Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Happy Thanksgiving Turkey

I simply wanted to set politics aside for a little bit and wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. While we all are hopefully enjoying some delicious food and perhaps watching some football before slipping into a turkey coma and eventually getting up early to take advantage of Black Friday sales, I also hope everyone takes a few moments to take in the true meaning of the holiday by expressing gratitude for some of the positive things in their life.

Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, I spent almost two weeks in the hospital for a serious medical scare. I’m therefore grateful for improving health and for the reminder the anniversary provides that its something that can’t be taken for granted. I’m also thankful for having a job I truly enjoy and being surrounded by amazing friends and family.

For as long as I can remember, my family has a history of alternating between Northern Virginia (where I grew up) and the Philadelphia area (where some of my cousins grew up) for Thanksgiving. Even as we’ve gotten older, this has remained a tradition and I’ll be spending the day with family just outside of Philly.

Considering my brothers now live in New York and my cousins have scattered, it’s nice to have this annual tradition where we all come together. It’s been especially rewarding since we’ve added a whole new generation to the mix.

With all that in mind, I sincerely hope everyone enjoys the day and gets to carry on traditions or potentially even start some new ones.

Jeff McKay Says Voters Showed They Support One Fairfax

During the campaign, Republicans in Fairfax County essentially tried to turn the election into a referendum on One Fairfax. The policy essentially requires elected officials to take into consideration the impact policy decisions would have on communities who don’t traditionally have a seat at the table, but the GOP tried to portray it as some sinister plot that would destroy the region.

In the various school board campaigns, for instance, conservative candidates decried it as a “radical agenda” that would force students to be bused all over the county. There was even some talk about how Fairfax students would even be bused outside of the county to schools in Prince William. They claimed these efforts would not only be horrible for students, but would end up lowering home values and harming the entire community.

All of this was an attempt to channel the rhetoric used by folks who opposed integration during the civil rights movement in hopes that it would win them a few votes. Fortunately, the tactic was soundly rejected at the polls as every single Republican candidate lost their school board races and we saw other gains in Fairfax County.

During a Fairfax County Democratic Committee meeting on November 19th, Supervisor Jeff McKay (who won his bid to be the next Chairman of the Board of Supervisors) spoke about how the message of One Fairfax helping to ensure all residents have an opportunity was well received by voters. They rejected the divisiveness the GOP was trying to stir up and embraced the message of hope and inclusiveness.

“I remember years ago sitting down with Supervisor Hudgins and talking about this concept of One Fairfax, which we thought was pretty normal stuff,” McKay said. “We’re in a progressive area, we want to fight for all people. We want to give all everybody an opportunity to succeed. This should not be hard stuff.”

McKay also stressed how this wasn’t just something leaders suddenly started talking about recently. It’s been a concept that’s been discussed openly for years as Fairfax has been trying to create a more welcoming community that recognizes the benefits of having a diverse population.

“We were talking about this before Donald Trump was in office, about how we double down on that,” the Chairman-elect said. “It wasn’t a response to Trump, it was about being a Democrat in progressive Fairfax County.”

“If you told me years ago that Republicans would try taken this issue and divide our community and think that running against One Fairfax, that unites all of our people in every corner of the County, and guarantees equal opportunities for people,” McKay added, “if you would have thought that would be what the Republicans would have run against the Democrats on, that is absurd.  And the voters saw right through it.”

In other words, running against a policy that brings people together in order to make a stronger community is a horrible campaign strategy. And the voters made it clear they wouldn’t support bigotry and divisiveness here in Fairfax County.

For those who are interested, here’s a recording of McKay’s remarks.

UFCW Fights For Fair Contract at NoVA Safeway and Giant Grocery Stores

Helmer UFCW2Since the centerpiece of the holiday is gathering with friends and family around a big turkey dinner with all the fixings, this week is extremely busy for grocery stores. Everybody’s running in and out trying to pick up all the ingredients they need for Thursday’s big meal and it can be hard to keep things running efficiently. This is especially the case as Turkey Day recipes often require ingredients customers aren’t used to searching for and, on occasion, might get a little frustrated with trying to make sure they have everything.

While all of this is happening, there are workers at the store working extremely hard to keep the shelves stocked and the building’s clean so everybody can have a pleasant experience when they come in to do their shopping. They unfortunately do all this while often not receiving much appreciation from customers and not nearly enough pay to get by in Northern Virginia communities.

Their low wages come at a time when the corporate offices are demanding stores cut hours in order to help keep their payroll low. When you consider how workers already aren’t getting paid much per hour, having hours cut makes their struggle to pay the bills even harder and can often have a devastating impact on families. Far too often, it actually means employees can’t even afford to buy the basic groceries they’re putting on the shelves.

In addition to the staffing hours being reduced at stores, workers are extremely worried about Safeway’s new corporate owners potentially doing away with the pension program — or at least drastically reducing the benefits that workers have earned through years of working with the company. Considering how unions often accept a lower wage for hourly workers during negotiations to help ensure a pension is fully funded, this move could have a significant long term impact on folks even though the corporation is bringing in billions of dollars worth of profits every year.

It’s not just the workers’ paychecks that are being impacted here as the reduction in hours means there’s not enough staff time for all the work to get done. This eventually results in the stores not being cleaned properly, which is rather worrisome when you consider it’s where the public’s food supply is being stored. It also simply means there aren’t as many staff members available to help customers, which can make it difficult to get the assistance you might need — especially on a crowded day when you’re looking for that missing ingredient for grandma’s pumpkin pie.

With all that in mind, members of UFCW Local 400 have been heading into negotiations with Safeway and Giant grocery stores to get a fair contract. They’ve been mounting a public awareness campaign recently and had a long list of stores here in NoVA they were protesting outside of yesterday and on Sunday the 24th. The goal of the protest was to take advantage of the increased foot traffic and let the public know about the fight for a fair contract.

It’s not just the UFCW that’s been active in the visibility effort as several other unions and progressive organizations have had volunteers show up in solidarity help. The Northern Virginia Labor Council even “adopted” one local Giant store where it turned out its members and affiliates. On top of that, elected officials like Delegate-elect Dan Helmer and Senator Jennifer Boysko have even shown up to lend their support.

“I ran because I am concerned about economic justice for people who don’t always have a seat at the table,” Sen. Boysko said when she joined workers outside a Safeway in Leesburg. “My own mother was a single mom who suffered through wage theft and minimum wage jobs where she barely was able to put food on the table for my brothers and me. We can do better in Virginia and in the United States. And it’s our responsibility to stand up and stand with the workers who are doing the tough jobs.”

So as you’re heading into grocery stores to grab any last minute supplies needed for Thanksgiving, remember the struggle the workers are going through and try to show them some solidarity.

Ralph Northam Doesn’t Support Repealing Right to Work Laws

NorthamWith Democrats taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation, there was a lot of hope they’d pass laws that would benefit workers. Not even a month after the election, however, Gov. Ralph Northam has come out in opposition to repealing Virginia’s right to work laws.

Right to work laws make it illegal for businesses to make joining a union a condition of employment. The measures are often implemented in order to curry favor with the corporate world as they’re designed to make labor unions week by making it harder for them to grow and reduces their leverage with employers.

Despite the pro-worker sounding name, studies have shown workers actually suffer in right to work states. Wages in right to work states are 3.2% lower than in their pro-union counterparts and this isn’t just for unionized workers. Even people in non-unionized workplaces usually receive higher pay and good benefits in pro-union states.

Fortunately, there are several members of the General Assembly who are standing up for workers and support repealing right to work. Lee Carter from Prince William County has introduced legislation to repeal right to work in the past and has said he’ll introduce it again for the upcoming bill. He even made it clear his efforts won’t be dependent on whether or not he can receive support from the governor’s mansion.

“Opposition doesn’t stop me from putting in good bills. And repealing right to work is a good bill,” Carter tweeted yesterday. “I’m gonna introduce it, and I’m gonna fight like hell to get it to the Governor’s desk. And if he vetoes it, he’ll be the one who has to own that.”

Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who also represents parts of Prince William County, has also publicly said she supports repealing right to work. Her reasoning was that Virginia needs to strike a balance between being good for business and good for workers. According to her, other states have proven there’s a way to do just that without having right to work on the books.

It’s also worth noting that labor unions are a core constituency group for the Democratic Party. Many of their members are active volunteers for Democrats and constantly show up at rallies and participate in voter engagement activities. Throughout the 2019 campaigns, for instance, SEIU and other unions had members all over Northern Virginia supporting candidates in their GOTV efforts in the lead up to Election Day. This was huge as local campaigns often don’t have the money to buy tons of TV air time and therefore have to rely on grassroots political activity that unions can help provide.

With that in mind, it seems rather odd for Northam to be expressing direct opposition to one of the labor community’s top priorities. He could have very easily used language that highlighted how the business community would benefit from loyal workers who have more job security, quality benefits, and higher pay, but he instead implied repealing right to work would be horrible for business (which simply isn’t the case).

This hasn’t been lost on folks in labor who were quick to express their disappointment in Northam’s remarks. They also highlighted how the same organizing power they used in the lead up to the election can also be used to help rally support for their legislative priorities.

“It was unions phonebanking and knocking doors to flip the house,” Stacey Shorter, a local leader in AFGE, said on Twitter after news broke of Northam’s statement.”We have the power we just need to use it. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”

All that being said, Northam’s announcement shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise since he’s known as a corporate Democrat. During the 2017 gubernatorial primary, for instance, he told labor union representatives that he supported right to work laws, but never said whether he’d veto legislation that repealed it. His PAC also has a lot of corporate donors, which helps to illustrate his coziness with the corporate community.

It was therefore already known that the governor wouldn’t be leading the charge for repeal, but his choice of rhetoric is what has many of his allies disappointed. The language he used suggests he won’t simply let others work on repeal and might actually work against the efforts. This is cause for concern and is why many progressives were quick to express their opposition to Northam’s announcement.

VA Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities

As members of Virginia’s General Assembly have begun pre-filing legislation to be considered in the upcoming session, the Senate Democratic caucus has announced its priorities for the session. Considering they campaigned upon similar themes this year, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ll be focused in on gun violence prevention, health care, education, equality, and voting rights.

“Virginians elected Democrats to tackle the challenges facing our Commonwealth,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair for Policy Jeremy McPike. “We’re proud to prioritize commonsense legislation that addresses equality, gun violence prevention, and economic security.”

In a statement released earlier today, the Caucus made it clear they will have a busy first ten days of session once the Senate convenes in Richmond. During that period, leadership says they’ll prioritize ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), implementing universal background checks for firearms, making it illegal to deny someone housing based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity, and allowing no-excuse absentee voting.

As we’ve seen pre-filed bills trickling in, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that Dick Saslaw seems to have taken his new Majority Leader title to heart and has taken the lead on some of the efforts to help end gun violence. He introduced the bill for universal background checks and another one banning bump stocks.

The Majority Leader also introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. If passed, the bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and then increase it by $1 an hour each year until it hit the $15 mark. Although this would still result in someone struggling to get by in Northern Virginia, it’s far better than the federally mandated $7.25 an hour that’s currently used in the Commonwealth.

That being said, there’s still a significant amount of concern about Sen. Saslaw’s leadership on some progressive issues. This is especially the case in regards to environmental issues and the hesitation comes from Saslaw taking an enormous amount of money from Dominion over the years. As most Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the energy company and refuse to take donations from them, the majority leader has bragged about his relationship with the corporation.

The refusal to even give credence to the criticism of Dominion is why many environmentalists haven’t been thrilled with the Senator’s leadership. Lowell over at Blue Virginia pointed out that the over $400,000 in donations “Dominion Dick” has received from Dominion means he’s not likely going to take the lead on doing things like “moving Virginia to 100% clean energy.”

With all that being said, it’s good to see the Democrats are responding to what the public told them during the campaign season and are moving forward with a solid agenda. Much of the legislation is something that Virginians can rally behind, but Republican leaders had used parliamentary tricks to block from even being considered by the full General Assembly in the past. It’ll therefore be great to see some productive and meaningful legislation being considered starting in January.

Terry McAuliffe Sparks Talk of a Gubernatorial Campaign By Hiring Staff

Terry McAuliffeFormer Governor Terry McAuliffe has made his way into the news as he’s started staffing his political action committee. Common Good VA PAC hadn’t had any full time staff since it became clear T-Mac wouldn’t be running for president, but he’s now hired Chris Bolling, who had been serving as the Executive Director for the state Democratic Party.

If the goal is to have an impact on the Virginia electorate, this is a good hire since Bolling has a long history in Virginia politics. He’s been DPVA’s Executive Director since July of 2017 and served in other roles with the party before heading up the organization. He even had a previous stint on McAuliffe’s staff during his campaign for governor and worked on Tim Kaine and Mark Warner’s campaigns as well.

There’s been talk for awhile that McAuliffe might be interested in running for governor again in 2021. He created a lot of buzz when he campaigned all across the Commonwealth for Democrats running in state and local elections and raised a significant amount of money. And when Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring started facing some controversy, Terry’s name started being mentioned as a potential alternative.

Virginia’s constitution prevents governors from serving in consecutive terms, but there’s nothing that says he can’t run again after taking some time away from office. While it’s not something that happens often, it has been done as Mills Godwin served from 1966 to 1970 as a Democratic before switching parties and serving again from 1974 to 1978 as a Republican.

Since the current Lt. Governor has expressed interest in running for governor and he’s been trying to rehab his image in preparation for a potential campaign, it’s worth noting that McAuliffe was the first prominent Virginia Democrat to call upon Justin Fairfax to resign after allegations that he sexually assaulted two different women surfaced earlier this year. Considering all this, it shouldn’t be surprising that Fairfax has publicly said he wouldn’t support a McAuliffe candidacy.

Attorney General Mark Herring had announced last year that he would be running for governor and it was largely thought that he would face Fairfax in the primary. As Fairfax’s popularity has sharply declined as he’s dealing with the sexual assault allegations, Herring has largely been able to recover after he admitted to wearing black face decades ago after the controversy surrounding Ralph Northam’s yearbook surfaced. Ask just weeks after the admission if he was still planning on running, Herring said he had no intention of dropping out of the race.

Now that McAuliffe is likely going to be getting into the race, however, it will be interesting to see if that impacts Herring’s decision. His tenure as AG has been extremely well received, after all, and folks might be excited to see him seek another term in that position.

In addition to the sparks the staff hiring generated in the gubernatorial campaign, it also meant some moves had to be made at DPVA. The Party decided to replace Bolling with Andrew Whitley, who’s from Southwest Virginia and had previously been leading the Take the Majority coordinated campaign that helped Democrats gain control of both the House of Delegates and the state senate.

While many people have good things to say about Whitley, there was some controversy about the process. The staff change came before many people even knew Bolling was leaving and therefore wasn’t conducted in a very open manner. This has caused some concern with folks, especially as there are efforts to make sure the Party does a better job at increasing diversity and outreach to communities that are traditionally ignored in the political process.

“Jobs at [the Democratic Party of Virginia] are not political appointments and when positions become available there should be a search process,” well known Virginia political staffer Alexsis Rodgers tweeted. “Unfortunately, there was not an open search for the next ED or multiple recent job openings at DPVA.”

All in all, it appears as though we’re starting to get a clear picture of who’s going to be involved in the political discussion in Virginia over the course of the next few years. That being said, everyone should be focused in on lobbying the General Assembly to help ensure our values are truly represented by the folks who were just elected a couple weeks ago.

SCC Rejects Dominion’s Request for Rate Increase

Despite already bringing in enormous amounts of money that allow it to spend a hefty sum on lobbying efforts to influence lawmakers, Dominion Energy has been actively trying to increase its profit margins by increasing Virginia’s ratepayer bills. The utility company sought approval for increasing the rate from 9.2% to 10.75%, but the State Corporation Commission denied the request and said it wasn’t “consistent with the public interest.”

The requested rate increase came before the SCC because the public utility is a monopoly and its profits are therefore supposed to be limited. They are allowed to keep excessive profits, however, if regulators deem that the funds are being used to pay for projects that are in the best interests of the general public.

This is a relatively new caveat as excessive profits in the past were supposed to be returned to the public since the community had been overcharged in the first place. The change in policy sparked some public outrage as Virginians were rightfully upset they wouldn’t be getting a refund after Dominion made almost $400 million in excessive profits in 2017 and 2018. Many government and community leaders eventually joined those speaking out against the enormous profits and the proposed rate increase.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, for instance, filed a brief with the SCC opposing the rate increase. In fact, his office argued the rate should actually be lowered from 9.2% to as low as 8.75%. His office said their suggestion came after data showed Dominion’s rates were too high and “resulted in Virginia’s families paying more than necessary for electricity.”

In a sign of how there were some unexpected allies in the fight against the rate increases, WalMart filed a brief with the SCC opposing the utility’s proposal. Considering how WalMart is known for raking in enormous profits while refusing to look out for the best interests of its employees and the community, this shows how truly outlandish it was for Dominion to think it should be able to further overcharge the public.

While people are happy Dominion isn’t getting away with swindling Virginians out of even more of their hard earned money, there is some disappointment that the ruling essentially provides the utility with some legitimacy for its current rates. Since the hope was that they would have to make some downward adjustments to prevent folks from being overcharged again, this wasn’t much of a victory for the average customer who’s seen their bill increase by $23 a month in recent years.

With all that in mind, there are still efforts to hold Dominion accountable and many people realize this is likely something that will have to be done through state level legislation. After the SCC’s announcement, for instance, the executive director of Clean Virginia, Brennan Gilmore, released a statement saying the ruling was a step in the right direction even though there’s still a lot of work to do.

“Without legislative intervention, it will continue to overcharge customers by hundreds of millions of dollars every year, lining the pockets of its shareholders and executives at the expense of Virginians,” Gilmore said. “The General Assembly should prioritize ending Dominion’s system of self-regulation and work to lower Virginia’s skyrocketing electric bills in the upcoming legislative session.”

Now that Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly and many of lawmakers are beginning to stand up to Dominion and refuse their campaign donations, it’ll be interesting to see if any progress is made in the coming years.

Video: Jennifer Wexton Holds Town Hall in Hamilton

IMG_1963One of the major complaints about Barbara Comstock was she refused to hold town halls during her time in Congress. She was so adamant in her refusal to engage the public that community groups eventually ended up holding mock town halls featuring a cardboard cutout of the Congresswoman. Unfortunately, this was the closest many people got to actually having their concerns heard by Comstock.

Realizing the strong desire of the district’s residents to have a member of Congress who was willing to hold discussions with the community, Rep. Jennifer Wexton made it clear she’d hold multiple town halls all across the district if she was elected. This is a promise she’s kept as she held her seventh town hall last Saturday (November 9th) at Harmony Middle School in Hamilton, VA.

Now if you’ve ever been to one of these town halls, they’re usually fairly tame affairs. There always seems to be a couple high school students who want to talk with her about appointments to the military academies, some people who have a real specific issue or cause they want to discuss, and others who want to talk about some of the issues being featured on the evening news. This was largely the case at Saturday’s town hall.

The only exception was a small group of Trump supporters who asked some “gotcha” type questions and proceeded to hand out flyers opposing impeachment to folks walking out of the school after the event was over. Most of these people wanted to complain about how Congress was supposedly “wasting time” on impeachment instead of actually getting work done.

Much to the Trump supporters’ disdain, however, Rep. Wexton, was able to list several pieces of legislation she was personally responsible for and also highlighted how the House had passed hundreds of bills the Republican controlled Senate refused to even consider. In particular, she mentioned how the House of Representatives passed 11 of 13 appropriations bills before they went on their August recess but the Senate had yet to pass a single bill to fund our government. In other words, it’s the Senate’s inaction under Mitch McConnell’s leadership that’s putting the livelihood for the region’s large number of federal workers and contractors at risk.

It quickly became apparent that this small band of Trump supporters were simply there to promote their right wing talking points and desperately try to make Rep. Wexton look bad. That being said, the severity of how out of touch they were could be illustrated in how one of them suggested Wexton’s views on immigration played a role in why so many people of color were living in the United States.

“We know that Mexicans would never accept an immigration policy that would reduce Mexican to minority status,” the older white man claimed. “Why should we have an immigration policy that is going to reduce whites to a minority. Whites, who were 90% of the population in 1960, why should whites welcome an immigration policy that would reduce them to a minority in their own country?”

There was an audible murmur of disgust that spread throughout the auditorium as this guy went on his rant. There’s room to discuss how to deal with immigration issues facing our country and how to properly address the large number of undocumented people living here, but this wasn’t what he was concerned about. This guy was clearly disturbed by how many people of color were living in the country and appeared upset by how Rep. Wexton wasn’t appalled by this concept.

“Immigration, I believe very strongly, is a net positive for this country,” Wexton responded to loud applause from the audience. “To me this isn’t about a white or non white issue. This is about making our country as strong and diverse as possible.”

Clearly not happy about how Wexton embraced diversity, this man proceeded to get back in line to ask another question. When he got back up to the microphone, he once again refused to even provide his first name (most other people were giving their name and the town they lived in) and proceeded to claim diversity was just leading to people being lazy.

“The greater the diversity in the community, the less people trust each other. The less they are likely to do volunteer work, get involved, or vote in politics. They’re not even likely to carpool because of the mistrust resulting from the rise in diversity. The only thing they are more likely to do of is stay home and watch television,” this guy suggested. “If, in fact, diversity is a great strength of the United States, perhaps you could give me concrete examples of the benefits that we receive from the fact that we have six million Muslims living in the United States.”

This question actually resulted in him getting boo’d. While that’s an understandable natural reaction when folks heard the blatant bigotry lthis man was spewing, Wexton had the absolute best answer possible. She made it clear she disagreed with the sentiment he expressed and highlighted how there Muslims from all sorts of backgrounds that are giving back to the community.

In particular, the Congresswoman mentioned the ADAMS Center in Sterling. After seeing so many families struggling with the rising costs of healthcare, Wexton emphasized, the Mosque helped start the Adams Compassionate Healthcare Network. This is a clinic that’s “dedicated to providing medical services to low-income and uninsured individuals” and has no religious requirement for its patients to receive medical attention. Wexton also highlighted how the ADAMS Center runs food drives and other helpful programs for the community at large.

Besides this guy spewing his anti-immigrant bigotry, there were questions about the rise in teenage vaping, the opioid crisis, increasing the number of women working in STEM related fields, the recent increase in hate crimes, climate change, affordable healthcare, the soaring cost of higher education, and a few other topics.

For those who are interested, here’s the video of Wexton’s opening statement which gives a decent summary of the work she’s been doing this year.

Fairfax County School Board Discusses Absences for Civic Engagement

After the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL back in February of 2018, a student led movement calling for an end to gun violence swept across the country. That movement involved student organized walkouts of school, lobby visits with elected officials, rallies in communities, and a variety of other activities. In part due to the school walkouts, the Fairfax County School Board realized it should probably address the rise in student activism and figure out how to deal with the related absences students might have.

Ryan McElveen eventually proposed the school board allow one excused absence per year for students in seventh through twelfth grade to participate in civic engagement.

“I propose that FCPS allow students in grades 7-12 to be excused from school once per school year to participate in civic engagement activities by providing prior notification to the school with evidence of a sponsored/organized event or activity,” McElveen wrote in a “forum topic request” back in February. “These activities could include visiting Capitol Hill in Washington or the General Assembly in Richmond to advocate for legislation and participating a protest or walkout.”

There have been continuing conversations about this topic, especially with how it would fit into the County’s compliance with state and federal regulations regarding chronic absenteeism. The major concern expressed by some school board members, even those who support the concept, is how it would impact schools that are already “in the yellow” regarding having a large population of students with attendance issues.

It was with this in mind that the board’s Governance Committee took up consideration of a proposal to limit the excuse absence to only “a partial day.” While there was some discussion about the exact definition of a partial day, it was largely agreed that this would mean students could show up for their first period class and then be excused for the rest of the day. Having the absence limited to a partial day would help ensure schools remained in line with regulations regarding attendance that Fairfax County is required to follow.

While three of the four members of the committee all agreed that the civic engagement could provide students with an educational experience that’d supplement materials taught in the classroom, Tom Wilson was vehemently opposed to the idea of actually having this be justification for an excused absence. Not only did he believe this would be promoting a political agenda, but he claimed it’d make parents believe FCPS was actually supervising their children at school sponsored rallies.

This sentiment echoed what Wilson and his fellow Republicans were saying on the campaign trail when they constantly claimed Democrats simply wanted to flood the schools with a radical political agenda. At several different points in the discussion, the conservative Republican who lost his election earlier this month claimed it was especially a shame that middle school students would be allowed to participate. He strongly believed they were too young to be given an excused absence in order to participate in civic engagement.

Wilson’s claims were rather ridiculous, especially because the board members made a point of highlighting how there’d have to be parental involvement in one form or another and there wasn’t a limit on only attending functions that supported a particular political party. Megan McLaughlin highlighted, for instance, how there were many conservatives who wanted their children to have an excused absence in order to attend anti-choice rallies in DC.

The Democrats also made a point of saying the forms filled out by the parents should have a disclaimer on them saying the civic engagement activities weren’t sponsored or supervised by the school system.

“We’re not sending a message that we want them to drop out and become 1960s era hippies,” Karen Keys-Gamarra said in response to Wilson’s concerns. “We live in an era where kids are more politically aware.”

Megan McLaughlin added how nobody’s trying to say students should be “foot soldiers in lobbying and activism,” but the experience could bring a different perspective on some of the valuable information that’s provided to students in the classroom. She also highlighted how current students are growing up “in a different era” than that in which the school board members grew up. Through social media and other avenues, students are already aware of political events and want to actively stand up for causes they’re passionate about.

While having this specific reasoning for an absence on the pre-approved list is new, Superintendent Scott Brabrand highlighted how this concept isn’t completely foreign to the school system. He mentioned how during his tenure at Herndon High School, the school’s leadership figured out a policy of how to deal with absences resulting from parents wanting to take their children to the Million Man March in October of 1995. During his time at Lake Braddock, he also arranged for a policy of how to excuse students who wanted to attend a McCain/Palin rally at a local park during the school day.

As Dr. Brabrand and several school board members pointed out, this would simply make the policy uniform across the district. It’d therefore mean there were fewer inconsistencies at the school level that could lead to families believing they’re being treated unfairly.

This didn’t stop Wilson from claiming he’s never had any problems taking his students out of class at Oakton High School for whatever reason he wanted. He went on to use this as further proof of how he believed the Democrats were simply pushing a political agenda. McLaughlin quickly shutdown that argument, however, when she highlighted how her children were highly successful swimmers, but sometimes couldn’t participate in important swim meets when they weren’t given excused absences in order to attend them.

The proposal to update the policy ended up passing the committee by a vote of 3-1 with Tom Wilson being the only person voting against it.

Eileen Filler-Corn Isn’t the Only Candidate for Speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates

IMG_1900When she was elected Minority Leader last December, most Democrats assumed Eileen Filler-Corn would become the next Speaker of the House of Delegates once the Democrats gained the majority. Now that Tuesday’s election resulted in the Democrats having a 55 seat majority, however, it appears as though some other Delegates are throwing their hat in the ring.

Del. Lashrecse Aird from Petersburg has announced she’s running against Del. Filler-Corn and a few other delegates have expressed an interest in the position. Delegate Aird is a 33 year old who also works as the Chief of Staff at Richard Bland College and would become the first African-American to become Speaker if she were elected. In a political party that prides itself on being diverse, Aird is running as someone who would bring the perspective of a younger generation while keeping the caucus unified and fighting to ensure all Virginians have an opportunity to thrive.

Delegate Ken Plum, who’s the longest serving member of the House of Delegates, has also expressed an interest in becoming speaker. While Plum has served his district extremely well and deserves recognition for his leadership, I don’t foresee him being in serious contention.

When it looked like there was a chance the Democrats could gain control of the House after the 2017 elections, he was having casual conversations with other Delegates about stepping into the speaker’s role. The Republicans eventually held onto the House, however, and Del. Dave Toscano was reelected Minority Leader. When Toscano later stepped down, there were as many as five different candidates to fill the minority leader spot, but Plum wasn’t one of the heavily discussed candidates. Del. Sam Rosoul from southwest Virginia was the runner up in that vote and he’s expressed an interest in now becoming majority leader.

Considering how active Filler-Corn has been on the campaign trail while traveling all over the Commonwealth to help campaign for Democrats, however, it is rather interesting that Plum has brought up that he sees himself more as someone focused on governing rather than campaigning.

“I’m not running to be the guy who’s going to win the most votes for us in the next election,” Plum said according to the Virginia Mercury. “I’m going to be the guy who’s going to establish a record for us in how we conduct our business.”

I highly doubt this was intended to be a jab at Filler-Corn, but instead hints at how Plum’s role as a party elder and the institutional knowledge he has will prove beneficial even if he’s not the next speaker. No matter who the next speaker is, I strongly believe his experience should be relied upon while Democrats move forward in their new role.

Del. Luke Torian is another interesting candidate who’s expressed interest, but it appears as though he’s putting his name out there as a potential speaker in order to raise his profile. There have been several reports that he’s really interested in becoming the Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

If he did get in the race for speaker, Torian could face some difficulty rounding up support from progressives in the Democratic caucus. He has close ties to the Republican Party and was apparently approached by GOP leadership to run as a Republican before he was first elected back in 2009. The pastor from Prince William County also seconded the nomination of Kirk Cox to become speaker in 2018 and the Republicans did give him some cozy committee appointments.

When the Democratic members of the House gather in Richmond for a caucus meeting, they’ll be voting on their new leadership. While I believe we have a variety of highly qualified candidates, Del. Filler-Corn is highly qualified and should become the next Speaker of the House of Delegates.

Not only did she do an effective job of managing the caucus during the last general assembly session, but Filler-Corn played an integral role in ensuring the Democrats won the majority in Tuesday’s elections. Her history of traveling all over the Commonwealth has allowed her to develop strong relationships with various delegates and a good understanding of the communities they represent. She’ll therefore prove to be an effective leader both legislatively and politically during her tenure as Speaker.