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Maryland AG May Join New York AG in Investigating Exxon; What...

Paging Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring! Paging Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring! :) In response to a petition calling for an investigation of ExxonMobil, Maryland...
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Family Feud Grows in Roanoke

The latest kerfluffle making news in the 21st state senate district, now represented by Democrat John Edwards, is the recent cancellation of a fundraiser for Attorney General Mark Herring's One Commonwealth PAC. The fundraiser was to take place at the law offices of Ray Ferris, a Roanoke city councilman who ran the last time as an independent after serving on council as a Democrat.  There are conflicting stories about just how the fundraiser, at which John Edwards was scheduled to appear, got pulled.

According to Tommy Jordan, a long-time Democratic campaign activist who has helped Ferris in previous elections, the Edwards campaign wanted the event canceled because they said Ferris was going to use it to announce his support for Don Caldwell, 35-year veteran commonwealth's attorney for Roanoke City, who bolted the party he used to chair to run as an independent against Edwards and his Republican opponent, Dr. Nancy Dye. Jordan adamantly denied that was going to happen.  Meanwhile, Sam Barrett, campaign manager for Edwards, said that Edwards wasn't involved in the decision to pull the plug on the fundraiser.

The statement from Adam Zuckerman, the director of Herring's PAC said, "This particular event was becoming a bit of distraction for local Democrats, but Attorney General Herring strongly supports Senator Edwards's re-election."

This newest pothole in the road to Edwards retaining his seat makes me wonder if he can pull off re-election or not.  Jordan's disavowal notwithstanding, I believe that Ferris WAS going to sabotage Edwards with a Caldwell endorsement. Why? First, after he graduated from law school in the late 1980's, Ferris' first job was in Don Caldwell's office as an assistant prosecutor, staying there until he opened his own firm. They have remained fast friends. Plus, Ferris evidently has not gotten over the fact that in the last council election in May 2014 two other Democrats filed to run against the three Democratic incumbents up for re-election for the three available nominations. Thus, there would have been a primary. To avoid that, Ferris broke with the party and ran as an independent. He was joined by fellow incumbent Bill Bestpitch, who also had been elected as a Democrat.

Reversing 2013 Cuccinelli opinion, AG Herring says localities can ban fracking

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an official advisory opinion on May 5 holding that Virginia localities have the right to prohibit hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") as part of their power to regulate land use within their boundaries. The letter reverses a two-year-old opinion by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Herring's opinion cites §15.2-2280 of the Virginia Code, which grants broad zoning powers to localities. These include the power to "regulate, restrict, permit, prohibit, and determine" land uses, such as "the excavation or mining of soil or other natural resources." Thus, writes Herring, "I conclude that the General Assembly has authorized localities to pass zoning ordinances prohibiting fracking. The plain language of the stature also authorizes localities to regulate fracking in instances where it is permitted."

The letter is not available online as of this writing, but is expected to be posted on the Official Opinions page.

Herring's opinion comes in a letter to Senator Richard Stuart, who had asked whether Virginia law allows localities to prohibit "unconventional gas and oil drilling," commonly known as fracking, and whether they may use their zoning authority "to regulate aspects of fracking, such as the timing of drilling operations, traffic, or noise."

The letter overrules a January 11, 2013 opinion by then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, which held that the General Assembly had preempted localities' right to regulate or ban drilling when it passed the Virginia Gas and Oil Act.  Under §45.1-361.5, localities may not "impose any condition, or require any other local license, permit, fee, or bond to perform any gas, oil or geophysical operations which varies from or is in addition to the requirements of this chapter."  

Kevin Sullivan’s Been Campaigning for Joe Morrissey’s Seat

There's actually been a Democrat campaigning for Delegate Joe Morrissey's seat in the 74th District since July. Meet Kevin Sullivan from James City County, a proud union man and former Political Coordinator for Teamsters Joint Council 83, Labor Liaison for Attorney-General Mark Herring, and President of the Charles City Ruritan.

This is Kevin at the annual Mathews Democratic Crab Steam last August, so that's the pounding in the background. He has been pounding the pavement because he wants to represent the interests of blue collar workers in Richmond.

There are not enough people in government who have punched a time clock or carried their lunch in a bag or lived paycheck to paycheck. That's what I want becoming a legislator. I want to represent regular people.

His platform emphasizes Medicaid expansion, education, worker protection, and legislative ethics. He has pledged not to accept the state health coverage provided to Delegates until the Medicaid coverage gap is closed. Educational innovation, technical training opportunities, the cost of higher education, and student loan debt concern him. As a worker's voice in the legislature, he wants to focus on Workman's Compensation and worker misclassification. Saying there is too much "big money" in politics, he is trying to fund his campaign with small donations. In the legislature he would work to limit contributions and gifts to state officials.

At the time we met, Sullivan wanted the opportunity to face Morrissey in a primary. We'll see if that comes to pass.

A Sacred Obligation at the Wise, Virginia Health Fair

photo-25My title has multiple meanings.

Perhaps that will become clear.

How did you spend your weekend?

At 1:30 AM Thursday I got in my car and drove for about 6 hours through the night to the mountains of Southwest Virginia, which in the daylight are so heart-breakingly beautiful one almost forgets the poverty of so many therein.

photo-24I stopped briefly to check in to my hotel in Norton, then drove a few miles more, through Wise to the Wise County Fairgrounds for yet another "mission," this my 5th.

It was the 15th anniversary of the Wise Virginia Health fair, with dental services provided by the Missions of Mercy of the Virginia Dental Association's foundation and everything else provided by Remote Area Medical, founded by Stan Brock.

Officially the event began on Friday, but first we had to unload these two trucks and set up.  We had many students from the School of Dentistry at VCU, as well as from other colleges and universities.  I will talk some more about the students for whom this too was a sacred obligation, as it was for so many - of course the dentists volunteering under what became extremely difficult circumstances, and general volunteers, like yours truly.

Please keep reading.

DACA’s Two Year Anniversary

Two years ago following Congress's failure to pass the DREAM Act, President Obama issued an executive order providing some residents who arrived as children the ability to openly participate in and contribute to the economy. This is no free pass and not a path to citizenship. It deals with reality.

This anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) marks the beginning of a new cycle for its beneficiaries. This is a discretionary grant of relief from the threat of removal for a term of two years. The significance of that term today is that the first set of applicants are now in the window for renewal. Because it is not a permanent status, renewal applicants receive the same scrutiny as they did when first applying. Renewal is neither automatic nor certain in the long term. In the short term it assures the simple dignity of acknowledged existence.

For Virginians who achieve this status, there are three significant benefits that confer beyond blocking removal for a term. First, they can legally work. They receive a social security number. Next it provides the status required to obtain a driver's license even with the punitive Virginia statute establishing absurd presence requirements. And, almost two years after the status was established, thanks to an opinion by Attorney General Mark Herring, they may attend college as in-state residents.  

Mark Herring on the Road Across Virginia

Mark Herring in Waynesboro photo 140328_Herring_Waynesboro_23_zpsb01ba314.jpgIn Waynesboro yesterday Mark Herring concluded a series of productive meetings with regional officials aimed at helping the top prosecutor's office best serve the needs of communities. Unfortunately, many of the reports of these meetings have reduced the lessons to budget shortfalls. Problem? He isn't carrying a rabid social agenda.

Herring began this meeting explaining that his heart is truly with local government where he got his start in politics. Before elected office, he served as the town attorney for a small town in western Loudoun County.

As Attorney General, he has taken three major initiatives: first, is a review of systems and operations to see that the Office is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible; next is a top to bottom review of all the services and programs the Office is a part of as well as the human capital that is linked to those; and, the third piece, what he was doing yesterday, is meeting directly with local law enforcement, those on the front lines protecting the community, so he can hear first-hand about the challenges they face as well as ways they have worked with the Office in the past and ways the Office might be able to help meet the challenges they face.

The series of 22 meetings have been incredibly informative according to Herring. There have been some common themes. Funding, he said, is always a challenge. But another common theme has been mental health. There are some regional differences which you would expect in a state as large and diverse as Virginia. While overall, violent crime is down, there are some areas that are continuing to experience gang problems. In some areas the gang problem is not as visible but the gangs have become an offshoot of organized crime. Some other localities are seeing continuing problems with meth labs and prescription drugs. He also pointed out that there can be the tendency, when you take a short period of time to talk about crime, which can lead to a misimpression of an area; that he knows these communities are safe locations where a lot of people are doing a lot of good work. And it is those local successes he wants to hear about as well.  

Same-Sex Couples Aren’t the Only Ones Injured

 photo RS_Same_Sex_Marriage_zpsc0c8c064.jpg The litigants in Norfolk are same-sex couples, but in the end the discrimination will result in inequitable application of the law that places many opposite-sex couples at a financial disadvantage. Such will be the consequence of the twisted effort by Virginia homophobes to socially engineer human behavior by unconstitutional edict.

For all the whining about Attorney General Herring's position regarding defense of a patently unconstitutional scar on the Virginia Constitution, he never mitigated enforcement. Not one single same-sex couple has been issued a marriage license in Virginia while we wait for the law to be struck. The opinions of both his predecessors regarding the effects of the law remain in force; for now. But consider this. When the marriages of same-sex couples are inevitably recognized in Virginia, those couples will have an option that other married couples will not: filing their Virginia income tax returns with the most advantageous filing status.

Based upon an opinion by then Attorney General McDonnell and guidance from former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Department of Taxation does not allow same-sex married couples to file joint income tax returns even though they must use the status on their federal tax returns. Everyone else must. What was (and currently remains) an undue burden on same-sex couples (the requirement to construct fictional federal income tax returns to calculate Virginia income taxes) transforms to an advantage; consistent with federal policy after the Supreme Court DOMA decision, married same-sex couples will likely be allowed to choose the filing status that is to their advantage for the years when they were prohibited from using a married filing status.

So my advice to Virginia's married same-sex couples: if filing using a status other than married is to your tax advantage, file this year's return soon, before the stay on yesterday's ruling is removed; after that, you'll be like everyone else. Then for the three years prior to this, recalculate your Virginia tax returns to determine if you should file amendments, in the same way you should have with your federal returns last year. How the Department of Taxation will handle these amendments could be a bit more complicated, so stand by for guidance.

For other married couples, you just won't have equal treatment under the law. You might want to send the bill to Senators Marshall and Newman who spearheaded the amendment or those George Allen strategists who supported it in an underhanded effort to save his bacon.

2014 Inauguration Events

Southwest Inaugural Ball
Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway, "Celebrating Local Artisans and Agriculture" - Abingdon, VA
Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 6PM

Inaugural Gala of Attorney General-elect Mark Herring
The Woodlands at Algonkian - Sterling, VA
Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 7PM

Hampton Roads Inaugural Ball
Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center, "A Salute to Virginia's Veterans and Military Families" - Norfolk, VA
Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 6PM

DPVA Chairwoman's Inaugural Dinner
Location details upon RSVP - Richmond, VA
(Questions or to RSVP, Contact ChairDinner@vademocrats.org)
Monday, January 6, 2014 - 7PM

Inaugural Gala of Attorney General-elect Mark Herring
Richmond CenterStage - Richmond, VA
Saturday, January 9, 2014 - 7PM

Inaugural Gala of Lieutenant Governor-elect Ralph Northam
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - Richmond, VA
Friday, January 10, 2014 - 6PM

Executive Mansion Open House - Richmond, VA
Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia
Saturday, January 11, 2014 - immediately following the inaugural parade

Prayer Breakfast
St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Richmond, VA
Saturday, January 11, 2014 - 8AM

Inauguration Ceremony
Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia
Saturday, January 11, 2014 - 12PM

Inaugural Parade
The parade will begin immediately after the ceremony - Richmond, VA
Saturday, January 11, 2014

Richmond Inaugural Ball
Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center - Richmond, VA
Saturday, January 11, 2014 - 8PM

First Lady's Luncheon
Thalhimer Pavilion, Science Museum of Virginia - Richmond, VA
Sunday, January 12, 2014 11AM - Monday, January 13, 2014

Take-Aways From the AG Recount

SBE says no photo 131219BallotQuestionable_zps3d6e5779.jpg While the iron is hot, there are a few observations that should be taken concerning elections. While paper ballots provide a tangible record, it turns out they are not slam dunk evidence. The cost of optical scan and paper methods is unjustifiable except in distinctly unique cases. DRE is optimal.

The Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) method of casting and recording ballots removes subjectivity. There is natural discomfort with a black box recording and storing election results but that is not reason to challenge the reliability of this method. Something on the order of 75% of Virginia jurisdictions use DRE. There is not one case of an election being challenged because DRE was the balloting medium.

    Three things that stand out in the Attorney General recount:
  • Virginia elections are reliably supervised and adjudicated
  • Paper ballots in any form invite error
  • Marc Elias is one cool operator

Why is paper less reliable? Here is an example of a marked paper ballot. The standard published by the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) requires a positive affirmation in order to count a vote. According to SBE, this mark is a strike-through; negative. But did the voter really intend an underline making it an affirmation? You'd have to channel the voter's intent. That's no way to determine election outcomes.