While Terry McAuliffe’s campaign haggles over gubernatorial debate rules, the candidate said Monday that he is not personally involved in the “silly” debate over debates.
“I’m not involved in any of the debate negotiations,” McAuliffe said during a campaign stop at New Richmond Ventures, a firm that mentors and invests in what it describes as “purpose-driven ventures.”
McAuliffe was asked at that event about his campaign’s objection to the Virginia Bar Association’s traditional debate format, which allows each candidate to directly ask questions of the other.
McAuliffe and his Republican rival, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, have agreed to the Bar Association debate, which takes place July 20 at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. But McAuliffe’s campaign objects to the planned candidate-to-candidate questions. McAuliffe was asked if he opposed having Cuccinelli ask him a question and vice versa.
How do you expand Medicaid under the federal health overhaul law without provoking the wrath of conservatives dead set against it under any circumstances? A Virginia panel attempting that high-wire act took its first good look at the daunting challenge of modernizing the federal-state program, making it more like a commercial service, simplifying it and cutting billions of dollars in the process Monday and learned from a noisy contingent of protesters that there’s no way to please both sides. “Kill the bill!” screamed a few dozen people who had rallied against the federal health reforms they denounce as “Obamacare” earlier on the Capitol lawn. That included a man dressed as a Colonial-era town crier, replete with a tricorn hat, blue frock coat and a bell in one hand. “It’s a fraud! It’s unconstitutional,” one protester yelled during a brief outburst in the packed legislative meeting room at the first meeting of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission.
Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi are once again the two wealthiest members of the House leadership, according to just released financial disclosure reports for all members. Cantor saw his minimum personal wealth rise slightly to nearly $4.4 million in 2012, and Pelosi is worth at least $24.4 million, according to their annual reports.
The second of three reports on Richmond’s Department of Social Services, released Monday afternoon, underscores what a damning investigation by the city auditor has already revealed.
“The child welfare units within the (Richmond Department of Social Services) are dysfunctional,” the 84-page report by the state Department of Social Services says.
Monday’s release of the report is the latest chapter in a turbulent seven-month saga for the department, which has seen the ouster of two senior administrators — Human Service Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Carolyn N. Graham and Social Services Deputy Director Gayle L. Turner — and the retirement of Social Services Director Doris D. Moseley.
Among the more than two dozen findings in the state report were the need to better manage and maintain records, of which the auditor estimated there are hundreds missing, and re-evaluate policies to protect children’s safety, including when emergency-removal and preliminary protective orders should be filed, and better managing families deemed “high risk” and “very high risk.”
“In four case records reviewed, medical professionals determined a child to be at risk of irreparable damage or death,” the report says. “However, upper management instructed (Child Protective Services) staff that protective custody of the child/children was not an option to be followed for those cases.”
Virginia could face a liability of almost $3.5 billion if a recent court ruling is upheld and invalidates all state contracts for privately operated toll facilities on public highways, Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton warned lawmakers today. While the focus was on a Hampton Roads river crossing project that the state is defending in court, the fallout from the legal battle could include an estimated $502 million for Pocahontas 895, the toll parkway between Henrico and Chesterfield counties that was the first project approved under the Public-Private Transportation Act, and $71 million for the U.S. 460 expressway approved last year between Prince George County and Suffolk.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was briefed on a lawsuit in which landowners were seeking payment for natural gas from two large energy companies, a case in which a federal judge sharply criticized an assistant attorney general’s help for the firms. The briefings, by senior members of Cuccinelli’s staff, came during a period in which the state had formally intervened in the case, seeking to defend provisions of the Virginia Gas and Oil Act, spokesman Brian Gottstein said this week. Gottstein said neither Cuccinelli, nor senior counsel Stephen McCullough, nor deputy attorney general Rick Neel remember the assistant attorney general, who would later be criticized for her actions, being involved in those briefings. Records of the U.S. District Court in Abingdon include an August 2012 email from Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon to Consol Energy lawyer Jonathan Blank offering suggested arguments for the company, and complaining about the landowners’ failure to appeal a permit, saying: “How many chances do they get?”
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife used taxpayer money to pay for sunscreen and dog vitamins, the Washington Post reported on Monday, a disclosure that comes as the Republican leader is said to be under scrutiny by the FBI. The newspaper, citing spending records it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also said the McDonnells used state employees to run personal errands for their adult children and billed the state for deodorant, shoe repairs and a digestive system “detox cleanse.” The Washington Post has previously reported that McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016, was under investigation by the FBI and a grand jury over a $15,000 catering bill from his daughter’s wedding in 2011 that was paid for by a campaign donor.
Republican former state Senator John Chichester is set to endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe Monday morning at an event in Richmond. The McAuliffe campaign is touting “Virginians for McAuliffe” as a “bipartisan coalition of supporters committed to electing a governor with mainstream solutions to the issues Virginians care about.” The group is holding a launch event in Richmond Monday morning. Chichester, from Stafford, was the 28th state Senate district’s senator from 1978 to 2008. He served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. His endorsement of a Democrat isn’t that surprising — he also backed Democrat Edd Houck in last year’s state Senate race against Sen. Bryce Reeves, endorsed Democrat Creigh Deeds in the 2009 governor’s race and cut an ad for Sen. Mark Warner in the 2008 Senate race. Former Sen. Russ Potts will also join the group in backing McAuliffe. Former Republican delegates Jim Dillard, Vince Callahan and Katherine Waddell are also in the group.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday said fears over the Obama administration’s abuse of power were behind the president’s sharply falling poll numbers. “Certainly I would think it’s troubling for the President the fact that half the American people now don’t think that the President is trustworthy and honest,” Cantor said on CNN’s “New Day.” “What they’re witnessing is a Washington and a government that has abused its power, and frankly has lost focus on the issue that most Americans care about, which is getting people back to work.”
In November, Virginia voters will elect a governor, lieutenant governor and an attorney general. But some voters may not identify with any of the candidates. On the Democrats’ side, voters have Terry Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring. “The problem has always emerged when there are three white males on the ticket,” said University of Mary Washington political science professor Steven Farnsworth. But for the GOP, there’s a different king of diversity problem. “The lack of diversity is a lack of ideological diversity,” Farnsworth said. Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain are all from the conservative wing of the GOP. “Although you can win of course, in a nomination struggle, with an ideologically conservative message, it’s much harder to sell that in a statewide general election,” said Farnsworth. According to Farnsworth, while moderate Republicans may feel abandoned by the ticket, Democrats have another concern.
Sen. Warner and I agree we need to fix our broken immigration system; however, our approach to solving this issue differs. While he supports the Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, I have many concerns about this massive bill. It doesn’t provide adequate border security and interior enforcement measures, thereby repeating similar mistakes made in past immigration reform bills that have contributed to the problems we face today. If we want a lasting, workable immigration system for future generations, we need to methodically review each of the individual issues within the larger debate. We need to secure our borders and provide a robust interior enforcement strategy to maintain the integrity of our immigration laws. We must review our legal immigration system to make sure it’s working in the best interest of the United States. And we must also find a solution to bring those unlawfully in the U.S. out of the shadows.
Some would argue that the best way to fix our broken immigration system is for Congress to take a piecemeal, fragmented approach. But the truth is, there are practical reasons why a comprehensive fix represents a more effective and practical solution to this large and complex problem. No matter how many billions of dollars we spend on border security, if we don’t fix our visa system to make legal entry more attractive than illegal entry, we’ll still have the same problem we started with. People come to the U.S. illegally because of powerful economic incentives — they’re looking for jobs. If we don’t address employment verification, improve security processes, create pathways for STEM graduates and provide a legal way for DREAMers to pursue educational opportunities, then we are wasting vital opportunities to grow our economy. These issues are inextricably linked to each other. A piecemeal approach will resolve some problems while making others worse, and may even create unforeseeable challenges down the road.
The battle lines are drawn over a major overhaul of Virginia’s Medicaid program that could lead to expanding coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians. The Virginia Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission will meet for the first time today to review a three-phased plan of reforms outlined in amendments to the state budget that will take effect July 1. The 10-member legislative commission would be able to authorize the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as early as the middle of next year if it finds those goals have been met – and that has opponents of the federal health care law crying foul. “This is a setup,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, who vows to file suit to block the commission from allowing Medicaid expansion without action by the entire legislature. “This is a way to pave the way to say ‘yes.’ ”
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, have used taxpayer money for a range of small personal items they should have paid for themselves under state policy, according to spending records.
The McDonnells have billed the state for body wash, sunscreen, dog vitamins and a digestive system “detox cleanse,” the records show. They also have used state employees to run personal errands for their adult children. In the middle of a workday, for example, a staffer retrieved Rachel McDonnell’s newly hemmed pants at a tailoring shop nine miles from the governor’s mansion. Another time, a state worker was dispatched to a dry cleaner 20 miles away to pick up a storage box for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding dress.
About six months into the governor’s term, the official who oversees mansion spending told the McDonnells that they should not have charged taxpayers for a number of expenses, including deodorant, shoe repairs and dry-cleaning their children’s clothing. The official asked the McDonnells to pay the state back more than $300, which they did, and also gave them a refresher on what the state will and won’t provide for occupants of the governor’s mansion.
But since that time, state records show that the McDonnells have continued to let taxpayers pick up the tab for numerous personal items, including vitamins, nasal spray and sleep- inducing elixirs.
The conduct of the Virginia attorney general’s office under Ken Cuccinelli (R) has raised eyebrows almost from the start of his tenure. There was the troubling investigation of a global warming researcher, the ideological attacks on abortion and gay rights, the belated recusal from a case in which Mr. Cuccinelli may have had a conflict of interest. Add now to the list criticism from a federal judge about the dubious role of the attorney general’s office in advising energy companies being sued by southwestern Virginia landowners. A footnote is the revelation that the parent company of one firm is a major contributor to Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign for governor.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent took aim at the relationship, revealed in a series of e-mails between an assistant attorney general who advises the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, Sharon Pigeon, and the two Pittsburgh-area companies, EQT Production Co. and CNX Gas Co., involved in a series of lawsuits over natural gas royalties. “Shockingly,” wrote the magistrate in a June 5 opinion recommending certification of the cases as a class-action suit, “these emails show that the Board, or at least Pigeon, has been actively involved in assisting EQT and CNX with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the Motions before the court.” At stake in the case, according to the Associated Press, are tens of millions of dollars that attorneys for the plaintiffs say are owed to thousands of landowners for extraction of methane gas from underground coal beds.
A proposed six-mile highway outside Charlottesville is so wasteful and ill-conceived that it’s achieved literary status. It prompted best-selling novelist and area resident John Grisham to write a book implicitly denouncing it.
“The Activist,” published last month and aimed at youths ages 10 to 12, is fictional. But Grisham said it was inspired by the decades-long battle over a $245 million bypass west of the city that’s home to the University of Virginia.
Grisham, famed for such legal thrillers as“The Firm,” said the new book is about “a boneheaded bypass around a lovely little college town and all the issues that go into such a boondoggle.”
The rest of the state, and especially Northern Virginia, should be equally appalled. The road is one of the most egregious examples of a pattern in which Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration relentlessly pushes a major highway project despite abundant evidence that the money could be spent more wisely elsewhere.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system championed by President Barack Obama and passed by Congress three years ago, calls for expanding Medicaid to cover uninsured people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That’s $15,856 for an individual, $32,499 for a family of four. Many of the potential beneficiaries are the working poor. They might be the cashiers on the other side of a fast-food counter, the laborers at one of the Roanoke Valley’s many warehouses or the migrant workers harvesting apples or tobacco. “Health care is a human necessity, and there’s no question that the cost of health insurance is well beyond what the people who would qualify for Medicaid could actually afford,” said Jim Lindsay, a member of the health care committee of Virginia Organizing, a citizens advocacy group pushing for the expansion. However, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law last summer, it ruled that states cannot be forced to go along with the Medicaid expansion. Since then, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have decided to expand their programs, which are funded by both state and federal tax dollars. Virginia is on the fence. A two-year budget approved by the General Assembly in March allows for the expansion, but only if major improvements are made to the program.
Here’s a news flash, right up there with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping: Linwood Holton, Virginia’s first Republican governor, is endorsing Democrat Terry McAuliffe for the job Holton had in the early 1970s, when McAuliffe was a teenager hustling for a buck, resurfacing driveways in Syracuse, N.Y.
A moderate in a party now anything but, Holton hasn’t backed a GOP statewide candidate in years. In supporting McAuliffe, Holton didn’t attack Ken Cuccinelli; didn’t even mention the Republican gubernatorial nominee by name. Rather, Holton depicted McAuliffe as an example of what Cuccinelli supposedly isn’t: non-ideological, interested in mainstream solutions, willing to reach out to the other party.
This continuing reinvention of McAuliffe — he was a fast-talking, often-ethically challenged national Democratic hack for whom bipartisanship was merely code for the profit motive — is part of a larger effort to depict Cuccinelli and his running mates as untrustworthy tea party clones wrong for Virginia.
While surveys suggest many voters have yet to pay a great deal of attention to the governor’s race, those who have tuned in appear less than enthusiastic about their options. A recent poll showed only 45 percent of Virginia voters were satisfied with the choice between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, with 40 percent saying they wish someone else were running. “Both campaigns are in weak positions relative to voters right now,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Less than five months until Election Day, each candidate is feverishly trying to define himself while reducing his rival to a caricature. In the process, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have stumbled, opening themselves to attack on aspects of their candidacies once thought to be among their strengths.
Republican Mark Obenshain and Democrat Mark Herring met in the first debate of the election this morning in Virginia Beach. The event was a part of The Virginia State Bar’s Young Lawyers Conference and Cathy Lewis, of WHRO, served as moderator. The hour-long debate gives an early glimpse into the tone that this contest will likely take over the next almost five months. Herring came out swinging, drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Obenshain. The latter seemed a little taken aback by it. Between opening and closing statements, the two candidates took five questions on a wide range of topics. Some answered were better than others and some – are the tolls on the Portsmouth tunnels constitutional? - not answered at all. There were hints of what is to come, issue wise, as the campaign season wears on. Obenshain sounded as if he wants to leave the social issues alone, focusing on being the state’s lawyer. Herring wants to focus on removing the politics from the AG’s office. But the hints were a little hard to come by: Both men seemed to still be in primary mode, throwing out red-meat partisan statements. If there was anything earth-shattering in the debate, it had to be Obenshain’s response to the last question. The issue was the upcoming SCOTUS rulings on marriage. Obenshain reiterated his support for Virginia’s Marshall-Newman amendment, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, based on his faith. That wasn’t the surprise. The surprise was that he went further, saying that there was “no place in Virginia for discrimination on the basis of irrelevant qualifications.”
In the first debate of Virginia’s general election, candidates vying to become the state’s next attorney general on Saturday began outlining the stark differences in how they would approach the office.
The exchange was at times contentious as the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Mark R. Herring of Loudoun, said his Republican opponent, state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain of Harrisonburg, would view the job “through a prism of radical extremism.”
Herring linked Obenshain to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who is the GOP gubernatorial nominee, and to Republican lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson. Herring told the audience that he and Obenshain “could not be more far apart” ideologically.
Obenshain appeared surprised by the attacks, but pushed back, saying Herring would try to interject his own politics into the office.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is capping the week in the mountains with donors, staff and others. McDonnell’s Opportunity Virginia PAC is holding its fourth annual retreat at the Homestead, the tony Hot Springs resort, where about 80 people are expected to hobnob for a couple of days. A McDonnell aide says guests pay for their own accommodations, but various programs are organized, including panel discussions. The event has, in the past, drawn an array of lawmakers and this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addressed the group, according to a McDonnell spokesman.
E.W. Jackson sounds a tad overwhelmed on his cellphone voice mail.
“This is E.W. Jackson, Republican nominee for lieutenant governor,” the message says. “As you can imagine, since I’ve won the nomination . . . my phone has been ringing off the hook. Please be patient; we will get back to you.”
The message then refers callers to campaign manager Greg Aldridge and an office telephone number.
If Aldridge misses a call, a cellphone is cheerfully answered by his son.
“You’ve reached my Dad,” the greeting starts, before callers are asked to leave a message. No mention is made of Jackson or Aldridge’s role in the campaign.
Jackson’s surprising win last month at the Republican Party of Virginia’s convention was the equivalent of lightning in a bottle for the Chesapeake minister, who placed fourth of four candidates in last year’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate. The relative newcomer to commonwealth politics now finds himself in unfamiliar territory on his first statewide general campaign.
When asked about his campaign’s preparedness at voter meet-and-greet in Manassas, Jackson demurred before returning to supporters.
Linwood Holton, a former Republican governor who has backed Democrats in recent statewide campaigns, is supporting Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor. Holton, who in 1970 became Virginia’s first Republican governor of the 20th century, is the father-in-law of Sen. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who served as governor from 2006 to 2010. “Virginia needs a governor who will work across the aisle to find mainstream solutions to growing our economy,” Holton said in a statement. “There needs to be a singular focus on these economic issues, not an ideological agenda that divides people. I’m supporting Terry McAuliffe because he has that focus, he will put partisan politics aside and work every day to move Virginia forward. “Terry has shown his focus already by emphasizing the importance of improving community colleges and working across the aisle to support the critical bipartisan transportation proposal.”
Virginia Democrats stepped up their request for an independent investigation of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II”s intervention in a legal dispute over natural gas royalties by going to one of the two state officers who has the authority to initiate such a probe: Cuccinelli. Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) said Friday that he visited the Attorney General’s Northern Virginia regional office to drop off a letter urging Cuccinelli to ask for an independent investigation of his own agency by the Inspector General Office. Other Democrats visited other Attorney General offices in the state with the same request.
A look round the state by the Virginia Public Access Project gives an interesting snapshot of the state of democracy: believe it or not, it will be only a minority of members of the 100 member House of Delegates who get a pass on actually having to win voters’ endorsement in November. Yes: Only 49 incumbents are in uncontested races. And an entire one-third of House incumbents face a major party challenger. Another seven face an independent or minor party challenger. Hoping for new faces? For the 11 open seats, one is uncontested by a new Republican, and in another the Republican candidate faces an independent. Nine are contested by both parties.
Gala dinners. Concert tickets. Paid airfare. There’s a definite upside to the political life. In the wake of the FBI investigation of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s financial ties to a nutritional supplement company, we look at the records of gifts given to Virginia officials between 2002 and 2012. Apart from political contributions, elected officials in Virginia can accept personal gifts of any value, provided they annually disclose those they receive that are worth at least $50. All gifts reflected here were included on annual disclosure forms and are worth more than the $50 threshold.
I don’t care that E.W. Jackson used marijuana in his youth, even if he inhaled. His high school fistfights don’t move me one way or another, although I’m intrigued by a matchup between Jackson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and the famously pugilistic Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, a Henrico Democrat. But Jackson’s conflation of faith and politics worries me, along with the open contempt he has displayed for many Virginians. He has said gays are “very sick people,” and homosexuality “poisons culture,” “destroys societies” and “brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of.” In his “Message to Black Christians,” available for viewing on YouTube, he pretty much brands Democrats as the party of sin. Democrats have become “anti-Christian, anti-church, anti-Bible, anti-life, anti-family and anti-God,” he says. Black pastors are “going to have to answer for whether they serve Jesus or the Democrat Party.” His vapor trail of controversial statements — including the accusation that Planned Parenthood “has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was” — has made the Jackson campaign a sideshow. Wednesday, he held a curious news conference in Manassas in an attempt to clarify or correct the record. (Sample: “I do not believe that yoga leads to Satanism.”)
A federal investigation into a Virginia businessman’s political ties is threatening to harm the reputations of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, an often mentioned prospective presidential candidate, and the man running to replace him. Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general and Republican gubernatorial nominee, is squaring off against former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in a race testing the staying power of the diverse voting bloc that backed President Barack Obama 2008 and 2012 and turned Virginia into a swing state. For Cuccinelli, who like McDonnell has links to the targeted businessman, the timing of the investigation’s progression couldn’t be worse: a related trial, which will focus on felony embezzlement charges against the governor’s former chef, is scheduled to be held in mid-October. “That’s when the last of the voters start paying attention to the election” held on Nov. 5, said Quentin Kidd, the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. “I think a lot of people on both the Democratic and Republican side are looking at that trial, at the schedule, and saying that it could throw a wrench into the last couple weeks” of the campaign, Kidd said.
Setting up a nice counterpoint to the Republican Party’s strident assault on women’s issues and other social matters, Ralph S. Northam, one of two good options, was selected as lieutenant governor candidate for the Democratic Party in Tuesday’s primary. Winning the attorney general nomination was Mark R. Herring. The two should be valuable counterpoints to E.W. Jackson, the Republican’s choice for lieutenant governor, and Mark Obenshain, the GOP attorney general candidate. Those two have been noted for over-the-top positions on birth control and abortion that have proved enormously divisive. Northam, a Norfolk pediatric neurologist who defeated technology guru Aneesh Chopra, ran a freedom-of-choice campaign on women’s issues, pointing out that his profession has given him a special knowledge of the privacy that needs to cloak health issues. As a state senator, he fought last year to stop the Republicans’ pathetic bill requiring trans-vaginal ultrasounds before a woman could have a legal abortion. Chopra would have made a decent candidate as well. The former top technology officer for Gov. Tim Kaine and President Obama, he symbolizes the importance of Virginia’s tech sector, where many of the state’s jobs have been created over the past two decades. He would have helped draw attention to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s quest to create jobs. Voters, however, seemed to say that the Republican troika of hard-liners, led by gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, required a strong counterattack on social issues.
The battle for political control of Virginia began in earnest this week when the Democratic Party completed its ticket, and both parties are scrambling to convince an increasingly purple state that they’re not the ideologues their opponents claim they are. Democrats nominated Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk for lieutenant governor and Sen. Mark Herring of Loudoun County for attorney general to join gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on the fall ballot. The three candidates have already demonstrated they’ll run as a united ticket in hopes of getting the party to coalesce around McAuliffe, who will spend the summer energizing the Democratic base as much as he’s appealing to moderates. The same can’t be said for the Republican ticket. The GOP diehards are firmly behind Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial aspirations, and the party faithful gathered at a convention last month to nominate Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson to be his lieutenant governor running mate and Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg for attorney general.
One of the more enlightening moments of election night Tuesday was a tweet wondering if there were more people attempting to view election results at the two websites providing them than there were people who actually voted in the primary. The tweet was prompted by the fact that both websites - the Virginia State Board of Elections and the Virginia Public Access Project - had crashed. The taxpayer-funded SBE site was a mess most of the evening, prompting many to switch to the nonprofit VPAP site. It didn’t take long for the latter to go down; VPAP tweeted that the site traffic was higher than it had been for the 2012 election. With so many eyes on Virginia - the tweet came from a person in Florida - it was quite possible that more were watching than had voted.
A complex legal dispute over mineral rights in Virginia’s coal country has become the latest battleground in the state’s bitterly fought gubernatorial race, with Democrats accusing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II of improperly siding with out-of-state energy companies against Virginians who say the firms cheated them out of natural gas royalties.
Sen. Phillip P. Puckett has asked the state inspector general’s office to conduct an independent investigation into why a senior lawyer in Cuccinelli’s office was “actively advising” two Pennsylvania-based energy companies in several related lawsuits, even though Virginia wasn’t a formal party to them. Although the attorney general’s office acts as an adviser to the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, the board is also not a party.
Cuccinelli (R) and the companies have denied any wrongdoing. As the state’s legal counsel, Cuccinelli said his office properly intervened only to defend the underlying Virginia Gas and Oil Act against arguments by the landowners’ attorneys that the 1990 law could be unconstitutional. Cuccinelli also rejected the notion that he had taken sides.
Falls Church Healthcare Center has filed the first lawsuit challenging Virginia’s new abortion clinic regulations, which require existing facilities to meet the same building standards as newly constructed hospitals.
The lawsuit filed this week in Arlington County Circuit Court claims there is no medical justification for requiring clinics to meet those standards, which cover such matters as hallway widths and closet sizes. It also says Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, an anti-abortion Republican, erroneously advised the board that it lacked legal authority to exempt existing clinics from the new-hospital construction standards.
The attorney general’s office is reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment, spokesman Brian Gottstein said Thursday.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2011 passed legislation requiring the regulation and licensure of abortion clinics. Supporters say the regulations are intended to protect women’s health, but opponents say the aim is to put clinics out of business by mandating renovations they cannot afford. Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk cited the regulations as one of the reasons for closing in April, a week after the state board gave its final approval on an 11-2 vote, leaving 19 abortion clinics operating in the state.
Virginia Republicans say a Democratic state senator who called for the state’s Inspector General to investigate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s handling of a complex legal dispute over mineral rights may have his own potential conflict of interest.
Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) should have disclosed that he is an official at the bank that manages an escrow account holding nearly $28 million in disputed natural gas royalties that is at the heart of the controversy, a GOP party spokesman said.
J. Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, also suggested that by supporting a bid by southwest Virginia landowners to create a class action in federal court over the dispute — a legal maneuver that Shipley noted was led by out-of-state attorneys — the case could drag on even longer, allowing the bank to keep the escrow money on its books.
“The longer this case goes on the larger that account and those interest payments grow,” Shipley said. “Shouldn’t he have revealed his own interest in this case?”
A federal judge labeling something shocking attracts attention. When applied in a case with the potential to change the energy industry in Southwest Virginia , it’s time to focus the spotlight. That’s why Virginia Sen. Phil Puckett’s call for an independent investigation is sensible.
Puckett wants the state’s new Inspector General’s Office to review communications between the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and attorneys for the Pittsburg-based energy companies being sued over coalbed methane royalty payments.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade called the emails shocking in her recommendation that the lawsuits be granted class action status.
Ken Cuccinnelli called the emails appropriate and “something we are compelled to do to fully represent the interests of the people of the commonwealth.”
Reporters set upon Gov. Bob McDonnell Monday after he spoke at a Virginia FREE luncheon in Fairfax. Any comment on the latest news: that a member of the Virginia House had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation linked to gifts the governor and his family have received? “I really can’t talk about it,” McDonnell said. “I came to talk about transportation and business.” Indeed, the appearance was a victory lap, of sorts. The Republican governor’s signature on a transportation money bill this year had earned him the accolade of Virginia’s most effective political leader in a poll of the business association’s members. But a headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the day after the luncheon read: “McDonnell flees queries about probe.” It’s enough to drive Virginia’s political class to reform. Well, it should be.
Virginia Democrats’ newly minted statewide ticket appeared together for the first time Wednesday, with candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general portraying themselves as mainstream alternatives to the Republicans’ “tea party ticket.” State Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk), the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun), its choice for attorney general, appeared on a Richmond theater stage with gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“Our party is as unified as it has ever been,” McAuliffe, who ran unopposed, told a crowd of about 125 people who gathered at the Hippodrome Theater.
The event came one day after Democratic primary voters chose Northam and Herring over former U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax. Chopra and Fairfax appeared onstage with the ticket and announced that they would serve as co-chairs of the party’s coordinated campaign.
Gas company Consol Energy says it footed the bill for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s $82 meal in January as part of a business meeting with company representatives. “At the dinner we discussed a general overview of our Virginia operations and discussed the general state of the coal and gas industries,” company spokeswoman Cathy St. Clair wrote in an email. Revelations of the Richmond dinner come as questions swirl over Cuccinelli’s relationship with the company, which is among the top donors to the Republican’s gubernatorial campaign. Consol is among the top three donors to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign with $86,044 given for the current election cycle, according to watchdog group Virginia Public Access Project.
Last week was Jim Edmondson’s last meeting as a member of the Virginia Board of Health. But the McLean real estate developer — appointed to the board as a consumer advocate by Democratic governors Mark R. Warner in 2005 and Timothy M. Kaine in 2009 — did not go quietly. Toward the end of the meeting late last week, Edmondson read a prepared statement that amounted to a scathing criticism of the politics and politicians that led to the board’s recent adoption of stringent new regulations that will force the state’s 19 existing abortion clinics to retroactively comply with standards for new hospital construction. (The letter appears below.) “One doesn’t protect health by curtailing access to care,” Edmondson said in his statement. “One doesn’t protect women’s health by taking action to close clinics that provide essential services to mostly poor women…and having done that, then also oppose Medicaid expansion. Those positions do not by any rational definition that I can fathom support public health. ”…I apologize for a political speech of sorts,” his statement continues. “But movement from apolitical to political follows the path this Board has had to take. My hope is that a change in the leadership of the Commonwealth will bring moderation to the regulation of this one major aspect of public health and keep women’s health clinics open.”
The defeat of two veteran Republican delegates in Tuesday’s primary opened more committee chairmanships in the House of Delegates and fanned debate about the impact of this year’s historic transportation funding vote. Del. Joe T. May, R-Loudoun, and Del. Beverly J. Sherwood, R-Frederick, supported the transportation funding overhaul that passed in this year’s General Assembly session, a landmark infusion of cash into the state’s beleaguered roads fund. Many conservatives were displeased with the tax increases in the bill, which is expected to raise about $3.4 billion statewide over five years and an additional $2.5 billion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. On the heels of Tuesday’s results, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said May’s defeat “can be directly attributed to his vote for Speaker Bill Howell’s misguided $6 billion tax hike.”
The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson, admitted Wednesday to past financial problems, including a bankruptcy and a slew of unpaid taxes in Massachusetts and Virginia. Jackson, in his first press conference since winning his party’s nomination in May, sought to explain a 30-year history of money problems first reported by The Washington Examiner. And he went on in the tell-all appearance to acknowledge that he habitually smoked marijuana and took other, harder drugs when he was young. Jackson said he wanted to clear the air about his past and explain controversial opinions he shared in writings and radio interviews, including his calling homosexuality “perverse,” likening Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and linking yoga to Satan.
Time and again during his state Senate service, Ken Cuccinelli opposed attempts to change Virginia’s Constitution so certain nonviolent felons automatically regain their voting rights.
Now, the attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate has positioned himself at the vanguard of efforts to improve the state’s rights-restoration process, saying he has had a change of heart.
To that end, Cuccinelli on Tuesday released a report he commissioned detailing options to streamline the processing of restoration applications by the government. His critics call it a convenient political conversion.
Cuccinelli’s overview arrived on the eve of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s planned announcement about further revamping restoration efforts.
For out-of-power Democrats, the Republican ticket would seem a gift that keeps on giving. But depicting it as a far-right freak show will only generate so many votes. Democrats have to give Virginians a reason to vote for them — other than voting against Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain.
Though the Democratic ticket won’t be fully formed until the June 11 primary, the tiny number of voters who will cast ballots aren’t hearing much about what may be the principal issue of 2013: Should Republicans retain a monopoly on power in Richmond?
This theme has special relevance in the campaign for lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor is the presiding officer of a now evenly divided Virginia Senate: 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans. The lieutenant governor is required to cast the deciding vote on most ties.
It’s a single vote that can settle big issues.
Among them, this year: Republican Bill Bolling’s tiebreaker to pass a photo-voter ID measure that Democrats say is designed to keep their core constituents — minorities, the poor and elderly — from the polls.
Gov. Bob McDonnell today will announce that he is automatically restoring the voting rights of nonviolent felons on an individual basis.
The sweeping administrative action - while not an instantaneous blanket restoration - is as far as the governor can go within current Virginia law, administration officials said.
The change, effective July 15, removes the application process for nonviolent felons. Once the administration verifies a nonviolent felon has paid his debt to society, the governor will send the individual a letter restoring his rights.
The change means thousands of nonviolent felons in Virginia could get their voting rights back in time to vote in the November election.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, making his first public comments on the Republican ticket, on Tuesday stressed that Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for governor, is not responsible for the controversial statements of E.W. Jackson, his running mate.
He also called on the slate to campaign with civility and to focus on “kitchen-table issues.”
“I’m supporting Ken Cuccinelli and the Republican ticket,” McDonnell said on WTOP radio, saying the ticket is key to continued improvements on jobs, economic development, transportation and pension reform.
McDonnell called the GOP nominees — Cuccinelli; Jackson, the nominee for lieutenant governor; and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the party’s nominee for attorney general — “three smart lawyers” and said “they’ll make a good ticket.”
Neither Virginia’s governor nor the General Assembly has the power to automatically restore the voting rights of former felons, but the governor can use his authority to restore rights on an individual basis, according to a committee tasked with exploring ways to streamline the process.
The Attorney General’s Rights Restoration Advisory Committee released the findings of itsreport on Tuesday. Among the conclusions are that the governor “possesses the authority to consider new approaches to the restoration of rights that could include proactive outreach and educational efforts … so long as governor’s action to remove political disabilities continues to be made on an individualized basis.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said he supports a more proactive approach to helping former felons regain their voting rights by partnering with faith-based and other community groups that help people through the restoration process. But he said he opposes creating a new state agency to facilitate the process — among the approaches offered by the committee.
Virginia Republicans delivered a rousing surprise at their gubernatorial nominating convention this month. They chose E. W. Jackson, an African-American minister and lawyer, as their candidate for lieutenant governor after he delivered a thunderously right-wing speech.
Mr. Jackson is known for his signature rants: that gays are “perverted” and “very sick people”; that Planned Parenthood has been “far more lethal to black lives” than the Ku Klux Klan ever was; and that Democrats are “anti-God” and “partners” in black genocide. Democrats, of course, instantly flashed Mr. Jackson’s record of hateful bombast through the state. Faced with his past words, he said he had nothing “to rephrase or apologize for.” Attacking him for his principles, he tried to argue, was to attack “every churchgoing person.”
No one could have been more surprised by the convention’s upset choice than State Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II, the Republican nominee for governor. Mr. Cuccinelli will probably have to try to moderate some of his own extreme positions (he is dogmatically opposed to the health care reform law, measures tackling global warming, immigration reforms, gay rights, etc.) in his search for the Northern Virginia vote. But there he was, yoked to Mr. Jackson by the heavy sway in the party of conservative zealots. “We are not going to be defending our running mates’ statements, now or in the future,” Mr. Cuccinelli briskly announced.