52°Rain

by Jason Howell — March 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm 426 6 Comments

Independent’s Day is an occasional opinion column published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Photo courtesy Jason HowellAs a society do we accept the responsibility to care for those less fortunate? As I sat in a packed room at the American Legion Auxiliary Unit in Vienna last Saturday, I asked myself this very question.

Social Action Linking Together (S-A-L-T.org) sponsored a “Richmond Legislative Wrap Up” which attempted to summarize the effects of their efforts on Virginia’s 2013 legislative session. The SALT organization, founded just over 10 years ago by John Horejsi, is a volunteer led organization focused squarely on the poor. Their website references the Conference of Catholic Bishops and “solidarity with those who suffer, working for peace and justice.”

Wow. This is hardly a political winner but SALT is no political organization. From the vantage point of my campaign last year, SALT was one of the few organizations that highlighted the working poor; those who work in the shadows of our 3rd wealthiest county in the nation.

Photo courtesy Jason HowellWith a website copyright dated for 2008, SALT is hardly a well oiled machine but knowing how to get people active and involved has to count for something. Nearly 13 political leaders accepted invitations and our Delegates Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez spoke to an audience of about 100 on a cold Saturday morning. Perhaps the most raucous applause was reserved for a 7th grade girl (pictured) named Rae Moar. Rae led her 7th grade class, her parents and a couple faculty members on an initiative to support the “backpack bill.”

What is the backpack bill? From my memory, it was a bill to provide school supplies to children who can’t afford them. Unfortunately, I can’t find one article about this online. But Rae apparently raised money for a lot of backpacks, received a well earned award, and spoke eloquently. Even 35th District Delegate Richard Saslaw felt comfortable stating, tongue-in-cheek, that Delegate Hope better watch out in about nine years.

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by Jason Howell — March 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,061 30 Comments

Independent’s Day is an occasional opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason HowellTo our elected officials, a request: please deal with the issue behind the immigration issue. Like everything this year, immigration reform will eventually rely on available resources.

Last Saturday I attended an event in Falls Church hosted by what was called the “Virginians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform — Strategy Meeting.”

In attendance were various notables from the political and immigration reform community. There was Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and representatives from every one of Virginia’s eleven U.S. Congressional Districts. Also present were representatives from Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine’s offices, as well as the organizer of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), Chair Edgar Aranda-Yanoc.

Stated briefly, the goals were to:

  1. Create some consensus around the principles of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) debate.
  2. Form a strategy on creating awareness around current CIR legislation being considered and advocate for its urgency.

It was quite an afternoon. The event had no partisan intent, but politics were very much on the lips of the presenters (as a means to an end). Leni Gonzalez, from the League of United Latin American Citizens Council (LULAC), took the time to describe each Congressman’s position on immigration reform. She referenced both where each had been on the issue and where they needed some “gentle pushing.” The afternoon was a call for not just vocal but political participation on one of this year’s most provocative issues.

Not surprisingly, our neighbors had a broad and deep knowledge of the issues affecting immigrants, though not everyone was in agreement with all of the fixes being discussed. A question was asked regarding to what extent people of dissenting views were invited. The answer was muddled or mumbled, I can’t remember which, but it made clear the challenges associated with “grass roots” organizations when in their infancy. This group is just now coming together when legislation is imminent. Taken in the context of a Senate bill that may be completed by early April, the urgency for a clear consensus on the needs of stakeholders (families, businesses, first responders, etc.) is apparent but perhaps unlikely.

I happen to agree that eleven million people will not “self-deport” and should be given a mechanism for legal status; one that neither overwhelms our systems for processing them nor disenfranchises those who have endured years-long waiting periods.

But to properly begin dealing with the immigration issue, we will need to ensure that there are resources, both human and financial, that can undertake whatever decisions our politicians make. To truly “go big” we should first address the underlying resource limitations.

The US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency tasked with legal immigration into the United States. It does not cost taxpayers anything; its costs are funded by the ones doing the “immigrating.” As with all user-fee agencies, USCIS funds are sent to the federal government’s General Fund at the end of the year and later must be appropriated back to have its budget funded. But there is no guarantee that the funding will match the revenue that was generated or could be generated by USCIS.

If we changed the law to allow USCIS to expand, in direct relationship to the demand upon its services, we could see improved efficiency, encourage legal immigration and give hope to federal workers; hope that the pile of green card applications on their desk may one day become manageable. And all it would cost U.S. taxpayers is a little creativity — a change in how we appropriate funds to user-fee agencies.

We would then be dealing with the issue behind the issue of legal immigration.

Jason Howell, a former accountant and motivational speakerran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.

by Jason Howell — February 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm 586 6 Comments

Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason HowellIn our area, Arlington, Virginia is known for many things; both serious and perhaps a little frivolous (thanks Remy).

To the world, Arlington is home to the Pentagon:  the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. As one of three crash sites on 9/11/2001, the Pentagon and our county share a unique history with New York City and Somerset, Pennsylvania. The USS New York (LPD-21) was commissioned on 11/2/2009 and the USS Somerset (LPD-25) was christened on 7/28/2012. This spring, Arlington will join those cities in commemorating the September 11th attacks when the USS Arlington (LPD-24) is commissioned.

The USS Arlington (LPD-24) is a San Antonio-class, amphibious transport dock built to host 800 Marines. These ships are meant to head a transformation and modernization of Navy ships to aid in Marine deployment. This particular vessel will be the third in the United States Navy to bear Arlington’s name but the first to travel throughout the world with steel taken from the crash site at the Pentagon.

Aboard the ship will be a tribute room to honor the lives lost due to the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77. This ship’s sponsor is Mrs. Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  At the 2011 christening, Mrs. Rumsfeld was quoted this way by a Mississippi blog:

“To me, this ship represents to full story of that day, the unimaginable followed by the courage, determination, focus and love of country that was demonstrated every day after 9/11,” Rumsfeld said. “It represents the first responders, the men and women working at the Pentagon, the families, the hard hats, the construction workers, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, volunteers, chaplains, residents of Arlington.”

Every person’s experience with 9/11 is personal. Like many I was at work when the attacks began. Some people were quiet, some people immediately started crying and some people started crying as the morning wore on. A couple of executives took charge and I remember one in particular admitting that he didn’t know whether it was safer to stay at work or head to the Metro. We each had a personal reaction to what happened that day and annually we are reminded of that experience; whether we want to be or not. This Navy ship provides one other way for us to share a uniquely local experience with the world.

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by Jason Howell — January 30, 2013 at 2:45 pm 940 33 Comments

Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason Howell(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) The “Dodo bird” has become an international symbol for all that was but never will be again. It left us sometime in the 17th century and if we are not careful, small banks may leave us early in the 21st century.

Today, the Washington Business Journal reported that Arlington-based Virginia Commerce Bank (VCB) is beingn sold to Charleston, W.Va.-based United Bankshares. At about $3 billion in assets, VCB is tiny. Compared to the largest banks – like JP Morgan Chase & Co. with over $2 trillion in assets — it is infinitesimal. So why does it matter? It matters because the small banks have done the majority of the business lending in our communities for a very long time. As banks consolidate, some of that power of personal, relationship lending disappears.

Just recently First Virginia Community Bank acquired Arlington’s First Commonwealth Bank of Virginia. Small local banks like John Marshall Bank, headquartered in Falls Church, and Burke & Herbert, based in Alexandria, need to be preserved somehow. We need to preserve them because what’s bad for small banks is bad for small business, and what’s bad for small business is bad for our local economy.

Last year I had an opportunity to talk with one of the GM’s of our many pizzerias in the Clarendon/Courthouse corridor. He shared with me how helpful it’s been to have a relationship with John Marshall Bank, and we know he’s fed thousands of our neighbors with that help (including me)!

Private merchant banks helped build the family farm and gave birth to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Local bank relationships financed the business-startups-turned-Fortune-500s of the 20th century. We celebrate the “relationship bank” every year with the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Do we root for Mr. Potter or George Bailey and the neighbors of Bedford Falls? Few of us live in small towns but many of us still have relationships with small banks. They finance our education, new businesses, cars and homes. Credit unions are great examples of relationship banks.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed to stop big banks from doing bad things — like failing. Unfortunately, what it’s been better at is stopping small banks from doing good things — like lending.

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by Jason Howell — January 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm 1,288 31 Comments

Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason HowellOn one of the most innocuous days in politics, the Presidential Inauguration, partisanship once again took a bold new step in Richmond.

On Wednesday night the Washington Post reported that some of our Virginia Senators cast a vote to change our local districts and favor their party. They did this despite the reality that our Commonwealth, along with many states in our union, just recently redistricted all of the state “lines” last year.

Around this time a year ago, I shared a conversation with fellow Virginia independent candidate for U.S. Congress, Mr. Mark Gibson. He ran against newly re-elected U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly in Virginia’s 11th Congressional district. Mark shared that Reston, part of the then current 8th Congressional District, was being moved back to the 11th. I hadn’t realized that this was going into effect so soon. I nervously made multiple phone calls to our Virginia State Board of Elections. It wasn’t until late March that the new districts had been confirmed and my signature gathering process could confidently continue.

As frustrating as the jostling of entire townships was to me as a first-time candidate, it was even more disheartening to read into the possible motives.  The documentary film Gerrymandering describes well the process, perpetrated by both major parties, that leaves the true “electing” to state representatives. The movie used to be free on their website but now you may have to dig around on-line for it. It’s worth the find but be careful; the film may encourage you to do something crazy like run for office as an independent.

In simple terms, gerrymandering is the process by which politicians outline the neighborhoods that will likely vote in their party’s favor; they then “draw” them into their voting district. This nearly guarantees that their party will win the November elections (and that unless they lose in the primary, they will win individually). November elections have become less of a deciding factor than the primary elections held earlier in the election year, when fewer people are casting votes. This is a big reason why we have had U.S. Congressional retention rates hovering over 80% since 1964. In addition, most people casting votes in June (our 2012 primary month) are traditionally more partisan; which leads to more polarity in our political choices.

The apparent gerrymandering in Richmond this week continues to drive a familiar political wedge between our neighborhoods. These divisions are not reflective of our true nature to understand then be understood. We are better able to “come to the table” when we are not sent to our corners — so are our legislators.

Our governor has an opportunity to veto this bill should he be interested in distancing himself from the appearance of unhealthy partisanship. Having just performed a redistricting action last year, he could easily question the constitutionality of another plan, just one year later. Governor McDonnell could also have a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act to lean on for this veto action, should he go in that direction.

Virginia is once again making national news with this latest action by members of our legislature. Here’s hoping our Governor has the support he needs to make a wise decision about our commonwealth’s future and reputation.

Jason Howell, a former accountant and a motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.

by Jason Howell — January 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm 761 22 Comments

Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason Howell“Torture is always wrong.” That’s not just a bumper sticker sitting on my desk; it’s also a quote from Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).

On December 3rd of last year, less than a month after the election, I had two options for continued civic participation: attend the Realize Rosslyn Kickoff Event or the Program on Virginia’s Use of Solitary Confinement. I chose the latter. The Program on Virginia’s Use of Solitary Confinement was held at Arlington Central Library and hosted by NRCAT, Social Action Linking Together (SALT), and Amnesty International (Arlington Chapter). Each speaker highlighted a reality that can be lost on the majority of us who have never had the experience: extensive, unlimited, solitary confinement is a violation of the 8th Amendment’s protection from cruel and unusual punishments.

In August of 1998, in Wise County Virginia, the Red Onion State Prison opened as a security level “S.” Its Virginia location was likely the reason for the presence of State Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) at the meeting I attended. According to Red Onion’s website, their average population is 799 prisoners but a Washington Post article reported 505 of 745 inmates were held in solitary confinement as of last October. I have no way of knowing whether two-thirds of inmates housed by Red Onion “deserve” lonely lockdown for 23 hours per day. The prisoners were accused of crimes and sentenced by our criminal courts after being afforded all of the normal rights we associate with our justice system. What the meeting I attended highlighted however, was to the extent that they were being punished versus being rehabilitated.

The mission of the Virginia Department of Corrections is to enhance public safety by providing effective programs, re-entry services, and supervision of sentenced offenders in a humane, cost efficient manner, consistent with sound correctional principles and constitutional standards. Accomplishing any part of that mission is impossible if the 8th Amendment to our United States Constitution is not being upheld.

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by ARLnow.com — January 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm 380 33 Comments

Editor’s Note: This weekly column is written by Jason Howell, former independent candidate for U.S. Congress. This is the second of three weekly opinion columns that ARLnow.com will be publishing in 2013. The columns, from local thought leaders across the political spectrum, are intended to introduce fresh ideas and spark community conversations about issues of local and state interest.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason HowellLong before there were political parties, there were independent minded individuals. Along the way, despite the warnings of the first elected Independent, President George Washington, party factions took over our political system. Today, they are strangling it. In Virginia, we don’t register to vote by party in part, I imagine, because we are citizens before we become partisans. That is the spirit of this column.

Beginning today, thanks to your thoughtful editor, ARLnow.com will host a regular column that pays tribute to the independent minded viewpoint founded in all of us.  This column is called “Independent’s Day” and will celebrate one day a week when we can tackle local issues without partisanship. Unlike the 4th of July, which celebrates our independence as a country, on these published days we will celebrate our independence as citizens. Each is our day, hence the intentionally possessive title of the column.

Every column belongs to the reader rather than the writer. Like my 2012 campaign, all of my “wins” were yours. When I was asked to write this column I mentally added one win to that list. Serving Arlington and the entire 8th Congressional District of Virginia as a candidate was difficult but not hard. I enjoyed meeting so many of you as I knocked on doors, manned booths at festivals and stood at the Metro Stations.

Last Thursday, the 112th Congress left the stage and the 113th Congress was sworn in at noon. I looked really hard at the crowd on C-SPAN but my wife and I were not in it. Despite this rather cruel fact, I have committed to serve you in unelected ways and this column is one of those. I have also committed to stay as close to the issues as I was during the campaign. Because we are a Republic, “we the people” are responsible for the outcome of our country. I believed that during our campaign and that gave me the courage to run as an Independent for United States Congress. I believe that now, as a lay citizen of the country and Arlington resident.

ARLnow.com readers are some of the sharpest thinkers in the county. I can surmise this by your razor sharp sense of humor and your follow up research in many of your article comments. You will be happy to know that many of your neighbors are also as sharp, thoughtful and interested in keeping our neighborhoods some of the best places to live in the world. I have been asked to focus this column on local and state issues rather than the federal issues that consumed most of my campaign. Thankfully, there are many of these issues and I am excited to share an independent-minded perspective.

It is harder to be non-partisan. Not just in a campaign but when filtering the news sources and statistics that are often created by “special” interests. I will do my best to remain apolitical when analyzing the issues discussed in this column.  I know you will do your part in keeping me honest.

Thank you for reading this far, caring about Arlington, Virginia and the country. Your citizenship will help us get past the partisanship. With your continued attention, we will always be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

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