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by Larry Roberts July 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Larry Roberts

This is the fourth of five in a series of columns about how Arlington progressives and 8th Congressional District (Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax) Democrats responded from a policy perspective to the 2016 Presidential election.

In that same context, this week will bring an opportunity to see how this year’s gubernatorial candidates will try to define their agenda and that of their opponent as the Virginia Bar Association will host its traditional first gubernatorial debate of the campaigns season at 11 a.m. on July 22 at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. The public will be able to see the debate via a PBS live stream and there is generally substantial press coverage.

While we await the debate and coverage of it, I am providing – again without editorial comment — the progressive agenda as defined by resolutions adopted by the 8th Congressional District Democratic Convention delegates as a window into the views of progressive voters in an area of the Commonwealth that will be an important indicator of the level of Democratic enthusiasm during a general election that will receive national attention.

Opposition to Proposed 2018 Federal Budget: The Convention opposes the proposed federal budget as it would harm the economy and citizens of the Washington, D.C. region generally, including Northern Virginia, and encourages Democrats to hold elected officials accountable should they actively and/or passively support budgetary policies harmful to Northern Virginia.

Opposition to Gerrymandering: Gerrymandering of districts must end and voters should be allowed to select their political representatives instead of officeholders selecting their voters. Any solution should be independent, objective, and transparent. As a Constitutional amendment may be necessary to assure the independence of the redistricting process, the General Assembly should act in its 2018 session so that the amendment can take effect before the 2021 redistricting.

Pay and Benefits: Congress should establish a national paid family and medical leave policy that guarantees at least 12 weeks of compensated leave to care for new children or deal with family medical emergencies. Congress and the Commonwealth should incentivize businesses to adopt profit sharing systems such as employee stock ownership plans to ensure workers receive a fair share of large employer success. Virginia should explore ways to provide options and incentives for employers to voluntarily offer increased pay and benefits in these areas.

Political Contributions from Public Service Corporations: General Assembly members should reject campaign contributions from a public service corporation. The Convention supports legislation prohibiting candidates for the General Assembly or statewide office from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions from a public service corporation and urges Virginia’s state and local elected officials to establish the fight against climate change as a top legislative priority in accordance with Virginia’s constitutional mandate to “protect [Virginia’s] atmosphere, lands, and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction.”

Preserving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The proposed federal budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency are detrimental to protecting the nation’s clean air and water. Congress should use a full life cycle cost analysis in setting budget priorities rather than ideological agendas.

Primaries Instead of Caucuses: The Convention recommends that the Democratic Party of Virginia and the local Democratic committees conduct primaries whenever possible.

Religious Freedom: The Convention condemns the Trump Administration in the strongest possible terms for allowing an employer to interfere with employee health care benefits based on the employer’s religious beliefs. This policy is a direct infringement of the employee’s religious views. Congress should overturn these hasty and ill-advised actions so as to restore the right of every citizen to hold their own religious views and to reach their own views on political issues without taxpayer subsidized lectures advocating partisan positions from the pulpit.

SNAP and Nutrition: This nation should make sufficient resources available to end hunger in the United States. The Convention opposes the conversion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program into a block grant to the states. The federal agricultural program should include nutritional assistance as an integral part of its mission. The Convention opposes steps that would attack nutritional education and the promotion of good eating habits by school children and by the population as a whole.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice who has previously served in the state Cabinet as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine and as Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair. He has been Chair for three successful statewide political campaigns, including Justin Fairfax’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor in 2017.

by Larry Roberts July 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Larry Roberts

This is the third in a series of columns about how Arlington progressives and 8th Congressional District (Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and parts of Fairfax) Democrats responded from a policy perspective to the 2016 Presidential election.

Arlington Democrats now have in place a “state house to school house” ticket for the November 2017 election – Ralph Northam (Governor), Justin Fairfax (Lt. Governor), Mark Herring (Attorney General), Patrick Hope, Mark Levine, Alfonso Lopez and Rip Sullivan (House of Delegates), Erik Gutshall (County Board), and Monique O’Grady (School Board).

As the ticket’s electoral agenda comes into focus, the progressive agenda as defined by  resolutions adopted by the 8th Congressional District Democratic Convention delegates – again presented without editorial comment – remains instructive.

Fighting the Opioid Epidemic: Encourages strict enforcement of existing laws regulating the manufacture and distribution of addictive opioids, as well as the following actions (1) law enforcement should assist drug manufacturers in their internal investigations of possible overprescribing and counterfeiting of opioid drugs; (2) Virginia health officials should continue to provide guidance to medical professionals about the appropriate medical use of opioids following guidelines published by the CDC, and should monitor and periodically publish statistics on the volume of opioids prescribed in the state; (3) Virginia should establish and fully fund expanded treatment and rehabilitation programs for opioid abuse to ensure that opioid addiction is properly viewed as a public health issue rather than simply leading to increased incarceration rates; and (4) Virginia should establish and fully fund expanded economic, educational, and social programs designed to relieve systemic causes of addiction, including, but not limited to long-term unemployment and under-employment.

Gun Violence Prevention: The Governor should (1) encourage, facilitate and incentivize the world-class technology enterprises of Virginia to pave the way in developing and marketing ground-breaking and affordable technology applications to gun safety issues; and (2) promote, fund and incentivize the academic institutions of Virginia to participate in a “Manhattan Project” type of collaborative effort to lead the nation in developing low-cost and readily accessible personalized and other safety devices for hand guns, with particular emphasis on child safety and safety in the home.

The General Assembly should empower localities to enact ordinances to prohibit guns in government facilities and in establishments serving alcohol. Congress should promote, authorize, aggressively fund, and incentivize programs and projects that will result in the immediate availability of personalized safety devices for hand guns. The Federal government (through appropriate agencies) should fund studies and collect statistics on the nature and extent of gun violence in the United States.

Helping Working Families Afford Retirement: Congress should support retirement savings and expand retirement savings options through initiatives such as (1) allowing workers without employer sponsored options to enroll in auto IRAs; and (2) creating minimum pension plans for workers and employers at businesses with 50 or more employees. Virginia should establish a state savings plan option.

High Quality Child Care and Universal Pre-K to Virginians: To remain competitive in the 21st century and to reduce the burden on middle-class Virginian families, the Commonwealth must provide high quality child care and universal pre-K to all Virginians; The General Assembly should (1) make a High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit available that is paid directly to providers on a monthly basis to help families afford child care with families contributing up to 10% percent of their income toward child care fees on a sliding scale; and (2) amend Virginia Code Section 22.1-254 to make free public education available starting at age 3, rather than age 6.

High School Democrats of America Joining the DNC: The High School Democrats of America should receive two Delegate At Large positions for the HSDA Chair and Vice Chair, become voting members of the Democratic National Committee, and join the Young Democrats of America and College Democrats of America as recognized DNC stakeholders.

Immigration, Deportation, and Muslim Ban: The Committee condemns in the strongest possible terms the “Muslim Ban” and the ongoing deportations of undocumented residents living in the United States peacefully; opposes any future efforts to ban entry into the United States on the basis of religious belief or national origin as well as any future funding for an expanded deportation program; and calls upon the Congress to renew its bi-partisan efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Instant Runoff Voting in Primaries: Section 24.2-532 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to provide local parties the option of specifying that a primary should be conducted using either IRV or the current one-round method.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice who has previously served in the state Cabinet as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine and as Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair. He has been Chair for three successful statewide political campaigns, including Justin Fairfax’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor in 2017.

by Progressive Voice July 6, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Krista O’Connell

Some Democrats are stuck in a paradox: they yearn for President Donald Trump to be impeached yet want him to complete his first term to drive Democratic turnout in upcoming elections. This dangerous mindset puts party over country.

If the President has colluded with Russia, obstructed justice, or accepted money from foreign governments, he should be impeached immediately. And if Democrats can effectively communicate their values and policies to voters, then they have something to fall back on to drive turnout separate from anti-Trump fervor.

The Democratic Party must be a progressive party with a vision for the future and cannot be a reactionary party defined by opposition. As the vanguard of the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee must invest in more than the anti-Trump fervor highlighted in most of its press releases and its Twitter feed.

There is much about President Trump’s administration worth opposing — from a travel ban that reneges on America’s founding principles to his decision to leave the Paris Accord that puts special interests over the general welfare. But blanket opposition must be paired with promotion of a positive agenda. Opposition should be backed up with strong alternative policies.

The same problems and policies that plague the Trump Administration were apparent in his campaign, but voters still elected him. Trump speaks for himself. Will Democrats find their voice?

While anti-Trump fervor will bring some short-term gains, Democratic organizations must champion their own policies so they can lead effectively and promote a progressive agenda once President Trump is out of office or when Democrats gain control of Congress.

Furthermore, Democrats shouldn’t overlook two important factions – members of progressive, grassroots organizations that are leading much of the resistance; and voters who are becoming fatigued by the endless coverage of President Trump and are losing faith in democracy and politics as a result. Democratic organizations can reach each of these factions by supporting the resistance while offering a strong, positive agenda.

The national Democratic Party has an impressive platform, but it must be communicated effectively. Democratic policies have the potential to reach and energize voters — especially young people – through the planks of ending LGBT employment discrimination; making the minimum wage a living wage; expanding access to healthcare; creating a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans; and making debt-free college a reality.

While local party chapters (like the Arlington Young Democrats) have done a good job of advocating for these issues, national Democrats must do a better job of framing the national narrative.

Democrats focused primarily on obstruction should look to Republicans’ health care resistance without a positive alternative as a cautionary tale. For seven years, Republicans campaigned against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, repeatedly voting to repeal knowing they could not override a veto.

Yet, even after winning the White House, Republicans have struggled to come up with an alternative to ACA. The House and Senate proposals are both deeply unpopular and will leave Republican members of Congress at risk even if they manage to pass a bill.

While Democrats absolutely must continue to oppose the Republican bills, they must also propose how they would amend the ACA to address some of the shortcomings that do exist. That way, when Democrats regain control of Congress, they will be ready to act and have a mandate for doing so.

The Democratic Party has its challenges — the recent election exposed a rift in the party between moderates and progressives and also between the old guard and young activists. Opposing President Trump is a good way to find common ground among liberals (and even with some Republicans), but being strategic about politics shouldn’t come at the expense of policy and values.

Instead of ignoring this divide and putting off internal debate, the party should engage in some serious soul-searching. There is no shortage of analysis on what went wrong in the 2016 election, now it’s time to decide in which direction to steer the ship.

At the end of the day, anti-Trump sentiment might get some voters to show up to Democratic meetings and vote in 2017 or 2018, but it’s not going to get them to stay. Democratic leaders and national Democratic organizations need to give people reasons to vote Democratic besides voting against President Trump.

To do so, the Party must reach voters – whether newly engaged in the resistance or instead becoming disillusioned by the democratic process — with a positive message of social, economic and environmental justice.

Krista O’Connell is a member of the Arlington Young Democrats executive board who is passionate about education policy. Follow her on Twitter @krioconnell.

by Progressive Voice June 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Nathan Saxman

In March, the Alexandria-Arlington Regional Workforce Council released its 2017 assessment of the regional labor market. The report was prepared by Dr. Mark C. White of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and serves as an overview of the two counties’ workforce assets and liabilities.

Of the conclusions drawn, many will be familiar to Arlington residents — most notably that our economy is almost entirely services-based and highly dependent upon federal government activity.

Residents will also likely know that the local population has an extremely high level of educational attainment, with over 65 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. It may even be common knowledge that the region’s workforce is disproportionately young and that the prohibitive cost of local housing tends to push this younger, more mobile workforce out of the region as it ages.

The region’s strengths are frequently advertised and rightly so. Demonstrating that Arlington and Alexandria have educated, young and motivated workforces will be key to attracting investment. While uncertainty about federal government spending in the region will continue to shake up local industries, the skilled workers we tout will adapt and prosper, or simply move on.

However, while these indicators might satisfy those worried for the health of Arlington’s workforce, they don’t paint the whole picture. The wage distribution by occupation is polarized, with 45 percent earning more than 120 percent of the average wage and 37.6 percent earning less than 80 percent of the average wage.

More than 50 percent of the types of occupations in Arlington and Alexandria required a high school diploma or less and most of these jobs paid less than $40,000 annually; well below the average wage and cost of living. Mid-skill occupations requiring an associate’s degree or post-secondary certification, such as computer support specialists or auto mechanics, comprised less than 10 percent of all jobs, further narrowing the path for workers in low-skill occupations to move up the ladder.

Divisions between high and low-skilled workers in Middle America was a theme throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and likely affected the election’s outcome. These divisions exist even in our backyard.

Earlier this year, I spoke with David Remick, Executive Director of the Alexandria-Arlington Regional Workforce Council, about workforce development in Arlington. The Arlington Employment Center, which implements many of Arlington’s workforce development programs, has sought to connect job seekers with employers since its creation in 1989. Today, it is housed in the Arlington Department of Human Services and administers training and placement funded through various revenue streams, most notably the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

In our conversation, Remick voiced his own concerns about the low number of middle skill opportunities, as compared to low and high-skilled jobs, and the risks faced by low-skilled workers unable to advance to higher wage occupations.

AEC has focused on providing in-demand credentials to trainees that will empower them to find employment in fields with projected growth, such as healthcare services, computer systems support and occupations requiring a commercial driver’s license.

These credentials and training programs are also ones that would be difficult for low-skilled workers to obtain without guidance and AEC has stepped up to fill that role. AEC also actively seeks out partnerships with local employers and routinely assesses where higher paying job opportunities will become available.

As with all public initiatives, budgetary limitations constrain the quantity and types of certifications that AEC can offer. Under WIOA, AEC may offer $3,500 in value for the “up-skilling” of qualified customers that seek out training. The type of training is guided by both market demands and the personal preferences and competencies of customers.

Last year, of those served by AEC, 18 percent earned credentials relating to hospitality or culinary arts, 33 percent in healthcare, 19 percent in construction or CDLs, and 18 percent in I.T. support fields. While the quantity of mid-skilled job opportunities is demonstrably small in Arlington (especially compared to other jurisdictions in Virginia), these are the fields that are most likely to experience growth.

There is always more to be done to improve workforce qualifications, but AEC and the Regional Workforce Council provide existing frameworks that address local deficiencies proactively.

These initiatives should be supported, both financially and through visible promotion. With resources limited, AEC and the Regional Workforce Council access their vast network of community-based organizations, local businesses, and residents to help promote their services to the public, ensuring that workforce development services are made accessible to those in need.

Nathan Saxman is a graduate of James Madison University and an Arlington resident. He has been politically active in Virginia since 2008 and presently serves as Programming Director with the Arlington Young Democrats. Professionally, Nathan is a paralegal in the field of international trade law.

by Progressive Voice June 22, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Matt de Ferranti

Over the past four months, Arlington Democrats have reached out to the community on issues at stake at the national, state, and local levels.

We’ve held forums with interested Arlingtonians on health care, immigration, climate change and labor/income inequality.

Our Issues Forum Team – part of the Arlington Democrats community outreach effort — worked to share facts about policies, increase awareness, and generate ideas for action.

The team consisted of Fatima Argun, Becky Dick, Eric Gibble, Susie Lee, Vivek Patil, and Jacki Wilson.

Here’s what we learned and what you can do to make a difference.

Health Care

Who would have known when we met at Key Elementary School in February that Obamacare would still be the law of the land today? Congress may well pass a bill to overturn the progress made under Obamacare, but activism and the CBO’s estimate that 23 million Americans would lose health care coverage under the House Republicans’ proposal has changed the conversation.

The health care forum included a panel of experts on federal, Virginia, and local health care policy and a discussion with community members. One shared conclusion: Virginia voters must hold accountable those who will not support expansion of Medicaid.

The most powerful moments were hearing personal stories from our neighbors, including one woman who shared the story of her fight with insurance companies over the care she was seeking for her son as he fought against the cancer that ultimately took his life. People in the room were moved to honor the mother’s request that we act so that affordable, comprehensive coverage — that actually pays claims — is available to all.

Immigration

During our immigration forum on March 28 at Patrick Henry Elementary School, we heard from two individuals who have been impacted directly by policies that veer from our nation’s founding values of welcoming those affected by poverty and violence elsewhere to join their stories with the American story.

A young Dreamer — valedictorian at Wakefield High School – told us how she had to leave Virginia to attend college, despite having lived in Arlington since she was a child, in large measure because the in-state tuition provisions put in place by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) were not yet the law.

A woman from Sudan described earning asylum to come to the United States and the fear she felt when President Trump tried to impose an unconstitutional travel ban that would have prevented her from returning from a trip to care for her elderly mother.

Both speakers and the broader discussion inspired us to ensure that Arlington’s leaders and residents are welcoming to new neighbors.

Climate Change

Discovery Elementary School, Arlington’s first net-zero school, was a perfect venue for our forum on Climate Change on April 27, which occurred prior to U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and Gov. McAuliffe’s subsequent commitment to carbon emissions reduction targets for Virginia.

The speakers encouraged the audience to call, write, and speak out. We collected signatures and provided an opportunity for participants to join ongoing advocacy efforts.

At the local level, we learned that Arlington is implementing a plan to convert County buildings to renewable energy.

Americans and Arlingtonians know that we must make better choices than the President’s withdrawal decision and embrace green technology now and in the years to come.

Labor, Income Inequality and the Middle Class

Our last forum addressed the central importance of an economy that helps create a country, Commonwealth and county where the middle class and the American dream thrive. We heard about the presence of real poverty even in affluent Arlington, how economic insecurity is threatening many in the middle class, and the need for policies to address these problems.

So What Did We learn?

Whether the subject is health care, immigration, climate change, or labor and income inequality, all will be addressed more successfully if we elect a Democratic governor and a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates in Virginia in November 2017.

So we ask you to join the Arlington Democrats at www.arlingtondemocrats.org to help make a difference on these issues and others at stake this year. With your help, a strong voter turnout in Arlington will be an important element in winning a very competitive election in November.

Matt de Ferranti is a Co-Chair of the 2017 Arlington Joint Democratic Campaign. He wishes to thank the Issue Forum Team members for their joint leadership on the Forums and their critical contributions to this column.

by Larry Roberts June 15, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

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

By Larry Roberts

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how Arlington progressives and 8th Congressional District (Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and parts of Fairfax) Democrats were responding from a policy perspective to the November 2016 Presidential election outcome that few Democrats in Arlington anticipated.

Other recent elections reflect a challenge to the view that the election of Donald Trump and the earlier Brexit vote that might have anticipated a Trump election reflect a rightward turn in U.S. politics and in western democracies.

Closer to home, the 2017 statewide primaries in Virginia showed a markedly higher level of enthusiasm among Democrats than Republicans. In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, 542,615 Virginians cast votes compared to 366,244 votes in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Of the votes cast in the simultaneous primaries, 59.7 percent were Democratic and 41.3 percent were Republican.

This was a dramatic 70 percent increase in Democratic votes this year compared to the last contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia – from 319,168 in 2013 to 542,615 in 2017.

The 2017 turnout in traditionally Democratic Arlington was very high for a primary. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 28,167 to 5,151.

Compared to the 2013 primary, Democrats saw a 42.8 percent increase – from 19,715 in 2013 to 28,167 in 2017.

Results in France and Britain have also reflected a move away from the right.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party had led opinion polls from November 2016 until mid-January 2017 but ended up losing by 66.1 percent to 33.9 percent to Emmanuel Macron of the Republic on the Move, who criticized Le Pen as too far to the right and cast himself as a radical centrist. Macron’s party has gone on to dominate subsequent parliamentary elections and is expected to win over two-thirds of the seats.

And in Britain, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election to consolidate her party’s position strongly supporting Brexit backfired when the Conservatives lost 13 seats and Labour gained 30, a result substantially weakening Britain’s Brexit negotiation position.

Against this backdrop, below is a second piece of the progressive agenda as defined recently by a set of 32 resolutions adopted by the delegates to the 8th Congressional District Democratic Convention – again presented without editorial comment.

Death Penalty: The Convention calls upon the Virginia General Assembly to abolish the death penalty in Virginia.

Defending the ACA: The Convention opposes any efforts on the part of the Trump administration, or anyone else, to undermine the Affordable Care Act; opposes any further efforts to repeal and replace the ACA with legislation that will reduce affordability and/or provide less coverage to Americans; and affirms that healthcare is a human right to be afforded to all Americans and endorses the eventual adoption of a universal single payer healthcare system.

Economic Prosperity and Justice: The Convention urges the Virginia Congressional Delegation to: re-prioritize the spending of tax dollars to focus on universal health care, public education, environmental protection, public infrastructure, and the equitable rule of law; make room for the above spending priorities by substantially reducing wasteful military spending; ensure that America’s wealthy, and corporations, pay a progressive share of taxes as a proven method to lower inequality, stimulate economic growth, strengthen businesses, and keep the public debt from exploding further – and that deductions and overseas loopholes be eliminated before any reductions in tax rates be considered; corporate tax revenues should be restored to 20 percent of Federal current tax receipts; pass a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act; and ensure the continuation and undiminished funding of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to protect the budget and public from further Wall Street excesses.

Election Transparency: The Convention urges enactment of a Virginia General Assembly bipartisan bill requiring all candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General to submit at least five years of Federal and state tax returns to the Board of Elections in order to appear on the ballot and all Presidential candidates to submit at least the last five years of Federal tax returns to the same body before the presidential primary. These returns shall be made open and available to the public at least 45 days prior to a presidential primary or any general election.

Expansion of Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia: The Convention affirms that healthcare is a human right to be afforded to all Americans; supports Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendment to the state budget to set the expansion of Medicaid in motion; believes Virginia cannot afford to be left behind by continuing to not expand Medicaid.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice, a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and a former Counselor to the Governor. He has followed Virginia politics for more than 30 years and chaired three successful statewide political campaigns including the Lt. Governor campaign of Justin Fairfax, who won the Democratic primary on June 13.

by Progressive Voice June 8, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Christopher Gray

Today, many Virginia workers face stark choices without easy answers. Even as cuts in public funding cause college tuition to rise at an unreasonable rate and with a student debt crisis that threatens to spiral out of control, the percentage of Americans over 25 with a college degree continues to grow at historic rates.

Approximately 32 percent of American adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, and a high level of educational attainment has largely become a pre-requisite for finding a path to financial stability in today’s knowledge economy.

This means that as much as 68 percent of the population lacks the easy access to upward social mobility that is so foundational to the American Dream. Looking for a reason why our political climate has become less than sane? That’s a good place to start.

There are many other problems with our current social model, including professional jobs for college grads becoming increasingly clustered in a small number of metropolitan areas where the cost of living is exorbitant.

According to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, this dynamic has created a society with historically low rates of geographic and social mobility, high rates of racial and socio-economic segregation, low levels of innovation, and stagnant growth.

Indeed, the high cost of living in job-rich areas such as Northern Virginia costs the American economy as much as $1.7 trillion in GDP annually. Simply put, many highly qualified people lack the means or are otherwise unable to relocate to areas where they can find meaningful employment.

Having lived in a friend’s dining room for six months while working two jobs and an internship when I first arrived in the D.C. area, I am well acquainted with how the toxic mix of high student loans, insane housing market and uber-completive economy keeps workers on the razor’s edge of financial insecurity and personal uncertainty. I do not want future generations to struggle with this same reality. We need to do better for our Commonwealth.

With many high paying manufacturing jobs outsourced to low wage countries with poor labor and environmental standards, many Virginians are working two or three jobs just to maintain an increasingly unstable day to day life.

We need to guarantee a living wage for workers if we want a more stable economy and political environment. Automation is going to follow in the footsteps of free trade agreements in reducing working class jobs, while Virginia’s longstanding anti-labor politics continue to allow highly profitable companies to maximize their share of our state’s wealth at the expense of workers.

Some will argue that increasing the minimum wage will have a job killing effect on Virginia’s economy, even though there is no statistical evidence to support that conclusion.

I would counter that even if some low wage jobs are lost because we decide to adopt a living wage, others will open up as people no longer have to work multiple low paying jobs to make rent in the absence of a livable minimum wage. As of today, a fulltime worker making the state’s $7.25 minimum wage brings home about $1160 per month before taxes. That’s barely enough to pay for a room in Northern Virginia, let alone support a family.

The truth is, a full-time worker making Virginia’s minimum wage will bring home less than $14,000 a year. That’s not enough to make ends meet anywhere, even in less expensive rural areas.

We may have become conditioned to believe that workers are not supposed to see their living standards improve even as the economy and worker productivity continue to grow, but that’s only because when it comes to improving the lives of workers our politicians succumb to the disproportionate influence that a very small class of wealthy individuals have over our political process.

Virginia’s elected officials – Republicans and Democrats — need to confront their donors with support for basic redistributive economic policies that will more equitably share the wealth generated by Virginia workers.

Parents who are able to survive while working only one job can spend more time helping their children with school and improving their communities. Non-college educated workers will be able to live financially stable and secure lives — a basic dignity that anyone working a full-time job should be guaranteed.

There is no moral justification for living in a society that creates a permanent class of the working poor – and that is what happens when upward social mobility becomes a rare exception. Enough is enough: it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

Christopher Gray is a native Virginian, graduate of James Madison University, and Arlington Young Democrat. He has been active in the Democratic Party of Virginia for more than 15 years and has served as the Chair of Virginia Young Democrats Environmental Policy Caucus and Party Representative for the Arlington Young Democrats.

by Progressive Voice June 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Elaine Furlow

Could you explain basketball’s March Madness to people in China? Who would even try?

A couple of years ago, the University of Dayton added a new angle to its basketball coverage — energetically broadcasting the Flyers’ games in Mandarin.

Why? The university wanted to better engage its international students on campus (about 450 speak Mandarin) and to promote its brand in China, where it has a research institute.

Results: More than 1,200 passionate listeners, here and in China, and lots of spinoff media attention. More people feeling connected to the university, and a brand with brighter luster.

This kind of approach goes beyond just niche marketing, and gets at something Arlington may need more of: getting outside our comfort zone.

Yes, Arlington, which already prides itself on extensive civic involvement, could try new ways to nurture wider community spirit. And progressive political leaders here are trying it to understand emerging needs, recast some political conversations, and prevent unwelcome outcomes in upcoming elections.

Getting outside our bubble could mean our place, our approach or our perspective. At a recent packed event at Central Library, author Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book “The Sympathizer,” made a positive comment about refugees. It brought strong applause, and one woman murmured, “Good old Arlington.” Yes, Arlington has (and we enjoy) a mostly affluent, educated, fairly Blue bubble, one that cares for others — health care, housing, you name it.

Yet — for example — I have seen students industriously using the internet to research life in Ethiopia, perhaps not knowing that dozens of recent Ethiopian immigrants go to our schools. (They’d be able to give other students a first-hand account!)

How might we become more attuned to worlds different from our own? For starters, consider how we can make those worlds productively collide.

One example: Virginia Tech students are exploring the history of legacy businesses in the Nauck neighborhood and along Lee Highway. They interviewed people like Darryl Collins, owner of Friendly Cab and grandson of founder Ralph Collins. During the segregation of the 1940s and 1950s, women of color had to leave Arlington in order to give birth, usually at a hospital in D.C. Ralph Collins founded his cab company to serve such needs.

For another project in Rosslyn, where busy streets and highways block pedestrian access to the Potomac River, the county asked Virginia Tech students for ideas to make the waterfront more inviting. “We felt they could be both imaginative and unconstrained, unworried about ruffling feathers among the many landowners and agencies,” said one leader.

Arlington basks in our national rankings and urban buzz, yet some may not relish talking ideas, particularly politics, with people who don’t already lean the same way. On the other hand, many progressive leaders feel it’s urgent to escape an echo chamber where friends and media choices just reinforce our own opinions.

Those progressives believe that stepping outside the bubble can help us think better, solve problems better, and perhaps build community in new ways. We also think it may help us steer clear of surprises and shoals in elections to come.

We take a page from people like U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who recently spent several days in small towns in Virginia’s southwestern corner, an area not particularly friendly to Democrats. Just showing up and listening is a start.

Out in red state Montana, Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor, won re-election comfortably last November even when Hillary Clinton got just 36 percent of the vote in his state. He told The New York Times recently: “Ever since, national reporters have asked me whether Montana Democrats have some secret recipe….But it’s not all that hard to figure out. Above all, spend time in places where people disagree with you. Reach out. People will appreciate it, even if they are not inclined to vote for you.”

None of us knows as much about America — and perhaps about Arlington — as we think. Yet we don’t have to visit a faraway red state. If you travel along Glebe Road, Arlington is less than nine miles from end to end, but there are many different worlds along that road. If ever there was a time to expand our view, the time to stretch seems now.

Elaine Furlow was Director, Strategic Planning for AARP until her recent retirement. She also served as an Arlington School Board member from 1998-2005.

by Larry Roberts May 25, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Lawrence Roberts

In the aftermath of the November 2016 election, Democrats in Arlington were stunned by an outcome few anticipated.

Once reality of the defeat was absorbed, it was time to assess signals President-Elect Donald Trump would send about his agenda.

Even before Inauguration Day, it became clear to local Democrats that the Trump agenda would run counter to their values and that the new President would seek to dismantle key Obama Administration accomplishments.

Thus began the resistance – the Women’s March; the March for Action on Climate Change; impromptu protests at airports around the nation to push back against detention of immigrants returning to the country; the March for Science; and the formation of groups such as Indivisible dedicated to resistance at the grass roots level.

Democrats and previously unaffiliated independents began showing up in droves to local Democratic events and committee meetings – in numbers not seen before.

The resistance has led to efforts to defeat Republicans around the country in special elections.

It has also led to efforts to define a progressive agenda that is more than opposing the actions of President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress.

It is no surprise that Arlington progressives are deeply involved in the efforts to resist and to define a progressive agenda.

One reflection of a progressive agenda was defined recently by a set of 32 resolutions adopted by the delegates to the 8th Congressional District Democratic Convention held on May 23. The 8th Congressional District – represented by Rep. Don Beyer – includes all of Arlington County as well as the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church and portions of Fairfax County.

Like Arlington, the 8th District voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and for Hillary Clinton.

It is not a stretch to say that the 8th District’s resolutions are a reflection of an agenda that Arlington County progressives would view as a blueprint for moving beyond resistance toward rising up and mounting a progressive comeback.

Presented here and in future columns without editorial comment is a summary of the resolutions adopted by the 8th District convention.

$15 Dollar State and Federal Minimum Wage. The state and federal minimum wage should be increased from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020 for all workers. Tipped workers in Virginia should be paid a $10 minimum wage instead of the $2.13 per hour they are currently guaranteed. Both the state and Federal minimum wage should increase annually as the cost of living increases.

Creation of Appalachian Power Administration District. Virginia state government and its universities should conduct a study of the feasibility of an Appalachian Power Administration District based on renewable resources. The study needs to determine the applicability of mountain-based renewables in Appalachia including wind, load sharing, and pump storage methods. The study should provide an actionable plan within four years.

Cannabis Reform. We support bi-partisan efforts to allow states to establish their own regulatory scheme for cannabis distribution and use. Virginia cooperative extension should conduct outreach programs on industrial hemp cultivation. Medical use of cannabidiol should be expanded beyond epilepsy and obstacles should be cleared from both the state and federal levels.

College Affordability and Student Debt. We support the Commonwealth’s investment in higher education through initiatives such as the Affordable Pathways grants. We also call on Virginia lawmakers to study and implement initiatives that would allow students to reduce debt after employment in public service and to explore similar opportunities for students to reduce debt after completing approved unpaid civil and/or community service.

Congressional Review Act. In response to the Trump Administration’s hasty partisan action that ignores the basic rights of citizens and the responsibilities of government, we call for the repeal of the Congressional Review Act and in the absence of complete repeal, call for the Congressional Review Act to be amended to provide that a 2/3 vote be required in the House and Senate House to adopt a resolution of disapproval.

Criminal Justice Reform. Virginia should: increase the threshold for felony larceny to $1000; increase payments to court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants to the national average hourly rate among states for such services; provide for payment of experts and translators as appropriate and approved by the court; permit a convicted defendant who obtains DNA evidence of his innocence to petition to have his conviction overturned even after a guilty plea; and cease suspending the driver’s license of a defendant who lacks resources to pay outstanding court fees for offenses unrelated to driving.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice, a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and a former Counselor to the Governor. He has followed Virginia politics for more than 30 years and chaired two successful statewide political campaigns.

by Progressive Voice May 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm 0

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

By Juan Arteaga

The gathering of so many Americans in Washington and around the country to demand action on climate change has inspired me to tell my personal story of moving to Arlington. I shifted my definition of success toward enacting values I learned as a youth to appreciate our environment — doing so through a job in which I now am able to support investment in energy generation that serves to protect our health and our planet.

An appreciation of nature became one of my core values early in my life. Growing up in Houston, Texas, I remember camping trips and visits to city parks. Those early experiences encouraged me to seek adventure and experiences rooted in a love for the outdoors and nature’s beauty.

One of the positives of moving to Arlington is that while living close to the Nation’s Capital, I can also enjoy accessible locations where I can explore more adventurous excursions such as rock climbing in the Shenandoah Valley and long hikes in national parks.

I am able to combine a professional career devoted to improving our environment in economically sound ways with a wide variety of outdoor activities. That balance has not always been how I defined success.

During my time in college, while I still loved being outdoors, I found myself increasingly caught up in a pursuit of financial success. When you are chasing success in Houston, that success is generally tied to money and the money is frequently tied to oil in some way. So when I landed a job with a large oil company while I was still in school, I was convinced that I had it made.

My work for big oil did not blind me to the effects of energy production on our environment, but signaled that the childhood value of appreciating nature and what I learned in history classes remained important to me.

I found myself paying more attention to the news, trying to put into context what I was learning and hearing at work with what I was seeing in the broader world.

As I witnessed environmental disasters either personally or through media reports, I became increasing concerned about how human activities were causing or exacerbating dangerous weather patterns. The lack of actions to counter these trends began to create serious cognitive dissonance for me.

I began to feel a direct conflict between the profession I was in and my desire to protect the natural spaces which had offered me so much throughout my life. The longer I worked with a major oil company, the more I felt certain that my own actions were making an impact — and not a good one. So I left the job.

As risky as that decision felt at the time, I was incredibly fortunate. I was hired for a position at a well-respected consulting company, a position I went after because the values of the organization match my own.

By letting go of a culture pushing money at the expense of the environment, I found a new definition of success. I am consistently able to learn more about the environment and our impact on it and I challenge myself to make sure that the actions that I take are making a positive impact. Now I’m part of a fight to get our community to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, something that I know is a huge part of protecting the outdoor spaces that have shaped who I am.

Anyone can change their definition of success. For me, it meant letting my fundamental principles guide me to greater involvement in the fight for our shared environment.

What is most important to you?

Juan Arteaga is an infrastructure analyst and a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He moved to Arlington to become more active in environmental causes.

by Progressive Voice May 11, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

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

By Alfonso Lopez

On April 29, tens of thousands of people – including many Arlingtonians – made their way to the Nation’s Capital to march and demand action on climate change.

Supporters joined together for similar marches and rallies in hundreds of locations across the United States and around the globe.

With the impacts of climate change being felt worldwide, it was important to send a very clear message – we must not retreat from the actions that are necessary to address this crisis.

Marchers intended to resist the Trump Administration’s open hostility toward measures to address climate change. They also called on decision-makers to continue taking the necessary constructive and positive steps to combat the causes of climate change at the national, state, and local levels.

Over the last eight years under President Barack Obama’s leadership, the United States did more to combat climate change than ever before. We committed to the Paris Global Climate Change agreement, improved fuel efficiency standards, and put forward the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. We invested in renewable energy, which has led to a rapid expansion of our clean energy economy and significant increases in the generation of wind and solar power.

However, it has become abundantly clear that we can no longer rely on the federal government to lead the way on environmental protection or renewable energy investments. In just the first 100 days, the Trump Administration has worked to repeal the Clean Water Rule, delayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan, delayed implementation of the new chemical storage rule and attempted to diminish the EPA’s effectiveness through budget cuts, staff cuts and dismissing scientific experts from advisory commissions.

With the EPA and environmental protections under attack, it is incumbent on the commonwealth to act on behalf of Virginia residents – especially since strong majorities in Virginia have expressed their support for staying on the path toward clean energy and climate action.

One such action for which we can be thankful is Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) issuance of Executive Order 57, which created a working group to develop carbon reduction strategies for Virginia’s fossil fuel power plants.

Last week, I submitted a letter to that working group – signed by 18 members of the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus in the General Assembly – that called for the working group to recommend: investments in energy sources with low or zero emissions footprints; utility-run efficiency programs; allowing utility customers to work together to install carbon-neutral renewable energy systems; and identifying revenue sources for transition assistance packages to help coal communities adapt to our changing energy economy. We hope McAuliffe and the working group will take bold action to promote these and other clean energy initiatives.

While these are important first steps by the Governor, the Virginia General Assembly also needs to do more to protect our environment for future generations and help transition Virginia away from a dependence on fossil fuels, stay on the path of climate action, and build on the progress we’ve made to move America toward a climate-friendly 21st century clean energy economy.

Through investments in the development of solar and wind energy sources, the Governor and General Assembly can not only put Virginia at the forefront of harnessing the potential of clean, renewable sources of energy, but also grow our economy and create jobs throughout the Commonwealth.

In the 2017 elections, Virginia voters have a tremendous opportunity to send a clear message about the importance of addressing climate change and protecting our environment.

Through the June 13 primaries and the November 8 general election, voters will choose Virginia’s Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General for the next four years. All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates will also be on the ballot in districts across the commonwealth.

If you care about climate change and want Virginia to keep moving forward toward a sound environment and a thriving economy, it will be vitally important that you vote and choose candidates who will make climate action a priority.

Whether it is ensuring that our water supply is not contaminated like that of Flint, Mich., or ensuring that we do not suffer chemical spills of the magnitude of the Elk River spill, we need to combat inaction at the federal level by electing leaders in Virginia who will push the commonwealth toward national leadership in climate action, renewable energy, and environmental protection.

Let’s make sure our voices are heard.

Alfonso Lopez represents Virginia’s 49th District in the House of Delegates, which includes parts of South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax County. He is the founder and Chair of the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus in the General Assembly.

by Progressive Voice April 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm 0

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

By Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

Early this year, the County Board and School Board voted to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. I am honored to join 20 other Arlingtonians as JFAC members.

We are committed to finding innovative, practical and fiscally-prudent solutions to tackle Arlington’s big needs within our limited space reality.

Arlington’s population has grown approximately 1 percent per year over the past three decades and is forecasted to grow another 10.5 percent — 23,000 people — by 2026. School enrollment is also growing — projected within five years to exceed 30,000 students — which will increase capacity needs.

With growth comes increased demands for schools, fields, and other services, including essential operational and support services. Land to support these services is desperately needed.

I strongly believe that local initiatives such as JFAC that assess challenges and opportunities holistically can best promote community wellbeing in the years and decades ahead.

As I wrote last December, “local initiatives and solutions are stronger, more effective and efficient when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.”

Four months into my tenure as a JFAC member, I believe it is a model for how to incorporate multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs at a broad, strategic level.

JFAC’s Mission

JFAC’s overall mission is to help the Boards assess capital facilities needs, capital improvement plans and long-range facility planning options for residents, county government and our schools. It can provide feedback and recommendations to the Boards on key matters that impact the lives of all people who reside, visit, play, and do business in Arlington.

JFAC’s Progress

Under the effective leadership of chair Ginger Brown and vice chair Greg Greeley, JFAC has met monthly since January. We have received briefings from County and APS senior management about their short- and long-term needs assessments, and we have started to develop a list of community aspirations and goals for the next 30-40 years.

While the Boards asked JFAC to place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs, they have also directed JFAC to immediately undertake two time-sensitive matters: potential uses for the Buck site on N. Quincy Street; and what the County should seek as compensation from Virginia Hospital Center in return for the County-owned Edison site: cash, VHC property on Carlin Springs Road, or other VHC-owned properties, or a combination thereof. Two subcommittees within JFAC have been formed to dive more deeply into these time-sensitive matters.

By building a sufficient knowledge base about various needs and sites, we can proceed expeditiously to consider recommendations pertaining to longer range and big picture planning.

Public Involvement

JFAC wants to engage community members about two key goals: education and awareness about the facility and space challenges and opportunities facing the County; and insights from the public to help inform the JFAC’s recommendations.

Throughout March, JFAC hosted 10 community roundtables that provided a broad range of perspectives, interests, complaints, plans, ideas, ideals, visions, goals, and challenges. I had the pleasure of co-hosting a community roundtable at Washington-Lee High School on March 23.

It was great to hear the visions and ideas my neighbors shared on topics including traffic impact, recycling, bike lanes, park space, using I-66 air rights to create additional land, maximizing and/or co-locating County and APS facilities.

Arlingtonians can also get involved by:

  • Checking out JFAC’s website to stay updated on our meetings, presentations and reports;
  • Attending our monthly meetings; and
  • Joining us on May 24 (7-10 p.m.) for our interactive public forum at Wakefield High School, where you will have a chance to provide feedback on possible options JFAC members are exploring.

Next Steps 

Arlington can be a stronger as well as a more stable and equitable community by hearing from a broad range of voices. It helps when we get proactively involved in creating and developing public policies that will affect us for decades to come.

Our work at JFAC is just getting started. The right initial steps are being taken. Stay tuned and please assist us in ensuring we achieve our mission.

My own personal interest in JFAC’s success is that the better our community does, the better quality of life my family will have and the better educational opportunities our children will have in APS schools. My wife, our two kids and I are in it for the long-term.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC. In the Arlington community, he is a JFAC member, a member of the Board of Directors of the Dream Project, and served on the South Arlington Working Group.

by Progressive Voice April 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Rip Sullivan

This year’s General Assembly session saw one highly partisan bill after another pass both Republican-controlled chambers, with little or no apparent interest in seeking input from Democrats.

This left Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to wield his veto pen to strike down such extreme bills as one that would shield from civil liability those who would actively discriminate against same-sex couples, and another that would legalize the carrying of concealed switchblade knives.

Veto Session is the day on which the General Assembly reconvenes to vote on whether to sustain or reject the Governor’s vetoes, and to consider amendments that the Governor made to legislation passed by the General Assembly. This year, every one of McAuliffe’s 40 vetoes was sustained, and the vast majority of his amendments were adopted.

For critics of McAuliffe’s extensive use of the veto power, it is worth a closer look at the bills that he prevented from becoming law in the Commonwealth. This year alone, the Governor vetoed bills that were directed at weakening LGBT rights, defunding Planned Parenthood and putting more guns in more places.

Some of the bills passed by the Republican majority were simply messaging bills, often redundant of current law. For example, McAuliffe vetoed one bill that would criminalize the act of giving or receiving any money in exchange for registering to vote. This is already a crime under federal law.

There were other bills that sought to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud by encouraging investigations into Virginia voters without clear standards for when and how those inquiries would be conducted. Voter fraud, though it is exceptionally rare, is already a crime in Virginia.

The Governor also vetoed a number of bills that Democrats universally agree would undermine the economic security of many of Virginia’s most vulnerable individuals. For those living in poverty and receiving public assistance, one bill would have prohibited anyone with a criminal history from receiving this help. Keeping those who have committed a crime – for example, petty theft – from receiving public assistance would make it even more likely that those individuals would be forced back into a life of crime and reduce public safety.

Other vetoed bills included one that would encourage companies to pay workers less – Democrats universally rejected these anti-worker bills and I am glad that the Governor vetoed them immediately. Two bills would have prohibited a state agency and a local government from entering into a contract with a company that requires that company to pay workers at rates above prevailing wages and benefits. We should be encouraging contracts with companies that are willing to pay workers more, not engaging in a race to the bottom for wages and benefits.

Another agenda item that Republicans targeted unsuccessfully was making life more difficult for immigrants and refugees. One particularly dangerous bill included a requirement that the Commonwealth publish personally identifiable information for every refugee settled in Virginia. A reminder: refugees are here legally.

This bill was not only an invasion of privacy, but also a reckless move that would put refugees in immediate danger. Refugees are classified as such because they are fleeing oppression – they have specifically been targeted by the government of their home country. To make a list of their personal information public would be to make those who have sought refuge in our country targets again – even exposing them to their oppressors.

Finally, perhaps the most widely covered issue of this year’s Veto Session was whether the Governor’s budget amendment to expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income working Virginians should stand. The Governor’s amendment would have allowed him to expand Medicaid on October 1, 2017, if the Affordable Care Act still stood in its current form with respect to Medicaid. The amendment was rejected along party lines, 66 to 34, meaning Medicaid will not be expanded this year and Virginia will continue to lose billions of Virginia taxpayer dollars reallocated to states that have expanded Medicaid.

During this Veto Session the priorities of both parties were revealed in stark contrast, and I am glad that Democrats were able to fight back through McAuliffe against the most extreme of the bills passed by Republicans.

It will be a far different Veto Session in 2018 if we do not have a Democratic Governor and a strong Democratic presence in the House of Delegates after this November’s election. As we have seen at the national level, turnout matters and elections have consequences.

Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.

by Progressive Voice April 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Paul Friedman

Although it is a tragedy that remains fresh in our minds, this week will mark 10 years since the shootings at Virginia Tech that cost the lives of 32 people, physically injured at least 24 others and traumatized many more.

One day after the April 16, 2007, tragedy — having traveled back overnight from a trade mission to Japan, then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) spoke movingly to the Virginia Tech community at the memorial convocation on campus:

“There are deep emotions that are called forth by a tragedy as significant as this; grieving and sadness by the boatload,” he said. “Anne and I have unashamedly shed tears about this and I know virtually all of you have as well.”

Kaine added that anger is a natural reaction. He observed that there is anger at the gunman and the circumstance.

Then he asked a fateful question: “What could have been done different?”

It was not long after he spoke these words that Kaine did figure out what could have been done. The shooter should not have been able to buy the two guns he was able to purchase.

Although the shooter had been found by a court to be a danger to himself, he wasn’t entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because he was receiving outpatient – and not inpatient – mental health treatment.

After hearing from some of the family members and survivors of the shootings and consulting with Virginia’s Attorney General, Kaine issued an Executive Order to clarify when a report to NICS is required. At its next opportunity, with the support of the groups including the National Rifle Association, the Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly supported his action with legislation.

Family members of those who were killed as well as survivors and their families continued their work and helped to pass a federal law providing funds to incentivize states to set up a system that would ensure their full participation in NICS. That would mean states submitting the names of every person found to be a danger to themselves or others and committed for treatment. Once entered, those people would be barred from being able to buy a gun from a licensed dealer.

Over the years since the Virginia Tech shootings, the Brady Campaign, the Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and, notably, the NRA and the National Shootings Sports Foundation, have been working to achieve this goal and have been making progress.

As well, it’s a goal supported by our nation’s largest mental health organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Yet the job is far from complete.

That’s why, in connection with the 10th commemoration of the worst mass murder on an American college campus, the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation – the independent non-profit formed by affected families and survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy — is making this issue our top priority.

That’s also why we have decided to move to the forefront of the fight. After all, our story is the best known reason for why this must be done.

While Virginia is now an example of a state that has made progress, there are a number of others, including Maryland, Ohio, and Massachusetts for example, that could be doing far better or are not engaged at all.

Moreover, it is simply unknown right now how many states are submitting the names of people who have been ordered to get outpatient treatment, which constitute the bulk of commitments due to a lack of inpatient facilities.

Campaign 32, named for the 32 who were killed at Virginia Tech, will do the research and advocacy to get the job done. Together with people who want to join in this effort, we can make real, measurable and meaningful change. To make your voice heard, please donate $32 or more at www.campaign32.org!

Paul Friedman is a long time resident of Northern Virginia and is serving as the Executive Director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

by Progressive Voice April 6, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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

By Bill Rice

In the age of the Trump administration and its new, draconian immigration policies, many Arlingtonians are looking for ways to stand with their immigrant neighbors and actively fight back against such intolerant measures.

Thankfully, such an avenue for action occurred on March 28 as members of the Arlington community gathered at Patrick Henry Elementary School for an immigration-focused community forum, sponsored by the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Forum panelists included Michele Waslin, senior research and policy analyst at the American Immigration Council; Azaz Elshami, a Sudanese human rights activist who was affected by the travel ban; Tram Nguyen, co-executive director for the New Virginia Majority; Laura Peralta-Schulte, senior government relations advocate at the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; and Karen Vallejos, a graduate of Arlington Public Schools and a DREAMer.

The panelists provided information and action items at the federal, state and local levels.

At the federal level, Waslin outlined a number of pernicious policy goals of the Trump administration, including plans to significantly decrease refugee resettlement in the United States, block entry of individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries, drastically curtail legal asylum for those fleeing violence in Central America (many of them mothers with their children), potentially end the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs, and introduce new barriers to legal immigration.

The Trump administration has also moved away from the prior deportation policy of targeting individuals who are serious criminals and/or a security threat to the United States. Trump’s new deportation policy, Waslin said, is “so overly broad” that it would make all 11 million undocumented individuals a priority for deportation.

The panelists urged people to contact their elected representatives to not only voice their opposition to these policies but also voice their support for comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes humanitarian-based, employment-based, and family-unification-based immigration policies – with a legal pathway for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

At the state level, Nguyen explained, “it’s not enough to protest…it’s not enough to attend rallies.” People must help register new Americans to vote, resist General Assembly legislation targeting immigrants and promote General Assembly legislation supporting immigrants.

Nguyen also stated that Virginians should resist attempts to turn local law enforcement into immigration/deportation agents (like through 287(g) agreements), explaining that “when you have local law enforcement dealing with immigration issues, it has very chilling effect on community policing.”

Peralta-Schutle explained that while Arlington is “fortunate to have a really strong network of activists” working on immigration issues, there is still much to be done.

Forum attendees specifically requested clearer answers from County officials on the role of ICE in our county jails and schools.

Perhaps most heart wrenching were the personal testimonies of Elshami and Vallejos.

Vallejos elaborated on her experiences as a DREAMer in the Arlington school system and community — “I figured we were going forward and we were progressing but after this election things changed,” she said.

For Elshami, the travel ban was a particularly frightening and perplexing experience. Born in Sudan, she left the country at age 3, eventually arriving in the U.S. through the lottery program. She has worked as an activist against policies of the Sudanese government. “I was really happy that finally I had found a place where I can call home and feel safe.”

The travel ban changed this atmosphere. Abroad when Trump issued the first ban, she was unable to return to the U.S. solely because of her Sudanese birth, while her 77-year-old mother remained in the U.S. alone. After the courts enjoined Trump’s order, Elshami was able to return.

“I saw a different face of America. This is not the U.S.,” said Elshami, who began to develop panic attacks during this time period at the prospect of the U.S. permanently sending her back to Sudan. “It shocked me…something beautiful, something ideal, something that you really associated yourself with…it turned into something smeared.”

Yet Elshami experienced a glimmer of hope the moment she returned to Dulles International Airport and saw that members of the Dulles Justice Coalition, a group of volunteer attorneys and activists, had established a presence at the airport to assist those affected by the ban.

“Knowing that there are lawyers sitting out there, giving their time…that was great…that was America,” Elshami said. “That made me feel like not all is lost.”

Hopefully we all can continue to strive for the America Elshami saw at that moment.

Bill Rice works as a government consultant. He serves as a volunteer in the Arlington community and with the Dulles Justice Coalition, a “nonpartisan alliance of individual volunteers from legal non-profits, law firms, and all walks of life.”

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