Arlington, VA

Max Burns

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Politics isn’t just a contest of competing visions for our community. As this year’s primary victories by Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey and last year’s victory by John Vihstadt show us, successful campaigns understand the importance of a strong “ground game.” Message matters, but people need to hear it, see it and feel it.

Across Arlington and the broader 8th Congressional District, I’ve met progressive candidates with values and messages worth vocalizing. Yet they struggle with an important but often hidden problem: good campaign teams don’t fall out of the sky. Building top-notch campaigners takes training and hands-on experience.

We can do more to develop strong campaigners and campaign teams at the local level even though we lack the resources of a state or federal operation.

That’s why, in collaboration with the 8th District Democratic Committee, we launched the Next Generation Leaders Program. NGLP is unique mentorship initiative that connects passionate Democrats with elected officials, candidates and community leaders to build a strong bench of future campaign professionals.

Then we did one better and made sure the program would be absolutely free of charge. We believe financial limitations should never prevent a future campaign superstar from taking her or his first step.

Applicants to NGLP are largely younger Democrats and those looking to make a career out of campaign management, and we built the program with them in mind. After our successful applicants are chosen from those who apply before our July 15 deadline, they’ll work directly with active campaigns and Democratic leaders to learn a broad range of fundamentals, from fundraising to event management, campaign communications and crafting direct mail.

We’re especially focused on applying at the local level, where reliance on volunteers is no longer enough for candidates in competitive races. These skills are vital in races that lack large resource pools.

By building up real-world political management skills, NGLP offers diligent, committed Democrats the opportunity to stand out over the course of a campaign. It also marks the start of a growing network of NGLP participants and mentors with long-term value even for those who decide professional campaigning isn’t in their future.

I’m proud of the hard work of the 8th District Democratic Committee and the volunteer mentors from every city, county and magisterial district in developing NGLP. This program and its future participants will ensure that our candidates’ progressive values are backed by strong campaign organizations that ensure a good dialogue between voters and candidates and that those progressive values are communicated effectively in Arlington and beyond. It makes us more competitive as a party, and fosters a new generation of experienced, skilled political managers.

There’s still time to apply for our 2015 Pilot Program. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to turn your progressive values into marketable job skills, look no further. We’re ready to see what you’ve got.

Max Burns is a member of the 8th District Democratic Committee and served as President of the Arlington Young Democrats.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

MaxBurnsThis has been a year marked by a constant stream of contested political campaigns in Arlington that resulted in the election of new members of the School Board, County Board, House of Delegates and Congress.

During that time of intense internal political focus in Arlington, I also had a chance to participate in the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership — a program that promotes the values of trust, civility and respect in its graduates through direct engagement with communities around Virginia.

Over the course of 2014, as it has for 20 years, the Sorensen Political Leaders Program brought together each month professional, civic and political leaders and future leaders — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — from every region of the Commonwealth. The Sorensen Institute has long worked to provide meaningful conversation and consideration of the issues facing our localities and our Commonwealth. It stresses open dialogue, looking beyond surface and party/ideological differences, and clear, fact-based thinking about policy challenges we face.

My Sorensen experience has given me a broader perspective in which to view the eventful 2014 in Arlington. As we near the end of the year, it may also be worthwhile for our progressive community to step back and analyze the current political situation in our county.

It’s been a challenging year for the Arlington County Democratic Committee. We faced an unexpectedly strong challenge with John Vihstadt’s candidacy for the County Board. We struggled against the image of a local party so used to victory that no other outcome was possible.

Also, few political groups have to contend with normally dry discussions about membership bylaws and steering committee procedures becoming front-page news. Yet, ACDC found itself in that place this year when senior party officials decided to endorse and campaign for a non-Democrat contrary to national, state and local party rules. That difficult situation played out in a very public way.

While the rules were clear, we fell short in building understanding in the community about the way that party rules and ACDC procedures work, why those rules exist, and how few people they affect directly.

We now know that Arlington — like other parts of the country in 2014 — faced a shake up and increased skepticism about politics, elected officials and institutions generally.

Regrettably, this led to instances when civility broke down within ACDC and also within broader community conversations about the County Board, its policies and the 2014 election.

One of Sorensen’s most valuable lessons for me is that, difficult as it can seem, we are better served moving past our knee-jerk responses and exploring issues more deeply — even if the end result isn’t as self-validating as we’d hoped.

That is why I believe “The Arlington Way” deserves better than increasing derision in the community. While criticized as an empty buzzword, it does have the benefit of urging us to approach disagreements with civility and respect as we strive to make Arlington a better community.  Those core principles underpin good government regardless of party or candidate.

It’s time we reinvigorated the phrase and recommitted to building a community that takes seriously the input of a broader range of Arlingtonians, whether they are political activists or choose to spend their time contributing in other ways. How we conduct ourselves as we strive to build better schools and more responsive public services is every bit as important as the quality of schools and services we provide. So let’s set an example. Read More

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Max BurnsWhen the 8th Congressional District first sent Alexandria Mayor Jim Moran to Congress in 1990, Arlington could count the population of young people in single-digit percentages. Nearly a quarter century later, nearly half of our population is between the ages of 18 and 36.

That’s the main finding of a study on young professionals in Arlington released by Arlington Economic Development and based on research questions developed by Southeastern Institute of Research.

But there’s much more to the story of Arlington’s young taxpayers — this influx brings a host of opportunities and challenges for defining the Arlington of the future.

It’s no secret that young people come to Arlington because of our low unemployment rate in a competitive job market. We draw some of the most educated, accomplished young professionals in the country into private sector and government service. We also offer a county that prioritizes green space, walkability, safety and ease of transportation in return. It’s a compelling offer, and one of the reasons I chose to pursue my college work in Northern Virginia nearly a decade ago.

The County Board deserves credit for the long-term plan that built Arlington into a destination for talented, next-generation employees able to contribute to Arlington’s economic vitality. As the “millennials” study shows, the R-B Corridor is a focal point for young professionals interested in dining and nightlife.

What the report doesn’t say is that public planning decades in the making built the R-B Corridor into a mixed-use, open space that serves as a social hub for our young community and creates a strong tax base that helps protect neighborhoods and social services.

The initial Arlington draw may be about well-paying jobs and a safe, well-planned community, but intangibles keep young people around. Many young people learn the value of Arlington’s neighborhoods and their importance to our future. We see young people hoping to build up the resources to buy a home in Arlington and to consider putting down roots and starting a family.

This does not happen by accident. Arlington County has found ways to involve young professionals meaningfully in the mechanisms of managing a municipal space. Our County boards and commissions are dotted with young faces new to policy alongside those longer-term residents who have helped build Arlington into a modern magnet for growth. Institutional knowledge isn’t hoarded — it’s shared between generations to develop new and capable civic leaders.

That extends to our politics as well. I have the privilege of serving as President of the Arlington Young Democrats and working with some of the most intelligent, focused young people I’ve ever met. They’re interested not just in winning elections, but in doing good for Arlington County and shaping the dialogue around what our home will be in years to come. They hope that the county will not retreat from the sound policies that have made Arlington such an attractive place to live for people of all ages.

It is also a privilege to compete respectfully with my counterpart in the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans, Matthew Hurtt. While we don’t agree on every policy or proposal, our shared hope for Arlington’s continued success breeds a mutual respect often lacking in other communities. Read More

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Max BurnsVirginia is — finally — for all lovers.

In a landmark decision handed down Monday, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Virginia’s state ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

For those used to the challenges of reading through the language of many recent Supreme Court decisions, the Fourth Circuit offered a refreshing clarity and unexpected boldness in stating what an ever-increasing majority of Americans have come to know well: “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable… However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”

The Fourth Circuit judges understand that times and attitudes are changing. For young Americans soon to begin high school or college, even the phrase “gay marriage” seems clunky. They call it what it is: marriage, plain and simple. For this generation, gay and lesbian couples aren’t in some “other” category. They are friends and family, roommates and coworkers. They are people.

They are also the people who are bringing new energy to the institution of marriage.

It is sadly true that it has been the Republican-elected officials in Virginia who have fought hard against marriage equality and, indeed, many other rights for LGBT Virginians such as freedom from discrimination in the workplace. And, it is very unlikely that we will see many Republican-elected officials praise the Fourth Circuit’s decision.

It is also important to applaud the many Democrats who have promoted equal rights even when it was politically challenging to do so. Virtually every advancement of LGBT rights in Virginia has been initiated by Democrats and it was Democrats who fought hard, although unsuccessfully, against the Marshall-Newman amendment that for years banned marriage equality — and even civil unions — in Virginia.

As an Arlingtonian, I am proud that our Democratic County Board leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to extend workplace benefits and other civil rights to gay and lesbian Arlingtonians over the past 25 years.

While the institutional Republican Party may be reactionary and obstructionist on LGBT issues, the youngest adult members of the Grand Old Party are ready to acknowledge what our Founding Fathers saw as self evident: that all men — and women — are created equal.

It’s among younger voters that we see amazing progress on marriage equality, even in today’s hyper-polarized political environment. A Pew survey released in March showed that 61 percent of Republicans aged 18-29 support gay marriages. At the same time, over three-quarters of Democrats in the same age group support gay marriages.

What’s more, these young Republicans support gay marriage without feeling that it jeopardizes their credentials as “real” Republicans.

Fortunately, the vitriolic debate about whether gays and lesbians “deserve” marriage will soon belong to the past. Young leaders in both political parties are ready to move forward to economic and foreign policy issues. They know that we need the fully-engaged talents of all Americans to ensure our economic competitiveness, as well as security and a strong moral example in times of international conflict. We should all be encouraged.

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