockingham County School Board, which he now chairs.

Cross’s reports demonstrate two things about Virginia’s system for campaign finance reporting. One is that it’s as easy to make at least a dozen mistakes as it is to make one. The other is that if a report is riddled with errors, it’s not clear what’s to be done about it.

Cross’s finance reports are good examples of the idea that the kind of campaign a politician runs can show us what kind of public official they will be. Cross’s reports show a candidate who appears to either not know how to fill out the reports or perhaps thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Maybe that’s what we should expect of a candidate who, upon taking leadership of a like-minded board, began banning books without regard for how they were chosen or what the process is for challenging a book. Instead they are banning books regardless of whether they’re in county schools, based not on any identifiable process but on vague parental complaints they have yet to produce.

The law on “No Name” at Cross’s house is that any campaign donor must be identified by name, address, and occupation. If that information is not available, the money is not supposed to be used for campaign purposes, but should be donated to charity. In the past, local candidates have given unidentified money as well as unspent funds to churches or non-profits. (Where the money goes is not regulated. One Harrisonburg City Council candidate, unopposed for re-election, gave $460 to his son for “campaigning.”) There is no report on VPAP of Cross donating any campaign money to charity, so it’s hard to say what he did with No Name’s $170.

As noted above, the donor’s occupation is supposed to be listed on CFReports. But that information does not appear on any of the donors in a particular group of campaign reports, defined further down. Continue reading