Thursday, April 22, 2010

20 Years of WMAA & Carl Sandburg

Tonight, I attended a terrific event at National Airport celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Carl Sandburg Intermediate School's partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (WMAA).

This partnership was started in 1989 for several purposes. The school chorus, jazz band, and orchestra play for travellers in the terminal. Students art is displayed in an annual art competition. WMAA providers internships and mentors for students. They sponsor special events and tours. Last year, the school system named the Authority one of their Business Partners of the Year - more information is here.

The program featured some terrific performances by the students, testimonials from students and one of the WMAA employees who serves as a mentor and some speeches by the WMAA's Chief Operating Officer Margaret McKeough, FCPS Assistant Superintendent Scott Braband, Principal Glynn Bates, and PTA President Anna Diefendorf. The FCPS, the PTA and the Authority then entered into a new contract reaffirming their continuing committment.

There are some great things going on at Carl Sandburg. When I walked in, I thought a professional orchestra was playing. It turned out it was 7th & 8th graders. The Sandburg Jazz Ensemble was also playing. When I attended Carl Sandburg's predecessor, Stephen Foster Intermediate School, there was no such thing. Giving the students these kinds of opportunities to perform, display their work and interact with so many adults is the kind of thing that enriches the educational experience and changes kids lives. We are lucky to have this kind of program in the West Potomac pyramid and the Mount Vernon community.

I've posted some pictures below. It's a great program.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

**UPDATED** The Gun Movement Comes to Fort Hunt

Tomorrow, a group of national gun activists are holding a rally at Fort Hunt Park here in my district. Here's what the Washington Post says is coming:

Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress's capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights.
I've received emails from quite a few constituents about the rally. The calls range from concern, fear, and outright anger with some.

Living in Northern Virginia this close to the Nation's Capitol and so many federal facilities has its benefits. Our economy is more stable which means lower unemployment, stable home values, more predictability, and a high quality of life.

Fort Hunt Park and the George Washington Memorial Parkway are part of the National Park Service, but they are not really national parks in the sense way that most people think of them. Most park users are probably my constituents.

Fort Hunt is a community park - I taught my two oldest daughters how to ride their bikes there because it has a big oval with little traffic. Every morning it's filled with walkers, joggers, and bikers. On weekends, it's full of barbecues. The picture on the right is from the summer concert series. It's about half a mile from my kids' elementary school. Open carried firearms are not allowed in Fairfax County's Parks. Fort Hunt Park is not an appropriate place for a national gun rights' rally.

I'm a strong believer in the First Amendment. Fairfax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia led the way and adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights before we even adopted the Constitution of Virginia or the United States Constitution.

I also am not significantly concerned that these protestors will do anything inappropriate. In my short experience as an elected official, I have found that most concealed carry permit holders and pro-gun activists tend to be very knowledgeable, responsible, and serious people. They understand that gun ownership privileges are special and are very careful not to do anything to jeopardize their ability or other's ability to carry.

However, there are many ways to express your opinion. From my point of view, writing a letter to the editor, starting a blog, or running a TV ad are much more effective methods of communication than staging a rally with a loaded and/or unloaded weapons in what is really a suburban neighborhood park just because you can do it.

This rally has unnecessarily caused a lot of people a lot of concern in my district and I will be happy once it is over.

It has been pointed out to me that open carry is permitted in Fairfax County Parks. Open carry is prohibited in State Parks, but the General Assembly has not granted any locality the authority to prohibit guns in local parks.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is Virginia Open for Business?

It has been almost thirty days since the General Assembly Session ended. I have not been posting as much because I have been mostly focused on trying to resusicate my law practice so we can still pay our mortgage, but the latest out of Richmond has me worried.

Economists are predicting 1.6 million new jobs and 700,000 new houses in the D.C. Metropolitan Area in the next 20 years. Are we going to capture these jobs, people, and growth or will we lose it to Maryland and the District?

The news since the end of session has proven to be a serious impediment to Virginia sustaining its image as open for business. Consider what has happened in the last thirty days, plus or minus:
  • The Attorney General sued the Federal Government over healthcare, carbon dioxide, and CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) Standards and while the Governor criticized these policies.
  • The Governor issued a new Executive Order regarding non-discrimination that excluded discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • The Governor issued his now-famous proclamation lauding the Confederacy while ignoring slavery because it "wasn't significant enough" to include in the resolution.
  • The Governor issued a new policy making it more difficult for felons who have served their time to restore their voting rights and sat silent while the Fairfax County Electoral Board voted to prohibit the distribution of non-english voter registration forms.
Businesses look at a lot of different factors when trying to decide where to locate. Among other things location is important, adequate public infrastructure, tax policy, the state's workforce and educational infrastructure, the state's culture, and its government.

Virginia sits at the apex of the crescent of the East Coast. We have access to ports, international airports, and the Nation's Capital. In many ways, we are an international gateway.

Northern Virginia is very symbolic of that. We have led this state in economic growth because of job growth. Northern Virginia has the highest paying jobs, access to vibrant culture, and an educational system that is the envy of most other localities in the country, we have two major airports, and some access to mass transit.. The 2000 Census showed the 27% of Fairfax County residents were foreign born.

Northern Virginia did not build this success limiting the employment rights of gays, bashing our largest employer (the federal government), and limiting the voting rights of minorities. We built our local economy by being open to new ideas, forward-thinking in our political policies, and being welcoming to newcomers and entrepreneurs. Economic powerhouses are built on public infrastructure, human capital, and an open culture, not nostaligia, exclusion, and hostility to change.

Our future prosperity is limited by Richmond's outright refusal to invest in Northern Virginia's transportation and education infrastructure. We are billions of dollars behind in where we need to be on roads, Metro, VRE, trolleys, and intercity high speed rail in Northern Virginia alone. Many in Richmond seem to have zero interest in putting any actual money towards this problem. Our schools are increasingly dependent on increasingly limited and depleted sources of revenue due to Richmond's Dillon Rule restrictions.

What is the news out of Richmond these days? Budget cuts to our schools and otherwise deafening silence. The latest out of Richmond leaves me frustrated and concerned about when our needs are going to been addressed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Little Hunting Creek Cleanup This Saturday!

This Saturday, April 10, between my daughters’ soccer and softball games, I’ll be heading down to Little Hunting Creek to help with the Friends of Little Hunting Creek cleanup of the watershed. The snow this past winter and the spring rains have made sent a lot of trash and debris in to the Creek and along the shore. Little Hunting Creek is one of the most beautiful parts of our community and it’s important that we maintain this community asset.

Little Hunting Creek serves as an important habitat for wildlife along the Potomac River watershed. Ospreys, geese, ducks, heron and bald eagles can be found along the creek along with a variety of fish. We have a responsibility to maintain the environment and it starts at home. Try to make it out this weekend to do your part in keeping Mount Vernon clean and beautiful.

Here’s more information on the cleanup:

  • There will be multiple times and locations for various activities throughout the day. Here is the full schedule -

  • Trash bags and work gloves will be provided (but they may run out of gloves, so bring your own if they have them).

  • Students who need community service credits can earn them.

  • The weather’s going to be great!

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Poking Around Western Virginia

Today, my wife and I piled the 4 kids in the minivan and headed west for a short Spring Break trip. We left the house around 10 AM and hit solid traffic rounding the bend at VA-236 and the Beltway. Traffic on Spring Break at 10 AM?!

We headed west on I-66, down U.S. 29, and continued on Lee Highway out one of my favorite roads U.S. 211 through Amissville, Washington, VA, and into Sperryville where we had lunch a great little spot called the Thornton River Grill. My Great Great Grandfather was born near Sperryville in the 1840's along with some of my other kin who settled Rappahanock County. I've always liked poking around the foothills of the Blue Ridge. There's a lot of history and a very unique Piedmont culture that runs down into the Carolinas and Georgia.

I picked up copies of the Fauquier Times-Democrat and The Rappahannock News, and bought two bottles of hot sauce made by my favorite VA Hot Sauce manufacturer - The Chili Man. The lead front page stories in both papers were about state budget cuts and the failure to fill a local judgeship. It's always fascinating to me how differently state government is covered in the rest of the state compared with Northern Virginia where such news rarely makes the front page of Metro not to mention the A-Section of the Washington Post.

Next, we shot up the 35 curves up and 31 curves down (the kids counted) through Thornton Gap over the Blue Ridge and down into the Shenandoah Valley and into Luray for our visit to Luray Caverns. I was last in Luray Caverns about 25-30 years ago as a kid. It was interesting to go back. The kids were mezmerized. The new maze they've built outside is also worth the price of admission.

We left Luray, headed over Masanutten Mountain, the North Branch of the Shenandoah River and into New Market. After sitting at one of the two lights in town for four cycles, we headed south on I-81, flew through my alma mater JMU at 65 MPH, and headed for Natural Bridge. Up and down 135 more steps (the kids counted), checked out George Washington's initials carved into the rock at age 18, a Monacan indian village, and 1 mile up and down Cedar Creek which punched through Natural Bridge 500 million years ago. It is always an awe-inspiring experience.

Then it was back in the car south to Roanoke where we had tapas at the Meza World Cafe - yes, Roanoke - and then up Mill Mountain to pay homage to the Mill Mountain Star that my grandfather, Bill Booth, wired up in 1949. The City dedicated a garden to him in 2007. I wanted to see how it was doing, show the kids the valley my grandparents called home, and introduce them to The Star - a landmark that was dead center over my grandparents' street in Vinton and dominated my memories of visits Roanoke as a child.

Every time I head west of Fairfax County, I am reminded of how lucky we are to have such magnificent natural beauty in our state and so much of it accessible to everyone. It's a big state. You never know it's out there unless you go look around.

Tomorrow it's probably Thomas Jefferson Day. West to Lynchburg and his summer house (Poplar Forest), North to Monticello and Charlottesville, and then home Saturday along one of my favorite drives via VA 22, VA 231, US 15, VA 20, VA 3, and I-95 for softball practice, ballet lessons, yard work and Easter Dinner.