Monday, August 16, 2010

Hiding in the Adirondacks

In case you were wondering what all my tweets were about. . . I have been in Schroon Lake, New York. I'm about 2 hours north of Albany and about 2 hours south of Montreal. My father's parents were from Brooklyn and the Adirondack Mountains were the playground for New Yorkers since the late 1800's. My grandparents started bringing my dad up here in the late 1940's to some family cabins.

My parents brought me up here when I was one year old. During the summers, I would usually spend about two weeks up here and two weeks with my maternal grandparents at my grandfather's homeplace on Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County, Virginia near Hales Ford and Hardy. Water skiing, fishing, canoeing, and hanging out by the water are pretty ingrained into my DNA.

The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the United States. It was created in the late 1800's after the state became very concerned about New York City's water supply due to excessive logging. It consists of about 100 glacier sculpted mountain peaks and countless smaller hills in about 6.1 million acres or about 1/5th the area of the Commonwealth of Virginia. New York State owns about 2.3 million acres and the rest of privately held although a lot of privately held land is owned by the hiking, hunting, and private clubs. The state land is protected by the state constitution as "forever wild."

We stay in the "more populated" end of the park - on the south and eastern side. There is no traffic, few stoplights, no planes, and few people. Where I am, it's 30 minutes to Walmart or Lowe's (Ticonderoga) and 45 minutes to the nearest significant shopping or hospital (Glens Falls). Mobile phone service can be spotty. The western side is really remote. In a lot of ways, it is very opposite of Northern Virginia. It is a very remote place and natural place. It's a place of big open skies, open spaces, wilderness, solitude, crystal clear water, and quiet.

This place is so remote there were not even many Native Americans up here before the Europeans arrived. Those that lived here were called Adirondacks by the Iriquois which meant "those who eat bark."

There are 46 peaks that are over 4,000 feet. During high school and college I hiked about 18 of them. A few years ago, I decided I need to finish the rest. I was actually planning to do 10-15 last summer, but then a campaign happened so now I am up to only 28. I took the picture up top last week on my way to peaks #27 & #28. I took the picture at the right with my mobile phone today from our house.
My kids punish me if I'm not swimming in the lake with them virtually every day. We're doing lots of hikes and other adventures - whitewater rafting, canoeing, horseback riding, WAY too much ice cream, etc.

It's a place I come to recharge my batteries, hang out with my family, and reset my bearings for the year.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Alcohol Deja Vu in NY

This week, I headed north for my annual sabbatical to Schroon Lake, NY in the largest park in the United States - the Adirondack State Park.

My wife asked me to pick up a couple bottles of wine and I started to go into the grocery store until I realized that all wine and liquor may only be sold in state licensed liquor stores. Beer is sold in grocery stores and convenience stores.

We were passing through Ticonderoga, so we stopped at the liquor store there - Montcalm Liquors. While I was there, I got to talking to the proprietor.

He said that New York's Governor has proposed allowing grocery stores or other chains (e.g. Walmart) to sell wine and beer - to help balance the New York state budget. I looked into this and apparently this fight has been going on in New York for over two years.

The pro-wine group is called WIGS, short for "Wine In Grocery Stores." The promoters have created a group called "New Yorkers for Economic Growth" - yes, more wine sales apparently encourages economic growth - are claiming that this will bring $300M to the New York state budget from new licensing fees - sound familiar? Here's an article about it.

The owner I spoke to said he didn't think it was a good idea because it would destroy his primary profit center (which would explain why private industry wants to get into it) and significantly undermine the value of his license which he thought was worth at least six-figures if he was to sell it to someone.

In NY, each owner has a monopoly on a piece of turf. While his state fee is only $1,500 every three years, his license is actually worth MUCH more than that so expanding private liquor licenses actually has the effect of diluting the value of this asset that the state has given him. One group estimated that the proposal would put more than half of New York's liquor stores out of business.

The license expansion groups are spending a ton of money to sway public opinion and lobby legislators to tinker with the system. Their TV ad is below.

Perhaps all of this is coming to Virginia soon except we will have LIGS instead of WIGS (Liquor In Grocery Stores).

All of this brings to mind more side effects to this whole Virginia ABC privization I had not even thought about. First, when budgets head south, elected officials will do all kinds of things to avoid having serious discussions about long-term structural problems.

Second, the alcohol distribution system involves all kinds of vested interests with substantial investments in the status quo - whether it's New York's system or Virginia's - change brings real financial consequences to lots of people and that needs to be carefully considered because any changes are approved.

Third, allowing private alcohol distribution in Virginia will create even more issues and angles for legislators to be lobbied on beyond what already exists. For example, once the system is set up there will be all kinds of opportunities to tweak the system to benefit or punish different people. For example, the issue of how the licenses are awarded - by auction to highest bidder, by county, by census district, by existing alcohol consumption patterns, by local governments, is a major issue with winners and losers on all sides.

There are many other issues surrounding ABC privitization which this article does not even try to get into. These were just three epiphanies I had today wandering around on vacation.

The bottom line is that all of this is very serious business, a VERY COMPLEX issue with lots of potential ramifications that people are probably not even talking about, and will be heating up very soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mt. Vernon's Quander Family

If you are from Mount Vernon, you know the name Quander. That's because the Quanders trace their names back 300 years in our community.

Today's Washington Post and Talk of the Nation on NPR feature articles regarding today's reunion of the Quander Family whose roots trace right to the middle of my district. This weekend, they are having their 85th Reunion in my district at Quander Road School and the Mount Vernon Estate.

The name Quander is derived from Amkwando of the Fante people in Ghana. The family originates from some of George Washington's freed slaves at Mount Vernon. After being freed, the family settled on land including and surrounding West Potomac High School, Quander Road School, and Quander Creek along Quander Road. The Quander Road school
During my campaign, I ran into Quanders all around the school including 84 year-old John Quander who I talked to for about 30 minutes who told me about hand digging the water well on his property that he still uses today.

Nellie Quander was a lead incorporator and president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Vincent and Leo Brooks were generals, fire chiefs, and judges. I even have a law school classmate who married a Quander.

The family is a fundamental building block of our local Mount Vernon.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Call for Interns!

If you know any students that are looking for experience working on state policy, campaign work, and either now or in Richmond while the legislature is in session, please send them our way. While the session is still months away, we're already preparing our legislative agenda. With so much going on in such a short span of time, we'll need all the help we can get.

If you know a college student or recent graduate who will be in the Richmond area between January 12 and February 25 2011 and would like to work as an intern, please click here to fill out our online internship application and email a resume and a brief writing sample to

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Attorney General Opinion Validates Surovell Legislation

Improving the use of technology in government to improve the delivery of services to citizens is one of my fundamental guiding principles.

I've been practicing law in Virginia for about 14 years. The District of Columbia has been recording all court proceedings for as long as I have been practicing. In the U.S. Magistrate's Courtrooms in Alexandria, they have been digitally recording proceedings for as long as I can remember. You can get a CD of any proceeding for $25.

In Virginia, nothing is recorded. If one of my clients wants to record a court proceeding, they have to pay a court reporter $175 per half day or $350 for a full day. This is not always a very economic decision depending on the size of the case. For example, if a client is charged with Reckless Driving, a court reporter is a signifiant expense compared to the attorney's fees, but if you want to fight it, you should really have a court reporter.

During the session, I introduced HB 827 to modernize the Virginia Court System and authorize Clerks of Court to install electronic recording systems in every courtroom and charge for recordings.

From my point of view, recorded proceedings improve the quality of jurisprudence in Virginia:
  • Recorded proceedings ensure honesty because all testimony is recorded;
  • If an issue arises in a trial about someone's testimony, the parties and the court can go back to the recording to confirm the statement, avoiding mistakes, motions to reconsider, and extra legal expense and unnecessary time used in the courtroom;
  • It provides better access to the litigants, the public and the press for court proceedings;
  • It ensures a record for appeal or subsequent proceedings.

I cannot tell you how many times I would have liked to have a record but did not have one because my client would not pay for a court reporter. It is very difficult to confront a witness with a prior inconsistent court statement without a transcript.

Prosecutors and public defenders could use recordings in criminal proceedings for subsequent hearings. Right now, prosecutors can rarely order transcripts because of budget limitations. With digital records, they could listen, find the portion they want transcribed, and pay to only have a few minutes typed up.

My legislation was supported by Fairfax County Clerk of Court, John Frey. He and other clerks were hesitant to proceed with installing systems without clear legal authority. It was opposed by the Supreme Court of Virginia who was uncomfortable about all proceedings being recorded and had concerns about confidentiality in juvenile cases. Given that the federal courts handle national security matters and do not seem to have a problem with confidentiality, I did not see the problem. The legislation was rejected on a party-line vote in the House Courts Civil Subcommittee.

Last month, I submitted a request to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that I have posted below. He basically says that my legislation is unnecessary because Clerks already have the authority to proceed and charge for the recordings. Therefore, Clerks who choose to do so can install these systems. I believe the only thing holding this back will be the money to pay for the equipment on the front end.

Technology can make our lives more efficient and improve the quality of our government. This is an important step forward to modernize Virginia's judiciary.

AG Opinion Court Recording Systems

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tax Holidays, U.S. 1 Funding, Paving & Potholes

The following appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette on August 5, 2010:

There are a few hot issues in state government that Mount Vernon residents
are no doubt interested in.

First, this weekend, August 6-8, is a “sales tax holiday” for “Back-to-School” items such as school supplies and clothing. The holiday does not apply to all items. It applies to school supplies that cost $20 or less and clothing that costs $100 or less. You can read further information including a specific list of qualifying items on my blog, The Dixie Pig, at

It is important to remember that the holiday also applies to all shoppers, not just families with children. Also, please make sure you patronize our locally-owned Mount Vernon businesses if you can, to keep your capital in our community.

Last week, we also found out that the $150 million in funds secured by Congressman Jim Moran did not clear a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate. I met with Congressman Moran last week and he assured me that this funding is still very much alive and that he will continue to fight to ensure that we get investment in U.S. 1 infrastructure in the near future to help address the coming traffic nightmare posed by the influx of traffic to Fort Belvoir resulting from base realignment (BRAC) changes.

Congressman Moran also assured me that the extension of the Metro subway Yellow Line from Huntington to Fort Belvoir is a long-term priority for him and he agrees that a Metro extension would do wonders to help bring about reinvestment, economic growth and traffic relief in the U.S. 1 corridor. I intend to do all I can to make this a reality within the U.S. 1 corridor.

As always, the biggest impediment right now is funding. The transportation situation in Northern Virginia is approaching a crisis. I have been hearing a lot this spring and summer from people concerned about the state of our roads. The winter’s heavy snows and this summer’s storms left pothole, curb, sidewalk and sign damage all over the area. There are communities that were on the 2010 paving schedule that were removed without notice.

VDOT has cut their staff by 30% in the last two years because of flat gas tax revenues and increasing maintenance expenses (The gas tax is a major source of transportation funds in Virginia). VDOT has told me that for all secondary road (roads numbered 600 or higher) paving has been postponed for one year and some pothole repairs cannot be done because of lack of funds. Fairfax County’s secondary road construction allocation has gone from $28 million in 2009-2010 to a little over $1,000 this year – that is not a typo – a little over $1,000. There are 2,500 lane miles of “poor” graded secondary roads in Fairfax County that need paving today. You only have to look at the surface of Fort Hunt Road to confirm this. We are also now ready to harvest hay in most medians due to cuts in funds for mowing.

The Governor chose to allocate part of this year’s limited excess revenues to transportation, but we have not yet seen how these funds will be spent. Our state government has avoided dealing with this transportation situation for too long. In the past, this neglect has meant lost time and money. It could soon result in significant property damage and injuries. Dealing with this situation will require leadership, collaboration and sacrifice. I hope we can have some real discussions soon about solving this crisis.

I hope to see you at the Farmers’ Market this summer or around the community. I hope you will continue to share your views and suggestions. Please email me at or call at 571-249-44TH (4484). Also check my blog ( It is an honor to serve as your delegate. I hope to continue to earn your trust.

Monday, August 2, 2010

VA Sales Tax Holiday

This weekend, August 6-8, the Commonwealth of Virginia is sponsoring a sales tax holiday. Please be sure to go out and patronize some of our local businesses who will reinvest your capital in our community.

The holiday applies to the following items:
  • All school supplies priced under $20.
  • All clothing items under $100.

The state has posted a list of frequently asked questions here.

A list of all qualifying items is below here.

2010 VA Sales Tax Holiday - Lists of Exempt Items