Virginia’s Government – a Critique

by James C. Sherlock

At the age of 75 with a life of experience in and with government, I will offer here my assessment of the current structural problems in our state government that make that government significantly less efficient and effective than it should be.  

You will note that these comments generally do not point fingers at either party, but rather at the sum of their efforts or lack of same. 

I grew up the son of a federal worker. Most of the men in our Falls Church neighborhood were WW II veterans and after the war most of them were civilian employees of the federal government. I spent nearly 30 years in the Navy and ten more as a government contractor. I dealt with Congress a lot.

In retirement, I took up causes for improving my state. I have spent a lot of time over 15 years dealing with the General Assembly, the Governor and the state administration.

So those are the bases for my perspectives. You will note that my experience dealing with the federal government informs my critique of the government of Virginia.

State Courts

I wrote a few months ago that the Supreme Court actually acted at the request of the Governor to relieve him of the responsibility for issuing an emergency executive order for the unconstitutional taking of the property of residential landlords without just compensation.  

With that action, they effectively took themselves out of position to hear cases on gubernatorial overreach in “emergency” actions.

I have no suggestion for trying to fix this but continuing to report it.

Campaign donations

Virginia’s laws allowing unlimited campaign donations to state candidates is the core of the systematic disfunction and perceptions of corruption of every elected office in the Commonwealth. All else pales by comparison.  

Until our lawmakers and the Governor can limit those donations, nothing important will change.  

While there are members in both parties who try to do the right thing when they have enough information to know what that is, they are good people operating within a structurally corrupt system.

Governors and administrations

The Governor of Virginia has unlimited power for an effectively unlimited duration during a state of emergency that he himself declares. This is clearly the biggest problem in the Governor’s office exposed by COVID. That law needs to be changed ASAP.

Another is once again campaign donations.  

The Governor, term limited, continues to take huge campaign donations while in office.  

When faced with a potentially contentious issue, like COPN reform last summer, he convened a commission of lobbyists to see if they could agree on any changes.  When they could not, he refused to take a position. Since both sides are donors, he did not want to take either side on, and chose not to do so.

A major problem with the administration of government is profound ineptitude of the bureaucracies with which I have dealt, primarily the Department of Health and more recently the Department of Education. As you will read later, I lay part of that to the complete lack of oversight by the General Assembly.

In the federal bureaucracy I could and still can always find a good person of rank to speak to about issues which he or she clearly understood and who wanted to do the right thing.  

That has not been my experience with major bureaucracies in Richmond, most prominently the Department of Health, which as far back as research takes me has wielded a negative influence over public health in Virginia for all of my adult life.  

I have come later to consider the performance of the Department of Education, but it is so radicalized at the top that it is not possible to determine whether the individual components of the bureaucracy are competent or not.

Attorney General

The systemic corruption in the office of the Attorney General of Virginia is traceable directly to campaign donations and the fact that every Attorney General wants to be Governor.  

Attorneys General seldom take up an investigation against any powerful state interest. They will seldom if ever sue any such interest, regardless of Virginia laws such as the Virginia Antitrust Act. The last time I know of that happening is when AG Bob McDonnell threatened to sue Inova in federal court to prevent its expansion. That was in 2007 or 2008.

I’ll say it again. Attorneys General continue to take campaign donations while in office. That cannot be OK.

General Assembly

Virginia’s General Assembly is ignorant by design. Members of our part-time legislature simply do not have access to enough unbiased information to do their jobs.

JLARC does some good work on occasion, but it is too small and lacks the deep subject matter expertise to serve the individual committees and members of the Assembly.

Thus the second thing that the General Assembly must do after they limit campaign donations, especially from out of state, is to create professional staffs for each of their committees.   

As a result of the lack of such a resource, going to committee hearings in Richmond occasionally leaves one embarrassed to be in the same state with some of the elected officials of both parties. Too many of them simply have no idea what they are talking about. The only talking points they have are provided by lobbyists.

Under the current structure, many members take bills largely written by lobbyists and put them in the hopper. Those members then proudly accept plaques from the lobbyist associations as 100% supporters. Seriously. They post photographs of themselves standing beside the lobbyists, plaques in hand, on their websites.

If a citizen tries to input an idea, there is no place to send it except one’s own delegate or senator. If they don’t agree, then most are done. I have a terrific delegate, Jason Miyares, who is the reason that I get anything considered since Frank Wagner retired.

If one tries to send an idea to Committee Chairs or party leaders in the General Assembly, nearly all have a staff fire wall set up to block inputs from anyone other than donors or constituents. When I used to deal with Congress, I found the Republican or Democratic staff members of the committees genuinely interested in policy ideas and willing to entertain new ones in a phone call or a meeting.

Virginia’s unrestricted campaign donations seal the deals for many votes. I have seen votes by blocks of party legislators go entirely against what are nominally party policies to accommodate hard-pressing donors.

Finally, the combination of part-time legislators and lack of professional staffs leaves the state bureaucracies without General Assembly oversight, which is one of the reasons why some of the key ones are inept.

Final Thoughts

We citizens can effect the necessary changes only when we know and press the issues. We need to get active in participating in state races sufficiently to at least ask in public candidates the questions that are indicated here.  

Where do they stand on unlimited campaign donations? Should the Attorney General and Governor continue to take campaign donations while in office? Where do they stand on continuing with a part-time General Assembly? Where do they stand on full-time professional committee staffs?  

Take to social media with these questions and ask the members’ election websites.  

The questions are genuinely bipartisan and transcendently important.

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51 responses to “Virginia’s Government – a Critique

  1. These are well thought out critiques. I agree with some, and have some reservations about others.

    Campaign contributions–The problem with campaign contributions is not that they buy legislators’ votes, but they ensure access to legislators. For the most part, special interests donate to legislative candidates whom they think sympathize with their interests and will support them in the legislature. Thus, realtors and home builders will donate to legislators who are strong supporters of property rights and tend to oppose government limitation of those rights, such as zoning laws and subdivision regulations. There are some interests who are cynical, or pragmatic, to play both sides and donate to both parties. (Dominion is probably the most notorious example.)

    Legislators, on the other hand, have limited time. They will tend to give more of that time to persons or organizations who have supported them. Therefore, those entities have access and can make their case with the legislators. Having heard only one side of an issue, usually presented very persuasively, they will tend to vote that way.

    Bureaucracies–I cannot speak to the competence of the Departments of Health and Education, never having worked with either to much extent. But, having spent a career in state government, I can say that there are some agencies that are very well run and others not so well run. In all agencies, there are competent, well-trained people who are dedicated to doing a good job.

    General Assembly–When I started work in Virginia government many years ago, it was on the staff agency of the General Assembly–the Division of Legislative Services. During those years, there were numerous legislative study committees operating during the interim between sessions and the professional staff of DLS, consisting of lawyers and non-lawyers, supported these study bodies. Some of the study committees I staffed were Needs of Young Children, Welfare Reform, annexation, and state aid to localities.

    DLS still provides professional staff assistance, although it consists only of attorneys now, which limits its scope in my opinion. More importantly, there are a lot fewer interim studies going on now. The GA does far less work during the interim than it used to. There are probably several reasons for this. Ironically, one reason is the lessening of what some of this blog call the “Plantation elite”. Those members, primarily lawyers. had the flexible schedules and personal wealth that enabled them to spend more time in Richmond and away from their jobs than is true of today’s legislators. More professional staff is not going to help if the legislators are not around outside of the session to take advantage of it.

    The exceptions are the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. They both have professional staffs and the committees and subcommittees (to some extent) meet regularly during the interim.

    To address your concerns, Virginia will have to make some choices: bigger staffs for the legislature (many on this blog would not favor increasing bureaucracy in any form); full-time legislature (do we really want that?). A compromise would be a more active part-time legislature, with standing committees meeting some during the interim, to educate their members on issues under the committees’ jurisdictions, for no other reason, and a larger, more diverse (non-lawyers) staff for DLS.

    • As a retired and long term state employee from the Dept. of Education, I have to agree with Mr. Hall-Sizemore. Employees at the Dept. of Education are very dedicated. Mr. Sherlock mentioned the four year term of governors very briefly. I was in the department during the administration of five governors. Each brought in a new agenda, a new idea, maybe a new state superintendent, and thus, a new wave of work.

      This governor is shouting Early Childhood Education, a previous governor, school choice, and one prior to that, accountability for low-performing schools. For four years your work involves making the Governor happy at any cost as your boss was appointed by the same. It makes work over the long-term very difficult.

      Good research also brings about good ideas that are not research based nor evidence based. For example, the turnaround principal idea from UVA was flawed at the onset. Staff could say nothing and do nothing, after all, the Governor was in full support of the idea. It was put into place and failed miserably, for reasons we all knew when the idea was suggested by the Governor’s office. Four years later, the idea was only history, except that no one could say why it was history as that its failure might make a senatorial run by the same governor not fair as well as his party wanted. At least it was well-intended. Next, we were on to another Governor’s new ideas. I am sure that this happens in many agencies. The ebb and flow of Governor’s agendas is the work of the various administrative agencies.

      I do agree with Mr. Sherlock with the work of the GA. We would be asked (demanded) to provide a cost analysis of some “idea” at 8:00 a.m. and have it ready for a GA committee by 3:00 p.m. Ridiculous. More ridiculous is going to a committee hearing/meeting and finding that not one elected official was prepared to ask questions or only barely listened to a presentation that an entire department may have spent weeks preparing at the Committee’s request.

      All in all, the administrative agency work closely with the Governor as they should. Follow the money (campaign funding) and the agenda of the Governor and his party will become clear as will state agency work.

      • Thank you for your service.

        As I wrote, I have never really dealt with anyone but the current leadership of the Department of Education.

        Working for Atif Qarni and James Lane must be a trial regardless of one’s views on education. Qarni, publicly, is mercurial, attacking in the harshest terms members of the public who dare to disagree with him. His rants about Asian Americans would get him fired from any other job in America.

        They clearly want only one well defined set of inputs from the people that work for them regardless of the facts.

        The unfocused demands with ridiculous deadlines you receive from the GA are a result of that institution’s disfunctionality. Most of those “emergency” ideas that need cost analyses come from lobbyists.

        Finally, I have noted the tendency of DOE leadership to call conferences of outsiders to develop new policies rather than professional staff.

        DOE must be a very tough place to work.

        • The secretary of Ed has no jurisdiction over the Board of Ed or the Department of Ed. Thank goodness!!!!! The appointmented Ed secretaries usually had limited backgrounds in education. Dr. Lane, though I haven’t worked for him, brings a pretty good past set of experiences. He has been pretty responsive to Covid19. Due to the low salary scale, it is hard to bring in people to do the work required, and this is often the reason for farming it out to university folks or committees. It also provides buy in. If the department could only hire or secure committees with folks from around Richmond, Lee County wouldn’t be very happy with suburban or inner-city solutions to a problem. Virginia is very diverse.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Now you know how the school teacher feels. Difference being we have to take your policies (I do mean the politicians policies) and put them into practice and then watch them fail and catch all of the heat. The heat comes from multiple directions. Administration, parents, and the kids. Talented school teachers have distilled a method of working around the policies, giving them their due attention, and find the time for real instruction. Did any of our state superintendents or governors come close to getting anything right in the last 16 years?

      • The point about one-term governors is an important one that I overlooked. By the time a governor and his new agency heads get settled in and figure out what is going on and get to know three agencies and people, the governor’s term is about half over. Any initiatives have not had a chance to prove (or disprove) themselves and and the political folks are beginning to think about their next job. Also, as ksmith points out, new folks are often anxious to try the new fad, even against the advice of seasoned experts in their agencies.

        Helping to ensure this situation is not a complete disaster is the Virginia tradition of keeping many agency heads in office through several. Administrations. An example would be Dept of Corrections. The current was appointed by a Republican (McDonnel) and resppointed by the two succeeding Democrats. The result has been a continuity in philosophy and management. In contrast, the Department of Juvenile Justice has seen a parade of different directors and the employees have been whipsawed by the differing management styles and philosophies.

        The ultimate answer is to allow a governor to serve successive terms.

    • I meant to address your point about DLS. As you indicated, that body is now for legislative lawyering. I never knew that body when they were anything else. Thanks for the lesson.

    • “The problem with campaign contributions is not that they buy legislators’ votes, but they ensure access to legislators.”

      Says who?

      Look at “Dominion”Dick Saslaw and tell me that’s true.

  2. I thank you for you input on this, Dick. You are the reigning historian on the Virginia government on this blog.

    There is one thing that I will push back against. You write: “The problem with campaign contributions is not that they buy legislators’ votes, but they ensure access to legislators.“

    I understand your “back the candidate most likely to support you” defense of campaign money, and a lot of that goes on.

    But I reiterate that I have seen donation money convert Democrats into voting against programs designed to help poor people at the direction of powerful lobbyists.

    I have seen donation money convert some Republicans to support raids on the treasury by special interests.

    I have watched it with my own eyes. So I will never agree that even most campaign money follows like thinkers. That has not been my experience or what I have seen in VPAP money flow data.

    When I look at major power brokers like a citizen here in Virginia Beach, I see people who in his case have donated over a million dollars split equally among members of each party to ensure influence in both. That is buying influence, not political conviction. In his case it has also been hugely effective. He has been appointed to lead everything he wants to lead for a very long time. I’m sure he has the Governor’s cell phone on speed dial.

    When I see the Governor, a physician, try to broker an “agreement” between diametrically opposed interests in the COPN debate, and then bail out when none was achieved, I see an ambitious coward interested in preserving his cash and carry relationship with both sides.

    When I see an AG spend multiple terms without ever initiating a case against the most powerful and generous donors regardless of Virginia law, I see corruption.

    No one will never slide a “they all do it” defense of unlimited campaign donations by me. That law or rather lack of one purposely enables in-your-face corruption on its face.

    In my 15 years of research, I have been unable to find a state more corrupt by law than Virginia. I am talking about our statutes that enable corruption, not honorable exceptions that do not succumb.

    I do not know of anyway possible to take that crown of thorns from Virginia until we change our laws.

    • “In my 15 years of research, I have been unable to find a state more corrupt by law than Virginia.”

      Absolutely right. Corrupt be design. The 1971 state constitution was the last gasp and grasp by The Byrd Machine remnants to hold power in Virginia. It was written because the 1902 Constitution was so unspeakably racist that it wasn’t going to survive against the US Constitution and federal law. The 1971 constitution avoided direct conflict with the feds but never fixed the ant-democratic tendencies of The Byrd Machine.

      It’s time for a new constitution in Virginia. The new constitution will be our eighth.

      • You have complained about the 1971Constitution on numerous occasions, but have not provided any specifics, even when asked. So, I renew my request: What are the “anti- democratic” tendencies embodied in the current state constitution?

        • In some ways it is what is written. For example, being the only state that precludes the immediate re-election of the governor. While term limits are fairly customary for governors across the United States, Virginia is the only state that prevents the sitting governor from seeking immediate reelection. Why should the voters of Virginia be denied the opportunity to reelect a popular governor to a second term? I believe it is because ambitious state politicians like the idea of having a vacancy every four years to further their careers.

          Sometimes it is what is not written into the constitution. While the constitution does not mandate off year elections directly it does so indirectly. By setting the term of Delegates at 2 years and senators at 4 years the off year elections were effectively mandated when Virginia held post-civil war elections in 1869. From there it was 1871, 1873, 1875, etc The 1971 constitution should have allowed for a one time change to the terms of office to get Virginia elections back on the national schedule. However, Virginia politicians like the fact that they can run for federal office without simultaneously running for state office. This also holds down voter turnout and helped keep The Byrd Machine in power. Only 5 states hold off year elections and only one other state elects a governor in the off year (New Jersey).

          “The off-year election certainly helped maintain control of things for the Byrd machine and the machine that operated prior,” says Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

          “Make no mistake about it: there is a drop-off between presidential turnout versus a gubernatorial elections,” says Jim Gilmore, a Republican who served as Virginia governor from 1998 to 2002. He favors aligning Virginia’s gubernatorial election with the presidential one.

          That’s two. I could also cite the method by which judges are elected by the General Assembly, the lack of citizen initiated referenda, etc.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    When I was born in 1970 Virginia had a population of 4.5 million. We were still an old fashioned southern state and government was limited on purpose. The old pay as you go ways of the Byrd Machine. Now it is 2020, we have a population of 8.5 million. Our state so changed and different. Yet our state government and the way it runs has not kept up the pace with the new ways of today. I expect the Democrats to continue to expand government. I see more regulations, taxes, and expanded bureaucracies. I see a two term governor down the road. Virginia is still behind the fast pace of change but the change is coming.

  4. All very interesting. And, of course, all very true, to the extent witnessed. It’s people, people. Everything James has said is true; all that Dick countered with is also true, because ultimately, it’s all personality.

    It hasn’t changed in 400 years. What has changed is the ability to see it and the ability to tell a wider segment of the population about it. Same song, someone just turned up the volume.

    It is worthless to say this because of polarity, but the best thing that can be done is a better Ethics Committee and enforcement. Then, at least, it’s inefficient, arbitrary, political, but somewhat cleaner.

    • Thank you Nancy.

      I absolutely agree with you on ethics violations. One doesn’t need to violate a law to be unethical. Everyone, including the miscreant, knows it when they see it. Start with those photos of proud lawmakers accepting legislator of the year plaques from lobbyists and compare them with campaign donations. Not rocket science.

      Unfortunately, it is so prevalent, that a large number of legislators can’t stand that spotlight, so ethics investigations will go forward on sexual predators and those who said the wrong thing in high school, but the elephant in the room will continue to roam unnoticed. So will certain blackface incidents.

      As for enforcement, unfortunately, on the subject of campaign contributions, there is no controlling law to enforce.

      • To me, the most disgusting display of unethical behavior and elitism happened when Phil Hamilton was caught red handed stealing State funds. Yes, it took cooperation from ODU personnel, and perhaps more people should have been prosecuted.

        But Phil and whoever was complicit is not the proplem.

        The real problem was the sheer number of former and then-current elected (D&R) and State officials who signed on to, or penned, editorials that proclaimed “he’s been punished enough” when he lost his position on the Budget Committee, and/or when he resigned, arguing that criminal prosecution was going to far as if simply being tossed from the rarified air of the GA was sufficient. That elitism was the far more damaging violation of the public trust. They are the ones who should have been pitched.

      • Bet you thought I was going to raise Bob McDonnell and family, huh? Well okay. Them too. Gifts are loans and loans were gifts. Count the silverware.

        It wasn’t just ODU with Phil either. There were CNU connections with bonuses and huge construction dollars being poured into that place from the State too. Fiefdom thiefdoms.

        Sheesh, every effort made to avert ones eyes are made.

        • Could not agree more with both of your statements above.

        • Compared with what the Biden family has received from foreign sources, everything done for the McDonnell family is mere pocket change. One is either against corruption, or not. Pick one.

          • Nathan, we are talking about Virginia law and policy. I hope this does not turn into competitive name calling.

          • He’s correct James. Unethical and the appearance of unethical behavior should be investgated, always. That said, however, we must use the legally prescribed methods and agencies, not backdoor or approaches that violate personal rights and freedoms. That only compounds the problems. Oaths and warrants and all.

            Done.

            So as to Virginia, I guess we really need some teeth in campaign finance control.

          • I stand corrected. I would edit the post but can no longer do so. I will keep that in mind for future posts.

    • 1. Limit campaign contributions from individuals, PACs, unions, corporations and charities.

      2. Move election to the same year as federal election.

      3.No reelection for the state supreme court.

      4. Change the judicial selection process. Virginia and South Carolina are the only two states where judges are elected by the legislators. We need elections or a commission … anything but active attorneys voting on the very judges who will try their cases.

      5. Raise the corporate income tax rate to generate a sufficient amount of money to pay for General Assembly members to have an adequate staff. No more “education by lobbyist”. Given the campaign donation restrictions corporate Virginia will pay out less money under this approach.

      6. Make it easier for independents to get on the ballot.

      7. Rewrite the “compact and contiguous” political divisions wording so that the Supreme Court can’t pretend that it doesn’t understand what the words mean.

      8. Enforce the single purpose per bill requirement. Allow politicians from either party to ask the courts to overrule the speakers’ decision on single purpose.

      9. Implement requirements for clear, detailed and timely reporting of all meetings between politicians and lobbyists.

      I’ll leave #10 open as I read more comments as they come in.

      • All these proposals have some merit except the popular election of judges. It seems ironic that someone who rails against the influence of money in elections would want to have judges out campaigning and raising funds for campaigns. For a vivid example of what this could lead to, just look next door to West Virginia, where a coal baron bankrolled a candidate for the state Supreme Court, who then ruled in favor of his patron in a major case .

        If you are worried about lawyer-legislators voting on judges in whose courts they practice, push for a requirement that a lawyer must abstain from voting in such cases.

        • I wrote “election or a commission” regarding the method of appointing judges. I would be open to a discussion of either. However, Virginia remains an outlier with direct election of judges (and the supreme court) by members of the General Assembly.

          I also find it interesting that the state elects Commonwealth Attorneys who effectively can act as judge and jury. For example, my recent article about a 50 pound marijuana seizure resulting in probation because the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the defense attorney agreed to that. Those plea deals used to be reviewed by a judge but recent changes in state law no longer allow judges to set aside plea agreements. At least a judge has to deal with a jury and possible appeal. Plea deals in lieu of trials are now completely at the discretion of an elected official. Is it any surprise that special interest money is being funneled into Commonwealth Attorney races.

          Of course, practicing attorneys in the General Assembly should abstain from voting on the judges who will hear their cases. One would think that a matter of ethics, morality and so-called Virginia Way. But ethics and morality are lacking and “The Virginia Way” was Goebbels like propaganda used to justify the lax ethics and twisted laws of Virginia so that the Byrd Machine could stay in power.

        • I agree with Dick.

          I generally don’t favor election of judges. It raises too many conflict of interest issues. Until Virginia gets some handle on campaign contributions, discussions of electing judges is at least premature even if one thinks it a good idea.

          I believe that judges should be appointed by the legislature. Populating a commission, inevitably of lawyers, would present more problems than solutions, so I favor the legislature. Perhaps abstentions by practicing lawyers in the GA makes sense, but I am not sure. If we had a handle on how many lawyer members we are talking about, it would be helpful. I’ll look it up.

          As for term limits and the current system of scorecards on sitting judges filed by lawyers, I don’t know enough of the history to comment. Locally, I have seen that that system usually and appropriately addresses competence and consistency of judges rather than some political agenda, so as far as I know it works.

          • Virginia and South Carolina are the only two states where judges are elected by the legislators. Anytime you see an outlier in Virginia (and knowing its tendency toward corruption) you should wonder why there is an outlier. It is almost always either a means for politicians to pocket money or a way for the incumbent political elite to hold power.

            When South Carolina, Louisiana or Mississippi are Virginia’s “partners in crime” with regard to an outlying rule or law … you should look twice.

            48 states have decided that the direct election of the judiciary by the legislature is a bad idea. Some use popular elections, some use commissions to make recommendations. They are not all wrong. Virginia is wrong … because Virginia is corrupt.

            Typical game playing in Richmond ….

            https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/03/04/lingering-grudges-obscure-protocol-and-a-classic-general-assembly-judge-fight/

      • The Texas judicial system has better judges because they are popularly elected??

        No.

  5. Again, wherever readers live, ask the questions at the end of the essay to your Delegate and Senator on their constituent service site. They will read them, and some may perhaps consider action.

    I just posed those questions to my state representatives.

    • Great essay, but one critical element was missing (in my view) – the Forth Estate. I don’t believe effective government is possible without a vibrant, free and objective news media.

      – The investigative capacity of the local news media is greatly diminished.

      – Traditional sources increasingly favor one side. Look at the makeup of the Richmond Times Dispatch Opinions staff for example.

      – An increasing share of the population gets its “news” from social media, where objectivity is lacking and the users are bombarded with Ads.

      -Advertising on social media favors those candidates and causes that are well funded. This accentuates the problem of large campaign contributions.

      Bacon’s Rebellion seeks to fill the gap, but does not have the recourses or audience that traditional news media have had in the past.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        On occasion the Virginia Star reports some good state news.
        https://thevirginiastar.com/category/politics/

      • I agree on the need for strong, independent, objective news media. I lament the shrinking presence of good local and regional newspapers. I am amused, however, at the example given of a biased paper, the Times Dispatch, due to its perceived liberal leanings. It was not that long ago that the RTD was so supportive of the state’s conservative establishment that it was referred to by many as the “Times Disgrace”.

        • I think your assessment of the recent past has some merit, but I would counter that while the staff of the RTD Opinion section was once dominated by conservatives, the national news, local news and local opinion writers were decidedly liberal. That provided some balance.

          Michael Paul Williams
          Jeff E. Schapiro

          Now national news, local news, local commentary and all Opinion staff are heavily weighted toward the left. That does not represent Virginia.

          Using this past election as an example:

          Biden 54%
          Trump 44%
          Jorgensen 1.5%

          Warner 56%
          Gade 44%

          Is it reasonable to assume that anyone in an influential spot or leadership role at RTD voted Republican this past election? Highly doubtful. My guess would be 100 % Democratic.

          • As big a problem is that if newspaper staffers did vote for the President, they could not admit it.

        • When I started at the state party, almost 35 years ago, the then chairman considered the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune editorial pages too liberal.

        • Lol. I remember that. My very conservative military officer Dad always liked the RTD and The Washington Star.

      • Virginia is not alone in the dismantling of local news capabilities. How could the structure of government be changed (at the state level) to help reverse this problem?

        • The only thing I think of that would help is if politicians held regular online news conferences and both encouraged and accepted live questions from online media as well as print media.

        • I worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia for 16 years, through many administrations. In my view, the system has few safeguards compared with other states. (I also worked 4 years in another state.)

          In my own experience, the lack of safeguards has been overcome by the culture, and good people. (I have, however, seen profound incompetence.)

          I might suggest various improvements here and there, but without an effective Forth Estate to raise public awareness over an extended period of time to demand accountability, I fear that corruption will take root and grow.

          Don’t mean to be pessimistic, but that’s my current assessment. I hope I’m wrong.

      • I agree. Wish I had included it.

  6. “Campaign contributions–The problem with campaign contributions is not that they buy legislators’ votes, but they ensure access to legislators.”

    Oh, I see, the vast sums of money annually paid into the coffers of Virginia politicians by Virginia’s wealthy and ambitious are not paid to buy votes. Instead these monies buy access to politicians, so as to meet and greet them, chat and socialize with them, exchange grand ideas, and brotherhood.

    Last night I carried this profound observation into my bed, this claim that normal laws of human behavior, however base and well established elsewhere, had been suspended among Virginia’s elites (its politicians and those of great wealth and ambition within Virginia), such base motives replaced instead by their mutual love of sociability and philosophic discussion on matters of literary import and public /private issues of the day, all to promote the public good in Virginia.

    What a revelation! How the spirit of the 18th century London coffeehouse – the very club of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Edmond Burke, Adam Smith, Edmond Gibbons, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, and David Garrick meeting each Friday night at Turk’s Head Tavern – now fills the streets, alleyways, clubs, and other spaces behind closed doors, along Richmond’s James River, to the brim with the congeniality, wit, and wisdom of Virginia’s elite, its grand personages of public and cultural affairs of the Virginia’s commonweal. How inspiring!

    But at one thirteen a.m. in the cold dark of this morning, I awoke with a start, chilled to the bone. Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Deny evil, we are lost in evil, a living hell we are powerless to escape, so burn eternally without being consumed.

    It was a rough morning until the sun rose and I returned to this threat on Bacon’s Rebellion to wrestle with the devil, only to find the coliseum, all of its arenas, full of noble gladiators busily at work dragging Christians from the mouths of lions into the light.

    We’ve come a long way, baby. Keep the faith.

    • The “they just buy access” argument is another plank in the discredited “Virginia Way” platform. Only 5 states (including Virginia) have no limits on political contributions from anybody or any entity (see link below). How do the “interested parties” in the 45 states with limits get access to the state’s politicians?

      Of course the contributions are made to buy votes. Between low turnout off-year elections, no campaign contribution limits and excessive gerrymandering the political elite remains in power. The contributions not only buy votes they buy whole politicians who remain in power for life.

      • “Of course the contributions are made to buy votes. … The contributions not only buy votes they buy whole politicians who remain in power for life.”

        I agree totally.

        Of course your point that these contributions “buy whole politicians who remain in power for life” explains why those bought politicians and the system wherein they work, so rarely produces legislation that addresses and solves the real problems that confront the great bulk of Americans today. And why instead these politicians bought for life by special interests so often pass legislation that acerbates and makes far worse the lives of most Americans, most especially those in the middle class and those within disadvantaged groups, while benefiting crony elite.

        But also, and equally important:

        Bought politicians also typically do great harm to disadvantaged groups. This damage is foisted on disadvantaged groups in myriads of ways, some designed to keep their corrupted leaders in power by handing out to them public monies, favors, and privileged. Hence, the goal here is not solve problems for disadvantaged people, but to continue and acerbate their problems, keeping those groups captive and dependent on the bought politician, and the groups leaders who need to keep their followers needy and dependent, on the plantation to remain in power and control themselves.

        Now, of course too, we see the same corrupt dynamic at work with crony Oligarchs buying politician for life. Here, for the first time perhaps, these Oligarchs have the high tech power that can keep their captive politicians in office indefinitely, by manipulating vast swaths of the social media unlike ever before in modern times.

  7. As a transplant, my impression is the state in the past has tried to favor the 4.5 Million orig residents of yesteryear. We are a bifurcated state. Now a new blue state we have more diversity in elected officials probably coming, which to some extent means more geographic fairness, which is refreshing, but I am not optimistic that is the only problem. Tax policy, I have said seems to me, there could possibly be no tax friendlier state than Va. to lower incomes, at the expense we hit middle class relatively hard to compensate. To quote more than one former New Jerseyean, NJ is not looking so bad tax wise from a transplant NoVan’s perspective.

    • Ah New Jersey. That state contribution limits. I’m guessing that companies like Altria don’t own the legislature. So the legislature puts a marijuana legalization question on the ballot and it passes. Funny what happens when real democracy is tried. So, why would special interests in Virginia oppose a ballot question regarding legalizing marijuana? What industry gets hurt by such a question? The alcohol industry, that’s who.

      *** A 10-K disclosure by the Molson-Coors company cites legalized cannabis sales as a potential risk to their business. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer. As a result, a shift in consumer preferences away from our products or beer or a decline in the consumption of our products could result in a material adverse effect on our business and financial results.” ***

      https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/legalized-medical-and-recreational-marijuana-use-appear-to-hurt-alcohol-sales/

      And the booze industry lards the cupboard of Virginia politicians every year.

      $24,221,052 in campaign donations from “Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers”, $7+m from restaurants, $4.4m from alcohol manufacturers. That’s over $35m in contributions between 1996 and today.

      A river of money spent to buy the General Assembly has Virginia as one of only 14 states without even medical marijuana operations. Who gets hurt? Well, beyond glaucoma patients – the agricultural sector of the state that is falling farther and farther behind the states where marijuana has been legalized. Once the inevitable national legalization happens it won’t be Virginia farmers leading the way.

  8. Very interesting and substantive discussion here — a credit to all the participants. One big factor missing is the increasing role of “dark money.” Virginia has more dark money-funded advocacy organizations than ever in its history. They play a major role in framing issues, influencing public opinion, and shaping legislative outcomes.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Dark money (1976) is regulated by the IRS, it can hide the names of donors, cannot coordinate in the open with candidates, and can only spend up to 49% of the money in political activities. The Super Pac (1943) is regulated by FEC, it names the donors, cannot coordinate openly with candidates, and can spend all of their money on political activities.

      This is greasier than Amish lard. Were Americans better off in election cycles before all of this comes along?

      My own state senator is supposedly a queen bee in the dark money world.

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