Capitol Square

A Perspective That Spans The Tiber To The James

It's about time! Finally, after years of encouragement to do so, today our friends at the Virginia Catholic Conference added a blog to its social media mix. (See its first post, by Associate Director Michael Lewis, on the adoption by the General Assembly of Governor Bob McDonnell's "Veto Session" "Hyde amendment" that bans taxpayer funded abortions in the Obamacare insurance exhchange). It's a good thing, too. There are few more passionately dedicated to the causes of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty  than our colleagues at the VCC. They are an invaluable ally in the culture wars not only inside Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, but well beyond the gates of Capitol Square. It's an intelligent bunch, as well, and we look forward to their perspective on the crucial issues of the day. According to its announcement of the blog's launch:

Our goal for "From the Tiber to the James" is to provide engaging, thought-provoking posts — respectful of our reader’s busy lives — about why and how we do the work we do, and how our readers can become more involved in advocacy on behalf of the common good.

Attuned readers will not miss the symbolism of the blog’s name: our Faith traces its past, present and future to the Vatican on the banks of the Tiber River. Our daily work — living in the public square — takes us to Virginia’s capital, on the shores of the James.

We look forward to what From the Tiber to the James will add to the public policy debate in the already thriving Virginia Blogosphere. Another culturally conservative voice can always be useful but, in this case, we're confident it will far exceed that basic standard.

The fight to win souls precedes any legislative victory. In this new age of instant digital media, where information is spread at the speed of a few thumb presses, it's important for advocacy organizations to arm themselves with as many assets as possible — and our side has been behind. It's about more than "spreading the word" on Facebook and Twitter (as important as that is). After all, there must be compelling content to spread on Facebook and Twitter. So, it's really about thoughtful, grounded, rational perspective based in something considerably larger than human vanity that resonates even with hearts of stone well before the yeas and nays consistently affirm our foundational principles. 

Congratulations to the Virginia Catholic Conference. We hope you visit From The Tiber To The James as often as we will.

Our Success Together = Growth. Can You Help Us With Our Exciting Move?

Our organization's growth in recent years has been so rapid that we are excited to say we have outgrown our limited space. This summer, The Family Foundation, the oldest and largest pro-family advocacy organization in Virginia, will leave our offices at 830 East Main Street in downtown Richmond and will move into the SunTrust building — mere blocks from Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. Our proximity to Capitol Square is unique among other pro-family advocacy organizations and allows us to continue to fight day in and day out, at a moment’s notice, for your values. As our moving date approaches, we anticipate several needs that we hope you, our faithful supporters, may be able to help us address. Please contact our administrative assistant, Marie Edwards, at 804-343-0010 or marie@familyfoundation.org, if you are able to help in any of the following ways:

» Volunteer Hours. We have a need for volunteers to help us transition from paper to electronic files. Can you volunteer your time and help us scan and electronically catalog our files?

» Furniture. The furniture we are currently using is a mismatched collection of hand-me-downs from other businesses. Do you or does your business have any new or gently used furniture you would be willing to donate?

» Cubicles. The new office space allows us the ability to increase our student internship opportunities in order to train a generation of young people on fire to promote values and make a difference in Virginia. Additionally, we hope to increase the size of our lobbying presence at the capitol. In order to accomplish these dreams, we need three cubicles (5 to 6 feet long on each side). Do you or does your business have any new or gently used cubicles you would be willing to donate or make available for a reasonable rate?

» Corporate Moving. In an effort to be the best stewards of the financial resources we have been blessed with, we are looking for a discounted rate from a corporate moving company. Are you connected with a corporate moving company that would be willing to give us a discounted rate?

» Help us finance our move. The cost of transition is significant, but necessary. Click here to help us underwrite these costs so that we can grow our organization and more effectively defend your values at the capitol. Will you partner with us to enable this exciting transition?

Thank you again for your partnership in our mission and for enabling the awareness and acceptance of our shared values in Virginia to grow and thus necessitate our move!

Pre-Dawn In Capitol Square

Capitol Square is busy in spurts today. Lawmakers and their staffs reacquaint themselves with the General Assembly Building, but it's still sparse. Then, at Mr. Jefferson's capitol, a herd of pages noisily rumble by, interrupting a tour. Outside it's cold, but not bad, as the predicted storm never materialized. Lobbyists comb Capitol Square looking for legislators to get in some early words. Making pre-session courtesy calls is important. The General Assembly, after all, is about relationships and it's never going to be this serene. Nor as congenial. As the pace picks up (almost immediately) nerves gradually fray and stress mounts non-stop until the Sine Die gavel is brought down.

Meanwhile, as you peak into conference rooms that will morph into slammed packed sub-committee rooms in a couple of days, you see other lobbyists huddled, strategizing. Many give you a knowing look, a smile, familiar nods, unexpected hellos and happy New Year wishes. There are lobbyists giving literal meaning to their profession, hanging out in a lobby outside a lawmaker's office, waiting patiently. As if expecting them, Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly) had a tray of muffins, scones and pastries outside his office. We now have an official GA bakery. 

Delegates pass you by on the way to the elevator (or to a restroom) and say hello. The mini-reunions are refreshing — it's nice to be recognized — and networking is always a benefit. 

There is some practical business to be done. Lobbyist IDs need to be updated and the General Assembly operations guys are the best. Easy going, affable, eager and always prepared to help. Need that 2011 sticker on your ID? Got it for you, and how are you doing? Great to see you again.

Impromptu meetings with certain staff to get the lay of the land for some bills leads to running into staff from the Attorney General's office. More strategy time. That's just the way it happens. Scurrying through the GAB inevitably leads to making connections because everyone has the same thing on their minds. It's organized chaos. One legislative staffer is starting a news service to cover the General Assembly. Not an easy task while making the trains run on time for her boss.

It's pre-dawn in Capitol Square. Not in a chronilogical or meteorlogical sense. But the dawn of a 45-day-legislative whirlwind.

New Gang Of Five In Virginia Senate?

Is there a new Senate "Gang of Five"? J. Scott Leake thinks so. Mr. Leake should know. He was a top insider to the leadership of the "moderate" Republicans who held sway during the years of GOP control of that chamber. The five were: now retired President Pro Tem John Chichester, then-Majority Leader Walter Stosch, then-senator and current Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, and Senators Tommy Norment and William Wampler. Nothing happened in the Senate unless they decided it would. Now, in his General Assembly Grapevine for Bacon's Rebellion, Mr. Leake, who also is the director of government and public affairs at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, writes that the Senate Democrat majority has a developed a "Gang of Five" of its own: President Pro Tem Charles Colgan, and Senators Roscoe Reynolds, John Miller (a freshman, no less), Phil Puckett and — be sure you're sitting for this — Creigh Deeds. Far from controlling the entire agenda, as the GOP gang did, this one appears to be an alliance certain for budget negotiations only, keeping the rest of their caucus from dragging them into electoral oblivion — Colgan and Miller are D's who represent very Republican areas, while Puckett and Reynolds represent rural and small town areas that easily could swing to the GOP, a fact that has each constantly looking over their shoulders. Deeds, Leake says, has a range of constituents which prompts an unpredictable populist streak.

Increasing the intrigue is the fact that many Senate Dems want to use the budget submitted by former Governor Tim Kaine as the basis for their proposal. But that budget includes reinstating the car tax. The senators above have constituents who would be hurt financially should the car tax be reinstated, an issue within the Democrat caucus. Senator Deeds, according to Leake, now is acutely aware of the repercussions of campaigning on a record of higher taxes.

All this dovetails into the rumors swirling around Capitol Square that other factions within the Senate Democrat caucus are making life dysfunctional for that group, namely Senate members of the Legislative Black Caucus who have their own budget demands. If there truly is all this discord within the majority, it may take more than a gang to sort things out. Or at least a heavily armed gang. Time will tell if this new gang has the clout, or the political arsenal, to whip their colleagues into line.

Prayers And Parties, Beautiful Weather, Capitol Square In All Its Glory

Those coming to Richmond for the inaugural festivities, or those who may already be here, are in for a treat. The weather, after weeks of uncomfortably, and unlikely, cold temperatures, has returned to normal on cue, as if to say, "nice job Richmond, you handled it well, here's your just reward." Who said patience isn't a virtue? The reward has been many times the labor. It feels more like mid-October than mid-January (wasn't it just Christmas?) and Capitol Square is green and lush like a park in the spring. Lawmakers, lobbyists, bureaucrats, media and anyone and everyone is enjoying walks through Capitol Square today. It makes walking up the hill and the prospect of beating your head against the wall with delegates and senators more tolerable. The weather is only expected to be better Saturday for the swearing-in ceremony.

Not all the green in Capitol Square is nature made. There are seven large howitzers cocked and ready to blast their salute for Virginia's 71st governor shortly after noon tomorrow. There are some inartistic, but inevitable mismatches, as well. Beautiful walkways, such as Darden Mall, which connects the General Assembly Building to Capitol Square, are marred with huge satellite trucks and their attendant dishes poking into the sky. So are tents. Lots of them. Most likely security check points. It's supposed to be tight tomorrow, with several blocks and parking decks blocked off, reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth's 2007 visit.

Generally, people are in a good mood. Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) came bounding down a hallway this morning and without missing a beat slapped me a high-five. It's always this way before session gets too deep and egos bruised, but more so in an inauguration year. The freshmen delegates I've met are eager to learn and excited to make an impact. The cynic would say, "wide-eyed rookies."

With larger numbers of members of the same party around now — lots of GOP'ers in the House, with their staffs, and the political appointees of the top three statewide officials — the weather isn't the only thing putting smiles on faces. Winners always smile and there are lots of new ones this time around, especially from the Republican side. A bit of homogeneity, so to speak. There's been, and will continue to be, many festivities throughout the weekend by the pols and special interest groups as well, from galas to prayer breakfasts. Parties and prayers. A combination that works every time. Especially in the celebration of high ideals.

Virginia's Budget Process

Yesterday, Governor-elect Bob McDonnell (see his statement) urged a revamping of Virginia's budget process, one as peculiar as the one-term gubernatorial limit (Washington Times), keeping a campaign promise he and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling made in September. As it is now, the Old Dominion's two-year budget is proposed by the governor in even years, meaning the lame duck outgoing governor proposes one while the incoming governor is still moving furniture into the executive mansion. It's up to the new guy and the General Assembly to amend it, while the old guy laughs at them stumbling all over themselves (Richmond Times-Dispatch). It also means a governor only has one opportunity to thoroughly shape fiscal policy and spending priorities during his one term — the two year budget beginning with the second even year of his term (Washington Examiner). So, Governor-elect McDonnell proposes to move the governor's budget submission to odd number years (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). Not a bad idea. He even has Governor Tim Kaine's support (whose outgoing, tax-increase laden budget is a great impetus for this change) as well as that of key lawmakers, and it was recommended as far back as 2002 from the Wilder Commission that studied ways to improve efficiency in state government. 

But another idea has floated through Capitol Square in recent years: Keep the even year cycle, but let the new governor do the proposing. To give him time, move the legislative session back a month or two. That way, he can propose two full budgets and the next governor can start with a clean slate. Under the odd year proposal, a new governor would take office in the middle of a already adopted two-year budget (better than the current system) and could propose amendments. But why not have the governor do what he was elected to do and have an impact the entire four year term? Besides, starting the legislative session in January can be such a bummer coming off the holiday season. Never does such good cheer turn to agony so fast.

Gov's mansion

Bob McDonnell will hardly have moved in before he has to start tearing up Governor Tim Kaine's proposed lame duck budget.

Family Foundation Action Releases General Assembly Report Card

Family Foundation Action today officialy released its 2008-09 General Assembly Report Card. A Capitol Square news conference is underway.  Below is the official news release from the orgnization:

FAMILY FOUNDATION ACTION RELEASES GENERAL ASSEMBLY REPORT CARD

RICHMOND — The Family Foundation Action today released the tenth edition of its non-partisan General Assembly Report Card. The educational document, released at a capitol press conference, informs citizens on key votes taken by the General Assembly during the 2008 and 2009 sessions. 

"In the House alone two-thirds of the members voted in favor of The Family Foundation's agenda more than half the time, indicating a broad based, bipartisan support for The Family Foundation's commonsense proposals," said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation Action. "It is our hope that the Report Card, along with Voter Guides that will be distributed in the fall, will motivate citizens to vote, and help them make informed choices when they go to the voting booth." 

The mission of The Family Foundation Action is to protect families and promote responsible citizenship by giving Virginians the tools they need to hold their elected officials accountable. The Family Foundation Action is not a PAC and cannot endorse candidates. This organization will also be producing and distributing voter guides for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and select House races in the fall. The Family Foundation Action plans to distribute 100,000 Report Cards throughout Virginia in the coming months, double the number from the 2007 distribution. 

As with each Report Card distributed over the years, hundreds of votes taken by legislature during the past two years were reviewed. The first page of the report card explains the criteria used in determining which votes to include. Non-partisan and broad-based, the Report Card seeks not to benefit one party or one candidate over another, but to arm voting Virginians with the information they need to make an informed choice when they go to the ballot box.

This year's Report Card has seven more "100 percenters" in the House than the last edition, bringing the total to 42. There are four in the state Senate, twice the number from 2007. In addition, there are no "Zeros" on this Report Card in either the House or the Senate.

"Demand for the Report Card continues to increase with each release," added Cobb. "We distributed 50,000 copies of the last edition, not including those that were downloaded from the Action Website. We hope to distribute twice that number with this edition to ensure that more Virginians know exactly where their elected officials stand on important values issues."

Copies of the Report Card are available by contacting The Family Foundation Action at 804-343-0010 or at www.tffaction.org.

 

TFF Action Releases Report Card Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at a  1:30 p.m. Capitol Square news conference, TFF Action will release its 2008-09 General Assembly Report Card (click here for  information on obtaining it). The TFF Action Report Card is released every two years and rates all 140 members of the General Assembly on their voting record on five principles: Life, Traditional Marriage, Religious Liberty, Parental Authority and Constitutional Government.  Who will rate high? Who will rate low? Will there be any surprises? Do you want to know if your delegate and senator tell you one thing, but vote another way? Or, is their rhetoric consistent with their voting record (either liberal or conservative)? Logon here tomorrow (as well as Twitter) for coverage, and later here and on our YouTube channel for video.

A More Motley Crew Of Propagandists You'll Never Meet

I've been meaning to post this photo of the Right Wing Virginia Bloggers Cabal for a while now. Actually, this is a group photo of most of the bloggers in attendance at Lt. Governor Bill Bolling's Annual Bloggers Day At The Capitol, which was held the day of the Veto Session in April.

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Virginia's best and brightest bloggers with the Washington Equestrian Statue in Capitol Square as a backdrop. Majestically patriotic, huh? Can you pick out your friendly Admin?

It was a fantastic day complete with briefings from very informed sources, a superb Senate gallery introduction of us by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), great networking, and a wonderful lunch by the Project Virginia guys and dinner with the LG's staff at night. A lot of what we learned was very useful background information on the campaigns and policy which will be, or has already been used, here. All part of the extraordinary lengths we go to keep you ahead of the curve. A big sweep of the hat to Rick Sincere for the photo.

We're Looking For More Than A Few Good People

Since 1985, The Family Foundation has been on the forefront of critical public policy debates helping Virginia citizens, lawmakers and business leaders better understand and apply to law the principles of life, marriage, parental authority, constitutional government and religious liberty. Non-profit and non-partisan, we are the Commonwealth's oldest and most influential family public policy organization. Our mission is to strengthen the family through accurate research and education, prompting civic activism and affecting public policy outcomes. The Family Foundation of Virginia is proud to be associated with Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family and its network of nearly forty independent state policy councils.

The entire country is focused on Virginia this year. Other than New Jersey, we are the only state that has statewide elections (for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the entire House of Delegates). We will need ongoing assistance so we can distribute our 2008-09 General Assembly Report Card (to be made public within a couple of weeks) and other materials to help educate Christians and churches around the Commonwealth regarding the principles each candidate represents during this November's elections. While candidates campaign for votes, we will educate citizens on the principles these numerous  individuals represent.

To pull this off, we need you! We have various needs that can be fulfilled by middle school, high school (homeschoolers welcome!) or college students. These activities are perfect to meet community service requirements for graduation or for adults (such as retirees or stay-at-home-parents) who would enjoy assisting us in our mission. We can use help on a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly basis. Our headquarters is located across from the Capitol Square in downtown Richmond and we there is convenient parking. 

Some of the areas where we can use help include data entry and data base managment (basic computer skills) in office or at home; mailings (production and stuffing); and distributing General Assembly Report Cards and other items to churches. 

If interested in volunteering your valued talent in order to advance the cause of traditional values in the Commonwealth, then please contact Marie Edwards at marie@familyfoundation.org or call her at (804) 343-0010.

During this crucial time in our Commonwealth's and nation's history, we believe it is more important than ever to do whatever possible to secure the traditional values we hold dear and precious, while they are under heavy assault. Please consider helping us with what will be a rewarding experience.

Three Constitutional Amendments To Go On Trial In The Senate

The pace remained settled in Capitol Square today as committees in the two chambers prepare for the grind of hearings next week on bills passed in each other's chamber. We've reported on a number of successes over the first half of session, both in good bills that passed and bad bills killed. Also in the mix are three proposed constitutional amendments we support, all of which passed the House earlier this week and now begin their trials in the Senate. To amend the constitution of Virginia, a proposed amendment must pass the General Assembly in exactly the same form — a comma can't even be changed — in two sessions with an intervening statewide election, and then approved by the voters in a statewide ballot. So it's nearly a three-year process. It's not the easiest thing to do, as we know from the Marriage Amendment.

HJ 725, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) would provide protection from the government's power of eminent domain, and protect the 2007 law protecting private property rights from tampering by future General Assemblies. That law was a reaction to the deplorable U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which allowed a local government to take private property and give it to developers. Just as the Marriage Amendment was needed to protect Virginia's marriage statutes, the 2007 law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills that would have weakened it (we were able to amend them into acceptable bills). So it is obvious this constitutional protection is needed.

HJ 789, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) would limit spending to the preceding year's total appropriations plus an amount equal to the percentage increase of inflation plus population growth. It makes exceptions to provide tax relief, deposits to the "Rainy Day Fund" and nonrecurring capital projects. With state spending increasing more than 80 percent over the last 10 years, we need this constitutional protection from the big spenders in Richmond. What family budget has grown that much that fast? 

HJ 620, patroned by Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News), is another protection against greedy government big spenders. It would put all tax revenues designated by law for transportation in a "lock box" so that they cannot be spent on earmarks, pork or for other areas of the budget, only for the big spenders to claim they need more money for transportation. This way, we know that our hard-earned tax money is going to where lawmakers say it is going. Then, and only then, if they need more money for transportation, can they in good conscience ask us for a tax increase.   

All three of these commonsense and much needed reforms and protections will be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee (get members' contact info here), perhaps as early as next week. Please contact the committee members to urge them to report these resolutions to the Senate floor.

Congratulations Delegate Alexander

One of the best aspects of lobbying the General Assembly is the personal relationships you make with the legislators, as well as others, during your time in Capitol Square. One delegate, in particular, Kenny Alexander (D-89, Norfolk), has become a favorite of ours. To learn why, we recommend our interview with him: Part One, here; Part Two, here. He's very good natured, very warm and open to all ideas. He gives you a fair hearing. He also skyrocketed from a 12 rating on the 2004-05 Family Foundation Scorecard to a 55 on the 2006-07 report, most of it on the strength of the '07 session, making him one of the highest rated Democrats on our scorecard.

Today it was reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Delegate Alexander was elected chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Congratulations to him on the high honor! We look forward to keeping open our dialogue with him and expanding it throughout the entire caucus.

Is The Governor Fiddling?

Is Governor Tim Kaine fiddling while Richmond burns? While he lays off 570 state government employees (see Washington Post, here), many of whom are in the all important corrections field, because of a budget deficit he caused by ignoring projections of a severe revenue shortfall so he could start new, unwanted programs such as Pre-K education, His Excellency is heading this weekend to Arizona and Colorado to campaign for Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was his hyper campaigning for Senator Obama during the primaries, then his self-promotion campaign to get himself on the Democrat ticket as its vice presidential nominee, that many say got Governor Kaine into this budget mess. That is to say, he took his eyes off his duties for the glamor of presidential politics. Whether that's true or not, it is certain that he obstinately refused to listen to many sane voices in the General Assembly to scale back his spending plan (the budget is based on revenue projections). He didn't and here we are, eliminating security jobs and closing prisons instead of eliminating social engineering programs.

More savings Governor Kaine said he's found are in the elimination of unfilled jobs. How this saves money since no salary is spent on people who aren't working is confusing at best. Phantom savings? But don't forget about his cutting the bottled water shipments to Capitol Square offices (see Richmond Times-Dispatch, here).

The governor also will use bonds instead of cash to pay for construction which will pile up further debt to be repaid later. Funny how it's fine to use debt to build monuments — uhhh, make that buildings to name after politicians — but can't be used for transportation which is a necessity and government responsibility. It also begs the question, why is our government so big that we are constructing more state buildings? (Buying them, too: The state just bought the high-rise Verizon building in downtown Richmond.)

Another major component of Governor Kaine's budget balancing is his raid on the Rainy Day Fund, which is budget surplus; in other words, our tax money which just sits in an account, not to be refunded when we have annual surpluses, but to be used to continue feeding the government beast when the economy turns south and the politicians don't think they can tax us any further. 

Governor Kaine's actions haven't been too popular, to say the least, with state government employees and others. Now the interesting part really comes into play: Will his barnstorming for Senator Obama while the state's budget deficit explodes have any backlash on Senator Obama in Virginia? It's a tune we're waiting to hear the fiddler play while the fire rages on.