STRAIGHT TALK ON THE ISSUES
In my role as Co-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a major amount of my time is spent working on the budget; first the Senate version and then working with my House colleagues on the final General Assembly budget. The state budget drives all the rest of our state government and it is my responsibility to be prudent, pragmatic and a good steward of our tax dollars and the programs and policies they fund. All year long the Senate Finance Committee meets to discuss and evaluate policy and budget concerns to ensure we focus on core services, and then other initiatives that work to improve the lives of all our citizens, protect our environment and put Virginia in a position to grow both with jobs and economic opportunities.
With two counties in this Senate District being the first and second largest agricultural communities in the Commonwealth, agriculture is our history and I believe it is also a vital, thriving part of our future. After sponsoring a resolution to create a task force on farmland preservation a number of years ago, I have been involved legislatively in promoting programs to not only preserve farmland, but to preserve farming as a viable business throughout the Commonwealth. I have played a role in the development of farmland transition and of agriculture vitality programs, the establishment of the Office of Farmland Preservation, purchase of development rights programs, efforts to repeal the estate tax, the creation of a cabinet level Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as numerous initiatives aimed at the promotion and protection of various areas of the agriculture industry.
Agriculture in its broadest sense including crop and livestock farming, forestry and the seafood industry have long played a vital role in not only Virginia’s economy, but in defining Virginia traditions and our quality of life.
I have been honored to be the recipient of many awards from the Agribusiness industry and conservation groups and serve on the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. I remain committed to protect this vital part of Virginia’s past, present and future prosperity.
So much of our work and play relies on access to the internet and unfortunately not everyone has fast, reliable service. In fact, some don’t have connectivity at all in parts of Virginia. This is an issue I have been working hard on and am in a unique position to assist with because of my work as Chair of the Board of Trustees for the VA Rural Center. Broadband is one of their major focuses.
Additionally, I have successfully carried budget amendments and advanced mapping and technology efforts over the years and I am working with the Governor’s Chief Broadband Advisor to appropriate funding and integration to increase the availability and affordability of broadband throughout the Commonwealth. The current budget included $4M each year for broadband and we added an additional $15M in the second year to bring second year funding to $19M for the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative to accelerate broadband investment in rural and unserved areas.
I am a strong supporter of public education. My wife is a long-time elementary school teacher (recently retired) and all my children have gone through our public schools.
Judge by my actions rather than my words though. When I first ran for office, I was advised to always say that I supported education. Seemed kind of silly to me, but sometimes that is exactly how shallow politics is these days. Who in the world would go around saying that they were opposed to education? Well, that dynamic is a little different now. Candidates will tell you they support education, but you have to dig deeper if you want to move beyond the rhetoric.
There are now at play those that seek to undermine public education. In that regard, be cautious of anti-tax and libertarian groups that are fond of calling our public schools, “government schools”. No question our public schools face challenges, but we need to deal with the problems rather than allowing the elitists and anti-government types to dictate standards and expectations for the average Virginia working family and their children.
I have been active in promoting academic excellence in Virginia’s schools. I sponsored legislation to create and then chaired for several years the Commission on Educational Accountability. We are improving our Standards of Learning to mandate less testing and more flexibility, and if we continue to foster a cooperative relationship between the state and local governments here in Virginia, we will be able to continue to address the educational needs of the Commonwealth.
Virginia has a history of quality in education for K-thru-12 instruction and for our schools of higher learning. This includes both public and private institutions. A couple of influences outside of the classroom need to be addressed though. First, we must as a society work on returning to the more stable influences at home that are the hallmark of a strong family bond and we need to insist the federal government observe its constitutional limitations. We also need Pre-K services to ensure kids come prepared to learn and we must provide sufficient funding for our classrooms and better pay for our teachers to keep the best and brightest teaching our kids.
I have been active on all these issues and will continue to work on all elements of ensuring quality educational opportunities for all our kids, including career and technical training, advanced learning opportunities, and programs and assistance to deal with challenges in the classroom such as autism and dyslexia. Every child matters and our public schools are the key to their future success.
On issues concerning the environment and conservation I take back seat to no one and consider myself to be a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. I have a record of leadership and strong support for programs designed to preserve and protect open space and clean air and streams. I have been at the forefront of our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and have served as Chair of the multi-state Chesapeake Bay Commission.
I have lead the expansion and improvement of our state park system, with which even its lean funding has been ranked tops in the nation. And I have worked to control urbanization in vital farming communities and stressed smart-growth initiatives. I am proud to have helped in creating an incentive program for conservation easements that is serving as a model for the nation.
I am a strong proponent of common sense conservation practices and best management practices (BMPs) and I remain committed to efforts to protect and preserve Virginia’s natural resources, but at the same time, I am equally committed to preserving individual property rights and a positive climate for the businesses that create opportunities for Virginia’s working families.
I have worked for several years now to end the partisanship in our redistricting process. This is not "my" seat; the seat I represent in the VA Senate is the "people's" seat. I am elected to serve them, represent their ideas, and as I have been given opportunities to rise in leadership I believe I also must use that power to make sure the election process is fair and equitable. I patroned a bill establishing the Virginia Citizens Redistricting Commission as a Constitutional Amendment.
A 10-member bipartisan commission responsible for establishing legislative and congressional districts was the combined work of a dedicated group of bipartisan community leaders and I am pleased to have worked with OneVirginia2021 and Senator Mamie Locke on this initiative. The initial bill didn’t pass but I am Chief Co-Patron of a bill that remained alive (SJ306) in hopes we can pursue an end to gerrymandering; though I do think this bill was not as comprehensive as my initial legislation, I want to make sure we have an open, transparent process with as little politics involved as possible.
The bill has passed and because it is a Constitutional Amendment it will also need to be voted on and passed again next session before going to referendum, but that should set us up for improvements prior to the next mandated redistricting in 2021. I am committed to passing legislation that puts an end to gerrymandering, is fair and transparent and takes politics out of the process.
As a rural legislator, I have long been a leading advocate for the protection of 2nd Amendment rights. From consistently opposing legislation intended to chip away at gun owner rights, to patroning key legislation to afford statewide protection of this constitutional right, I am regarded as a leader in the Senate on this issue.
I successfully patroned the important, overarching preemption legislation that prohibits localities from going farther than state law allows with gun restrictions. I also successfully patroned the concealed carry allowance in restaurants that serve alcohol for those legally permitted to carry concealed with the caveat that they don’t drink while carrying in the restaurant. And I have patroned legislation to protect the personal information of gun owners from public disclosure. I have an A rating by the NRA and am proud to be endorsed by them consistently over the years. I am also proud to be co-chair of the Sportsman Caucus in the General Assembly.
As for “Constitutional carry” (which is really allowing anyone to carry concealed without a permit and the appropriate training and screening), I do not believe our current application process to carry a concealed weapon is flawed. I am not hearing reports of long lines, unnecessary denials of the application, or any complaint that would justify changing a process that is working to ensure responsible owners are able to carry concealed weapons legally. I do believe because of my in-depth work in the mental health arena that this simple process helps to weed out someone who may have a mental health concern or a behavorial or criminal issue that would make it inappropriate to carry (like a domestic abuser or known drug dealer who hasn’t been charged and found guilty). The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association has gone on record supporting my position as a safety issue for citizens and their deputies. If they pull someone over with a legal permit, they know that person has gone thru the process to carry concealed, if there is no permit they will know there has been no cursory check of their credentials. I do not think we need to change a system that is working for legal concealed carry.
Again, I fully support the Second Amendment but just as with the First Amendment basic common sense comes into play. Just as the First Amendment doesn't permit you to yell "fire" in a movie theater, the Second Amendment doesn't prevent us from having some simple steps to ensure the rights of gun owners while providing a layer of protection from those who may be mentally impaired or otherwise not be eligible to legally carry a concealed weapon. And this doesn't impact open carry at all which remains legal, so again for me common sense wins out.
I will continue to support the protection of our Second Amendment Rights. In a world today where so many are working to curtail or end our gun rights, I believe my stance of common sense legislation to ensure the protection of those Second Amendment rights is a good place to be.
Social issues, and in particular, matters of faith, are areas where I cannot compromise. I am and always have been a strong Pro-Life Christian. I believe the dignity of life should be protected and honored from conception until natural death. Much has been in the news this session regarding abortion and simply put, I remain an ardent Pro-Lifer and my record, dating all the way back to my early work for our very first "parental consent" laws, demonstrates my commitment to my beliefs and values for human life. Some people have tried to say that my support of expanding access to Medicaid for our lower income Virginians compromises my position and that cannot be further from the truth. Providing quality health care for Virginians ensures all life is valued, rather than valuing only the lives of those who can pay for healthcare.
I cannot in good conscience support any proposition that allows someone to make a decision about whether someone else should live or die, no matter how early in the womb or late in life, which is based on some supposed issue of choice or personal convenience.
In addition, I want to clarify misinformation out there about state dollars allocated for preventing unwanted pregnancies. If we can prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place, then we can obviously decrease the abortion rate. To argue otherwise is frankly out of touch with where we are today as a society. Specifically, any TANF monies directed by the state to Planned Parenthood are the same that we provided to Free Clinics, hospitals, and health centers for Long-Acting Contraceptive Devices (LARCs) to be used to prevent pregnancies. This funding was specifically geared to assist low-income Virginians who otherwise may not have access to, or money for, contraception. And to be clear, Medicaid expansion doesn’t increase the abortion rate because that is federal money restricted by the Hyde Amendment so for anyone to say my work to expand health care services to our working poor is a pro-abortion effort then they are completely off base and have a lack of knowledge of how the state and federal programs work.
I work to protect all life and am Pro-Life. This issue is part of my core beliefs and principals. I will always support and vote to protect the unborn in the same vein that I dedicate much time to ensuring the health and care of the disabled and elderly. Every life is precious and a gift from God. It is our responsibility as leaders in the General Assembly and in our communities to protect and cherish human life.
As a Christian, I believe my life, though pitted by errors and shortcomings, should be patterned after the example of Christ. I try to guide my decisions based on biblical instruction including the Ten Commandments and I believe strongly our form of representative democracy cannot survive, at least in a manner that is efficient and affordable, unless the majority of our citizens are “Godly” people and are willing and capable of assuming their role as responsible citizens in a free society.
I have patroned and supported restrictions on abortions long before it became a dominant “Republican” theme. I continue to maintain that while the state and faith-based communities should provide support and a safety-net for those in dire circumstances, it remains the ultimate responsibility of the individual to provide for themselves and the welfare of their family.
This issue seems to fit well here, between my comments on being a Christian who values all life and my thoughts on taxes and spending….
I served as Chair of MIRC, the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, and we have made significant reforms to Virginia’s program over the past six or more years. We then took those savings and reinvested them back into our healthcare system to assist more people and shore up our services. I remain committed to reforming our healthcare delivery system and ensuring the viability of a fiscally sound and productive healthcare system in Virginia.
We have made progress in closing the healthcare coverage gap by expanding Medicaid with a Virginia specific plan to provide a work requirement and “skin in the game” for those now eligible for services. Our action now allows many more of the working poor, many veterans, and some disabled citizens to get care through a primary care physician rather than showing up at an emergency room where the cost is the most expensive and is often passed on to those of us with healthcare insurance.
We have been able to redirect back here to Virginia over $2.5 Billion a year in taxes that Virginians are mandated to pay because of the Affordable Care Act. We have been able to address the tremendous unmet needs for funding and policy in the areas of mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and substance abuse disorders by directing care and dollars where needed. The overall rate of growth in healthcare spending is unsustainable. We will continue to make reforms to address this otherwise, most of us will be unable to afford insurance in the future.
I was pleased to work alongside Senate and House colleagues of both parties to accomplish this improvement to our Medicaid program that will benefit hard working Virginians. I will always stand with anyone willing to make bold moves to address these needs because it impacts all of us, our budget, and my personal beliefs tell me it is the right thing to do.
TAX REFORM AND SPENDING
Tax reform and the whole issue of Virginia’s budget, including how we raise money from our citizens and how we decide the appropriate levels of taxation and expenditures at the state and local level is very contentious in today’s political environment.
One of the problems, it seems to me, is that political consultants rather than political leaders have taken control of the process and the way to get elected now is to promise reduced taxes and increased spending at the same time. Obviously, this line of thought doesn’t work in reality. Yet this has been exemplified by the federal government which continues to run deficits, borrow more money, and rob from the social security trust fund.
At the state level the options are not as plentiful. You can increase debt, rob from various funds, and work on efficiencies in providing services, but ultimately, by Constitutional mandate, our budget must be balanced. Unfortunately that budget can be partially balanced by shortchanging the localities and forcing the local governments rather than state government to be the ones who must raise taxes or reduce services. When the budget is balanced on the backs of local government budgets, the less affluent rural areas of the state and inner cities are generally the losers.
As a conservative Republican, I am a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility. I recognize though, however politically unpopular, that the term fiscal responsibility may or may not mean lowering taxes and it may or may not mean reducing spending; but it always should mean providing necessary services in as an efficient manner as possible and within the constraints of a balanced budget.
I pledge to continue to work to ensure that as Virginians we pay only those taxes that are necessary to support desired levels of core services. If we are to completely eliminate any existing unfair tax, such as the car tax or the estate tax, and I do support eliminating both, then we need to insure that we have alternative resources to adequately support core services.
We need to continue laying plans to address all transportation policy in a statewide, comprehensive manner. There is no question, based on current policy; that we do not have adequate revenue coming into the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for existing needs. Our future planning must focus on innovations in mass transit and possible alternatives to traditional construction and maintenance programs as well.
Improvements to the safety and capacity of Interstate 81 have been needed for years. For the past two sessions I attempted to advance legislation to dedicate a funding source to make these improvements a reality through an increase in the wholesale gas and diesel tax, where the burden would be put on all who travel our roads. There also were several tolling bills that failed to advance this session and because the differing funding mechanisms could not be agreed upon during session, we were unable to advance any specific additional funding sources to make these critical safety and capacity needs on Interstate 81. Then the Governor came back with a multi-layered, complex bill of increased taxes and fees and the legislators along the I-81 corridor agreed it didn’t go far enough to bring about improvements while being too complex and not a comprehensive plan.
Though the Governor’s plan passed, we still have lots of work to do to address the best way to fund and construct the improvements and I will be working with stakeholders, other legislators and the Governor to make that happen. Transportation is a core service of government and we must be willing to make the hard choices of funding safe roads over the political pressures of the “no-tax” groups and industry organizations that balk at paying their fair share. At the same time, we must be comprehensive in our approach and the roll-out of construction. I am committed to seeing the improvements take place in the immediate time-frame and will continue to work on statewide solutions.