Monthly Two Cents

Walking A Dangerous, Fine Line

by Toni Radler

The race between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin is razor-thin. In some polls, it’s tied. And so, what if Youngkin wins the governor’s mansion? Well, it will be a disaster for Virginia and the nation.

I started making a list, trying to put the most serious losses first. Initially, I thought the most detrimental issues would be health care and a women’s right to choose. After all, more than 500,000 Virginians were able to receive health care after a Democratic legislature and Governor closed the Medicaid gap, enabling the working poor to be enrolled in the Affordable Care Act. Under a Youngkin governorship, tragically, that would be reversed. What about a woman’s right to choose? Youngkin has already said he supports the Texas version of denying abortion for any reason including incest and rape. Make way for the Virginia version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

As I was trying to think of the third most grievous loss, I realized that even more disastrous to the citizens of Virginia would be the loss of our voting rights, the very basis of democracy. The way Georgia has set up a win for Trump in the next presidential election is that if the Georgia Republican legislature doesn’t like the outcome of the vote, they can reverse it. Voters be damned! The Georgia legislature can pick the winner of its choice. That’s not democracy. It’s Putin’s way and the way of other dictatorships/oligarchies in the world.

Then, I finally realized that as bad as all these outcomes would be, the worst outcome if Youngkin wins is that Trump will be able to proclaim to all that he turned a blue state red. And his stranglehold on the Republican Party would be set in stone for decades to come. Don’t let Virginia be the domino that falls. It’s not hyperbole to talk about fascism if Trumpism takes over. Let’s do everything we can to hold the line and keep Virginia blue. Vote and call your Democratic friends and ask them to get out and vote. Explain how important it is to vote for a straight Democratic ticket. Youngkin is a Trump Mini-Me. He will do everything he can to follow the Trump catechism to the letter. Please, let’s work as hard as we can to keep our state out of the hands of Trump and his Mini-Me.

MONTHLY TWO CENTS

For our October Two Cents, we are reprinting Rachel Levy's response to a candidate Q&A on the 55th House District from the Mechanicsville Local. It's long, so we're including only a portion of it to avoid being identified as spam by mail servers. Read the whole interview here (paywall may occur).

A few words about why you decided to seek or continue public service. What motivates you to serve and why are you seeking election, re-election to the General Assembly?

Levy: First, the combination of my engagement in local and state government matters, volunteering with campaigns, and my life’s work in improving public education made me realize that public service is my passion and my calling. Even when I finished my PhD, my first choice of a job wasn’t to be an academic but to continue to be a public servant. I ended up back in the classroom, as a teacher, and it’s been immensely valuable to me as someone who spent years studying education policy, school governance, and school finance. Because what can happen to people who go into research, policy, and administration is that they can forget what it is to be on the receiving end of policies they recommend, create, and promote. But I know what it’s like on the ground—I experience it every day. And that perspective is sorely needed in the General Assembly.

Second, an important lesson I’ve learned from being a teacher about being a good representative and legislator is that I keep in mind that every student of mine is someone’s child and worthy of respect and dignity. I care about my students and their learning unconditionally.

Central Virginia, including Hanover, is experiencing a lack of broadband access. How can the General Assembly assist localities in solving these issues and how would you address the problem of underserved areas?

Levy: Voters across the board in the 55th, and especially in the rural areas, are disappointed with the lack of progress on broadband access. For some people, it’s the issue they care the most about. I hear of so many broken promises and false starts—the situation with internet access is not only a technical problem, it’s undermining our faith in our governing bodies and elected officials. First, I operate under the premise that high-speed internet should be treated as a public utility, just like running water and electricity. Pandemic or no pandemic, access to high-speed internet is vital to the teaching and learning process, to sustaining small businesses and economic development, to supporting residents who telecommute, and to access to virtual healthcare options. I support increasing funding to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative to defray costs of broadband access.

I also support compelling electric utility companies in the 55th to do their part to provide broadband access and subsidizing internet access costs. Between the federal infrastructure bill, Governor Northam’s commitment to spending $700 million on a statewide initiative to bring high-speed internet across the Commonwealth, and localities’, including Hanover’s, new plans to address the lack of broadband access, it seems we have the will and the funding to make this happen. However, I pledge to go beyond pronouncements to tackle working out the logistics and building the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet access. One idea I am very interested in exploring further is that of a public broadband utility that would be a partnership between local governments, broadband authority entities, and electric cooperatives. Private telecommunications companies have not deemed it profitable to install fiber optic cable to households in rural areas, nor are the services they provide affordable for residents, even for those who are willing to share costs. Hence, we need some sort of municipal-provided internet options that can work or compete with the private providers.

Although transportation funding has increased as regions search for alternative funding for new roads and infrastructure, it’s still the top priority in many areas. How would you increase state funds to address local transportation issues?

Levy: I am well aware that the state has slowly decreased funding for roads in recent years and has left localities holding the bag. That needs to be reversed as it not only impacts roads and transportation initiatives but ultimately has a negative impact on funding for other local services. Otherwise, I support the establishment of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority that was created, how it’s funded, and other entities like it—it’s a step in the right direction and a great model. I also support greater state funding for expanding public transportation options such as rail, buses, and vans, and for expanding infrastructure that supports walking and biking. Finally, we need to better fund the greatest public transportation system we have in the 55th District: our school buses! The state needs to support modernizing to an electric school bus fleet, which would be less polluting and healthier for our students, and to support compensating our school bus drivers fairly and competitively. Federal infrastructure monies could and should be allocated towards such initiatives.

With a massive influx of federal money directed at towns and localities, some are saying this is the perfect time to address long-term issues like transportation, improved broadband, stormwater management. What are your priorities for the state and local funds headed our way from Washington?

Levy: Yes, I agree that federal funds coming our way should be used to provide access to high-speed internet to all residents and to bolster current transportation needs to expand public transportation options. As to stormwater management, as with transportation and in some cases education, there are well-intentioned state-issued mandates and requirements, but with inadequate funding to meet them. Unfortunately, SLAF (Stormwater Local Assistance Funds) are not sufficient to meet stormwater management goals and more funding is needed. I think that filling the gaps in stormwater management funding would be a great use of federal infrastructure funding. Funding stormwater management may be expensive, but as we’ve seen in the past few years, preventing flooding disasters is cheaper than recovering from them.

Is there an affordable housing issue in the 55th District? How would you address the lack of affordable housing and why do we hear so little about this subject?

Levy: Yes, there is an affordable housing issue in the 55th. It’s an issue throughout the Commonwealth. Too many people in the 55th are spending more than the recommended 30% of their income for housing. It’s a crisis. A few solutions I’m considering:

1. Tax code reform. Because of the way our tax code and financing for services such as public schools is structured, we are too reliant on property taxes and values. There’s disincentive on localities to have affordable housing. We need to fix that.

2. Expanded rent and mortgage assistance for those in need. We’re in the midst of an eviction crisis. But simply having a moratorium is not the answer; we need to provide direct assistance to those in need due to no fault of their own so that rent and mortgages are actually paid and not simply delayed.

3. More competitive compensation for working and middle-class workers. It’s a chicken or the egg thing. Let me explain: Habitat for Humanity housing is now being offered to public school teachers. I’m a public school teacher. I have a master’s degree (I have a doctorate, in fact)—I should not be eligible for Habitat housing! I should be compensated competitively in the first place so that I can afford housing at market rates.

4. Expand and diversify housing options by providing more housing options in already developed areas including repurposing unoccupied malls and strip malls.

As to your second question, I hear a TON about this subject and have since I can remember. But I am a public school teacher in the district, a local advocate for the past ten years who goes to community meetings, and a candidate (and volunteer for previous campaigns) who has knocked on hundreds of doors and made hundreds of phone calls. If people feel like they haven’t heard about this issue, I would suggest they consider who they are listening to because this issue affects many citizens in the 55th district.

List three pressing issues facing 55th District residents and localities and how you would address those issues.

Levy: 1. Broadband access! We must treat high-speed internet as a public utility, just like we do running water and electricity.

2. Over-development and encroachment on rural communities and mitigation from the impact of climate change. I plan to focus on protecting historic and vulnerable rural communities such as Brown Grove in the 55th District. I support facilitating more housing options in already developed areas including repurposing unoccupied malls and strip malls. I will explore different possibilities for establishing protective trusts for rural land. I also support expanding public transportation options such as rail, buses, and vans, and expanding infrastructure that supports walking and biking. And I will find ways to connect rural landowners with innovative ways of living off of their land such as the production of bio-friendly products.

3. In majority rural communities, public democratic institutions like our public schools are popular and shared spaces. Everyone’s got a stake in them. Across the board in the 55th, I see the need for more state funding and resources for public services: public schools, public safety, the courts, and legal services, social services, healthcare services, transportation, and parks and recreation. These are services that touch ALL of us, that we all use and share. When these institutions are stronger and better resourced with public servants who are compensated fairly and competitively, then our communities will be stronger.

Do you think K-12 education in Virginia is adequately funded, and how can Virginia increase the state contribution to localities for education?

Levy: The state does not fulfill its funding obligations to our public schools. As a longtime teacher and educational leader with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy, I have a rare combination of policy expertise and practical classroom experience. I will work to make our public education system stronger and more equitable for everyone. Investments in our educational institutions are investments in our students and investments in our future. I support: Making sure the Commonwealth fully meets its educational funding obligations; raising the salaries of teachers and ALL other K-12 public school staffers including non-SOQ-funded positions; bringing the SOQs (Standards of Quality) in line with what it takes to properly educate our kids and fully funding any state-issued mandates; and. a state grant program for funding school infrastructure and facilities to modernize Virginia’s crumbling school buildings.

One way to fund this is tax reform so that the Commonwealth is accessing every viable and reasonable source of revenue possible while removing some of the burdens on the working and middle classes.

Do you support free community college for all Virginians, and why?

Levy: Yes. We must reverse disinvestment in our institutions of higher and continuing education and take the financial burden of Virginia’s students and their families. I supported Governor Northam’s program to make community college free for students who pursue degrees in high-demand fields, and I think it should be expanded to be universal and not limited to certain degrees or income thresholds. People say that community college shouldn’t be free for higher-income individuals, but they pay taxes, too, and should get the same benefits the rest of the public does.

Do you support the continuation of Medicaid Expansion in Virginia? Why or why not?

Levy: Yes, Medicaid Expansion helped an unbelievable number of Virginians. Providing healthcare lays such a solid foundation for everything else. I believe that healthcare is a human right and that no one should have to go into debt to preserve their or their loved ones’ health or lives. Students in families with access to healthcare come to school ready to learn. When young adults have healthcare, then they have the freedom to be entrepreneurs or take on dream jobs. When middle-aged people have healthcare, they can take better care of their children and their elders. I will work to ensure that we all have access to healthcare and that healthcare, treatments, and medications are affordable. As a mother of a child with Type 1 diabetes and a child with other disabilities, I know how important it is that ALL Virginians have access to the medications they need and access to health providers when they need them. I support broadening access to Medicaid by expanding eligibility. That being said, we must also expand provider capacity, especially for the provision of behavioral and mental health and medical disability services. Having health insurance doesn’t help if there are not enough providers to meet healthcare needs.

Stay United!


by Daniel McGraw

It may be a cliché, but “stronger together” is a reality. This past year has been very challenging for parents, students, coworkers, healthcare professionals, hospitality staff, educators, first responders and more. Implementing political campaigns has been difficult. Little has changed in the world. However, nothing feels quite the same.
Many of our community leaders have worked tirelessly to inform the public about new developments, social justice concerns and decisions of elected officials. We need to continue to stay engaged and stay connected to one another.

Recently, at an NAACP meeting, I heard the words, “Stay United!” And, a part of me wanted to challenge that statement … shouldn’t we hold people accountable, shouldn’t we have the difficult conversations, … shouldn’t we … (YES! The answer is “yes.”)

What we should not do is destroy our relationships with people who are fighting the good fight and doing the right things. In times like this, we need to build each other up. We need to recognize the good things that members of our community are doing. Certainly, things could be better. That is why we keep fighting the good fight. Stay United!
If we have achieved success, if we have reached a level of financial independence, if we have gained something in life, then it is our obligation to use that knowledge to lift up our peers. Each of us is doing our part. We do not know what everyone is going through in their own lives. But, we do know that they matter. You matter, I matter; we all can make a difference.

I was pleased to see leaders from colleges hold educational meetings about race, gender and equity. It was inspiring to watch social media pics of prominent members of our society hold vaccination rallies. There are no words to describe the people who collected school supplies and food products to put into backpacks so that EVERY child felt loved and appreciated on the first day of school.

There are so many things that people are doing and so much more than can be done. I have not participated in everything. There is not enough time in the day to do it all. But, together, if we “Stay United,” we can achieve so much more.

Certainly, elections have consequences. We know this. Our actions have consequences, as well. Let’s make the most each day by doing the good work! Being a Democrat is a badge of honor that many of us wear with pride. We stand for justice, and many times we are standing against tyranny. When I think of the many men and women who sacrificed everything in order to be certain that their families and our parents and all the children of the United States can attend the same schools, live on the same streets and drink from the same water fountain, I swell up with immense pride.

While my part may be small, it is still significant. Maybe you are doing more, maybe you are doing less; together we are making a difference. We are all contributing to the legacy of people like James Baldwin and John Lewis. We honor their memories when we “Stay United.” There are going to be many battles (minute and ostensible) in the upcoming months. Please, contribute what you can. Do the things that are right, and please, please, please “Stay United.”

Rachel Levy (candidate for HoD 55th District) and Stan Scott (candidate for HoD 97th District) are doing tremendous work! They are at events, talking with voters, and they are creating a stir. Their social media accounts are extremely active. And, what is most amazing (for them) is these are just normal days. They have always been active and fighting the good fights. Now, their rivals are starting to take notice. Don’t let their misinformation confuse us. Don’t let fear blind us from what is right. It is okay to get “into some good trouble.”

A few days ago, I saw a post from Arthur Brill. He was capturing a moment at the nation’s capital where people were gathered to remember the many people who had died needlessly by people who had sworn an oath to serve and protect them. He was including his Ashland Peace Project in the moment, to generate conversation and bring light to some dark moments in our history. The topic of “Black Lives Matter” (or any other reminder about injustice) should not be controversial. When a member of our society is hurting, it is our responsibility to provide comfort or to provide support; it is not our place to find fault in their logic.

When my 85-year-old grandmother collapsed into my 12-year-old arms in 1986 during her stroke, I was not thinking about why this was happening or how she could have prevented it, or what was happening to other grandmothers in the world. I was only thinking about bringing her comfort and (hopefully) having her in my life a little while longer. I am certain that everyone has a story, a painful/joyful memory. If we “Stay United,” we will each be able to share our story just a little while longer.

Comp Plan — The General Guides the Specific

by Pattie Bland, Chair, Coalition for Hanover’s Future

Hanover County is currently embarking on its 2022 Comprehensive Land Use Plan review and update, a process that occurs every five years.

This strategic planning is vital in assessing development trends and planning for future growth. As a general guide, the Comp Plan provides a framework for how Hanover will grow, laying out aspirations for how much and where the County will expand in residential, commercial, industrial and rural areas. In short, the County takes stock of its land-use planning and policies every five years in order to manage growth. So much for stilted, sober-sounding statements about the nature of the Comp Plan.

As a general guide, it plays out in specific ways and is sometimes too loosely interpreted. If any of the following seem jarring, then Hanover’s Comp Plan probably needs more specificity in its goals and objectives:

• Scoured, timbered landscapes
• Gouged ground for massive stormwater structures
• Large residential tracts with negligible green space or pocket parks
• Bucolic settings giving way to impervious surface
• Multi-pump gas station/convenience stores cropping up at quiet crossroads
• Incompatible juxtaposition of zonings (e.g., distribution centers adjacent to residences)
• Commercial creep along scenic corridors
• "Anywhere, USA" commercial development
• Increasing traffic volume and cut-through traffic on narrow backroads
• Semi-rural or rural tracts subdivided into quilt squares of six-acre turf patches Because our Comp Plan says volumes about our values, it needs to speak the best message of stewardship.

Land has intrinsic value; it must not be viewed only as a commodity. We need to work with the land in a responsible way that supports a good quality of life for its citizens. It is not the task of Hanover County government alone to chart the future. All stakeholders, meaning citizens, County officials and business interests, should join in community planning, even though a collaborative philosophy has never been a salient feature of the Comp Plan update process.

Since its establishment in 2006, the Coalition for Hanover’s Future has advocated for citizen education and participation in land use planning. Because whether land-use decisions are good or poor, citizens will reap the consequences. Be involved in decision-making. Communicate with your elected and appointed officials. Contribute your ideas for a better Hanover County. Our future should not be just handed to us.

My Two CentS: Critical Race Theory

by John Schuiteman

Dan McGraw spoke about Critical Race Theory in our last newsletter and I think it’s a topic worthy of further discussion. CRT is both simple and complicated and I doubt if many people will ever fully understand the debate. Here’s my take.

CRT is an approach to the problem of racism where racism is defined as what Whites as a group have done to Blacks as a group (and other persons of color), rather than what some racist White individual(s) have said or done to discriminate against some Black individual(s).

CRT advocates focus on all the things Whites have done to Blacks (past or present) in order to keep Blacks poorly-educated, poverty-stricken, living in fractured neighborhoods and isolated from good transportation, good jobs and access to community resources. They refer to these policy or legal decisions as systemic or structural racism. There is plenty of evidence that White people have done these things (see the book “Slavery by Another Name” by Douglas A. Blackmon).

An underlying theme of extreme CRT advocates is that all races are basically the same but White people have kept Black people down and hence White people are to blame for any power differentials between these two groups. White people are culpable, and the most recent and dramatic evidence is the killing of unarmed Black people by White police officers. Such culpability underscores the belief by some CRT advocates that reparation payments should be made to our Black citizens.

Things have improved for Blacks since the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, of course, yet extreme CRT advocates don’t talk much about the millions of Black citizens who have risen into the professions and the middle-class. They generally opt to see Blacks as victims, ignore the significantly higher rate of violent crime in lower-income Black neighborhoods, and don’t think the violent attacks against law enforcement during last year’s BLM protests are worth investigating. Republicans love to bring up these omissions.

Republicans don’t want CRT taught in our primary or secondary schools because it contains the implicit assumption that White people are to blame and that if you are White person, you should feel some responsibility for the ailments of Black people. They see an innocent White boy or girl made to feel guilty or ashamed just because they have White skin. Republicans are making some sense here but I also subscribe to Michael Paul Williams’ (Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist) statement that “to suppress or chill classroom discussion about systemic racism so as to protect the feelings of White students or their parents is the epitome of white privilege.”

So the big question we are left with is: When exactly and how is it that White children will or should be informed about the many actions White people have taken to keep Blacks in second class citizenship?