Then I realized that the weeks coincided with the run-up for the September 1st deadline the court had set for Congressional redistricting. Perhaps the General Assembly would be working on an 11th hour compromise?
Nope. Early in the special session my fears were put to rest as the Republicans tried to jam everything and forced Democrats to adjourn. Redistricting would occur in September after I was back from vacation.
Then Mark Herring announces that he will be running for reelection as the Commonwealth's Attorney General! It's a good thing I kept my phone on so I could get the texts from friends back in the Commonwealth while on vacation!
A few thoughts.
1. Announcing before this fall's elections ensures that the narrative will not be one of Herring being pushed out by concerned moderates and negative nay-sayers. Despite the all-out effort by the Democrats to win back the State Senate, they are on hostile terrain and could still fall short. Should this happen, the political talking heads could point to the election as a sign that Virginia is still a tough, purple state, and that the VMI graduate and more moderate Ralph Northam would be a better candidate for Democrats going into 2017. The pressure would be on to unite the party and avoid a primary fight.
The battle was joined Tuesday night, when Democrats offered a series of amendments to prohibit Confederate flags from being displayed at federal cemeteries, and to stop the U.S. Park Service from doing business with enterprises that sell the flags. These flags are typically displayed alongside the centuries-old tombstones of deceased confederate soldiers.
"This House now has an opportunity to add its voice to end the promotion of the cruel, racist legacy of the Confederacy," California Rep. Jared Huffman said in a floor speech before his initial amendment was adopted Tuesday.
The measures passed by voice vote.
But quickly, Southern Republicans approached GOP leadership and said they would vote against the Interior spending bill if that language was included. The amendment was offered Wednesday night after whole and partial congressional delegations from Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and Virginia, among possibly others, related their concerns to GOP leaders.
So far, only one Mississippi Congressman has been vocal in indicating that he was opposed to the move to end decoration national cemeteries with the Confederate flag. But reports are that large numbers of Southern Republicans, as many as 100 in total, were ready to revolt against the move.
What members of the Virginia delegation are working behind the scenes to defend the Confederate flag?
1. On the expansion of Medicaid, the issue isn't just about what the Commonwealth will do for the least fortune among us. Thinking about a practical blank check from the federal government to do more today for struggling Virginians is a timely issue on the eve of Christmas. There is also an argument for asking why Virginia should be paying for the Affordable Care Act without receiving its full benefits.
But after the Supreme Court's ruling, Republican governors and legislatures in state after state rejected the expansion. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion, however, doesn't exempt a state from the taxes and spending cuts Obamacare uses to fund the Medicaid expansion. A September analysis from McClatchy estimated that "if the 23 states that have rejected expanding Medicaid under the 2010 health care law continue to do so for the next eight years, they'll pay $152 billion to extend the program in other states - while receiving nothing in return." That's a helluva gift from (mostly) red states to (mostly) blue ones.
In the next term, the Supreme Court will rule on the claim that the law does not allow for subsidies for health insurance plans purchased on the federal exchange. Depending on the ruling, the Republican Party's opposition to participating in the health care law will mean even fewer dollars going to Virginian families.
2. I haven't seen a detailed analysis of the Medicaid eligible population by House or Senate district, but the numbers I've seen based on localities indicate that this is not just a moral issue in 2015, but a political winner in areas like Prince William County.
3. Medicaid expansion links well to redistricting reform. While usually such insider baseball is not the stuff of political campaigns, it bolsters the imagine of the Republican Party standing opposed to progress and reform.
But if that's where we are in 2015, where are we going? Virginia is changing rapidly, and I think the great Yogi Berra's observations ring true. "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
What's the vision for Virginia Democrats not just in 2015, but long term?
In the fall of 2012, UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service issued its population projections for 2020 and beyond. They forecast a slowdown in population growth overall for the Commonwealth, with Southside and Southwest Virginia barely growing at all.
But their projections came with a grain of salt.
9th House of Delegates District (Franklin, Henry, Patrick Counties): The 9th had been at the center of Warner's crossover support in 2008, and featured a lively fight by Ward Armstrong after Republicans targeted him in their gerrymandering. The result in 2015? Mark Warner received 36% of the vote, just marginally above Obama's 34% in 2012.
12th House of Delegates District (Montgomery and Giles Counties, Radford City): Warner received 52% of the vote here, higher than Obama's 50% but behind Kaine's 54%. This is a unique district, the influence of Virginia Tech makes it very different than other Southwest districts. It also remained one of the best districts for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.
6th House of Delegates District (Wythe, Carroll, Smyth Counties): Warner's 34% of the vote is behind Democrat McGrady's 37% from his 2013 delegates race, which somehow House Democrats convinced themselves was in the bag. About the same as Tim Kaine's 34% in 2012, but not an impressive showing based on prior Warner claims about Southwest popularity.
14th (Danville City; Pittsylvania and Henry Counties) & 16th (Pittsylvania and Henry Counties; Martinsville City) House of Delegates Districts: Warner received 48% of the vote in the Danville based 14th, marginally better than expected given his near defeat statewide. His 43% in the 16th was similar; better than normal Democrats, but only by a few points.
Virginia's current tax code is full of exemptions, exceptions and credits that lower state revenue by billions of dollars every year. In 2011, the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) estimated that current loopholes in Virginia's tax code reduced state revenues by $12.5 billion.
The question then becomes, what do we do with this additional money?
Some of it could be used to help support existing programs that are under extreme budget pressure, such as K-12 and higher education, but the primary focus should be on providing tax relief in areas that would help support economic development and enable working families to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Don't reform taxes to invest in government services. Reform taxes so we can cut taxes elsewhere. The list that Bolling provides mentions almost every tax in Virginia, from the corporate income tax to the BPOL tax to the individual income tax. It's far from a specific policy proposal, ironic given that Bolling also talks about how challenging tax reform can be because politicians aren't courageous enough to work for ideas that can create winners and losers.
Last year the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy put out an idea to increase the state sales tax by expanding the goods and services covered, while cutting local taxes that Virginia's business community has long complained about. Expanding the sales tax to cover services is not necessarily a Democratic or Republican idea, DC recently adopted this as part of the so-called "yoga tax."