Is Bob McDonnell Turning Into Virginia's Version of Rod Blagojevich?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's the difference between Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now "serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison following conviction for corruption including the soliciting of bribes for political appointments?" Well, so far at least, Bob McDonnell hasn't been arrested by federal agents and put on trial for bribery and corruption. But based on this Washington Post front-page story, that might just be a matter of time at this point.
FBI agents are conducting interviews about the relationship between Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor's daughter, according to four people familiar with the questioning.The agents have been asking associates of the McDonnells about gifts provided to the family by Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and actions the Republican governor and his wife have taken that may have boosted the company, the people said.
Among the topics being explored, they said, is the $15,000 catering bill that Williams paid for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell's daughter at Virginia's historic Executive Mansion. But questions have extended to other, previously undisclosed gifts from Williams to Maureen McDonnell as well, they said.
Great stuff, huh? Gotta love these moralistic , holier-than-thou Teapublicans. Also, so much for Bob McDonnell's hopes of ever being President, Vice President, Senator, dog catcher, etc. :) 
lowkell :: Is Bob McDonnell Turning Into Virginia's Version of Rod Blagojevich?
By the way, I think it's well worth noting that, to date, the one and ONLY Virginia elected official (or candidate for statewide office) to call for a federal investigation into both Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli (who has his own sleazy connections to Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific) for corruption has been State Senator and Attorney General candidate Mark HerringOn April 11Sen. Herring said that it's time for a "federal investigation into the relationship between Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and the company Star Scientific and its Chief Executive Officer Jonnie R. Williams Sr." In making that call, Mark Herring demonstrated several of the key traits we should want in an Attorney General: integrity, forcefulness, strict adherence to (and respect for) the rule of law, and a zero tolerance policy for corruption of any kind in our state government.Sadly, Virginia's current Attorney General not only hasn't been on top of this situation, in fact he's been caught up in it himself! (note: for the history of Cuccinelli's corruption, not just with Jonnie Williams/Star Scientific but going back to Bobby Thompson and the "U.S. Navy Vets" scandal, click here and also see Steve Shannon's letter here.) I'd also note that, instead of spending his time doing what an AG's supposed to be doing, Cuccinelli instead has run around wasting Virginia taxpayer money on his wild goose chases - persecuting a leading climate scientist, getting his ill-conceived lawsuits thrown out of court, bullying the state health board to shut down women's health clinics, and pushing his far-right-wing Tea Party ideological agenda on a wide range of issues. This November, it's vitally urgent that we replace this guy (if he's not in jail himself by then) with Mark Herring, a man with the utmost integrity and talent for the job.  

Challenge Accepted: 25 Examples of Ken Cuccinelli's Extremism

Monday, April 29, 2013

(Add another one: Cuccinelli endorser the Family Research Council says that "tragedies like Newtown and Boston - as well as the shooting at its headquarters last summer - are the result of 'sexual liberalism' and the lack of Christian influence on society." Does Cuccinelli agree with his endorser's views? If not, we're all ears! - promoted by lowkell)

A bit earlier today, I noticed a "conservative" (whatever that word even means these days) Virginia blog (I'm not linking, but the blog's initials are "BD") had an article arguing that Virginia actually has NOTHING to fear from Ken Cuccinelli, that he isn't really "extreme," and that simply "repeating that someone is extreme over and over doesn't make it so." OK, fine, challenge accepted: I won't just SAY the dude's extreme, I'll provide examples, 25 of them for starters (there are many, many more - these are pretty much the ones off the top of my head!). And yes, I'd say Virginians have a great deal to fear from almost every one of these items...1. He wants to make it easier for Virginia public universities to discriminate against gay people.
2. He believes that "homosexual acts are...intrinsically wrong...don't comport with natural law...not healthy to an individual and in aggregate is not healthy to society."
3. He strongly supports a so-called "personhood amendment" to the Virginia constitution, that would effectively outlaw abortion as well as several types of birth control (e.g., the "morning after" pill).
4. He wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest!
5. He has pushed to defund Planned Parenthood.
6. He has pushed to defund embryonic stem cell research, which is crucial for curing diseases from diabetes to Parkinsons to Alzheimers name it, pretty much (note: the blastocysts would be discarded anyway).
7. He not only pushed for draconian, and completely unnecessary/arbitrary/absurd new regulations at Virginia women's health clinics, he went beyond that by "refus[ing] to certify that version of the regulations [which "grandfathered" existing clinics], telling [Virginia Board of Health] members that adopting such an amendment was outside their scope of power...[and threatening] to withhold state legal counsel from them if they did not pass his original version of the regulations."
8. He denies climate science (that alone should disqualify him from ever holding ANY public office, let alone governor!)
9. He launched a vicious witch hunt against one of the world's leading climate scientists, Dr. Michael Mann, something that AG candidate Mark Herring called "Un-American" (Herring added, correctly, that "that kind of attack on science went out with Galileo.")
10. He claims that Virginia can disobey federal laws it disagrees with. Uhhhh...didn't we fight the Civil War over that?
lowkell :: Challenge Accepted: 25 Examples of Ken Cuccinelli's Extremism
11. He dabbles in "birtherism"
12. He believes the government is tracking his kids via Social Security numbers.
13. As ThinkProgress explains, he's out to re-criminalize "sodomy" in Virginia, while "his vote to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling when he was a state Senator in 2004 helped create the uncertainty over the provisions."
14. He opposes "bipartisan immigration reform efforts as 'amnesty' for the 'illegal aliens in the job market' who are 'depressing wages and reducing American's standard of living.'"
15. He cast the only vote against a "bill aimed as strengthening domestic violence protections."
16. He opposed a 2004 bill "to require members of the clergy to report child abuse - a bill supported by almost every religious group in the state."
17. He does his best Willard "47 Percent" Romney interpretation in his bizarre book, "The Last Line of Defense": "One of their favorite ways to increase their power is by creating programs that dispense subsidized government benefits, such as Medicare, Social Security, and outright welfare (Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing, and the like). These programs make people dependent on government. And once people are dependent, they feel they can't afford to have the programs taken away, no matter how inefficient, poorly run, or costly to the rest of society."
18. In the same wacko book, Cuccinelli writes that Medicare is "despicable, dishonest, and worthy of condemnation," and that anti-trust laws are unconstitutional.
19. He also writes in his book that the Obama administration is "the biggest set of lawbreakers in America."
20. His top donors include right-wing extremists Foster "The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly" Friess and the Koch brothers.
21. He believes that Antonin Scalia, one of the most far-right-wing Supreme Court justices in U.S. history, is not right wing enough.
22. He believes it's worth going to jail  to stop the Affordable Health Care law mandate that insurance policies provide contraception to women free of charge.
23. He "briefly dabbled" in "the theory that President Obama stole the 2012 election, based on the concrete evidence that he didn't win any any states that had a voter ID law - though the president actually won four states that had voter ID laws and voter fraud is actually less common than being struck by lightning."
24. He compared the cause of outlawing abortion to the cause of abolishing African American slavery in this country.
25. He had his lapel pins modified so that the image of the Roman goddess Virtus on the Virginia state seal, in which she is "wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed," was "covered by an armored breastplate."Well, that was fun - not! Actually, I feel like I need a long, hot shower at this point. Blech. By the way, I can't wait to hear the Cuccinelli defenders try to brush off every one of these crystal clear examples of Cuccinelli's extremism and insanity, just as they rewrite reality to suit themselves on so many other things (e.g., science).  

VPAP Analysis of 2013 General Assembly Legislation Interesting but Misleading

Friday, April 26, 2013

In general, I think the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) does excellent work, especially given their small budget and staff levels. And, at first glance, these infographics (see to the right - click to "embiggen" - and on the "flip") are no exception. However...I'll get to why they're not just misleading, but highly misleading, in a minute. First, though, if you just look at these graphics quickly, what you'd conclude is that the 2013 Virginia General Assembly wasn't nearly as  vicious, nasty, embattled, etc., as most of us probably thought it was. Thus, according to VPAP, only 40 bills out of 2,574 (1.5 percent) introduced, and 40 bill out of 1,526 bills passed (2.6 percent) were "closely contested." The rest of the bills that passed were either non-controversial binding resolutions (681 of those), ones that passed unanimously (489 of those), or ones that passed with 60% or greater support (329 of those). Sounds great, right?There's just one problem with this analysis, and it's a big one. I spoke with Del. Scott Surovell a few minutes ago, and he explained it to me as follows: "Analyzing data like this would be like looking at Sudan from 60,000 feet and not seeing ethnic cleansing going on." Why is that? Simple. As Del. Surovell explains, going from the original 2,574 bills introduced down to 1,526 bills passed, the vast majority of the 1,048 bills that died (or were "carried over," etc.) met their fate in unrecorded committee votes. And when Del. Surovell says "unrecorded," he means it in both senses: no audio or visual recordings of the proceedings, and no record of votes cast. That basically means there's zero sunshine on the process where many good bills, and probably a lot of bad ones too, get weeded out. If you ignore all that, it's no wonder you could conclude that things look pretty cordial down in Richmond.
By the way, it's particularly revealing that efforts - including by Del. Surovell - to require that committee votes be audio or video recorded, and/or that a record be kept of who voted which way in committee, have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. The question is, why don't Speaker Bill Howell and all his corporate buddies from ALEC, etc. want the public to know what's going on underneath the dark, slimy rocks of the General Assembly? Gee, I can't imagine!
lowkell :: VPAP Analysis of 2013 General Assembly Legislation Interesting but Misleading

Bob McDonnell's BFF Pat Robertson: Planned Parenthood Backs Genocide, Inspired Hitler

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yet another beauty from Pat Robertson, top Virginia Republican Party donor, and "Bobby" (that's what Robertson calls him) McDonnell's "dear friend" (ditto). Notice how the RPV and Bob McDonnell never denounce Robertson's bigoted, insane comments? Does that mean they agree with them?

Sen. Kaine Takes Strong Stand Against Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

P071312PS-0128For months, Sen. Tim Kaine has been publicly undecided on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - supporting a full and thorough review, backing President Obama's right to make the ultimate decision, and speaking favorably of TransCanada's promises of jobs, while not taking a position himself. But in a recent email to a Virginia supporter of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Kaine says that he's listened to all sides, thought long and hard about the issue, and has made up his mind:
After giving this issue a lot of thought, I do not believe Keystone XL would be in our national interest. I've long believed that energy policy should be about using innovation to produce energy more cleanly tomorrow than we do today. Keystone XL will facilitate the use of tar sands oil that is worse for the environment than conventional petroleum. While we will use fossil fuels for a long time, we should always be striving to get cleaner rather than backsliding.Additionally, I believe claims about this project's job creation potential, energy security impacts, and impact on U.S. gas prices may be overstated. Gas prices, for instance, are largely driven by the global market for crude oil. The oil that would flow through Keystone XL would be shipped to the global market, not reserved for the U.S. market to lower domestic prices at the pump.
A more effective way to reduce the burden of high gas prices is to design cars that use gas more efficiently so we don't have to buy as much of it. In the last several years, we have made unprecedented improvements in vehicle fuel economy. We have successfully reduced tailpipe emissions, created jobs in engineering and manufacturing, and saved American drivers thousands of dollars over the lives of their vehicles. We don't have to choose between strengthening our economy and saving the environment; we can do both.
"We thank Sen. Kaine for recognizing that Keystone XL is not in our national interest, given how damaging tar sands oil is for the environment," said Keith Thirion, CCAN's Virginia Field Director. "It's time for Sen. Warner to do the same. At every turn, Virginians are showing Sen. Warner that he can't be for a safe climate and for the Keystone XL pipeline at the same time."  
TheGreenMiles :: Sen. Kaine Takes Strong Stand Against Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Keith is right - our elected officials can't claim to support climate action while bowing to polluter demands. And why should they? Keystone XL would be ahuge loser for Virginia, delivering no jobs here (and only 35 permanent jobs nationwide) and locking in high gas prices while making our climate crisis even worse. And Democratic supporters of Keystone XL shouldn't expect even a thank-you from Big Oil, which has promised to go all-out to defeat Democrats even if they support Keystone XL.I've never been afraid to criticize Tim Kaine on conservation issues, so you know this isn't partisan hackery: Tim Kaine is taking a bold, principled stand for America's climate and energy security, and deserves our thanks. If you can spare $20, please donate to Sen. Kaine right now as way of saying thanks. Big Oil may not know the meaning of the word gratitude, but progressive climate hawks sure do.

Shad Planking May Have Seen Its Day

Thursday, April 18, 2013

 photo c956111b-3444-45e5-a3ec-b560ee96d1ef_zps180c9dc1.jpgby Dan Sullivan

Shad Planking was a disappointment yesterday for any of a number of reasons. Leading up to the event, the sponsors failed to stem years of cumulative attendee alienation. Responding to criticism of extremism among participants, the Ruritans alienated the other half. Ken Cuccinelli's keynote was as flat as the shad.What was clear was that the bluster of Tea Party insurgents and in-your-face Confederate flag-waving misfits in recent years put off a large portion of the politically motivated who came for a more civil kind of camaraderie. The Ruritan Club's charitable efforts to raise money for local causes was wounded by this turn of events. Make no mistake, this was a self-inflicted wound.
Ruritan officials took issue with Mo Elleithee's assessment that the event has outlived its relevance, claiming it will live on another 65 years. Apparently the fact that the proceeds go to charity is supposed to excuse the inhospitable behavior that has been tolerated too long.
As anyone who has attended regularly knows, when the dinner bell rings there is always a rush to get in line for the featured meal. But a crowd that was less than 60% of last year's was underwhelming. As a measure of success, the meal became a no wait, all you can eat event, there was so much remaining to be consumed.
Dan Sullivan :: Shad Planking May Have Seen Its Day
 photo 3ec8c9c9-2a02-4124-9ebe-e1264c89900c_zps43cc40a2.jpgFor their part, the Ruritans tried to stomp out any confederate frenzy. The stars and bars displays were confined to a corner near the porta potties away from the midway lined with campaign tents, many, including Cuccunelli's hawking free beer. Ruritan officials circulated through the crowd, stopping anyone with a flag; requiring them to roll them up and put them away if outside the free rebel quarter (more like eighth).For his part, the Attorney General's keynote was sparsely attended. Ken did not connect effectively with the general audience and not that much of the crowd was interested enough to come to the stage area to listen. In years past, a front row view was a premium. This year there was room to stretch...and yawn.
While both Mark Obenshain and and Rob Bell were in attendance, the Republicans who were missing were more notable. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins found no reason to grace the event. This, more than the absence of Democrats, may signal the end of the plank.
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Good riddance, unless and until it stops being (0.00 / 0[delete comment]
the Neo-Confederate, far-right-wing gathering it's become. Until then, Democrats should spend their time and money elsewhere.

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shad planking (0.00 / 0[delete comment]
Where was Virginia's true Son of the South, Felix Allen?

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Confederacy...Cuccinelli...Uranium Mining.... (0.00 / 0[delete comment]
...and "Cuccinelli Clone" Mark Obenshain...what more could you ask for in life?!? LOL
P.S. Photo by our own intrepid correspondent, Dan Sullivan.

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Shad Planking photo: Abraham Lincoln wanted for "treason" (0.00 / 0[delete comment]

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Sparce crowd for Cuckoo (0.00 / 0[delete comment]
Another photos from Dan Sullivan, this one showing a VERY sparse crowd for Ken Kookinelli. I've been to this event when the area in front of the stage was jam packed for the speakers. But not for Cuckoo!

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Walking Away From Wakefield

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

by Dan Sullivan

 photo 120418CuccinelliShadPlanking_zpsa5149cac.jpgLast month, passing through Memphis, I read Sunday morning's The Commercial Appeal. Striking was how well in a single issue it gave a sense of the city and its people, something uncommon in a Virginia newspaper. And one column caught my particular attention; it reminded me about Shad Planking.I really don't care if anyone takes this personally. In fact, if they do, then maybe there is reason. In that Memphis paper, Wendi Thomas wrote of a coming storm: the Ku Klux Klan's Easter weekend appearance in Shelby County. Like a lot of single issue voting blocs, this group had seized upon an insult to a founding father, Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose name had been removed by the city council from a Memphis park (where he rests today).
"Because nothing says Valentine's like venom toward people of color, gays, Jews, immigrants and Catholics, on February 14, the Loyal White Knights of the KKK applied for a permit to rally outside the county courthouse." - Wendi Thomas in The Commercial Appeal
The position that I found relevant to the Shad Planking was Thomas's common sense appeal to ignore the fools; enjoy the weekend with friends and family instead. And it is pleasing to see that the same spirit has caused Democrats to blow off this year's version of the once relevant event that has completely lost its gravitas, becoming a carnival side show appealing only the gullible. Its effects are contained by its isolation and I don't mean geographical. Turns out that like the rally in Memphis this event is a tempest in a teapot.  
Dan Sullivan :: Walking Away From Wakefield
 photo 3b38c2e2-0520-47f3-9458-5b9609cc01b8_zpse139516c.jpg
"I can't think that they don't like bony fish. . . . We're scratching our heads - are we not displaying good manners or what?" (the chairman of the Wakefield Ruritan Club) asked. "We're just setting the table and inviting them to it." - Washington Post
If the Shad Planking organizers want to broaden the event's appeal, they should make the effort to reengineer the perception that the attendee demographic is aimed at political splinter groups with narrow appeal to or influence with the broader electorate. The "vendors" that do participate play to the audience. The audience defines the market and the marketplace defines the justification (or lack thereof) for participation. After Terry McAuliffe's first Shad Planking, he swore privately that he would not return. Against his better judgment, he did. Looks like it didn't take too much convincing to bail this year. There is just no reason for even moderate Republicans to attend. Be on watch for Lt Governor Bill Bolling tomorrow.

"Shad Planking is a Virginia tradition that has totally and completely and utterly outlived its usefulness." - Mo Elleithee
 photo 120418BollingShadPlank_zps88de040f.jpgThe reporting in the Washington Post makes one wonder if they have really attended these past few years or are just making it up. The sign wars at the event became legend from 2005 through 2009 beginning with the Kaine demonstration. Democratic candidates were able to pull out all stops and plaster the countryside on the backs of volunteers years running. Republicans were never able to match the effort, forcing them to frame a tale for pulling out of the competition. An the Post has bought it hook, line and sinker.  "Costly" sign wars? True if you have no real grassroots support it is expensive. For the Webb effort in 2006 there might have been one staffer. Costly? The Webb campaign had a hard time paying for admission to the event much less being able to pay for labor. And every last one of the 1000's of signs was reclaimed to be used another day. The costs the Republicans are avoiding are to their reputations. The Post leaves readers with the impression the gesture is magnanimous. It is just good defense, as last year's headlining loser, George Allen, might say.
The Post may have attended a different Shad Planking than the rest of us: "...But last year Allen decided to leave the signs at home and make a donation to the Ruritan Club instead. Cuccinelli will do something similar this year, though he'll still be offering beer."  Beer? Cuccinelli didn't offer any beer last year. In fact, he barely had a presence. That was Bolling who had the crowd lining up for the porta-potties. Fact is Cuccinelli's followers are too narcissistic to offer up the kind of grassroots effort required to impress in the sign war. The check will help make up for the diminished attendance, though.
Then there is the iffy weather forecast. A thunderstorm or two might interrupt the afternoon. The parallels to the Memphis event continue to emerge.

One Klan member who only identified himself as "Edward" wasn't pleased with the event. "I wish it hadn't rained on us, and that we hadn't picked Easter weekend. We'd have had a lot bigger turnout," he said. - The Commercial Appeal
Yep, Edward, hang on to believing that's the reason why more people didn't show up to shed a tear for poor Nathan. Thing is, I am pretty certain Ruritan's Robert Bain will add Democrats to his rationalization if the attendance doesn't meet expectations. He just doesn't get it that McAuliffe's visit to Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave tomorrow is simply more relevant and a much better use of his time.
Mr. Bain, if you want to run a carnival, bring in a midway with rides that appeal to children. It'll be a much better draw than the kool-aid these charlatans are selling Virginia's embarrassingly naive tea partiers.  

ExxonMobil Really REALLY Doesn't Want People to Know How Much It Hates Your Children

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Per Meteor Blades at Daily Kos, the anti-democratic (small "d") thugs at ExxonMobil really REALLY don't like being criticized for destroying our planet while raking in record profits in the history of said planet. In this case, they actually sent a cease and desist letter and threatened legal action if the ad ran on ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates in Little Rock, Arkansas. Of course, the cowardly corporate media caved. Shocker, huh? Sadly, it's not at all shocking. Anyway, here's the response from the ExxonHatesYour Children coalition that put the ad together, which pretty much nails it.
Exxon is and will always be a bully,” said David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change International. “Instead of engaging their critics appropriately, Exxon uses its billions to hire high-priced lawyers to make scary-sounding but unsupported legal claims to suppress criticism. It’s a window into how they have preserved billions in taxpayer handouts for their industry for so many years.”
Oh, and they also spend millions of dollars on climate science denial and in buying up our (Republican mostly) politicians. Yeah, ExxonMobil hates your children, but they LOVE them some Republican tools! P.S. I suggest you all send this ad far and wide, giving it MUCH wider reach than it ever would have had if ExxonMobil hadn't resorted to its thuggish tactics. Thanks.

Endorsement: Aneesh Chopra for Lieutenant Governor

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Before I start, I just want to make clear that this is my own, personal endorsement, based on my own, independent observations and analysis of the Virginia Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, my own interviews of the candidates, etc. With that, here's my reasoning for endorsing Aneesh Chopra for the 2013 Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.1. I interviewed both Aneesh Chopra and Ralph Northam. Both candidates did well, and I enjoyed talking to them both, so it is not a "negative" in any way against Ralph Northam that I was highly impressed with Aneesh, both in terms of being a strong Democrat, but also in terms of his detailed knowledge of the issues facing Virginia. That was an area, honestly, where I had some doubts, given that Aneesh had never served in the Virginia General Assembly. That's one of the reasons why I decided to ask him where he stood on a wide range of legislation that was being debated in the General Assembly at the time. His answers were excellent, but as I wrote at the time, "What I found most impressive here was that Aneesh - who isn't a member of the General Assembly - was familiar with every bill I mentioned, didn't even need me to read a full description before he answered immediately 'yea' or 'nay.'" Very impressive. Also highly encouraging was that the answers were all "correct" from a progressive, Democratic perspective, again without any hesitation on any of them, and without any prompting of any kind. Again, very impressive.
2. To date, I've been highly impressed with the Chopra campaign, pretty much in every way - management (a very well-run campaign), fundraising (he's kicked butt on this front), social media (he's used it in creative and effective ways), field, etc. In contrast, the Northam campaign has been...well let's just say a bit shaky. After getting off to a late start (Sen. Northam initially wasn't planning to run, then changed his mind and decided to do so), the Northam campaign's been significantly outraised - and I'd argue outhustled - by the Chopra campaign. I also hear they just fired all their field staff, they're on their second campaign manager in a couple months, and let's just say I've heard other stories about the state of the Northam campaign the past couple months that don't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Bottom line: given that we want the strongest candidate to go up against the Republicans this summer and fall, to me the quality of the campaigns is a significant reason in and of itself to endorse Aneesh Chopra over Ralph Northam for the nomination. (Note: for more on this topic, see the astute Virginia Democrat/political strategist Danny Barefoot's endorsement of Aneesh here, particularly paragraphs 3-6).
lowkell :: Endorsement: Aneesh Chopra for Lieutenant Governor
3. Clearly, one of the keys to Democrats winning this November will be changing the electorate from a typical odd-year/off-year Virginia electorate (skews older, whiter, and more Republican). To do that, we need candidates who first and foremost understand the importance of changing the electorate more towards the "Obama coalition." Aneesh Chopra clearly "gets it" on that front. As he said in our interview, "the formula is clear" - we need to turn out the coalition that came out for President Obama and Tim Kaine in 2012. Why he feels he can do that is because: a) as he says, "I reflect the values of the 2012 coalition that reelected President Obama;" b) he understands that "it's also about smarter campaigning, as we did in 2012," including the use of new media and today's cutting-edge communications tools and technology (note: Aneesh is an expert at this stuff) to reach voters; and c) because he believes Obama voters need to see a candidate who reflects their values, and he believes (and I tend to agree) that he is that person.4. Both candidates are qualified for the job, they'll just bring different skill sets and emphases to it. In Aneesh's case, he served in the Kaine Administration (as Secretary of Technology) and in the Obama Administration (as the country's first Chief Technology Officer). He wasn't just a "techie," though, in the sense of only caring about tech for tech's sake. Instead, Aneesh employed technological tools for the purpose of improving people's lives. For instance, at a time when equal pay for equal work legislation appeared stalled out in Congress, Aneesh worked with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to help open up salary data and make it easily accessible, so that women anywhere in the country who felt they were being paid less than a man for the same type of job could have the information they needed to challenge that unfairness. Aneesh also worked to make it easier for firefighters, police officers, and other first responders to communicate with each other over the same frequency; not something that was necessarily a simple matter. I could also see Aneesh's skills coming in handy with regard to setting up health care exchanges in Virginia, or perhaps in something like electronic health care records. The point is, technology is powerful if used to help improve people's lives, and Aneesh Chopra not only understands that, he's an expert in making it happen. I find that exciting.
5. The last point is somewhat of a "ding" at Sen. Northam, but I was not at all pleased with his February 21 appearance on the John Fredericks Show. First, note that John Fredericks is a diehard Republican, very conservative, planning to vote in the Virginia Republican convention, etc. So, the first thing that struck me was at about 38 minutes in. Fredericks went out of his way to praise Northam as "moderate" and "centrist," which is not in and of itself a problem, but he followed that up by contrasting Northam to what he (bizarrely) called the "far-left-wing candidate," Aneesh Chopra. Of course, that's utterly absurd Republican framing of Democrats in general - we're all "far left wing" supposedly. As for the LG primary, to date, I haven't heard of a single policy difference between Sen. Northam and Chopra, so who knows what Fredericks was saying, but for sure he was completely wrong. The problem is, Sen. Northam not only didn't push back against that absurd characterization of a good, mainstream Democrat, but he said "I appreciate that question." Ugh. Making matters worse, at around 42:40, Fredericks talked about how "really fired up" he was to vote in the Republican convention on May 18, and then just a few weeks later how he - and "Republicans like me" - were going to vote AGAIN in the June 11 Democratic primary. Clearly, that's legal, but it's totally not cool for a diehard Republican who is 99.999999999% likely to vote straight Republican in November to be messing with the Democratic Party's primary. And a Democratic candidate for statewide office should say exactly that. Instead, Sen. Northam's response was...well, I'll just quote it verbatim and let you decide what you think:
Northam: "That's great John, you know what, I look forward to it. If you want, I will come up and pick you up and I'll take you to the polls. I think it would be a good day for both of us..."Fredericks: "I'm going to take you up on that...Ralph Northam going to pick me up and my family, right?"
Northam: "That's right, yes I will, we can have a van, bus, whatever you need, we'll come get you."
Fredericks: "I'm going to vote in the Democratic primary, I'm getting picked up, my whole family on June 11 by Dr. Northam; we're going to take pictures, put it on the internet, I'm so excited I'm beside myself."
Blech.So, what's the answer a Democratic candidate should give? How about, "You know, John, I welcome any Virginian who believes in moving our state forward, who opposes Ken Cuccinelli's extreme/divisive agenda, and who is sincerely open to voting Democratic this November, to come vote in our primary. If not, I'd say that they should stick to the Republican convention and not interfere with our process of selecting our party's nominee."
Anyway, I don't want to end this on a negative note, as my endorsement of Aneesh Chopra is overwhelmingly a positive one, FOR Aneesh, and would have happened even without item #5 above, for all the reasons I've discussed. In sum, if you want a dynamic candidate who can help bring out the "Obama coalition" voters, who will bring a unique and impressive skillset to the Lieutenant Governor's office, who strongly believes in moving Virginia forward, and who has been running a top-notch campaign during the primary that will carry over into the general election campaign, then I encourage you to vote for Aneesh Chopra on June 11. Thanks, and go Aneesh!

Access versus Integrity: Virginia's Voter ID Law and the myth of In-Person Voter Fraud

Friday, April 5, 2013

by Frank Anderson
Executive Director, Fairfax County Democratic Committee

Also published in our monthly newsletter, The DemocratBy signing the new Voter ID law, SB 1256, Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) has given up a lot of access in exchange for the false notion of increasing "ballot integrity."
Access and integrity are the two competing ideas in the debate over the recent wave of voter ID laws. Democrats and progressives want to expand access to the ballot for all U.S. citizens.  The access concept is pretty straightforward: it means every citizen should have the right to vote, and the ability to exercise that right should be made as simple as possible in order to expand civic participation. Republicans and conservatives are more focused on the integrity of the ballot. They believe that supposed voter fraud threatens that integrity, diluting the power of "one man, one vote."
Most Voter ID advocates have never had any difficulty obtaining an ID. They don't understand that for some Virginians, this will deter them from going to the polls. It is inevitable that thousands of Virginians will believe, either correctly or incorrectly, that they are unable to obtain a current ID for voting.
frankoanderson :: Access versus Integrity: Virginia's Voter ID Law and the myth of In-Person Voter Fraud
We received an email from an elderly, home-bound absentee voter who was concerned that the new law would bar her from voting.  Her ID had long since expired and she was unable to travel to get a new one.  I explained that the new law only covers in-person voting, not mail-in absentee voting.  (However, first-time voters voting by mail must provide a copy of their ID.)But this is one of the faults of the new law.  It only addresses the supposed problem of voter impersonation at the polls, which almost never happens.  Out of the extremely rare cases of voter fraud, very, very few cases of actual voter impersonation are reported - so few that, according to a recent study, they account for less than one out of 15 million voters.
Unfortunately, facts don't matter to the Republicans who pushed for this legislation.  A survey conducted last December revealed that almost 50% of Republicans believe ACORN stole the 2012 election. Similarly, last year conservative radio host Mark Levin told his listeners that Mitt Romney would need to compensate for an expected 3% rate of voter fraud.  (That would translate to a staggering 1.8 million fraudulent votes nationwide for President Obama.)  This utterly false and unpatriotic notion is what is fueling the actions of the Virginia Republican legislators.
The sad truth is that this law will result in fewer people voting.  When Virginians hear that a voter ID law was passed, many will assume that a current DMV ID is required - which is difficult to obtain for those who have lost their Social Security card or birth certificate, and those without a stable home address.  And even though the law would not be implemented until mid-2014 and requires clearance by the Justice Department, it will have the effect of decreasing turnout this year.  Any time you put up additional obstacles to voting, you cause confusion and discourage people from participating.  And when Republicans do it for no defensible reason whatsoever - to solve a problem that frankly does not exist - they reveal their true motivations.
Fewer people voting is exactly what Republicans want.  They know that when more citizens vote, Democrats win.  That's why they are doing everything they can to reduce voter participation and hold on to power.  Republican strategist and Reagan advisor Paul Weyrich explained this back in 1980, saying "I don't want everybody to vote.  Elections are not won by a majority of people... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
In advocating for voter ID, Republicans have either been duped into believing that voter impersonation is an actual problem, or they're going along with it because they cynically know that this will reduce Democratic votes, or both.  No matter what you believe, the truth is that the amount of integrity gained is infinitesimally small or nonexistent compared to the number of voters this will turn off.
At the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, we will work to inform our voters of changes in the ID requirements, whatever they will be after the Justice Department reviews the law.  In the meantime, we remind voters that they still have many options for voter ID - both photo and non-photo. and click on "What ID do I need to bring?" to view the full list.

Virginia's Next AG, Mark Herring, Announces "Equality Agenda" for LGBT, and All, Virginians

Please click here or on the image to view the entire "Equality Agenda," in .pdf format, from Virginia's next Attorney General - one we can all be proud of for a change! - Mark Herring. Here are a few highlights, and note the glaring contrast with Ken Cuccinelli's far-right-wing, ideologically extremist, homophobic and anti-women's-rights agenda. Note also that the two Republicans (Mark Obenshain and Rob Bell) running for AG have talked about how Cuccinelli is a model for them. In short, they are "Cuccinelli clones," as Mark Herring puts it. And that's the LAST thing Virginia needs!  Instead, how about....*"Mark will use the power of the Attorney General to support initiatives to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Virginians from discrimination and disparate treatmentin state and local agencies and programs."
*"As Attorney General, Mark will partner with local school divisions to implement the new law and adopt anti-bullying policies that include and protect LGBT students"
*"Mark Herring believes that civil marriage is a fundamental right, and he supports marriage equality for same-gender couples."
*"Mark believes that it is wrong that Virginia law currently requires state and local government social services agencies to contract with, and fund with taxpayer dollars, adoption and foster care agencies that actively discriminate against LGBT Virginians seeking to adopt children."
This is great stuff, far beyond what any other candidate for Virginia Attorney General has ever proposed, and a strong reason to enthusiastically support Mark Herring's campaign. Thanks.
UPDATE: On a conference call a few minutes ago, Sen. Adam Ebbin said that Sen. Herring is "running without reservation...about his support for [the LGBT] community." More broadly, Ebbin argued that Mark Herring is the best person to restore the integrity of the office of Attorney General after Ken Cuccinelli has "lowered it in a non-professional way." Ebbin added that the public is more than ready for - in fact expects - an AG like Mark Herring who stands up for equality for all Virginians, and has done so for many years. Ebbin added that Mark Herring has shown his electability over the years by winning votes from independents, and is the most electable Democratic candidate as well as the best candidate for AG on the merits. Ebbin added, "the Republican alternatives are frightening."
Respected Virginia LGBT activist Charley Conrad talked about his strong support for Mark Herring. Conrad talked specifically about the importance of strong anti-bullying measures being implemented, and praised Sen. Herring for supporting these measures. Conrad also said he is very pleased by Sen. Herring's non-discrimination pledge in his own office. Conrad added that we can't afford any more of the "craziness" we've seen from the AG's office, but instead we need "true equality leadership" from Mark Herring.
UPDATE #2: Sen. Herring was asked (by the Washington Blade) about the controversy over Cuccinelli's defense of Virginia's "Crimes Against Nature" (anti-sodomy) law. Herring responded, "Ken Cuccinelli is wrong on this, and it shows he is captive of the hard right wing of the Republican Party and he's using this to try to galvanize the far right in his campaign, and shows why he would be a bad governor and why he's not been a good Attorney General."
Sen. Herring ripped Ken Cuccinelli on his persecution of leading climate scientist Michael Mann as "wrong" and "downright unAmerican." Herring added, "That kind of attack on science went out with Galileo.."
Sen. Herring said that Mark Obenshain and Rob Bell would take the AG office in the same direction as Ken Cuccinelli has done - they've both voted in lockstep against a woman's right to choose, supported anti-LGBT legislation, etc. Sen. Ebbin added that Sen. Obenshain carried the bill to allow discrimination at Virginia universities. Herring emphasized that "Virginia deserves better" than the type of policies pushed by Ken Cuccinelli and his clones, Mark Obenshain and Rob Bell.
P.S. Yet again, this makes me proud to be supporting - and consulting for - Mark Herring for Attorney General!

Train Wreck in the Commonwealth

by Kindler

It turns out that Mr. Cuccinelli does in fact have a transportation plan.  It's called the train wreck.  Or that at least appears to be his campaign strategy.  Even as stalwart a Cuccinelli critic as myself did not foresee what a disaster this man would be as a candidate for governor.  I figured that he might have learned a lesson from the political successes of Gov. McDonnell and at least make some moves to the center -- I mean, at least throw political moderates and independents an occasional bone.  But it seems that he is way too busy throwing raw meat to the radicals in his party to make any concessions to the actual electorate.
It is true that according to current, early polls, he remains tied with Democrat Terry McAuliffe.  But the bigger picture is that every single day, he is supplying his opponents with fresh ammunition, reinforcing his image as an unrepentant fanatic, in bed with industry, and giving his enemies more inspiration to fight him even as he daily adds to their ranks.  At a time when he needs to be expanding his appeal, he seems steadfastly determined to narrow it.
The news cycle reflects near-daily hemorrhaging, from the stories about his conflicts of interest with Big Tobacco company Star Scientific last Saturday, to his archaic defense of sodomy laws on Wednesday back to his campaign's refusal on Thursday to say if he personally has committed any "crimes against nature"to Friday's revelations that two of his staff also have inappropriate ties to Star Scientific and that his Star Scientific buddies sell tobacco candies, perhaps to minors.  All this not long after his new book reinforced his extremist image (even considering Social Security and Medicare to be socialist plots) and his speech to the CPAC conference and interviews with Iowa and New Hampshire radio stations raised questions as to whether he's more focused on 2016 than 2013.
It's not just his failure to appeal to anyone outside of the Tea Party circle.  Few commentators have noted that Cuccinelli just lost what was likely to be his best weapon against Terry McAuliffe -- the charge of practicing "crony capitalism."  The next time Republicans make such an accusation, the McAuliffe campaign need articulate only two words: Star Scientific.
kindler :: Train Wreck in the Commonwealth
Nor can anyone blame a bad campaign manager or bad luck or the so-called "liberal media" for any of this, when it is quite clear that all of this garbage is coming directly from candidate Cuccinelli himself.  As Jim Webb likes to say, "The fish rots from the head down."I am certainly not suggesting that this situation should in any way make Democrats feel overconfident nor that McAuliffe's team should take their foot off the accelerator for even a moment.  Tragically, we've seen enough examples over the years of Democrats blowing golden opportunities.  My point is precisely that Terry needs to seize this opportunity and take full advantage of it.  While Cuccinelli constantly reinforces his extremist image, Terry needs to spend more money and time introducing himself to the voters as the moderate, reasonable alternative.
The train wreck vs. the efficient high-speed train that gets you where you want to go -- that's a race we can win.  So let's get out there, capitalize on Cuccinelli's lunacy, and give this disaster movie the happy ending that the people of the Commonwealth deserve.  

Where's Pete Snyder's Money Coming From?

story posted back in February on JH Politics about one of the leading Republican candidates for Virginia's next Lt. Governor should have received a lot more attention than it did. The gist of it is that a "huge chunk" of Pete Snyder's funding has come from one source - "the Ending Spending Fund, an independent Super PAC," which has "invested $235,000 in Snyder, and this is before he's even the Republican standard bearer." As JH Politics points out,"It's a dazzling sum at this stage in the race." It also makes "Ending Spending" by far and away Snyder's top donor, with the runner trailing by $225,000.To put it in perspective, JH Politics compares the ginormous amount of money "Ending Spending" has poured into Snyder's 2013 campaign with how much they spent against Tim Kaine in 2012, and finds that it's a great deal more for Snyder. Which raises the question, "Is Pete Snyder's election to Lieutenant Governor, a part-time position that five other viable Republicans are running for, worth $100,000 more than a United States Senate seat?" Apparently, "Ending Spending" sees having Snyder breaking ties in our State Senate as highly valuable, the only real question is "what's in it for them, exactly?"
Who is behind "Ending Spending?" According to Open Secrets:
Ending Spending is a conservative 501(c)4 group that focuses on federal spending and the national debt. The group originally targeted earmarks, but broadened its message to include balancing the federal budget and paying down the national debt. The group was founded by Joe Ricketts, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade and a known conservative backer. Brian Baker, the current president of Ending Spending, was an adviser to former Sens. Robert Dole and Richard Shelby. The group does not disclose its donors, and its money goes towards electioneering expenses.
Also, according to Open Secrets, in the 2011-2012 cycle, "Ending Spending" had $13,250,766 in independent expenditures ($6,452,125 for Republican candidates and $6,674,460 against Democratic candidates). It all kind of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, doesn't it? No, I didn't think so.Just to give you a flavor for how slimy this group is, check this out:
lowkell :: Where's Pete Snyder's Money Coming From?
On May 17, 2012, The New York Times published a story by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg reporting that The Ending Spending Action fund had been presented with a 54-page proposal entitled, "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: the Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good." According to the Times, the proposal, written by a vendor seeking to be hired by Ending Spending, suggested a $10-million ad campaign to "attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away" and called for "running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright."
As if all that's not bad enough, there's this issue as well:
Virginia Republicans deserve to know whether Snyder was involved in discussions with Ending Spending PAC (which would be a violation of campaign finance law due to his position as Victory Chairman) [in 2012]. If he was involved in illegal conversations, did he ask Ending Spending to withhold money for his inevitable run? Inquiring minds want to know.
Hmmmm.Speaking of 2012, on February 18 of that year, "Ending Spending" staff posted this endorsement of Snyder on their blog. Then, on December 26, 2012,Snyder got $235k from "Ending Spending." Interestingly, it is unclear whether the contribution came from the "Ending Spending PAC" (a federal political action committee) or the "Ending Spending Fund" (a 501(c)4 Super PAC). But either way, my understanding is that under Virginia campaign finance law, "Ending Spending" should have to register in Virginia if they are involved in expressly advocating for a Virginia candidate. In fact, I've been told by a knowledgeable source that under a certain Virginia designation, they could even be forced to disclose their donors. According to this same source, Snyder is also supposed to confirm that the PAC is registered upon receipt of a contribution. From what I can tell, they have not done so. So could there be a potential technical violation of Virginia law, or an attempt - for whatever reason(s) - to cover up the real source of the money? It's hard to say.
In sum, what we have here is a shady out-of-state group, funded by a single, reclusive, far-right-wing, anti-Obama billionaire, trying to single-handedly select our next lieutenant governor. Oh, and that potential lieutenant governor appears to be skirting Virginia campaign finance laws, if not outright violating them. I don't know about you, but none of that makes me particularly comfortable.
P.S. Here's some interesting reading on "Ending Spending"/Joe Ricketts' (failed) foray into Harry Reid's reelection.

Ken Cuccinelli, Star Scientific, and Celebrity "Tobacco Candy"

Thursday, April 4, 2013

So, while Ken Cuccinelli's team is busy ranting and raving about pedophilia (don't ask - they're totally off the deep end/foaming at the mouth, as usual), it turns out that Star Scientific - the company Ken Cuccinelli is heavily invested in (Cuccinelli, as well as Bob McDonnell, are also close friends with Star's CEO, Jonnie Williams) - is busy marketing "flavored tobacco lozenges" that has been called "misleading to consumers and could appeal to children." Here's more info:
Currently, Star Scientific manufactures two brands of dissolvable tobacco, Ariva and Stonewall. Both brands contain Virginia StarCured flue-cured powdered Virginia tobacco compressed into smoke-free, spit-free, flavored dissolvable tobacco pieces packaged in blister packages and cardboard carton. The Ariva and Stonewall brands are marketed as a means of "reducing toxins in tobacco so that adult consumers can have access to products that expose them to sharply reduced toxin levels" while still providing consumers with tobacco and nicotine.The product is not marketed as a smoking cessation product, but an "alternative tobacco product" that is "not combusted."
Lovely, huh? Well, it gets worse. According to a Forbes article, Ariva markets this crap in the form of "brown mints [that] taste like sugar-coated tobacco...laced with 2mg of nicotine, a little more than what you'd get from a cigarette."So...the company that Cuccinelli's so tight with makes and sells tobacco products that have been broadlycondemned by U.S. Senators ("Senators to FDA: It's Time to Close the Door on Tobacco Candy"), andpublic health experts ("this is a product that looks like a food, is used like a drug"), because they have more nicotine than cigarettes, and are basically candy that could be attractive to kids.
While public health groups may not be fans of the products (like Ariva) that Ken Cuccinelli's favorite tobacco company makes, celebrities like Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton most certainly are! Lohan has been picturedtime and again with the product that Cuccinelli is invested in. Numerous other celebrities - Kanye West, Janet Jackson and Model Miranda Kerr - attended a bash (at Pink Elephant, NY City) that Star Scientific threw to promote Ariva. Yet another party, this one held in Miami (at Cameo nightclub, during which "Paris Hilton was at the center of a bizarre nightclub incident when she comforted an entertainer in an Oompa-Loompa costume injured when the crowd rushed the stage") featured a performance by Jeff Beacher's Madhouse, which brags about its "outrageous acts, exotic dancers and little people." And then there was the party held at Crimson in Los Angeles ; the flyer for that one is pictured to the right.
So, to summarize: Ken Cuccinelli only holds stock in one company on the planet. That company is Star Scientific, makers of the Ariva tobacco candy that health experts hate, but that Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and people who hang out with "outrageous acts, exotic dancers and little people" love. How's that for traditional family values?  

Exclusive Interview: Arlington County School Board Member James Lander

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Several weeks ago, I interviewed Barbara Kanninen, who is challenging Arlington County School Board incumbent James Lander for his seat on the board. This was the firs time I'd ever sat down for an extended conversation with James Lander, and I definitely was impressed with his knowledge of, passion for, and commitment to public education in general, and the Arlington County school system specifically. Here are a few highlights from our (2-hour) interview.First, Lander and I talked about why he first decided to run for the school board four years ago. Lander talked about his interest in leveraging what he calls the "stakeholders triangle" - parents, the community, and the school system itself, all of which have a stake in the success of children (who are in the "center of the triangle," as "they are the focus"). As Lander explained, "kids require supportive and reinforcement from the do each member of the stakeholder's triangle depend on one another." According to Lander, 83% of Arlingtonians don't currently have kids in the school system, but everyone has a stake in the success of the public schools.
In addition, Lander said he had "participated extensively as a parent leadership positions at the PTA level at my daughter's school, vice president of the PTA...representative to the county council of PTAs...I learned how the schools at the operational level, and what I realized is there were some things that I could hopefully impact positively at a policy level...some of these things don't translate well from the board table to the operational level, I [was] seeing gaps." Lander felt that he could bring that operational level experience - at the local school and the county PTA level - to the board table, effect the policies, and "be a voice for parents who...sometimes your voice isn't heard."
lowkell :: Exclusive Interview: Arlington County School Board Member James Lander
As for his biggest accomplishments, Lander pointed to: 1) the impact he's had "directly on students" (e.g., "providing more support and mentoring for middle school students"); 2) his initiation of "the Color of Leadership Conference," which provides "mentoring opportunities" to students, and which teaches kids about "citizenship and all the things you don't learn necessarily in school" (e.g., how to tie a necktie, how to interview, how to present themselves, about health and their bodies); 3) his work on expanding the STEM (science, technology, math) program (Lander noted that he's an engineer with a degree from UVA); 4) his efforts to "expand some of the partnerships that we have," such as with the National Association of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, on teacher development for STEM and helping to get students into science competitions to help foster their interest in STEM; and finally 5) "I've really enjoyed being an advocate for parents who don't know how to navigate the school system," being highly accessible to parents (e.g., giving out his personal cell phone number).I asked Lander whether he agreed with something Barbara Kanninen said in our interview, that she does "not believe people should run for the School Board...who have not seen the whole process," and that she doesn't "know how someone who's only experienced elementary school can make informed decisions about what might be happening in high school." More broadly, I was curious whether he thinks there are particular qualifications - education, having kids in the system, etc. - that people must have in order to serve on the Arlington County School Board. Lander argued that "diverse backgrounds add value to the school board and to the community." Lander added, "I don't think there are litmus tests, because people bring talents from their experiences that aren't always evident until you have the opportunity to see and hear from them."
So, bottom line, Lander says he disagrees with Kanninen's statement, quoted above. Lander noted that right now on the board, there's a PhD in education (Emma Violand Sanchez), a lawyer (Abby Raphael), a stay-at-home dad (Noah Simon), a single parent of two boys (Sally Baird), and a degreed engineer who has a military background (James Lander), all of whom "add value in our particular ways." Lander specifically said he thought it was fine if someone who never had kids in the school system to run for school board, as long as "they had been involved and committed time to education." Lander added: "If we are the most diverse party, seeking the Democratic endorsement, how do we tell people don't run - anyone and everyone should run for the school board."
Lander talked about the importance of expanding the opportunities for vocational education in Arlington County public schools. Why? Because "not every young lady or young man will go to college as the next step, for a number of different reasons - cost, interest...we have to educate them too." So, one of the things Lander is working on is a vision for the Arlington Career Center and for students who are not necessarily college bound, including things like a "gap year." The most important thing, in Lander's opinion, is to look at students as individuals, not to lump kids together arbitrarily into groups, and to "leverage their strengths."
I asked Lander whether he felt parents were satisfied with the school board, or whether - as Barbara Kanninen said - "there's a lot of parent anger at the current board" over what she called a "total failure of process, communication, and common sense" on the decision to cut school bus routes. Lander responded that there's a tremendous amount of diverse opinion out there on various issues and stances that the board takes, and it's "unrealistic" that we'd get agreement among the community of "22,000 students and roughly 40-some thousand parents or guardians." Lander said he wouldn't agree that there's "widespread anger" out there. Having said that, Lander acknowledged that communication on the school bus issue was "absolutely bad," so "since then we've taken deliberate steps to make adjustments."
The issue with the school buses, according to Lander, was that there was no "safety accountability" with the way the buses were being run previously, "no tracking system in place," so the system definitely needed to be changed ("we needed to address the safety concerns immediately; we could not go through another year and not know where our children were"). Lander makes no excuses, acknowledges that the communication and parental involvement should have been better, but he points out that this was a complex situation with "multiple moving parts." Overall, in Lander's view, "parents...and the Arlington community is happy with our school system - that's why folks move here, that's why folks stay here, that's why we keep growing every year,almost an elementary school a year, because people are happy with the job we're doing; we can always do better...but I think that to categorize parents as angry towards the school board, I think that's inaccurate."
On the issue of school boundaries, Lander feels that it was "a flawed process" before he got on the board, as it "created this adversarial relationship between neighborhoods." Lander pointed out that there's "no magic boundary we could draw" that would perfectly split up the county. Lander said it's "flat-out inaccurate" that we have "extra space in South Arlington," as Barbara Kanninen has asserted. Lander added, "There is no extra space in the county; all of our schools are approaching or near 100%, and it's growing every year...but it doesn't grow evenly around the county." Dealing with this requires an inclusive [composition] of these stakeholders...because we all have a stake in how [the boundaries are] drawn up."
I asked Lander why he thought he was being challenged for reelection. He responded that he doesn't know Kannninen, hasn't "spoken to her," has "only met her once in passing," so he's not sure why she's running against him. Having said that, he added that "I embrace the opportunity to come before the parents [and make my case for reelection]...there are no free rides...I have embraced this go out to speak to parents, to speak to community members, to speak to teachers." He noted that he's proud to have been endorsed by the Arlington Education Association. He said he felt he'd be "victorious because I think I have a better vision on how we move forward, I have far more experience," and that the board is working well together (with a "good chemistry") and should be given "an opportunity to succeed."
We talked about the importance of diversity (of all kinds) on the school board. Lander said he "absolutely believe[s] we benefit from a diverse community," noting that if "for some reason" he's not victorious, "we will have four board members all from the same zip code on the board...80% of the board from the same zip code isn't a good reflection of...what Arlington [is all about]." The process "should be inclusive of everyone," and everyone should be focused on students.
Regarding his reelection campaign, Lander said he's focused on "articulating clearly and communicating our accomplishments and our vision for the future." He said the campaign has picked up its efforts as "folks are starting to pay attention." So, Lander explained, "we are making a deliberate effort to inform voters of the choices and the differences between myself and Dr. Kanninen." The good thing about Dr. Kanninen's challenge, in Lander's view, is that it opens up the opportunity to talk to voters and say, "I want to tell what we've done; I'm excited to say, let me tell you what we've, there's an opportunity to say, pay attention, this is what it means, this is why you have to stay engaged." Lander said he loves the service to the community, but he's still "embracing the politics" part of it.
We touched on Bob McDonnell's plan to put letter grades on schools. Lander said he thought that was a "narrow view to marginalize the great work that's going on in schools." He added: "education isn't just about giving a letter grade...I tell my daughter all the time, I want you to be educated, not trained, that means the ability to think, and so the harm McDonnell does is by limiting and categorizing schools to letter creates this adversarial competition between schools because they're fighting for grades...[instead] the children have to be the focus."
A funny moment in the conversation: Lander joked that George W. Bush graduated from Yale and Harvard, while Thurgood Marshall graduated from Lincoln and Howard, and "I'd take Thurgood Marshall over George Bush any day." In all seriousness, Lander stated, "What I tell parents is you should be able to go to any school in this county and expect a quality education." Lander added that "we shouldn't measure schools, we should measure achievement of students...if you say failing school, what do you mean by this...and what angers me is it puts you in a box...[we shouldn't] let socioeconomic, language, disability, race be a limiter to how successful you can be; if we're doing our job, you come to school and we're meeting your needs."
Finally, I asked Lander what the three most pressing issues facing the Arlington County Public Schools right now. Lander said if he had to pick three, he'd say budget priorities, student achievement, and our growing student enrollment. Lander said he could add recruiting and retaining and developing quality educators and keeping them in Arlington.
Bottom line: James Lander is passionate, dedicated, and extremely well informed about education in general, and the Arlington County public schools specifically. He is looking forward to serving for another term on the board, and asks everyone for their votes.