Category Archives: Politics

Lefties Confront Stewart. Stewart Wins.

Corey Stewart struggles to be heard.

Corey Stewart struggles to be heard. Photo credit: Washington Post.

Corey Stewart is one of those politicians that you either love or love to hate. He’s a conservative populist who built a state-wide reputation on his pugnacious, in-your-face opposition to illegal immigration. And as the prominent Virginia politician to align himself mostly closely with Donald Trump, he is surely loathed by many.

Whatever you might think about Stewart, though, he’s entitled to speak his views like anyone else.

It’s one thing to denounce him as a bigot and a white supremacist — his enemies are entitled to free speech, too — but quite another to disrupt his campaign appearances. Lefties may think they’re accomplishing something by shutting him down, but it’s probably not what they think — they’re engendering sympathy for a not-very-sympathetic guy.

Stewart visited the Peoples Republic of Charlottesville a couple of days ago to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee, which City Council had previously voted to remove. On social media, he had urged people to “defend Virginia’s heritage,” and likened those who wanted to remove the statue to tyrants and Nazis, according to the Washington Post.

His appearance was met by protesters who drowned out his interviews and conversations with shouts of, “White supremacy has got to go!” Hoisting signs saying, “Ban Bigots,” and “No tolerance for white supremacy,” protesters yelled at him to go back to Prince William County. As he left, they shouted, “Whose town? Our town!”

If anyone has that kind of treatment coming, it’s Stewart: His rhetoric toward illegal immigrants has been harsh and uncompromising. And if Charlottesville lefties want to vent online or hold their own demonstrations, I’m fine with that. But I have to say, Stewart handled the disruption with class.

“Stewart took it in stride, frequently grinning and trying to chat up his detractors,” the Post writes.

Stewart welcomed the protests and the attention they would bring, believing  they would buttress his pitch as a conservative standing up to an intolerant left and “political correctness.”

I’m calling them out for who they are,” Stewart said. “It’s really a symptom of the left and their unwillingness to listen to alternative points of view.”

Score one for Stewart.

Lefties in Charlottesville and elsewhere make much of their desire for “inclusiveness.” But their version of “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” includes only those groups friendly to their point of view. A truly inclusive viewpoint would say, “Sure, we’ll keep the Robert E. Lee statue because many people still revere him as a hero. We’ll build statues for our own heroes and heroines. Our community can tolerate them all because we embrace the diversity of cultures, sub-cultures and viewpoints.”

But that’s not the Left’s approach. They want to expunge the heroes of their ideological enemies. They want to exclude other points of view from the public realm. Their viewpoint is relentlessly negative. Erecting a statue of a politically correct hero would be a positive action. But if anyone has proposed doing so, the effort hasn’t gained enough steam to be noticed. The Left’s advocacy of diversity applies to race and ethnicity only. It is a pinched and intolerant view that excludes anyone who thinks differently, including dissenting views of blacks, gays and other minorities.

I part ways with Stewart because I think there are ways to justify restrictions on illegal immigration without demonizing millions of people who came to this country not to create mayhem but to better their lives. It is possible to both sympathize with the aspirations of those who want to live here even while saying firmly, sorry, this is a nation of laws, and if you want to live here, you cannot enter and stay in this country illegally. We can deal with the issue in a humane way.

Corey Stewart is not the guy I want to be making the stand against political correctness in Virginia. But he’s the one doing it, and the Left is making him look good by comparison.

Keep the Politicians Honest, Too

Dominion Virginia Power is coming under fire from all sides as it tries to balance reliability, cost and sustainability.

Dominion Virginia Power is coming under fire from all sides as it tries to balance reliability, cost and sustainability.

“Keep the big boys honest,” was the campaign tag-line of populist “Howlin” Henry Howell when he very nearly won his bid for the governorship in 1973. By “big boys,” he was referring to executives of VEPCO, a predecessor company to Dominion Virginia Power. Four decades later, it appears that Howell’s rhetoric is coming back in style.

As the Associated Press summarizes:

Two out of four GOP primary contestants are openly hostile to Dominion and want to ban the company from making campaign donations. An insurgent Democrat is indicating he’ll make the company’s broad political influence a significant campaign talking point. …

“Somebody has to drag these vampires into the sunlight,” said GOP candidate Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner who battled Dominion over eminent domain issues. Riggleman had a Capitol news conference Tuesday to pledge support for longshot legislation that would prohibit regulated monopolies from making campaign contributions. …

Republican Corey Stewart, a one-time Trump campaign chairman in Virginia, said if elected he would support the ban on donations from regulated monopolies as well and would look at other areas to curb the company’s political influence. “They have virtually every member of the General Assembly in their pocket,” Stewart said. …

On the Democratic side, former Congressman Tom Perriello is also making Dominion’s influence a campaign issue. “Tom believes our political system has become too rigged in favor of big corporations and special interests and that Virginians suffer when the very politicians charged with regulating monopolies accept campaign contributions from them,” his spokesman Ian Sams said.

Is Dominion worried? Spokesman David Botkins sounds confident the company can weather the latest storm: “Our 2.5 million customers tell us they are very, very happy with their low rates, superb reliability, cleaner air, and an energy independent Virginia.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Bashing the electric company is a time-honored tradition in the United States, and Virginia is no exception. Dominion Virginia Power is in politicians’ cross-hairs for multiple reasons. Environmentalists say the company is moving too slowly in adopting renewable fuels, and they say it should spend more to clean up its coal ash ponds. On the flip side, electric customers charge that a freeze in base rates negotiated a year ago locks in excess profits. Then landowners in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project managed by parent company Dominion, as well as proposed new electric transmission lines, are up in arms. Meanwhile, there’s no denying that Dominion enjoys enormous clout in the General Assembly and the McAuliffe administration. It should surprise no one that Dominion has become a target of populist wrath.

As the debate unfolds, however, voters should bear in mind that Dominion, like Appalachian Power Co. and Virginia’s electric co-ops, must strike a balance between three broad goals: keeping rates low, keeping the lights on, and transitioning to cleaner fuels. Accomplishing all three requires trade-offs, making it impossible to fully satisfy all constituencies. If you add a fourth goal — promoting economic development — the tradeoffs become even more complex.

Dominion’s No. 1 priority is keeping the lights on. Let’s face it, nothing enrages people more than going without electricity for more than an hour or two. But ensuring reliability does not come free. By burying vulnerable distribution lines underground, for instance, the company can reduce the number and length of outages due to storms. That costs hundreds of millions of dollars, driving rates higher. How much are electricity customers willing to pay for an additional increment of reliability?

Similarly, the company could move more aggressively to embrace solar and wind power, but the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources threatens the stability of local distribution circuits. Before integrating renewables on a large scale, Dominion is proceeding with a series of small pilot projects to test the impact on local distribution lines. If you value reliability, you’re probably happy with the approach. If your top priority is combating climate change, you’re probably not.

Meanwhile, the company has been restructuring its transmission grid in response to federal clear air mandates — first to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic minerals, and more recently to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Meeting those goals has required a massive shift from coal to natural gas and renewables. That entails not only building new power plants in new locations and importing electricity via wholesale markets from outside the state, it requires erecting new transmission lines to handle the re-routed electricity flows. Landowners understandably don’t like looking at electric transmission lines. But you can’t stick with the old electric grid and also have clean energy.

That’s not to say things can’t be done differently. Arguably, Dominion Virginia Power cut a sweet deal for itself when the legislatures froze its base rate. Arguably, the company could be more cooperative in allowing homeowners and small businesses to work with third-party providers of clean energy sources. Arguably, Virginia’s eminent domain laws could treat landowners more justly. Arguably, the system could be tweaked in many ways. But it always comes back to setting priorities and making tradeoffs. There is no way to satisfy everyone.

Let’s hope Virginia’s candidates for higher office keep that simple truth in mind as we enter the campaign silly season.

How to Give Virginians Real School Choice

Vouchers could make school choice a reality for thousands of Virginians.

Students at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. Tuition ranges from $7,500 to $10,000 a year. Four thousand-dollar vouchers would make school choice a reality for hundreds of thousands more Virginians.

Virginians enjoy a wide range of school choice… providing that they are affluent enough. If they can’t afford to pay private school tuition or buy a house in neighborhoods served by the best public schools, however, their options are limited.

The Old Dominion has among the smallest number of charter schools in the country — nine. The state does provide a tax credit to encourage donations to approved educational foundations, of which there are 34. But in fiscal 2016 those foundations provided only 2,882 scholarships — no more than a rounding error in the Commonwealth’s nearly 1.3 million school-age population. Virginia does allow parents to home-school their children, but the number of families in a position to pursue that option also is modest — the Virginia Department of Education counted only 33,400 home-schooled students in fiscal 2016.

In sum, Virginia’s educational system does a fine job of serving the state’s more affluent citizens but restricts opportunities for those who are less better-off. The poorest households are stuck in failing inner-city and rural school districts with no way of getting out. And the quality of education in Virginia’s worst schools is abysmal. Of the state’s 1,825 public schools, 22% were either denied accreditation or received only partial accreditation under the state’s minimalist standards.

The traditional solution espoused by the teacher’s lobby is mo’ money. There is nothing about Virginia’s educational system that can’t be improved by dumping extra dollars into it! But let’s face it: Given impending budget shortfalls, the big question facing the General Assembly in January is which programs get cut and by how much. Virginia’s K-12 school system won’t be getting any more state funding next year, and chronic budget pressures over the next decade suggest that there won’t be much more forthcoming in the decade ahead.

Tinkering with the system won’t accomplish anything meaningful. The inability of the political establishment to alter the educational status quo creates a tremendous opportunity for an insurgent movement such as the Libertarian Party to advance a bold proposal.

It’s time to think big.

Broadly speaking, there are three main sources of revenue for K-12 education in Virginia: local revenue, state revenue and federal revenue. The state component, referred to in the General Fund budget as “Direct Aid to Public Education,” is budgeted to receive $5.8 billion this fiscal year, although that sum might be trimmed during the upcoming General Assembly session in anticipation of a revenue shortfall.

That $5.8 billion is distributed to local governments according to a complicated formula, but it averages about $4,500 per student.

I propose transforming K-12 education by using the state aid to empower parents and promote school choice. Parents could continue sending their children to public school if they desired, and the school district would continue receiving state aid as it always had. But anyone choosing to send a child to a private school (or home school) would receive a $4,000 voucher reflecting the state’s cost in providing that education.

Admittedly, $4,000 is not enough by itself to cover a private school tuition. But it’s enough to cover a significant portion of the tuition, making private school more affordable for middle-class families than it is today. Families that couldn’t afford to pay, say, $8,000 a year in tuition perhaps could afford to pay $4,000. For poor families, the $4,000 would supplement scholarship dollars, enabling scholarship foundations to stretch their resources over more students. For home schoolers, the sum would be a boon to distance learning, teaching collaboratives and free-lance teachers, spurring innovation in how education is organized and delivered.

The beauty of the arrangement is that it benefits public schools, too. While public districts would lose some state money, they would have fewer students to educate. Fewer students would translate into more local dollars per student. Everybody wins — everybody, that is, but the ideologues who oppose private education.

This idea is a broad framework only, and there could be many wrinkles to iron out. The most obvious is the need to hold private schools accountable. Perhaps any school accepting voucher funds would be required to meet the same Standards of Learning criteria as public schools do. Not all private schools are created equal. There needs to be a mechanism for weeding out the bad schools, and the SOLs might do the trick.

Another problem is that state aid is not distributed to school districts equally. Wealthier school districts get fewer state dollars; poorer school districts get more. Handing out vouchers would create winners and losers, and losers would oppose any change to the status quo. But that’s a small price to pay to give financially strapped families genuine school choice and to foster innovation by entrepreneurs and educators.

Natural Libertarians, a Virginia Majority

Natural Libertarians -- leaving other Virginians alone since 1776.

Natural Libertarians — leaving other Virginians alone since 1776.

It’s the holiday season, the news is slow, and I’ve been thinking about things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about.  One is how to convert the latent “small L” libertarian potential of Virginia’s electorate into a meaningful political force.

A large percentage of the Virginia population, I firmly believe, is what writer Lee Harris has termed “natural libertarians” — libertarians by inclination, not ideology. In 2011 he wrote prophetically:

The natural libertarian, whenever he feels that his self-image as a free and independent individual is under assault, will turn to a defense mechanism that is not listed in the classic Freudian inventory: he will become ornery. … Orneriness is often a highly effective defense mechanism against bossy people and bullies. …

One of the most striking characteristics of ornery people is that they don’t want to boss other people around any more than they want to be bossed around themselves. … The ornery man’s idea of liberty is the liberty to be left in peace, to tend to his own affairs, to pursue his business, make his home, raise his kids, without being told what to do or how to do it by other people.

Without question, orneriness fueled Donald Trump’s electoral victory — although I am not sure how natural libertarians will feel about their new president after he has governed a couple of years. Be that as it may, the live-and-let-live, leave-me-alone-and-I’ll-leave-you-alone impulse is a strong one in Virginia.  Natural libertarians skew toward Republicans and conservatives on issues relating to fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, less regulation but they lean toward Democrats and liberals on cultural issues such as gay rights and abortion. The Republican-Democratic duopoly offers no haven for natural libertarians.

A February 2016 Wason Center poll indicates how much of the population is up for grabs. Here’s how the Virginia electorate broke down by party loyalty:

Republican — 21%
Independent, leaning Republican — 20%
Independent — 16%
Independent, leaning Democrat — 14%
Democrat — 24%

More than half the electorate describes itself as independent to greater or lesser degree.  The Wason poll also provided this breakdown by liberal/conservative ideology:

Strong liberal — 5%
Liberal — 13%
Moderate, leaning liberal — 15%
Moderate, leaning conservative — 25%
Conservative — 23%
Strong conservative — 10%

Moderates outnumber both liberals and conservatives (although by a smaller plurality than independents outnumber Rs and Ds.) I would bet that if you queried most moderates and independents, you would find them to be natural libertarians. If the natural libertarians had a party that fully represented their priorities, it would dominate state politics.

Given the make-up of the electorate, I cannot help but wonder why the “Big L” Libertarian Party hasn’t made bigger gains in the Old Dominion. Robert Sarvis won about 6.5% of the vote in the 2013 gubernatorial election, a record, but he was running against duopoly-party candidates with high negatives: Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. It’s far from clear that a Libertarian candidate would fare as well in 2017.

One reason for Libertarians’ limited electoral success might be be that the party duopolists have stacked the rules of the game against third-party upstarts. Strict balloting rules compelling third-party candidates to gather 10,000 signatures to run for statewide office is one example. Gerrymandering safe districts for Republicans and Democrats is another.

A third explanation for limited Libertarian Party success in Virginia is the widespread perception that Libertarians are a fringe group of crackpots and dope smokers preoccupied with nutty ideas such as legalizing drugs, abolishing the Federal Reserve Bank, or eliminating the military. Many voters regard Libertarians as dreamy utopians with little inclination to engage in the nitty-gritty work of governing. I believe that view is unfair, but without question the view must be overcome.

To achieve electoral success in Virginia, Libertarians must identify issues that will gain traction with the huge number of “natural libertarians” out there and build a broad coalition of like-minded constituencies. They also must advocate a politics of the possible. Repealing the income tax, a fiscal impossibility in Virginia, is not an option. Libertarians have a lot of thinking to do. While news is slow during the holiday season, I will sketch out some ideas.

2016 a Big Year for Libertarian Party

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council, but the Libertarian Party still faces obstacles in Virginia.

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council.

Unless you read the LP News, you probably didn’t realize that 2016 was a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party. The national news media tuned out Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson after he suffered his “Aleppo moment,” and his poll numbers fell in the last weeks as the race tightened between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Yet he still won nearly 4.4 million votes — more than three times the previous number garnered by the Libertarian candidate in 2012.

Other third-party candidates have fared better — anyone remember George Wallace and Ross Perot? But the Libertarian Party represents a movement that is bigger and longer lasting than any one candidate. Nearly 500,000 Americans are registered as Libertarians, a new high. Nearly 1.7 million votes were cast for Libertarian candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, also a new high. In Alaska, the Libertarian candidate won 30% of the vote, beating the Democratic candidate. Dues-paying member have passed the 20,000 mark, the highest level since 2005. (See the Libertarian Party’s take on the outcome here.)

Among other signs of progress, the Libertarian Party now has presidential ballot access in 37 states — more states than after any election in the party’s history. Ballot access means the party’s presidential candidate in 2020 will automatically qualify to run in those states without the necessity of accumulating enough signatures to qualify. The $760,000 it cost the Libertarians to get on the ballots of all 50 states this year may be pocket change to Republicans and Democrats, but it looms large for an independent party.

Libertarians made progress in Virginia, too. Libertarian Jessica Abbott won 59% of the vote in a nonpartisan race for Virginia Beach City Council. Noting that city spending has increased 90% over the past decade while median household income has remained flat, she opposed a proposed $343 million light rail project in the city. As a certified flood insurance agent, she also promised to use her expertise to help Virginia Beach cope with coastal flooding.

Another Virginia Beach Libertarian, Robert Dean, lost the race but won a healthy 41% of the vote.

Libertarians face a challenge in running a candidate for statewide office next year. Virginia has one of the toughest ballot-access laws in the country, a provision that helps cement into place the dominance of the Republican-Democratic duopoly. To become “recognized,” a party must win at least 10% of the vote in a statewide race. Democrats and Republicans have no difficulty reaching that threshhold, so Democratic and Republican candidates get free ballot access. By contrast, Libertarians (and any other independent or third-party candidate) must acquire 10,000 signatures.

As a practical matter, third-party candidates must get more than 10,000 because the signatures must be verified by state electoral authorities, and it is common for a significant percentage to be thrown out. A rule-of-thumb cost to hire signature gatherers is about $2.50 per sign-up. That translates into potential expenditures of $25,000. Again, that is pocket money for Democrats and Republicans but a hurdle for Libertarians. Robert Sarvis, who won 6.5% of the vote in the 2013 gubernatorial election, making him the most successful Libertarian Party candidate in Virginia history, spent only $220,000 on his entire campaign. (Terry McAuliffe spent $38 million.)

The movement to reform partisan gerrymandering of Virginia’s electoral districts has gained big momentum in recent years. Virginians who value increased competition in the political realm should support reform of ballot access as well.

How to Waste Millions: Run Political Ads on Television

Political ads on TV not worth the moneyAs I was standing in line for an hour-and-a-half at the Tuckahoe Elementary School voting station yesterday, I had the good fortune to strike up a conversation with the gentlemen next in line: John Adams, the recently retired chairman of the Martin Agency. Naturally, the conversation turned to the presidential election.

Adams opined that the vast majority of the money spent on television advertising this election season was wasted. There is little substantive that can be said in 30-second slots, and voters have learned to tune them out, he said. Candidates continue to invest in TV ads because political consultants make tons of money placing them.

His observations yesterday were prescient. Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump on political ads, mostly negative, by a massive margin, and to the astonishment of the television pundits she lost. Trump, by contrast, focused on generating “earned media” (news) through his tweets.

Adams is not a big fan of Twitter and other social media, which is thinks is superficial. He prefers “long-form” formats that allow the thoughtful discussion of policy issues, although he admits that thought pieces may not be to everyone’s taste.

Despite its drawbacks, TV ads can reach a large audience quickly. One suggestion from the man who presided over the Martin Agency’s creation of the Geico gecko and cave man ads: Television can be used to present positive messages that are difficult to peddle to a cynical press corps. But there is less utility in running attack ads. Reporters love nothing better than a cat fight, so it’s usually easy to inject negative spin about an opponent in the media. Whatever the ultimate solution, he says, the millions of ad dollars squandered in 2016 could have been spent to better effect.

— JAB

What the Trump Victory Means for Virginia

What does a Trump presidency mean for Virginia?We woke up this morning to a very different world than most of us expected twenty-four hours ago: the prospect of a Trump presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress. After four years of political gridlock, the odds have improved immeasurably that something will get done in Washington. You might not like the result, but the logjam will break. The ramifications for foreign and domestic policy are far-reaching.

Herewith are some preliminary thoughts on what a Trump presidency means for Virginia.

Energy policy. Trump famously declared global warming to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and he has campaigned on the promise to boost the U.S. energy economy and revive the coal industry. It’s safe to say that he will do what he can to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to slow global warming by reducing CO2 emissions from electric power plants. Whether he can do so with a stroke of the pen — issuing an executive order that reverses President Obama’s order — is not clear to me. But one way or the other, I expect he will modify the plan significantly if not kill it outright.

What does that mean for the future of Virginia’s electric grid? Coal is the big winner. Most likely, some coal-fired power plants in Virginia will enjoy an extended lease on life. In the case of Dominion Virginia Power, that implies the need for fewer natural gas-fired plants in the future (or at least a delay in their deployment), which in turn implies diminished future demand for natural gas. What does that portend for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline? I’m not sure, but these are obvious questions to ask.

The future of solar and wind energy also is up in the air. Congress has extended hefty tax credits for the renewable energy sources well into the 2020s. Trump and Congress may spike those subsidies, and the political pressure will be off Dominion and Appalachian Power to boost their commitment to solar and wind. But the economics of solar and wind are steadily improving, and Dominion has stated its conviction that there is value in having a diversified energy portfolio. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop merchant power generators from building solar farms and wind farms and selling the energy into wholesale electricity markets, thus bypassing the established utilities.

In sum, while the pace of adoption may slow, the progress of renewable energy, electric vehicles, battery storage, voltage regulation and other technologies suggests that the electric grid will look very different ten years from now than it does today, regardless of what Trump does. Virginians need to prepare for that future, even if it is not imminent.

Medicaid. Trump campaigned on a promise to end and replace Obamacare. Repealing the program will probably be more difficult than Trump was willing to admit on the campaign trail– will he really yank benefits from the millions of Americans who benefited from the plan? — and his plan to replace it is still fuzzy. But it’s a safe bet that the option of expanding Medicaid under provisions of the Affordable Care Act in Virginia will be taken off the table.

Given the unpopularity of Obamacare with a majority of the population and the promise of Congressional Republicans to repeal it if they got the chance, General Assembly Republicans were wise to have rejected Medicaid expansion. Thankfully, Virginia maintained its safety net of hospital-provided indigent care, health clinics, health wagons, and other patchwork programs that provide at least a modicum of treatment for the poor and near poor. That safety net is inadequate but it’s better than nothing.

One thing Virginia can do to replace Obamacare is eliminate the dozens of mandated benefits that drive up the cost of open-market health insurance. One reason the plans in the Obamacare health exchanges are so expensive is that they are gold-plated with federally mandated benefits. If Trump and Congress repeal those mandates, state mandates still will stand in Virginia unless the General Assembly repeals them as well. Health insurers should be given the option of offering stripped-down, basic health coverage which, while less than ideal, would provide cheaper options than are available now.

Military spending. Virginia’s economy has taken a big hit from the reduction in military spending under the Obama administration. Trump has promised to rebuild the military. A Trump presidency undoubtedly will spare the state from further defense cuts, but given the budget box the country is in — a $19+ trillion national debt, rising deficits, and a Federal Reserve Bank seemingly intent upon nudging interest rates higher — it is difficult to see how the U.S. can ramp up military spending to anything close to Bush-era, war-on-terror levels. Relief may be coming, but the glory days are not returning.

Boomergeddon. Dr. Trump has been peddling a magical elixir of tax cuts, deregulation and a confrontational trade policy to get the economy rolling again. Let’s just say I’m skeptical. Trade wars will be disastrous. Tax cuts may goose the economy, but they will add to the deficit. Deregulation will help, but I think there are practical limits to what can be deregulated. Yes, deregulating the broadband sector and re-examining Dodd-Frank bank regulations could provide a stimulus. But most regulations are embedded in the economy and don’t make sense to scrap. Just to pick one example, are we really going to deregulate coal mine safety after mining companies have already created the technologies, developed the business practices and absorbed the costs of meeting those regulations?

While some economic sluggishness can be blamed on Obama administration policies, not all of it can. As I noted recently on this blog, the aging of the population and the lack of growth in the workforce are demographic trends impervious to public policy manipulation. Meanwhile, Trump has evinced no interest in reforming entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the panoply of anti-poverty programs. Massive spending increases are baked into the cake. The United States is in a fiscal box that limits our economic options, and there is no politically painless way out of it.

Bottom line for Virginia: Don’t look for a miraculous restoration of economic growth and tax revenue. Budget austerity is the new normal. Trump won’t change that. We need to get on with the business of re-thinking the way state and local governments do everything.

Joe Morrissey as Post-Racial Candidate

Joe Morrissey at press conference

Joe Morrissey, with his wife Myrna in the background, during a recent press conference. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

One of the benefits of living in the Richmond region is having front row seats on the never-ending saga that is Joe Morrissey — Richmond’s very own answer to Anthony Weiner. We Richmonders can avail ourselves of near-daily newspaper and TV exposes while the rest of the state must settle for truncated Associated Press copy.

As the poll-leading candidate in the race for Richmond mayor, Morrissey landed in hot water again last week when a former client, Kanika Morris, accused him of texting her messages of a sexually explicit nature and exposing himself to her in his office. When she spurned his advances, she charged, other attorneys in his law firm pressured her into a plea deal.

No, you can’t make this stuff up.

But, as it turns out, it appears that Ms. Morris very likely did. At least she made up part of the story. Morrissey produced statements from a fellow attorney stating that she was in the room at the same time as Morrissey and Ms. Morris, and that Morrissey most emphatically did not expose himself. Furthermore, Morrissey’s camp has cited information that, in the words of his attorney, “clearly shows that Ms. Morris lied about being coerced by some kind of financial, legal and sexual pressure.”

Indeed, the big news in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch is a statement from Ms. Morris’s jail mate declaring that Ms. Morris told her that she would “do whatever it takes” to get home so her baby would not be born in jail.

What Morrissey conspicuously has not contested is that he texted messages of a sexual nature to Ms. Morris. As summarized by the T-D:

Morrissey has not denied that he sent explicit text messages to Morris while his law firm was representing her this year and while he was engaged to his now wife, who was then pregnant with their second child. In one of the messages provided by Morris to the Times-Dispatch, he instructed the woman about how he wanted her to groom her pubic hair prior to their meeting.

While texting Wieneresque messages is grotesque to middle-class sensibilities, it is not illegal. Nor in the minds of Morrissey supporters is it necessarily even disqualifying.

Morrissey, who is white, has a strong base of support in Richmond’s African-American community. He has spent much of his legal career representing the poor, many of whom find themselves in and out of the courts, and he has positioned himself as their political champion. Further, after spending a stint in jail for having sex with his 17-year-old office receptionist, an African-American, he married her.

Insofar as his chaotic personal life resembles that of many of his poor constituents, many African-Americans in Richmond apparently identify with him. While his escapades might disqualify him in the minds of middle-class voters, they reinforce his appeal to the downtrodden and demoralized. In that sense, one might truly say that Joe Morrissey is Richmond’s first true post-racial candidate.

Give It Up, Dudes, There’s Nothing There

The McCabe family

The McCabe family

by James A. Bacon

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has doubled down on the newspaper’s insinuation that Governor Terry McAuliffe’s financial support for state senatorial candidate Jill McCabe was somehow linked to her husband Andrew McCabe’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Drawing upon the Journal’s news report the previous day, the newspaper’s top editorial finds significance in the fact that “[McAuliffe], a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill, steered money to the campaign of the wife of a top FBI official.”

But the article did not demonstrate a quid pro quo, or even suggest what the quid pro quo might have been, and neither did the editorial.

As far as I’m concerned, former Secretary Clinton deserves all the scrutiny she gets for her Clinton Foundation ties, her decision to buck State Department policy by setting up her own jinky home-based server, her decision to destroy 30,000+ “personal” emails, thousands of which turned out not to be so personal, her repeated lies to the public, and the obstruction by her allies and even State Department officials to delay and thwart the email releases. There’s plenty to investigate. But the Journal does a dis-service by creating a flimsy distraction that can be used as evidence that Republicans and conservatives are just making stuff up. .

Here is the Journal’s logic:

Mrs. McCabe announced her candidacy the same month (March 2015) as the news broke about Mrs. Clinton’s private email server. Mr. McCabe was running the FBI’s Washington field office at the time, and he was promoted to the No. 3 FBI spot not long after the formal FBI investigation began in July 2015.

 

The FBI said in a statement that none of this is an issue because Mr. McCabe wasn’t promoted to the No. 2 position until February 2016, months after his wife lost her race, and only then did he assume “for the first time an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails.”

 

All of this asks voters to believe that Mr. McCabe as the No. 3 official at the FBI had nothing to do with the biggest, most sensitive case at that agency. This strains credulity. Before he became No. 3 at the FBI Mr. McCabe ran the bureau’s Washington, D.C., field office that provided resources to the Clinton probe. Campaign finance records show that 98% of the McAuliffe donations to Mrs. McCabe came after the FBI launched its Clinton probe.

McAuliffe, of course, has denied any skulduggery. He began recruiting Mrs. McCabe to run against Sen. Dick Black, R-Leesburg, for the 13th senatorial district, in February 2015, before the email scandal broke, said the governor’s office in the Times-Dispatch today, The recruitment efforts were led by Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam as part of a larger bid to re-take control of the state senate. I would conjecture that Democrats considered the seat, occupied by one of the most conservative members of the senate, to be more vulnerable than most. It is not implausible to think that the Dems targeted the seat and plowed money into Mrs. McCabe’s candidacy because they thought she could win.

One way the Journal could have buttressed its story was to talk to Northam and other leading Democrats. Did they find McAuliffe’s support for McCabe controversial in any way? Were they baffled that he poured so much money into her race? Or did Democratic Party leaders share the perception that McCabe was the best candidate with the best chance of beating Black? For the record, although McCabe lost the election, she did put in a strong showing against an incumbent, garnering 47.6% of the vote.

The Journal also could have talked to Thomas V. Mulrine, an Army veteran and attorney who had announced his candidacy before McCabe did. The T-D‘s Graham Moomaw did talk to him, and it turns out that he was a little miffed that McAuliffe had backed McCabe, calling it “unseemly” that the governor would recruit one Democratic candidate to run against another. “I think the citizens of the county ought to choose who their representatives are and not just have somebody foisted on them by somebody from afar,” Mulrine said.

One might ask why McAuliffe chose to intervene on McCabe’s side before the nomination. Is it unheard of in Virginia Democratic Party politics for the governor to get so involved in selecting candidates? If so, McAuliffe’s intense interest in McCabe might be cause for suspicision. But if McAuliffe involved himself in the selection of other candidates, then there is no need in McCabe’s case to invoke another explanation entailing a corrupt desire to influence the outcome of an FBI investigation. Continue reading

Playing the Racism Card… Just Pathetic

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Mayor Howard Myers. Photo credit: WTVR

In other Petersburg-related follies… Petersburg Mayor W. Howard Myers has told fellow City Council members that the attacks on his leadership are motivated by racism and partisanship.

“I will as a representative of Ward 5 and as major duly to my right hand, serve the public without blemish and from scare tactics from a few racists[s] and Republican supporters,” he wrote in an Aug. 11 email that he asked the city clerk to share with other council members, reports the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Dude, you presided over the worst financial meltdown of a Virginia locality probably since the Great Depression and you think your critics are motivated by racism? Under your watch, the city is facing a current-year budget gap of $12 million (nearly 20% of General Fund revenue) on top of $19 million dollars of unpaid bills, and you have conceded in unguarded remarks that you had no idea how this all happened, yet you expect anyone to believe that the people who are unhappy about it are being partisan in their attacks?

Do you know how totally pathetic that is? Not only pathetic, but in this racially polarized era, wildly irresponsible?

As I understand from the news coverage, Petersburg’s five City Council members are all African-American while many of the citizens who get irate and engage in shouting matches with you during council sessions are mostly white. Yeah, I suppose one reason that they’re argumentative is that they’re racist. But there’s another possible explanation: They’re pissed off at how you ran the city into the ground!