Friday, October 30, 2020
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Virginia’s Secretive Budgets

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The Virginia "business as usual" budget process is predictable. The General Assembly fails to pass a budget. Facing pressure from localities with increasing mandates handed them by state government without any additional funding, one body meets and hammers out a budget (the State Senate this time). The other body then convenes to reject that budget. Now, the state is down to what the leadership wanted all along.

A few select legislators from each body will meet in secret and decide the spending priorities for the next two years. There will be no chance for other representatives of the people to have input about the decisions that will be made. It's just the "good ole' boys" (plus, token women Janet Howell and Beverly Sherwood) deciding how many elderly poor will receive state Medicaid money, how much funding local school boards can expect to help pay for education, how much the state will expend for all the vital services the citizens of the Commonwealth need.

This year's "budget politburo" consists of House members Lacey Putney (the  budget czar), Kirk Cox, Steve Landes, Chris Jones, Beverly Sherwood, and token Democrat Johnny Joannou. From the Senate are Walter Stosch, Tom Norment, Emmett Hanger, John Watkins, and token Democrats Charles Colgan and Janet Howell. (Note well the lack of any minority viewpoint in the group.)

So, let's face facts. Representative democracy, "Virginia style," means a few long-time survivors of the legislative process determine the level of state (and local) services the rest of us receive. I realize all budgets need a starting point and will be shaped by those in leadership positions, but this process means that all give-and-take is done in secret, all horse trading happens over taxpayer-funded fancy dinners. There will be no committee hearings, no chance for input by anyone else. This is  budgeting, Virginia style, left over from the old, dictatorial Byrd machine.

Medlin Seeks To Oust Putney

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In what may be one of the toughest political undertakings possible in Virginia, Democrat Lewis Medlin has announced that in November he will again run against Del. Lacey Putney, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Putney, 83, has been in the House of Delegates since 1962, first as a Democrat, then an Independent, and now caucusing with the Republicans. Medlin, vice president of E-Z Mount Bracket Co. in Montvale, is also chair of the Bedford County Democratic Committee and is active in civic groups.

Putney's district has changed with re-districting to include Alleghany County and Covington, as well as most of Botetourt County, Bedford City, and a large portion of Bedford County. Medlin is counting on Alleghany and Covington bringing in more Democratic and Independent voters to the 19th District. Also, Putney, who is a political institution in his home base of Bedford, is relatively unknown in the new portions of the district.

It appears that the contest in the 19th will once again be three-way, as it was in 2009. Jerry Johnson, right-wing Republican from Botetourt County, has also announced that he will oppose Putney.

Medlin is very much a Mark-Warner centrist Democrat, someone who fits well with the voters in the 19th. Unfortunately, he is up against a guy with huge political clout who comes across as everybody's grandpa (well, maybe great-grandpa). At some point, Putney might want to think about a nice, quiet retirement. I know just the fellow who could take his place.

Political Musical Chairs

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In my part of the Commonwealth, the musical chairs following redistricting are creating quite a bit of business for moving vans. My right-wing Republican senator, Ralph Smith, is packing his bags and moving to the district now represented by fellow right-wing Republican Bill Stanley, the 19th. Stanley, meanwhile, has reportedly decided to move his residence to the 20th senatorial district, where Democrat Roscoe Reynolds is the incumbent. Sadly for me, redistricting put both Smith and Jerry Falwell acolyte Steve Newman into my redrawn district, one that has become even more Republican. So, I get rid of one right-winger only to likely get another right-winger, one who believes he is doing "God's work."

Both Stanley and Smith may have some difficulty in winning election from the districts they have chosen for their new abodes. The new 20th district, which resembles some sort of "sleeping dragon" stretching from Galax in the west to South Boston and also taking in Martinsville and Danville, has become 7.1% more Democratic, according to VPAP. While that district does include more than 30% of Stanley's old district, he will be hard-pressed to overcome the incumbent protection engineered into the new district lines.

Smith might have an easier time in Stanley's old district, which VPAP calculates will be 2% more Republican than it already is. However, he is not well-known at all in that area, since his only other political forays have been one term as mayor of Roanoke City and his term in the state senate from an area north of Roanoke. The new 19th meanders from southwest of Lynchburg all the way to Wythville. The Republican gains comes from precincts in Salem, home to that champion of dirty coal and mountaintop removal, Rep. Morgan Griffith.

Another interesting political story playing out in my area involves that old House of Delegates fossil from Bedford, Lacey Putney, bless his heart. He may have been cozy with the Republicans for years, but they did him no favors in their redistricting plan. His new district, which lost reliably Republican parts of Bedford County, now includes Clifton Forge and Covington and stretches to the West Virginia border. According to VPAP, the district may still lean slightly Republican, but it gained 11.7% in Democratic strength.

So, population gains in northern Virginia are making strange new neighbors and odd political bedfellows out here in the hinterland.