Cantor’s Time Officially Comes To A Close

After a shocking loss in Virginia’s primary election for House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor’s (R) position as majority leader is officially ending. Strong resistance to Obamacare and disagreements with GOP leaders characterize his tenure as majority leader.

Although Cantor is making an effort to gracefully leave the extremely prominent role that was unexpectedly ripped from under his feet, Politico reports that he has missed the same Republican leadership meetings that he used to help lead. Cantor has also missed House floor votes, possibly because he has yet to come to grips with the transition taking place.

Nonetheless, a number of Cantor’s colleagues are chipping in to help the former majority leader transition smoothly. Kevin McCarthy, the new majority leader, is hosting a reception exclusively for members of Congress to honor Cantor’s contributions on the Hill. Washington State Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 House Republican, played a video highlighting Cantor’s career at a weekly gathering of House Republicans.

Due to extreme budget cuts from loss of leadership, some colleagues are even providing financial aid. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is paying to keep some of Cantor’s aides on board until the end of August.

While Eric Cantor is adjusting to his new role in the GOP, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, new majority whip, are wasting no time getting to business. Scalise is busy appointing new members to his new team and preparing legislation that he and his team intend to introduce.

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McDonnell’s Unsavory Marriage Details Used As Main Line of Defense

After months of being publicly portrayed as corrupt money-grubbers, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, former governor and first lady of Virginia, were finally able to express their side of a controversial case, involving public corruption and lying on financial documents, during opening arguments in court on Tuesday, July 29th.

The New York Times reports an unexpected plot twist from McDonnell’s defense team. McDonnell’s attorneys claim that Bob and Maureen’s marriage was falling apart, lacking communication or affection. According to John Brownlee, one of McDonnell’s former lawyers, “She [Maureen] was angry for not having enough money, she was angry at him for not spending enough time at home with her, and she hated him for not being available.”

The defense argued that Maureen had a crush on Jonnie Williams, Sr. because he provided things that her husband could not: money and attention. William A. Burck, a defense lawyer, told the jury that Williams frequently visited the executive mansion and that he was known as “Maureen’s favorite playmate.”

Bob McDonnell has agreed to reveal every grimy and embarrassing detail of his decaying marriage to prove how implausible the notion that he and his wife were conspiring together is, as they were barely even conversing at all. Bob McDonnell’s team intends to emphasize Bob’s integrity and stress that financial interventions, such as the ones occurring between Williams and McDonnell, were not out of the ordinary and in fact were necessary to promote state businesses.

 

Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s Corruption Trial Begins

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, a well-liked politician that served 22 years in the public life, is officially the first Virginia Governor to be charged with a crime. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with 14 criminal charges of public corruption and lying on financial documents.

The Washington Post reports on the scandalous trial that officially began on Monday, July 28th. McDonnell and his wife allegedly helped Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of a dietary supplement company, promote his products, going so far as to open the executive mansion to Williams to introduce a new product, in exchange for lavish gifts such as private plane rides, golf outings, expensive apparel and $120,000 in loans.

According to Douglas Wilder, a former Virginia governor as well and a friend of McDonnell, “It’s going to be ugly.”

Prosecutors intend on painting McDonnell as “a popular, squeaky clean and earnest public servant,” who has a corrupt and greedy double life, during which he and his wife had every intention of lending Williams the power of the governor’s office so the couple could live in luxury.

On the defense’s side, McDonnell’s attorneys are stirring up trouble with the case they intend to make. Court filings reveal that McDonnell’s attorneys are planning to assert that Maureen is the mastermind behind this scandal and that the former governor is merely a  victim of his wife’s corrupt ways. They are preparing to unveil that Maureen went as far as accepting gifts from Williams without her husband knowing.

 

The couple’s marriage will undoubtedly be placed under the microscope as the court begins to dissect every detail of the case to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge James R. Spencer. Prosecutors will have to prove that the couple had plans to violate the right of Virginia voters to honest and ethical representatives by planning to perform “official” acts on behalf of Jonnie Williams Sr.

 

First Virginia Senatorial Debate Gets a Little Heated

Incumbent Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) and Senate- hopeful Ed Gillespie (R) met at a West Virginia resort to hold the first Virginia Senatorial debate. “PBS NewsHour” co-anchor Judy Woodruff facilitated the event, which turned out to be pretty interesting, contrary to what The Washington Post assumed would be a, “a largely sleepy contest.” The candidates mainly sparred over the issue of contraception, leading to a series of personal attacks.

On the topic of contraception, Gillespie claimed that he would make birth-control available without the use of prescriptions by making it a behind-the-counter drug. His take on this topic is that by making contraception a nonprescription drug, it becomes more accessible and less expensive. However, Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia validly points out that health care plans do not usually cover medication that does not require a prescription, actually making it more expensive, not less.

This topic in particular generated the most heated section of this debate as Sen. Warner fired shots at Gillespie’s position, claiming that Gillespie would seek to overthrow Roe v. Wade and that he supports personhood legislation, calling Gillespie a “partisan warrior.”

According to Sen. Mark Warner, “The last thing Washington needs is another partisan warrior.”

Ed Gillespie fired back claiming that Warner was “making up [his] views,” and noting that Warner has moved significantly to the left in the Senate.

The Roanoke College Poll determined that Warner is largely favored, being 25 points ahead of Gillespie. Ed Gillespie is an unfamiliar face and Republicans intend to use that aspect to their advantage by introducing him in a new and positive light.

Poll Provides Indication of Upcoming Elections

A recent Roanoke College Poll released on July 24 revealed that Virginia voters favor Sen. Mark Warner (D) over Republican Ed Gillespie, but they are divided on Medicaid expansion.

Warner, the incumbent senator, holds a strong 25-point lead over Gillespie, who has yet to fully introduce himself to voters. Of those polled, 75 percent said that they did not know enough about the Republican candidate to form an opinion – a number that has not changed since January.

With regard to Medicaid, Virginia voters are divided, with 46 percent opposing and 42 percent favoring expansion of the healthcare program. Even in spite of the statewide split, 61 percent of those polled think that McAuliffe ought to work with the General Assembly rather than use his executive powers. Twenty-eight percent of those in favor of expansion agree that McAuliffe should not act on his own.

While McAuliffe’s approval ratings only improved by one percentage point since January, his disapproval ratings have jumped up 11 points in the same amount of time. The Roanoke College Poll reports that Virginia voters are more pessimistic than they have been in the past 18 months, with only 43 percent reporting that they feel the Commonwealth is on the right track.

The pollsters interviewed 556 registered voters in Virginia between July 14 and 19, and it has a margin of error of 4.2 percent. The sample included landlines and cell phones, with the latter forming 36 percent of the completed interviews.

Innovation and Technology Thrive in Blacksburg

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones visited Blacksburg, Va. on July 22 to experience firsthand the burgeoning technology scene.

Blacksburg, located in southwest Virginia and home of the Hokies, used to be a prime area for coal but has since evolved into a haven for tech start-ups and incubators. Rural System Inc., for example, is a start-up based in Blacksburg that recently released “Bag ‘n’ Brag,” a smartphone app hailed as the Instagram for hunters.

“This kind of ecosystem for entrepreneurism, if it was here it was hidden when I was here last,” said Jones, who hasn’t been to the area in almost a decade, according to The Roanoke Times. “That’s definitely different.”

Jones, who oversees economic development for the state, toured local tech companies, visited incubators and spoke with the people driving the tech scene such as Modea CEO David Catalano and Heyo CEO Nathan Latka.

“This is the kind of asset that can really help change an economy,” Jones said. “It attracts young folks. It attracts talent from inside and outside the state and from all over the world. At the end of the day, innovation and growth and entrepreneurism, it’s about talent.

Clinton Allies, McAuliffe, Rally Against Comstock in 10th District

The Clinton wars of the 90s have resurfaced in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District

Barbara Comstock (R), who ruthlessly investigated the Clinton presidency, is running for a seat in the House against Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D). Comstock, along with her colleague Barbara Olsen, was convinced that the Clinton’s were involved in something illicit during their time in the White House. Comstock had a sharp eye for patterns and an almost compulsive work ethic that made her “one of the premier opposition researchers of her generation,” according to Politico.

While Comstock’s allies claim that she has put her penchant for investigation behind her, Clinton’s allies, led by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), are gathering funds and support for Foust in an attempt to block Comstock from the seat. They fear that Comstock would re-focus her energies on investigating the White House if she won the seat in the House and if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election.

McAuliffe found himself in Comstock’s crosshairs in February 1997 when she found a memo from McAuliffe that “seemed to suggest that the president have donors over for WH sleepovers,” according to Politico. The governor is currently working on a fundraiser for Foust and has promised to do everything he can to support the Democratic candidate.

McAuliffe Refuses to Appeal OEI Ruling

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced on July 22 that he would not appeal a June 10 ruling that deemed the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) unconstitutional.

The OEI, championed by former governor Bob McDonnell (R) and established in 2013, aimed to take control of public schools that failed to meet statewide benchmarks for four years in a row, according to the Times Dispatch. Six schools were slated to come under the OEI’s jurisdiction, but the districts were hesitant due to the ongoing litigation.

Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Poston deemed the OEI unconstitutional because only the Board of Education – not the General Assembly – has the authority to establish school divisions under the Virginia Constitution. Therefore, the OEI “is not constitutional because it purports to establish a statewide school division and because it purports to create a school division that is not supervised by a school board,” Poston wrote.

Shortly after the ruling, the OEI’s board asked McAuliffe to consider appealing the case to the Virginia Supreme Court. However, McAuliffe has decided to support the court’s decision and remains hopeful that there is a better way to help failing schools.

“[The state constitution] clearly gives the primary responsibility for educating Virginia children to local school boards across the commonwealth, while assigning the task of overseeing those efforts to the Virginia Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction,” McAuliffe said. “Unfortunately, the statute that established the OEI altered these relationships in significant and unconstitutional ways.”

Coal Ash Continues to Plague Virginia

Photo courtesy of www.rawstory.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.rawstory.com

The Southern Environmental Law Center is holding Duke Energy accountable for the 39,000 tons of coal ash contaminating the Dan River, according to the Times Dispatch.

On Feb. 2, a faulty Duke Energy pipe located at the bottom of the Dan River in North Carolina sprung a leak and spewed coal ash into the river contaminating the water sources of cities upstream such as Danville, Va. Coal ash, the leftover material after coal is burned, contains toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic, according to Wunderground. When the coal ash mixed with the water in the river, it created a toxic sludge.

Last week, Duke Energy announced that it had cleaned up 2,500 tons of coal ash just upstream from the Schoolfield Dam in Danville. While Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks argues that the cleanup was an important milestone for the Dan River, the Southern Environmental Law Center says that it is far from enough.

“Where are the other 37,000 tons?” said Kathleen Sullivan, senior communications manager for the Southern Environmental Law Center, according to the Times Dispatch. “They have not accounted for 94 percent of the coal-ash waste spilled into the Dan River.”

Brooks said that removing all of the coal ash from the river “may not be the best option for the river.” The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that the Dan River has returned to normal. They said that chemical levels have returned to normal and that it is once again producing safe drinking water.

In spite of this, the Southern Environmental Law Center has vowed to continue pressuring Duke Energy to clean up all of the coal-ash sites along the Dan River. They are also determined to make sure that the Charlotte-based company is properly penalized by the North Carolina state legislature.

McAuliffe Continues to Push for Medicaid

Photo courtesy of www.tricities.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.tricities.com

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, along with Attorney General Mark Herring and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel, visited the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Clinic in Wise County Fairgrounds to volunteer as needed and talk with patients.

RAM is an annual pop-up clinic that serves around 3,000 people over the course of three days with the help of hundreds of volunteer dentists, doctors and other health-care providers. Virginians come to RAM for free health-care services that are not covered by their insurance and cannot afford on their own, according to The Washington Post.

The governor’s visit came as he is trying to determine how he can use his executive authority to expand Medicaid, since the General Assembly recently passed a state budget without any expansion. In addition to helping around the clinic, he spoke with many patients, emphasizing that he was working very hard to expand Medicaid. He also encouraged them to pressure their state delegates to support expansion, according to the Times Dispatch.

“When you talk to these folks and they’ve been here [waiting] for 30 hours to get care one day a year, that is not how you do health care in this country and it’s clearly not how we should be doing it in the commonwealth of Virginia,” said McAuliffe. “We need preventative care, and we need to get folks care before they have problems. What happens today in Virginia is that many of these folks here, their family doctor is the emergency room, and we are paying many, many times more the cost. If we would do the morally, socially, financially right thing, we would not see this RAM facility the way it is here today.”

Many of the patients at RAM would be covered under the expanded Medicaid. On the first day of the three-day clinic, the line was 1,500 people long by 4 a.m. Organizers had to start turning patients away. Hundreds of people come to the clinic to get all of their teeth pulled, since many of them have never had dental care before. While an expanded Medicaid would not fully resolve this issue since it does not cover routine dental care, it would provide emergency tooth extractions so that patients would not have to wait a year to get a tooth pulled.