Yesterday, we heard that Mark Obenshain's high-priced, overeager attorneys raised, for the first time publicly, the prospect of contesting Virginia's Attorney General election, "if the tally does not sway the result in the Republican's favor." Of course, first we have to see the results of the (inaptly-named) "recount," because for all we know it could widen Democrat Mark Herring's lead by thousands of votes, or it could theoretically vault Mark Obenshain into the lead. Still, the fact that Obenshain's lawyers are even raising the prospect of contesting the election is outrageous, and makes it clear that changing Virginia's code regarding contested elections should be a top priority of the 2014 Virginia General Assembly.
Currently, the Code of Virginia (e.g., the statutory law of our Commonwealth) has the following to say (in § 24.2-804) about contesting elections for Governor, LG or AG.
In any election for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Attorney General, notice of the intent to contest the election shall be filed with the Clerk of the House of Delegates as prescribed in § 24.2-803. The provisions of § 24.2-803 shall govern standing, notice of intent to contest, answers, service of process, evidence, the petition, procedures, relief, and assessed costs except (i) that in a contest of an election held at the November general election the petition shall be filed within two days following the commencement of a special session of the General Assembly called for the purpose of hearing the contest or of the next regular session of the General Assembly, whichever first occurs, and (ii) that the final determination shall be made by the General Assembly, both houses sitting in joint session in the hall of the House of Delegates, with the Speaker of the House of Delegates presiding.
As for the criteria and procedures to be followed in a contested election, § 24.2-803 spells out vague "objections to the conduct or results of the election accompanied by specific allegations which, if proven true, would have a probable impact on the outcome of the election." Lame.
There are two major problems here that need to be rectified, ASAP. First off, the LAST body a contested election should be determined by is the partisan (whether Democratic or Republican-controlled) General Assembly. Instead, there should be a bipartisan or (preferably) nonpartisan committee or other body, possibly comprised of retired legislators and/or judges, that determines contested elections. That would take the decision largely out of the political realm and give the public confidence that there's legitimacy in our electoral process. Right now, the way contested elections are decided, there would be very little confidence or legitimacy if, let's say, an overwhelmingly Republican legislature decided an election contested in favor of a Republican (in this case, Mark Obenshain), even if the Republican trails by 165, 200, 300 votes...whatever. Same thing if it were the other way around, and an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature reversed SBE-certified election results to put a Democrat in office. Not acceptable.
Second, we need to make the criteria and procedures for contested elections a LOT more specific and rigorous than the loosy-goosy verbiage in the code right now ("objections to the conduct or results of the election accompanied by specific allegations which, if proven true, would have a probable impact on the outcome of the election"). That's so vague, high-priced lawyers could drive a Mack truck through it. Instead, the code should spell out the exact "allegations" that would qualify, the magnitude and degree of such "allegations," etc. Then, those "allegations" would be submitted to the (preferably) nonpartisan body noted above for analysis and ultimately a decision. No, it will never be perfect, but it would be a huge improvement over the unacceptable situation we've got right now.
Here are a few Virginia and national news headlines, political and otherwise, for Wednesday, December 11. Also watch Jon Stewart on how "no act is too petty for America's news media to blow completely out of proportion." (On my god, President Obama shook hands with the President of Cuba. What next, an American president shaking hands with Vladimir Putin?!? We can't have things like this going on!!! And BenGHAZEEEEEE!!!!! LOL)
Right now, a coalition of watchdog groups (like the ACLU) and Internet Companies are pushing reform of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act. The current version of the law is outdated, written before the days of cloud computing, so it allows the government to obtain YOUR old emails without a warrant:
The federal law on Internet privacy - the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA - was enacted in 1986 and has gone virtually unchanged since. It says that government agencies can access email and other content stored online without a warrant. Digital 4th has joined with dozens of organizations, technology companies and startups to petition the White House to support pending legislation that would update ECPA to make it clear that government agents cannot read citizens' email without a warrant.
Let's call on the White House and Congress to protect our 4th Amendment rights! One simple action by you, right now, will speak volumes ...
The writer, an attorney and private transportation consultant, is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit. From 1994 to 1998, he served in the U.S. Transportation Department, including as director of the Office of Policy and Program Support in the Research and Special Programs Administration.
Sounds good, right? Well...wrong. In fact, the Post flunked Journalistic Ethics 101 by completely failing (intentionally or accidentally?) to identify the parts of Mr. Vincent's bio that are most relevant to his anti-streetcar stance. Namely, that Mr. Vincent works worked for the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center (UPDATE: Mr. Vincent called me to say that he has not worked for the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center for over a year, even though his bio remains on their website; Vincent also said that the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center's job is not to "advocate" for BRT, an argument which doesn't really make sense to me) whose "mission is to educate policymakers and the public about the benefits of BRT," and to "place BRT on a level playing field with other transportation investments, such as roads and rail."
Which is all perfectly fine, of course - personally, I'm all for BRT as one public transit option in a wide mix of options - but the Post should have stated that right up front. Because when it comes to the debate over Arlington's Columbia Pike streetcar project, the other option most often raised by critics is...yep, BRT, which Mr. Vincent was paid to advocate for. Again, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with Mr. Vincent having been paid to advocate for BRT, but in an op-ed on why he opposes the Columbia Pike streetcar, it seems obvious that this would be relevant information the Post would want to provide to readers, so they could make up their own minds accordingly. But noooo.
It also might have been relevant, by the way, for the Post to mention that the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center, which employs used to employ Mr. Vincent, is operated by the "Breakthrough Technologies Institute" (where Vincent is listed as a "staff" member), a group that focuses heavily on promoting fuel cell technology for transportation through the affiliated Fuel Cells 2000, whose "mission is to promote the commercialization of fuel cells and hydrogen" (which can be used for buses, of course, but not electric-powered vehicles like streetcars). I find it particularly fascinating, in the context of this debate over streetcar vs. BRT, that Mr. Vincent's (former) organization recently published a paper entitled "Bus Rapid Transit: A New Opportunity for Fuel Cells". Again, wouldn't this be important information for Washington Post readers to know, whatever the merits of the arguments?
I just got off a conference call with Virginia Senators Mamie Locke and Donald McEachin, along with Delegate Bob Brink, to discuss the offensive comments made by Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Chair Pat Mullins during this weekend's RPV "Advance" (aka, "retreat") in Hot Springs, Virginia. The first offensive quote by Mullins was that "Obama's so close to death that Terry McAuliffe is about to buy a life insurance on him." Here are the responses by McEachin, Locke and Brink.
Sen. McEachin: "Sadly, this isn't the first time Virginia Republicans have used offensive, violent rhetoric against President Obama. In September 2012, the Mecklenburg County Republicans put offensive photos on their Facebook page. And in 2011, Loudoun County Republicans sent out a Halloween mailer depicting President Obama as a zombie with a bullet hold in his head. Saying that President Obama is close to death is unacceptable in our political discourse, and the chairman really should be ashamed of himself. He's decried this type of rhetoric before...and yet somehow it keeps appearing in his speeches, in his public comments. To my mind, this is yet another example of just how unwilling to change and how unbridled in their opposition to President Obama the Republicans are. Instead of making insulting, incendiary comments about the President, intended to fire up the same Tea Party base that drove Virginia Republicans to statewide losses in 2013, Chairman Mullins would be better suited to look in the mirror and examine how out of touch Virginia Republicans have become with people across the Commonwealth. But that would require the GOP to acknowledge its past mistakes and to learn from them, and it's clear they have no interest in doing that." Sen. McEachin added that Gov. McDonnell should call for Pat Mullins to step down and put someone in place who will work to achieve results for Virginia and not just engage in offensive rhetoric.
Sen. Locke: She highlighted Pat Mullins' comment that he's "looking forward to taking the gloves off" with Gov.-elect McAuliffe. According to Locke, it seems that Mullins "has taken a page out of Mitch McConnell's and Eric Cantor's playbook, that is to oppose and obstruct" and continue to fire up the Tea Party base. This strategy, in Locke's view, stands in stark contrast to Gov.-elect McAuliffe, who she says has reached out to Republican legislators and has demonstrated a real commitment to finding common ground in order to get things done. "Today's Republicans are dominated and controlled by the right wing, and Chairman Mullins' comments indicate that the Virginia GOP's strategy going forward will be to continue kowtowing to the Tea Party. That's disappointing, especially coming off an election in which Virginia Democrats swept all three statewide offices for the first time in nearly 25 years. You'd think Republicans would take this as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and begin moderating their approach, but instead it's the same old Virginia GOP - get them fired up by Ken Cuccinelli, EW Jackson, and Pat Mullins." Finally, Locke agreed with McEachin that RPV Chairman Mullins should step down.
Del. Brink: According to Brink, "Chairman Mullins' comments are offensive, and they also show some real problems within the Virginia Republican Party." Brink added that it also "really calls into question whether the Republicans are willing to change, because this is the same vision that the voters rejected in 2013." Brink noted that the lineup at the VA GOP "Advance" this weekend included Ken Cuccinelli, EW Jackson, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, all of whom tout the same strategy of Sen. Ted Cruz that shut down the government. Brink says he hopes that Mullins' offensive comments are just an example of a political operative throwing out red meat to the party's faithful, and not the party's philosophy going forward, because we need to work together in a bipartisan way. Finally, Brink agreed with McEachin that Mullins' rhetoric demonstrates that he's unwilling to work in a bipartisan manner and that Mullins should step down.
What on earth is this?!? Are these people serious? (UPDATE 2:13 pm: the Daily Press quotes Fairfax County Electoral Board secretary Brian Schoeneman (R) that "the ballots were locked in the precinct carts, so no one could have accessed them," so they "were still secure." Looks like Obenshain's camp is flailing around for anything, pretty much)
In response to ballot security problems recently discovered in Fairfax, Mark Obenshain, by counsel, submitted a motion for the Court to help give voters confidence in the integrity of the process. Virginia law requires counted and unused ballots to be transported to the Clerk not later than the day after the election. The certification filed by the Fairfax Clerk shows that election materials, including counted and unused ballots, remained unprotected by the legally-mandated security measures for nearly a month after the election. The certification reveals that some counted ballots as well as some unused ballots were not transported to the Clerk's office until after the statutorily-required deadline, with ballots transported on multiple dates, including on November 13, November 20, November 26, and December 5. To date, moreover, the campaigns have yet to receive certifications - which were due last Friday - from many localities, rendering it impossible to ascertain if there were divergences from legally-mandated security measures elsewhere in Virginia.
In the motion regarding special procedures for Fairfax County and other non-compliant jurisdictions, it is noted that, "The role of a recount is to ascertain the true count the ballots cast in the election. This is a task that cannot be performed without knowing that the ballots presented to the recount officials are, in fact, the same ballots that were cast in the election and that no ballots have been added or deleted."
Speaking about the motion, Obenshain Counsel William H. Hurd said, "Given the ballot security problems recently discovered in Fairfax, as well as the possibility of other departures from law in other jurisdictions, we are looking for clarity and transparency in what happened. Our goal remains to ensure that every legitimate vote is counted, and that Virginia voters can have confidence in the result."
On November 23, I provided an update on proposed legislation - best and worst - introduced for consideration by the 2014 Virginia Assembly. On the "worst" side, we had Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall back yet again with his monomaniacal war on contraception. On the "best" side, we had Sen. Adam Ebbin and Del. Scott Surovell both introducing legislation to repeal the absurd $64 annual license tax on hybrid electric motor vehicles. Since then, lots more bills have been introduced. here are a few of the worst...and the best.
WORST *Del. Barbara Comstock (R) has introduced HB 28, which would require "that by the start of the 2019-2020 academic year at least 75 percent of students admitted and enrolled at the institution are domiciled in Virginia." Sorry, but that doesn't solve any problems at all. Instead, how about putting resources into our public institutions of higher education? Of course, that would have to be paid for, and the Barbara Comstocks of the world don't want to do that, so instead they introduce legislation like this. Lame.
*Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall (R) attempts to partially gut the last session's bipartisan transportation bill via HB 40, which "[r]epeals the provision in the 2013 transportation funding bill (HB 2013) that will increase the motor fuels tax if the United States Congress has not enacted legislation granting the Commonwealth the authority to compel remote sellers to collect state and local retail sales and use tax for sales made in the Commonwealth by January 1, 2015." Not helpful.
*Even worse, again by Del. "Sideshow Bob" Marshall, is HB 43, which "[p]rovides that agencies and political subdivisions of the Commonwealth, and employees thereof, shall not knowingly aid any employee or entity of the federal government (i) in the enforcement of federal firearms laws that take effect on or after December 1, 2013, or (ii) in the conduct or enforcement of a criminal background check related to any intrastate sale, loan, gift, or other transfer of a firearm between citizens of the Commonwealth." WTF? Can we say "nullification?"
*Del. Mark Cole (R) has proposed HB 55, which would add "party affiliation to the information that an applicant is asked to provide when registering to vote," but would simultaneously require that "all registered voters remain eligible to participate in the primary of a political party that chooses to nominate by primary." Huh? You require party registration, but then force Republicans to allow Democrats (and vice versa) to participate in their party primaries? Why?
*Del. David Ramadan (R) has introduced HB 66, which requires school boards "to place a school resource officer in each public elementary and secondary school," the cost of which is to be "paid from the Lottery Proceeds Fund." The big problem here is that this will strip money away from public school education and transfer it to the school resource officers. If Ramadan wants school resource officers so much, he should propose a new source of revenue to pay for them. I know, what a concept.
Cross posted from Scaling Green. It's highly relevant for Virginia, given our heavy reliance on coal and the fact that certain misguided politicians have pushed for offshore oil drilling and even "fracking" in the George Washington National Forest!
We know that burning fossil fuels emits a wide variety of nasty pollutants - particulates (which increase the the risk of respiratory illnesses), sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain), mercury (which contaminates fish), lead (which can lead to learning disabilities), carbon monoxide (which can cause shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness), carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming), and many others. We also know that the process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels causes significant environmental damage, including enormous oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As if all that's not bad enough, how about a list of the top 10 toxic ingredients used by the fossil fuel industries, courtesy of The Raw Story? Here's a sampling.
Benzene: A "well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers," benzene is "a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal, and gas."
Formaldehyde: A "carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers," formaldehyde "is commonly used in 'fracking' - although, the industry does not report the details of its use."
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Many of these are "known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens," as well as being "linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes including heart malformations, and DNA damage." It turns out that "[t]he rapid development of the Alberta 'tar sands' oil fields in Alberta, Canada, has coincided with both the discovery of dangerous levels of PAHs in the region and multiple reports of significantly higher rates of cancer and other diseases in the adjacent communities."
Silica: A "known human carcinogen; breathing silica dust can lead to silicosis, a form of lung disease with no cure." Silica "is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations."
Radon: "About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure." Radon "is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations."
Hydrofluoric Acid: "[C]an immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure." It is "a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction."
Nasty, nasty stuff that none of would want anywhere near our families, friends, or ourselves, right? Yet the fossil fuel industry dumps these dangerous pollutants into the environment every day, basically with impunity. It's outrageous, and it should be completely unacceptable. So why isn't it? Simple: these are immensely profitable and powerful industries with enormous clout in our political system, not to mention the ability to buy access and influence in the media. Which, as former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pointed out in his interview with Tigercomm President Mike Casey, is exactly what they do.
An immediate Cuccinelli political comeback was dispelled on Saturday during a dinner speech at The Homestead Resort. According to one source, Ken Cuccinelli stated "I don't mind not having an elected role in about a month or so. I've been in office 11 years... I look forward to a little bit of a break. ... but I'll be back with you. I'm not talking as a candidate, but just fighting for these principles because I believe in them."
Before anyone except staunch Cuccinelli supporters get too excited, the attorney general's words seem more like those of a man still licking his wounds from a recent election defeat rather than those of someone who's given himself enough time to make a resolute long term decision. And if there is one thing that Virginians should know by now, it's not to trust a good deal of what Ken Cuccinelli says.
I'm not usually a fan of Politico, but credit where credit is due: Politico reporter James Hohmann did a fine job covering the Virginia GOP "Advance" (also known by most people who speak English as a "retreat") this weekend. Among other news, we found out that Ken Cuccinelli's still playing the world's smallest violin; that Ed Gillespie is thinking about getting his butt kicked by running against Mark Warner next year; that E.W. Jackson has formed a PAC called "United Virginia" (the purpose of which is, of course, to do the exact opposite); and that Ken Kookinelli, other than incessantly whining, isn't planning to run against Mark Warner next year.
This is all interesting stuff, of course. But in some ways, James Hohmann's latest article on the VA GOP "Advance"/retreat might be my favorite. The title, "No soul searching for Virginia GOP after losses," pretty much says it all. These people are completely in denial, if not utterly delusional. Check this out.
...to hear GOP leaders in this once reliably red state tell it, this is no time to panic. No hint of discouragement is betrayed. Just as many party activists insisted after Romney's loss, key figures here said that their shortcomings are cosmetic - that the problem is largely about campaign mechanics and how the conservative message is being delivered, not the message itself...
...They argued that more money, not having a third-party candidate in the race and a scandal-free governor would have made the difference. And they pointed to bad timing: the election came shortly after an unpopular shutdown but before the problems with Obamacare fully seeped into the public consciousness.
[RPV Chair Pat] Mullins mocked post-election analysis that said Cuccinelli was too conservative for a changing state.
"This is false narrative by false prophets," he said. "Republicans do not win when we are mini-Democrats or Democrat Lite."
Put it this way: the denial and delusion are strong with these folks. I mean, this is some seriously stupid stuff right here. I mean, does RPV Chair Pat Mullins really believes that the Republicans managing to lose an eminently winnable race had nothing whatsoever to do with their gubernatorial nominee being a right-wing extremist? Do Mullins and the other Republicans at the "Advance" (aka "retreat") really believe that their problems are simply "cosmetic," all about "campaign mechanics and how the conservative message is being delivered, not [about] the message itself?" If so, then all I can say is: please, Virginia Republicans, don't ever change! Because, as much as I'd like to see two serious parties competing for the votes of Virginians, speaking strictly as a partisan Democrat and as a progressive, I couldn't be happier that Virginia Republicans are so delusional and so flawed in their brain-dead "analysis." I mean, it's their party and all, so if they want to keep refusing to admit they have deep problems selling their harsh, intolerant, extreme, even bizarre beliefs and candidates (e.g, Mark Obenshain wanting to criminalize miscarriages, almost every word out of E.W. Jackson's mouth, Ken Cuccinelli's climate science denial) in an increasingly diverse, well-educated Virginia, the more power to 'em I guess. Just one thing I need to do while Republicans self destruct: stock up on popcorn, because this is going to be loads of fun to watch! LOL
Today's story about the firehouse primary held yesterday in Roanoke City should center on the victory of Sam Rasoul, who won a four-way primary race by beating Councilman David Trinkle by 44 votes. That would be the story if Mayor David Bowers hadn't lost his cool when the candidate he endorsed, Trinkle, lost. Instead, the story has become the dismaying comments Bowers made to the Roanoke Times
Bowers insinuated that there were somehow dirty tricks involved in the primary. "The things I've heard that may have happened over the last couple of days are dirty and despicable and cause me to question the legitimacy of this nomination," he said.
All I can figure out is that Bowers somehow thinks Republicans interfered to insure victory for a weaker candidate than Trinkle. Others involved disagreed, including Trinkle himself. Trinkle told the Times that he thought it was "a pretty good Democratic day." Additionally, Onzlee Ware called Bowers' remarks "regrettable," noting that as a long-time office holder he knew better than to make unsubstantiated charges.
The turnout for the primary was about twice what was expected - 2,632. Evidently, that set Bowers off. David Bowers has been notorious in the past for making rather outrageous claims, but I thought he had outgrown that "foot-in-mouth disease." I guess not. The job of Democratic office holders now is to do everything to insure that Del. Ware's seat stays in Democratic hands, not to provide ammunition to Rasoul's Republican opponent.
Here are a few Virginia and national news headlines, political and otherwise, for Sunday, December 8. Also, check out the great Bar Mitzvah speech about marriage equality and what "traditional marriage" actually meant (hint: it wasn't pretty) back in the days of the Torah.
Roanoke-area Democrats nominated Sam Rasoul today in a four-way firehouse primary to run against Republican Octavia Johnson in January's special election to fill Del. Onzlee Ware's seat representing the 11th District...At 2,632, turnout was significantly higher than expected...
The final results:
Sam Rasoul 846
Dave Trinkle 802
Trish White Boyd 522
Court Rosen 462
Congratulations to Democratic nominee Sam Rasoul on his victory. Rasoul will now face Republican nominee Octavia Johnson (here's a photo with her pal Ken Cuccinelli) in the January 7, 2014 special election. FYI, this district is in Roanoke City, and was won overwhelmingly in 2012 by Barack Obama (64%-34%) and Tim Kaine (66%-34%), as well as by Creigh Deeds (56%-44%) in 2009. The seat's been held since 2004 by Del. Onzlee Ware (D), who is retiring. Of course, the fact that this is an overwhelmingly Democratic district doesn't guarantee that we'll win on January 7; that, as always, will depend on who turns out. Still, this is one that Democrats certainly should win.
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