Friday, April 10, 2009

Bloggers' Day at the Virginia State Capitol

On April 8, I participated in the third annual Bloggers' Day at the State Capitol, at the invitation of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling.

A few of the other participants (there were between 15 and 20 of us there on Wednesday, with numbers fluctuating through the course of the day as some had to attend to other business) have already posted their reflections on Bloggers' Day: Bearing Drift; Virginia Conservative (with pictures); and a brief mention on Tertium Quids.

What follows is an adaptation of an article I prepared for The Metro Herald in Alexandria. (Since some of that article will refer to this blogpost, it made sense to edit out various redundancies.)

(RICHMOND, April 8, 2009) --- Political bloggers from across Virginia were invited to the state Capitol on April 8 for a series of briefings by elected officials, candidates, campaign consultants, and pundits. “Bloggers’ Day at the State Capitol” coincided with the annual veto session of the General Assembly, at which the House of Delegates and State Senate accept or reject the amendments to bills made by the Governor and consider whether to override the Governor’s vetoes of other bills.

The sponsor of the day’s activities was Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who is also a candidate for re-election this year. Bolling faces token opposition for the Republican nomination from Patrick Muldoon, an attorney from Giles County. The Lieutenant Governor estimated that 20 or 22 bloggers would participate in the day’s events; the actual number fluctuated during the course of the day from about 15 to about 20.

Bolling greeted the group of bloggers at his office in Richmond, and began the day’s discussions by giving an overview of the forthcoming statewide political campaign.

He started with a note of optimism: “We feel good about where we are,” Bolling said. “We’re usually fighting while the other side is united. This time we’re united while the other side is fighting.”

Bolling was referring to the fact that Republicans have already chosen their candidate for governor – former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who faces no opponent in the GOP convention on May 30 – while the Democrats will be choosing their candidate in a primary on June 9 from a three-man field of state Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath County, former Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria, and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of McLean.

The only actively contested race for nomination to statewide office in the Republican Party is that of attorney general, which also features three candidates: former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee of Roanoke, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax County, and former Arlington County School Board chair David Foster. There is only one candidate for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, Delegate Steve Shannon of Fairfax County. (All four are lawyers.)

Democrats also have a contested race for lieutenant governor, with three candidates seeking the nomination: Jon Bowerbank, a Russell County supervisor; Mike Signer of Arlington, a former advisor to then-Governor Mark Warner; and former state Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner of Virginia Beach. A fourth candidate, Virginia Beach school board member Pat Edmonson, failed to gather a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify the June 9 primary ballot.

Bolling said the “conventional wisdom is my opponent will be Jody Wagner, who helped Tim Kaine botch up the state budget.”

The budget, he said, is one of many issues that favor Republicans in this fall’s elections.

“The issues are lining up our way,” Bolling said. “I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this, but if we win [in 2009], we’ll be well positioned for 2011 and 2012.” The entire General Assembly, both the House and the Senate, are up for election in 2011, and 2012 is a presidential election year as well as the year the junior U.S. senator from Virginia will face re-election.

“Conversely,” Bolling continued, “if we lose, it will be a decade or more before we elect another Republican statewide. Virginia will be blue.”

Bolling brought up what he called an “interesting” statistic borne out by recent polls. Among Virginia registered voters, 38 percent consider themselves Democrats; 33 percent consider themselves Republicans; and 29 percent are independents.

What Republicans have to do to win this year, Bolling said, is “we have got to reach the 29 percent. We have got to motivate the 33 percent.”

In reference to the recent decision of the Republican Party of Virginia to fire party chairman Jeff Frederick, Bolling said: “I stayed out of that [situation]. We have to turn the page and move on.” He added that he hopes “the State Central Committee will find someone who is a unifying voice.”

The Republican State Central Committee meets on May 2 to choose an interim chair; a permanent chair will be elected by the state party convention at the Richmond Coliseum on May 30. Between 8,000 and 10,000 delegates are expected to attend that convention, contrasted with about 4,000 who attended the convention last year that chose Frederick as chairman.

Bolling noted that “we can handle disagreements within the party but we cannot handle divisions within the party. To win elections we have to build consensus and build coalitions.”

Concluding his remarks as gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell joined the discussion, Bolling said: “This is not the time to be discouraged. It’s OK to be disappointed; it’s not OK to be discouraged.”

For his part, McDonnell greeted the gathering of bloggers by saying “it’s helpful to navigate our way around the mainstream media,” or MSM. He noted that, in the past, he had spoken to blogging conferences in his role as Attorney General. On those occasions he talked about the rules – rules about libel and slander, for instance, and the line that might be crossed in terms of campaign finance laws.

Having just launched his campaign for governor with a tour of 27 cities and counties over eight days, McDonnell declared that “Virginia is a competitive state. It is certainly not a blue state.”

McDonnell admitted that there are independents “who have left [the Republican party] because they don’t feel we’ve been addressing quality of life issues… We want them back.”

As well as engaging with bloggers, McDonnell said, “we’re using Twitter, MySpace Facebook, text messaging,” and other online tools for reaching voters and volunteers. He said his campaign has hired the firm that did text messaging for the Obama presidential campaign as part of this outreach effort.

McDonnell noted the concerns he is hearing from voters as he traveled across the state. He said he had discerned “great unrest in increasing numbers [of people] about whether a great increase in government spending” is the right way to address the economic crisis. “Is that really the answer?,” he asked.

He admitted that Republicans over the past eight years of the Bush administration had increased discretionary spending, so that the GOP does not have clean hands when it criticizes the new Obama administration.

McDonnell noted that voters have “great concerns about federalizing health care” and “great concerns about the federal government intruding into private corporations.”

In response to these concerns, McDonnell said “we need a rebirth of federalism. The Tenth Amendment has been trampled, undermining what makes America great.”

McDonnell acknowledged that his campaign faces “a difficult dynamic of more government spending and more government solutions.” He asserted that his campaign will be talking “about big ideas to fix the economy.”

“I want Virginia to be the best place in America to start a small business,” the candidate said. “We need to cut red tape.” In addition, McDonnell said, Virginia should be the best state for film production and tourism (sectors of the economy that have also been singled out by McDonnell’s potential opponent, Terry McAuliffe).

Opening up the floor for questions, McDonnell was asked about the leadership crisis in the Republican Party of Virginia. He replied that “grassroots leaders of the party should decide who the chairman should be.” The best person for that job, he said, is someone who is a “solid conservative with management experience.” He added that he and his campaign “want a good, strong working relationship with the party.”

Another question was raised about a controversial issue that would be taken up by the General Assembly that day: whether to accept federal stimulus money that would extend unemployment compensation programs. (In the end, the General Assembly rejected the Governor’s amendments that authorized acceptance of the federal funds, but this action was in the future during the bloggers’ discussion with McDonnell and Bolling.)

McDonnell answered that he was against accepting the federal stimulus money for this program because it would bring with it an “unfunded mandate” that required a change in Virginia law. “In the long term,” McDonnell said, this program would “hurt the effort to expand jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Lieutenant Governor Bolling added that this program would have a “tremendous [negative] impact on the cost of doing business,” that would lead to more businesses laying off employees in order to absorb the costs imposed on them by the government. This would lead, he said, to a “vicious, endless cycle that ends up with more people being unemployed.”

After a few questions about issues that might be discussed on the floors of the House and Senate during the veto session, Bolling and McDonnell left for other meetings.

The bloggers in attendance sat in the gallery of the state Senate, where they were welcomed by the 40 members of that legislative chamber, after being introduced from the floor by Senator Ken Cuccinelli, who called the bloggers “a distinguished group of rabble rousers.”

Here is the video record of the welcome by the state Senate, which includes the invocation by the Reverend James Porter and remarks by Senators John Watkins and Donald McEachin; the welcoming remarks by Senator Cuccinelli begin at minute marker 3:01:

Throughout the rest of the day the bloggers were briefed by political consultant Chris LaCivita of Advancing Strategies, LLC; Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson of Project Virginia, a new social networking platform for civic engagement; former VCU political science professor Bob Holsworth, now with Virginia Tomorrow; Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton), and Paul Haughton, executive director of the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Here, in five segments, is Dr. Bob Holsworth's assessment of the state of Virginia politics; he answers questions from the bloggers in parts 4 and 5:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V, in which I ask a question about the Fifth Congressional District, Congressman Tom Perriello, and former Congressman Virgil Goode:

Dr. Holsworth was followed by Delegate Chris Saxman, who gave the right answer when I asked him about the Virginia government's new prohibition on smoking in restaurants. Let's go to the tape:

This was the third annual “Bloggers’ Day at the State Capitol” and participants expect that there will be more in the future.

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James Young said...

Enjoyed breaking bread with you, Rick!

Anonymous said...

As someone who attended the first two bloggers' days hosted by Bolling, I don't think it is fair to call this the third annual. The other two were bipartisan, this one was not. So this was the first conservative bloggers' day.

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