Happy Birthday, Thomas

Today, my son Thomas turned 10 years old.  He’s a fourth grader at Mosby Woods Elementary and loves to play football, basketball, soccer and pretty much every video game known to man.

Ten years ago, I was speaking to the Hanover County Democratic Committee at a coffee house in Ashland.  It was three months before the Democratic primary for Lt. Governor, and I was scrambling for every voter.

I gave my five minute schtick in Hanover that morning and started answering questions.  My cell phone started to buzz.  “It’s probably my wife,” I joked.  “She’s going into labor.” Sharon was nearly due with our third child, but she had assured me that the baby was still a few days away

A moment later, I checked the voice mail (it was the days before text).  It was my wife and she was in labor.

I begged off from the event and hopped in the car with a campaign assistant.  There was no time for me to go home.  My Dad gave Sharon a ride straight to the maternity ward at INOVA Fair Oaks.  We came flying back I-95 to meet her there.

A few hours later, the baby boy emerged, entering the world at an epic 10 pounds, 10 oz. We named him “Thomas Henry,” after a 19th century family patriarch and a beloved next-door neighbor.

He was a jolly little guy — and still is today.  He loves his mother, he loves his three sisters, and he loves Minecraft.  He never backs down from a challenge and tries to beat his father at everything, from driveway basketball to basement boxing matches.  Every Dad should have a son like Thomas.

Happy birthday, buddy!

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Sweetbriar College Closes

Read it here.

For one hundred plus years, Sweetbriar has been the classic women’s college, located just a few miles outside Lynchburg.  My Grandmother was a graduate, circa 1934.

Today it announced that it would be closing, thereby making it the third private college to shutter in the past three years in Virginia.  It will find places for its 700 students.

Sweetbriar was a victim of some modern trends:  first, the glut of private colleges competing for scarce students, second, the fact that Virginia’s public schools are not just co-ed, they are predominately female with a diminishing male population.  (Somehow, this fact seems to have slipped by the Title IX enforcers).

With UVA being 57% female, a sister school is basically superfluous.

That doesn’t make it regrettable.  Small liberal arts schools teach more than academics; they teach leadership.  Single-sex education might seem outdated but it has its positives, such as encouraging students to speak up and discouraging typical gender roles.

Like HBCU’s, the women’s colleges of Virginia (Randolph-Macon, Sweetbriar, Hollins, Mary Baldwin) had a lot of history and dedicated alumnae.  But the financial numbers are getting harder and harder to justify.  To attract students, Sweetbriar had to offer financial aid to 99% of its students — you just can’t do that and stay alive.

No word yet on what will happen to the historic grounds.

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Ethics Bill Clearing the Floor

The bill (SB 1424) is an ugly leviathan.  It’s far too long (98 pages) and has more definitions than a Webster’s Dictionary.  I’m glad to say I had no part in drafting it.

Basically all gifts over $100 are banned, except from family or personal friends.  There are a number of carve-outs, including invites to “widely-attended gatherings” and ceremonial dinners as well as honorary plaques, educational trips, etc.  This includes both tangible and intangible gifts, so no more tickets to the Dominion Box at FedEx Field or Verizon Center.

This bill was far too complicated.  All it needed to do was ban gifts to lawmakers by persons seeking state business.  That’s enough — and covers Johnnie Williams.

The law will not took effect until January 1, 2016 so it will not capture political candidates (who may be having a free dinner as we speak).  This bill has a lot of flaws, but so does the money culture in Richmond.

Like most ugly bills, it passed unanimously 36-0.

And we’re done for the session.

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“Surveillance” bill rolls on to the Governor

The 2015 Assembly struck a major blow for liberty this afternoon, as we passed the conference committee report for SB 965, my legislation which states that law enforcement cannot use “surveillance technology” to covertly track citizens, when there is no warrant or pending investigation.

The bill was initially directed as “license plate readers,” which have been in use in northern Virginia for the past few years — and which can still be used in a very limited capacity.  However, the conference report was written broadly to address any future surveillance technologies.  We don’t want to be doing this every year.

The bill went through various iterations, even in the final hours, as I worked closely with Delegates Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge), Ben Cline (R-Lexington) and Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) to get the final version.  On the Senate side, the conferees were me, Richard Stuart (R-Stafford) and Tom Garrett (R-Cumberland).

The final version passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 95-2.  You really can’t beat that in terms of a unified message.  Now the Governor can sign a piece of legislation, which will be a model for the other fifty states.

Special thanks to Tom Jackman of the Washington Post, who wrote a series of articles in 2014 which addressed the exploding use of LPR’s and first brought this to my attention.  More special thanks to Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Virginia ACLU who tirelessly promoted this issue and our bipartisan solution.

Rich Anderson was a great partner in this endeavor and carried the House bill which should pass tomorrow.  It was a team effort.


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“Small Business” Definition Bill Due to Pass

On many occasions, I have written or spoken about Virginia’s “small business” program which does an uneven job of distributing contracting opportunities to small or minority-owned businesses for state-related business.

For the past two years, I’ve sat on the Procurement Reform Commission which has looked at ways reform Virginia’s laws so as to deliver best value  for the taxpayer, while giving small business a chance to compete.  (Yes, I’m aware there’s an internal tension).

One of the major problems has been Virginia’s existing definition of “Small Business” which is any business that has less than 250 employees or does less than $10 million in annual receipts.  Basically that’s everyone, except retail monsters like Target, Wal-Mart and others.

This year, I borrowed an idea from Delegate Alfonso Lopez and filed SB 885, which sought to refine that definition.  He carried a similar bill in the House.

After a drawn-out process (and a couple false starts), we are on the verge of passing twin bills this week which will eventually replace Virginia’s outdated definition with the Federal standard that has a sliding scale for businesses based on capital and labor needs.  It will ensure that a “small business” in Virginia will actually be a small business.

This will have the added bonus of uniformity for firms that seek Federal and state small business awards.  I was happy to get the blessing today from Commerce Secretary Maurice Jones, as well as various small business stakeholders.

(Another small business measure, SB 891, should also pass the House today.  It protects small businesses from being forced to sign lien waivers before they begin work on a project — thereby waiving their ability to collect.  It is strongly supported by the building trades in Virginia).

For some mysterious reason, this has been my most productive session in my twelve years in Richmond.  Either I’m getting smarter or everyone else is coming down to my level.

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