Sunday, July 21, 2013

That's a Lot of Turkey

If you can pull yourself away from reading about the Zimmerman trial aftermath and the Uncle Jonnie’s Rolex scandal, I’ve got a story about the Virginia gubernatorial race. There was a 90-minute debate between the two major party hopefuls, Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, on Saturday morning and something telling happened.

It was something that was rather surprising to me.

Yes, it’s still mid-July -- perhaps the peak of the silly season for politics -- but what happened on the tony Homestead's debate stage in Hot Springs may play out to make a difference in the outcome of the race. But first, here’s what happened at the debate before the Virginia Bar Association audience, if you only focus on what was said.

Essentially, both candidates stuck to their scripts, so there weren‘t many surprises in the content of what they said. No, the surprise for me was all in how they said it; the difference in the body language and demeanor of the two candidates was striking.

As far as what was said, here it is in a nutshell: The Republican candidate, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, repeatedly said that his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, is a Washington insider (read that as saying he's not a true Virginian). McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, repeatedly cast Cuccinelli as an ideologue who is backward on social issues (read that as saying he will keep new businesses from locating in Virginia).

In the first half of the Judy Woodruff-moderated debate Cuccinelli seemed in over his head. He appeared to be scared and unsure of himself. At the same time, McAuliffe hit the ground running, brimming over with confidence. He was well prepared and it showed.

Among the topics covered were:
  • Teachers’ pay.
  • A $1.4 billion tax cut proposed by Cuccinelli, about which he refuses to divulge any specifics.
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Abortion
  • McAuliffe’s car company failings
  • Transportation in Virginia
  • Gifts from Star Scientific
  • Should Gov. Bob McDonnell resign?
  • Health care/Obamacare
  • The Sequester’s impact on Virginia
  • Immigration Reform
Cuccinelli scored best on Obamacare and the Sequester. McAuliffe scored best on the social issues and transportation.

When Cuccinelli did manage to recover somewhat from his shaky start, in the debate’s last half-hour, he tried to affect his cock-of-the walk style. However, it seemed a little forced and he still looked self-conscious. Which all seemed to underline the notion that Cuccinelli’s style works much better when he’s working a highly partisan crowd, or being interviewed by sympathetic questioners.

McAuliffe chided Cuccinelli for accepting a trip to New York, paid for by Jonnie Williams, when the attorney general’s office was dragging its heels on a tax dispute between one of Williams' companies and the commonwealth. Cuccinelli said he was merely standing in for Gov. McDonnell, at the governor‘s request.

McAuliffe mentioned a $1,500 turkey dinner the AG presumably enjoyed, for which Williams picked up the check. Then the Democratic candidate chuckled, “That’s a lot of turkey!”  

Yes, it was surprising to me how much better McAuliffe performed in this first debate. He seemed likeable and quick on his feet. Up until today, I had been more than a little worried than Cuccinelli would be the more confident debater. Now I wonder if Cuccinelli ought to just avoid any future one-on-one debates.

McAuliffe's biggest stumble was caught by PolitiFact. McAuliffe said a report on connections between Uncle Jonnie and Cuccinelli, issued by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, said Cuccinelli should have been prosecuted. It did not.

Of course one debate shown on PBS in July won’t settle the contest. But with McAuliffe slightly ahead in the early polls and his strong performance on Saturday, momentum is now clearly on his side.

For his part, Cuccinelli tried to distance himself from McDonnell’s snowballing Uncle Jonnie problem, but it wasn’t convincing. When questioned about abortion Cuccinelli mostly ducked the opportunity to double-down on his anti-choice, anti-contraception positions of the past.

So, here’s why this first debate matters -- of course, it’s the money. Cuccinelli is probably going to have more trouble raising money now. Some of the GOP’s fat cats may already smell a loser. Smart Republicans may son decide to invest their time and money into holding onto the AG’s job and maintaining control of the House of Delegates.

So, even though this is just July, Cuccinelli may already be in trouble. If he can’t raise enough money to saturate Virginia with commercials in the fall, AND he can’t best McAuliffe in debates, he’s probably going to lose in November by double digits. Like McDonnell is expected to do, he could end up hurting other Republicans in their own races.

For the first time this year, I see McAuliffe’s chances to overcome Cuccinelli’s advantage of his well-cultivated right-wing media darling image as being pretty good.

All in all, July 20, 2013, was a good day for Virginia Democrats -- especially for the most relentless of the Cooch Watch activists.


Update: To watch a recording of the debate click here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Referendum Wolf?

In 2009, in doing research to write about the baseball stadium controversy, I discovered that in 2005 Richmond’s city council had opted to hold a referendum about the location of a new baseball stadium. Then, for some reason(s), the same group of people subsequently decided to forget about that method of finding out what the voters wanted.

Looking back on all the squabbling since 2005, plus losing the R-Braves in 2008, and so forth, and I have to think that if an advisory referendum had actually been held eight years ago, we would probably be in a different place today. That was a lost opportunity.

After 10 years of City Hall getting nothing done, in 2013, the elected officials opposing the referendum must have their reasons, too. However, unlike 2005, this time they should be pressed to reveal them. And, if those reasons sound flimsy, it should be noted.

Click here to read my OpEd, “Let the people speak about where to play ball,” which appeared in Sunday’s RT-D.

Contrary to the politicians and activists who oppose the referendum now, I am not afraid of allowing for a clear expression of the will of the people. And, I believe that if Richmond’s voters are allowed to vote on whether they want to move baseball away from the Boulevard, they will overwhelmingly say "no."

Without a referendum in November, my fear is that we will see another steamroller -- reminiscent to how the Redskins deal was pushed through -- come chugging out of the mayor‘s office. My sense of one reason why Second District Councilman Charles Samuels has proposed a referendum is that he wants to avoid a repeat of that way of doing things in Richmond.

Furthermore, my guess at what will happen if the voters do emphatically say NO to baseball in the Bottom is that it will finally kill the notion -- wooden stake in the heart. I don’t believe many politicians in town have the foolish nerve to ignore such a obvious sign of what the people want. So, objecting to the referendum process by saying it’s non-binding, and therefore a waste of time, is a red herring.

Saying referendums are not part of good governance, because elected representatives should make such calls -- egad! we don’t want to be like California -- is just as much a red herring.

Unfortunately, there are some politicians and activists in Richmond who don’t want to see Charles Samuels be successful with this, because they don’t want him to get a feather in his cap. And, there are some who are just waiting for Mayor Dwight Jones to announce a plan to build a stadium in the Bottom, so they can further their own agendas by calling press conferences to oppose the plan. They are playing a dangerous and self-serving game.

There are also local strategists who are worried about what effect putting a referendum on the ballot might have on the chances some candidates have of getting elected. So, they are happy to join the red herring brigade, too.

Last night’s committee meeting and vote, 6-3 against allowing a referendum, was a preliminary exercise. There’s still time to let your representative on Council know how you feel. The vote that will actually matter is scheduled for next Monday, July 8 (6 p.m. -- 7:30 p.m).

Members of Council are politicians. If they see a huge turnout in favor of a referendum a couple of them will probably be smart enough recognize they need to rethink the matter, pronto. After all, what will it really cost them? Only two members of Council need to change their minds. 

After celebrating your independence on July 4th, demand direct democracy on the 8th! Go to City Hall on Monday to support the cause.
  • Richmonders who simply don’t want a baseball stadium built in Shockoe Bottom should want a referendum.
  • Richmonders who think refurbishing the Diamond is best, rather than borrowing huge millions to build a new stadium from scratch, should want a referendum. 
  • Richmonders who want any new baseball stadium to eventually be built on North Boulevard, regardless of how it is financed, should want a referendum.
  • Richmonders who can't stand sports and don’t want to see the city spend a nickel on a baseball stadium anywhere in town, should want a referendum. 
  • Richmonders who just want the matter settled, after 10 years of uncertainty -- one way or the other! -- ought to see that a referendum is the best way to get it over with.
If City Council votes the referendum proposal down at its next meeting, it will be ignoring a lot of people. And, for sure, some of those folks aren't going to forget who denied them their chance to finally have some say-so in this matter.


Click here to see the Facebook group page that is gathering the people who are calling for City Council to allow a referendum to be on the ballot. Join up, if you like. The name of the group is Referendum? Bring It On!

The group's statement of purpose is as follows: 
While our reasons vary, the members of this Facebook group stand united in our opposition to building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. After 10 years of studies, campaigns and debates concerning such a project, we now call upon Richmond’s City Council to allow the city’s voters to weigh in on the discussion by way of an advisory referendum on November 5, 2013. We are not afraid of democracy.