Tag Archives: senate

Senator Henry Marsh’s big day.

Senate Session

Today was a big day for Senator Henry Marsh. The legislator of twenty years took a rare day off during the Virginia Senate’s 46-day session, to attend President Barack Obama’s second-term inauguration in Washington D.C. For the 79-year-old black civil rights lawyer, attending a black president’s inauguration on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday is perhaps the most auspicious of occasions. Certainly nobody would object to him missing just one day. Looking at today’s legislative calendar, he would have seen that his absence wouldn’t be problematic, with nothing contentious on the agenda. (With the Senate split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans, and with a Republican lieutenant governor acting as tie-breaker, that’s no small point.)

Marsh grew up under Jim Crow. He had a ten-mile round-trip walk to his one-room schoolhouse—an awfully long trip for a seven-year-old—while white kids took a bus to a modern school. Marsh didn’t let racism hold him back. He didn’t just graduate from primary school, but went onto college. When he was a senior at Virginia Union University, the Byrd Machine was organizing “massive resistance”—shutting down public schools rather than comply with Brown v. Board of Education—and Marsh got involved, testifying against the policy before the General Assembly. In doing so, he met famed civil rights attorney Oliver Hill; at Hill’s encouragement, he got a degree in law from Howard University, and later went into private practice with Hill, focusing on civil rights law. Marsh and his practice were responsible for huge advances in civil rights over the decades, eliminating “separate but equal,” busing, and racial discrimination in hiring. Along the way he became the first black mayor of Richmond, and was elected to his Senate seat in 1991. Today he chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and created the Martin Luther King Jr. Living History and Public Policy Center.

So it bears repeating: today was a very big day for Henry Marsh. He must have taken a great deal of satisfaction in seeing his life’s work culminate in the first black president’s reelection, being sworn in on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. It was a very, very good reason to miss a day’s session.

Today was also a big day for Senate Republicans. They knew that Henry Marsh would be at the inauguration today, and that the 20–20 split in the Senate would become a 20–19 split while Marsh was 100 miles north, among the throngs on the National Mall. So today was the day that they decided—without hearings, advertisements, notifications, or warnings—to take a chunk out of Marsh’s district, along with a handful of others, to ghettoize black voters in a majority-minority district and put 45% of voting-age citizens into new districts.

I sat in the Senate gallery, along with no more than perhaps a half-dozen other people, slack-jawed with confusion (tweeting all the while) as Republican Sen. John Watkins filibustered through the allotted 15 minutes to discuss what was advertised as the third reading of a pretty boring bill, making technical adjustments to district boundaries. Unbeknownst to anybody but the 20 Senate Republicans, the bill had been replaced with a radical redistricting, combining two senators into a single district (eliminating the district of 2009 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds), reshuffling district boundaries throughout the state to absorb those changes (to Republicans’ apparent favor in a half-dozen districts), and creating a “black district.”

Senate Democrats tried repeatedly to get a word in, but they were blocked procedurally. A series of votes were held (votes about voting, votes about reconsidering voting about voting, and so on), all failing 20–19, during which a few people got to make remarks. One Democratic senator moved to simply put the vote off until tomorrow, so that there’d be time to read this brand-new bill. That vote failed 20–19. Another Democratic senator pointed out that this was simply unconstitutional (“[t]he General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter”). One Republican senator insisted that this was simply a racially sensitive improvement, since it was establishing a majority-minority district. Another Republican said that there was no need to hold hearings on this new redistricting, because they held hearings a few years ago, last time they redistricted. Yet it remained unclear throughout what, exactly, this bill did, though Democrats were frantically trying to figure that out as they stalled with round after round of procedural vote, a peeved Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presiding over the whole affair. Finally there was nothing else to be done—the vote was held, and the bill passed, 20–19.

Lt. Gov Bolling says he would have voted against the bill, if it had been a tie. Which is surely why the bill was introduced today.

Senate Republicans’ MLK Day gift to Senator Marsh and to Virginia is to use the re-inauguration of the United States’ first black president as cover to pass a bill that will make it harder for black candidates to get elected.

Now the bill goes to the House of Delegates, who will no doubt pass it, and then to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who said he was as surprised by this bill as everybody else. We’re about to learn if McDonnell has really become the centrist he’s presenting himself as, or if he’s the same old right-wing extremist. I fear we already know the answer.

George Allen says he’s done running for office.

Thank God. What an embarrassment it would have been for Virginia if this casually vicious racist had won. He fashioned himself in the image of the unreformed old southern racists of the 1960s, and never bothered to update his mindset, only how to fake it for brief stretches. In the meantime, Virginia—and the whole US—changed around him. Maybe he can spend even more time now fighting against anti-Semitism, since he told Wolf Blitzer in 2006 that he’d “use [his] time on Earth” to do just that. I wonder how that’s been going in the intervening six years? 

A conservative Virginia activist has been sending anti-Obama SMSes.

Jason Flanary, failed 2011 candidate for the Virginia Senate, had Twitter all a-flutter over the past few days after sending bajillions of really nasty anti-Obama SMS messages to mobile phones in total violation of federal election law. “VP Biden mocks a fallen Navy Seal during memorial. Our military deserves better” and “Obama believes killing children is a right until the umbilical cord is cut” were two of the messages. Flanary, a Republican, is on the board of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and ran against Dave Marsden for Senate, garnering 46% of the vote. The Romney campaign says that they didn’t know the first thing about what Flanary was up to. Apparently Flanary’s company, ccAdvertising, is in the habit of sending out millions of illegal SMSes in the days before elections, in an effort to influence election outcomes. I’m pretty sure this story will have an unhappy ending for Flanary. 

Links for November 15th

  • FDIC Bank Closings
    I was curious where banks closed by the FDIC tend to be located, so I put together this visualization. (You have to click on Visualize -> Map.) Turns out they're mostly in Florida and Georgia which are—surely not coincidentally—hot spots for home foreclosures. Almost all of these closings were after mid-2008.
  • Pew Charitable Trust: Checking Account Risks at a Glance
    Pew's study of the 250 types of checking accounts offered by the ten largest US banks (which hold 60%) of checking accounts found that, on average, a customer has to watch out for 49 different fees and penalties that they could incur.
  • Wikipedia: Candy desk
    For over forty years, the Senate has maintained a single desk in the chamber with a drawer full of candy. It is the job of the senator assigned that desk to distribute the candy within to fellow senators. Past candy desk assignees have included John McCain and Rick Santorum.

It only took Allen a week to prove himself a hypocrite.

Remember last week, when George Allen criticized Tim Kaine for raising money out of state? Well, today George Allen was at a fundraiser in Newport Beach, California. That took exactly one week.

It was a dumb-ass criticism from Allen in the first place. He got burned making the same criticism of Webb in 2006, and apparently learned nothing. In both instances, Allen criticized his opponent for raising money out of state, and in both cases he went straight to California to raise money. It’s pathological.

But it gets worse. Here’s Allen’s defense, from campaign spokesman Bill Riggs:

After more than 30 consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent, it took zero jobs created in August for Chairman Kaine to finally realize and say in his words, ‘we need a job creation strategy.’ So what did he do? He went to Chicago to raise campaign cash with President Obama’s big money bundlers.

That, of course, bears no connection to Allen’s criticism. It’s pathetic.

Note something else in the statement from Allen’s campaign. The quoted text contains the phrase “Chairman Kaine” three times. Never “Kaine,” never “Governor Kaine,” but “Chairman Kaine.” As in “Chairman Mao.” They think they’re being clever, using the honorific of the chair of the Chinese Communist Party. What the Allen campaign doesn’t understand is that they’re doing it wrong. If they just used the phrase once per press release, the media could pick it up, and the phrase could become part of the vernacular. Instead, by using it over and over again, it’s just embarrassing to read, because it’s so over-the-top.

I’m reminded of people who are unable to refer to President Obama by name, but have to write “Nobama,” or “President Osama” every single time. Or, as I lamented in 2005 about critics of President Bush, “people who call President Bush ‘Resident Bush,’ ‘Preznit Bush,’ or ‘Bushit.’” I can understand people thinking—wrongly—that they’re clever on first usage, but the tenth time?

It’s going to be a long race.

Allen says it’s bad to leave Virginia.

From the Daily Progress, covering George Allen getting a haircut at my barber today (seriously):

Allen criticized Kaine for his spending time with Obama in Chicago, rather than campaigning in Virginia.

“While I’m here in Charlottesville, at Staples Barber Shop, he’s up in Chicago with President Obama’s big money bundlers, in Chicago, and I’d rather be here at Staples Barber Shop … and in touch with the folks here.”

A note to my future self: George Allen believes that it’s bad to leave Virginia. “The real America,” he might call it. Any candidate in this race who leaves Virginia to do other things is a lesser person. Also, anybody who raises money while visiting out of the state (like, say, Hollywood) is a big, fat loser.

I started to drive to Staples to get a trim today, but decided it was too late in the day. Good thing.

Links for July 9th

  • GAO: Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin Would Provide a Financial Benefit to the Government
    Getting rid of the $1 bill would save the government $184M/year. Not an enormous amount, on the scale of the budget, but there's no getting around that $184M is a very large amount of money indeed. Ten years ago, it would have saved $522M/year, but the Treasury has improved the technology that they use to identify and destroy worn notes—it used to be overload broad, but that's fixed, allowing lots of bills to stay in circulation longer.
  • The Economist: America’s debt—Shame on them
    The Economist, a relatively staid and conservative publication, has run an editorial in which they describe Republicans' stance on the debt ceiling as "economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical." They go on to describe Republicans as "unprincipled," as not being "real tax reformers," and conclude by declaring that "the blame falls clearly on the Republicans" in debt talks. Yup.
  • PolitiFact: Allen says China owns more U.S. bonds than Americans
    It's not even close. Of $14.3T of national debt, China owns $1.2T. The U.S. government owns $6T. $3.8T is privately held. When confronted with the facts, the Allen campaign claimed that they were talking only about debt held by ordinary American investors, but the numbers that they cited to back up that claim actually proved the opposite. I hope NBC-29 runs a correction. Lord knows Allen won't admit that he's full of shit.

Links for July 7th

Jeff Frederick running for senate.

My favoritest RPV chair ever, Jeff Frederick, is running for state senate! (Or, apparently, he and some friends will be sharing the seat, because in his e-mail to supporters, he wrote that “we’ve decided to run.“) This is for the 36th district, Toddy Puller’s open seat. I don’t know the dynamics of the district well enough to know what to expect in this election, but I know it’ll be fun to watch now.

Frederick’s e-mail to supporters follows.

Friend –

I’m happy to report to you, after a lot of thought, discussion, and prayer, we’ve decided to run for the Senate of Virginia.

But, I’m not in it for the money ($18k a year), the title, the digs, some degree of perceived power, or people making me feel important. I am running to serve the people of eastern Prince William, Fairfax, and Stafford and to change politics as usual in Richmond. There’s too much polarization; too much partisanship; and not enough principled people going down there who are focused on the people that they represent — working hard day in and day out to make our communities, commonwealth and country a better place to live, work, and raise a family. We need leaders in Richmond who aren’t afraid to shake up and stand up to the status quo and keep people of any political party accountable.

Citizens of the 36th Senate District aren’t unlike most folks. They work hard. They pay their taxes. They strive to build a better future for themselves and their families. Whether it is someone who was born and raised in Virginia like me or someone who came from a foreign land to seek the American dream and integrate as a naturalized citizen, like my Colombian mother — and everyone in between — our best days are still ahead.

Yet, the career politicians in Richmond have made a mess of our economy and have put future generations at risk. Sure, they talk about creating jobs, but in reality they vote time and time again for job-killing tax hikes, new regulations, and more wasteful government programs.

I’ve opposed all attempts to grow government and tax you more, and I will continue to do so. You know better how to spend your money than government does. My record is clear and needs no election-year makeover. I never forget who I work for and always keep my promises. You might not always agree with me 100% of the time, but you’ll always know where I stand and I’ll always welcome your thoughts and ideas.

I hope you’ll join our commonsense, pro-people — not politics — campaign to create jobs, grow our economy, improve transportation and infrastructure, and protect our special quality of life.

And, we need your help. Click here to donate to our campaign or get involved.

This is going to be a tough race in a district that was clearly gerrymandered for someone of the opposite political party. I’ve got a track record of winning in these tough districts and appealing to people of all political stripes, but this one could be the most difficult one yet. Notwithstanding, the numbers tell us it is winnable, especially given that 37% of the district is my old House district. Some of the toughest precincts in this new Senate district are precincts I consistently won in my prior House races against difficult opposition.

However, our past success could not have been possible without the efforts of so many — volunteering, contributing, and praying for us.

Please consider making a financial contribution now, and signing up to volunteer with our campaign. With your help, I know we’ll have a big victory this November. God willing, we’ll win this election and change politics as usual in Virginia.

Amy and I are incredibly grateful for all you’ve done in the past, and we’re counting on you now more than ever.

Thanks again. More updates to come soon.

-JMF.

Claudia Tucker, Wilkins’ eavesdropper, is running for senate.

Claudia Tucker is running for state senate. Does that name ring a bell? RPV executive director Ed Matricardi fingered Tucker in the Republican eavesdropping scandal, back in 2003, rolling over on her and four other Republican leaders as having orchestrated and participated in the illegal monitoring of DPVA phone calls. (After serving prison time, Matricardi now tweets and runs a governmental public affairs consultancy, where he thoughtfully includes the RPV on his résumé.) Tucker—who was chief of staff for House Speaker Vance Wilkins—resigned in disgrace, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Things didn’t turn out much better for Wilkins—he got caught paying $100k in hush money to cover up his fondness for sexual harassment, which ended his career.

With that stellar pedigree, Claudia Tucker has decided that the next step for her is state senate. Tyler Whitley asked if perhaps her background would be a problem:

“People remember all the good Vance did for the party,” she said. “His recruitment efforts helped make it the majority party in the House of Delegates.”

Yes, and the trains ran on time under Mussolini, too. (Actually, they didn’t.)

Let’s hope the good people of the 22nd Senate district—Louisans to Lynchburgers who likely have no idea that they’re in this new district—have the good sense to nominate one of the other four Republicans in the race.

Links for May 13th

Links for May 10th

  • IBM Many Bills: A Visual Bill Explorer
    IBM is doing some really interesting work with legislation here. In my own work on Richmond Sunlight, I've long treated the text of the bill as a black box, doing very little with the text of bills. IBM demonstrates here that there's actually some valuable data to be gleaned from the actual words within the bill. Their interface is lousy—the site is hard to use—by I really admire their original thinking.
  • Think Progress: In Washington, You Don’t Need To Know Anything About Policy To Be a Senator Or Chair Important Commissions
    Former Senator Alan Simpson knows disturbingly little about Social Security and, indeed, history and math, especially for the guy who is the co-chair of the President Obama's budget commission.
  • Wikispecies: Free Species Directory
    From the Wikimedia foundation, Wikispecies is like Wikipedia, but for species. One entry for every species. They're up to 265,369 articles.
  • Wall Street Journal: Grandparents and Grandkids Connect Via Facebook, Twitter and Texting
    My grandfather kept up with his grandchildren—and we kept up with him—via Facebook until shortly before his death last year. My grandmother had photos and status updates cherry-picked from Facebook and e-mailed to her—delivered via her HP Presto e-mail printer—until her death last month. Of course, the ability to assign grandparents (and grandchildren) to a specific group to limit access is helpful, too—kids need not share everything with their elders.

Links for April 10th

  • Reuters: China tells U.S. to quit as human rights judge
    One of the perils of the U.S.'s decade-old habit of engaging in torture is that we can't pretend to be outraged when other countries do the same. We're a role model.
  • Wikipedia: Trailer (film)
    The MPAA caps the length of trailers at 2:30, though studios are allowed to break this rule with a single trailer each year. Trailers with a green background on the opening card are approved for all audiences (though, increasingly, for all audiences permitted to see the movie that's about to appear), while trailers with a red background on the opening card may only be shown before R, NC-17, or unrelated films.
  • The Washington Post: 27% of communication by members of Congress is taunting, professor concludes
    This is based on an analysis of press releases, a total of 64,000 of them sent out by U.S. Senators from 2005–2007. (So this does not include Representatives or comments made on the floor.) This is a great idea for a study.

Links for March 31st

  • Buzzfeed: 60 Completely Unusable Stock Photos
    It's difficult to know what these photographers were thinking. I can't envision a use for a photo of Hitler wearing a gingham dress, peeling potatoes.
  • The Guardian: Doctor in court after father’s 27-year fight for justice for dead daughter
    After this Frenchman's daughter was raped and murdered, Germany wouldn't extradite the accused murderer. Said German was recently kidnapped, trussed up, and deposited on the street in front of a courthouse in France. He's now awaiting trial in a French jail.
  • NBC-29: Obama pushes DNC chairman Kaine toward Senate bid
    The inevitable fourth step of Kaine's faux-coy slide into becoming a candidate for U.S. Senate: the president publicly urging him to run. Up next:Kaine's public statement that he takes very seriously the president's request, and that he's seriously considering doing so. Then, finally, the announcement that he's running, in which he says that part of why he's doing so is because the president really wants him to.

First thoughts on redistricting.

I’m getting home too late to provide much in the way of useful commentary, but I really want to point to the redistricting plans that became public this evening. Just one week before they’re due to be voted on, we’re all getting our first look at them. (To be fair, I thought odds were good that they wouldn’t be public at all prior to the vote, so it could be worse.) So far only senate and house districts are available—no official, detailed congressional lines are public yet—and there’s been no time for proper analysis. In a nutshell, Senate Democrats drew the lines that benefit them, and House Republicans drew the lines that benefit them. If any of those benefit us, that’s just a happy coincidence.

VPAP has crunched some numbers, although I recommend skipping the confusing default charts and using the scatterplots, which are a better way to visualize the proposed changes.

Where I live, things would stay the same. I’d remain in the 58th house district, represented by Republican Rob Bell, and I’d remain in the 25th senate district, represented by Democrat Creigh Deeds. The 58th ends up distending to the west rather a long way—clear over the mountains to to Elkton, within spitting distance of Massanutten—linking two utterly unrelated communities. And although I’m very happy having Creigh as my senator, I think the fact that I’m going to remain in his district highlights one of the many problems with redistrict as it’s practiced. The 25th is ridiculous, and the proposed 25th looks even more ridiculous. There’s just no way that it makes sense for a senator who lives in Bath County to represent Albemarle County. But much of his existing constituency is here, and his fellow Democrats in the senate aren’t about to change that.

My assumption is that the final district boundaries are going to look very much like—if not precisely like—what we see here. I’d love to hear from folks about how their own district is going to be affected. What about your new boundaries don’t make any sense? Is there anything that’s improved?

Links for February 22nd

Links for February 16th

  • Washington Post: Ex-rep. Perriello might run for U.S. Senate in Va. if Kaine doesn’t
    Good. Kaine is my first choice, for practical reasons, but Perriello is my second.
  • Library of Congress: Chronicling America
    The LoC has the complete contents of long-ago newspapers from all around Virginia, mostly from around the turn of the last century. The Richmond Planet, the Tazewell Republican, the Highland Recorder, The [Fredericksburg] Free Lance, the Clarke Courier—they've got it all.
  • Hayes Carll: KMAG YOYO
    One of my favorite musicians, country artist Hayes Carll, has a new album that does not disappoint. His prior release, "Trouble in Mind," was just brilliant, and I figured that his follow-up probably couldn't reach that bar. After listening to it a few times through, I think "KMAG YOYO" is every bit as good. (The title is a military acronym: "kiss my ass, guys—you're on your own.") Standouts include the title track, one of the few songs about the war in Afghanistan, and the very funny "Another Like You." If you're a fan of Todd Snider—who performs on this album—you'll like Hayes Carll. If you like country, but not the crap that's passed for country for the past twenty years, then you'll love him.

Good for Senator Webb.

James Webb, Through the Lens

You know what Congressman Tom Perriello should have done differently?

Nothing.

That’s basically how I feel about today’s news that Senator Jim Webb isn’t going to seek a second term. If Perriello had changed his votes or his message to appease the right, he wouldn’t be Perriello—he’d just be another pandering politician. Webb hated running for Senate, and has demonstrated a remarkable independence in his four years in office. Webb’s a guy who just like to get shit done, and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it, least of all campaigning about it. The biggest news about Webb yesterday—eclipsed by today’s announcement—was that he is reintroducing his prison reform bill. (I speculated two years ago that Webb was planning to be a single term senator, with his prison reform plan as Exhibit A.) I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Today is Jim Webb’s 65th birthday. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, either.

So good for Jim Webb for not running for reelection. In two years, he’ll be able to be “James Webb” again—I’m not sure that he’s thrilled with strangers calling him by the familiar “Jim”—and, between now and then, he gets to retain his total freedom to vote for what he wants, introduce bills that support whatever he wants, continue to ignore fundraising, and just generally be Jim Webb.

As is obligatory to acknowledge at this point, yes, a lot of people are bound to dip their toe into the water for this seat. Now that there won’t be an incumbent, we’ll probably see more Republicans stepping forward, perhaps acting as a relief valve for the 2013 gubernatorial election. On the Democratic side, potentials surely include everybody from the odious Terry McAuliffe to the recently defeated Tom Perriello. But I suspect that, if Tim Kaine enters the race, everybody else will step aside. I imagine there will be a little dance, in which Kaine weakly denies that he’s going to run, then has a well-publicized meeting with President Obama at the White House, then says he’s thinking about it, starts fundraising, and then makes it official. The key for Democrats is to get a candidate quickly, somebody who can fundraise like there’s no tomorrow, and that’s somebody who can destroy George Allen in November of 2012, especially with Obama on the ticket. Given Kaine’s longstanding personal relationship with the president and that he’s the chair of the DNC, it’s hard to envision a more suitable candidate than him.

A Kaine-Allen race? That would be great. I’m not sure Allen could get the nomination but, Lawd, I hope he does.

Robert Hurt, flaming liberal?

Sen. Robert Hurt has repeatedly accused Congressman Tom Perriello of being in the pocket of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi for voting with her 90% of the time, including just a few minutes ago, during their debate here in Charlottesville. Assuming that statistic is (I have no idea), I thought I’d run a quick comparison of Hurt’s own voting record.

I compared four years of the votes cast by Hurt in the state senate (in which he is the most conservative member) to those cast by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (in which she is the most liberal member).

Sen. Hurt and Sen. Whipple voted the same way 1,833 times out of 2,342 shared votes, or 78% of the time. And they’re members of the opposite party—the two farthest-apart members of the senate!

For a comparison more like what Hurt is lobbing at Perriello, I looked at the farthest-left Republican in the senate, Sen. Fred Quayle. Hurt and Quayle voted identically 87% of the time.

The point of this isn’t to say that Hurt is a Democrat. The point is that calculating batting averages like this is meaningless. Votes that survive the committee process to finally get a floor vote tend strongly to pass. The point of the committee process is to weed out the bills that aren’t likely to pass; the ones that make it to the floor are ones that most members agree on. Knowing that Perriello and Pelosi vote together 90% of the time tells us absolutely nothing. Hurt must know that, having served in the General Assembly for eight years. It’s disappointing to me that he keeps claiming that statistic means something, when obviously it does not.