How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Port of Virginia: A Big Asset Off NOVA's Radar

One of the things I've come to appreciate since being elected is the impact major pieces of public infrastructure has on Virginia's economy.  Dulles Airport tends to grab much of the attention in Northern Virginia.  Access to an international airport creates all kinds of possibilities in attracting business. 

Another asset that most Northern Virginians are not familiar with is the Port of Virginia.  The Port of Virginia was dates back to the 1700's, but was officially created by the 1982 consolidation of the Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth Terminals along with the creation of the Virginia Inland Port (Intermodal Transit Facility off I-81 where containers are initially shipped by rail). 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0: Yellow Line to Belvoir and A Healthier Environment

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of December 18, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0: Yellow Line to Belvoir and A Healthier Environment 
This is my fourth article about the  U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Analysis Study and why I believe a Yellow Line Metro subway extension to Fort Belvoir is the best choice. My first article was an overview. Number two explained how a Yellow Line extension would improve our schools. The third examined reducing traffic congestion. This article is explores how extending the Yellow Line would be a boost to our environment.

Moving  people by rail uses less energy than moving them by gas-powered vehicles. Thousands fewer pounds of steel are required and rail travel minimizes wind resistance and energy consumption. Also, putting thousands of people on a train is more efficient than putting fewer people in smaller light rail trains or buses. It reduces our community’s carbon footprint.  That’s the easy part.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Local History: Why Is It Called Waynewood?

 
General "Mad Anthony" Wayne
Every once in a while I stumble across a piece of local history that answers a question for me. 

The following was in the Mt. Vernon At Home Newsletter a few months ago regarding the community of Waynewood which is about 56 years-old:
Waynewood - A Family Community With a Historic Past
by Anna Peterson

Even long-time residents of Waynewood occasionally wonder about the origin of its name.  It turns out that Waynewood was named after General "Mad Anthony" Wayne (1745-1796), a Pennsylvanian who was a close friend of George Washington.   

U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating
Battle of Fallen Timbers and General Wayne
At Valley Forge, he raided the British line to obtain supplies for the Continental Army.  He fought the British in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.  He was a member of the convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. 
After being commissioned General-in-Chief of the American Army in 1782, Major General Wayne was sent to subjugate Native Americans, and his army destroyed many of their villages.  Later, Washington appointed him commissioner to negotiate treaties with them, and it was on one of these assignments that he fell ill and died in what is now Erie, Pennsylvania.
Consisting of 753 homes on about 300 acres, Waynewood was developed by the late Clarence W. Gosnell and was formally opened in 1957.  It is situated on land that was one known as River Farm, a parcel which originally consisted of 1,806 acres purchased by George Washington in 1769.
There is ton's more information on the exploits of General "Mad Anthony" Wayne on his Wikipedia page.  Apparently, his nickname had nothing to do with him being crazy

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekly Column: Leveling the Digital Playing Field in Virginia's Schools

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of December 2, 2013:

As more and more content goes digital, it has begun to affect our schools.  Textbook publishers have begun to design instructional systems - also called "electronic textbooks" to deliver instruction to children.   
These systems range from relatively static electronic books like you can find on a Kindle all the way to fully interactive learning systems with embedded video, links to external content, and interactive homework modules with extra questions for student struggling with specific concepts.
It is also virtually impossible to find a well-paying job in today's world that does not require computer literacy.  Performing car repairs or running a cash register requires digital literacy. 

In late 2012, I attended a Mt. Vernon District Education Town Hall Meeting.  The crowd was largely upper middle class and not diverse.  Many parents were unhappy about the functionality of new online textbooks deployed in the 2012-2013 schools year by Fairfax County Public Schools.  I was familar with these systems because my third grader is even now doing her math homework using an "electronic textbook." 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Surovell & Ebbin Launch Effort to Repeal Hybrid Tax

Last year, the General Assembly adopted a $100 per year tax on hybrid vehicles as part of our the transportation funding legislation.

Senator Adam Ebbin and I started an effort to repeal this tax which resulted in over 7,300 Virginians signing a petition urging the veto of the tax.  Governor McDonnell eventually reduced it to $64.

I wrote about it here:


Today, Senator Ebbin and I introduced legislation to repeal the tax.  Our press release is below.

*****FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*****
 
November 18, 2013

Contact: Senator Ebbin – Sam Bosch
571.384.8957
district30@senate.virginia.gov
Contact: Delegate Surovell - Megan Howard
571.249.4484
scottsurovell@gmail.com

DELEGATE SCOTT SUROVELL AND SENATOR ADAM EBBIN INTRODUCE BILLS TO REPEAL VIRGINIA TAX ON HYBRID VEHICLES

Legislators say tax on technology punishes drivers who choose to do the right thing

November 18, 2013.  Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Delegate Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) filed legislation on Monday to repeal the recently enacted $64 per year tax on hybrid vehicles.  The bill are numbered House Bill 4 and the Senate Bill number is pending.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weekly Column: U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Reducing Congestion

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of November 12, 2013.
U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Reducing Congestion
 
This  is the third article in my weekly series examining the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis, our transit choices and why extending the Metro subway Yellow Line is the best alternative. Last week, I focused on how our transit choice for the highway will improve outcomes in our schools. This week I focus on traffic.
 
U.S. 1 has a long history. The road’s current alignment through the 44th District is a consolidation of three or four local roads realigned between 1915 and 1935 into U.S. 1 and widened in the early 1970s. Before the Shirley Highway (now I-395) in 1941, it was the major north-south road in the eastern U.S.. Afterwards, it just became a major north-south road. Today, it remains the primary way in, out and through the 44th District.  
U.S. 1’s current configuration presents many problems. First, there are only two ways for the 120,000 people between Fort Belvoir, Huntley Meadows and Alexandria, plus commuters to cross Little Hunting Creek – U.S. 1 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWP) – and no route west between Lockheed Boulevard and the Fairfax County Parkway (or Woodlawn after Mulligan Road opens in about six months ). This creates numerous choke points, like those at Kings Crossing and Buckman Road and at Woodlawn Plantation when U.S. 1 is widened through Fort Belvoir in about four years.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fairfax County Still Leads in Childcare Waiting Lists

As I wrote last week in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, preschool and affordable childcare are approaching crisis in the 44th District as our schools continue to struggle.  How did we get here?  

The Clinton Administration saw significant reforms to what was then called "Welfare" programs.  Welfare was renamed "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" or TANF.  One of the major reforms was that parents were expected to work if they wanted to continue to receive TANF benefits.

Given that many parents lacked job skills to earn living wages, the cost of childcare was frequently more than the net income a parent could earn working.  The account for this, the government began paying for childcare subsidies so that parents could work and develop job skills.  The New York Times wrote an excellent summary of the problem here:



Friday, November 8, 2013

Why I Hate Electronic Voting Machines


Today’s battle over the “missing” Fairfax County 8th Congressional District absentee votes has given me flashbacks.  

In 2009, I was chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.  Gerry Connolly was elected to Congress in 2008.  In January, 2009, Sharon Bulova was elected Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in a special election. 

Upon her resignation, a special election was held for Braddock District Supervisor.  John Cook and Illryong Moon faced off on who would represent Braddock District's 100,000 citizens.   As we waited for the votes to come in, everyone was waiting for the votes to come in for the largest (and Democratic leaning) precinct in the district – Fairview – while margin between the candidates stood under at 70 votes.  If Fairview Precinct gave Mr. Moon the same margin it gave President Obama in 2008, it would change the result of the election.

While I was waiting at the victory party, I received a phone call from one of my former Mt. Vernon District Precinct Captains, Michael Gropman, who had moved to Fairview and was inside the polling place.

He told me there were two touch screen voting machines (technically called "Direct Recording Electronic Machines" or "DRE’s") in the precinct and that the “master” machine that communicates wirelessly with all machines in the precinct and tabulates the entire precinct's vote was spitting out tapes that were causing the precinct vote totals to be nearly double the total number of voters that had passed through the precinct that day.

The machines were examined.  After it was determined they could not produce accurate results, they were turned off, sealed and taken to the Fairfax County Government Center.  Mike met me at the victory party.  We went into a booth and I took a recorded statement from him about what he had observed.  I was concerned litigation was coming. 

We arrived the following day for the Canvass.
  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thank You 44th District!

On Tuesday, November 5, 18,387 of the 44th District's 80,000 residents participated in the 2013 Election.  Seventy-one percent of them chose to give me the honor of continuing to represent our community in Richmond.

Since I was first elected in 2009, the long-term improvement of the U.S. 1 Corridor has been my number one priority and it will continue to be. The extension of the Yellow Line is the long-term solution to redevelopment on U.S. 1.

The U.S. 1 Corridor is projected to add 40,000 new residents and 17,000 new jobs in the next 30 years. We need to lay the groundwork for moving those people now.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 28, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools
This is my second article on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternative Analysis Study, our transit choices and why extending the Metro subway Yellow Line is the best choice.
There is no question the Yellow Line would bring big changes to our community. The question is whether these changes would be beneficial. Extending the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir would improve our area schools for two reasons.   First, the redevelopment required to support a Metro extension would alter our housing mix. Second, redevelopment would also generate increased tax revenue and other funds for local infrastructure.   
When the Virginia Board of Education announced accreditation results based on recent student testing two weeks ago, 13 Fairfax County schools received a warning. (One of the schools is designed to help learning disabled children.)  Even though the 44th District has only 7% of the county’s population, half of the county’s warned schools were in the 44th District: Bucknell, Hybla Valley, Mount Vernon Woods and Woodlawn Elementary Schools and Mount Vernon High School.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 21, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction

In my first campaign in 2009 and since, the message I hear from Mount Vernon-area voters is clear -- the number one issue in our community is traffic and attracting high-quality economic development to U.S. 1.  People would like to have nearby a good restaurant, an interesting bookstore and quality department stores, for example.

While our local government officials have worked hard to generate redevelopment in our area, their ability to attract high-quality development is limited by the lack of infrastructure necessary to move high numbers of people in, out and through the U.S. 1 corridor. Since my first election, turning this around has been high on my list of priorities.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Reston Impact Inteview: Virginia Ethics Reform

Two weeks ago I was interviewed on Reston Impact by John Lovaas. The main topic was ethics reform. You can see my ethics reform plan here:


Sunday, October 13, 2013

League of Women Voters 2013 Candidate Forum

Here is a video of my appearance at the League of Women Voters Lee District Candidate Forum on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at the Franconia Government Center. Thank you to the League of Women Voters for putting these forums together!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Building Route 1, Version 2.0 - First Public Hearing For The U.S. 1 Transit Study

Last Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit held the first public hearing on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Study ("the U.S. 1 Transit Study").  The U.S. 1 Transit Study was funded by language that Senator Toddy Puller and I secured in the State Budget last session.

The purpose of The U.S. 1 Transit Study is to review all of the prior studies that have been done, examine projected population and job growth in the future, look at possible transit investments, consider all of the plusses and minuses of various investments and come up with a locally preferred alternative.  To do this, they consider a variety of factors explained in this presentation below.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mount Vernon Library Opening

One of the reasons it is an honor to represent the 44th District is that I get to represent part of the Mount Vernon Estate - the home of George Washington. 

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to have been invited to attend the opening of the new $110 million Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.

In the last few years of his life, General George Washington expressed interest in building a library to house his books and letters.  He never got around to building it.  About 217 years later, he finally got his library.

Below are my three favorite speeches from the opening.  The prominent historian, David McCullough,  really makes you think. My favorite quote:
When we choose leaders, we should always take a careful look at how they've handled failure.  Because failure is part of life.  Failure is part of history.  It's those people who lapse into self-pity and blaming others, but get back up keep the faith and keep going.  And [George Washington is] the prime example of that.
I need to remember that one.  He goes on to talk about the importance of honor. 

Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine really make you think about this government shutdown which was about three days away when this event took place.

You can see all of the speeches and pictures from the entire ceremony here:


Monday, September 30, 2013

Gay Marriage and the Law in Virginia: Part II

When the United States v. Windsor decision came down I posted up an article clarifying the state of the law in Virginia about gay marriage.


Today, I read a Washington Post article that said Virginia voters banned gay marriage in 2006.  Last week, Ken Cucinnelli attempted to chastise Terry McAuliffe in a debate by arguing that the Governor would not have to sign off on ban on gay marriage - both are wrong and this error continues to crop up in the press and public discussions. 

Gay marriage was prohibited in the Commonwealth by statute in 1975 when § 20-45.2 of the Code of Virginia was enacted.  It said:
§ 20-45.2. Marriage between persons of same sex.
A marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited.
Virginia was the second state in the United States to specifically ban gay marriage following Maryland in 1973. 

Although my Lexis-Nexis subscription does not go back to 1975, I suspect that this legislation came about due to publicity about efforts by a gay couple in Colorado to force the government to recognize their marriage.  Interestingly, one of the plaintiff's recently died and his obituary is here

Here's a video of an interview of the Clerk who issued the six same sex marriage licenses in March, 1975.  Interestingly, she pointed out that because the Colorado code did not prohibit her from issuing the license, she was permitted to proceed. 

In 1975, there was also an effort to legalize gay marriage by Councilman Arrington Dixon in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Governor and Attorney General Should Practice What They Preach

Clarence Gideon
This year, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright and the actual enforcement of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  Clarence Gideon was charged with felony grand larceny for allegedly stealing some cigarettes and cash from a closed pool hall.  He requested counsel, was denied, convicted, and sentenced to five years imprisonment.  

He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on his own without an attorney and March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was entitled to counsel before he could be convicted.  On retrial, he was acquitted. 

Fifty years after Gideon, here is what the Commonwealth of Virginia pays the attorneys for people who are actually charged with crimes:
  • $120 - Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Criminal Case
  • $120 - Adult Misdemeanor in General District Court
  • $1,235 - Felony Punishable by 20+ Years
  • $445 - All other Felonies
  • $158 - Adult Misdemeanor in Circuit Court
Don't believe me?  Click on this link for the chart.  There are waivers for these fees, but they must be justified and approved by the Courts.  Plus, the fund for the waivers runs out of money each budget cycle.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Governor McDonnell and his staff have now run up $144,000 in legal bills being defended by Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott at up to $250/hour and that taxpayers have incurred $100,000 and counting for other state employees are being defended by Baker & McKenzie at up to $495/hour.  No one has been charged with anything - yet. 

Setting aside the issue of why these services were not bid out to the public like most other taxpayer funded contracts, I'm not clear why the Governor and his staff get taxpayer funded representation from gold-plated law firms when no one has even been charged with a crime or is even facing jail time while counsel for ordinary indigent Virginians' facing actual long prison terms with actual filed charges get about $10/hour.

As the birthplace of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Bill of Rights, we should be ashamed.  In addition, the Governor - a former prosecutor - and the Attorney General know better. If they believe that Virginia's system meets constitutional muster, they should step up to the plate and practice what they preach. 

The Commonwealth does not fund criminal lawyers until charges are filed and does not pay $250 or $495/hour.  They should pick up the tab.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Status of Mulligan Road and U.S. 1 Improvements

This is an exciting time for U.S. 1. 

This morning, I received an update from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on the construction of Mulligan Road/Jeff Todd Way and the improvements to U.S. 1 through Fort Belvoir.

First, Mulligan Road/Jeff Todd Way is scheduled to be opened in May of 2014.  The most significant obstacle to opening the road is the completion of the intersection with Telegraph Road which is also being widened at the same time.  The road cannot be opened until that widening is complete.  The road is also being construction at the same time utilities are being relocated which is unusual and has created logistical challenges.  Relief is coming if you live in 22309.

Second, next week there will be a public hearing on revised designs for the segment of U.S. 1 through Fort Belvoir which is being funded with a $180 million grant secured by Congressman Jim Moran.  The FHWA has divided the road into five segments.  Roughly speaking, they are (A) the segment around Pohick Church, (B) the segment along Davidson Field, (C) the segment around Pohick Village, (D) the segment from the railroad bridge up to the Pence Gate, and (E) the Woodlawn segment. 

The public hearing will involve designs for segments B and D.  The hearing will not be about the status of Woodlawn Stables.  The other segments involve more extensive design discussions, historic property analysis, public hearings, and/or right of way acquisition.  The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2015.  I was excited to see that the new design includes bike lanes, a walking trail, sidewalks, and a right of way reserved for transit.   Here is the meeting information:

U.S. 1 Fort Belvoir Improvements Public Hearing
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
South County Government Center
8350 Richmond Highway
Alexandria,VA 22309


Finally, the Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT) has created a website and scheduled it's first hearing on the Route 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis Study.  Here is that information.

First Public Hearing on U.S. 1 Multimodal Analysis Study
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
South County Government Center
8350 Richmond Highway
Alexandria,VA 22309

We are seeing real progress on U.S. 1.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cameras in the Virginia Courtrooms

Last week, cameras were allowed in a Fairfax County Courtroom for the first time in the history of Fairfax County for the trial of Commonwealth v. Blanco involving the murder of Vanessa Pham.   

Today, Peggy Fox with WUSA posted an interview with one of my favorite Fairfax County Circuit Court Judges Jane Marum Roush regarding the experience.  Here's the story.



Cameras in Virginia courtrooms are not something most of us in the legal profession are used to seeing.  Many worry it will negatively affect how justice is rendered.   

Some of my colleagues have told me that cameras can affect whether witnesses are willing to come to court or even testify. 
I'm normally all for sunshine and courtrooms are opening proceedings, on the record, with or without cameras. 

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weekly Column: Cleaning Up Virginia’s Ethics and Disclosure Laws

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of August 12, 2013.
Cleaning Up Virginia’s Ethics and Disclosure Laws
Media reports of Governor Bob McDonnell accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of “gifts” and loans have provoked discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of Virginia’s ethics laws. Some have called for a special session of the state legislature.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is requesting a special session after he failed to report his only stock holding – Star Scientific – and $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific head Jonnie Williams, including a lake house vacation  and a catered Thanksgiving dinner. Another state delegate has echoed that call after his undisclosed trip to Taiwan was reported by the media.
We will be back in session in four months. While a special session to consider the Governor’s impeachment should be on the table, a special session four months before regular session focused on a series of interrelated complex new laws to be considered by a lame duck governor distracted by a federal criminal ethics investigation would not be productive. The General Assembly can thoroughly debate and decide appropriate ethics reforms in the normal 60-day session starting in January when the process can be more deliberative and the public can be involved more easily.

Here is what should be on the table for 2014:

Friday, August 9, 2013

44th District Demographic Dot Map

44th District Demographic Dot Map
The Stat Chat Blog by Weldon-Cooper Center at UVA continues to be one of my favorite blogs because they are doing really incredible things to visualize math.

Their latest creation is map which puts a dot for each person on a map colored by their race. I've zoomeded it in for the 44th District and thrown some rough boundaries over it for kicks.

It clearly highlights the differences in housing patterns in the 44th District. 

If you want to play with the entire country or Northern Virginia, you can access it here.

Weldon-Cooper Center Racial Dot Map

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Give and To Receive


There's been a lot of talk in Virginia lately about gifts with a lot of political-types saying that these gifts don't affect their judgment. That doesn't ring true for most ordinary people. Here's why.

One study found that when a waiter left candy with the check, the amount of the tip went up on average. When the waiter left the candy and told the patron that I threw some candy in there for you, it went even further up. Likewise, many nonprofits include address labels, calendars, or other items with their fundraising appeals. Responses go up when you give a gift.

There has been significant research into how gift stratgies are hard wired into our human brain reward pathways. Some researchers see human responses to gift giving and receiving as part of successful survival strategies that out-competed others through evolution. On an abstract level this is referred to as the norm of Reciprocity. Take this from Wikipedia:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

New Opinion Highlights Virginia Campaign Finance Loopholes

In Virginia, General Assembly members and statewide officeholders are prohibited from fundraising during session.  The main purpose of this is so that decision-makers cannot press groups for campaign contributions while legislation and votes are pending like they can in Congress.  In theory, it also cuts down on grandstanding during session where leaders can pick fights on issues just to get press and raise money.  Most people think this prohibition is a good thing.

Jeff Schapiro with the Richmond Times Dispatch has a column in today's paper in which he said.
The Republican nominee for governor may have a new objective, though he doesn’t seem to be telling many people: Scuttling Virginia’s 16-year-old ban on campaign fundraising during the annual legislative session.
I hope that's not the case. 

Back in 2012, a state senator from Virginia Beach was interested in hosting a Romney fundraiser during our session.  Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an Attorney General's Opinion holding that the statutory prohibition on General Assembly and Statewide Officeholders fundraising during session did not apply to solicitations on behalf of presidential candidates.  In 2010, he had issued a previous opinion giving a sitting state senator the green light to raise money to run for Congress.  He ended up winning. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Video Tour of New Mt. Vernon Library

The Mt. Vernon Estate is preparing to open the new Fred W. Smith National Libary for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon on September 27, 2013. 

The library is dedicated to holding George Washington's papers and spreading the word about his principles of leadership.  The Estate has raised over $100 million to support the construction of the library and acquisition of works. 

You can take a video tour of the new facility before it opens here. 


You can also read more information about the project here:


This is going to be an amazing asset for the 44th District and I am excited to see the construction coming to completion. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

First Governor's Debate

If you missed the first Gubernatorial Debate at the Homestead yesterday, you can watch it here.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interviews Regarding Call for Resignation

Here are two interviews I recently gave regarding my call for Governor McDonnell to step down.

This is my interview on The John Fredericks Show.



I was also interviewed on Fox 5 which you can watch here.  DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

Saturday, July 13, 2013

It's Time to Move On Governor McDonnell

The Virginia Governor's Mansion, Built in 1813
Over 237 years ago, a handful of Virginia’s leaders put their lives on the line to declare the independence of the Commonwealth of Virginia and start a new Democratic experiment in the East Coast wilderness. 

Since that time, Virginia has seen seventy-one Governors.  They included men like Patrick Henry and future presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler.

Only two Virginia Governors have not finished their terms voluntarily.  John Tyler resigned when he was elected to the U.S. Senate and George Smith died at the end of the first year of his term.  No Governor has ever resigned in scandal – ever.

Other states have not been as fortunate.  Illinois has lost four of their last seven Governors to felony indictments.  North Carolina’s ex-governor was convicted of a felony relating to failure to properly disclose a helicopter ride in 2010.  Alabama’s Governor was just released from prison this year after being indicted in 2006.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

44th District History: The Girls' Friendly Society Holiday House

My father used to tell me about a summer camp that was located down the street from our house overlooking the George Washington Memorial Parkway called The Girls' Friendly Society Holiday House.

One of my neighbors who is also a local recently researched this and wrote up the piece below for our community newsletter.  I thought it was an interesting piece of local history.

Interestingly, the Holiday House was also the first place of worship for the Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church and is mentioned on their history on their website.  I haven't been able to find any pictures of it though.
Tauxemont of Old – The Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) Holiday House
by Pat Thompson 
 
After writing an article last year in our newsletter about the Alexandria Dairy, I embarked on an effort to find more information about a collection of old barracks-type buildings among the woods and thickets on the north side of the Alexandria Avenue stone bridge that many of us explored as children. This is what I found:  
 The land and buildings belonged to the Episcopal Church’s Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) of Washington. The land extended from the north side of the overpass to Morningside Lane. In the early years of the 20th century, the Episcopal Seminary was closed in the summer, so seminary students held services in the GFS’s Holiday House small chapel on this land.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Charging a Hill 150 Years Ago Today

My Great Great Grandparents
William Jackson Aylor and Roberta Jane (Bowie) Aylor
Today is July 3.  While I'll be in Fairfax County Circuit Court arguing some motions through lunch, I'll also be thinking about how lucky I am to exist, in part, due to the bravery of my Great Great Grandfather who saw some of the fiercest combat seen on the planet when he was half my age. 

On this day around 2:00 p.m. one hundred and fifty years ago, my Great Great Grandfather, William Jackson Aylor, age 22, charged up Cemetery Ridge into a hailstorm of Union bullets and artillery.  He was lucky to make it out alive.

A cousin, J.R. Bowie, took an oral history from him in 1928 before he passed away on my Grandfather's 18th birthday - January 1, 1929. 

After volunteering for the Confederate Army on his 21st birthday at the Orange Courthouse, he enlisted in Company G of the 7th Virginia Infantry, Kemper's Brigade, Pickett's Division under Captain Andrew Bolen. 

On the first day of Gettysburg, he reported being in Chambersburg "engaged in tearing up a railroad to prevent enemy communication with the north."  They marched to Gettysburg on the second day.  On July 3, 1863, his Division formed the right flank of Pickett's Charge.  My Grandfather said he "went into this charge with sixty rounds of ammunition and says that he fired his carbine until it go so hot that his hands were literally blistered." 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gay Marriage and the Law in Virginia

With the Supreme Court's recent decisions in United States v. Windsor (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v. Perry, there have been some articles in Virginia about my legislation last session to remove Virginia's prohibition on gay marriage, civil unions, or any laws recognizing such unions in any way from the Constitution of Virginia

Nearly all of it incorrectly describes my bill as a bill to "repeal Virginia's gay marriage ban."  Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but legally, it did not achieve that.  It was the first step towards the repeal of Virginia's gay marriage ban, but passing my legislation and approval by the voters would not have "repealed" Virginia's gay marriage ban. 

There are two important issues.  First, whether Virginia allows gay marriages to take place in Virginia.  Second, whether Virginia recognizes gay marriages performed in other states.  The Supreme Court has not addressed Virginia's power to ban gay marriage.  However, United States v. Windsor puts Virginia in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Texting and Emailing While Driving Can be Reckless of July 1

On July 1, 2013, a new Virginia Law goes into effect makes it clear that writing or reading emails or text messages is now a primary offense for which a driver may be stopped.  The law also makes clear that if someone is convicted of Reckless Driving and Texting/Emailing While Driving, there is a mandatory minimum fine of $250.

Some of the media coverage about this new law has indicated that people can use their GPS while driving.  Other stories have suggested that the law contains a loophole for other behaviors such as using Facebook, Twitter, or playing Angry Birds - this is wrong.  Some people have suggested that it should cover picking up a cigarette, putting on makeup or reading the newspaper while driving - this is unnecessary.  I requested an opinion from the Attorney General to clear some of this up which he issued on June 28, 2013 and was covered in today's Virginian Pilot.

First, here's some background.  For at least the last sixty years, Reckless Driving has been illegal and is a Class 1 Misdemeanor.  There are about ten specific things that are Reckless Driving (such as driving 20 MPH over the speed limit) and a general catch-all statute.  Here's the broad statute:
§ 46.2-852. Reckless driving; general rule.
Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.
Class 1 Misdemeanors have a maximum punishment of twelve months in jail, a $2500 fine, and Reckless Driving also provides for an optional six months driver's license suspension. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

West Potomac's Paul Russell Retires

 
Picture of Paul Russell in 1970 something from Sygyzy Magazine
West Potomac's Creative Writing Magazine
Today, I attended my 9th West Potomac High School Gradation and had the pleasure of handing the Outstanding Faculty Award to my 11th Grade English/Creative Writing Teacher, Paul Russell, who retired today after teaching at Groveton High School and West Potomac High School for 44 years. 

He was voted this honor by the Class of 2013.

I don't remember all of my classes at West Potomac, but a few teachers really stick out.  Mr. Levy (AP US Government), Mr. Holder (Band - wrote about him here when he retired), and Mr. Russell.

Mr. Russell's class really sticks out in my head 25 years later. First, and least importantly, he was my sixth period teacher (only had six periods back then), and I was caught skipping his class with Fran Kim - we skipped to play golf, Greendale was closed for rain, we tried to sneak back in to avoid the unexcused absence and got caught by Vice Principal Ruby Jackson in the parking lot behind Springbank - and had to do in-house detention (the only time) in the room next door to Mr. Russell's class (which is a whole different story).  

Monday, June 10, 2013

U.S. 1 Multimodal Study To Begin!

In the 2013 General Assembly Session, Senator Puller and I secured $2 million for the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transportation Study in the 2013 amendments to the 2013-14 Biennial Budget.  This study will analyze and recommend the appropriate mode of transit from I-495 to the Occoquan along U.S. 1.

For current information about the project, I have created this link to the official webpage maintained by the Department of Rail and Public Transit:


If you would like to see more information about where things stand on U.S. 1, I have created a page on my official website here:


This study is the first legally required step to improve U.S. 1 between Woodlawn and I-495.  It is great news.

The Governor's Press Release is below the flip:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Pot Is Calling for the Kettle - Hypocrisy on Concealed Weapons

Last session, one of few contentious gun safety bills we debated was legislation regarding confidentiality of concealed carry permits (CCP) for handguns.

If a Virginians wants a CCP today, they are required to apply at the Circuit Court.  Anyone can go to the courthouse and review them like any other court document.  If you want to see what they look like, you can click here for the standard application.

Around the United States and in Virginia, several newspapers have published the names and addressed of people who CCP's, including recently after the Newtown Shooting.  Gun rights groups have taken offense to that and fought to make these records confidential. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hispanic Housing Discrimination Alive and Well in Northern Virginia

The Equal Rights Center has just come out with a disturbing report entitled Precaucion: Obstacles for Latinos in the Virginia Rental Housing Market, that should concern everyone. 

After conducting study with live prospective renters, they found that landlords routinely discriminate against Hispanics prospective renters in Northern Virginia.  Given that 24% of the population of the 44th District is Hispanic, this is an issue that should be of special concern to anyone living in our area. 

Here's how it worked:
  • The study conducted 106 matched pair (one Hispanic and one white going to the same property) tests in areas where Hispanic populations lived in close proximity to predominantly white populations. 
  • The tested landlords required at least 25 units. 
  • The Hispanic pairs gave had the same personal and financial profiles. 
  • The Hispanic pair went first to ensure they'd receive more favorable information (e.g. before a unit was rented)
  • They both visited the same day and frequently saw the saw property agent
  • Everyone was lawfully present in the United States
  • They conducted the study in the City of Fairfax, Henrico & Richmond, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas, Roanoke County, and the Northern Shenandoah Valley (Augusta, Culpepper, Frederick, Rockingham), and Virginia Beach.
In 58 of 106 tests, the Hispanic pair was discriminated against.  Here were the specific findings:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Changing Virginia's Disclosure Laws

There's been a lot in the news lately about gifts and politicians in Virginia.  Apparently, the catering at the Governor's daughter's wedding was paid for by one of his political donors embroiled in a tax dispute with the state.  The Governor didn't disclose it by claiming that it was a gift to his daughter - not him.

Ken Cuccinelli failed to reports a few gifts from the same donor. Some of the Governor's cabinet members forgot to disclose gifts.  Several legislators also claim that they forgot to disclose gifts.  Apparently, the disclosure system only works effectively when the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in town. 

I've had a few constituents email me with questions about where I stand.  Here are some thoughts.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Destruction of Liberty by Government-Owned Rec Centers

As Memorial Day approaches and our local pools open up for the weekend, we thought it was important to highlight Ken Cuccinelli's views on public recreation centers. 

I wrote about this and about the history of the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center last week here:


Today, I appeared at the free Fairfax County pool at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Gum Springs to highlight another "liberty-destroying" facility in our community with Democratic Chairwoman Charnielle Herring and Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay.  Our conference is below. 

Happy Memorial Day! 


Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Much New Transportation Money Is Actually Coming?

Now that a transportation funding bill has passed, constituents have been asking me about funding new road improvements.  However, there's really not as much money as people think. 

In Virginia, all roads are state roads.  Roads are divided into interstates, primary roads and secondary roads.  Primary roads are under 600 - U.S. 1, Mt. Vernon Highway, Telegraph Road.  Secondary roads are numbered 600 and higher - like Fort Hunt Road, Sherwood Hall Lane, residential streets, etc.

Secondary road money comes from the state but is prioritized by the Counties.  For the last two years, Fairfax County has effectively received $0 from the state to make any improvements for secondary roads.  This has halted all widenings, speed bumps, sidewalk construction, turn lanes, new stop lights - everything.

The transportation legislation passed last session added new money into the transportation system for the first time in 27 years.  Much of the new money is going to plug the maintenance shortfall - paving, bridgework, etc.  Plus, $300 million goes to the Silver Line off the top. 

One reason I voted against the bill was because I said it was not enough money to solve the needs in the 44th District or the entire state.  In reality, it's only about 20% of the total projected statewide shortfall over the next 20 years.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poverty in NOVA: Redefining Poverty in Virginia

The Weldon-Cooper's Stat Chat blog continues to be one of my favorites because they are constantly changing the way we look at numbers.  Their latest project - redefining Virginia poverty.

First, their new report points out that poverty is not something can be defined uniformly across all areas due to different variables - different costs of housing, transportation, healthcare, good, etc.  Existing poverty measures are built on consumption models from the 1960's.  People spend their money differently today.  For example, one big expense variable in Northern Virginia is be childcare - numerous studies have shown that the D.C. Metropolitan Area has the highest childcare costs in the United States. 

Therefore, they have defined poverty into something called the "Virginia Poverty Index" or "VPI."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Monday Public Meetings on Digital Divide at West Potomac

The economic inequality that currently exists between groups in terms of access to, use of and knowledge of information and communication technology is often referred to as The Digital Divide.

Last year, I was disturbed to learn that Fairfax County Public Schools had chosen to roll out "electronic textbooks" without ensuring that every child had the ability to use them.  I first discovered they were being used when my children were at home using them.

"Electronic textbooks" are a new tool in education.  They are also actually more than just books.  They are actually online learning system that have homework problems with real time corrections.  They have extra help videos and extra homework problems.

The only problem is that in order to use them you must have both a computer and a broadband connection.  From knocking doors on U.S. 1, I am very aware that many of the 44th District's residents do not have a computer or enough computers and broadband connections due to income restraints. 

I strongly believe that no public school should use a tool that is not equally available to all children in the system, and that family income should not be a barrier to any child's learning potential.

While researching this process, I discovered that both Henrico County Public Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools provide computers to every child in their system from 7th grade and up.  Also, Cox Communications has just launched a program called "Internet Essentials" that provides $10/mo. broadband and $150 refurbished laptops to families that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.  However, few people know it exists yet.  More information is here:


Therefore, I introduced legislation prohibiting any school system from using an "electronic textbook" program unless they can show every child in their system has a computer in their home and a broadband connection. 

My legislation was referred to the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science where it is currently being studied.

However, Fairfax County has begun public hearings to take information as to how they can best close The Digital Divide in Fairfax County.  The first meeting in Mt. Vernon:

FCPS Digital Learning Public Hearing
Monday, May 20, 2013
West Potomac High School
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
 
If you cannot attend, you can provide input here:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Will a Virginia Expungement Continue to Have Value?

In Virginia, a person is generally entitled to an expungement, if they are found not guilty or their charge is dropped without any finding of guilt.  Here's what Virginia Law currently says:
The General Assembly finds that arrest records can be a hindrance to an innocent citizen's ability to obtain employment, an education and to obtain credit. It further finds that the police and court records of those of its citizens who have been absolutely pardoned for crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted can also be a hindrance. This chapter is intended to protect such persons from the unwarranted damage which may occur as a result of being arrested and convicted.
Once expunged, a person does not have to disclose the charge on an employment application.  It is also a crime to ask someone about an expunged charge in the employment process (excluding federal security background checks).

Notwithstanding Virginia Law, some companies have continued to make information regarding expunged charges available - completely destroying the purpose of Virginia's system - and continuing to subject people to the consequences of having an unfounded charge appear on their record.  It's not fair at all and sidesteps Virginia Law. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mt. Vernon Snakeheads In the News!

One of the great things about living in the 44th District is living right next to the Potomac River.  The 44th District was the home of "The Snakehead Invasion" in Virginia when they were first discovered in Little Hunting Creek and Dogue Creek.

Since then, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has been conducting studies in our creeks to learn more about these fish and how they might impact our ecosystem.  Based on what I've seen, they don't seem to live around shopping carts, bottles or cans....  Any any event, I've written about this previously below:


The big question for Virginia is whether we legitimize them - take them off the invasive species list - so they can be bought and sold, served in restaurants, competitions held and citations issued?  Once that happens, you will see them in every river in Virginia.  They are great sporting fish and I'm told they taste pretty good. 

Today's Washington Post has a great video (much better than the ones I did) featuring DGIF Biologist John Odenkirk and his studies.  John has become one of the preminent snakehead experts in the United States.

You can see the videos I put together on the flip including my trip with Delegate David Bulova with John Odenkirk.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ice Rinks Become Political in 2013

The other day, I dropped my girls off at the Mt. Vernon Ice Skating Rink for the weekly Skate Night.  Skate Night is basically a bunch of 5th through 8th graders skating in circles with disco lights, music, and a bunch of parents huddled in the stands gossiping away.

I've been going to this rink and the Rec Center my entire life.  Skated there and played in the pool as a kid.  We did infant swimming lessons there with my girls.  My children have taken soccer classes and gymnastics at the Lee District Recreation Center.

One night, I noticed a plaque outside the entrance to the skating rink.  It said the following:

In 1978, the Fairfax County Park Authority opened the region's first public indoor ice skating rink significantly enhancing opportunities for healthful activities, competition and leisure time pursuits available to Fairfax County residents.  The Mount Vernon Ice Skating Rink would not have become a reality without the tireless support and effort of:
Warren I. Cikins
Mt. Vernon District Supervisor
1975-79
During the session, I read Ken Cuccinelli’s new book.  In the book, he wrote the following:

As a result of the unfair competition of the government-owned rec center, not only is the business person essentially prevented from doing business (his liberty—his opportunity to pursue happiness—curtailed), but the citizens are also harmed because everyone has to pay for the rec center through taxes, even if they never use it.  
                                                   - Ken Cuccinnelli, The Last Line of Defense, Page 241
This left me scratching my head.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Demolish Woodlawn Elementary School?

Woodlawn Elementary School Today
The Mt. Vernon-Lee part of Fairfax County has always been known for its history.  The Mt. Vernon Estate is our crown jewel.  The Woodlawn Mansion is a National Historic Landmark and the entire estate is subject to a historic zoning district.  The Grist Mill is growing in popularity.  Gunston Hall was the home of founding father George Mason.

U.S. 1 was renamed "Historic Route One" by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2010 with an amendment by Governor McDonnell to HB530 that I requested honoring Route 1 for its trove of historic assets.  One other asset along the road is Woodlawn Elementary School, but it is threatened.

History of U.S. 1: Early Schools along Route One, Part 3


In 2006, the Mount Vernon Gazette ran a series of articles by local author Michael K. Bohn on the history of U.S. 1. They provide some interesting history on U.S. 1.
The following was written by Michael K. Bohn and ran in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, in 2006.
Early Schools along Route One, Part 3

Michael K. Bohn
Mount Vernon Gazette, 2006

This is the final part of the schools segment in the Route One history series. It describes the remaining historic elementary schools and early high schools near Route One.

Potter’s Hill offere a few high school courses, but
was primarily an elementary school.
Potter’s Hill. Telegraph and Accotink Roads (now approximately Telegraph and Beulah Roads). Built prior to1879, the school was replaced by a new structure in 1917 that offered both elementary grades as well as a few high school subjects. Not deeded to the county until 1918, Potter’s Hill burned in 1934.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Little Hunting Creek Cleanup 2013!

It's 2013 and it's time again!  On Saturday, April 6, 2013, the Alice Ferguson Foundation is hosting it's 25th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup!

RSVP NOW BELOW!

Once again, we are back to Little Hunting Creek and this time we are back in force!  My preliminary investigation of the creek has located at least a dozen shopping carts and thousands of bottles, cans and bags along with the usual assortment of bike and other trash. Last year we over 90 volunteers cleared the following from just 1/2 mile of creek:
  • 139 Shopping Carts
  • 120 bags of trash
  • Nearly two dozen tires
  • Over a Dozen Bikes
  • A Tractor Tire, Mattress, Barbells, stereos, paint cans, car bumpers, statues, picnic tables, animal houses, chairs, wheelbarrows, DVD's, vacuums, tools
  • Thousands of pieces of styrofoam and plastic food containers, plastic bags and beverage containers

I even made a video you can watch here:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Institution Hangs Up His Quill

Yesterday, we learned that Delegate Lacey Putney is calling it quits after 52 years in the House of Delegates at the age of 84. 

Lacey won his first election in 1961 at age 33 when John F. Kennedy was President.  He was elected as a Democrat, but changed his party affiliation to Independent in 1968.  He has caucused with the Republicans starting in the late 1990's and briefly served as Speaker. 

Lacey is an a trial lawyer who hails from Bedford County - right across the Roanoke River from my grandfather's homeplace in Franklin County.  Every time he speaks, I have flashbacks to my summers spent in Franklin County and my grandparents friends who I met through the years.  People just don't talk like Lacey any more. 

He has seen a lot in his 52 years in the House and I always found my conversations with him in the Member's lounge to be fascinating.  When you have 52 years of experience, you have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer about Virginia, legislating, practicing law, or million other things. 

History of U.S. 1: Early Schools Along Route One, Part II

In 2006, the Mount Vernon Gazette ran a series of articles by local author Michael K. Bohn on the history of U.S. 1. They provide some interesting history on U.S. 1.  Part I can be be found here:


The following was written by Michael K. Bohn and ran in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, in 2006.

Early Schools along Route One, Part 2

Michael K. Bohn
Mount Vernon Gazette, 2006

This is the second of a three-part schools segment in the Route One history series. The first reviewed the development of education in Fairfax County from colonial times through desegregation in the 1960s, and described elementary schools at Accotink, Cameron, Colchester, Groveton and Gum Springs. This section addresses five historic schools in the Mason Neck area. The third and final schools article will survey the remaining historic elementary schools along Route One, as well as area high schools.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

History of U.S. 1: Early Schools on U.S. 1, Part I

In 2006, the Mount Vernon Gazette ran a series of articles by local author Michael K. Bohn on the history of U.S. 1. They provide some interesting history on U.S. 1.

The following was written by Michael K. Bohn and ran in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, in 2006.

Early Schools along Route One, Part 1
Michael K. Bohn
Mount Vernon Gazette, 2006

This is another segment in the continuing series about the history of Route One in the Mount Vernon area.

Route One, and its predecessor, the Potomac Path, has been at the center of economic, residential, and religious development in southeast Fairfax County for hundreds of years. Just as settlers built their homes and churches along the road, they created schools near the route for their children. The population was sparse enough until the middle of the 20th century that transportation to and from school drove the selection of school sites.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hybrid Tax Petition Delivered - Two Days Till Decision

Last Monday, Senator Adam Ebbin and I delivered nearly 7,000 signatures on our No Hybrid Tax Petition to Governor Robert McDonnell at the State Capitol in Richmond.  You can read more about it here:


We delivered the petition to the Governor and his staff told us that he did review the petitions and the over 6,000 comments. 

As of noon today, 7,195 people have signed the petition.  You can still sign up here:


The hybrid tax fails to make sense on a number of levels:
  • It punishes people for doing the right thing - conserving energy.
  • The $100 tax bears no relationship to the gas taxes that are avoided (at most $30/year on a 45 MPG vehicle)
  • The Federal and State Government have been encouraging people to purchase hybrid technology while this punishes people.
  • Hybrid owners already pay their fair share of taxes including (1) 10% higher price for the car, (2) greater titling taxes, (3) greater personal property taxes, (4) $25/yr. for clean energy license plates, and (5) $3,000+ for a new battery after 150,000 miles.
  • The tax is irrational.  There are other vehicles that get better gas mileage than many hybrids such as motor cycles and mopeds.  There are also gas vehicles that get better mileage than most hybrids, and many hybrids that get worse gas mileage than many gas powered cars. 
  • It also inordinately punishes Northern Virginia where 82% of hybrids are registered in Virginia.
The Governor has to act by Monday, March 25, 2013. 

Hopefully, he will do the right thing and offer an amendment deleting the hybrid tax from the legislation. 
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