Opinion

Virginia has a different set of problems than Dee Cee

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Hello again.  It’s taken a couple of months after America’s long summer, fall and winter of political discontent for me to come back to filling this space.  Speechless is a pretty good description — speechless at best.

After all, those who delighted as public discourse shifted back in time to calling a spade a spade are perhaps now realizing that such regression may be truly unsettling, at least for the civilized world.

Now is the time to let such chips fall from our collective shoulders and see what happens when they fall where they may.  Ouch!

As much as we’ve heard about government dysfunction in Dee Cee (Drain the swamp!), will effectiveness be restored?  With Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in a decade, are we at the cusp of a new era of reform?

No list could be long enough, but here are just a few of the items on our politicos’ promised to-do list: repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act; renegotiate NAFTA and other trade agreements; rejigger NATO, the United Nations and other foreign alliances; return coal jobs; rebuild infrastructure; fix immigration; conquer terrorism; reduce individual and corporate taxes; bring jobs back to America; reduce federal spending; increase defense spending; fix Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements — this list could go on and on.

Taken individually, each of these concerns is potentially worthy of a voter’s trust. Taken collectively, they are more than overwhelming — a big set of promises too good to be delivered.

In just a few words, the politicos in Dee Cee have their hands full.

What about Virginia?  The General Assembly is in the midst of its short session, just 45 days to deal with yet another massive state budget shortfall and then doing little else before adjourning to go into full campaign mode.

In just nine months, the commonwealth will not only select a new governor, but also vote on all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

When the Virginia legislature is in session, elected officials are barred from fundraising, so don’t expect too much from this short session.  They’ve got to get back to their real work — raising money for re-election — so much for the good of the commonwealth.

Much like Dee Cee, Virginia’s politics of late are overwhelmingly driven by internecine bickering.  With Democrats in all three top statewide offices, a closely divided Senate and an overwhelming Republican majority in the House of Delegates, little gets done. It’s all partisan posturing in a tug of war for political gain.

Let’s think ahead a little bit.

With the Republicans likely poised to nominate a seasoned and credible candidate for governor — say Ed Gillespie, who came close to toppling Mark Warner in Virginia’s last U.S. Senate race — could the commonwealth also be on the cusp of a Republican trifecta, with the party holding the Executive Mansion as well as the Senate and House
of Delegates?

Would that do anything to change the partisan obstructionism, escalated by legislative gerrymandering, which has become the defining characteristic of our two-party system?

If so, what’s on the commonwealth’s not so short list of things that the legislature needs to do?  How about:

Stop playing political football with economic development.  Sorry, GO Virginia, but this isn’t an entirely regional game.  Virginia needs statewide marketing. Fix the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and finish the establishment of the Virginia International Trade Corp., while also providing competitive economic development incentive grant funding.  These are the commonwealth’s growth drivers, so give them budget priority.

Reverse declining higher education funding.  Don’t blame tuition hikes on the colleges and universities when they have borne the weight of continual state budget shortfalls.

Let’s have some real accomplishments in workforce and early childhood development.  Make them real priorities and not just sound bites.

Working to improve the entire educational spectrum isn’t just something nice to have.  It is a must-do to make Virginia competitive.

Attention to health care needs to be more than just, “Is your party for it or against it?”  Virginia has some of the nation’s lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates.  Hospitals in rural areas are having a hard time staying in business.  Dental care in Southwest Virginia is being delivered through a process akin to Doctors Without Borders.  Kudos to the volunteers providing this service, but it’s embarrassing to our system.

On transportation, remember that passing one funding bill in 1986 and a second one in 2013, does not come close to fully funding our growing infrastructure needs.

Oh, and then there is the tough stuff, help our cities by lifting the decades-old annexation moratorium, swallow the hard pill of nonpartisan redistricting, and give our governors a chance at making accomplishments by letting them run for a second term.

These are more than just opportunities for the 2017 short session; they should be electoral platform priorities for next November and delivered as quickly as possible.

The challenges faced by our commonwealth and our nation could not be more different.  Applying outdated partisan thinking to either one of them has failed.  It’s time for a better way and for better results.




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