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Cheap whine

SoVaNow.com / February 12, 2020
It’s still early, but our great Commonwealth may be in the process of producing the dumbest political complaint of the new decade: the 2020 General Assembly session has split us into “two Virginias.”

You may have noticed this bifurcated bull hockey is coming from one side and one side only in the Virginia political world: the party that lost the November elections so badly that control of the legislature flipped like stunt cars in Fast ‘N’ Furious. It probably goes without saying at this point, but the power transfer in question ran in the direction from Virginia’s Republican Party, which lost, towards the warm embrace of Virginia Democrats, who won.

It’s probably piling on here to note that the Virginia GOP in fact hasn’t won a statewide election in over a decade, but a yen for political subtlety and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee ... so yeah, let’s make that point, too.

Now it’s certainly true that Virginia is moving quickly away from the norm we’ve grown accustomed to in state politics — Republican officeholders, overwhelmingly male, white and mostly old, calling all the shots at the General Assembly. To the extent that other constituencies have taken their place at the table, it’s undeniably the case that we have not only two Virginias, but many Virginias, which is the point of having a democracy in the first place: to negotiate differences and accommodate various viewpoints. Hopefully all this can be done in the spirit of compromise, but when one side decries and derides the legitimacy of the other at every turn upon losing their grip on political power, there becomes not much for folks to talk about.

I’m sure everyone wants an example of how this phenomenon works, so let’s cite just one: gun control. Listening to the Republican minority in Richmond, you would think that reasonable gun safety legislation — expanded background checks, red flag emergency protection laws, one-a-month gun purchases, that sort of thing — had been visited upon Virginia by the devil child of Joseph Stalin and Lizzie Borden, with Hitler lurking in the wings as the baby’s godfather. That’s pretty much the claim of Republican lawmakers, anyway, who wail about Democratic majorities in the House and Senate jamming unwanted laws down everyone’s throats. And yet — public opinion polls show these proposals are widely popular. Democrats ran in the 2019 statewide elections on the explicit promise of enhancing gun safety via the legislative process, and the voters elected them in sufficient numbers to carry out this agenda. What’s the complaint here? That the process is illegitimate because Republicans lost? Conservatives of sound mind and good intentions should give a good deal of thought to how far they want to take this argument.

So no, Virginia counties won’t be joining West Virginia anytime soon. (Okay, I got it wrong at top: this is the dumbest political message of the decade, and we can cancel the contest right now.) In the meantime, guess what — by the time this legislative session is over, we’ll still be one Virginia, full of people with differences of opinion and an established process for sorting these differences out, otherwise known as the democratic process, built on a firm scaffolding of the voter franchise. In the words of The Talking Heads, same as it ever was.

****

The richest man in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has spoken many times of his desire to spend his vast wealth on colonizing space, presumably because he believes humankind’s future on Earth is pretty much screwed. I prefer billionaires who devote their money to making our collective home — that is, Planet Earth — a healthier and more hospitable place.

Which brings us to a major piece of news in Southside Virginia in recent weeks: the purchase of Falkland Farms in Halifax County by tech industry titan Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games (based in Cary, N.C., not Silicon Valley). This is a development that can get everyone’s attention: us old folks, many of whom may know something about the legendary Vaughan family estate, which at one time was the state’s largest private hunting preserve; young folks, who know everything there is to know (hey, don’t look at me) about Fortnite, the signature game of Sweeney’s company; and the outdoors-minded among us — hunters, recreationists and environmentalists. That last group especially has won the future of Falkland Farms, with the help of a land conservation ally worth seven billion dollars and rising. (Sweeney’s company makes about a couple billion dollars each quarter on the Fortnite online gaming craze). More broadly, though, this is likely a great development for everyone.

It’s way too early to say what will happen to Falkland Farms, except we can reliably take Tim Sweeney at his word when he says he wants to protect the property as a woodlands resource for all time. (Sweeney has a long and laudable record of forestland preservation in North Carolina; to my knowledge, this will be his first foray into Virginia.) Tracts like Falkland Farms are few and far between, and simply keeping its vast forestlands intact is a plus for the environment and any chance we have of arresting climate change, since trees are carbon sinks. (Since I imagine there are one or two Trump voters who have hung in with me all this time only to give up at the reference to “climate change,” I hope everyone is enjoying our weird-and way-too-warm rainy winter, and boy wouldn’t it be nice to get a little snow.)

Anyway, back to the point: while I am thrilled to know that Southside Virginia has drawn an investor who is committed to saving one of our signature properties for posterity’s sake, I would really be ecstatic if it was announced that Falkland Farms, in part or as a whole, could be made accessible to the public. The land sits at the mouth of Buggs Island Lake and the convergence of rivers Hyco, Banister and Dan; it really is an extraordinarily beautiful natural resource; and hunters, hikers and nature lovers would greatly benefit from its future (and loving) use. Someone would need to manage and maintain the site, which wouldn’t exactly be cheap, but the public benefits would be considerable.

It states on the Virginia State Parks website that Staunton River State Park encompasses 2,400 acres. Falkland Farms, which abuts the park, is 7,326 acres. The largest state park in Virginia is Pocahontas, at 7,604 acres. The largest state park in the United States is Wrangell-St. Elias, in Alaska, at 8,323,148 acres (if my 5-second Google search can be trusted.) So okay, our corner of Virginia is never going to be home to one of the 15 largest state parks in America ... but can we at least lay claim to being King of State Parks in the Commonwealth?



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