Primary Reading: Themes on the Partisan Blogs

Hanger

How different will Virginia’s politics and political future be at close of business tomorrow? This time the big shift may come in tomorrow’s primaries rather than with the November general election that actually chooses 140 General Assembly members.

A lead weekend story on a major conservative political blog, The Bull Elephant, was an attack on incumbent State Senator Emmett Hanger (here). It was only a temporary interruption in its otherwise microscopic coverage of the circular Republican firing squad still underway in the 97th House District, where incumbent Chris Peace (always wrong on Bull Elephant) claims victory in a firehouse primary and challenger Scott Wyatt (always right on Bull Elephant) does the same based on a convention.   Continue reading

Meanwhile, Back in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville…

City Councilor Cathy Galvin — divestment a step in the right direction.

Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove all operating investments in “weapons” and fossil-fuel companies from its $50 million-to-$100 million core investment portfolio, reports WVIR-TV.

Divestment proponents said fossil fuels and weapons do not align with the city’s vision and have negative impacts on community members. In response to calls that the measure does not go far enough, Treasurer Jason Vandever said the city is looking into divesting from fossil-fuel and weapons investments in the retirement fund as well.

Fossil-fuel and weapons companies make up only a small portion of the investment portfolio, so the measure will have a minimal budgetary impact, divestment advocates said.

Bacon’s bottom line: I wish there were some way Virginia could divest itself of Charlottesville, but no mechanism readily comes to mind. As a fall-back position, perhaps Commonwealth should divest itself of the University of Virginia, which sits at the epicenter of the city’s radical-chic culture. Continue reading

Moral Hazard and Sea Level Rise

Ann Phillips. Photo credit: Free Lance-Star

Why aren’t Virginia localities acting more aggressively to protect themselves from rising sea levels? You don’t have to believe in catastrophic global warming to acknowledge that sea levels are creeping steadily higher worldwide or that subsidence caused by shifting tectonic plates and shrinking aquifers is aggravating flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater.

A big reason for the complacency, says Navy Adm. Ann Phillips, is that people think someone will bail them out. Virginia’s coastal-adaptation czar, appointed by Governor Ralph Northam, drove home the point last month at a College of William & Mary forum. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“As I talked to people about what options are, in passing, to deal with the future, I have a sense that many homeowners feel that the cities are going to bail them out. And that the cities feel that the states should bail them out, and that the state thinks the federal government should bail them out.”

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Sanctimonious Money in Politics

Grrrrr

The older I get, the more irritable I get. Perhaps, upon passing the threshold to Medicare eligibility, I became a cranky old man. In my defense, however, I do find myself continually provoked. The latest vexation comes from a Community Idea Stations article describing how an increasing number of Democratic Party candidates for General Assembly are self-righteously turning down campaign donations from corporations — not just Dominion Energy, mind you, but any corporation. One example:

Zachary Brown, a law student at the University of Richmond who is running against Eileen Bedell and Ghazala Hashmi in the 10th Senate District, only raised around $2,000 in April and May. But the 23-year-old law student says he came by it honestly.

“We can’t have our constituents second-guessing out votes because we take contributions from large corporations,” Brown said.

Such sentiments are consistent with Democrats’ conviction that the injection of corporate cash is a uniquely corrupting practice. Labor union money, extracted from union dues for causes members may or may not agree with… perfectly OK. Money laundered through Democratic Party PACs… just fine. Contributions from out-of-state billionaires like Tom Steyer… not a problem. But money collected from individual employees in a corporation and bundled through a corporate PACs… horrors! Continue reading

What is Going On?

Can someone from Northern Virginia please tell me what is going on when almost a million dollars is being raised in each of two primary contests for Commonwealth’s Attorney?  I can understand the money being raised, as reported by VPAP, in the primary for chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.  That is a political position and there are four candidates.  But, the money being raised for Commonwealth’s Attorney, a supposedly nonpolitical position, with only two candidates in each election, is astounding.

Arlington Schools’ Non-Solution for English Learners

Arlington County, which has one of the most politically “progressive” school systems in Virginia, has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to bolster support for students learning English, reports the Washington Post.

The column described systemic problems in the school system. English-as-a-Second-Language students are often taught below their grade level and grow frustrated and bored. As a specific example of dysfunctional education, columnist Theresa Vargas cites a 15-year-old girl who had spent three years in the school system but still didn’t know how to use an English-Spanish dictionary correctly.

Now for some context missing from the column… The problem is not a lack of money. Arlington County spent $19,323 per pupil in Fiscal 2017 compared to an average of $11,745 per pupil spent statewide that year, according to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data.

Neither is the problem a lack of commitment to “diversity and inclusion.” The Arlington County school system has an Office of Equity and Excellence, which… Continue reading

The Waters Increased Greatly upon the Earth

Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.

The development was Asheville Park.  It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.

The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.

There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading

Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

As part of its examination into the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook scandal, in which an unidentified figure appeared in blackface on Ralph Northam’s profile page, investigators with the McGuire Woods law firm considered a piece of evidence submitted by Northam’s personal law firm, Alston & Bird: a facial recognition report. “This report, conducted by a reputable vendor,” summarized the McGuire Woods report, “found the image of the Photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”

While the photograph is of such poor quality that facial-recognition analysis may be impossible, there is much else than can be gleaned from the photo. I have made the argument in previous posts that the figure in blackface was dressed in Michael Jackson costume.

Now a clever reader, who asks to remain anonymous, suggests another thrust of analysis: measuring the slope of the person’s shoulders and the angle at which he holds his head.

States the reader: “I noticed that the figure in the yearbook photo stood in a somewhat awkward way, with his body leaning left but his head tilted to the right (from the vantage of the viewer).” He pulled photos of Northam off the Web for purposes of comparison. “This is not unbiased evidence because I selected photos that worked, rather than doing a random sampling of photos. But it does show that the way Northam stands at times does appear to be similar to the yearbook photo.  A chiropractor might be able to untangle this!” Continue reading

Dispatches. 75 Years Ago Tonight, Now, It Was On.

American Cemetery, Coleville-sur-Mer.  Personal photos from a 2017 visit.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (AP) — Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight today and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

German broadcasts said the Allies penetrated several kilometers between Caen and Isigny, which are 35 miles apart and respectively nine and two miles from the sea.

Prime Minister Churchill told the House of Commons part of the record-shattering number of parachute and glider troops were fighting in Caen, and had seized a number of important bridges in the invasion area.   Continue reading

Ain’t No Negatives Here

In the recent past, the website of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) featured a prominent dashboard or scoreboard showing the cumulative number of jobs “created” since the beginning of the current administration.  Governors used these numbers when touting their economic development programs. It did not matter that these were jobs projected, not necessarily available or filled, or that some of those jobs would never materialize.

I was reminded of this scoreboard by a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch about a printing company in Henrico closing, with a resultant loss of 240 jobs.  My counterpart at DPB who handled VEDP’s budget and I used to have a standing joke about the VEDP jobs scoreboard. Whenever I would point out a company closing or downsizing, especially at the beginning of the Great Recession, or a corporation moving out of Virginia and ask whether VEDP was including those job losses in its calculations, he would laugh and reply, “Oh no, Dick, we don’t include the negative numbers!”

It is a welcome sign that the “new” VEDP does not engage in this misleading boosterism.

Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

Several days ago I advanced the argument that the identity of the blackfaced individual in Ralph Northam’s infamous 1984 medical school yearbook was none other than Northam himself, garbed in the likeness of Michael Jackson. That theory landed with a resounding thud. No one in the media (or anywhere else, for I can tell) took note of the interpretation. But, then, no one offered any evidence to the contrary. Undeterred by the public’s extraordinary indifference to a fascinating question — c’mon, people, doesn’t anyone like a good whodunnit anymore? — I press on.

I have two more angles to explore. One angle demolishes one of Northam’s  explanations of why he believes the man in blackface was not him. But the other raises new questions, which, if answered, potentially could lead to information exonerating the governor — or convicting him.

Today, I focus on the hand of the man in blackface — the hand holding a can of beer.

But first, a refresher. Here are the specific reasons, cited in the McGuire Woods inquiry into the origins of the blackface photo, that Northam cited why he could not have been the man in blackface (hereinafter referred to as Blackface Dude). Continue reading

More (But Not All) Cost Projections Filed About Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act

Source: SCC Staff summary. Click for larger view.

With some of its closest legislative allies facing primary challenges next week, much of what Dominion Energy Virginia filed Friday in response to questions about the consumer cost of its future plans is redacted.  The story in Tuesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (here) could only cover that portion of the data not kept secret.

Three of the four documents filed by Dominion are about its motion requesting protected status for the information, and the fourth (here) includes numerous blacked out portions, which we will not see unless the SCC rejects those motions.  Continue reading

Special VPI Graduation Ceremonies for Everyone (Except for Straight White Christians)

I don’t know what was considered deficient with the main Virginia Tech commencement ceremony — too white? too heteronormative? insufficiently diverse? — but the university this year provided ten supplementary graduation programs for African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, gays, and other groups.

Apparently, the administration deemed it inadequate for some students to revel in what they shared in common as Hokies, graduates of one of America’s more prestigious universities, or as young people embarking upon their life journeys as adults, or even, dare I say, as Americans. They needed an opportunity to celebrate their cultural identities. Well, some of them did. If they were of English, German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Italian, or Polish descent, or if they were Catholic, Protestant or some other denomination of Christianity, there were no special Cultural Achievement ceremonies to attend.

But if students were of African-American descent, they could participate in the university-sponsored Donning of the Kente ceremony. If they were of Hispanic-Latino background, there was the Gesta Latina. There was a ceremony for American Indians & indigenous people, and another one for Asians. There was a special ceremony for Jews and one for Muslims. There was a ceremony for international students, and a ceremony for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally community. Oh, and there was even one for students in recovery and one for veterans.

According to a Virginia Tech feature story, the special ceremonies advance the university’s mission to ensure the success of all students, particularly those from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations. Continue reading

Oops, We Did It Again

What a shock! Virginia’s Medicaid expansion isn’t working out as planned. Today we learn that Virginia’s private hospitals, which are paying a tax to defray the state’s 10% share of expansion (Uncle Sam pays the rest), is on track to receive only 78% of the Medicaid revenue they expected, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The big question is whether the shortfall is a one-time event caused by a slower-than-expected rollout of the program or a permanent feature of the healthcare landscape.

Department of Medicaid Assistance Services (DMAS) estimated that the influx of 300,000 to 400,000 Medicaid patients would increase hospital industry revenues by $247 million in the second half of the 2019 fiscal year. So far, the actual net increase is on pace for $192 million for the six-month period. The hospital lobby agreed to the tax in the expectation that a surge in Medicaid revenue would more than offset it.

“We’re rolling out a little bit more slowly than anticipated,” said Chris Gordon, chief financial officer for DMAS. “We’re continuing to monitor and adjust our forecast. We continue to learn from experience.”
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Staying Within the Debt Capacity

I am following up on an earlier post discussing the capital budget recommendations of the Governor and the Commonwealth’s debt capacity. Jim Bacon’s recent post discussing Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne’s worries about increasing debt also dealt with this general issue.

Guided by Secretary Layne, the Governor’s introduced budget was relatively conservative in its capital provisions and the authorization of $568.4 million in additional tax-supported debt. As predicted in the earlier post, the General Assembly came under a lot of pressure to add to the package and responded accordingly.  The final budget bill, signed by the Governor in early May, authorized the issuance of an additional $1.1 billion in state-supported debt.

The major projects added by the legislature were the replacement of Central State Hospital ($315 million), a top priority of the Governor; “renewal” of Alderman Library at UVa ($132.5 million); and demolition and replacement of Daniel Gym at Virginia State University ($82.9 million). Also included in the introduced and final total packages was $248 million, primarily for Virginia Tech, which was tied to the Amazon deal.  Including the authorizations provided by the 2018 General Assembly, the 2018-2020 Appropriation Act authorized the issuance of an additional $2.1 billion in tax-supported debt. Continue reading