Friday, December 23, 2011

Virginia Small Businesses Lose Again?

To his credit, Governor McDonnell has said that making Virginia the best state for small business as well as the best state in which to do business is an important objective for his administration. 

In rhetoric then, Governor McDonnell is a step ahead of his predecessors, who, among other things, drafted economic development strategies with no small business representation (Governor Gilmore did that) and compromised the state's ability to coordinate services to small businesses by cutting the state funding match for the SBA funded small and women business centers across the state (Governor Warner did that). 

Unfortunately, though, two recent actions don't appear to match the Governor's rhetoric or advance Virginia in the direction of becoming the best state for small business:

1) The Governor's decision to use public funds to bring two Amazon distribution centers to Virginia while promising Amazon that it will continue to be exempt from collecting sales tax from Virginia customers; and
2) The Governor's decision to recommend the elimination of the Virginia Small Business Advisory Board while continuing the Small Business Commission.

Unfair Competition
The Amazon decision appears to continue the past practice of elevating the seduction of out of state businesses to come to Virginia over the interests of and support for existing Virginia businesses. Normally, any business with a physical presence in Virginia is required to collect and remit sales taxes for all sales.  According to the Virginian Pilot, however, the Governor has agreed to allow Amazon to avoid this obligation  by using separate corporations to set up the distribution centers:

>... state officials said Thursday that Amazon won't have to pay sales taxes after it builds the new warehouses, either, because the facilities are being built and operated by a separate distribution company, not the actual retail business.  
"This was solely about jobs and economic development here," said McDonnell, calling the sales tax issue a discussion for "another time."

This means that while the Governor has been effusive in welcoming Amazon to the Virginia corporate family, the company will continue to have an unfair advantage over Virginia-based bricks and mortar retail businesses who have no choice but to collect sales taxes and have had to carry the additional burden of paying those taxes on an accelerated basis over the past few years.

According to the Washington Post, the Virginia Retail Federation, the Virginia Retail Merchants and the Alliance for Main Street Fairness have called on Amazon to collect and pay sales taxes whether legally required to or not:

“Every retailer should be playing by the same set of rules and let fair competition determine winners and losers in the marketplace,’’ the association said in a statement. “It is not appropriate for state and local tax dollars to be used as economic development incentives unless Amazon agrees to collect and remit state sales taxes. If they do not make this agreement, Virginia is likely to be a net job loser with this deal.”
Amazon was reported to have gotten $4 million in incentives as a part of the deal to bring 1350 jobs to Virginia.  The question is whether these jobs at this cost, which enhance Amazon's ability to compete in the region, are worth the continued loss of small business sector jobs among Virginia retailers who can't make up the difference customers perceive in the cost of goods because of the tax free internet sales, even though legally the customers are obligated to pay this tax as a use tax when they file their income taxes.

Silencing a Voice for Small Business Owners
The decision to eliminate the Virginia Small Business Advisory Board (VSBAB) is a decision to eliminate the only mechanism that assures Virginia small business owners a direct voice in advising the Governor and the administration on economic development and other policies that affect Virginia small businesses.  

The VSBAB is made up of 14 business owners (11 from each of the congressional districts and 3 at large) who volunteer their time and expertise to advise the Executive Branch regarding small business issues. The Board's members are appointed by the Governor for 4 year terms, and can only serve two terms.  These citizens, of which I am one, bring the real world experience of small business owners to bear on state policies affecting small business. 

The key statutory responsibilities of the VSBAB are to recommend to the Governor and the administration policies that will enhance the "growth of small business" and to be a resource to the Governor and others as they conduct the "economic development efforts of the Commonwealth."  As mentioned above, the lack of a strong small business voice in the administration led to the short-sighted cuts in the state budget  (under Warner in 1992) that ended the state role in guiding the small business centers across the state.  Over the last few years, the VSBAB has provided advice and recommendations to policy makers on the definition of "small business" for procurement and other purposes and successfully argued against the proposed merger of DMBE, DBA and VEDP as not helpful to small businesses.

In contrast, the Small Business Commission is a legislative branch agency made up of 10 legislators and 4 citizens. While the citizens are required to have demonstrated "small business expertise," none of them are required to be small business owners.  The citizen members of the Commission serve two year terms with no limit. The Commission's role is to "study, report and make recommendations on issues of concern to small businesses in the Commonwealth."  The Commission has had a history of meeting rarely or sporadically over the years.

If the Governor's purpose in eliminating the VSBAB is to save money, the fact is that the Small Business Commission costs the taxpayers more than the VSBAB.  Legislative members of the Commission receive compensation of $200 per day for attending meetings plus per diem for expenses ($169 for Senate, $135 for House). Citizen members of the Commission are authorized $50 a day plus expenses.  The Code says that VSBAB members serve without compensation, and members have for the last several years voluntarily refrained from seeking any reimbursement for expenses, unless extraordinary (like travel from far Southwest).

If the Governor's purpose is to enhance efficiency by eliminating duplication, it would make more sense to recommend that the Small Business Commission be eliminated than the VSBAB. The VSBAB is the only mechanism that allows small business owners a direct voice in advising the Governor and the administration on policy. Legislators serving on the Small Business Commission have other means to participate in policy development on committees and subcommittees of the House and Senate that meet regularly during Session and also between sessions.  Citizen members of the Commission are a small minority of the membership and do not have to be business owners.

It would seem, then, that both of these decisions can be seen as adverse to the interests of the small business community and the Governor's express goal of making Virginia the best state for small business.  Both deserve to be reviewed carefully by the Governor and by legislature during the 2012 session with an eye toward leveling the playing field and continuing to afford Virginia small businesses a direct voice in advising on state policies.

NOTE: I serve on the Virginia Small Business Advisory Board having been appointed and reappointed by Governor Kaine.  My current term expires in 2012 whether the Board is continued or not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lt. Governor Not a Member of the Senate; Can't Vote on Organization

The question whether the Lieutenant Governor can vote on the organization of the Senate is not a political question but is one of constitutional import.

The Lieutenant Governor is a member of the Executive Branch and is not an elected "member" of "the Senate" as defined in Article IV, Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for him to participate in organizing the Senate since he is not one of the 40 elected Senators who make up "the Senate."

It would also be a violation of the separation of powers clause of the Virginia Constitution, Article III, for the Lieutenant Governor, who is a member of the executive branch of government pursuant to Article V, Section 13, to cast a deciding vote on the organization of a body of the legislature.  As a member of the executive branch, he is specifically prohibited from exercising "the powers properly belonging to the [legislative branch]."

The provision for the Lieutenant Governor to case a vote in the case of an "equal division" does not apply to the organization of the Senate as a legislative "house" since the constitution specifically reserves the organization of the Senate to the "body" and to its elected "members."

I've set forth the constitutional provisions below for information.

Article III
Division of Powers
Section 1. Departments to be distinct.
The legislative, executive, and judicial departments shall be separate and distinct, so that none exercise the powers properly belonging to the others, nor any person exercise the power of more than one of them at the same time; provided, however, administrative agencies may be created by the General Assembly with such authority and duties as the General Assembly may prescribe. Provisions may be made for judicial review of any finding, order, or judgment of such administrative agencies.

Article IV
Section 1. Legislative power.
The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Delegates.
Section 2. Senate.
The Senate shall consist of not more than forty and not less than thirty-three members, who shall be elected quadrennially by the voters of the several senatorial districts on the Tuesday succeeding the first Monday in November.
Section 7. Organization of General Assembly.
The House of Delegates shall choose its own Speaker; and, in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor, or when he shall exercise the office of Governor, the Senate shall choose from its own body a president pro tempore. Each house shall select its officers and settle its rules of procedure. The houses may jointly provide for legislative continuity between sessions occurring during the term for which members of the House of Delegates are elected. Each house may direct writs of election for supplying vacancies which may occur during a session of the General Assembly. If vacancies exist while the General Assembly is not in session, such writs may be issued by the Governor under such regulations as may be prescribed by law. Each house shall judge of the election, qualification, and returns of its members, may punish them for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of its elected membership, may expel a member.
Article V
Section 13. Lieutenant Governor; election and qualifications.
A Lieutenant Governor shall be elected at the same time and for the same term as the Governor, and his qualifications and the manner and ascertainment of his election, in all respects, shall be the same, except that there shall be no limit on the terms of the Lieutenant Governor.

Section 14. Duties and compensation of Lieutenant Governor. 
The Lieutenant Governor shall be President of the Senate but shall have no vote except in case of an equal division. He shall receive for his services a compensation to be prescribed by law, which shall not be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2012 Virginia General Assembly Outlook -- Immigration Policy Issues

Virginia General Assembly
2012 Pre-Session Report
by Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga
October 31, 2011

Virginia has a long history of passing legislation to identify and seek removal of unauthorized immigrants, beginning with a law enacted during the eugenics movement that required Virginian's mental health institutions to check immigration status on admission and report to the federal authorities anyone not in the country legally.  Beginning in 2003 and reaching a crescendo in 2008, legislation has been introduced in every session of the General Assembly that directly or indirectly affects Virginia's immigrant communities and those who serve. 

The number and scope of bills has varied depending on political and environmental factors.  The peak year to date, 2008 when over 130 bills were introduced, was driven by hotly contested legislative elections in certain legislative districts in which Democrats and Republicans, alike, made immigration related issues a key part of their campaign platforms and voter communication.  The 2011 election cycle has seen some of the same rhetoric we saw in the 2007 election cycle, and the tone reflects increasing national attention on enforcement only approaches to immigration reform and passage of draconian, wide-reaching legislation in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.

Over the years, Virginia has enacted nearly 50 laws with direct effects on immigrants and aliens. While positive legislation has passed that deals with human trafficking and wage theft, most of the laws now on the books in Virginia are restrictions on the rights or benefits of "aliens" or immigrants, including the rights and benefits of persons lawfully present in the United States.

Here's a summary of key laws in effect in Virginia and the outlook for legislative action in the 2012 General Assembly Session:

I. Law Enforcement
There have been a series of bills enacted to increase the ability of law enforcement to identify and move toward deportation "criminal aliens" -- documented and undocumented immigrants charged with and/or convicted of criminal violations of Virginia law.  Prior to 2008, Virginia law required immigration status checks after conviction of a crime upon entry into a jail or prison and again as a condition of probation or parole.  Since 2008, Virginia law also requires that immigration inquiries be made of every person taken into custody on a criminal charge. In addition, Virginia is a statewide participant in the Secure Communities program that forwards fingerprints of those arrested to federal authorities for an immigration status check. Another law passed in 2008 establishes a presumption against bail for persons in the country without authority who are accused of committing certain serious criminal offenses.

Passage of legislation increasing the focus on determining the status of individuals taken into custody by police is seen as likely to deter people from coming forward to report crimes or to seek services if they are victims of crime. Legislation intended to mitigate this adverse effect by protecting victims and witnesses to crime has passed the Virginia Senate three times unanimously, but has been rejected in a committee of the House of Delegates. This legislation would have established a statewide policy against routine inquiries into the immigration status of individuals who are victims or witnesses to crime and are cooperating with authorities.

Outlook for 2012 General Assembly Session:
Legislation defeated in the past but likely to be introduced again:
1) bills that give line officers increased authority to take people into custody on minor offenses, including driving without a license;
2) legislation to require or permit immigration status checks whenever someone is stopped lawfully by the police (not enjoined by the Alabama Court); and
3) legislation to provide additional 287g authority at the state and local level.

New legislation likely to be copied from other states:
1) legislation to require that persons caught driving without a license be taken into custody if the police officer cannot confirm, have their status checked by a magistrate and, if found to be in the country without authority, be detained until trial or turned over to federal authorities (not enjoined by the Alabama Court); and
2) legislation to make it a state crime not to carry immigration documents (not enjoined by the Alabama Court).

II. Business and Employment
Demands continue to increase that the General Assembly impose sanctions on employers who hire persons in this country without the legal authorization to work.   To date, Virginia has enacted the following laws that affect Virginia employers and contractors:
1) a longstanding law making it a misdemeanor to hire an unauthorized worker (in effect since1977 but likely unconstitutional);
2) a  requirement that every state and local contractor sign an agreement to abide by federal  immigration laws;
3) authority for the State Corporation Commission to revoke the right of any employer to do business in Virginia if convicted of federal immigration law violations;
4) a requirement that state agencies use e-Verify to check new workers; and
5) a requirement that state contractors with more than 50 employees seeking contracts in excess of $50,000 use e-Verify to check new workers.

Outlook for 2012 General Assembly Session:
The following bills defeated in past sessions are likely to be reintroduced this year:
1) legislation to require all employers, all state and local contractors, and all state license holders (like doctors and lawyers) regardless of size of business to use e-Verify;
2) legislation to authorize private lawsuits or lawsuits by the Attorney General against employers who are alleged to have hired undocumented workers (currently enjoined from going into effect in Alabama);
3) legislation to limit the use of foreign languages in the workplace;
4) legislation to require proof of legal presence to get a business or professional license; and
5) anti-harboring legislation that makes it a state crime to transport or conceal a person who is in the country without authority (currently enjoined from going into effect in Alabama).

New proposals likely to be copied from other states:
1) A bill to establish a state crime applicable to immigrants soliciting work or working without legal authority (an anti-day laborer bill) (currently enjoined from going into effect in Alabama);
2) legislation to prohibit tax deductions for wages paid to an unauthorized immigrant (currently enjoined from going into effect in Alabama);
3) legislation to ban enforcement in court of any contract made with an unauthorized immigrant (with limited exceptions for medical care, food) (not enjoined by the Alabama Court); and
4) legislation to make it a crime to enter into a business transaction with an unauthorized immigrant (not enjoined by the Alabama Court).

III. Social and Medical Services
Virginia passed a law in 2005 requiring proof of legal presence for state welfare and medical benefits.  Other legislation to limit access to services by undocumented immigrants has been unsuccessful, but remains a perennial topic of legislators.

For the first time in the 2011 legislative session, there was interest on the part of some legislators, immigrant advocates and health care providers in closing the loophole that disqualifies legal immigrants for Medicaid until after 5 years of residence.   Preliminary studies show that investing in preventive care, particularly for pregnant women, can reduce long term costs imposed on the health care system.

Outlook for the 2012 General Assembly Session
Bills considered in past sessions and likely to be reintroduced this year include:
1) legislation to require all recipients of state and local funds to insure no services paid for with such funds were made available to anyone not lawfully present;
2) legislation to restrict the ability of state and local agencies to offer services or print materials in languages other than English, potentially driving up the cost for service providers that are recipients of federal assistance required to provide language access;
3) anti-harboring legislation that would impact the ability of charities to offer food, shelter or transportation to anyone in the country without authority (currently enjoined from going into effect in Alabama);
4) "anti-sanctuary" laws that authorize individual state and local employees to report alleged immigration law violations and prohibit interference in such private action by state or local officials; and
5) positive legislation to expand eligibility for Medicaid benefits for some legally present immigrants.

IV. Education
Virginia has long had in place strict domicile requirements that make it impossible for undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at Virginia colleges.  All of the four year institutions currently have policies against admitting students who are undocumented, even as out of state students.

Efforts to pass legislation prohibiting admission to public post-secondary education and to codify prohibitions on in-state tuition have been introduced year after year and defeated.

Similarly, legislation to require local school divisions to count students who are foreign born and to require proof of legal presence has been defeated.

A state level "Dream Act" passed the Senate with bi-partisan support but died in the House.  This legislation would have offered tax-paying undocumented Virginia residents who graduate from Virginia schools the chance to be eligible for in-state tuition if they are in the process of adjusting their status.  It would not have overridden policies at the state institutions against admission of such students, however. 

There has been enhanced recognition that there is a need for increased state support for programs to help immigrants along the path to citizenship and full civic engagement, and for additional resources to help local school divisions address limited English proficiency both among school age children and adults.  Ongoing budget shortfalls have crushed hopes for passage or funding of such initiatives but there is continued interest among legislators from impacted localities across Virginia.

Outlook for the 2012 General Assembly Session:
Legislation introduced and defeated in the past likely to be reintroduced includes:
1) legislation to ban attendance at Virginia public colleges by undocumented students;
2) legislation to prohibit undocumented students from qualifying for in-state tuition;  
3) legislation to require local school divisions to ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of all students and to make reports to state authorities regarding the number of undocumented students, the number of foreign born students and the number of students needing English as a second language courses (not enjoined by the court in Alabama); and
4) possibly, the state level "Dream Act," although the negative focus during the 2011 elections on the votes of legislators who previously supported the state level "Dream Act" make it highly improbable such a bill would pass the Senate in the 2012 Session.  There continues to be no chance it would get out of committee in the House of Delegates, even if it were to pass the Senate.

V. Housing
In past legislative session, lawmakers, particularly those from Northern Virginia, have focused significant legislative efforts on measures to "crack down on" those who violate overcrowding ordinances, including giving enhanced enforcement tools to zoning administrators, increasing fines for violators and enacting new limits on the number of unrelated persons who may live in a single family home.

Little thought has been given to the precedent set in each of these areas, the probability of disparate enforcement or the likely long term adverse effect on the availability of affordable housing of such measures. As the availability of affordable housing continues to atrophy, there are quality of life implications that have not been carefully considered in the emotionally charged atmosphere that continues to permeate this discussion.

Outlook for the 2012 General Assembly Session
Legislation copied from other states likely to be introduced this session:
1) restrictions on contracting by or with undocumented persons that would make unenforceable contracts for sale or lease of real estate (not enjoined by Alabama court); and
2) legal presence requirements for real estate sales or leases.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Was Columbus Really a Jewish Nobleman?

Columbus Day and the Jewish high holy days are just behind us.  Got me thinking about a note I posted to Facebook last year, and I decided it was worth republishing in my blog this year. 

Here it is:

I just finished reading a Da Vinci Code type book about Columbus, Codex 632, by Jose Rodriques Dos Santos, translated from Portuguese. While not a great book and a sometimes tedious read, the book, reviewed in the Post here, posits the theory that Columbus was a Portuguese nobleman with Jewish heritage who was forced to hide his real identity.

But there were some historic facts to learn along the way. Among other things, the book taught me something that I didn't know before ... that Columbus' voyage to America was launched at the same time Jews were expelled from the Iberian peninsula by the Spanish monarchs. His diary of the voyage to discover American begins: "In the same month in which their Majesties [Ferdinand and Isabella] issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies."

The Spanish expulsion order of 1492, forced 200,000 Jews to leave the Iberian peninsula or convert (or pretend to convert) to Christianity (hence the term New Christians used to descibe some Jews remaining in Portugal in the 15th century).

Once again it becomes clear that religious intolerance and persecution is not a sometime thing. Nor is it a fault of one religion. So, even bad fiction can open your eyes to new learning that provides additional perspective from which to view current events.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mandatory E- Verify: A tale of strange bedfellows?

So, there was a markup on the new federal  E-Verify mandate bill in Congress this week. Most national employer groups have now decided to throw in the towel and lobby for a single national E-Verify mandate with substitution of the electronic system for the paper I-9 system and preemption of state/local mandates. 

In an interesting turn of events, however, tea partiers and their allies have warned Republicans not to push the bill, though.

According to the report from the American Independent ("state politics in context"), their arguments seem so far "right" that they are "left":

The letter, which identifies its signatories as “pro-freedom, limited government, and Constitutional government organizations,” lists five reasons for opposing E-Verify:

We are alarmed that E-Verify poses a threat to both the Constitution and every law-abiding citizen of this country because it:

1. Creates a de facto national I.D. System – even for citizens;

2. Violates individual civil liberties such as the right to work and free speech;

3. Mandates a costly job-killing regulatory burden that cripples small business

4. Requires employers to become enforcement agents of the federal government;

5. Encourages identify theft of law-abiding citizens

While the letter reflects fears of an overreaching federal government typical of modern conservative ideology, many of the points raised in the letter are echoed by liberal Democrats and immigrant rights activists who have consistently opposed mandatory implementation of E-Verify.

For more on how "liberals" see the E-Verify issue, see the Immigration Policy Institute's assessment of the impact of mandatory E-Verify on Virginia' s economy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thinking About the Budget -- Some Voters See Fairness Where Others ... Not So Much

The new Quinnipiac University poll is out today. The results getting the most attention concern voter support for the proposed rules the Board of Health will vote on tomorrow that will require doctors and clinics providing abortion services to have facilities comparable to hospitals.

But unreferenced in the press release and not highlighted in the press conference on the poll held today are some interesting disparities that the poll reveals regarding the way women and black voters see the state budget. These disparities were also evident and uncommented upon in the first Quinnipiac poll done in Virginia in June.

Both the June poll (question 19) and the one released today (question 23) asked registered voters whether they "think that the state budget is fair or unfair to people like you." The overall trend among all voters surveyed is toward "fair" with the twelve point increase in voters who see it as fair coming largely from voters who said in June they didn't know or didn't have an answer. There are, however, striking disparities between women and men and black and white voters surveyed.

In the poll released today, only 43% of women said they think the budget is fair to them (vs. 67% of men), a 24 point disparity, and only 35% of black voters (vs. 60% of white voters), a 25 point disparity, think the budget is fair to them. While slightly more women voters now think the budget is fair to them than did so in June (43% of women vs. 36% of women in June), a smaller percentage of black voters do (35% of black voters vs. 38% in June). And, a higher percentage of black voters now thinks that the budget is unfair to them 57% vs 40% in June, with the increase in those thinking it is unfair coming from those who said in June they didn't know if it was fair or unfair to them.

Both the June poll (question 20) and the one released today (question 24) also asked "what do you think about the cuts in state spending in the budget? Do you think the cuts in state spending go too far, not far enough or are they about right?" Again, the overall trend is toward "about right" with 40% of those surveyed responding "about right" in September and only 29% giving that answer in June.

Nonetheless, black voters views have remained virtually unchanged with 42% saying "too far" in September vs. 41% in June, 18% saying "not far enough" vs. 19%, and 29% saying "about right" vs. 27%. What has changed, however, is the disparity between their views and those of white voters. The percentage of black voters responding that the cuts have gone "too far" is now 21 points higher than white voters, up from 16 points in June ( 42% of black voters responded that the cuts had gone "too far" in September vs. 21% of white voters).

  Similarly, there is an increasing disparity in the percentage of women vs. men who think that the cuts have gone "too far." 30% of women vs. 20% of men responded that way in September and 33% of women vs. 25% of men responded that way in June. And, although the percentage of women who think that the cuts are "about right" has risen, the disparity between women and men who think that the cuts are "about right:" has risen from 9 points in June to 12 points in the poll released today.

So, the question is what accounts for these disparities in the way people think about the state budget? The simplest answer may be what you see depends on where you stand.

Perhaps it is the case that women and African Americans in Virginia are more likely to experience the real impact when the strands of the safety net are being cut out from under them, so they may "feel" the cuts more directly. I don't know, but I do think it is important to ask the question and seek to discover the answer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Decade in the Wlderness-Senate Redistricting Outcomes

Incumbent-centered, partisan redistricting has all but guaranteed that Virginia progressives will be lost in the legislative wilderness for the next decade or more even as the majority of the Virginia voting public becomes more centrist, or even left of center.

The reality is that, as the Virginia Senate moved to a fragile Democratic majority, progressives actually lost ground on progressive issues, in part because the partisan ground gained by Democrats was at the expense of moderate Republicans. The erosion of moderation on one side of the aisle and the fragility of the majority on the other deprived progressives of the ability to build a bi-partisan issue majority in the Senate on which to move an issue into the much more conservative and more partisan House. Positive legislation progressives were able to get through the Senate on party-line votes was dead on arrival in the House.

With the Democratic majority, progressives were able to hold the line on some issues (notably immigration) by wielding the partisan power of the majority in committee. At the same time, however, the line broke on others because a partisan majority isn’t necessarily an issue majority (e.g., on choice issues) or because fears about the loss of the majority or desires to gain the majority allowed fractional interests to control. Thus, progressives entered redistricting with the best hope for the future being a plan that allowed more contested elections to take place, i.e., a plan that devalued incumbency and set aside party for purpose. That hope was not to be realized.

Now, the outlook for a continued Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate is increasingly bleak, and that outcome, even if it could be achieved, will come at the expense of the further erosion of the possibility of gaining an issue majority on progressive issues. Republican centrists are increasingly rare, having previously been ousted in primaries (like Senator Marty Williams), redistricted out of their seats (like Senator Fred Quayle) or scared “right” by threatened nomination challenges. In the future, so-called “safe,” partisan-drawn districts will elect candidates at the extremes of both parties, and the few swing districts likely will elect candidates focused first on preserving their ability to get re-elected. This is a prescription for a fractious and fragile majority whichever party achieves it.

Looking at the Virginia Senate races, the Republican path to a more conservative majority in the Senate than previously held sway is relatively clear. The path to a continued Democratic majority of any description less so. So far the contested elections in the Senate are all in districts currently held by Democratic Senators except one.

As of now, thirteen (13) Republican incumbents are running without opposition or with only primary opposition within the party: Blevins, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Ruff, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, and Wagner.

Republicans also currently are running without announced opposition in two redrawn open Senate seats (the 13th and the 19th) that lean Republican. Dick Black, John Stirrup and Bob Fitzsimmons are contesting for the nomination to run in the 13th. Incumbent Senator Ralph Smith is moving from the 22nd district to the 19th, where he is currently the only announced candidate. And, to date, Delegate Charles Carrico is the only announced candidate in the Republican leaning 40th Senate District to replace retiring Senator William Wampler.

The number of incumbent Democratic Senators currently running without Republican opposition is eight (8) : Colgan, Deeds, Locke, Lucas, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, Y.B., and Saslaw.

Incumbent Democratic Senators facing announced Republican challengers number twelve (12): Barker, Edwards, Herring, Houck, Howell, Marsden, Miller, J, Northam, Peterson, Puckett, Puller, and Reynolds. Of these twelve, nine (9) (Marsden, Miller, J, Northam, Houck, Reynolds, Herring, Peterson, Puckett, and Barker) are running in districts where more than 50% of the voters supported Governor McDonnell in 2009.

Democrats running in hotly contested primaries to replace Senator Patsy Ticer in the 30th and Senator Mary Margaret Whipple in the 31st will also face announced Republican opposition in the general election. The competition in the 31st will be driven by a self-funding candidate, increasing the expense of defending what should be a relatively safe Democratic seat.

There will be a contested election in the new Republican leaning 22nd Senate District, where Bert Dodson (D Lynchburg) has announced he will run against the winner of what is now a five way Republican primary.

Putting the map together, then, Republicans are currently on their way to electing 16 Senators without opposition compared to 8 Democratic Senators. In addition, the Republican candidate also must be considered the favorite in the new 22nd Senate District which voted almost 64% for Governor McDonnell. That means Republicans need to pick up just four seats in contested elections to take the majority from the Democrats. Of the nine Democratic incumbents running in districts that voted for Governor McDonnell, the most vulnerable incumbent Senators appear to be Senators Reynolds (who will be facing incumbent Senator Stanley), Puckett, John Miller, Houck and Herring.

Added to the dismal district demographics and current political trends is the money advantage Republicans already have, which will only be magnified by their ability to redirect funds from uncontested contests to the contested races.

The sum then is a scenario in which, without more announced competitive candidates (either Democrats or independents) surfacing before August 23rd to challenge incumbent Republican Senators and vie for the currently uncontested open seats, the possibility for a return to a Republican majority in the Senate becomes increasingly likely as we move from summer into fall.

The really sad news for progressives is that any new Republican majority will be decidely more conservative than the previous Republican majority, and a Democratic majority is likely to be preserved, if at all, by a continued shift to the right by threatened downstate and outer ring suburb Senators. Either way, the composition of the Senate in the 2012 General Assembly Session (and for the next decade because of way districts were drawn) will make the possibility of cobbling together a bi-partisan issue majority for any positive forward movement on issues like health care, immigration, civil rights, and eliminating poverty remote. The shift to the right will also challenge efforts to hold back hallmark legislation on the agendas of the Virginia Tea Party and the Family Foundation.

UPDATE: June 20, 2011
Good news: It appears that there will be a Democratic candidate in the 13th Senate District, Shawn Mitchell. It remains to be seen how competitive he will be or how progressive.

Bad news: The number of incumbent Senate Democrats running without opposition drops to seven. Robert Sarvis is challenging Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. It remains to be seen how competitive he will be, but just his presence in the race will keep some of the $$ Saslaw can raise from aiding others with contested races.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

George Allen and Women .... Flashback to 1995 and 2000

2011 Update:
So, the issue of Allen and women continues to be a viable concern. Webb's own record (i.e., "Women Can't Fight") kept him from making this as much of an issue in 2006 as it could have been.
It's not like he's changed any since I first wrote about Allen and women in 1995. In 2004, he added votes against extending Family Medical Leave to victims of domestic violence, and against legislation to allow victims of sexual violence in the workplace to sue rather than be limited to recovery under worker's comp.
I suppose that there's some sort of "rewrite history" tour he can do with women like he's doing with folks in the Jewish community, but my guess is he's kinda proud of his record here.
Question is ... will his opponents, and women voters, give him a free ride on his hostility to women again in 2012.

2006 Update:
I've posted up below a commentary on George Allen that I wrote in 1995 and updated in 2000. There might be more to say now... but my complete absorption in the multi-partisan campaign against the Marshall/Newman amendment means that I'll be leaving that to others.
Suffice it to say that when one starts looking for the woman-friendly candidate in the Virginia Senate race, Norm's wife may have a lot of company.

George Allen's Message to Virginia Women
copyright 1995 and 2000
by Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga

George Allen's record, as a candidate and as an elected official, demonstrates a lack of understanding of or commitment to many issues that matter to women in Virginia: family leave, protection for work-related injuries, nondiscrimination and equitable treatment, prevention of unnecessary injuries and deaths from guns and other dangerous activities, consumer protection and reproductive choice. In each case, Allen’s record clearly demonstrates that his views are outside the mainstream and contrary to those of most Virginia women.
George Allen has failed to support working women and their families. As a member of Congress, George Allen voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act. Family and medical leave, alternative work schedules, and employer provided day care improve productivity, reduce turnover and absenteeism, and enhance morale -- all factors that can produce reduced costs and enhanced profits for business. As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, George Allen voted against legislation allowing a woman, who was sexually assaulted in the workplace and could identify the attacker, to sue the attacker for damages instead of being limited to benefits under workers' compensation laws (1988).
As Governor, George Allen vetoed a bill that would have defined carpal tunnel syndrome as a disease for purposes of eligibility for workers' compensation benefits. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive motion and affects workers in meat and poultry processing, the textile industry, retail check out positions and certain clerical positions. Most of the affected workers are women in part because women are more susceptible to this work-related condition than men and in part because more women work in the affected jobs.
In his veto message, Allen rationalized his action by stating erroneously that "this legislation would substantially increase the costs of workers' compensation coverage to the businessmen and businesswomen of Virginia.” What Allen’s argument concealed, however, was that Virginia has consistently ranked nearly last of all fifty states in the cost of workers' compensation premiums. After Allen left office, the legislature passed a bill covering carpal tunnel syndrome and the workers’ compensation premiums went down the year the legislation passed.
George Allen has consistently opposed legislation designed to prevent discrimination and assure equitable treatment for all Virginians. As a Virginia Delegate, George Allen voted against a Martin Luther King holiday; against the Human Rights Study Commission and the Human Rights Act; against amendments to the Fair Housing Law to prohibit discrimination based on elderliness, parenthood, or disability and against removing restrictive covenants that discriminate against disabled citizens. He even voted against changing the name of Virginia's workers' compensation law from "workmen's compensation" to "workers' compensation." While running for Congress, George Allen said he was inclined to vote against the Republican 1991 Civil Rights Act (which President George Bush supported and signed into law) because he considered it a racial quota bill.
While Governor, George Allen rewrote compromise civil rights legislation authorizing the courts to award up to 12 months salary as back pay and limited attorneys fees to an individual discharged because of race, color, religion, national origin or sex or age (if the employee is 40 years or older). As rewritten by Allen, the bill would have left all employees working in businesses with fewer than 15 employees without any protection from discriminatory discharge. The House of Delegates refused to accept Allen’s amendments and sent it back to him without his changes.
George Allen also rewrote legislation proposed to establish the Virginia Plan for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education Commission. Allen’s amendments would have added strictly limited any consideration of race or ethnicity in decisions relating to admissions, faculty appointments or employment at Virginia colleges and universities and asserted strong gubernatorial authority over the work of the Commission and over the state's universities. No affirmative action programs could be implemented, even for explicit remedial purposes, by colleges and universities under Allen’s language without the Governor’s authority and the Attorney General's approval. The bill with Allen’s proposed amendments was sent back to committee where it died.
George Allen routinely voted against safety and injury prevention measures as a Virginia Delegate. Delegate Allen voted against raising the drinking age to 21 because he said it would hurt the profits of bar owners in Charlottesville (1983, 1984). He voted against requiring hunters to wear blaze orange in 1987 and against requiring passengers in cars to wear seat belts in 1985, 1986 and 1987. He opposed the Motorcycle Rider Safety Act (1984) and a bill to educate servers of alcohol in bars and restaurants on how to recognize and cut off drinkers who have had enough to drink (1989). As Governor, George Allen twice vetoed legislation prohibiting the transportation of children under 16 in the back of pickup trucks. Each of the measures Allen opposed is now the law in Virginia.
George Allen has consistently opposed even the most limited and reasonable gun safety measures. As Governor, he tried unsuccessfully to amend Virginia’s concealed weapons law to take out a provision that prohibits a person carrying a concealed weapon from entering events and establishments where alcohol is being served, and to change the law to require two (instead of one) convictions for drunk driving before a person could be deemed ineligible for a concealed weapon permit. As a Delegate, Allen also tried to amend a bill to make it a crime to leave a loaded gun around children so that no one could be prosecuted unless someone was injured (1991).
George Allen is no friend of the Virginia consumer. As a Virginia Delegate, Allen voted against the Health Spa Act that gave consumers (mostly women) the right to cancel their contracts and provided remedies for fraud (1984). As a member of Congress, he voted against the conference report to cap basic cable rates and improve competition.
As Governor, George Allen amended and vetoed legislation that would have strengthened Virginia consumer laws. Allen recommended amendments to weaken proposed penalties for willful violations of the Commonwealth's consumer protection laws. When the legislature rejected his amendments he vetoed the legislation.
In his veto explanation, Allen said that the new tougher penalty could be misused by individuals who do not speak English to hurt "mom and pop" retailers. Allen's stated concern had no basis in law or fact. Allen's veto has only served to disadvantage untold numbers of consumers who are the intentional victims of financially rewarding, deceptive practices by truly "fly by night" businesses. Among other things his action provides a safe haven for those who intentionally prey on elderly consumers. Moreover, his veto took away a powerful deterrent to shady business practices that damage other legitimate businesses who take seriously their responsibility to comply with the law.

As a candidate and as Governor, Allen has said consistently that he wants to burden women's choices regarding reproductive health.
He has consistently supported waiting periods for adult women seeking abortions and intrusive, government-dictated informed consent requirements applicable only to women patients seeking abortions. He also vetoed legislation that would have imposed more stringent penalties on persons who harass and obstruct patients seeking health care. Allen's veto message equated access to health care with access to a grocery store.

It is important for all Virginia women and their families to ask questions of both candidates that relate to current history and not past history ... has George Allen earned our votes with a solid record of accomplishment as a Senator on issues that matter? Is Jim Webb committed to action that will move us forward on education, health care, equal pay? Is either candidate's claimed progression from prior juvenile (and sexist? racist?) acts/commentary credible?
Clearly, there is much at stake in this Senate race, and women should make sure they register and vote on November 7th. We need to make our voices heard by both candidates. We need to get them both talking about current issues that matter to us and our families.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Adoption Discrimination--Roanoke Times Raises Important Questions about Broader Implications of Recent State Action

Interesting that none of the stories about the State Board of Social Services' action on the adoption rules focused on the larger questions raised by the decision to strip out of the nondiscrimination rules, not only protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation but also stripped protections against discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, age, family status and political beliefs.

Shouldn't all of us be talking about the implications of policies of some faith based adoption agencies who said during the public comment period on the rules and in written comments filed with the agency that they refuse (or want to be able to refuse) to place children with families of other faiths?

Is it an act of charity or an act of institutional self-preservation or proselytization for a faith-based adoption agency to require a pledge of faith to use their adoption services?

Is this an act in the best interests of the child they are placing or of the placing agency?

And, since the courts must approve every adoption, isn’t their discriminatory policy actually being effected by the state, rather than by a private party?

The Roanoke Times has begun the debate.

I hope it continues.

Gays were the focus of debate, but proposed adoption regulations went much further.

Roanoke Times Editorial, April 23, 2011

On Wednesday, the Virginia Board of Social Services, at the urging of Gov. Bob McDonnell, chose not to grant equality to unmarried couples and gay Virginians in the adoption process. Private adoption agencies may continue to discriminate against them. Loving homes will remain largely unavailable for kids in search of a family.

The debate leading up to the decision framed things primarily as a gay rights issue, but there was much more to it. The proposed regulations also would have made gender, age, religion, political beliefs, disability and family status non-issues in adoption.

The opposition primarily came from religious-based adoption agencies whose faith tells them gays are unfit parents.

Current regulations say only race, color or national origin may not be considered by agencies, no matter their religious teachings. Those rules exist for the simple reason that race should have nothing to do with adoption, even if in some twisted way one claims that religion demands it. A black parent should be able to adopt a white child from any agency; a white parent, an Asian child; and so on.

An adoption agency's faith tradition might also dictate that people of another religion are unfit parents. Maybe Democrats, too, or Republicans. People who vote for pro-choice candidates. People in wheelchairs. All remain viable, albeit distasteful, reasons an adoption agency might cite to reject parents. Yet because those groups' interests were caught up in a broader gay-rights fight, they too will continue to be potential objects of discrimination.

When it comes to finding good families for children, sexual orientation, faith, politics and all the rest have no place in the discussion. The surprising thing was not that the governor chose not to extend equal rights to gay people, but that he did not get behind the rest of the changes.