Chapter Four: The Cast of Characters, Continued

Last week in Chapter Three I dived into voter fraud, the role of unit committees, and one of the top four contenders for the Republican nomination for Governor this year, Senator Amanda Chase.

Chase is one of two front runners who actually has experience in state government.  The other is Delegate Kirk Cox, but before I talk about the good Delegate (and he is a good guy) let me digress a bit, as usual, and talk about two of my favorite subjects: numbers, and the Virginia General Assembly, the place where these two front runners got the oft repeated word … experience.    

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers   

Who do Virginians vote for in numbers?  I am not referring to committee members who get the parade of characters sooner or later.  I am speaking of everyday, non-activist Virginians who are way too busy to keep up with who was Speaker of the House last year and who sponsored what legislation.

The answer is simple. They vote for who they meet. This is especially true in rural Virginia.  You can “Facebook” and tweet all day long, but social media is still a fickle alternate universe especially in politics and does not reflect real life and real people. 

I can give a goodly number of examples, but here are two of my favorites, one pre-social media and one from 2020. They are taken from my locality, not exactly the center of the universe but viable data on those pesky numbers which are, in the end, the only thing that matters.     

Let’s look at the Primary race in 2005 between Bob McDonnell and Steve Baril for the Republican Attorney General nominee.  While we know McDonnell won big all over Virginia, there was one place he didn’t win.

Baril made his way in the spring of that year to two events in a little town called Bowling Green, the county seat of Caroline County. The county is the 11th largest in Virginia and is dotted with hamlets, two Mayberry like towns, and vast swaths of rural preservation, but at the same time boasts a fairly bustling growth area on the I-95 exchange with utilities. It is the only county in the state that lies in both the Tidewater along the Rappahannock River, and the Piedmont to the northwest.  

Candidate Baril attended the campaign kick-off of a popular local community leader and soon-to-be elected official, and a few weeks later he attended a salt fish breakfast in a barn. He invested a total of four hours for both visits and was in front of a couple of hundred people. 

After it was over, Baril left that local community leader with signs for the polls and lots of good will for the constituency. An Attorney General candidate visiting Bowling Green was big news. That June, the town was one of the only places in the Commonwealth Baril won, and his numbers were 2-1.   

I also give you a more recent candidate, Tom Speciale, from last year’s Republican Senate Primary who, even in the pandemic, made a few quick stops in the same town which now has two separate polling places. He left 15 signs with a local elected official and community leader. While Speciale came in third all across Virginia, he aced it in those precincts in a three-way race with numbers as high as 66 per cent. Did I mention there was no visit to the committee? Hmmmmm.   

What would happen if those leaders (not necessarily committee chairs) were identified all over Virginia and candidates knew by locality, a smattering at least, of some issues facing the citizens and how they related all the way up the chain to Richmond?    

Yes, another name for this is all politics are local.  Oh, wait though, before you ask … no, signs don’t vote, but in rural Virginia, signs placed in the right places, in key yards, signal to the populace who gets it.

Would-be candidates, however, for the most part don’t have a clue who local community leaders are and are too busy seeking out committees or others in trendy watering holes in the city who think, talk, and look just like them. But that’s a discussion for another day.   

Well, for sure the one person Caroline has not seen is Kirk Cox, but we don’t hold it against him and leadership here at least knows him from his tenure in the Virginia General Assembly. I think one of the biggest mysteries of 2021 will always be why the only Governor candidate out front before this year was Senator Amanda Chase. It would have been helpful to have had some interaction with other candidates more than two months out from a convention.   

I have already said Cox is one of the good guys. No one serves thirty years in the General Assembly for the money, and they certainly don’t hang in and run for Governor in the toxic atmosphere that envelopes the state and national scene today for any kind of personal gain or ego.

I like Delegate Cox and I am grateful to him for stepping up to the plate even late in the game. He has held the line and done great good for the conservative cause during this tenure, but I wish, like RPV, that our General Assembly leaders would take a good long look at how they too alienate folks. Perhaps they could rethink some of their traditional ways of doing business, which make us pause when they ask for support to run for office.”

The Virginia General Assembly 

I can’t and won’t beat Delegate Cox up alone because he’s in good company with most General Assembly folks who never met an unfunded mandate to local government they did not like. 

Which, translated, means they crow in Richmond about balancing their budget which is code speak for passing on higher taxes to the citizens at the local level.

Here is, for example, how it works.

This year in 2021 the General Assembly gave a five percent raise to “certain” teachers and “certain” law enforcement personnel. They mandated a five percent increase, but actually only gave three. The localities must come up with a two percent match or these certain employees get nothing. In addition, teachers and law enforcement not in the magic group were given nothing, nor were school support staff.   

Let’s say just for fun a locality is not struggling with the effects of COVID on revenue and had two percent for just such an occasion tucked away in a magic account somewhere. There are actually some localities conservatively managing a budget properly, but as you know already with Republicans in particular, one size fits all and there is no reward for holding the line on local spending.

This is the mindset that led to our Republicans in both houses removing rural Virginia government’s right to ask for proffers. NOVA was being naughty to developers so everyone had to pay and pay they did. The tax payers in rural Virginia now contribute to all the services for any approved new development and it’s not a small sum. It’s a huge windfall for developers statewide who build and walk away while you pay for new residents’ kids in schools, fire and rescue, public safety, parks and recs, and others services, and they pocket the cash. 

Did I mention, after all that, that the bill was amended to give those in the city in high density a pass and they retained at least some of their proffer alternatives while rural Virginia was made to suck it up?         

But seriously folks, how do you raise one person’s salary across the board and not another sitting right next to him or her? In Caroline, for schools alone it equated to nearly a million dollars. Other unfunded mandates included all of the new requirements for early voting, voting security, and a nearly doubling of the voter registrar’s salary.   

Here, in order for our county government not to lose the bond rating, this equated to an eight cents per $100 of assessed value tax or an increase of $180 a year per an average house valued at $250,000.

While our teachers and law enforcement are well worth it, the truth of the matter is the General Assembly gave a three percent raise to a select few with caveats. Every time they do this, the money does not fall from the wonderful money tree. Someone down the line pays.      

The Republican General Assembly is also highly favorable to layers of government while protesting the opposite. They love inroads on local government authority and the basic ability to govern locally.

I created the following cartoon about Republican leadership in the house when Speaker Bill Howell introduced legislation to saddle localities with instituting a $100 fine for every neighbor’s dog who wandered onto another property. All you had to do was post a sign because dogs can read. True story. Don’t laugh.   

To adhere to this layer of government hiring the personnel just to staff such a venture for the populace in the subdivisions alone was already a non-starter, but the localities would be forced also to take on the cost of taking the offenders to court.

Can you imagine the burden of proof on these dastardly cases? How long does your dog have to be on my property to trespass? Can’t your dog read? Might it ever occur to you that country people work these things out on their own?   

They were, of course, stroking the anti-dog hunting lobby who is still at it today and want to turn the Commonwealth into their private game reserve with fences and all that good stuff.

You know the guys who want to slip out the back door of a reproduction plantation house, kill a deposited gazelle, and turn around to sip their julep while the help cleans up the mess? This boondoggle was defeated with help from the Democrats and one other Republican vote. Thanks, Delegate Fariss.  

Another policy, which can be tossed off to donors is our legislators’ fondness for Virginia Power and companies like Verizon supporting measures for county tax payers to absorb the cost of building permits and the oversight of the installation of their equipment and towers.

They also favored their construction anywhere there was a postage stamp-sized slice of land that could be imminent domain-ed for that purpose, so those entities would not be inconvenienced. You’ve heard of reach out and touch someone, but have you ever heard of reach out your bedroom window and touch the cell tower?   

Then there was the Virginia Air B&B debacle as originally written, an enormous issue for localities without a plethora of tourism destinations. Remember, Republicans only know one size fits all. How many houses in subdivisions suddenly became Air B&Bs next to neighbors who had purchased the biggest investment of their lifetimes in good faith only to find multiple families living next door who “renewed their lease every 30 days”? We can never know.   

As written by the GA, local government and HOAs were faced with safety and parking issues about which they were powerless to stop with rentals pretending to be Air B&B exempt from any kind of local rules and code.  School bus stops picking up multiple children from Air B&Bs really told the tale. The next year Tommy Norment and the Virginia Senate had mercy and stepped in and fixed it so that local government had reasonable purview.  

Another practice much touted by our legislators is giving our rural land away to entities like the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).  If they can call a swamp a wildlife protection area, it’s headed to DGIF in a heartbeat and off the tax rolls with no compensation for the locality for public use who depend almost entirely on real estate taxes to survive.

We had one large swath for years which was so inaccessible to the public that most people swore it did not exist. More recently we were the proud recipients of a so-called boat landing and walking trails also at first inaccessible.

Eventually they did a little better with the area and actually cleared some trails and created a ramp. Of course, however, if you stepped out of your canoe, you were on someone’s private property all along the river which eventually became trashed and guess who picks up the tab to clean it up?  

Did I mention that when they dedicate these public “amenities,” the GA is invited for the photo shoot … local Board of Supervisors, not so much?  

The biggest disappointment from the General Assembly this year was the lack of interest and even open disdain for Senator Bill Stanley’s latest bill which could really actually have helped us in rural Virginia with aging school infrastructure. Stanley has been working on this critical issue for a number of years and a little history can be found here from 2018.   

While candidates were busy running to Loudoun pretending, they could usurp the authority of local school boards, Senator Stanley was actually practically addressing a problem which would also have addressed some COVID concerns and help make schools better equipped to handle those in the future.  Even better, he was proposing the voters have a voice in the process, but no one in the General Assembly was interested. Thanks for trying, Senator. The bill reads as follows  

Voter referendum; issuance of state general obligation bonds for school facility modernization. Provides for a statewide referendum on the question of whether the General Assembly shall issue state general obligation bonds in the amount of $3 billion for the purpose of K-12 school building construction, repair, or other capital projects related to the modernization of school facilities. The results would be advisory only and are intended only to demonstrate the preference of the citizens of the Commonwealth on the issuance of such bonds.  

So, with all the mailers you are receiving, if you are wondering why none of these issues are being addressed, wonder no longer. Most of these new Governor candidates don’t have a clue how local government works, much less the Virginia General Assembly or what you actually can do in that office. Poof! Executive order so and so and it’s done. Nope, doesn’t work like that.    

So, this year while considering who to vote for on May 8th, if you are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few it might behoove you to take a long look at how your locality dealt with the unfunded mandate whammy in 2021 and how many new developments are approved for your county so you can estimate how much you are personally gifting that developer.  Ask the candidates where they stand on these issues.  

Trump love, pro-life, yeah yeah yeah … but how about everyday life for real citizens? Where is all the money promised for the repair of secondary roads and a long look at the composite index way overdue for a re-haul to better fund our schools?     

In Chapter Five I’ll talk about a candidate who does know how all levels of government work: Delegate Kirk Cox. 

Previous chapters in this series:

Chapter One: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction – Convention Season 101
Chapter Two: Strange Bedfellows
Chapter Three: The Cast of Characters – Four Frontrunners

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