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Venturing afield

SoVaNow.com / February 22, 2017
And on the final week of the first month in office, the Lord said, “Give it a rest.” And so we will. Well, not really. But at least you won’t be reading much about you-know-who in this week’s installment. Let’s see what other topics are banging on the door:

Last week, the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors voted to hire an engineering and architectural firm to suss out potential sites for the proposed, $100 million combined middle school-high school complex that the supervisors and the school board have agreed to build in Mecklenburg County. As you’ll recall, trustees set the stage for this latest development back in December when they flipped, rather dramatically, from a 5-4 majority that held out for building separate east-west school complexes to a 5-4 majority in support of a single school, thus aligning with the Board of Supervisors’ baseline demand in the facilities debate. The School Board’s vote was accompanied by a request that the new school be built somewhere between Boydton and South Hill. Judging by the supervisors’ actions and words, they don’t seem to feel bound by this condition of the School Board, which isn’t to say that the process won’t lead them to a similar place once all is said and done.

A little jockeying between the two boards for control over the site selection is to be expected, especially as we go forward with the nitty-gritty of evaluating actual land tracts. I’ll be particularly interested to see how the supervisors and trustees finesse any differences that may arise as the infrastructure requirements of proposed locations become apparent; it’s not hard to imagine west-end representatives on both boards kicking up a fuss if moving the school site closer to South Hill means having to spend extra money to run sewer lines out from Boydton (to single out just one possible fault line.) Supervisors and trustees settled their big ecumenical dispute when majority factions on both boards agreed to consolidate grades 6-12 at a single countywide complex. Lower-order concerns may crop up as the process moves along, but these probably won’t be enough to undo this fundamental understanding. Yet future progress is hardly a sure thing. Deals have fallen apart over less.

People take a dim view of government squabbling — oversupply drives down the value of everything — yet it’s important to realize that gamesmanship among elected boards occurs because people have genuine differences and divergent interests that aren’t always easy to reconcile. Mecklenburg County, with its far-flung communities and loose bonds of affection (eat your heart out, Abraham Lincoln) is especially prone to dissolution arising from dissension. That’s why, as supervisors and trustees make plans for the new school, everyone should accept that no one is going to be entirely happy with the final outcome. That’s what compromise is all about. Getting this thing done will require nothing less. And as a practical matter, the big issue left to be resolved before construction can begin is one that can be measured in the span of short distances — five miles maybe, give or take, between sites leaning east or west from Mecklenburg County’s mythical center. We’re not talking about the search for the Lost City of Atlantis here. In that vein, let’s hope that supervisors and trustees don’t make this process more difficult than it needs to be.


This week brought two news items from on high that have important implications for Southside Virginia. First, Speaker of the House Bill Howell, a Stafford County Republican, announced he will not seek re-election in the fall. Howell is probably the most important Republican elected official in Virginia, but aside from his wide-ranging influence in general, he brought his power as Speaker to bear this legislative session with House Bill 1900, which took aim at a much-cherished aspect of rural life in Southside: hunting with dogs. Howell’s bill barely failed in the House, losing on a 48-47 vote, and the concern it sought to address — abusive hunters who overrun other people’s properties with free-roaming hounds — isn’t going away. But you have to figure that a fair number of delegates voted for Howell’s bill more to curry favor with the Speaker than out of any particular conviction regarding dog hunting. It’s the rare piece of legislation that fares better after the loss of its champion. Hunters probably can breathe a little easier about their future with Howell on the way out at the General Assembly.

On a separate note, on Friday a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision to toss a lawsuit by Virginia Uranium Inc. that aims to overturn the state’s longstanding ban on uranium mining. The decision extended a string of losses for Virginia Uranium that goes back years, in both the legal and political arenas. I mention this because it’s easy to get a bit complacent about uranium mining ever happening in Southside Virginia — like the weather, it’s something everyone talks about, but no one ever does anything — when in fact the firewalls that protect the region from yellowcake extraction aren’t as solid as they may outwardly appear to be. Consider, for instance, the Fourth Circuit Court ruling: judges split 2-1, with dissenting Judge William Traxler (appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush) rather emphatically rejecting Virginia’s statutory basis for enforcing the mining ban. A few more appeals like this and Virginia Uranium may eventually find a set of judges more amenable to its point of view. (I wouldn’t sleep on the Supreme Court for a split second here.)

Meantime, the company has been thwarted at the state political level by Gov. McAuliffe, who promised at the onset of his term to block any attempt by the company to dig up ore upstream from us in Pittsylvania County. Will McAuliffe’s successor — particularly if he’s a Republican — provide similar opposition? And what about the legislature? Will past political alliances against uranium mining endure, or will pro-mining lawmakers (mostly Republican, although some Democrats of the corporatist, up-state variety are suspect, too) prove more adventurous than expected? Some people act as though they can vote for pro-drilling, pro-mining, anti-environment candidates till the cows come home without risking harm to Southside Virginia. Some people, if they aren’t careful, are going to wake up some day and find out how wrong they were.



w Finally, it’s been a curious experience reading the constituent columns of our new Congressman, 5th District Rep. Tom Garrett, that appear elsewhere on this page. By all appearances, Garrett formulates his arguments and set them down on the page in his own words, which marks a huge upgrade from the paint-by-numbers approach to column-writing taken by his predecessor, Robert Hurt. Garrett’s dexterous pen is commendable. Too bad it’s deployed to such misleading ends.

Last week in his space, Garrett criticized the way President Trump’s travel ban has been characterized by critics and political opponents as a “Muslim ban,” agreeing that such a thing would “serve as a recruiting tool for ISIS and make Americans less safe at home and abroad.” Good for Rep. Garrett for recognizing that banning Muslims from travel to America is a dangerous and counterproductive idea. He goes on to write, however, that it’s Democrats who are fueling misconceptions of Trump’s failed executive order, and “for anyone to use partisan political tactics to perpetuate a falsehood that endangers American lives is shameful.” Garrett would certainly seem to know about shame, and lack thereof. As memory serves, we didn’t hear a peep from Garrett during the recent campaign when then-candidate Donald Trump said, and I quote, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Selective outrage much, Mr. Congressman?

This week Garrett is out with a new column on the Affordable Care Act. I don’t have enough space left today to deal with the sum total of our new congressman’s nonsense, but there’s an fundamental point about his praise for an Obamacare replacement bill introduced by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul that must be made: Almost nothing Garrett writes about the subject bears any relation to reality. He says the legislation “restores federal prohibitions against discrimination towards individuals with pre-existing conditions” when, in fact, Paul’s bill overturns the Obamacare provision that bans this insurance industry practice. (People would have two years to sign up for policies that would guarantee coverage for those with pre-existing conditions; if people let their policies lapse for any reason, including the loss of a job, the protection against discrimination evaporates.) Garrett also hails Rand Paul’s emphasis on “state Medicaid flexibility” (i.e., converting the federal funding stream into block grants, which will almost surely will force states to kick people off the Medicaid program) and Health Savings Accounts (useful only if you have enough income to claim a tax deduction for medical expenses, which, by the way, describes very few people in Southside Virginia) and assorted whatnot.

Garrett probably is safe peddling these fairy tales to the folks back home via his column, because no one is paying much attention to Rand Paul’s bill and for good reason: It’ll never pass in its current form. Even by Republican standards, it’s a threadbare piece of policymaking. But this legislative herky-jerky does serve the purpose of allowing politicians such as Tom Garrett to pretend like they’re offering solutions when in fact they aren’t. As long as everyone understands this basic dynamic, we’re all good.





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