All posts by Kris Amundson

Virginia Adrift

This morning, Virginia–well, at least a big chunk of the Richmond-oriented folks–woke up adrift. There were no Whipple Clips in our inboxes.

Each morning, like clockwork, Arlingtonian Tom Whipple (yes, he is married to Senator Mary Margaret Whipple) gets up at some ungodly hour and begins to read newspapers from around the Commonwealth. He carefully assembles them into a lengthy email, with a summary at the front and then the complete story later in the email. By 7 a.m., they’re delivered to inboxes across the state.

It’s a true act of friendship. There’s no charge for the service. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and anyone else who has an interest in Virginia politics all subscribe. Want to know what they’re saying about the Governor’s race in Bristol? Wonder how the House race in the 99th is progressing? If it’s in a daily newspaper, it’s in the Whipple Clips.

Most conversations I have about Virginia politics on any given morning begin with, “Have you read the clips yet?” Today, the answer will be “no.”

On the rare occasions that Tom takes a break, my Co-Blogger takes the helm. There is a running battle between the two — Whipple’s clips are out earlier. Brink’s are longer. Most of us don’t engage in the fight. We are just grateful that they assemble them for us.

This week, Tom was assembling the clips from his cabin in Canada. In an email to his readers, he explained the problem: “This morning Verizon technical support, while trying to be helpful, managed to deactivate my air card that gave high speed access to the internet via cell phone towers. The only way this card can be reactivated is to make a 600-mile round trip to the nearest Verizon cell phone tower in the United States.”

So this is a good time to thank Tom and Bob publicly for a great job. And now, could we all wish for a quick reactivation of the air card so we can get our clips again?

Exception to the Rule

So we’re headed back to Richmond. There seems to be a growing consensus on the fact that a recent Supreme Court decision requires Virginia to find a legislative fix to the problems raised in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.

Both parties had agreed that this would be the only issue that would be discussed. Otherwise, we’d be at risk of spending the next six weeks in Richmond. I agree with that decision.

Except . . .

There likely will be legislation to compensate Arthur Whitfield for the 22 years he spent in prison for a rape he did not commit. DNA evidence has already cleared Mr. Whitfield.

Vivian Paige has been crusading for the General Assembly to right this wrong for over two years. The Legislative Black Caucus, both candidates for Governor, and several other Delegates agree.

Add my name to the list. We ought to add legislation to compensate Mr. Whitfield to our Calendar for August 19.

The 3 to 11 Shift

When describing the life of a legislator, I would often say, “Basically, it’s like working the 3 to 11 shift.” Legislators work when other people can go to meetings. So late afternoon and evening times are nearly always booked.

Saturdays, too. It’s a light Saturday that includes only two or three meetings and drop-bys. Then, usually, there’s some more formal affair in the evening.

So that’s why today feels so, well, liberated. I got up. I went to Starbucks, where I read the paper from front to back. I worked out.

Then I worked in my yard. This is newsworthy stuff–for 20 years, my lawn work has consisted of doing the minimum necessary to stay ahead of a neighborhood petition.

Hey, Saxman–there’s life after the GA.

Another Farewell

Today, our friend Chris Saxman announced he would not be running for re-election to the House. He’ll be missed.

Chris is that rare breed of partisan who always takes the issues seriously–but never takes himself seriously. During long and less-than-riveting floor sessions, he and I spent more time than we ever want our constituents to know exchanging emails. I thought he was funny. He thought I was funny. That was about all it took to cement a friendship.

Through his years in the House, Chris also managed to find time to coach his kids’ athletic teams, drive a lot of car pools, and, oh yeah, chair the McCain campaign in Virginia.

He says he’s going to spend more time working on education issues. I say that as well.

I sure hope that means we’ll get a chance to work together in the future.

A bumper crop

In today’s urbanized society, few children have the opportunity to know where their food comes from. But at Hollin Meadows Elementary School, a school garden provides enough salad-makings for 900 people at the yearly Thanksgiving lunch—and fresh produce for a local food bank.

The garden has become an integral part of the school’s curriculum at this Title I school. Every class has a garden plot. The smallest kids learn their colors in a rainbow garden. Older children learn about the herbs used to preserve food in the Medieval period.

But community service is also a big part of the garden. Each year, the school raises enough produce to donate lots of fresh vegetables to a local food pantry. They were such great role models, in fact, that a nearby Catholic church has planted their own gardens, citing the Hollin Meadows kids as “mentors.”

On Wednesday, 30 children from Hollin Meadows will make a visit to the White House garden. There, they will speak with the First Lady. This year, there’s a bumper crop of excitement at Hollin Meadows.

The school is actually in David Englin’s district, but most of the kids are from the 44th. We’re both very proud.

“Hunger can be a positive motivator”

I really couldn’t believe it. I read that Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis had allegedly opposed extending school lunch programs into the summer months.

And I simply couldn’t imagine it.The National School Lunch Program is one of those Federal programs that attracts wide, bipartisan support. Who could NOT support a program that makes sure kids don’t go hungry?

Rep. Davis, apparently.

In her June newsletter, Davis indeed rails against programs that provide nutritious food to children during the summer months. “Hunger can be a positive motivator,” she says.

She also suggests that eliminating a summer food program might help combat childhood obesity. “People who are struggling with lack of food usually do not have an obesity problem,” she says. (Which, of course, completely ignores the fact that the prevalence of obesity among low-income children seems to be related to “food insecurity,” not nutritious lunches during the summer.

A Word About Honduras

We’ve always tried to stay away from foreign policy on this blog. But since the news of the takeover of the government by the military, people have been calling me to get my take. (I have a long relationship with Honduras and with individual Hondurans, and have visited the country more than a dozen times in the last few years.) Here’s what I know–from phone calls,  blogs, and news accounts:

Honduras is a relatively young democracy. After years of unstable governments, Honduras adopted a Constitution 27 years ago. Since then, the Honduran government has been, for Central America, relatively stable.

President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya is nearing the end of his term. The Honduran Constitution specifies that the Presidency is a single-term office. But it was widely believed (both in Honduras and around the region) that Zelaya was going to try to alter the Constitution so he could run for a second term. In elections for local offices, scheduled for yesterday, Zelaya tried to add a “cuarta urna,” (fourth ballot box) so citizens could express their desire for Constitutional “reform,” which would allow for a second term.

The referendum was opposed by Hondurans across the political spectrum, including most of the members of Mel’s own party. I certainly heard stories (unpublished, but widely believed) that institutions such as hospitals were using a combination of threats and bribes (“We cannot treat you at this hospital unless you plan to vote for the cuarta urna” was the basic rumor) to influence the outcome of that referendum.

The Supreme Court had made a determination that the referendum was illegal and had ordered that the ballots and ballot boxes not be distributed. The military complied with that Supreme Court order, so Zelaya fired the head of the Joint Chiefs. Later,  Zelaya’s allies seized the ballot boxes and began distributing them.

So yesterday, just before the election was to begin, the military removed Zelaya from office.

My take on this:

Zelaya was probably planning a government takeover, not unlike the one executed by his ally Hugo Chavez.

Nonetheless, we should all be deeply concerned about a return to military takeovers in Central America.

If Zelaya is returned to office, there must be assurances that regular elections will be held on schedule.

If Zelaya is not returned to office, it must be clear that a democratic government will continue to rule in Honduras.

UPDATE: Two emails from Honduras. One, from a doctor who says he “has seen a REAL coup–This one was NOT a coup!”

Another, from a priest, “There is a lot of support for the change in Honduras that was made according to the Constitution.”

To everything . . .

I announced today that I will not be running for re-election to the House. I have loved my service for the past ten years. I loved the time I spent on the School Board before that. (OK, I didn’t love the times that School Board meetings or floor sessions ran on until the middle of the night. But other than that, I loved it beyond measure.)

Public service is a fabulous way to make a difference in people’s lives. But you can’t do this work unless you can also earn a living. And the kind of work I do–consulting and freelancing–has, quite frankly, been one of the early casualties of the recession.

So with a lot of soul-searching, I made the decision not to seek re-election. I’m going to stay in my House seat until January and I’m going to keep working for the people in the 44th, who have given me the enormous honor of representing them for all this time.

I’m not sick (thanks to all of you who asked, though).  And I’m still planning to do work on public policy issues that I care deeply about. There are plenty of ways to stay involved. And I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines for long.

I’ll also keep blogging here right up til the time when I’m no longer a member of the General Assembly. I am, as readers know, a rather opinionated sort. Having a chance to continue to sound off on policy issues is a privilege I won’t give up.

Meanwhile, as I said in a letter to my constituents, this has been the greatest honor of my life.

Three Graduations

I’ve been to three graduations in three days, at Mount Vernon High School, Quander Road School, and West Potomac High School. All were filled with joyful grads and proud parents. All included speeches filled with advice and hope for the future. All were happy occasions.

But the graduation at Quander Road school was something special. These are kids who have, by any measure, overcome special challenges. They spoke openly about what had brought them to Quander–“When I was a heavy drug user,” one began. Another said, “After my parents kicked me out.”

Yet there they were, all having met the Virginia graduation requirements. In a moving ceremony, each graduate was given a rose to present to the person who had been most responsible for his or her success. The flowers went to grandparents, parents, teachers, and friends.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

There are a lot of ways we can and must improve our public schools. But on graduation day, it’s OK to also recognize the hard work that helps so many kids get a good start on achieving their dreams.