Sine Die

The end of session is upon us. Session is unlike anything I know. It is intense, hard, extremely long (even in "short sessions") has gruelling hours, and you get by almost only on adrenaline. But it is immensely fun (with a good share of laughs) and rewarding — rewarding in that you know you are fighting the good fight for the right causes and rewarding in the relationships you build with all types of people from across the Commonwealth, whether liberal or conservative. It's the ultimate — and original and real — network. For example, who would have thought Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) and I could share a laugh in a sub-committee, sitting on patron's row of all places (committee room front rows reserved for bill patrons), about how I helped defeat one of his bills? We may criticize him here, but at least now we spell his name right (it's David, not Dave).

This truly has been the session of odd alliances and strange bedfellows. We even worked with or had constructive talks with Delegates Englin and Adam Ebbin (D-49, Alexandria) on matters where we have mutual concern, such as human trafficking.

Traditionally, this is the night of the Sine Die party ("sine die" being the Latin phrase used to conclude a parliamentary session). It's held at a local microbrewery, where delegates, senators, their staffs, lobbyists, reporters and other assorted types (no doubt some bloggers may sneak in) congregate for a session-ending night of fellowship. Yes, they still have a day left, and some years they've been in session during the party only to get out in time to make the last part of it. Breaking news, though: The House just adjourned and I expect great attendance in just a few hours.

Sine Die is a great way to get to know all involved in the legislative process away from the battle ground of the GAB and capitol, a culmination of the weekly Thursday Night Caucus get-togethers. Making friends, even with those with whom you are philosophically opposed, pays dividends down the line.

Two sessions back I was having a great time at Sine Die when our president  surprised me and showed up. All was great and we even got a normally quiet senator to open up and share some humor. It was getting late and I was looking forward to a long-overdue sleep-in. Then a delegate engaged us and, after a great discussion, he asked for some last-second help on a bill. The boss volunteered me to come down to Saturday's final session. Other than that it was already 11:00 at that point and knowing I had to be up at 6:00, it was a blast.

Session does allow you to develop relationships in a non-business circumstances and normally they're worthwhile — except when one senator reamed me out with false accusations of running negative ads against him. (We don't run ads. We're not a PAC and we're not allowed.) Still, I've met lobbyists, legislative assistants and others who have told me they admire what we do, and wish they could speak up but, as with the for-profit lobbyists, they have no dogs in our hunts. Knowing they are there, though, is reassuring and helpful in its own way.

Tonight is for fun, trading stories, learning some inside scoop. The next weeks will be for decompressing and reorganizing, and self examining. In time, we'll prepare for next session. That's then. This is now. For now . . .  

Sine Die.

Welcome, Attorney General Bob McDonnell!

General McDonnell, thank you for joining us today for the second consecutive year for our Annual Virtual Lobby. Today, hundreds of grassroots, traditional values conservatives are e-mailing their delegates and senators and asking them to stand up for pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and limited constitutional government principles, as well as for particular issues and bills. We also are hosting our Annual Pastors Day today with dozens of pastors from the Southwest to Hampton Roads here lobbying their legislators. Combined with our Family Foundation Day at the Capitol in January, where more than 250 people attended, we hope to have made a big impact on this year's General Assembly session and beyond.

So it's with a great deal of pleasure that we welcome you today and yield the blog screen to you for a round of robust questions.

Register Now For Family Foundation Day At The Capitol

We know that people are understandably excited about Christmas — family reunions, decorations, brisk weather that brings you alive, great food and get-togethers, music, gifts and the most important gift of all, the celebration of our Lord's birth, and the grounding  that the humility of the Word made flesh provides us. Still, this time of year has a professional meaning for us. It means we start to deck the halls — the halls of the General Assembly. But we need to plan now to deck the halls of the capitol with people who will stand up for traditional values and promote principle over politics with their delegates and senators. This is why we are planning the:

2009 Family Foundation Day At The Capitol

Monday, January 19

9:00 a.m. through the afternoon

This is a day where you will meet other Virginians who share your principles, hear from legislators who champion these principles, listen to experts who support these principles, and meet with your delegate and senator to encourage them to vote for legislation that refelcts these principles. 

Family Foundation Day at the Capitol will be held at the Richmond Marriott, 500 East Broad Street, as well as visits to the General Assembly Building and the capitol. It costs nothing except lunch and your own and transportation. If you would like to attend, reserve your place now by contacting:

John Smith

Grassroots Coordinator


Register no later than January 13, 2009 to ensure scheduled meetings with your legislators! Now, more than ever, it is important for your voice to be heard. Let your representatives know that it is time to put aside politics and do what is right.

As our very own president, Victoria Cobb, said at the 2008 Family Foundation of Virginia Annual Gala, "I believe that we can be principled and still be politically successful. This is still a great place to live and raise a family. I am not ready to give up on Virginia. You cannot give up either."

Reworking A Bad Plan Can Make It Worse (Or, The Son Of 3202 Rises)

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly resumes tomorrow and anything can happen. Some capitol insiders are predicting the session could end by the end of the day, with nothing done. That would be good. Some think the House could pass some watered down Senate tax increase, send it back to Senate Majority Leader Dick "The People Will Pay" Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and his crowd down the hall, who will change it and take it to a conference committee, which would be dangerous enough. But others think that if anything gets out of the House, Senate Dems will pass it immediately and let Governor Tim Kaine amend it to include all the extra taxes his heart desires (we'd say that would be Christmas in July for the liberals, except many don't believe . . . oh, never mind) and send it back for an up or down vote. If that version passes, it would be a Kaine victory at the expense (literally) of the public; a taxpayer loss. If nothing happens, believe your bottom dollar (that may be all you have left right now) that the governor and the Dems will demonize conservatives as not wanting to address the transportation "crisis." 

They better be careful for what they ask. It may be anecdotal, but evidence is the public, across all lines, doesn't seem to have much of an appetite for tax increases when gas is at $4.00 a gallon and all the ripple effect cost increases it is causing. Senator Saslaw during the regular session was fond of saying that his gas tax increase would cost the equivalent of one Big Mac meal per year. Actually, it was closer to a Ruth Chris dinner, but regardless, most families don't even have a Big Mac to cut back right now.

Not only that, but his proposal in the winter was a 5-cent increase over five years. Now, I guess because he wants us to cut back on apple turnovers, too, his bill would increase the gas tax by six cents over six years (SB 6009). That's a 35-percent increase. It doesn't appear as if this will pass. The House Republican leadership let it come to the floor in a procedural move in committee to force House Dems to vote on recordin anticipation of next year's House elections. The money is on many House Dems getting cold feet on this one.

However (there's always a "however"), the House GOP doesn't want to get left out of the game. They want to be sure no one can claim they have no ideas themselves, so instead of no ideas they are proposing old and bad ideas. They want to "fix" the aspect of last year's transportation package (HB 3202) that the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. This new package, HB 6055, patroned by Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93, Newport News) is more complex, but is also harmful to taxpayers and the economy. Its main feature is to give local governments in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia taxing authority in certain areas so as to spend it themselves for transportation, rather than the original, and unconstitutional, law that let unelected boards tax and spend. (To be fair, the original bill passed by the House in 2007 was to give local governments the authority; the governor amended it to give it to the unelected boards, and bipartisan majorities in the General Assembly concurred.)

While many legislators may make the political calculation that by "simply fixing" last year's plan (by voting for HB 6055) Virginians won't consider it a vote to raise taxes, they may be calculating wrong. People want the General Assembly to make hard decisions instead of asking for more money from families — again. Smart citizens know fixing a bad plan often makes it still worse. 

Among the various taxes in HB 6055 is one particularly heinous tax — a $.40 per $100 increase in the "grantor's tax" in Northern Virginia. This is a tax home sellers pay at closing. As home sales continue to plummet, and some of those sales are "short" (sold for less than what is owed on it), such a tax is reckless. 

Earlier this month, while detailing the state's current financial picture, Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner revealed a devastating downward trend in home sales to the House Appropriations Committee. At the time, several Republicans appropriately drilled Secretary Wagner regarding Governor Kaine's transportation proposal that included a grantor's tax. It would be peculiar for those same legislators to agree to one now, but this is the General Assembly, after all. Regardless of whether the tax is introduced by Democrats or Republicans, the governor, the Senate or the House, the effect on the housing industry is the same — it will ensure a housing recession.

HB 6055 also includes a $20 increase in the car inspection fee in Hampton Roads, an extra $100 fee on those who receive their first drivers license (in N.Va.), a hotel tax (N.Va.) and a rental car tax (in both areas), among others. Americans For Tax Reform mailed each legislator who signed its No Tax Pledge that a vote to pass the tax-increasing buck to localities is still a tax increase and violates the pledge.

Four years ago, then-Governor Mark Warner cited education, health and public safety to pass the largest tax hike in the Commonwealth's history. Apparently, in 2004, transportation was no longer the "crisis" Warner had said it was in 2002 when he tried unsuccessfully to pass regional sales tax hikes for transportation via referenda in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Now, Governor Kaine and some allies in the legislature have decided to dust off the transportation "crisis" to raise taxes. This action comes only a few months after they proposed raiding the Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation expenditures.

Some of the same lawmakers who opposed a constitutional amendment restricting the Transportation Trust Fund to transportation-only spending now support a tax hike.  Even Governor Kaine, prior to his election, endorsed a "lock-box" to secure transportation funds from general fund spending and tax increases. Three years later, he has done nothing to support efforts to secure one. So what we're left with is a thinly veiled attempt to raise taxes on Virginia's families simply to raise money, not specifically for transportation. 

Besides that, it appears HB 6055 is more flexible than a Russian gymnast. Specific projects are to be carried out "in consultation with members of the General Assembly" — whatever that might mean. Sadly, the level of linguistic complexity required to raise some taxes in some areas, that affect only some people in order to fix some transportation needs, all while appearing as if no taxes are being raised, makes for a legislative nightmare.     

The bottom line is that for over a decade the General Assembly has bowed to the powerful education union and funded public education incorrectly, refused to reduce spending in pet projects, and counted on Virginians to pony up under the threat of disaster. If this mentality doesn't change now, in difficult economic times, what will it be like in good times? Believe me, it will be Bonnie and Clyde all over again, with a new crisis (health care or Medicare, perhaps?) and guess who they think is the bank?

The good news is that this can be stopped. Many legislators are being pressured by big-time lobbyists of big businesses who will benefit from government spending, from the teachers union which wants to ensure their portion of the pie isn't touched, and other special interest groups. But when enough concerned voters let their senators and delegates know enough is enough, it gives them the courage to resist the special interest pressures (click here to contact them). Instead of raising taxes, it is time for them to get some new ideas, such as comprehensive spending and budget reform.

Let The Tax Games Begin!

The start of the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly begins in hours. Enjoy the fun. We'll chronicle it here, so please check back as developments warrant. It all gets started in the morning with what should be a blast: Americans For Prosperity is hosting an anti-tax rally at the bell tower in Capitol Square. Attorney General Bob McDonnell will be one of the speakers. People from all over the state are expected, so if you can swing it, come on by. Your friendly admin will be there, so take a chance and try to pick me out. I'd love to meet any and all.

The rally includes free lunch. Get it? Governor Tim Kaine has been telling voters at his town hall meetings that there's no free lunch — when he's not telling them to stay off the roads if they don't agree with his $1 billion tax increase — even though we've been paying for a lot of government we don't want and never asked for (pre-K, anyone?).

So, remember: Even if you can't make the rally tomorrow, it is important you remind your delegates and senators and the governor himself of what you think about any and all ideas that require you to involuntarily part with your family's hard-earned money for more government waste and inefficiency. After all, the pro-taxers and their big business and developer lobby allies will be pressing hard to separate you from it, so you need to do your part. It may sound like an game, but in an Olympic year, sports analogies may be apt. Defeating these folks will take an Olympian effort.

One last thought: When the pro-taxers claim, as Governor Kaine did on his last "Ask The Governor" call-in show on WRVA-1140/AM, that Virginia is one of the lowest tax states in the union (although debatable because of all the recent tax increases), so we need to pay more, they are equating our tax bills with a poor performance indicator, such as low educational test scores — as if our tax rate is something we need to get up to the national average. No, no! Repeat after me, mistah guvna: Low tax, good; high tax bad; me no rede an rite bad; me read and write good.

Interview With Rich Galen

Mr. Galen, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview at It is quite a privilege to have such a noteworthy figure in the national conservative movement join us, especially with what must be a busy transition time in your life. You are the first national figure to do an interview with us. Congratulations! Although I suspect that accomplishment won't exactly move to the top of your curriculum vitae. ; - ) You have been in the news lately. You have accepted a new job with U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). What will you do in your capacity as her senior counselor?

Rich Galen: My portfolio includes oversight of the communications and speech-writing functions; but I also have license to look at other areas of the Senator's office operations. Can you describe what it is like to work for such high-profile leaders as former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Speaker Newt Gingrich and the opportunities it affords to positively affect policy?

Rich Galen: You must always remember it is the Vice President or the Speaker or the Senator who is the elected individual, not the advisor or the press secretary. Too often in Washington staff begins to believe it is the surrogate for, not the supporter of, the principal.

With that in mind, however, if you can establish a level of mutual trust, then in the confines of the office you may have the opportunity to shape policy. However, again, it is the principal's policy which comes out the door; not the staff's. How did you get recruited to speak at the Republican Party of Virginia Convention last week? Would you mind giving a synopsis of your keynote address and why you chose your theme?

Rich Galen: You'd have to ask Charlie Judd why he picked me, but I was honored that he did. My remarks were specifically aimed at reminding the delegates that even in a year when U.S. Senate and the President will be on the ballot, it all starts at the precinct.

I asked the delegates to keep in mind that a state-wide election is not won from Richmond, it is won by building a good precinct organization and then expanding that into a good neighborhood organization to good county organization.

If the GOP does that better than the Democrats, we will win in November. We are a conservative Christian grassroots public policy organization concerned about the direction of Virginia and the entire country on numerous issues. However, the pro-life, pro-family, traditional marriage and traditional family values issues are of particular concern. What advice can you give organizations like ours, our grassroots chapters and individuals to take up the challenges of affecting public policy, especially during times when the political winds seem to be coming from the other direction? Why is it important to stay engaged and how can single individuals or small groups get involved and make a difference?

Rich Galen: You must never lose sight of the effect letters-to-the editor, op-ed pieces,  letters to the offices of elected officials, and appearing at public meetings — from school board to city council to county commission meetings — and make your voices heard. 

Elected officials WANT to hear from you because they want to be certain they are keeping on top of the pulse of the community. Not every community has the same pulse, so don't take it for granted that a group with similar principles will be speaking for you. With its recent past election results, pundits now are calling Virginia a battleground state. Is Virginia helplessly moving left because of demographic change or does the conservative message resonate less with people looking for solutions to everyday problems, such as transportation, education and rising prices for food and gas?

Rich Galen: They are not mutually exclusive. Conservative principles, applied properly, will yield solutions to transportation, education, gas and food. We hear and read so much about change, yet that is vague. What is your sense of the electorate right now and how does that affect conservative candidates and what they stand for?

Rich Galen: "Change" as defined by the Left is not a new way forward, it is an about face to the policies which obtained for a half century until Ronald Reagan led America out of its Depression-era thinking and into a new era of less government, and greater personal opportunities. You started a very popular blog, What did you see at the time that made you think that blogs were going to be an important aspect of political communications? 

Rich Galen: No. Had I known how important what has become known as the blogosphere was going to become, I would have been much more serious about it. As it is, Mullings recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has been a joy to write through all years. What advice do you have for bloggers?

Rich Galen: First you have to have something to say. Second you have to write it in a voice which people want to read. Third — and perhaps most important — you have to write with a regularity and a frequency so that people who want to read what you have written don't drift away because there is no new material when they go looking at your blog.