Local & State News of Interest to Democrats

Northam Sets Date for Special Session on State Budget

Associated Press

March 14, 2018


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is calling state lawmakers back to work next month to pass a state budget.

Northam, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that he’s calling a special session on April 11. The move comes after lawmakers adjourned the regular 2018 session last week without passing a state spending plan.

The GOP-led General Assembly is split on whether to expand Medicaid to about 300,000 low-income Virginians. The House supports expansion while the Senate does not.

The disagreement on Medicaid and a related hospital tax is blocking lawmakers from passing a state budget for the next two years.

It’s unclear if there will be an agreement by April 11.

State government will shut down on July 1 if no budget is passed.

General Assembly Adjourns Without a Budget, Special Session Comes Next

Richmond Times Dispatch

March 10, 2018


The General Assembly left town on Saturday without a budget, but they’ll be back soon, Gov. Ralph Northam promised.

Unable to agree even on a resolution to ask the governor to convene a special session—much less whether to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program—the House of Delegates and Senate left it to the governor to set the date and terms for their return to finish work on budgets for the current fiscal year and upcoming biennium. However, the governor made clear that he will introduce a new budget in the special session that looks much like the one that his predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, introduced in December. Medicaid expansion will be fully embedded into a spending plan that relies on hundreds of millions in state savings by using almost $3 billion in federal funding under the Affordable Care Act.

“It will include Medicaid expansion and the significant investments that the savings from expanded coverage will generate to fund key priorities like education, workforce development and salary increases for public servants, with a particular focus on men and women in law enforcement,” Northam said in a statement after the assembly adjourned shortly before 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Virginia GOP Grapples with Field Running to Challenge Senator Tim Kaine

The Roanoke Times

March 9, 2018


WASHINGTON — Cold rain fell on Corey Stewart as he recently stood outside FBI headquarters and tried to link Sen. Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democrat, to “a brewing scandal the likes of which we haven’t seen since Watergate.”

Stewart, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate, called the news conference to roll out a theory about nefarious doings involving Kaine, the FBI and Hillary Clinton. His audience consisted of a conservative blogger, a Democratic tracker and a Washington Post reporter.

And that’s the problem facing Virginia Republicans. 

They haven’t won a statewide election since 2009, and the candidates seeking the Senate nomination this year are incendiary, inexperienced or unknown.

In addition to Stewart, the bombastic Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman and President Donald Trump loyalist who almost won the 2017 GOP nomination for governor, the field includes outspoken evangelical preacher E.W. Jackson, two-term state Del. Nick Freitas and political newcomer Ivan Raiklin.

With three months until the June primary, two-thirds of Republican voters have not settled on a candidate, according to a poll released Monday by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

Bert Mizusawa, a retired major general in the U.S. Army Reserve and foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, who made his run official on Monday, didn’t announce in time to be part of the poll.

The survey found that Stewart is the front-runner, but with just 16 percent of the vote. 

Gov. Northam Signs Sweeping Utility Overhaul Affecting Three Million Ratepayers

The Roanoke Times

March 9, 2018


RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law Friday a dramatic overhaul of regulations for Virginia’s two large electric utilities, a change that includes big boosts for grid modernization, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs but also one that opponents contend will make it difficult for state regulators to police billions in utility spending and issue customer refunds.

“Today I signed legislation ending the freeze on energy utility rates, returning money to customers, and investing in clean energy and a modern grid,” Northam said on Twitter. “I am proud that my team and I improved this bill significantly and thank the General Assembly for its continued work on the measure.”

The law was spearheaded by Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest utility with about 2.5 million residential and commercial customers. The powerful company muscled the bill through a series of committee and floor debates and assembled a broad coalition of business and environmental advocates to lobby on its behalf.  

Appalachian Power Co., which serves 500,000 customers in Southwest Virginia, also was part of the effort.

The bill was pitched as a crucial mechanism to move Virginia to a modern grid and more renewable energy while keeping base rates stable. But critics blasted it as another end run around regulation .

SB 966, dubbed the Grid Transformation and Security Act, resets the regulatory chess board three years after the General Assembly passed the 2015 “rate freeze” law, upheld last fall by the Virginia Supreme Court, that prevented the State Corporation Commission from issuing customer refunds and lowering base rates.

Candidates Cockburn, Sneathern Address Greene Democrats In Stanardsville

 Greene County Record

March 1, 2018

The Greene County Democrats held a debate Feb. 18 for the final two of four candidates hoping to earn the seat to oppose Tom Garrett Jr. for the 5th District House of Representatives seat.

Leslie Cockburn and Andrew Sneathern spoke at the group’s monthly potluck meeting. The other two, Ben Cullop and Roger Dean Huffstetler’s representative Kevin Zeithaml spoke at January’s meeting.

“The reason we wanted to do a debate is this is going to be a tough election,” said Elizabeth Alcorn, chairman of the Democrats of Greene County, Virginia. “I wanted my voters here to see how these candidates deal with the questions.”

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, opened by telling the standing-room-only crowd that she worked as an investigative reporter domestically and overseas for 35 years, including covering six wars.   

“I covered the world, so I have huge international and national background, which is very useful for Congress,” said Cockburn, who grew up on a farm in the Sierra Nevadas. “The reason I decided to run is very simple: Donald Trump came to power. I decided that the kinds of skills I’ve developed over all those years would indeed be extremely useful going against someone like Tom Garrett.”

Charlottesville resident Sneathern said he might have deluded himself a little after the 2016 election.

“I actually had a moment of ‘this won’t be as bad as I think’ and truthfully I was shocked by what I saw by Tom,” he said. “The way I look at Tom Garrett is he looks to Trump as his mentor. He votes with him as often as he can, when he goes to vote.”

Mother of Heather Heyer Shares Message of Tolerance

.Greene County Record

February 15, 2018

Six months after William Monroe High School graduate Heather Heyer was killed protesting a neo-Nazi rally, a memorial at the site of her death is still being showered with gifts, mementos and flowers. But it has also been vandalized, according to Heyer’s mother – a reminder of the hatred that took her daughter’s life.

For many, the riot triggered by far-right protesters in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 exposed the underbelly of hatred and racism in America, and the months since then have been about coming to terms with that reality. But for Greene County resident Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, the half-year has been hallmarked by efforts to promote the values Heyer stood for – and eventually died for – in Charlottesville.

“She wanted everybody treated equally and fairly. That was a lifelong passion for her,” Bro said.  “It’s not about me, and it’s not really about my daughter. It’s more that people are horrified to realize how entrenched the hatred is,” Bro said. “I think that addressing people in a calm and rational manner not only reassures people but gives them a little bit of hope about how we can fix this.”    Using her daughter’s story to amplify a positive message, Bro then established the Heather Heyer Foundation, which will give scholarships to high school students.   The foundation will grant scholarships to students at Charlottesville High School and William Monroe High School, which Heyer attended, in nearby Stanardsville. Bro said the money will go to students who want to advocate for social justice.  “We’re not looking to create new advocates. We’re looking to help advocates who are already in activism to further their education,” Bro said.   “She  [Heather] was a go-getter, and I was proud of her for that,” Bro said.