Monday, November 02, 2015

The Importance of Voting Tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day in Virginia and the results of tomorrow's election will have a profound impact on Virginia's future.  If one lives in one of the contested Senate districts in particular, it is crucial that you get out and vote.  The following is a reprint of my October, 2015, VEER Magazine column that makes the case why one needs to vote and preferably vote Democrat.  Here's the full column:

By many accounts, the race for the Virginia Senate is just weeks away and it’s still a complete toss.  Republicans hold a two-seat (21-19) lead in the Virginia Senate, but since Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, presides over the Senate and can break the tie on most issues, Democrats only need a net gain of one seat in the general election to take control of the state Senate.  And, if the Democrats retake control of the Virginia Senate, they can control the Senate committee appointments and chairmanships and kill divisive legislation that gives the Commonwealth a bad name.  Similarly, they can provide a bulwark against some of the most extreme measures that may secure passage of in the Republican controlled House of Delegates. 

Sadly, in half of the 40 Senate districts up for election in 2015, are uncontested. And in the other races, many are not seriously contested.  As a result, a few key races may determine Virginia’s future. Out of the handful of races that will determine who controls the Virginia Senate, three critical Senate districts are located right here in Hampton Roads.  These districts and their respective candidates are as follows:
  • District 1: In this district, incumbent John Miller (D) will face attorney Mark Matney (R).
  • District 6: Incumbent Lynwood Lewis (D) will face challenger Richard Ottinger (R) in the general election. Lewis won this seat last January in a special election by only 11 votes.
  • District 7: Incumbent Frank Wagner (R) and Gary McCollum (D) will face off in the general election.
John Miller and Lynnwood Lewis are personal friends and even though my husband and I do not live in their districts we have supported them financially because we fear the reactionary agenda of their opponents and/or the Republican Party of Virginia.  My concern is that a vote for either of the Republican challengers - not withstanding Richard Ottinger disavowal of being motivated by so-called social issues - would be a vote to drag Virginia backwards in time.  Like it or not, both Ottinger and Matney, if elected, would be under great pressure to vote in accordance with the religious extremist, anti-gay, anti-tax (no matter the consequences to the Commonwealth's infrastructure), and anti-Medicaid expansion agenda of the Republican Party of Virginia.  Indeed, Matney’s campaign website discloses that he has embraced the Virginia GOP’s reactionary social issues agenda.

The District 7 race is the more difficult for me personally since Frank Wagner has been a friend for over 20 years and is one of the few Republicans in the General Assembly who is not rabidly anti-gay.  That said, he has until recently historically voted with the anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-minority members of the Republican caucus in the General Assembly.  To my surprise, he has voted to enact employment non-discrimination protections for state employees (the measures were killed in the GOP controlled House of Delegates) and in 2014 he was a patron of resolution commending Equality Virginia, the 25-year-old nonprofit that advocates for equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians.  The issue is, therefore, whether or not Frank has truly seen the light and will now work for equality for all Virginians.  Between now and election day, Frank Wagner would need to go to great lengths to disavow more of the extreme positions of the Virginia GOP to ensure my vote if I lived in his district.  

Turning to the situation in the House of Delegates, the Republicans hold a strong majority.  This is unlikely to change after the November 3, 2015, Virginia elections.  Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that in 71 of the 100 House of Delegates districts up for election in 2015, there is no contested election.  Only 29 of the 100 district seats up for election will have a contested race.  Why is this the case?  Largely due to gerrymandering which the Virginia GOP has admitted - in court pleadings in pending cases challenging the constitutionality of Virginia's voting districts - was done to protect Republican incumbents and aid in holding a Republican majority.  The dictates of the Virginia Constitution that voting districts must be compact and contiguous meant little compared to the quest for partisan advantage.

But back to why is this November's election so important.  Because these elections, especially in the Virginia Senate, will determine whether or not Virginia moves forward into the future or tries, as it has so often in the past, to retreat backwards in time.  A number of critical issues will face the General Assembly in the 2016 session. Two of the most important are as follows:

Medicaid Expansion: As I shared in a column earlier this year, my husband I have experienced firsthand the nightmare that is Virginia's Medicaid program in connection with securing placement for my adopted brother-in-law who suffers from intellectual disabilities.  To listen to Republicans - including statements on Richard Ottinger's campaign website and Mark Matney’s campaign site- Medicaid is some out of control program where free loaders predominate and money is squandered.  The reality, of course, is something far different than what Republicans would have one believe, especially when it comes to disability services.   The Commonwealth of Virginia ranks either 5th or 7th in the nation in per capita income depending on the income ranking utilized. But despite it "wealthy state" status, in terms of its spending on the needs of those suffering from intellectual and developmental disabilities, Virginia ranks 49th in the county.  Only Mississippi spends less on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Virginia’s Medicaid system needs a huge infusion of money.

Making matters even worse, as the Virginian Pilot recently emphasized, Republican obstructionism to Medicaid expansion hurts the Commonwealth's economic viability but it also seriously threatens the viability of many Virginia hospitals. Here is a brief quote:

REPUBLICAN state lawmakers' refusal to accept billions in Virginians' federal taxes to subsidize insurance for some 400,000 uninsured people has repeatedly been exposed as the partisan political ploy that it is.

The expansion of Virginia's managed-care Medicaid program, the most efficient of two divisions of Medicaid in Virginia, is a prime objective of Democratic President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans have chosen to bleed hospitals in their own districts of necessary revenue, diminishing access to quality health care while undermining local and statewide economic development efforts. All so they can politically oppose a lame duck president over a law twice declared constitutional and which the GOP doesn't have the votes in Washington to overturn.

The analysis is harsh, but sadly accurate from all of the data that I have reviewed to date.  Republican candidates who merely mouth the anti-Medicaid talking points of the Virginia GOP prove that, in reality, they are clueless on the issues on which they are campaigning.

Job Creation and Economic Growth.  All of the candidates regardless of political party talk about wanting to create jobs and build Virginia’s economy.  Most of the Republican proposals boil down to cutting taxes, repealing safety regulations, and pushing the same strategies that have fails to yield results over the years.  Electing representatives that understand that the state and global economies have changed is critical to Hampton Roads.  As recently reported, the Hampton Roads economic has remained static and in the doldrums even as other parts of the country have seen their economies grow.  This needs to change.  Private sector job growth is also critical because Virginia is the No. 1 recipient of Department of Defense spending and has seen a $9.8 billion decrease in defense spending from 2010 through 2012.  One way to counter balance this economic threat is to boost private industry growth to generate new jobs to replace those lost to decreases in federal government spending in the coming years, especially if a new round of sequestration cuts take effect.

As I and others have argued before, to attract new businesses, Virginia needs to ensure that it is welcoming to all would be private business and their employees whether these employees are black, white, Hispanic, Hindu, Christian, foreign born, gay or straight.  Equality is a powerful key to recruiting top employees and retaining others.  Yet, in contrast to this vision of a Virginia where all are welcome, the Republican controlled House of Delegates has consistently blocked every effort to enact employment non-discrimination protections for LGBT employees, pushed through voter ID laws to disenfranchise minorities under the ruse of protecting against nonexistent “voter fraud,” and made all kinds of anti-immigrant statements that impact not just Hispanics but also Asian-Americans.  Just as frightening is the fact that  Virginia Republicans have pledged to make the 2016 General Assembly session all about protecting "religious liberty" through what I call “license to discriminate laws” that enable anti-gay and other religious based discrimination.   If enacted, such laws will make it painfully obvious to potentially relocating businesses that not everyone is welcome in Virginia.

How do we protect Virginia's future and move its economy forward?  Get out and vote come the November elections.  We have elected officials who are working to generate new private industry jobs, seeking to make Virginia a welcoming state for businesses and their employees, and pushing to expand Virginia's health care system (and in the process recapture Virginians' own money sent to Washington).   But these elected officials from the Governor on down need your help: get out vote, especially if you live in the 1st, 6th or 7th Senate districts, and vote for Democrat candidates who want to end Republicans’ failed, irresponsible policies that threaten Virginia's economy and future.

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