Another Virginia Politician May Be Looking at a 2016 Bid

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, on Saturday former Gov. Jim Gilmore made hints at a possible presidential bid in 2016 as he laid out his national plan for job creation, tax reform and national security for Virginia Republicans at the annual Donald W. Huffman Advance.

“People are concerned with the future,” Gilmore said at the event, named after the former chairman of Virginia’s GOP.

He continued, “It is our duty as Republicans to make it clear that the free-market system is an ally of the people.” Gilmore now serves as the head of the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative policy organization and was the governor from 1998-2002.

“The growth of the United States’ economy is the only way out of the challenges we face,” proclaimed Gilmore, calling for a cut of both personal and corporate income taxes and an elimination of the estate tax.

Gilmore showed interest for the 2008 GOP nomination, but dropped out in July of 2007 after struggling to raise money. On Saturday he stated that he wouldn’t rule out another run.

Webb Has Harsh Words for the Democratic Party

” A party of interest groups”, is how former Virginia senator and potential presidential candidate Jim Webb described the Democratic Party to an audience Tuesday in Richmond, reports The Washington Post. He attributed this to the reason the Democrats have lost the demographic of white working-class voters.

“The Democratic Party has lost the message that made it such a great party for so many years, and that message was: Take care of working people, take care of the people who have no voice in the corridors of power, no matter their race, ethnicity or any other reason,” said Webb. “The Democratic Party has basically turned into a party of interest groups.”

These comments came in Webb’s first address since announcing that he ha formed an exploratory committee and has began to raise funds for a possible presidential run in 2016. He was at the AP Day event, an annual forum sponsored by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Webb, along with a handful of other Democrats, are challenging the notion that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the party’c nomination in 2016. Webb has continually declined to answer questions comparing himself to Clinton, who is widely expected to dominate the Democratic field provided she decides to run.

These comments continue Webb’s goal of defining himself as alternative within the party that he feels has become too familiar with special interests and too unfocused on the disadvantaged.


State’s Board of Health to Vote on Review of Abortion Clinic Rules

On Wednesday Governor McAuliffe appointed an abortion rights advocate and former lawmaker to the Board of Health, reports The Washington Post. This decision came just in time for Thursday’s scheduled vote regarding whether the commonwealth will start to overhaul abortion provider regulations.

The Board of Health is to make a decision on whether or not they should amend abortion clinic rules, which would include their tough, hospital-style building codes which abortion rights activists contend threaten to block access to the state’s remaining clinics.

Advocates who are opposed to abortion hold that the strict codes are in place to ensure safety for women as well as access for emergency personnel. Some are still hopeful that a review of the current regulations would result in even stronger restrictions on clinics, rather than weaken them.

Abortion has long been a polarizing issue for Virginia lawmakers. The Board of Health’s vote, which would begin a long process, represents the newest chapter of this struggle.

McAuliffe’s appointment of Mary Margaret Whipple, a 15-year General Assembly veteran from Arlington, strengthens the chances there will be a vote to overhaul.

Fairfax Struggles to Keep Bond Ratings as They Face a Budget Gap

On Tuesday, officials from Fairfax county approved $256.3 million in bonds, to be used to fund a new elementary school and other improvements, reports The Washington Post. This situations sets the stage for a critical review of the struggling county’s fiscal health.

New York agencies will grade the bonds before February when they are scheduled to be issued. This is causing county officials to fret over a potential downgrade from the triple-A ratings they have garnered in since the 1970s.

Fairfax County’s still weak economy has lead to a a projected $179 million budget gap spanning over the next two years. The Moody’s rating house attached a “negative outlook” to the county’s general obligation bonds, that are used to pay for schools and roads among other infrastructure improvements.

It has been estimated by officials that Fairfax has been able to save almost $662 million in debt repayments since 1978 because of it’s stellar ratings, which most recently resulted in an interest rate of 2.84 percent.

A potential rate hike could increase the country’s annual debt payments, further causing a challenge of funding schools and other services without having to cut programs or hike taxes. Fairfax officials have scheduled meetings with three different bond-rating agencies next month in efforts to convince them that they’re county’s fiscal health is good.

Moderates Celebrate Mark Warner’s New Leadership Positions

Last Friday Senate Democrats announced that Mark Warner is to be named policy development adviser at the Democratic Policy and Communications center, an advisory group headed by Sen. Chuck E. Schumer (N.Y.), reports The Washington Post. The announcement was initially delayed due to holiday timing and policy concerns.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) promotion to a similar position two weeks earlier was met with great enthusiasm, but the announcement of Warner’s new post was announced in a much more quiet fashion. Aides stated that the plan to promote Warner had been in the works after a three-hour post-election caucus meeting where several moderate Democrats did not vote for Majority leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

Despite the quiet announcement the day after Thanksgiving, moderate Democrats rejoiced at the announcement.

“We know he will be a great voice for business,” remarked Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.).

However, some of the more liberal observers took the decision as a betrayal of the party.

A blogger from liberal site Daily Kos called Warner a ” Wall Street Shill, and right-wing defector.” Salon writer Luke Brinker said of the Senator, “The Warren wing of the party may be exceedingly passionate and engaged, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it’s carrying the day.”

After the election, where Democrats lost eight Senate seats, leadership of the party remains the same. Instead, they are using the approach of expanding their team to include moderates like Warner and Warren as well as John Tester from Montana, a red state, and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.

“The thing that leadership has done very well is Warner, Tester, Klobuchar, Warren, adding them, adding that to the leadership team,” remarked fellow Democratic Virginia senator Tim Kaine. He added that he did not see the decision as a matter of trying to balance ideologies.


Stimpson Seeks to Replace House Speaker Howell

Susan Stimpson announced Tuesday that she plans on running for a House of Delegates seat next year, reports The Washington Post. The former chairwoman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors would be running against her one time mentor, and current House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).

Stimpson intends to challenge Howell for the Republican nomination. She hinted at this in an interview last month with The Washington Post but her announcement Tuesday made her plan official.

Howell is one of Richmond’s most influential political figures, making her bid somewhat of a long shot. Her announcement is a representation of of the current divides in the Republican party between “tea-party purists” and more “pragmatic dealmakers”.

“Bill Howell has been a friend, but we have profound policy disagreements,” said Stimpson in a written statement. Once example of these differences is Stimpson’s disapproval of Howell’s support of the tax-heavy, $1.2 billion-a-year transportation funding overhaul that was passed under former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) in 2013.

Matthew Moran, Howell’s spokesman, said in a statement last month that “The speaker completely respects Susan’s decision to participate in the democratic process [and] believes that competition is healthy.”

High School Seniors Rethink Applying to U. Va. After Sexual Assault Scandal

According to The Washington Post, high school seniors are beginning to rethink their decision to apply to The University of Virginia in the wake of a sexual assault scandal and increasing questions over campus safety.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is one of U. Va’s biggest feeder schools, but now students and parents are increasingly nervous about the university.

“It’s causing some students to think twice about U. Va.,” said Sean P. Burke, a college counselor at T.J., of the allegations.

U. Va is the nation’s public flagship university and currently has an enrollment of about 23,000 students and a stellar academic reputation. “Everyone agrees that U. Va is a fantastic school,” Burke said. He continued that university officials “are going to have to answer the questions of parents and well-educated students” who are considering the university to further their education.

School officials addressed the report from Rolling Stone that chronicled a “culture of hidden sexual violence” and less than stellar responses from administration when these incidents were reported. With an already ongoing national debate on campus sexual assault, the article placed U. Va. at the center of the conversation.

President Teresa A. Sullivan made the last minute decision to cancel a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, choosing instead to speak with the university community in Charlottesville.

“We have a problem and we are going to get after it,” proclaimed Sullivan. “The story has raised a number of questions in my mind, and I will make it my highest priority in the coming months to learn the answers…”

Sullivan continued, “And let me say emphatically that how we answer these questions is not about protecting the university’s reputation-it is about doing the right thing, and the reputation I care about the most is not being afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead.”

Maureen McDonnell Gets One Conviction Tossed Out

Maureen McDonnell has gotten her conviction for obstruction of justice tossed out, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer made the decision saying that “obstruction of justice requires more than a misleading note.”

Spencer did however, rejected the requests from former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife for acquittal or a new trial on the corruption charges they were found guilty of in September. Bob McDonnell was found guilty of 11 of the 13 charges and Mrs. McDonnell was found guilty on 9 of the 13.

The obstruction of justice charge came as a result of Mrs. McDonnell’s efforts to cover up gifts given to her and her husband from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. when she was initially interviewed by prosecutors.

The former first lady also wrote a note to Williams claiming that she had always intended to return the expensive clothing he bought for her. Mrs. McDonnell’s lawyers claimed that she didn’t know she was under investigation and that her intent to return clothing had nothing to do with the interview.


New Bill Would Require Colleges to Report Sexual Assaults to Police

Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, the Virginia state Senate Minority Leader, has began to draft legislation to hold state college and university officials accountable for reporting sexual assault to the authorities, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The legislation is a result of Saslaw’s outrage over the report of an alleged gang rape in 2012 at the University of Virginia. Under this measure, a state employee at a higher education institution would have 24 hours to contact local police after being informed that a sexual assault had taken place. Failure to comply with this would result in up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“This has got to stop,” said Saslaw, continuing “Those people at U.Va. have no business adjudicating a felony, for God’s sake.” This was one statement in a bigger tirade Saslaw gave at the Falls Church City Council on the event.

Saslaw’s own daughter is an alumni of U. Va., and he said that he had never been more angry than he was after he read the Rolling Stone article that described the rape allegations at the university.

“It didn’t surprise me because this has been going on forever and I got to tell you-I’ve been hearing this crap-and that’s what it is-from U.Va. for the last 40 years,” proclaimed Saslaw. “Let us handle it. We know how to do it. Don’t make us-you know, don’t require us to report this, the women won’t come in.”

Saslaw also claimed that his daughter has consistently told him that women know “the university’s total dedication to sweeping…everything under the rug,” and as a result rarely come forward when they have been sexually assaulted.

Saslaw is hopeful for the success of the bill and stated: “If I can get that thing to the governor, things are going to change.”