Dorsey: Safety Over Late Night Hours — “Metro Boardmember and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey… says Metro’s first responsibility is not to run as much service as possible, but to keep the service that is being run as safe as possible. He supports more maintenance.” Meanwhile, Metro is considering a plan to subsidize late night Uber and Lyft service. [Twitter, Washington Post]
Arlington Redistricting on Kojo Show — The always-controversial redrawing of school boundaries in Arlington was the topic of a recent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, featuring APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy and community leaders. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]
Zoning, Permitting Offices Closing Tomorrow — “Arlington’s planning and DES permitting offices are running away for a long romantic Valentine’s weekend. When they return [on Tuesday], they will live as one exclusively on the tenth floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
Snow Threats Coming This Weekend, Next Week — “In the past day, computer models have begun advertising the potential for a snow event on Saturday. And it may mark the start of a series of winter storms that streak across the Washington region.” [Washington Post]
Check Out ARLnow’s Instagram — ARLnow’s Insta currently features photography from around our fair county. Coming soon: more photos, plus contests and other exclusives. [Instagram]
After years facing powerful Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Arlington lawmakers are accustomed to harboring only modest ambitions for each legislative session.
But as legislators return to Richmond today (Wednesday), members of the county’s all-Democratic delegation say they’re ready to flex their muscles a bit over the new, 45-day session.
With all 140 lawmakers on the ballot this fall and Democrats just one seat away from seizing power in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Arlington legislators sense an opening. Republicans have taken a beating in all manner of elections across the state over the last two years, and Democrats expect that will inform how GOP leaders manage their slim majorities in this session.
Arlington lawmakers hope that will result in some of the party’s more moderate members finally embracing their efforts around everything from redistricting reform to gun violence prevention, in a bid to appear more attractive to swing voters. What it all comes down to for state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is a simple motto for his colleagues across the aisle: “lead, follow or get out of the way.”
“They can can decide to lead on some of the most important issues facing Virginia, which they have failed to do, they can choose to follow Democrats, or they can have voters get them out of the way,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “If they come to the table on a variety of issues, I think their chances are enhanced… But will [House Speaker Kirk Cox] want to allow bills to come to the floor so that a handful of members who want to appear to be moderates vote for them, or even sponsor them? Time will tell.”
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) says he’s “hopeful” that Republicans will pursue such a strategy over the next weeks — not only does he see it as wise political strategy, he jokes that “with my last name, I don’t have a choice” but to be optimistic.
But Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) takes a gloomier view of the GOP, arguing that Richmond Republicans have done nothing but “march in lockstep” with their leadership for years, and could soon face an electoral price for doing so.
“If moderate Republicans continue to fall in line and do what’s against their constituents’ wishes, we will absolutely run against them for it and they will lose in November,” Levine said. “I see it as a win-win: either we get the policies we want, with majority support, or we get these people out.”
Should Republicans choose to sign onto some Democratic priorities, Arlington legislators see two key areas for agreement: a constitutional amendment establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines, and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In both cases, the Democrats expect they’ll have enough votes to pass the bills on the floor — Republicans have either introduced or co-sponsored bills on both subjects — the question is whether the legislation will make it out of committee, where a handful of lawmakers have the power to quickly kill the bills.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District), a key backer of redistricting reforms, sees a real “sense of urgency” to the aforementioned issue this year, simply due to timing. Democrats hope to pass a constitutional amendment before the next round of redistricting in 2021, and that requires a complex process.
Lawmakers need to pass the amendment twice: once before a legislative election, and once afterward. Then, the matter will head to a statewide ballot referendum, which Sullivan is hoping to line up with the 2020 elections. Should it pass all those hurdles, stripping power from lawmakers to draw their own districts, the new commission would be in place by the time the Census mandates a change in boundary lines.
Considering that Democrats may well take control of the General Assembly this fall, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) expects it would be in the best interest of Republicans to agree on a nonpartisan process now while they still can. Levine notes that it doesn’t help the GOP’s chances either that federal courts have ordered a redrawing of some House district lines over claims they were racially gerrymandered, a process that will likely weaken Republican chances in several important seats.
“Not passing something will essentially hand the reins of gerrymandering back to Democrats, and I don’t think that’s what they want,” Lopez said.
Even with this newfound pressure, however, Sullivan says it’s “not clear to me that leadership will even allow a vote” on redistricting or the ERA ratification, which could revive the long-dormant effort to mandate equal rights for women in the U.S. Constitution.
“There’s a lot of momentum behind the ERA, so it will be interesting to see if Republicans, in an election year, will let it come forward for a vote,” Hope said. “And I’m absolutely convinced it will pass if gets to the floor.”
Instead, it seems clear to lawmakers that a debate over tax revenues will prove to be the dominant issue of this legislative session.
The Republican tax reform bill shepherded through Congress in 2017 will result in an extra $1.2 billion in state revenues, and battles lines are already being drawn about how to spend that money. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a mix of tax relief for low- and middle-income families and new investments in everything from education to broadband access; Republicans would rather see all of the money invested in tax breaks for slightly wealthier earners.
“If you think we argue or fight when times are tight, wait until you see the kind of arguing we can do when there’s extra money,” Sullivan said.
Cox and his fellow Republicans claim that Northam’s proposal amounts to a “middle-class tax hike” because it doesn’t send all of the savings generated by the federal tax cut back to middle-income families. But Democrats charge that the GOP’s plan, which centers on households making between $125,000 and $150,000 a year, targets only richer families and leaves the poor behind.
“We really need to encourage those folks working hard in the toughest economic circumstances to make it easier for them to have childcare, to have healthcare,” Ebbin said. “For people working hard, we should help them get ahead. That’s what this country is about.”
Democrats point out that Northam’s proposed investments, which could raise teacher pay across the state and expand select healthcare programs, would provide their own benefits for Virginians across the income spectrum. But Lopez also concedes that the most likely scenario is that the two sides strike a a compromise with “a little bit of both” tax relief and new spending.
With all this uncertainty, however, one thing is for sure — the short session will move awful quickly, especially with elections on the horizon.
“It’s going to go fast, and it’s going to be furious,” Lopez said. “And there are a lot of issues affecting Arlington families that we’re going to try to keep folks updated on.”
Arlington Democrats say they’re pushing for an open debate down in Richmond on a redrawing of some of the state’s electoral lines, but hope seems to be fading among state lawmakers that a special session convened on the issue will yield many results.
Gov. Ralph Northam reconvened the General Assembly today (Thursday) for its second gathering outside of normal business this year, with the avowed purpose of approving a new map governing district lines for 11 districts in the House of Delegates.
A three-judge panel on a federal court ruled last month that those districts, concentrated in the Richmond and Norfolk areas, were improperly drawn to pack African American voters into safely Democratic districts. The court gave lawmakers an Oct. 30 deadline to correct the problems it identified, or else it will appoint an independent arbiter to do so.
House Democrats introduced their own attempt at crafting a new map yesterday (Wednesday), but Republicans have so far declined to do the same. They’re appealing the federal court’s ruling on the districts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the GOP’s slim, 51-49 majority in the House potentially hanging in the balance ahead of next November’s elections.
“We just feel Republicans are delaying, delaying on this,” Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow. “The fact is, we’ve gone through four cycles with racially unconstitutional maps, and that’s eight years too long. It’s high time that we changed these maps.”
Republicans have charged, however, that Democrats haven’t engaged in the process in good faith. They argue that the map lawmakers presented is simply gerrymandering the map in the direction of Democrats, claiming that it would imperil five Republican-held districts while further shoring up margins of four Democratic districts.
“It’s clear that this is hypocritical partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15th District) wrote in a statement. “For almost a decade Democrats have pushed for so-called independent redistricting commissions. Yet when they had the chance to do so, they drew a partisan plan in secret without any input from the public or Republicans.”
Yet local Democrats like Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) point out that Republicans controlled the General Assembly by wide margins when these lines were first drawn back in 2011, creating these “constitutional infirmities” in the first place.
Lopez, who doubles as House minority whip, believes there are a whole host of reasons why the Democratic proposal is worth considering — arguing it creates districts that are “compact, contiguous and protects community interests” — but he also notes that Republicans have so far declined to offer their own alternative.
“They’ve shown indication they’ll propose their own map,” Lopez said. “Even the court is calling them out for stalling, so we are in an interesting place right now. Hopefully, it’ll all work out.”
House Republicans agreed to debate the Democratic map in committee this afternoon, and Lopez and Sullivan would both like to see them bring it to the floor for debate in the coming days.
Yet Lopez’s hope is flagging on that count. The Supreme Court has already sent back a previous appeal of a ruling on the district lines to a lower court, but that was before then-Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. With President Donald Trump’s nomination for a replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, expected to receive Congressional consideration next month, the GOP could hold out for a hearing from a court with a newly replenished conservative majority — and Lopez added that Democrats proposed setting a firm date to return and debate the maps, but Republicans defeated that measure.
“It’s up to the call of [Speaker Kirk Cox] for when we come back for next steps,” Lopez said. “We just don’t know right now.”
Sullivan, however, is a bit more hopeful. While he’d greatly prefer to see an independent commission of some kind draw district lines instead, he claims that Democrats are committed to “address the court’s concerns until the process changes.”
“I’m sort of a cockeyed optimist,” Sullivan said. “I would hope that the Republicans would engage on this issue, would debate the map we put in or put in one of their own. The court has asked them to do that, I think the citizens of Virginia want them to do that, and hopefully that’s what they’ll do.”
One of his biggest priorities after being elected in August to replace Del. Bob Brink (D) will be reforming the process by which Virginia draws its districts for both state and federal legislatures. Sullivan’s legislation, HB1485, would follow through on recommendations made by a state government integrity panel last month.
Although a long-shot in the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly, Sullivan’s bill calls for redistricting to become a nonpartisan process.
Every 10 years, after a new U.S. Census, state legislatures redraw their district maps to align with the population changes. Often, these districts are drawn in a way to include certain blocks of voters with one another in order to gain seats in Congress or the General Assembly. The problems are not unique to Virginia, but they might be worse here.
In October, a three-judge federal court ruled that Virginia would have to redraw its congressional map after it ruled it was drawn to include too many black voters into Virginia’s 3rd District.. The court gave the state until April 1, 2015 to redraw its map, but the case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sullivan and state Democrats think a nonpartisan panel would make redistricting fairer.
“This legislation will go a long way toward creating legislative districts that are truly compact, contiguous and respect political subdivision boundaries,” Sullivan said. “By reducing the role of politics, we will establish a redistricting process that is fair, transparent, and takes into account the interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth. Voters should choose their legislators, not the other way around.”
Sullivan’s legislation appears unlikely to pass; after the state’s panel — co-chaired by former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling — ruled the process should be changed, House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell told the Washington Post through a spokesman that he would resist redistricting reform.
Nonetheless Sullivan thinks that Republicans, who have a vast majority in the House and a one-seat majority in the state Senate, may come around to his ideas yet.
“I’d like to think people come down to vote for what’s best for Virginia rather than what’s best for themselves,” he said just hour before his first regular session. He said he senses “real traction” from some Republicans on the measure. “The fact that redistricting affects my [district’s] lines ought to be way down the list of concerns for someone down here.”
If the Supreme Court decides to overturn the lower court’s decision, Virginia’s electoral map would be redrawn in 2021, after the next census. A statewide organization called One Virginia 2021, which claims to have members from across the political spectrum, has endorsed Sullivan’s legislation.
“Delegate Sullivan’s legislation takes a major step toward ending gerrymandering in the Commonwealth,” Greg Lucyk, the president of One Virginia 2021, said in a press release last week. “Gerrymandering eliminates competition in elections, increases voter apathy, and promotes polarization and gridlock.”
If passed, the bill would prevent the use of election data in redistricting, except to ensure “racial or ethnic minorities can elect candidates of their choice.” It would create a nonpartisan panel to look at population size, makeup and communities of interest when redrawing the maps.
APS Graduation Rate Rises to 92 Percent — Arlington Public Schools’ graduation rate rose to 92 percent for the Class of 2014, up from 85.2 percent in 2010. The dropout rate declined to 3.8 percent this year and the graduation rate for Arlington’s three comprehensive high schools reached 98.7 percent. “This steady improvement is a reflection of the teamwork of everyone working together to ensure that our students succeed,” said Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy, in a statement. [Arlington Public Schools]
Company Promises In-N-Out Delivery — As a publicity stunt, food delivery service OrderAhead is offering to deliver frozen In-N-Out Double Double burgers from California today to addresses Arlington and D.C. Even though In-N-Out is famous for food that’s never frozen or pre-packaged, the offer is apparently proving popular for those with a craving for the west coast chain. Currently, a website set up to provide more information about the promotion is down. [Eater]
County Board Supports Nonpartisan Redistricting — The Arlington County Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to support nonpartisan redistricting of state legislative boundaries. Democratic Board Chairman Jay Fisette said partisan redistricting leads to “stagnation and gridlock,” while independent Board member John Vihstadt said it produces “toxic partisanship in Washington and Richmond.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Traffic Impacts Due to Military Funeral — Military officials are warning of possible traffic impacts in Arlington due to a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene will be laid to rest today beginning at 2:00 p.m. A Falls Church resident, Greene was killed on Aug. 5 in Afghanistan; he’s the highest-ranking U.S. military casualty since Vietnam. Officials say Greene’s funeral could impact traffic on Washington Blvd at the Fort Myer exit and on Route 110 at Marshall Drive.
Partisans Support Nonpartisan Redistricting — Democrat Rip Sullivan and Republican Dave Foster, candidates for the 48th District House of Delegates seat, agree on at least one thing: that Virginia’s redistricting process should be nonpartisan. While support for nonpartisan redistricting may be growing, it is unclear if it could pass the General Assembly. [InsideNova]
Capriotti’s Opening Nears — Originally slated to open on July 29, the new Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop at 1500 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn now has a new opening date. A spokeswoman says the shop — the Delaware-based chain’s first in Virginia — will first open to the general public on Monday, Aug. 25.
County Fair Carnies Profiled — Who are those smiling carnival workers working the rides and games at the Arlington County Fair? They’re fun-loving nomads who sleep in bunkhouses and travel throughout the East Coast and the South during fair season. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
While Virginia Democratic State Senator Henry Marsh was attending President Obama’s inauguration last month, Virginia Republican Senators ambushed their Democratic counterparts, and passed a far-reaching bill to redraw the lines of Virginia’s districts.
On Feb. 6, Republican House Speaker William Howell effectively killed this bill by ruling that the proposed massive Senate redistricting was not a germane amendment to the minor House redistricting bill to which it was attached. One can only imagine what concessions on other legislation were extracted from Virginia Democrats behind the scenes in exchange for Republicans “voluntarily” killing the Senate redistricting bill.
This 2013 Senate Republican redistricting ploy came only two years after Va. Senate Democrats and Va. House Republicans struck a deal in which Democrats allowed Republicans free rein to gerrymander the district lines in the House in exchange for allowing Democrats free rein to gerrymander the district lines in the Senate.
What all these deals have in common: hyper-partisanship by Republicans and Democrats, incumbent protection, and legislators choosing their voters—rather than the other way round. Other states have found better ways to do this, and Virginia should too.
John Miller, a Democratic Senator from Virginia’s 1st Senate District in Newport News, has proposed SB 742—a bill to create a bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission to draw the legislative district lines. Senator Miller’s bill certainly isn’t perfect—but it’s a big step up from the chaotic hyper-partisan system Virginia has now.
Even better would be legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. Efforts to do that have been blocked repeatedly by Virginia Republican legislators, most recently when a House of Delegates subcommittee unanimously voted to table such a proposal by Democratic Delegate Betsy Carr of Richmond. Republican opponents of Carr’s proposal claimed there couldn’t be any such thing as a nonpartisan redistricting commission, conveniently ignoring that California and other states have one.
A redistricting effort by Republicans in the Virginia Senate, which would have resulted in Arlington losing much of its legislative clout in that body, has been defeated.
The state Senate passed the surprise redistricting plan on Jan. 21 by a party-line vote of 20-19, thanks to the absence of Democratic Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights lawyer who was attending President Obama’s inauguration that day. The unexpected vote drew strong criticism from Democrats and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
The redistricting plan would have benefited Republicans, turning several Democratic-held districts heavily Republican. It would also have reduced Arlington’s legislative influence, moving veteran state Senator Janet Howell’s district back out of Arlington (she represents part of north Arlington as a result of the 2011 redistricting) and reducing state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s portion of Arlington to a small sliver of south Arlington.
Arlington’s interests would have been represented in the state Senate primarily by Sen. Barbara Favola, the former Arlington County Board member who was elected to the state legislature in 2011.
The redistricting plan, which was tacked on to a bill that was supposed to make small technical changes to House of Delegates districts, was ruled not germane by Republican House Speaker Bill Howell on Wednesday, defeating it.
Hotel Palomar For Sale? — Connecticut-based HEI Hospitality LLC is in talks to buy Hotel Palomar (1121 19th Street N.) in Rosslyn for a reported $45 million, or nearly $300,000 per room. The high-end hotel is currently owned by JBG Cos. and operated by Kimpton Hotels. [Bloomberg]
Redistricting Lawsuit Could Delay Primaries — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has requested that the state delay the June 12 congressional primaries by two months, following a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court to allow a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s recent redistricting process to proceed. [Washington Post]
Planetarium Renovations On Track — Renovations to Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium are underway and on schedule. The modernized planetarium is expected to reopen this fall, perhaps as early as September. A citizen-formed nonprofit group, the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium, helped to raise more than $400,000 for the renovations. [Sun Gazette]
Yorktown Band Seeks Donations — The Yorktown Band Boosters are seeking donations of used musical instruments and cases. The 501(c)3 nonprofit asks that those with questions about donating call 703-228-5370.
Petition Contractor Waives Extradition — The man whose company was hired to collect signatures for a petition to change Arlington’s form of government is likely headed to the Arlington County lockup. Shawn D. Wilmoth, 24, was indicted last month on voter fraud charges. Yesterday he waived extradition in Macomb County, Mich. [Washington Post]
McLean Residents May Sue Over Redistricting ‘Insult’ — McLean residents are apparently none too pleased that their pristine ‘burb has had its state Senate representation split in two by redistricting. One of the new McLean districts is the 31st, which also includes most of North Arlington. One resident said it was an “insult” to have their neighborhood lumped in with Arlington. A McLean citizens group is contemplating a lawsuit over the redistricting outcome. [Sun Gazette]
Curious Grape to Hold Moving Sale — The Curious Grape will be closing its Shirlington location at the end of the month. To help prepare for the move to a new, thus-far-unannounced location, the store is holding a moving sale. Alexandria-based wine-and-cheese retailer Cheesetique will be taking over the store after Curious Grape moves out. [Shirlington Village Blog]
How to Score Free Coffee — Patch has come up with a comprehensive guide for scoring free coffee in and around Arlington. Among the tips: pretend like you’re interested in the espresso maker at Williams Sonoma and ask for a sample, go car shopping and ask for coffee, or get free samples at Whole Foods. [Patch]
The plan, however, does not change the serpentine borders of the 31st District, which will stretch from North Arlington to Loudoun County along the Potomac River. Likewise, the 30th District will remain unchanged from the first plan, which took away a bit of South Arlington territory from the district’s borders.
If approved by Gov. McDonnell as expected, the plan will place McLean millionaire Caren Merrick within the borders of the 31st District. Merrick has already announced her intention of running for the state Senate as a Republican.
Merrick would face the winner of a Democratic primary battle between Barbara Favola and Lt. Col. Jaime Areizaga-Soto. Democratic technology consultant Ben Tribbett is mulling a run as well, but has been waiting for the district’s borders to be finalized before making a decision.