Friday, February 26, 2021
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Home Authors Posts by GretchenLaskas



One real bright spot

With all of the dark notes about yesterday's election, I want to take a moment to flesh out one of the victories I am especially pleased to see -- that of Ryan McElveen to the Fairfax County School Board.

To put this into perspective, I have to dredge up some old division.  (Yes, I DO have to!)  The school board races for the Democratic nomination this year were, to put a point on it, DIVISIVE.  They were angry, and heated, and there were more than a few accusations thrown around about who was a "real" Democrat and breaking rules and back room deals, some of which was going on right up until election day.  It was one of the ugliest battles I've had to deal with as an FCDC member, and one that I'm not proud of.

I was there the night that Ryan was first defeated.  I'll be honest, I came into that room not a Ryan supporter.  I think, like a lot of people, I knew very little about him, and I knew a great deal more about the other candidates.  But I was very impressed by the way he accorded himself.  One the second ballot, I voted for him.

But here is what I ESPECIALLY appreciated.  When Ryan did not receive the nomination that night, he was a candidate to be proud of.  He was gracious, and committed.  He IMMEDIATELY released a statement that said that he was not only supporting the three candidates chosen, but was proud to have been considered.  It was a model statement.

When the chance came for him to run again, he worked extra hard getting speaking to our committee and taking extensive questions.  It was not a surprise to me at all that he managed to pull off a victory against, again, a better known candidate for the nomination.

Now we get to the general election.  So many people wrote Ryan off.  He was too young.  He was too inexperienced.  In an election where reform mattered, he hadn't been a vocal reformer as some of the other candidates had been.  Indeed, the Washington Post barely acknowledged him.

But once again, he showed us what a great candidate can do.  His signs were among the first up, and were well distributed throughout the county.  He continued showing up a Dem meetings and event, always with a smile, a firm handshake and a hopeful spirit.  He knocked on doors.  He sent out mailers.  He kept smiling.

And when he won yesterday, it was particularly sweet.  And I just thought it was worth taking a few minutes to remind ourselves that great candidates DO come along, sometimes out of nowhere, and we should be grateful for them.

This County Ain’t Big Enough…..

As I've been talking with voters about November's election, I hear two sentences over and over again:  "I didn't know we elected a Sheriff."  and "Is that this year?"  So perhaps some attention needs to be paid!

Even as much of a political junkie as I am, the Sheriff's race would have completely escaped my active attention if it weren't for the Republican and/or Cooper attack on current Sheriff (and Democrat) Stan Barry regarding his retirement.  Naturally, as a Fairfax County resident, I added my name, e-mail and zip code to get the updates about this alleged corruption.  To this date, I haven't received a single one.  Now, maybe they saw my name (I don't use a dummy name or e-mail -- if I write something or communicate about VA politics, it is always under my own full name.)  Or more likely, there's just nothing there to say.

Tip O’Neill is still right!

Yesterday, my Facebook status ran: If you want a potent reminder about how all politics is local, just get involved in your local school board race.

That is more true than ever this morning.

School board races are, to my mind, the most overlooked political races on the election calendar, but often the most contentious, the most personal, and the most intense.  Here in Fairfax County, we don't have primaries to get party endorsement, preferring the  facade that school board races are "non-partisan."  What this really means is that only a handful of people are deciding who gets the resources and backing from each party, which is pretty undemocratic if you ask me.

School board races are personal because they impact two of the most important things in our lives -- they are about our children, who will spend large parts of their lives under the care of and living out the educational philosophies of those whom we elected and those subsequently hired.  There is no issue too small for parents to care about, and boy, we do!  And they are also about our local economics and stabilizing housing prices, which are most people's most reliable asset for building wealth.  Fairfax's reputation for excellent schools is a huge draw for families looking for a place to buy a home and spend their money locally for many years.  (I moved into Fairfax County because I wanted my son to attend Robinson Secondary not only for it's great academic reputation, but also its theatre program.)  Anything that we feel diminishes our schools has the potential to hurt our children and our financial bottom line.  That's pretty powerful stuff!

Can we now talk about Mental Health?

After the horrible shooting on Saturday, the one thing I think most of us, liberal and conservative, agree on is that the person who did the shooting had mental health issues.  Many people reported how "disturbing" they found him to be.  One community college told him he could not return without a doctor saying he was no longer a danger to himself or others.  Many of us are asking, why did no one follow up?  So let's have a serious discussion about mental health.

First, let's put it on the table that the large majority of those suffering from the most well known diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar do not turn violent.  But it is also true that without treatment, many of those suffers self-medicate using illegal drugs or abusing legal drugs.  This means that consistent and monitored treatment, which may need time-consuming and costly trial and error testing to find the right medication and dose, will go a long way to helping solve two problems -- getting sufferers the help they need to live in society as best they can, and also making it less likely that someone takes an inappropriate medication that causes a psychotic break.

And we don't need to go to Arizona to see the impact that not treating our mentally ill can have a very big effect in our communities.  Right here in Fairfax County, we have seen something tragic happen every year.  In 2006, Detective Vicky Armel and Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino were shot and killed by 18 year old Michael Kennedy, a known sufferer of schizophrenia.

Voter Anger

I went to pick up some dry cleaning at the cleaners off of Ox Road, in Fairfax Station. While I was pulling out of the parking lot and waiting at the light, the man next to me made an indication that he wanted something.  Obligingly, I leaned over, rolled my window down (my car doesn't have push button windows) and asked, "Can I help you?"

He then yells, "Did you really vote for Obama?"

(My car has bumper stickers of all kinds of Dems, and the Obama sticker is particularly sticky.)

"Yes," I answered him.  "I did."

He gets red in the face and screams (and I mean scream, and I've raised a two year old) "Thank you for destroying my country."

I smiled and said, "Any time."

Then we both drove away.  I did note that he was driving a new looking Mercedes, which obviously cost a whole lot more than my nearly 10 year old Saturn.  Maybe his notion of "destroying a country" is different from mine.

But here's the thing -- I would never, in a hundred years, have said something like that to a  Republican during the worst of the Bush years (or the Reagan years, which I also lived through.)  And I think I'm someone who has been more sympathetic to voter anger than most -- I think most emotion is valid simply because someone feels that way, whether I do or not.  But now I'm not so sure I should feel that way. Republicans talk a lot about their rights to think they way they want without criticism, and I've always defended those rights.  

But what about my right to pick up my dry cleaning in my own neighborhood without being screamed at?  

My thoughts on the Deeds Article in the Washington Post

I read the Post article with mild surprise, since I also had no idea about the Deeds divorce.  And it was clear that the Post had an agenda -- to portray Deeds in a particular way, which was not terribly positive.  I have no idea how long or how much of the interview was printed, but it seemed to me that the Post went out of its way to make sure a quote like "I still got things to do" and "doggone" were chosen to be included.  (How colorful!)  If I had any doubts about what they were trying to do, those doubts were removed when I actually read the article a second time on my computer and saw the picture they selected to accompany the article -- a picture of a man breaking down.

But that's not what I read in the article.  I read a man who is in mourning.  He's in mourning for his marriage, obviously.  I have never been divorced but I'm old enough to have seen many marriages of dear friends fall apart, and there is a mourning process involved.  Especially the long marriages that began when you were quite young (I'm someone who married young) -- who you are in relation to your spouse is formed before most other ways of defining yourself (through your work for instance.)  

He's also mourning his ambitions.  Deeds isn't a stupid man -- he had a shot at something really big.  It was always a long shot, and he knew that, but it was a real shot.  How many shots do most people (even ambitious, intelligent people) get in one lifetime?  It's hard enough to reach middle age realizing that certain things that you wanted and fought for in your life aren't going to happen for you.  It's a whole other struggle when you realize that you actually had a chance for those things, but it didn't happen.

The other thing I read in the article is a defiance.  It's a quiet defiance, and to be honest, I'm not sure that it's a defiance that comes across to someone who isn't mountain born.  This may sound strange, but when I read the quote: "What choice do I have? You either live, or you die. If you die, you're dead. If you live, you've got a responsibility to keep moving, keep working, keep fighting. The struggle goes on. That's the position I'm in." I actually laughed out loud.  Not because it's funny, but there's a black humor familiarity that anyone from Appalachia recognizes.  I've said things like this myself, in hard times in my life.  It's something said over and over at every funeral in WV I've been to.  It's being said, I guarantee it, to the miner's families this week in Montcoal.  

In my novel THE MINER'S DAUGHTER, I touch upon this quiet, even desperate defiance.  The father tells his daughter, "You always have a choice."  That choice may be as stark as living or dying, but it does a human being psychological good to know they have SOME choice and aren't victims of fate, (which, quite frankly, people from Appalachia often become, but that's another post) and not someone who will be defined by their hard times, contrary to how "outsiders" (such as the WashPost) see them.  In many ways, this comment sort of sums up Appalachian thought more succinctly than any novel I could write.

This was a petty article.  As others have said, the "real story" (about the divorce) could have been written in a few paragraphs at most.  (And the divorce IS news, as difficult as that may be for the Deeds family.)  When I read the story I couldn't help but think that the WashPost maybe was having a moment of guilt itself -- they know the role they played in helping Deeds in Northern VA during the primary.  Many of the people who write and produce the Post live in Northern VA.  There was also the oh-so-helpful editorials about how Deeds was going to raise taxes.  (It's true, but blaring this certainly wasn't helpful.)  I know it sounds silly to say that a newspaper may be feeling pangs of guilt (sort of like calling a corporation a person), but newspapers are written and produced by people.  Perhaps some of the defeatist attitude they were putting on Deeds is a projection of their own guilt.

Anyway, I knew this would be a long post, and I apologize again at the end.  By all means, let's figure out what went wrong last fall so it doesn't happen again.  But we can do that (and have done that) while giving a good man and his family some time and space to grieve in peace.

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