If KY Gov Beshear Can Restore Ex-Felons' Voting Rights En Masse, Why Can't Virginia?!?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

by Lowell

Can someone explain to me why we can't do what Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear just did?
In a small handful of states, people convicted of a felony are automatically stripped of their voting rights, even after they’ve finished serving their sentences. Today, Kentucky took a major step to fix that problem.

Outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order on Tuesday to restore voting rights for many of the 180,000 Kentuckians who have been served a felony sentence but remain disenfranchised.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that Beshear’s executive order will immediately allow 140,000 Kentuckians to restore their voting rights, and an additional 30,000 will be eligible down the road. The organization praised Beshear’s order as “an incredible breakthrough in the movement to end criminal disenfranchisement policies nationwide.”

The restoration of voting rights does not apply to ex-felons who were convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.
Great stuff, so why can't we do this in Virginia as well? For the life of me, I haven't been able to understand why Mark Warner didn't do it when he was governor, why Tim Kaine didn't do it when he was governor, why Bob McDonnell didn't do it when he was governor (ok, I can guess why a Republcian wouldn't do this), and why Gov. Terry McAuliffe doesn't do it now.  I wrote about this issue back in January 2006, wondering why outgoing Gov. Warner didn't go ahead and do what Gov. Beshear just did in Kentucky -- restore the voting rights of non-violent (and a few other categories) ex-felons. I also wrote about this in December 2009, about a person who called in to the "Ask the Governor" show and asked Gov. Kaine:
...with a stroke of a pen, you can sign an executive order and restore their voting rights and change the history of Virginia forever. Will you do it, and if not why not? 
Kaine's response, basically, was that based on his lawyers' reading of the state's constitution, "the ability to do just kind of a blanket restoration, restoring unnamed individuals, is very very murky." At the time, I checked with the Virgnia Organizing Project (VOP), which was working hard to persuade Gov. Kaine to do just that sort of "blanket restoration" Kaine claimed he probably couldn't do, and VOP said that "the Constitution imposes no reporting obligation for restoration of voting rights." In other words, as I wrote at the time, "Governor Kaine not only should issue a blanket restoration of voting rights for people who have 'done their time,' he can issue a blanket restoration."

Wednesday News: "A harvest of anti-Muslim hatred;" "Ted Cruz's Sophisticated Bigotry"

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Wednesday, November 25. Also check out that ad by John Kasich against neo-fascist Donald Trump.

New Data Show Virginia’s Hospitals Continue to Face Financial Challenges

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

by Lowell

The following press release from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is well worth sharing, as it discusses an important, even life-or-death issue facing millions of Virginians (bolding added by me for emphasis). The bottom line is that it's long past time for the Virginia General Assembly to take action on this issue.
Virginia Health Information 2014 Figures Reveal Negative Operating Margins at Many Hospitals Across Virginia

RICHMOND, VA – Newly released figures from Virginia Health Information (VHI), the agency that gathers and reports health care data in the Commonwealth, underscore the fact that many local hospitals across the state continue to struggle financially. The numbers show that roughly 25 percent of Virginia’s acute care hospitals, and nearly 42 percent of rural hospitals, operated in the red during calendar year 2014. That continues a pattern consistently reflected in VHI annual data. While the number of hospitals with negative operating margins can fluctuate from year-to-year, the ongoing trend of numerous hospitals operating in the red has alarming implications for access to health care, and Virginia’s economy. Financial pressure can also impede a hospital’s ability to make facility and equipment upgrades so patients have access to state-of-the-art treatment. It is commonly accepted in the industry that achieving a 4 percent operating margin is the minimum threshold necessary for hospitals to maintain fiscal stability and provide for capital expenditures. Based on VHI’s 2014 data, 18 of 31 rural hospitals fell below that mark. Statewide, 40 of 89 hospitals were in that category, which includes some with negative margins and others with modestly positive margins.

Audio: Gov. McAuliffe on Syrian Refugees, Medicaid Expansion

Gov. McAuliffe was on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show a few minutes ago, and had a lot to say about several topics: his just-concluded overseas trade mission (he said it was very successful, expect some big announcements); education (he talked about how crucial education is, how there are too many/too lengthy SOLs and too much "teaching to the test"); ending homelessness in Virginia for U.S. veterans; Syrian refugees and possible Medicaid expansion. Here's some audio of Gov. McAuliffe talking about Syrian refugees and Medicaid expansion possibilities.

On the refugees, McAuliffe said "there's nothing we can do, zero, it is the United States constitution...right now I don't need to be spending my time on political rhetoric to try and score political points, I'm trying to be a job creator and a problem solver." In response to a caller question on refugees, McAuliffe added that he has "no say in the matter...I can't change this...My job is to keep our communities safe." McAuliffe also said that he would veto a bill that "would make it more difficult" to allow Syrian refugees into Virginia, as "it's federal law" and the "constitution is crystal clear on tihs."

With regard to possible Medicaid expansion, Gov. McAuliffe said we should try to do it "in a way that protects the state, no cost to the state, and at the same time bring about $2.4 billion back a year." McAuliffe added that Medicaid costs are going up as more people enroll, so "we are now getting the costs of doing this without any of the benefits." McAuliffe urged that legislators "keep your mind open," that his "door is open to working in a commonsense, bipartisan way." McAuliffe said he's particularly worried about rural hospitals, especially given that federal "DISH" payments for indigent care are slowly phasing out. "Noone should come out with a kneejerk least have a conversation...compromise, come together for the good of the Commonwealth of Virginia...put the politics aside...and you can't just say no without even willing to sit and talk to me and all of our experts who have very creative ideas about how we move forward..."

Tuesday News: "Republicans are the ones hiding behind 'political correctness'"; "Trump Defends Tweeting...Racist Murder Statistics"

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Tuesday, November 24. Also, click on the image and "say you're ready for big steps forward on climate change."

No Longer a Party of “Law and Order,” or “Limited Government”

Monday, November 23, 2015

by Andy Schmookler 

Remember when the Republican Party was the “law and order” party? Yet now, we have the spectacle of the two leading contenders for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, on the very same day, speaking out in support of committing crimes.

That’s not how they put it, of course. But when Donald Trump says of the Black Lives Matter protester who was knocked to the ground and kicked and beaten at a Trump rally that "maybe he should have been roughed up” because his conduct was “disgusting,” that's what it means. Because, according to the law, we citizens do not have the right to assault our fellow citizens just because we are disgusted by their behavior. We can summon the law to remove someone who is disturbing the peace, but the conduct that Trump is defending constituted the crime of assault.

And then there’s the other Republican front-runner, Ben Carson. In an interview on ABC, when asked if he supports Donald Trump’s recommendation that the United States resume "waterboarding" (aka, torture), Carson “wouldn't rule out torturing terrorism suspects.” Carson regards  ruling out torture as nothing more than “political correctness.” But it is not political correctness, it is the law. The practices Carson speaks of as serious options to consider are, in fact, clear violations both of federal statute and of international treaty obligations agreed to by the United States.

Law and order is not what you get when the government deliberately violates the law, or when a partisan aspiring to power condones a criminal attack against a fellow citizen. Back before the middle of the twentieth century, the world got to see what resulted when bullies hostile to real democracy beat and intimidate their opponents, and when a regime pursues its goals without regard to its legal and international obligations. Law and order is a high value to true conservatives. But there’s nothing truly conservative about today’s Republican Party.

Video: Rep. Gerry Connolly on Anti-Muslim Rhetoric -- "My god, why not write copy ads for ISIS while we're at it?"

The following comments by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) are spot on, which is why it's so confusing why he voted for the anti-refugee, Orwellian-named, egregiously awful "SAFE" Act the other day. I really don't get it. Anyway, with that, here are some highlights from what Rep. Connolly said today in the House Foreign Affairs Committee "about the need for America to remain a welcoming nation, live up to our American values, and resist divisive, hateful rhetoric."
We need to resist simple answers, especially the simple answer of bigotry. It seems to me that if you want to help ISIS recruit, some of the statements that have been attributed to some candidates for national office are the perfect advertisements for that recruitment. Muslims, don't let any of them in. We've got to close all the mosques. This is a clash of culture. My god, why not write copy ads for ISIS while we're at it? What a recruiting assist those inflammatory and incendary words are, and in my opinion, they do not represent the values of America. 
You know, we had a sad and tragic episode in our history, and it was in response to...Pearl Harbor. And it is almost universally seen in retrospect as one of the most shameful episodes in American history, when our reaction to the sneak attack by the Japanese government on Pearl Harbor was to intern Japanese-Americans in camps because they could not be trusted...We didn't live up to our our own ideals as a country...the reaction was not something commensurate with the threat and certainly not consistent with our values. 
It's easy right now to play to fears. You want to have a pause on refugees, people fleeing the very violence we're trying to stop? Well why stop there? Let's have a pause on all immigration, because who knows who might be in their numbers...And while we're at it student visas, tourists, god only knows how many people could sneak in as touurists... 
We as elected officials have a responsibility, it seems to me, have a responsibility to calm fears...not to exploit those fears...not to demonize any group of human beings, however popular it might be at the moment to do so...It doesn't serve us well, and that's not our finest moment, and that's not as Lincoln said, appealing to the better angels of our nature.

Video: Budget Fireworks on the Arlington County Board!

by Lowell

This past Thursday, there was a heated debate at the Arlington County Board meeting over an "attempt to change the way that Arlington County deals with money left over after the fiscal year." It sounds esoteric, even a bit boring perhaps, but as you can see from the video, the actual debate was anything but boring, with Chairman Mary Hynes  - who is retiring as of January 2016 - as angry as I think I've ever seen her (the Washington Post article by Patricia Sullivan says that Hynes "turned red in the face as she objected to the proposal not to spend fiscal year 2015’s unused money on priorities such as economic development, land acquisition for schools, maintenance for existing infrastructure, housing grants and loans, and police staffing and fire training").

That proposal by two Arlington County Board members -- Republican John Vihstadt and his close ally, Democrat Libby Garvey -- was (rightfully) met with exasperation, incredulity, scorn and even anger (listen as Mary Hynes gets angrier and angrier as she speaks) by the other three Board members (Jay Fisette, Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes, the latter two of whom are leaving the Board in January 2016). Here are a few excerpts; enjoy! :)

Monday News: Donald Trump's Supporters Cheer as Their Hero Lies, Demagogues, Advocates Violence, Goes Full Racist

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Monday, November 23. Again, note that the graphic Trump tweeted out is wildly false and racist. In fact, "According to the most recently released set of crime statistics from the FBI (which are from 2014), 82 percent of white homicides are committed by other white people, while black offenders account for just 14 percent of white homicides.” This guy Trump is beyond pathological, as are his supporters.

Did Virginia Dems Fail to Take Back the State Senate Due to Highly Questionable $$$ Allocation in Closing Days of Election 2015?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

by Lowell

Heading into the November 3, 2015 elections here in Virginia, the strategy for Democrats to take back the State Senate was as clear as it was a no brainer: 1) make sure not to lose any of the seats currently held by Democrats, specifically those of Sen. John Edwards and retiring Sen. Chuck Colgan, both of which were considered vulnerable; and 2) pick up the ONE open seat where we had a serious shot -- that of retiring State Sen. John Watkins (R) in Richmond/Chesterfield/Powhatan.

That's all there was to it, really, although certainly if - and ONLY if - the Senate Democratic caucus (headed by Leader Dick Saslaw,pictured above) had strong evidence all of that was locked down, then - and ONLY then -  they could have justified tossing some resources towards a race not in categories #1 or #2, let's say a Democrat taking on a Republican incumbent in a purplish/reddish district.

Just to emphasize, let's list the State Senate races that clearly should have received every last dime of Democratic Senate Caucus resources unless/until they were 100% locked down.
  1. District 21 (Roanoke area), where State Senator John Edwards (D) faced a tough challenge from Republican Nancy Dye and independent Don Caldwell.
  2. District 29 (Manassas, Woodbridge, Dale City, etc.), where State Senator Chuck Colgan (D) was retiring, meaning this was a competitive, open-seat race between Democrat Jeremy McPike and Republican Hal Parrish.
  3. District 10 (Richmond/Powhatan/Chesterfield), where State Senator John Watkins (R) was retiring in a "purple" district, making this the one Democrats needed to pick up, assuming we held all our incumbents, to get to 20-20 in the State Senate. The main candidates here were Democrat Dan Gecker and Republican Glen Sturtevant.
Again, one would expect that 100% of Senate Democratic Caucus and allied groups' resources in the closing couple weeks of the 2015 elections would have flowed to these three districts. What, in reality, actually happened? According to VPAP, the Senate Democratic Caucus/allies did indeed pour large sums of money into those three races. For instance: