Doing the Richmond Shuffle

It was a long day at the State Capitol yesterday.  The Senate did pass a revised State Budget (due to weakened revenue projections) and also elected a new round of judges, including Grace Carroll who will take the Circuit Court bench in Fairfax.  That’s an excellent choice.

Nothing happened with Medicaid, just as we all predicted.

The Senate Republicans also announced new committee assignments.  It was a mixed bag for me.  I’ve again lost my seat on the Courts of Justice committee.  (I had been the only member of that committee who practiced law in northern Virginia.  Currently, there are zero NoVA lawyers represented).  I also lost my seat on the Privileges and Elections Committee, which I had served on since 2007.

I picked up new assignments for Education/Health and Social Services, so that’s a switch.  I had not asked for these committees, but I’m ready to do my best.

When you’re in the minority, you have no control over these things.

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Medicaid Expansion — When the Opportunity was Missed

Tomorrow, the Assembly will re-assemble for a special session on Medicaid expansion.  This special session was promised back in June 2014, when the Senate — under new ownership — jettisoned “Marketplace Virginia” and, instead, adopted the House Budget.

At that time, we were told that we “needed” a special session to examine all aspects of Medicaid reform prior to debating expansion.  Or maybe we needed another reason to sit around for two days and get nothing done, except (perhaps) electing some new judges.

Actually, there was a moment when Medicaid expansion in Virginia could have been done quickly and with a minimum of fuss.  It was February 2013.  But the Democrats missed that opportunity.  Here’s how it went down …

When the Assembly convened in January 2013, the times were different.  Obama had been re-elected.  McDonnell was Governor and had robust approval ratings.  RGIII was the Rookie of the Year and the toast of the town.  It was (comparatively anyway) “the Era of Good Feelings” in the Commonwealth.

In early February, the “Republican-controlled” Senate took up its amendments to the biennial budget, including the issue of Medicaid eligibility, which had been passed to us by the U.S. Supreme Court.  By a vote of 36-4, we passed an amended Senate budget that included full expansion of Medicaid with Federal funding.

While there was some pro forma opposition, it was generally viewed that Medicaid expansion, with Federal support, was inevitable.  Indeed, it made no sense to say “no.”

A few weeks later, the Medicaid expansion was hung up in the House, which wanted to attach all sorts of conditions, including the dreaded “MIRC” commission.  Meanwhile, Governor McDonnell’s “landmark” transportation plan was in a Republican-controlled conference committee and needed Democratic votes to pass.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Over the next few days, there were multiple conversations about “horse trading” votes for the transportation plan (which McDonnell wanted) against votes for Medicaid expansion (which he had not publicly opposed but was ambivalent).   But the correlation was merely hypothetical at that point.  Nobody knew details.

A couple days later, the Republican conferees voted out the revised transportation bill which included the “hybrid tax,” a new sales tax targeted for NOVA, and a reduction in the gas tax.  (No, it made no sense in 2013 either).  A lot of Democrats like me hated the concept — but most felt constrained to support it.

To me, the vote swap was obvious.  Governor McDonnell was on full court press to pass his signature bill.  The budget bill was still in conference but within the Speaker’s control.  And he was 100% backing the Governor.

There were a number of conversations, both in public and behind closed doors.  Without going into detail, a few people — including me — felt strongly that Democrats should not commit to a dysfunctional transportation bill until there was agreement on Medicaid.

Unfortunately, that bluff was called as the Republicans passed the transportation bill easily in both bodies, without giving an inch on Medicaid expansion.  (FWIW, I voted “no” on McDonnell’s bill but for my own substantive reasons).

Later that evening, the Senate adjourned having passed a budget which made no accommodation on Medicaid and simply punted the issue to 2014.  And we all know how that’s ending up.  The sum total will cost billions of dollars to Virginia and deprive approx 400,000 Virginians of health care coverage.

Anyway, the readers can draw their own conclusions about what we accomplished (or didn’t) in the 2013 session.  To many Senators, it was worth going forward on the Governor’s transportation bill because that was our only chance for those funds.  In time, that may be proved correct. But we can hardly state that we “never” had a chance to pass Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

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Crumble Brittania?

There have been so many international crises happening that a notable event in the history of Anglo-Saxon tribal politics has virtually passed unnoticed.  For the first time since spring 1861, a region populated by English-speaking peoples is seeking to separate without permission from the mother ship.  In this case, it’s the land of Scotland with five million residents that is voting to secede from the United Kingdom.

Recent polls showed the “Yes” and “No” camps running virtually even, despite the fact that nearly every significant Scottish corporation and bank has threatened to flee the North  if independence actually occurs.

What in the name of William Wallace is going on here?

Watching the events unfold (and without prejudging the result on September 18), my mind reaches back to summer 2012 when London hosted the Summer Olympics.  Now, London is a truly great city, with so much history and fascinating neighborhoods.  And Great Britain is one of the most historically significant nations in world history, having merely controlled one-sixth of the world’s population at the height of its Empire.

Watching the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, you saw none of that.  Instead, the ceremonies demonstrated a thoroughly banal and inoffensive British society:  industrial revolution (with happy workers dancing about), leading to national health care (nurses pushing beds across the stadium floor), and culminating in a multi-cultural Internet age.

Umm, what does that have to do with the history of Brittania?  What about the island nation who pushed the French out of North America, stamped out slavery in Africa, and spread the Anglican faith around the globe.

What about Richard the Lionheart?  Sir Francis Drake?  Winston Churchill?!  What about the Charge of the Light Brigade?  The Hole of Calcutta?

Remarkably, this demotivating Olympic performance took place in front of HM Queen Elizabeth, while the (former) Archbishop of Canterbury dozed nearby. God, King and Country?  Nary a mention of any of the above.

Sadly, the idea of a national purpose, a national destiny, appeared dead on that summer night.  Instead, of Great Britain — it was Generic Britain.

With critics declaring that Britain now lacks a common civic virtue (and Scotland threatening to leave), is it possible that the world’s oldest democracy — the land which defeated the Kaiser and Hitler — could be headed for a crack-up?

Let’s hope not.  It’s hard to imagine a better ally for the USA than Great Britain.  And it’s better in one piece than in several fragments.  But you have to have a purpose and a history to hold it all together.

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Redskins Nation, Representing

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.”  (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).

It was a beautiful fall day, as the Washington Redskins opened their 2014 season at the welcoming environs of FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Undeterred by the nine-game losing streak entering the game, the Redskins faithful showed up in colorful and exuberant display and packed the stadium.   Would any other franchise have such an enthusiastic crowd, after such a miserable year in 2013?

(note to DMV newcomers:  there’s nothing that binds this area like the Redskins.  There is no similar cause which unites people across racial and social lines).

The Redskins Pride Caucus had our first day tailgate.  (I got lost in the  parking lot and was an hour late. Apparently, I was still punchy from Paul VI Catholic High School 5K this morning, which I finished in 23:24)

We had a half-dozen Caucus members present, including Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake), as well as the current Miss Virginia, Arielle Rosmarino from Roanoke.  We also had a special guest from Montana, Michael Doore of the Blackfeet Nation, the tribe which inspired the Redskins’ iconic logo.

Thank you to Pete Snyder, a member of the selective fraternity of unsuccessful LG candidates, who provided all the barbecue and beans for over 100 guests.

Oh, the game?

Yeah, there was a game.  Domination.  The Jaguars’ offensive line showed the sensitivity of a Washington Post editorial — and a similar lack of firmness or virility.  Meanwhile, the Redskins crushed on both sides of the ball and walked off with a 41-10 win.   Bright spirits were only tempered by the injury to Robert Griffin III.  Didn’t look good.

Next game against Philadelphia.  A clash between good and evil?  That doesn’t always go well.  But we won today.  Hail to the Redskins!

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Boomer Sooner. The Next Chapter.

On the edge of Kingfisher County, facing towards the parched riverbed of the Cimarron River, the wind blows hard across the Oklahoma plain.  The sun shines down intensely.

I’m standing here with multiple generations of my father’s family lying in gravestones behind me.  There’s “Richard Sturgeon,” a Civil War veteran who fought for both armies (it’s complicated) and lived until his eighties.  A few yards away is another “Richard Sturgeon,” his grandson, who fell down a well and drowned at age 15 months.  An angel is scrawled on the headstone.   My own grandparents are buried just yards away.

The Sturgeons were classic “Sooners” – ambitious homesteaders who flooded Oklahoma in the 1880’s, even before it formally opened for settlement.  In their zeal, the Sooners cleared forests, cultivated small farms, and created communities on the edge of the frontier.  They also met and intermarried with the Southern tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek) who arrived generations before.  A new society was created literally overnight.

Looking over the empty plain, it’s odd to see that that world is now gone.  The ranch where my grandmother Hazel grew up and my father spent his youthful summers, is now abandoned.  The windows are broken and the screen door falling down.  The only visitors for the past few years appear to be cattle who amble over from a neighboring farm.  Even the River, where my dad and his cousins went quail hunting, is all dried up.

Other than sixty headstones in the town cemetery, there’s no sign of human life.

That’s not unique.  Here in northwest Oklahoma, a community came and went, passing into history in about four generations.  And this is happening all over the Great Plains.

And yet, even as these frontier farming communities disappear, the state of Oklahoma is wealthier than ever.  Its cities are packed with new office buildings, new hotels, new restaurants.  Its universities have some of the largest endowments in the nation.  Oklahoma City is Tysons Corner, only with a pro basketball team and cheap steaks.

This wealth is the booming energy economy which has succeeded where subsistence farming failed.  The same rural townships which could not survive in the 20th century are home to plentiful oil and gas fields now reached with 21st century technologies like horizontal drilling.  Those resources are extracted, refined and sold to markets around the nation and world.

Ironically, the heartland of the USA, long given up for dead by economists and political scientists, may well be the catalyst for this nation’s recovery and economic re-emergence.

Back in the graveyard, the summer wind passes over the lonely stones.  “Rest easy,” one stone says.  “Eternity is at hand.”

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