Monthly Two Cents

My Two Cents: Protecting the Ballot

by Steven Johnson

I’m tired. You’re tired. Were all tired. We’ve been through a ceaseless stream of elections that would have been emotionally draining even in non-pandemic times.

But there’s no rest for the weary. Not this year. Not when the right to vote is involved.

We have some terrific candidates for the General Assembly this year. Rachel Levy will represent our party proudly on the ballot this year and we need to make sure we do everything we can do to support her, and possibly flip a seat in the House of Delegates.

We cannot lose control of the House of Delegates this year. Right now, Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage, but that is tenuous at best.

Just look to our north in House District, which encompasses parts of Stafford and Prince William counties. Democrat Candi King just won a special election by 263 votes to fill Jennifer Carrol Foy’s vacated seat. Jennifer won that by more than 4,000 votes in 2019.

Little wonder, then, that elections analyst Chaz Nuttycombe sees the House as “a pure toss-up.”

What’s at stake? Education, the environment, health care … all issues that we care about. We will work hard to keep the governor’s mansion so those issues remain a priority (no Senate this year).

But if Republicans gain control of the Virginia House of Delegates, we know they will have a different to-do list — measures to control ballot access.

Many of us watched as Republican lawmakers in Georgia fast-tracked a 95-page bill to change voting procedures in the Peach State; most importantly, giving the GOP-controlled legislature the ability to override county election boards. President Biden called the actions a new form of Jim Crow even as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said the bill would better secure a vote than was never proven to be unsecure.

That’s just one battleground. As of February, the nonprofit Brennan Center reported state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states, including five bills in Virginia. 

For instance, HB 2205 would repeal a provision that enables any person who is qualified to register to vote to do so up to and including on the day of the election, regardless of the close of the registration records provided elsewhere in law.

Its author is House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, and it’s a sure bet that the bill would gain traction should Gilbert become majority leader or speaker. It’s just as certain the GOP would look to undo Virginia legislation to open up absentee voting and provide a strict review of local election changes that discriminate against minorities.

We have to be vigilant about ballot access. The GOP is trying to set the stage for sweeping changes later with reasonable-sounding proposals today, like Gilbert’s bid to require the state Department of Elections to purge voter rolls of deceased people every week, instead of every month. We know what will follow. Georgia is proof. Sen. Jen McClellan says Virginia is the first state in the South to proactively protect the right to vote. Let’s mobilize to make sure we keep control of the House of Delegates this year and safeguard that right.

Here’s a shocker: the U.S. economy fares better under Democratic administrations


By Gordon Silver

In the lead-up to every election, Republicans are usually credited with being the party more likely to be good stewards of the economy. However, the data does not support this assumption.

Historically, the economy has fared far better under Democratic administrations.

This flies in the face of what the sensible answer might seem to be: It’s probably been similar. Presidents, after all, have only limited control over the economy. They don’t have much influence over the millions of decisions every day, made by consumers and business executives, that shape economic growth, jobs, incomes and stock prices. Over the course of a century, it seems logical that the economy would have performed similarly under Democrats and Republicans.

But it has not! And here is a ranking of presidents by average annual G.D.P. growth according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Chart, funnel chart

Description automatically generated


The gap exists not only for G.D.P. and jobs but also for incomes, productivity, and stock prices. The gap also exists if you assume that a president’s policies affect the economy with a lag and doesn’t start for several months after he takes office. Virtually any reasonable look at the data shows a big Democratic advantage.

What are the potential reasons for this? A few possibilities are easy to reject. It’s not about congressional control, nor is it about Democrats running up larger budget deficits. (Republican presidents have run up larger deficits in recent decades.)

Coincidence surely plays some role — but it’s highly unlikely to account for the entire gap, given its size, breadth and duration.

Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories were opposite and competing ideas from the 1920’s.

John Maynard Keynes proposed a macroeconomic economic theory of total spending in the economy and its effects on output, employment, and inflation. Based on his theory, Keynes advocated for increased government expenditures and lower taxes to stimulate demand and pull the global economy out of the depression.

Friedrich Hayek believed that the prosperity of society was driven by creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation, which were possible only in a society with free markets.

The Republican Party is generally considered business-friendly and in favor of limited government regulation of the economy, follows the Hayekian theory. This means favoring policies that put business interests ahead of environmental concerns, labor union interests, healthcare benefits and retirement benefits. Given this more pro-business bias, Republicans tend to receive support from business owners and investment capitalists, as opposed to support from labor. The Republican approach to governing is often referred to as “trickle-down economics”.

The Democratic Party follows the Keynesian theories and is generally considered more willing to intervene in the economy, subscribing to the belief that government power is needed to regulate businesses that ignore social interests in the pursuit of earning a return for shareholders. This intervention can come in the form of regulation (such as limits on carbon emissions) or taxation to support social programs. Opponents often describe the Democratic approach to governing as "tax and spend."

Republican presidents have been slow to respond to recessions and other crises — Donald Trump and both George Bushes being examples. (Herbert Hoover was too, and the partisan gap would be even bigger if the data went back far enough to include him.)

Recent Democratic presidents have been more pragmatic, willing to listen to the evidence about when the economy would benefit from deficit reduction and when it needs government support for education, infrastructure, scientific research and more.

Republican presidents over the past 40 years have pursued one economic policy above all other — tax cuts, skewed heavily toward the affluent — and there is little evidence that they do much for economic growth. This philosophy is the extraordinary belief that the wealthiest people will somehow work for the benefit of us all.

Of course, individual politicians might disagree with their party on how to manage the economy. Still, knowing their party affiliation can suggest which approach they might take in influencing the economy. The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

FEBRUARY TWO CENTS - THE NOTORIOUS RVG

By Jen Chambers

Three amigos from Central Virginia — Jen Chambers, Christiane Riederer, our fearless driver, and Lorna Charlton (aka Thelma, Louise and Coffee) — assisted with voter registration, awareness and getting out the vote both in key states prior to the November election and in Georgia for the Senate run-off by bringing a big lavender RV to locally organized events.  

This article explains the mission and how it was adapted for the pandemic, the progress made on the three trips and the local organizations and events that reached voters. Thank you to Dan McGraw for asking us to share our journey and being our cheering squad to welcome us back to the Center of the Universe!

It's long, so please take the time to download the PDF from here: The_Notorious_RVG.pdf

SUPPORT ELECTED SCHOOL BOARDS

By James Doran

Back in December 2012, I had my first introduction to Hanover County politics. With the school board seat for my district coming up for appointment in 2013, I decided to reach out to the person that would be doing the appointing — Cold Harbor Supervisor Elton Wade. When I talked to Elton about throwing my hat in the ring, he was nice enough on the phone and agreed to meet with me after the holidays. 

That meeting never occurred. The reason it didn’t occur is that the next issue of the Mechanicsville Local featured a story about Norman Sulser and how he thought he had a  “handshake “ deal with Elton dating back 20 years and should be appointed to the school board as his reward. Elton said he didn’t remember making that agreement, but went with Norm’s word and appointed him in June 2013. As you might imagine, that experience left a sour taste in my mouth and made me wonder why Hanover appoints its school board members rather than elects them.

Roughly eight years later, I’m still convinced that an elected school board is in the best interest of the citizens of Hanover County. More importantly, I’m convinced that an elected school board is in the best interests of the 17,000 schoolchildren in Hanover. I ran for the Board of Supervisors seat in Cold Harbor in 2019 and one of the main reasons was that position currently appoints the school board member from our district. I’m not pushing for an elected school board with designs on running for it myself. I want the citizens in Hanover to have more of a say in who makes these decisions.

A brief history lesson on appointed school boards in Virginia, courtesy of the ACLU of Virginia. In a report dated in 2009, they stated:

Appointed school boards are part of the legacy of Virginia’s post-Reconstruction period, during which the state’s white leaders sought to limit the political influence of African Americans. It culminated in the infamous Constitutional Convention of 1901, which was devoted to codifying Jim Crow practices. At that well-documented gathering, Virginia’s leading statesmen amended the Constitution to require literacy tests and poll taxes and reinstituted felon disfranchisement. They also rejected attempts to allow elected school boards in Virginia.

Between 1918 and 1927, four separate state legislative studies concluded that appointed school boards should be abandoned in favor of elected school boards. But the General Assembly refused to follow the recommendations and continued to ban school board elections.

In 1947, the General Assembly finally capitulated to the wishes of Arlington County by passing a law permitting that one jurisdiction to elect its school board members. But even this refreshing turnabout had a distressing ending. In 1956, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Arlington’s school board voted to integrate the school system. The General Assembly reacted immediately by repealing the law allowing elected school boards in Arlington.

In 1987, the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s ban on elected school boards as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU demonstrated that African Americans were significantly underrepresented in many of the jurisdictions with large African American populations.

The ACLU lost their case, but in the process exposed the shamefully racist philosophy that spawned appointed school boards in Virginia and then nurtured them for an additional 90 years.

Several years after the ACLU lawsuit, in 1992, the General Assembly finally voted to allow elected school boards. The bill was signed into law by Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
Since jurisdictions were given the opportunity for elected school boards in 1992, 114 of the 135 localities in Virginia have made the switch. Hanover County is the largest school division that still appoints its school board members. It is also the only one in the entire Richmond region to do so.

Speaking specifically on policy issues that have come before the school board recently, the case for an elected board is made stronger. The first instance is the school board’s insistence on keeping the names of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson on the high school and middle school in the eastern part of the county. 

The board voted in 2018 to keep the names. One of the two board members that wanted to change the names (Marla Coleman) was not reappointed to her seat when it came up in 2019. Her vote was the reason Supervisor Sean Davis replaced her with George Sutton.

Later in 2018, the local chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the county to try and get the county to change the names. Rather than come to some sort of compromise with the NAACP, the school board decided to use county taxpayer dollars to fight the lawsuit. In early 2020, the lawsuit was dismissed by a like-minded judge and the NAACP was planning to appeal. 

During this time, there were two unplanned vacancies on the school board, and new appointments needed to be made. These two new members, as well as the members from the Ashland and Chickahominy districts, voted to finally change the names in a 4-3 vote. Promptly after the vote was taken, both supervisors that had appointed the new members expressed their displeasure in a public board meeting, wishing that the names had remained the same. That this was even an issue still being discussed in 2020 is a frustrating reality in Hanover.

Another issue that came before the school board in 2020 was the establishment of an equity policy. The equity community advisory board had done a great deal of work in coming up with the policy, incorporating language from similar policies around the commonwealth. When it came time to vote to adopt the policy, the school board struck out the most important section of the policy and replaced it with watered-down language. I’ll let you be the judge — here’s the section as it was planned by the equity board:

 “To that end, the division superintendent and all employees will create a barrier-free (positive) educational experience for all students, that accepts and acknowledges their individuality based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, cognitive/physical/emotional abilities, English language fluency, gender religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and other personal characteristics."

And here’s what that section was changed to by the school board during a meeting:

 “To that end, the division superintendent and all employees will create a positive educational experience for all students. “
This change was done without any prior knowledge given to the public, without hearing any public comment on the change, and without any pushback from the school administration. I’ll never forget the defeated looks on the faces of those that had come to the meeting to advocate for the equity policy that they thought was going to be approved.

A recent survey conducted by the HDC asked our members if they favored an elected school board. Of those that responded to the question with a  “Yes “ or  “No,” 93% stated their preference for an elected board while 7% preferred appointed.

The process for getting a school board changed from appointed to elected seems simple but it will be a lot of work. We need to gather the signatures of 10% of registered voters in Hanover County by July 14. That’s 8,000 signatures based on this past year’s voter rolls. 

If we are successful in getting the necessary number of signatures, then the question  “Should Hanover County change its method of school board member assignment from appointed to elected?” will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. We have already received a commitment from over 60 volunteers that will be collecting signatures when and where they can, given the current state of the pandemic. 

We’re hopeful that by late spring, there will be the ability to gather many signatures at various events in the county. If you’d like to help, please let me know by emailing me at jpdoran1@yahoo.com or call/text 804-514-7297. 

Thanks for your time!

GROWING OUR PARTY

By Rachel Levy

Did “defund the police” and “socialism” scare some Democratic voters away from voting? I do not see any evidence that that happened, nor, frankly, do I see any evidence that any Democrats actually ran on those concepts. From what I saw, Democrats ran on our issues, not by reacting to a Republican caricature of Venezuela socialism. What is important to Democratic success vis a vis messaging in future elections? 1. Running a campaign that speaks to constituents in the district Democratic candidates are going to represent. 2. Addressing issues that will make constituents' lives and communities better. 3. Ensuring that all Democratic and potentially Democratic voters who are eligible to vote can and do.

The Democratic Party is a sum of its parts, and we are a big-tent party. This inclusiveness is one advantage we hold over the Republican Party which has been captured by far-right xenophobia. But a big tent means that not all candidates are going to appeal to all Democrats across the country. Democrats should run on doing work and championing policies that will make people’s lives better, starting with the most vulnerable in our communities, and which policies those are may differ between districts. And we must present those in succinct and accessible talking points. More just, equitable policies and programs and services and public democratic institutions do not mean the more privileged give up anything; it means we all win. What is good for the most vulnerable among us, is good for all of us. If their rights are protected, if their needs are met, then the needs of the less vulnerable will be met as well. That is not an ism, that is not a message, that is good politics. Such an approach will also grow our local Democratic committees.

Finally, all the fine-tuned, compelling, succinct messaging means nothing if we do not work actively to protect people’s sacred right to vote and if we do not do what it takes to get out the vote. This means supporting legislation that fulfills the idea that voting is a right, not a privilege—making it easier and faster to vote; being vigilant against anti-democratic forces who seek to suppress the right to vote, particularly of BIPOC and younger voters; getting out the vote with urgency; and, finally, giving reluctant voters compelling reason to vote in the first place, i.e., championing and communicating support of policies that will make their lives better.