I asked the Democratic candidates running in the 30th and 31st State Senate districts, as well as the 49th House of Delegates district, whether they believe that accepting gifts like a $10,000, all-expense-paid trip to France by a uranium company with business before the General Assembly – is appropriate for Virginia state legislators – and if not, why not? I’ll publish the responses in the order I receive them.
First, though, here’s David Englin’s response, since he’s one of the state legislators who was listed by the Washington Post as accepting an “all-expenses paid trips as part of an aggressive lobbying effort by a company pushing lawmakers to lift a ban on uranium mining in the state.”
Anybody who knows me knows they can’t buy my vote. As somebody who’s been named a Legislative Hero five times by the League of Conservation Voters, I hope my record speaks for itself when it comes to standing up for our environment.
We’re going to France because that’s where the comparable mine is, not because it’s a tourist destination. I’m also planning a trip later in the year to the proposed mine site here in Virginia. The fact of the matter is that there’s great value in being able to see these sites and operations firsthand. As a member of the Natural Resources Subcommittee, I will be heavily engaged in this debate; if proponents are able to say they’ve seen it work safely firsthand, and all I can do is cite what I’ve read or been told, I will be at a huge disadvantage.
While some of my colleagues may have the personal resources or accumulated frequent flyer miles to pay their own way, but I do not, and I don’t think such a trip would be an appropriate use of either campaign funds or taxpayer dollars. Therefore, my alternatives are to pass on the trip and miss the opportunity to be as credible and informed as the other side, or accept Virginia Uranium’s offer to pay my way. This is arguably among the most significant policy decisions the General Assembly will make, and I believe I have an obligation to do everything possible to be well-informed and well-equipped to advocate for the correct course of action.
Now, here’s the response from Libby Garvey (30th State Senate district):
No I do not think this is appropriate and is yet another example of why we need serious reform in Richmond. As an opponent of uranium mining in Virginia, I certainly hope these legislators will seriously examine the findings of upcoming environmental impact studies, especially those that come from truly outside sources and are not funded by uranium mining interests. Unfortunately, trips such as this one make it more difficult for the people of Virginia to believe their legislators can make decisions based solely on what is best for all Virginians.
And Jaime Areizaga-Soto (31st State Senate district):
No, I would not have gone on this trip because perceptions matter. Our representatives should lead by example. As part of a legislator’s code of conduct, one needs to avoid any financial donation that creates a conflict of interest or appears to do so. Serving our fellow citizens is a privilege and the voters deserve no less.
Barbara Favola (31st district) says she “does not think it is appropriate for a General Assembly member to accept a $10,000 paid trip to France from a uranium company doing business before the General Assembly.”
And now, Rob Krupicka (30th State Senate district candidate):
I do not think it’s appropriate, and I would not accept such a trip. Moreover I think this is indicative of the larger need for finance reform in the Commonwealth. The lack of stringent regulation in Virginia makes it all the more important for legislators to be above reproach. On a related note, I am opposed to uranium mining in Southside, or any other part of Virginia.
And Del. Adam Ebbin (candidate for 30th State Senate district Democratic nomination) adds his thoughts:
I declined the offer to take this trip, and would have declined even if I were not in the middle of a campaign. It would make me uncomfortable to take such an expensive trip paid for by an entity with interests before the General Assembly.
Alfonso Lopez (49th House District candidate) weighs in:
From the outset I opposed the ugly Citizens United Supreme Court decision and hope (and believe) that it will eventually be overturned.
No – I would not have accepted such a trip. The Federal Government has strict limitations on campaign contributions and lobbyist giving. At the very least I believe the Commonwealth of Virginia should have similar limits. Disclosure is important, but it is not enough. Without Federal-style limits in these areas – we run the risk of impropriety, or the appearance of impropriety – which can (and does) have an extraordinarily negative impact upon the public discourse. I would support efforts in Virginia to strengthen our campaign contribution/lobbyist giving regulations.
From an environmental perspective, I am opposed to uranium mining in Virginia. Without the proper safeguards in place the possibility of carcinogenic materials escaping into the water supply and neighboring communities is too great. Indeed, when given a choice between corporate profits and public health – I will always choose public health.
While I support the idea of new energy jobs – my focus has always been on new green jobs and green industries in areas such as wind and solar. Simply put – Virginia should be a leader in the new green technology and green energy sector. If elected, I will do everything in my power to support this sector and fight the McDonnell/Cuccinelli policies that encourage exploitation of old-energy sources (offshore oil drilling, coal strip mining, etc.).
Last but not least, 49th HoD candidate Stephanie Clifford.
No, I would not have accepted this trip especially, nor any similar one. We need to reform our rules on gifts to our elected representatives, setting limits following those of the federal government, to avoid these perceived (and too often real) conflicts of interests.
I do appreciate that lawmakers want to be completely informed on the topic, but I would have also opposed the trip from the environmental impact of the travel. For much less time and money, they could set up a live interactive virtual tour of the mine in France that would provide the information our representatives might need while avoiding conflicts of interest. We need to make more use of technology to solve our problems.
I have been vocal about my opposition to uranium mining in Virginia, have been strategizing with local and state environmental groups about the best ways to keep the ban, and joined with my fellow Virginia Young Democrats to write a resolution in favor of keeping the ban.
While we do of course need more jobs in Virginia, the risks to the health of our citizens and the potentially disastrous effects on our air, soil and water are not worth it. I will continue to work towards making Virginia a leader in building a green economy that is good for businesses and workers.