Category Archives: Politics

Take Back the Discourse — Fight for Civility!

Cliff Hyra. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

This cry for civility could not be more timely given the subject of my previous post: Libertarian Party candidate for governor Cliff Hyra has called upon Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie to halt their vicious attack ads. The statement he released today is worth quoting at length:

When I first decided to run for Governor of Virginia, I chose to make respect a central tenet of my campaign. All Virginians deserve respect, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs- and regardless of their political opinions. I feel strongly that it is a mistake to demonize those who disagree with you. Our political opponents are not demons- they are our brothers and our sisters, and they bleed like we bleed, and they want, at a high level, most of the same things that we want.

I wish that the other candidates felt the same way. I have watched with growing dismay over the last weeks as initial civility has given way to wild-eyed accusations and divisive rhetoric.

What is politics coming to, what is our society coming to, when two candidates for state-wide office spend millions of dollars on ads accusing their opponent of sympathizing with violent street gangs, pedophiles, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, and of harboring supporters who want to run over our children with trucks. I cannot begin to describe my disappointment. I fear for the future of our Commonwealth and of our nation, when even the most staid candidates feel they have to descend to this level of discourse to win an election, and are willing to do so.

My family was talking in general terms about the rhetoric we had been hearing, when my seven-year-old daughter asked me, “Do grown-ups really fight like that?” and I said “Well, these two do” and she said “They’re acting like children!” and I said “You’re right.” It’s unbelievable to me that I have to be the grown-up in the room, because these 60-year old men, these establishment politicians, a sitting lieutenant governor and former chairman of the RNC, apparently think that the best strategy for getting elected to the highest office in the state is name-calling. I feel like telling them ‘Don’t make me turn this car around!’

Virginia’s voters want to make their decisions based on the issues. When I talk to Virginians all over the state, they are disgusted by the ads they see. What is important to them is the economy, education, healthcare, criminal justice. Not monuments. Not Enron.

I would add only this: Civility is not just for elections. It’s for all public discourse. Sometimes the polite people of the world have to stand up and say, “Gosh darn it, we’re not going to take this anymore!”

Ed Gillespie’s Trumpian Appeal to the Alt-Right

by Les Schreiber

The recent events in Charlottesville to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue morphed into a shocking display of anti-Semitism.  The pictures of torch-bearing protesters chanting “Jews will not replace us” resembled 1930s marches in Nuremberg, Germany.  The current leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, could not bring himself to decisively separate himself from this outrage.  His comment  that both sides had good and bad people implied support of those who created the greatest horror of the 20th century.

This type of bigotry is on the rise. The so-called Alt-Right now seems to form a significant portion of the base of the Republican Party. One consequence is the resurgence of The Forward, which was originally published in Yiddish in the early 20th Century. The paper was on the verge of disbanding itself in the 1990’s but in recent years resurrected itself in English as a magazine covering the rise in anti-Semitic incidents and tracking bigoted web sites.

In a recent opinion piece Princeton Economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman examined the campaign of Trumpian nominee Ed Gillespie. By standing tall against the removal Confederate statues, this Trump surrogate has politicized an issue that will attract the Alt-Right base of his party. Ed has also run ads implying that the Democratic nominee supports immigrant gangs and sanctuary cities for them to hide in. Neither charge appears to be true. But it plays well with the Alt-Right fear of immigrants.

Next Tuesday’s results will reverberate beyond Capitol Square.

Appreciating L.B.J.

The mausoleum-like LBJ library.

No trip to Austin would be complete without a trip to the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library. The edifice, designed in a late 60s-era brutalist style of architecture, is massive, impersonal and expresses nothing of the man it honors. But the museum inside brings to life a president who, for all his failings, was one of the most consequential in the history of the United States.

LBJ advanced the Civil Rights revolution, stripping away the trappings of Jim Crow and setting up laws to ensure equal civil rights for all Americans regardless of race, and he embarked upon one of the greatest social experiments ever — the war on poverty. He also presided over the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. The first accomplishment was brilliant, and it will enshrine Johnson forever in the pantheon of great American presidents. The second was noble in spirit and aspiration, but it suffered from massive unintended consequences and, far from vanquishing poverty, has cemented it in place. The Vietnam war was tragic, although I do believe future historians who write the second draft of history may be more forgiving of Johnson than those who lived through that tumultuous time and articulated the conventional wisdom that dominates the way Americans view the conflict today.

I grew up in a Republican household, and my parents were never fans of LBJ. As a fifth grader, I sported an AuH20 button. I still hew to Goldwater’s libertarian philosophy and I lament the massive expansion of federal government power that Johnson presided over. But with the passage of time, I have become more appreciative of his accomplishments. The visit to his library, which put some of his most uplifting oratory on display, gave me a deeper insight into his thinking. Born into a modestly well-to-do family in the hard-scrabble hill country of Texas, he lived close to the poverty of those around him. While rising to wealth and prominence (the LBJ library does not dwell upon the more unsavory details of where that wealth came from), he never forgot the less fortunate members of society.

The LBJ archives

The LBJ era also ushered in the era of ultra-rancorous politics we know today. The media skewered the president over his Vietnam War policies. As he complained in a Trump-like lament, if he had walked on water across the Potomac River, the headline the next day would be, “Johnson can’t swim!”

Precursors of today’s Daily Show and other politically charged late-night “comedy” acts were “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” and the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” Tom and Dick Smothers were particularly tough on the president, although the tone of relentless negativity never approached what we see on “comedy” shows today. As a youth who watched both shows, I don’t recall anyone suggesting that President Johnson’s mouth would best serve as Khrushchev’s cock holster. The item on display in the museum that left the most enduring image in my mind was a letter signed by Tom and Dick Smothers:

Mr. President,

During the past couple of years we have taken satirical jabs at you and more than occasionally overstepped our bounds. We disregarded the respect due the office and  the tremendous burden of running the country because of our emotional feelings towards the war. …

Often, an emotional issue such as war makes people tend to over-react. Please accept our apology on behalf of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for our over-reaction in some instances. Please know that we do admire what you have done for the country and particularly  your dignity in accepting the abuse of so many people.

In the 1960s, emotions ran high because of war, the civil rights struggle, riots in the streets, and a counter-cultural revolution that rejected long-established norms. There were weighty reasons for anger. Yet both Johnson — a man so uncouth he installed a telephone in his bathroom so he could conduct affairs of state while sitting on the toilet — and his antagonists conducted themselves with far greater dignity than their counterparts today when the stakes are…. what? Really, what issue is doing more to tear tearing the nation apart than the mutual loathing of our president and his enemies?

The LBJ ranch

Speaking of the toilet installed in LBJ’s bathroom… we saw it. After visiting the LBJ museum, we decided to tour the LBJ ranch, known as the Texas White House, where Johnson spent 450 days during his five years in office. The ranch house, located about 45 minutes west of Austin, faces the Pedernales River, very near where Johnson was born and spent his early youth. A utilitarian building, by no means opulent, the house befits a man who had few social pretensions. The furnishings, preserved as if in amber, are a testimony to 1960s taste and culture. (Ewww.)

Johnson made the most of every minute of every day. He didn’t work out. He didn’t didn’t play golf. He didn’t hobnob with the beautiful people. Politics consumed his every thought, and he outfitted his house with televisions in every room — three of them, one for each network, in his bedroom — and always had a telephone within reach. Including one near his toilet. Johnson was always reaching out: negotiating, flattering, threatening, and cajoling to move his agenda forward. One day he reputedly spent a full 18 hours on the telephone. It’s how he got so much accomplished. It certainly worked better than tweeting.

The amphibcar

Johnson loved being around people, and he had a zest for life. One of his favorite tricks was loading newcomers to the ranch into the blue car at right, crying out that the brakes had failed, and plunging into a lake. Unbeknownst to the passenger, the car was one of 3,900 amphibious Amphicars manufactured by a German company. In an audiotape one can hear at the ranch, then-presidential aide (and future cabinet secretary) Joseph Califano described his terror until he realized that the car was not sinking.

LBJ, bigger than life, truly was a president that only Texas could have produced.

Libertarian Hyra Cracks 8% in VCU Poll

VCU poll results

The predictable headline of the new Virginia Commonwealth University poll is that Democrat Ralph Northam has a five-point edge, with a five-point margin of error, among likely voters over Republican Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial race. You can read all about it in the Washington Post article filed this morning.

The more interesting story is how well the Libertarian Party candidate, Cliff Hyra, is faring. Among registered voters, he scored 8%. Among “likely voters,” he snagged 6%.

That’s in the same ballpark as the 6.5% vote that Robert Sarvis won in the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli match-up four years ago. The difference is that Sarvis was thought to have benefited from a large “none of the above” sentiment among voters who found Terry McAuliffe’s wheeler-dealer persona and Ken Cuccinelli’s strong cultural conservatism to be off-putting. By contrast, the Northam-Gillespie match-up is a battle of the bland. Both candidates are cautious and inoffensive. No one has to hold their nose to vote for them.

If that’s the case, how does one explain the strong showing of Hyra, a political novice who is campaigning part-time on a shoe-string budget? Maybe, just maybe, his libertarian principles are resonating with voters. Could Virginia become a three-party state? It’s not impossible.

Hyra’s Ideas on Taxes Deserve a Wide Hearing

Cliff Hyra in campaign mode. Photo credit: Richmond Magazine

I’m glad to see that the Richmond Times-Dispatch actually gave some ink to the official campaign launch of Libertarian Party nominee Cliff Hyra. As far as I can tell from my perusal of the Virginia Public Access Project’s daily VaNews digest, the T-D was the only major newspaper to do so.

(However, Richmond Magazine did publish an interview with Hyra here, and Bearing Drift covered his campaign announcement here.)

Hyra’s predecessor, Robert Sarvis, won 6.5% of the vote running against Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. While the Libertarian Party is not threatening to win a statewide office any time soon, its candidates do bring fresh perspectives to otherwise stale debates.

Hyra, a 34-year-old patent attorney residing in a suburb north of Richmond, could liven up the campaign. His big themes are innovation and inclusion. He advocates a cut in the state income tax, legalization of marijuana, pardons for prison inmates convicted for drug offenses, more charter schools, and elimination of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need restrictions on healthcare facilities. 

That’s certainly not a package of proposals you’re likely to see from anyone in either the Republican or Democratic parties.

Hyra’s tax proposal differs from Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s by spreading the benefits more widely among taxpayers. Where Gillespie would cut existing tax brackets 10% across the board, conferring the biggest benefits upon higher-income taxpayers in higher tax brackets, Hyra would raise household exemptions up to $60,000. All taxpayers would benefit, but working class and middle-income citizens would enjoy a bigger break as a percentage of income than the well-to-do.

Unlike some Libertarian candidates, Hyra has concrete ideas on how to pay for the tax cuts — and they don’t require any hocus-pocus assumptions that cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to pay for themselves. He proposes dusting off the recommendations of the 2002 Wilder Commission, proposed during the Warner administration, to see if some never-implemented ideas might be resurrected. Specifically, he would look to see if the state’s real estate portfolio could be administered at lower cost, and if excess property could be sold.

Hyra proposes to save more money through reforms to the criminal justice system — fewer inmates might allow the state to close a prison. Also — I offer this free advice — he could consider rolling back tax breaks, exemptions and deductions in the state income tax code, which usually go to the well-heeled, to pay for his tax break. Hyra’s idea could accomplish the seemingly impossible: cut taxes, make the tax code more progressive, yet not stick it to the rich.

Hyra’s ideas on taxes probably could use some polishing. But his proposal certainly is credible enough to deserves airing in the campaign. I would love to see Hyra and Gillespie go one-on-one on how best to structure tax cuts and pay for them. Perhaps Democrat Ralph Northam could chime in on why tax cuts are not a good idea at all. Citizens would benefit from a more vigorous discussion of the issues facing Virginia.

I hope the media treat Hyra as more than a curiosity, and I hope he fares well enough in the opinion polls to warrant inclusion in the major candidate debates. That would make the debates worth watching!

Update: Bart Hinkle, the Times-Dispatch libertarian editorial page editor, writes favorably about Hyra here.

Campaign Contributions and Selective Indignation

Steve Nash, author of “Virginia Climate Fever,” is on a crusade against Dominion Energy, electric utilities, the coal industry and other corporate special interests that donate vast sums of money to Virginia politicians. He has been submitting op-eds to newspapers around the state taking Dominion and Appalachian Power to task for their outsized campaign contributions.

Writing most recently in the (Lynchburg) News & Advance, Steve asks:

So whether you’re conservative, green, libertarian or liberal, here’s the question: Can your legislator explain why it’s OK to accept “donations” from the two power companies and still cast votes on legislation that affects not only their profits, but also our electric bills and, crucially, our environment? For that matter, why is it legitimate to take money from any corporate interests who also have legislative needs that should not pre-empt the public interest?

Now, Steve is a very close friend of mine, and we debate issues like this with regularity. One of the things that I love about Steve is that, although he is tenacious in his beliefs, he does make an effort to understand the other side of the argument. He engages in reasoned, gentlemanly discussion rather than resorting to change-the-subject evasions and ad hominem attacks. I will endeavor to engage Steve’s arguments in the same generous spirit.

It is an article of faith on the left that the coal and electric-power industries, and Dominion most of all, are fending off worthy environmentalist legislation by buying legislators’ loyalties. Dominion, as Steve points out, has given more than $7.4 million to legislators of both parties since 2016 — $826,000 in 2016-17 alone. The company is Virginia’s top donor. And it doesn’t hand out the money in a spirit of charity and good will. Like everyone else, Dominion gives money because it hopes to get something in return — access, if not legislators’ votes.

As Steve writes:

Public servants who take Dominion’s and Appalachian’s money have voted on countless power-utility-related bills, listened to the pitches of the sturdy corps of power company lobbyists, and then handed those companies a lengthening series of legislative home runs worth hundreds of millions of dollars — perhaps a billion or two by some estimates. And they routinely vote on legislation affecting the bankers, realtors, beer wholesalers, the health industry and their other benefactors.

Please note that Steve seems to have no problem with environmental interests donating large sums of money. As the Staunton News Leader observed recently, the top three environmental campaign donors, the League of Conservation Voters, NextGen Climate Action, and the Sierra Club have shelled out $5.0 million to individual statewide candidates over the past decade, compared to Dominion’s $3.3 million. (The comparison is not entirely fair because it doesn’t include other utility and fossil fuel interests. But the article makes the point that environmentalists aren’t slouches when it comes to throwing around big money.)

Steve and other environmentalists frequently note that Dominion donated $75,000 to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, not including thousands more from individual Dominion executives. Although I don’t recall Steve making the connection, others have suggested that such campaign booty explains the governor’s support for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, of which Dominion is the managing partner.

But the critics of utility donations never acknowledge that NextGen Climate Action, founded by California hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, donated more than $1.6 million to McAuliffe! Another $1.7 million came from the League of Conservation Voters, and nearly $470,000 from the Sierra Club. Nor do the critics ever observe that, as a reward to his environmental supporters, McAuliffe appointed Angela Navarro, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, as deputy secretary of Natural Resources.

When was the last time a Dominion Energy executive was appointed to a senior administrative post?

Steve holds up as exemplars more than five dozen House of Delegates candidates who have signed a pledge to refuse to accept campaign cash from either Dominion or Apco. These are mostly Democrats, but Steve argues that conservatives should join the movement, too. After all, big money in politics encourages big government.

As a libertarian, I agree that big money and big government are intertwined.  And as a libertarian, I have no problem with candidates voluntarily turning down corporate money — as opposed to restricting the right of corporations to offer the money. But as best I can tell, Tom Steyer, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club are not calling for less government. They just want to utilize the power of state government to different ends.

The difference between the electric utilities and the environmentalists, Steve implies in the quote above, is that the utilities are lobbying for their own private interests while environmentalists are pushing for the “public interest.”

It’s fair to say that environmentalists believe they are working for the public interest. But they’re working for their definition of the public interest. Their’s is not necessarily the same definition that, say, coal miners in Southwest Virginia would adopt. Or that economic developers in natural gas-constrained Hampton Roads would use. Or that electric rate payers would use. Or that businesses and homeowners counting on the reliability of the electric grid would use.

Environmentalists are a special interest lobby just like Dominion, Apco and the coal companies. That doesn’t make them evil; it doesn’t even make them wrong. Indeed, I’m happy to entertain the idea that in many instances, they are right. But it is romantic nonsense to insist that environmentalists dwell in some higher ethical plane and that their goals are any more pure than anyone else’s.

Bacon’s bottom line: If Dominion, Apco, the coal industry, Tom Steyer, the Sierra Club, and every other corporate or special interest group under the sun didn’t believe that money didn’t buy them access, they wouldn’t give the money. Clearly, money does influence the public policy process. But so does the media. So do grass roots organizing efforts. So do lawsuits. And, believe it or not, so do the actual merits of the case.

Thanks to the Virginia Public Access Project, it’s easy to follow campaign money. However, a large fraction of the cash dedicated to influencing public policy is invisible. We can’t track how much different groups are spending on public relations and influencing the press. We can’t track how much money is spent on research, organizing demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, and other grass-roots activities. We can’t track how much money is spent on filing lawsuits and pressuring regulators.

Wouldn’t it be great if the electric utilities and environmental groups alike revealed how much they spent on such efforts? I’m not holding my breath. Most groups hew to the ethic of “Transparency for thee, but not for me.” Until such time as we know the bigger picture, I’m not inclined to make a big deal about disparities in one channel — campaign contributions — for influencing the political process.

Update: I just came across a 2014 Mother Jones article that said Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action spent $8 million “to keep Republican Ken Cuccinelli out of the state’s top office.” So, Steyer spent more money in one year than Dominion donated in ten.

A Fourth Force in Virginia Energy Politics

The political economy of energy in Virginia used to be simple. Three main interest groups contended to formulate energy policy in the state: environmentalists, consumers, and electric utilities. Consumers, both homeowners and businesses, pressed for lower electric rates. Environmentalists fought for cleaner air and, more recently, lower CO2 emissions. And utilities — the only parties responsible for keeping the lights on — lobbied for reliability at a reasonable cost (within a framework that preserved profits).

In the last few years, a fourth force has entered the picture, and the political dynamic is changing. The Old Dominion has seen a surge in the number of small, independent solar- and wind-power developers. They have exercised limited political clout, but now large, national corporations embracing a green energy agenda have entered the fray.

Half the Fortune 500 companies have committed to green agendas, and they signaled their desire earlier this year to see policies in Virginia that were friendlier to wind power, solar power and energy efficiency. (See “Clean Energy Options and Economic Development.”) Their message: If Virginia wants to attract outside corporate investment, the state had better get on board the solar-powered electric train.

Then, in an unprecedented flexing of political muscle last week, a green industry group injected itself into the Virginia gubernatorial race. Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), an association of green industry companies, delivered a policy memo to the campaigns of GOP nominee Ed Gillespie and Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

“Evolving consumer preferences, dynamic new technologies and aging infrastructure are causing the energy system as we have known it to modernize,” states the memo. AEE outlines four priorities:

  • Allow competitive procurement to attract investment and benefit consumers. Virginia energy policy should open up third-party market alternatives. “While current Virginia law allows competition in statute, more could be done to attract investment and benefit consumers.”
  • Expand access to advanced energy options. The ability to control energy costs is a factor in where many corporations choose to locate. But they’re not just looking for cheap energy — they want green energy.
  • Maximize energy efficiency and demand-response. Under Virginia regulatory regime, electric utilities lose money when customers reduce their electricity consumption, discouraging utilities from investing in energy efficiency programs and demand response. Virginia should “decouple” electricity sales from profitability so utilities don’t lose when they invest in energy efficiency and demand-response programs that cut sales.
  • Modernize the electric grid. Evolving consumer preferences, new technologies, and the need to replace aging infrastructure have created a need to modernize the electric grid. The regulatory system, which inadvertently stifles innovation, needs to be modernized.

AEE wants more wind and solar, more electric vehicles, more energy efficiency, more innovation, and more freedom for entrepreneurs to design solutions for customers. At the same time, the association acknowledges that the way to achieve these aims is not to browbeat electric utilities into submission but to change their incentives, which would take a major re-writing of regulatory law.

Bacon’s bottom line: To advance AEE’s vision, Virginia would need an upgraded electric grid flexible enough to accommodate a less centralized, more distributed grid while still maintaining system-wide reliability. In effect, the green businesses are calling for a deregulation of electric power production. But no one wants to build a competitive and redundant electric transmission-distribution system.

Any viable energy system of the future must allow electric utilities to continue investing in, and earning a profit on, their transmission-distribution systems. Also, deregulation of electricity generation would require grappling with the issue of “stranded” investments — investments in generating capacity that utilities made in good faith under the existing regulatory environment that might not be economical and must be scrapped in deregulated environment.

Like the environmental movement, this Fourth Force in energy politics wants to see a fundamental transformation of Virginia’s electric power system. Unlike the environmentalists, many of whom see Dominion and Appalachian Power as the enemy, the Fourth Force acknowledges the need for a healthy utility sector. This new interest group has plenty of money, which means it can afford to hire lobbyists and spread cash to political campaigns. Plus, these new voices will be more credible to Virginia’s pro-business legislators than the more strident environmentalists had been. 

The politics of electric power in Virginia has reached an inflection point. We are entering a new era.

Ed Gillespie: a Leader with Imaginative Ideas and Meaningful Solutions

William J. Howell

by William J. Howell

The June 13th Virginia Primary is quickly approaching and it is time to choose a Republican who can offer the kind of responsible, conservative solutions our Commonwealth needs and deserves.

Fortunately, we have a candidate in Ed Gillespie who is wholly committed to ideas and policies based on principles of limited, effective government. He will lead Virginia with humility and fortitude, and will work closely with the Republican-led General Assembly to govern.

I have known Ed and Cathy Gillespie for a more than a decade, and I have always been impressed. He was an aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the primary author of the Contract with America, and served as a state and national party leader. He is well versed in policy details and is an authentic and genuine communicator.

But what impresses me the most today is his laser-like focus on policy. Never have I seen a candidate so focused on substantive issues and real solutions. To date, Ed has released four policy plans, including a plan to provide meaningful tax relief in a responsible way, a 15-point ethics plan to increase confidence in government, a real reform plan to make state government work better, and a path toward regulatory relief that will tear down barriers to entry for job creators. His imaginative ideas and pragmatic approach to government is what Virginia needs to get back on track.

Our economy struggled during the McAuliffe-Northam Administration. Our growth rate was stagnant at two percent or below for five straight years and Virginians from every walk of life took hits. We need a governor who will work with our General Assembly and act in a collaborative manner to enact change. Ed will do that, as is evident from the support he enjoys from over two-thirds of the Republican members of the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia.

As I think back on my time as Speaker of the House of Delegates, I am reminded of the countless conversations I’ve enjoyed with hard-working Virginians about our great Commonwealth. There were good times and bad but through it all, the honor I felt in being given the opportunity to serve never diminished.

I also had the opportunity to watch and work with many gubernatorial candidates – some went on to be successful at the polls and at the Capitol, others saw different results. Few have impressed me in the way Ed Gillespie has in his run for governor this year. Ed is a man of character and ideas.

As we come upon the time of year in Virginia where it is time to make a choice about our candidates for governor, I encourage you to join me in voting for the man I am confident will lead with focus and in the same tradition of our most effective governors.

Ed often says he isn’t running to be something rather he is running to do something. He’s earned my vote and my confidence.

William J. Howell, R-Stafford, is Speaker of the House.

Frank Wagner in the Center Ring

By Steve Haner

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, came to the General Assembly in the 1991 election, as part of a large GOP class that included future Governor Bob McDonnell, future Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims, future U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor and current State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment.

Those names probably produce a mix of reactions with readers, but if you take the job of legislator seriously there will be bumps in the road and controversy. People will cheer you sometimes and cuss you other times. Like the others listed above, Wagner has taken the job seriously. Nobody gets mad at the back-benchers, but years later people also strain to remember them.

Combine Wagner’s legislative success with his Navy career and his experience building a ship repair company, and Wagner is extremely well prepared to be Virginia’s next governor. If he gets there, I’m confident he will think long-term and value good policy. He will have my vote June 13 and I hope I get a chance to vote for him again in November.

A third of a century watching the doings in Richmond has taught me that governors do matter. When big things happen, good or bad, it is usually with the governor doing the pushing and the pulling.

But what governors propose the legislature must dispose. If Wagner does not get a chance to move into the mansion and pick his own brew for the kegerator, he will remain chair of a key Senate committee and a member of the budget conference committee. The next governor (if smart) will be calling Wagner as often or more than Wagner will be calling that new governor.

The power in Richmond abides with the Assembly. This was on my mind as I listened to a tribute Monday to retiring Speaker of the House Sen. Bill Howell, R-Stafford. I doubt he would trade his two decades as speaker for one term as governor, and few governors in my experience have had greater impact on the lives of Virginians than Howell has. And yes, some people have cussed a time or two.

The General Assembly takes its lumps on this blog, with one contributor in particular comparing it to the Ringling Brothers’ clown corps. Me, I always liked the clown acts. Emmett Kelly. Lou Jacobs. Reflecting on my own time inside the tent, holding safety ropes, scooping poop, hawking cotton candy, enjoying the view from ringside, it is the legislators I’ve known who come to mind. That Class of 1991 turned out extremely well. But as a rule, every legislator I’ve known had the ability to make a contribution, had some issue they understood well, had their own shot at the center ring. Most were and are remarkable in some way. Virginia has been better served than many realize.

Sure it’s a circus, and there are clowns, but look up there above the center ring.  Now it’s Frank out there walking the high wire hoping for stardom and risking a big fall.  t the other end of the wire is another performer who climbed up from the sawdust, Ralph Northam. That’s the show we all came to see.

Steve Haner is a lobbyist who is the principal of Black Walnut Strategies.

Woo Hoo! Stewart Promises Billions in Toll-Free Projects

Photo credit: Washington Post.

Claiming the populist niche in the contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Corey Stewart has given away a semi-automatic rifle as part of a fund-raising effort, defended monuments of Confederate generals, and bashed Dominion Energy for its coal-ash disposal plans. Now he’s added to his rabble-rousing resume by promising voters to meet Virginia’s transportation needs without raising taxes or imposing new tolls.

“We obviously have transportation needs, and the way we’re going to fund those is by finding efficiencies within existing spending in Virginia. No new tolls; no new taxes. That’s what I’m pledging,” Stewart said yesterday in a Virginia Beach news conference.

Where would the money come from to pay for projects such as two more lanes for the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, costing an estimated $3 billion? Reports the Virginian-Pilot:

Stewart said he would eliminate the need for new tolls by slashing $2.2 billion from the state budget, which is about $104 billion over two years, and redirecting it toward transportation.

Under Stewart’s plan, the $2.2 billion in redirected spending would come in his second year in office. He’s proposing that on the heels of another plan calling for cutting another $2.2 billion in spending in his first year so the state could reduce the income tax rate most people pay from 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent.

Stewart did not specify what would be cut from the budget under his proposals, but said “there are billions of dollars worth of savings out of the state’s annual $52 billion budget that can be found.”

Bacon’s bottom line: This is magical thinking, and it’s wrong in oh so many ways.

First, it is a fantasy to think that billions of dollars of “inefficiencies” can be squeezed out of the existing state budget by going through by line item by line item — the only way to achieve savings under the current paradigm of government. Medicaid, a federally mandated programs, continues to grow at the expense of other programs. (Virginia, by the way, already operates one of the leanest Medicaid programs in the country.) The state is under-funding its K-12 schools based on Standards of Quality, and it has chopped per-student support to higher education. Virginia has huge unmet needs for mental health and substance abuse. It has massive unfunded pension liabilities. The list could go on and on. Anyone who thinks they can cut the income tax rate at a revenue cost of $2.2 billion and then find another $2.2 billion laying around to be reallocated to transportation is deluded.

Second, Stewart is misguided in his no-new-tolls stance. But at least he has a rationale. Quoth the Pilot:

What makes this tolling plan so absolutely heinous is that taxpayers have already paid for these roads. It’s absolutely wrong. It’s absolutely wrong to tax citizens twice for the same road. You need a third crossing, we need a third crossing here in Hampton Roads, but that project is really a state project. It should not be borne upon the citizens of Hampton Roads to pay for a project that is really meant for the Port of Virginia, which is owned by the entire state.

I would agree, it is wrong to “tax” (or toll) citizens twice for the same road. But doubling the capacity of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel would not be tolling the “same road.” Most likely the new tunnel would be set up as HOT lanes, in which motorists would continue to use the original tunnel for free but would pay a premium to use the new tunnel as a way to bypass congestion. No one would be compelled to use the new tunnel; no one would be forced to pay the toll. But everyday motorists would benefit to the extent that the tolled road diverted some traffic from the untolled road.

I also would agree that it is reasonable to ask the Port of Virginia to help pay for transportation improvements that give tractor-trailers better access to inland markets. But the most logical way to collect money from port-related activity is for time-sensitive tractor-trailers to pay tolls to avoid congestion!

Corey Stewart reflects the id of the Virginia psyche in which everyone wants transportation improvements but they want someone else to pay for them. Stewart is promising to find “someone else” to pay. Thus, roads and highways effectively become free goods — free to the motorist, not the taxpayer. In other words, Stewart is a transportation socialist. The Bernie Sanders crowd might be OK with that. But I can’t imagine the gambit will take Stewart far with the Republican Party.