It’s a day late, but Happy Thanksgiving

I know it’s a day late, but I spent yesterday traveling up to Philly to visit family (a six hour roundtrip) and wanted to make the most of the day while there. I therefore wanted to take some time today to say Happy Thanksgiving.

While there were many Virginia politicians who sent out Thanksgiving messages that talked about community and being with loved ones (Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sen. Tim Kaine, Del. John Bell, Del. Kaye Kory, Supervisor candidate Ken Boddye, and Delegate candidate Dan Helmer, just to name a few), I couldn’t help but notice Donald Trump claimed he was most thankful for — wait for it — himself.

I’m proud of some of the accomplishments I’ve made this year, but that’s definitely not what I’m most thankful for. Being able to play with my three and five year old nephews yesterday and meeting my first cousin, once removed (my cousin’s two week old baby son) provided a prime example of why I’m thankful. I have a family who’s been a fabulous source of support and the texts I received from friends yesterday reminded me of how lucky I am to have an amazing group of people surrounding me on a daily basis.

Fortunately, this won’t be just a one day reminder as we enter into the holiday season. I’m heading back up to Philly for a work related event (Americans for Democratic Action is holding its post-election summit up there) and I’ll get to celebrate Hanukkah with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Of course, there’s also a slew of holiday parties that are already scheduled for the next month or so.

Spending time with friends and family over the next few weeks will be extremely important, but that doesn’t mean politics won’t be getting its proper attention as well. With Virginia’s General Assembly convening on January 9th, legislators are already preparing for session and I am too. I’ll be spending several weeks down in Richmond as the legislature is meeting and am already working with my organization’s members, leaders from other community groups, and members of the General Assembly from both parties to help identify priorities for session.

It looks like legislation preventing discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity in public housing and employment will come up again this year. And ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment has also already received constant attention (including a bus tour by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and other community leaders). If the General Assembly were to support the ERA, Virginia would be the state to push it across the finish line by becoming the 38th state to ratify the amendment and add gender equality to the Constitution. These are just a few of the issues that are likely to come up this year.

What this all means is this will be a busy time of year as we combine spending time with family with doing what we can to improve the community.

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County Level Races Starting to Take Shape for 2019

john cookWe’re continuing to see new developments in local races as John Cook has announced that he won’t seek another term representing the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Cook was first elected back in 2009 in a special election to fill Sharon Bulova’s seat after she was elected Chair and is one of only two Republicans currently on the 10 member board (Pat Herrity is the other one).

The announcement comes only a few days after James Walkinshaw, who currently serves as Rep. Gerry Connolly’s chief of staff, announced he’ll be running for the seat. I’ve known James since I first became involved in politics back in the early 2000’s and, while he’s definitely a strong Democrat, I’ve seen his ability to reach across party lines when it’s necessary to build coalitions. I therefore wasn’t surprised at all when he quickly thanked Cook for his service.

“I want to thank John Cook for his dedicated service to our community,” James said in a tweet. “As I have said to him myself, I know he is a fundamentally decent person who cares about our community. He’s devoted many late nights and long hours to this job, and I have tremendous respect for that.”

Assuming Walkinshaw wins the Democratic nomination (and I believe that’s a safe bet as a lot of prominent elected officials and Democratic activists in Fairfax are already announcing their support), recent election results suggest he has a good chance of flipping the seat to Democratic hands. Sen. Tim Kaine won the district with 70 percent of the vote and Gerry Connolly won with 68 percent during the midterm elections earlier this month. That being said, he might not be the only knew voice on the Board after next November.

The Washington Post’s reporting that Sharon Bulova will be using the Thanksgiving holiday to sit down with her family and discuss whether or not she’ll seek a third term as Chair. She’s been on the Board since 1988 and chair since 2009, so this would be a huge change. It could also lead to even more developments as Supervisor Jeff McKay is likely to run for Chair if Bulova doesn’t. Bulova’s made it clear she’d endorse him if she doesn’t run and McKay has said “it’s very likely [he’ll] be making an announcement shortly after” Bulova announces a decision about her reelection.

The Springfield District is also a race that’s also being watched very closely. Pat Herrity is facing a challenge from Democrat Linda Sperling (interestingly, both of them live in the neighborhood I grew up in — Little Rocky Run, which is literally right across the street from Centreville High School). I first met Pat when he was visiting friends of his who lived next door to me and have always liked him as a person, but his politics aren’t a great fit for the district anymore. This race will come down to whether or not the personal connections he’s made with the community are enough to overcome Linda Sperling being great on the issues. It’ll be even more difficult when you consider she also already has a great network of supporters and relationships with the community.

What this all means is John Cook’s retirement probably won’t be the only change seen on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. And with candidates like Kenny Boddhe running for a seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and Tia Walbridge running in Loudoun, we could see some big changes in other Northern Virginia counties as well.

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Gerry Connolly Delivers Weekly Democratic Address

Rep. Gerry Connolly delivered the Weekly Democratic Address today and highlighted the recent midterm elections and some of the issues Democrats will be focusing on in the upcoming Congress. You can watch the video below and read the full transcript in the comment section.

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Northam Removes Critics of Atlantic Coast Pipeline from Air Pollution Control Board

No acpIn a move that has raised a lot of concerns from the general public, Governor Ralph Northam has removed two people from the state Air Pollution Control Board. Both board members, Sam Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin, had expressed concern over the Buckingham Compressor Station being proposed. The compressor is supposedly needed for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but the station would have a huge impact on the historically black community of Union Hill.

The timing of the move is highly suspicious because the board is scheduled to vote on the station on December 10 and the Governor’s office isn’t even ready to announce the new members. A statement several environmental groups released about the decision highlights how this is a clear attack on the public’s ability to weigh in on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the impact it’ll have on the community.

“Removing citizen board members in the midst of contentious debate sends the wrong message,” the statement said. “Citizen boards must remain independent from political interference during the decision-making process. We call on the governor to reverse this decision until the current board has finalized its deliberations on the proposed permit.”

The decision also comes after the Governor removed a member of the State Water Control Board who raised concerns about the pipeline and blatantly ignored a letter from his Environmental Justice Advisory Council calling for construction of the pipeline to be stopped. In other words, Northam is actively removing and/or ignoring any opposition to the pipeline even if it comes from his own advisers.

All of this has caused prominent members of the Governor’s own party to speak out on the issue. Delegate Mark Keam, for instance, wrote a tweet saying Northam “and his senior staff have always told me their hands are tied on stopping fracked gas pipelines due to federal laws, but this action shows they’re willing to be proactive in SUPPORT of pipelines!”

“I really hope [the Governor] and his senior staff have legitimate explanation for taking this unusual action now,” he added in a later tweet, “or else we’re left to believe that it IS about helping Dominion Energy get its pipeline and compressor station.”

While people are genuinely concerned about the immediate environmental impact this decision could have, the Governor’s move has also served as reminder of the political influence that Dominion Energy has here in Virginia. Charlotte McConnell, a candidate in the race to fill Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate, highlighted this in her statement on the latest developments.

“Governor Northam will listen to advice from Dominion Energy but not the independent councils created to advise him on matters of air pollution and environmental justice,” McConnell said. “It must be noted that Dominion Energy has donated $508,940 to our legislators in 2018. Since 2010, Dominion Energy has donated $6,792,288 to influence our legislators. This money is given to both sides of the aisle. A total of $199,251 has been given to our Governor from Dominion Energy.”

It’s also worth noting that this was a huge issue during the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary as Tom Perriello was an outspoken critic of the pipeline. Northam and his supporters were quick to quash any suggestion that he’d actively help the pipeline’s progress. Now that it’s clear he’s violated the spirit of those promises, however, he’ll be forced to take full responsibility for the pipeline and the negative impacts it’ll have on the community.

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David Toscano to Resign as Democratic Leader in House of Delegates

ToscanoAs a lot of attention on the national level is being devoted to the discussion surrounding Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, it looks like we have a localized version of that debate happening here in Virginia. Ben Tribbett tweeted last night that Delegate David Toscano will be resigning from his role as Democratic leader in the House of Delegates.

Toscano has served as the Democratic leader since 2011 and the caucus has been in the minority during that period (and not even close to getting a majority for most of it). After the 2017 elections, however, Democrats are extremely close to gaining control of the House and this could potentially mean the next Democratic leader would be Speaker of the House. As Tribbett points out, this could mean some jockeying from current delegates; especially since he likely won’t officially resign until after the 2019 General Assembly session.

The Toscano chaos gets even better. Now he is telling people he wants to stay as a lame duck leader through session then step down. So Dems will spend all session jockeying with each other?

These developments have already started up a discussion about who should fill his spot. Several people have mentioned Jennifer Boysko’s name since she had a failed attempt to take over the leadership position this past summer, but her campaign to fill Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate means she might not even be in the House next year. While others like Delegate Alfonso Lopez are apparently making calls about the opening, it’s really not clear who will emerge as potential candidates.

As the debate geared up this morning, I couldn’t help but think there are several people who were elected as part of the blue wave back in 2017 who are both good on the issues and know how to inspire people. That being said, it’s absolutely crucial that the caucus leader who has the relationships and legislative process knowledge to effectively steer through a progressive legislative agenda. Someone with just one term of experience might not have this and therefore probably wouldn’t be a practical choice.

I therefore strongly believe we need someone with experience to lead the caucus in the immediate future, but should make clear, definitive steps towards developing new leadership in the House. While there are plenty of experienced delegates who I’ve supported over the years for their current seats (and will continue to do so), nobody jumps out as the clear frontrunner right now. It’ll therefore be interesting to see who emerges as a candidate to be the new Democratic leader in the next couple weeks/months.

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A Step Towards Progress in Loudoun County

On the second Tuesday of every month for about two years, members of Equality Loudoun have attended the Loudoun County School Board meetings and urged the board to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the school system’s non-discrimination policy. There was a vote on the measure awhile ago and conservatives prevented passage, but the effort has continued in hopes of the board eventually taking another one with a different result. While that hasn’t happened yet, there was a major step towards progress at last night’s board meeting.

I was one of the people who spoke at last night’s meeting and I noticed several board members nodding in agreement as I spoke about the need to prevent discrimination– especially Joy Maloney. We had a wide variety of other people who told personal stories about why protections for the LGBT community are important.

Later in the meeting, the board was debating the legislative agenda it wanted to present to Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation for the upcoming session. During the discussion, Maloney made a motion to include support for state legislation that would include a ban on discriminating against the LGBT community when it comes to public employment. This would apply to local employees like teachers as well and ended up passing on a four to three vote.

This is a huge show of support for the LGBT community in Loudoun and Maloney even credited all the speakers the board’s been hearing from as a reminder that this is an important issue to the general public. That being said, it’s worth noting that the legislation still has to pass the General Assembly. While it’s been passed by the state senate, it hasn’t even made it out of committee in the House of Delegates.

In the moments after the vote, there was definitely a lot of excitement among supporters of basic equality. As the situation sunk in, however, I was also reminded by a school board candidate that the measures passed largely because Eric DeKenipp recently resigned and Jill Turgeon wasn’t present for the meeting (both oppose equality). Those two absences gave supporters of LGBT equality a majority and they were therefore able to get the measure passed.

It was brilliant of Maloney to be aware of the fact that she’s be able to get the votes, but protecting civil rights shouldn’t have to depend on school board members being absent. We therefore have to work to elect supporters of equality like Ian Serotkin to the board next year. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this step towards progress.

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Kenny Boddye’s Running for the Prince William Board of Supervisors

I’ve been involved in politics here in Virginia since my days at George Mason University and quickly learned campaigns for local office don’t receive nearly the same attention as those for Congress or even the state General Assembly. That’s a shame because it’s often local elected officials who have the most direct impact on a person’s life. Whether it’s dealing with the placement of a traffic light (yes, I’ve dealt with my supervisor about this) or making sure the county has a non-discrimination policy that includes the LGBT community, there are a variety of crucial issues the Board of Supervisors considers.

It’s with this in mind that I wanted to draw attention to the race for the Occoquan District seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors where Kenny Boddye has just announced his candidacy.

For those of you who don’t know, Kenny ran in the Democratic primary for the House of Delegates in 51st district back in 2017. While Hala Ayala ended up winning the primary and general election that year, he has remained extremely involved in the community. Whether it’s going down to Richmond to advocate for Medicaid expansion, calling on the Prince William County School Board to include LGBT status in its nondiscrimination policy, fighting for criminal justice reform and restoring voting rights for ex-felons, and so much more, it really feels like Kenny is everywhere trying to improve our community and stand up for “the little guy.”

There’s also simply something different about Kenny’s campaign. The rich and privileged have dominated the political scene for generations, but Kenny openly talks about some of the struggles his family’s faced over the years. These struggles helped him understand firsthand how programs assisting people who are fighting addiction or homelessness can go a long ways towards improving the community. Or how we need criminal justice reform so those who have already paid their debt to society can go on to lead productive lives. The moral consequences of not addressing these issues are fairly obvious, but we also can’t ignore the financial impact they have on both individual families and the community at large.

Of course, there are also the less glamorous issues that Kenny would have to deal with as Supervisor. At an event we both attended last night, for instance, we discussed how something has to be done about the traffic in Prince William County. It’s simply unacceptable that commuters will often spend two hours stuck on 95 during rush hour and then have to deal with congestion on back roads in the Occoquan area too. Kenny’s making addressing concerns like this a major part of his campaign.

His personal background, history of advocating for Prince William County residents, and knowledge of crucial issues all suggest Kenny Boddye would make an excellent addition to the Board of Supervisors. I’m proud to support his campaign and look forward to helping him get elected. For those who are interested, here’s the announcement video that he released.

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I Support Charlotte McConnell for Senate

IMG_3435Since Virginia holds its state and local elections in odd numbered years, volunteers and those of us who work in politics are constantly having to turn around and look towards the next election. There’s simply no rest for the weary. This year it’s an even faster turnaround for Loudoun County (and parts of Fairfax) as there will be a special election to fill Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate.

While the general election likely won’t be until some time in January, there will be a firehouse primary on November 17 to determine the Democratic nominee and the candidates spoke at last night’s Loudoun County Democratic Committee’s meeting in Ashburn. Each candidate gave a three minute opening statement before there was a round of questions from members of the committee lasting about 30 minutes. Generally speaking, the three declared candidates received a warm reception but it quickly became clear that it would come down to two candidates — Charlotte McConnell (an activist from Sterling) and Jennifer Boysko (a member of the House of Delegates who lives in Herndon).

Both Charlotte and Boysko sent out press releases announcing their candidacy the day after Wexton was elected to Congress, but it’s been known for months that they’d both be running (Sharaft Hussain tried to attack them for this last night by claiming they got in the race too late, but that fell flat and got a visibly negative reaction from Boysko). I have been supporting Charlotte since it first became clear she was running for the seat and the last few days have only further illustrated why I believe she’s the right candidate.

I first met Charlotte through her efforts to include LGBT status in the non-discrimination policy for Loudoun County Public Schools. The School Board has previously voted against adding protections for the LGBT community, but Charlotte has made it clear this is the wrong move and isn’t one Loudoun residents will accept. She’s been speaking before the school board every month, holding meetings with individual School Board meetings, and recruiting other volunteers to help speak out on the issue. While there’s still work to do, her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as School Board candidates are now having to address the issue and even the Loudoun County Education Association has officially recognized her for being a tireless advocate.

Over the years, she’s also be fighting to protect the environment and is a member of organizations like Mom’s Demand Action and Planned Parenthood. Plus, she works as an end of life doula and her personal experience has helped motivate her to fight for affordable healthcare that everyone can access.

This might be a little too much inside politics, but I also like that she’s taken a strong stance on the need to change the political system here in Virginia. As she pointed out at last night’s LCDC meeting, we should end having odd year elections because they’re a way of pushing voter suppression. All you have to do is look at Tuesday’s turnout to realize this is true. There were tons of media reports about how this year had historic turnout for a midterm election, after all, but it was still less than 2016. Now imagine what happens in off, off year elections. And if the lack of involvement in state and local elections isn’t enough reason to change the system, the cost of constantly running elections could help show why we need the change.

Since we shouldn’t have large corporations and the uber wealthy having too much political power, Charlotte has also advocated for campaign finance reform. She’s also not simply waiting around for legislation on the issue as she’s taken the Activate Virginia pledge and won’t take campaign donations from corporations like Dominion Energy or their PACs. This is in direct contrast to Jennifer Boysko who spent a bunch of time at last night’s LCDC meeting bragging about her fundraising even though that includes tens of thousands of dollars from companies like Dominion Energy, Apex CoVantage, Herndon Centre, and the Sterling Management Group.

It’s also worth noting that this is a safe Democratic district and should be represented by a progressive leader. Only two precincts have voted Republican in each of the last four elections and no Republican statewide candidate has won the district since Bob McDonnell was elected governor. There have been 10 statewide campaigns since then (including two presidential campaigns) and no statewide Democratic candidate has received less than 55% of the vote.

Finally, with people like Jennifer Wexton and Mark Herring having held this seat, it’s also traditionally represented by someone from Loudoun County. This makes sense because almost 75% of the district’s voters are in Loudoun and deserve to be represented by someone from their community (just like how Boysko’s current district deserves to be represented by someone in Fairfax County).

Given Charlotte McConnell’s history of fighting for progressive causes in Loudoun County and her belief that government should be beholden to the people instead of corporations, she would make an excellent state senator. I therefore strongly encourage voters in the 33rd Senate District to support her campaign.

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My Experience Serving as an Election Officer

IMG_3423As some of you might already know, I served as an election officer during yesterday’s election. This was a new role to me as I’ve been handing out sample ballots or participating in last minute GOTV efforts for Democratic candidates or progressive organizations in almost every election since I was in college. While I was still out campaigning for folks like Jennifer Wexton this year (I do work for a political organization after all), I wanted to directly serve Loudoun County this year — even if it was in a nonpartisan role.

There is no doubt that this was a long day as I got up at 4am so I could be at the precinct by 4:45 (polls open at 6am in Virginia, but we had to get everything set up before voters arrived) and I didn’t get out until we finished breaking down and processing everything around 8pm. But time actually went by relatively quickly as we had a steady stream of voters, there were often small tasks to do during breaks like counting ballots after we opened up new packages (each bundle is supposed to have 100), and I was working with some good people who it was fun chit-chatting with.

Since it’s pretty well known that I’m a political junkie even when it comes to things outside of my job, I’m not ashamed to admit I looked up the precinct’s previous election results once I found out I was stationed at Mercer Middle School in Aldie, VA. I was very pleased with the initial results that I found as Hillary Clinton won by a margin of 987 to 707 in 2016 and Ralph Northam won by a margin of 694 to 417.

While statewide Democratic candidates had performed well here in the last couple years, however, Barbara Comstock had won the precinct in her first two campaigns. She defeated John Foust in the 2014 midterm election by a 521 to 390 margin (23 votes were cast for other candidates) and LuAnn Bennett by an 887 to 860 margin in 2016 (10 votes were cast for other candidates). Since the precinct was obviously a lot closer in 2016 and statewide Democratic candidates had done even better recently, I had a feeling Jennifer Wexton would end up winning the precinct. She did by a margin of 977 to 611 (there were 5 votes cast for other candidates).

In other words, this precinct went from giving Comstock a 14 point victory in 2014 to giving Jennifer Wexton a 23 point victory in 2018. That’s a 37 point swing in four years. It also saw a 71 percent increase in turnout between the two midterm elections (934 voters in 2014 and 1593 in 2018). It was also very close to the turnout we’ve seen in presidential election years as there were only 1610 votes cast in the precinct back in 2012 and 1757 votes in the 2016 election.

With the vote analysis out of the way, here are a couple other observations I had from the day.

  • It seems like there are stories every year about recounts taking place where there are “overvotes,” but I was genuinely surprised at how many people actually ended up marking two candidates for the same race. At least a dozen people came up to me and requested a new ballot because they had messed their previous one up. And I’m just one election officer at one precinct. But the moral of this is your probably not the only person who’s messed up your ballot if you did, so make sure to ask for a new one.
  • With a recent Supreme Court ruling loosening up restrictions on political clothing that you’re allowed to wear while voting, I had four people wearing political gear while receiving their ballot (still not many considering there were 1,593 voters). Interestingly, all four were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
  • While we were warned at our training that emotions might be running high on election day, the vast majority of people were polite and voters were constantly thanking me for serving. There was only one “incident” the entire day and that was a volunteer for one of the political parties outside the precinct who came inside to loudly complain about a worker for the school system who had parked his truck relatively close to the entrance used by voters.
  • There were at least two dozen people who showed up to the wrong precinct. Some of this was due to boundary changes over the years, others were because voters had moved, and a few people simply didn’t know where they voted. This was usually quickly rectified by one of the election officers giving folks the correct address for their polling place.

Overall, it was very rewarding to serve as an election officer. While I missed certain aspects of the campaigning done on election day, it felt good to give back in a small way. I’m looking forward to serving again in future elections — maybe even stepping it up as a “technology specialist” and eventually an Election Chief or Assistant Chief.

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House Spends $40,000 On Special Session to Redraw Legislative Districts

There’s a moral cost when our elected officials prevent fair legislative districts from being created, but it turns out there’s a financial cost as well. According to a report by Marie Albiges of the Daily Press, the special session called to redraw 11 racially gerrymandered districts cost taxpayers $40,000 even though the Republicans prevented any progress on the issue.

The main costs came from the $19,488 paid out in per diems paid out to 96 delegates for the session on August 30 and another $10,814 for mileage reimbursements to some of them. Another $6,600 in per diems and $2,251 in mileage reimbursements were paid out to 22 members of the Privileges and Elections Committee who met on September 27. In other words, members of the House of Delegates were paid $39,153 despite failing to come up with a bipartisan map.

While it doesn’t come close to the amount paid out to the legislators, there is also costs associated with drawing up the new districts. While the Republicans wouldn’t actually work across party lines despite efforts from the Democratic leadership to create a bipartisan solution, both parties had consultants who helped draw up proposals and they’ll want to be paid.

A Federal Court has ruled that a court appointed consultant will now redraw the districts since the House of Delegates couldn’t come up with a new map. Experts are telling the Daily Press the cost of these efforts will come out to at least $16,000 because the court appointed consultant working on the map, Bernard Grofman, will charge $400 an hour.

The over $55,000 that will be spent to redraw the maps pales in comparison to the $4 million the House Republican leadership had taxpayers pay to defend the current districts in court. All of this basically means having racially gerrymandered districts has cost Virginians a whole lot of money.

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