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South Boston Council votes in favor of cigarette tax

South Boston Town Council moved decisively to impose a 10 cent-per-pack tax on cigarette purchases in town by voting 4-1 in favor of the levy Monday night.

Eight of nine Halifax County schools accredited

Trustees set goals at retreat, hail progress in state ratings


Era of segregated schools is over, but achieving racial parity in education continues to be an unmet challenge


Park View look solid against Prince Edward in scrimmage





Tea leaf country / June 15, 2017
Here’s your election factoid for the day: The last time Virginia Democrats held a June primary contest for governor, in 2009, eventual nominee Creigh Deeds won with just under 50 percent of 319,168 votes cast. (There were three Democratic candidates on that year’s June ballot.) On Tuesday, the party’s nomination for governor was captured handily by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who defeated former 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello by 55-44 percent in the statewide primary. Northam’s victory was, of course, the big news of the night, but check out the total number of votes cast this time for both Dem nominees: 542,828. That’s a gain of 70 percent since the 2009 Virginia Democratic primary. Yowsah.

Not to be Captain Obvious, but this is what happens when Democrats are riled up, turned out and ready to win again. Sure, Virginia’s population has grown in eight years, but c’mon, not by that much. Just consider the numbers in Halifax County (where, alas, population growth has been non-existent over the past decade): In 2009, there were 1,018 county voters who took part in the June Democratic primary. This year, 1,613 people opted to vote Democratic. (Virginia is an open primary state where you can vote for one party slate or the other, but not both at once.) That’s a big ol’ 58 percent increase — not quite as hefty as the gain for Virginia as a whole, but not exactly an empty box of toothpicks either.

If you really want to surprise and impress your friends, spring this bit of knowledge on them: as noted above, there were 1,613 county residents who voted in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. By contrast, only 1,538 who took part in the Republican primary. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. This is hardly what you’d expect in a supposed bastion of conservative politics. Of course, far from impressing your Republican friends with this information, you might elicit angry accusations of “fake news.” Just remember, that’s their problem, not yours.

Truthfully, the Virginia Republican Party has lots of problems coming off of Tuesday’s vote. The newly-minted GOP nominee for governor, Ed Gillespie, seriously underwhelmed in winning his race by barely a one percent margin. Following his near-upset of Mark Warner in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, Gillespie was expected to rally the party faithful around his candidacy this year, and much of the polling told this exact story. Voters had other ideas. Gillespie almost lost to Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who couldn’t have run a more clownish campaign for governor if he had gone around the state dressed in big yellow pants and a red rubber nose. Stewart, a Minnesota native with a strange predilection for dressing in Confederate garb, fancied himself a mini-Trump, which the Big Man himself apparently must’ve not appreciated since he canned Stewart as Virginia campaign co-chair in last year’s election. (There’s room for only one spotlight in Trumpworld.) Stewart did get in one good lick in this year’s primary campaign, hanging Gillespie with the nickname “Establishment Ed.” And that’s not a bad explanation for how the voting shook out: Gillespie did OK, not great, in areas like Northern Virginia where red meat and tofu are sometimes served together in the same meal, whereas Stewart dominated downstate with the blood-and-soil vote. The base almost gave Stewart a win.

Because political junkies (guilty!) don’t have much else to draw on in election off-years, contests such the Virginia gubernatorial race tend to garner an outsized share of media attention. (In the inevitable rundown of Virginia Election Night winners and losers, space should be set aside in the latter category for all the national political writers who wrote glowing commentary pieces on Tom Perriello.) Virginia holds its statewide races the year after the presidential election, one of only two states to do so (New Jersey is the other), so of course we’ve earned ourselves the reputation of the great American tea-leaf state. But this year, with You-Know-Who wreaking havoc on little-D democracy and civilized norms the world over, the stakes are a wee bit higher than normal. In fact, a Republican victory in Virginia in the fall — coming on the heels of Trump’s Old Dominion defeat versus Hillary Clinton in presidential race — could precipitate a planet-wide nervous breakdown. Ed Gillespie surely wants 2017 to be a nice little Chamber of Commerce-style election. It’s not going to work like that.

In Ralph Northam, Virginia Democrats have in some ways selected the perfect candidate to get out front and on top of the party’s fierce Trump blowback. First of all, Northam is a man of moderate temperament, which is a personality trait the world sorely needs right now. Democratic candidates in general would do well not to become too infatuated with fire and brimstone; Trump’s excesses notwithstanding, this isn’t what voters really want out of their leaders, and the center-left pretty much fails at this stuff anyway. The other thing about Northam is that he’s a physician, which is actually a pretty good perch from which to call out Trump as a “narcissistic maniac,” the medically-defensible phrase that Northam used in his TV commercials. (Two weeks ago in this space, I wrongly referred to Northam as a pediatric neurosurgeon rather than the pediatric neurologist that he is. Readers with an M.D. behind their names must have thought this was a pretty silly mistake, and it was. My apologies.) I love Tom Perriello’s policy chops and his aggressive political instincts, but it’s nevertheless a fact that voters accord great deference to guys who wear white doctor’s coats in their campaign ads. (Voters also show undue deference to guys who are white and who are rich, but that’s a different story. Or in the specific case of M.D.s, maybe not.) Perriello’s a scrapper, whereas Northam is a guy who’s agitated because the run of patients at the emergency room has taken on insane proportions. Voters can pick up on the differences with this stuff.

Can I change the subject for a moment? Surely I can’t be the only person who hopes that Tom Perriello will pick himself up off the ground after Tuesday loss, file away the disappointment and run for his old seat in Congress in Virginia’s 5th District, which includes Halifax County. With no disrespect to any of the Democratic hopefuls who’ve announced their candidacies so far — we’re now up to three — Perriello would easily be the strongest challenger to Republican Tom Garrett, an ideological extremist who identifies as a member of the House Freedom Caucus, although Doormat-for-Donald Caucus would be a more accurate name. Two Toms enter the race, one Tom comes out. Even with the Republican-leaning makeup of the 5th District, I’d put even money on the winner’s last name beginning with a “P.”

Back to 2017: Every day you read the headlines or tune into the news, and every day it’s the same thing: Republicans calling all the shots. No scandal — not the Russians, not the Montana Republican congressional candidate who is convicted of assault and battery for attacking a reporter yet wins his race anyway, not the disgraceful way in which Congress is attempting to ram Trumpcare down an unwilling public’s throat, not Sean Spicer or KellyAnne Conway or Stephen Bannon — is godawful enough to cause the GOP to lose its hold on power. It’s times like these that remind me of the housing bubble of the previous decade, when prices could only go up, never down. Yet we all know that’s not true. In the political realm, especially in congressional special elections, Republicans have been underperforming lately, although not by enough to lose in typically ruby-red districts. As a more-blue-than-purple state, Virginia is another story entirely. If the bubble pops, look for the needle to come out here.

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