Political Gridlock in Richmond, Mental Gridlock in Newsrooms

The House of Delegates is holding firm against unrelenting pressure to raise taxes that would perpetuate Virginia’s antiquated and wasteful transportation system. The House Finance Committee spiked plans to raise taxes locally in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund regional road building projects.

One plan did survive the legislative buzz saw: a $2.4 billion funding package that relied upon a $1.5 billion bond issue that would require voter approval. But journalistic accounts suggested that initiative would be dead on arrival when it moved to the Senate. Read the accounts here:

Richmond Times Dispatch
Washington Post
Virginian Pilot

One’s as good (or bad) as the other. All miss the larger point.

What’s been missing from almost all punditry and political reporting (with rare exceptions) is any sense of the larger issue: Having identified fundamental flaws in Virginia’s traditional transportation policy, the House has laid out a plan for the most sweeping overhaul of Virginia transportation since the Byrd era. These reforms would transform the way VDOT does business: accelerating outsourcing and privatization and delegating responsibility and funding for secondary roads to counties. Grasping the reality that certain patterns of land use generate more traffic congestion than others, the House also has submitted unprecedented proposals to re-shape land use.

Now, it’s one thing to disagree with these proposals and the premises underlying them. Many readers of this blog do that every day. (I don’t even know if I agree with all of the House’s recommendations.) But at least Bacon’s Rebellion readers pay the courtesy of actually engaging the ideas. Virginia’s pundits and political reporters have failed utterly and completely to acknowledge the issues at stake, much less to understand them. Complex pieces of legislation and the thinking behind them warrant one or two throw-away paragraphs buried deep in stories about legislative process. Rather than engage ideas, editorial writers stoop to simple invective and name-calling.

Transportation and land use are not arcane issues — they are all pervasive. They affect every Virginian! Where are the investigative pieces? Where are the in-depth series? Where are the historical backgrounders? What happened to the crusading spirit of Virginia journalism? When did Virginia’s leading newspapers become dogmatic defenders of the status quo? At what point did Virginia journalists become parrots of elite opinion and begin scoffing at the sentiments (as expressed in polls) of ordinary people?

I indict the newspaper profession in Virginia. It has betrayed its journalistic ideals. It has betrayed even its liberal ideals. If the publishers and executive editors of Virginian newspapers are capable of self reflection, this is the time for it.

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13 responses to “Political Gridlock in Richmond, Mental Gridlock in Newsrooms”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    The surprise in regards to this special session is that there really is no surprise in regards to what is taking place. In addition, I would bet that almost every reporter who covers the state capitol knew weeks ago that this is how things would play out…….I know I did and I live 200 miles from ground zero. Like the old saying goes, “It’s hard to make chicken salad out of chicken…….”.

    Jim, it’s a small world down in Richmond. That said, a reporter only has to make a few phone calls to a few key players to get an idea of where a piece of legislation is heading. Because of that, I would bet that many of the pieces that were written today were typed out in a reporter’s head weeks ago.

    In addition, many reporters that cover politics probably feel that is there job to cover the news……not create the news out of thin air by doing things such as, “investigative pieces and in-depth series”.

    Like you, I would like to see more depth when it comes to reporting specific bills, etc., but if the bill is going to die, why waste the ink on it? If it gets approved then perhaps that’s the time to do many of the things you say.

  2. E M Risse Avatar


    While I agree with the points you make, we all need to take a deep breath and another step back:

    Nothing on the table, not what the House leadership has proposed, not what Business As Usual would like see passed, not the two “regional” packages, not VDOT “reform,” not more telework, not zip cars, not more rail lines, nothing, zip, nada,




    The very best that can come from the current special session is recognition that those currently holding office and the those supporting the two major parties do not have a clue what to do about immobility and lack of access or the lack of affordable and accessible housing.

    It goes without saying that they would not know how to do what they do not understand.


  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim, I’m up in the Federally-Occupied-Zone of Virginia on business and had to leave the morning Daily Press home for she-who-must-be-obeyed. The lead paragraph on the front page transportation story proves your point.

    What the DP calls, if I remember correctly, a new approach from ‘moderate’ Republicans (the Jones Bill) is nothing but the 02 Tax Scam Referendum dressed up with different taxes and fees. It is pure deception. You would never know what is in the bill – like the same unelected,unaccountable, omnipotent Regional Government – if you read the paper.

  4. Since we are not going to have a fundamental change in governance structure (Revolution and overthrow are frowned upon, and we have too many vested power interests and too many levels of government as it is.) , and probably not a fundamental change in settlment patterns, either, then I guess our access and mobility will be the same in 10 or thirty years.

    What do we do in the meantime?

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden


    Plan A. A member of the GA proposes a bill for a specific transportation project (like Hampton Roads Third Crossing) to go with the Conservative Republican reforms from the Speaker with the appropriate funding and oversight…

    Plan B. Move to a gated community and take up serious drinking.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I like plan B…but was just wondering –

    A) Is there a road to this place? if so, who built it and who maintains it?


    B) Is the gate there to keep you in or everyone else out?

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon 10:18: That’s great! Wish I knew.

  8. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Clean Air — another factor that the rocket scientists within the MSM (and, of course, Senator Chichester) have failed to consider.

    The Post reports today (9/28): “The number of dangerously smoggy days in the Washington area has declined by more than 40 percent since 2003, but the region still does not meet federal standards for healthy air, according to data released yesterday. * * * That’s because the Washington region, which has exceeded smog limits repeatedly since 1977, still hasn’t improved enough to meet the smog standards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin enforcing in 2009. At that point, a violation could trigger a loss of federal transportation funding.”

    I am surprised, however, that Governor Kaine has not addressed this issue. Could Virginia go on a road-building binge and still qualify for federal funding? Remember that the strings attached to federal funding recently caused the Governor to abandon the Tysons Corner tunnel for the “white elephant” Silver Line. The feds are real and they must be considered in the equation.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    At a recent fundraiser where Howell and others were circulating – I asked a Republican opeative that I know and whom I saw talking with Howell what the thought would come out of the special session.

    He said “Are you kidding” -… almost nothing – unless you’re counting rhetoric”.

    I was a little taken aback and didn’t really believe him.

    Silly me.

    Beyond the money.. once the knock-down, drag-outs over money… subside.. it will be interesting to see how much, if any, of the “reform” goes forward.

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry – aren’t we seeing the normal results of a situation where there is no consensus within the state as to what should be done. There are some who want to continue business as usual with more money. There are others who see business as usual as perpetuation of the current mess. Of course, there are still many Virginians who don’t see transporation as a big problem. The growth in secondary roads has largely been confined to a few counties. It normally takes several years for Congress to reach consensus on major issues. Why should we think that the General Assembly is different?

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Could Virginia go on a road-building binge and still qualify for federal funding?”

    not unless folks figure out how to make the EPA rules go away.

    If I’m not mistaken, the EPA has veto
    authority over ANY new road in the region.

    To gain approval, new roads must be run through an air quality computer model and prove that they will not increase pollutants.

    The only roads that will be accepted are HOV and HOT lanes and transit.

    I believe that the guys in the GA know this because if one looks at their Regional Authority proposals (which have been shot down..at this point) – those proposals are mostly for transit and toll roads where congestion pricing will be used.

    In other words – no new untolled roads.

    For more on this subject, go to:


  12. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry is most likely correct. The EPA can veto road construction in NoVA. So why isn’t the MSM talking about this? (Hint: it’s inconsistent with the idea that a tax increase will fix everything.)

  13. I wish you would go easy on us rocket scentists: we have enough problems just keeping the farm running. Keeping a satellite in orbit is easy by comparison.

    Larry has made this point numerous times before. I didn’t fully appreciate it the first few times around, even though i have a background in chemistry, RECRA, CERCLA, and EPA in general.

    It is going to be truly enigmatic if it turns out that EPA rules promote sprawl by eliminating growth in the areas that some environmentalists claim ar the most valuable.

    Maybe the solution to pollution is dilution, after all. It is going to be truly annoying to certaina environmentalists if this fact turns out to be certified by EPA regulations.

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