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Virginia Legislators Consider Letting Governors Seek Re-Election
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Time to Resign
I posted my call for the resignation of Governor Ralph Northam Friday night after he "admitted" to being one of the two men in a disgusting racist photo in his 1984 medical school's yearbook when he was 25 years old. This is what I wrote then:
I call upon Governor Ralph Northam to resign.
This is a painful call for me. I genuinely like Ralph and Pam. And I do not for a moment believe he is racist today.
But I have no doubt he was racist 35 years ago.
There is no excuse for wearing black face or a KKK hood.
None. Particularly not at age 25 in 1984.
I'm still shocked and surprised and deeply disappointed. Northam must have known that picture was there, and I'm frankly surprised he ran for office in the first place.
I do believe in forgiveness. I do understand that racism is endemic and systemic throughout the United States. And I understand that people who were racist do change, grow, and evolve. And we need to encourage that evolution.
I sincerely believe Ralph Northam today is a good man and that he is not the racist he was at age 25. I think he will continue to do good things in his life.
But when you lead a state, you have to follow a higher standard. We expect and have every right to demand a higher standard from those who lead us.
On this, the 400th Anniversary of Virginia's legislative assembly -- in a Commonwealth with four centuries of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and continued virulent racism -- we cannot have a Governor lead us with this past.
I think Justin Fairfax will make a good Governor and pledge my support to him.
Governor Ralph Northam at his press conference yesterday.
Having said he was in the photo on Friday, I was stunned when Governor Northam denied being in the photo on Saturday.
At a press conference Saturday (yesterday), Governor Northam said he had never seen the photo before, had never seen the yearbook before, and had no idea the photo was even there. He admitted to having donned blackface to play Michael Jackson in a dance contest but insisted that he had never worn blackface at any other time and had never wore a KKK robe either.
But why then did he claim he did so only the day before?
I repeat what I said above. I genuinely like Ralph Northam. I do not believe him to be a racist today. I think he's overall been a good Governor, both with successes like Medicaid Expansion and his sincere work to reduce racial injustice.
This whole episode is very painful.
And if Ralph Northam had said on Friday what he said on Saturday, he might well have averted the call for resignation. That is, if the unusual nickname of "Coonman" (which he had no real explanation for) was not also in his VMI yearbook. What was that about?
What Northam said Saturday may well be true.
But at this point, how can he possibly lead Virginia?
How can he possibly have put out a statement on Friday apologizing for appearing in a picture he was never in? And even if he wasn't in the picture, he must have thought on Friday it at least could have been him in the photo. Right?
How can Virginians have confidence in a Governor who can't get his story straight?
This should be a teachable moment for all of us in public office:
1) Blackface is always wrong and never ok.
2) If you've made a mistake in your past, own up to it and tell the truth immediately with all the sordid details. Explain how and why you've changed. Be sincere. Don't hedge.
3) But (ironically) don't jump the gun so quickly that you fail to get the basic details right. Better to be a bit slower -- even as you're being pilloried for being slow -- to be absolutely certain that what you say is true. If you don't know something, say you don't know. Don't guess.
The Governor's resignation will help Virginia heal, but we're not done.
We need have a continuing conversation about racial injustice, both in Virginia and in America, as it happened yesterday, as it continues today, and what we can do to reduce it tomorrow and in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Ultimately, that conversation has to result in action to rectify Virginia's four-centuries long history of endemic, systemic racism.
We proudly celebrate 400 years of the House of Delegates this year -- the oldest representative assembly in the New World we tell ourselves -- as many Virginians proudly pat ourselves on the back. But who did it represent? Not the Africans, who also arrived on our shores and would eventually become slaves. And certainly not the Native Americans who lived here for millennia before Europeans came to these shores, took their land, and then systematically expelled or murdered them.
Even the name of the Washington Football team is racist, which is why I refer to it as the R-word. How can that still be in 2019? How can Americans mock a people that our ancestors largely wiped out of existence? We need to stop treating persecuted minorities as some big joke. I know I would be terribly offended to see a sports-team mascot dressed as an Orthodox Jew or an exaggeratedly flamboyant gay man. If only, as a child, I actually knew what "Smear the Queer" meant....
And the pain of blackface is much, much deeper. Where do you think the song "Dixie" or the name "Jim Crow" came from? These long-time "honored" American traditions came from minstrel shows, which were very popular in America from 1850-1950 (and in some places, well into the 1980's). Minstrel shows were very profitable for white people. But for blacks, minstrel shows literally added insult to injury.
Already denied freedom as slaves and the right to vote in the Jim Crow era, prevented from getting good jobs, and segregated out of housing, hotels, and even water fountains, can you imagine the pain of being mocked as well? Cruelly portrayed as dumb at the same time you were denied the right to get a decent education? We need leaders in Virginia who understand this pain viscerally. You don't have to be a minority to "get it." But you have to "get it."
And even more important than symbols, we need to recognize the systemic racism in our policies....in impoverished workers, arrests for "driving while black," mass incarceration, voter suppression, continued segregation, underfunded public schools, racist attitudes and presuppositions, and mistreatment of immigrants and refugees. As to the last point, can you imagine being separated from your children and then mocked as well for coming here to seek a better life? By descendants of people who did the same thing?
Well then, what about our President? I call on Donald Trump to resign as well. I have no doubt that Donald Trump today (and throughout his life) is far more racist than Ralph Northam ever was. Unfortunately, I don't expect the President to heed my call. I'm hoping the Governor will.
I don't know whether Ralph Northam could have survived as a Republican Governor or not. But he's a Democrat. He should resign. Simply put, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. It's who we are. It's why we're Democrats. We are no longer the Democratic Party of Jim Crow. We are the party that proudly works to ensure liberty, justice, and equal rights and equal opportunities for all Americans.
A Woman's Right to Her Own Body
I believe everyone, regardless of income level, race, gender identity, zip code, or citizenship status should have the ability to choose how and when to start a family on their own terms. That's why I support a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
And it's why I copatroned Delegate Kathy Tran's HB 2491 to protect women's constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade by removing artificial and medically unnecessary barriers to abortion.
Every year, I copatron about 200 bills (in addition to introducing 15-35 of my own), and while I can't claim that every last detail of every bill I copatron is exactly the way I would have drafted the legislation myself, I generally copatron a bill if it's in the general direction of what I would like to see enacted into law. The vast majority of bills we pass are amended before they become law. So if a bill gets by committee, I have an opportunity to improve and put the final imprint on a bill before voting on it. As Tran's bill was killed on a party-line vote in subcommittee, I didn't have an opportunity to improve it. But I agreed with virtually all of it.
Critics focused on the small part of the bill dealing with late-term abortions, that extremely rare procedure used by a woman or doctor to have an abortion when her life or health is in serious danger or when the fetus itself is "non-viable", e.g. it will die within a few hours or days outside the womb. The bill reduces the amount of physicians necessary to authorize this rare but often life-saving procedure from three to one. And that seems right to me. You don't want a pregnant woman dying in an isolated rural community because she can't find a third OB-GYN at 2 am in the morning!
The bill also did a lot of very good things. It would no longer require Virginia women to make two trips to a clinic to get a simple procedure. And the bill would no longer require Virginia women to undergo a state-mandated but medically unnecessary ultrasound. I've never understood why abortion opponents want to force women to undergo unnecessary and expensive medical procedures. Are they hoping that the cost will be prohibitive so that a very poor woman will have to bear an unwanted child? Do they think that poverty is easy for a woman and her newborn? Don't they understand that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce poverty so that women will have the economic ability to raise their children?
Basically the bill was saying we trust Virginia women and their doctors to make this private and important decision for themselves.
The Republicans who killed the bill made clear they did not trust Virginia women. They argued that Virginia women might choose to carry healthy fetuses all the way to birth and then, after nine months of pregnancy, change their mind on a whim and be itching to commit infanticide just as a baby emerges from the womb. And they argued that, in such a circumstance, many a Virginia physician would cavalierly agree to killing a healthy child coming out of a healthy mother, despite Virginia law which already prohibits this (and which Tran's bill wouldn't change).
The hypothetical scenario is ridiculous, of course. What woman would do this? What doctor would do this? There have only been two third trimester abortions in Virginia in the last 20 years, and both were dire emergencies.
The real question is who should make the decision as to whether a mother lives or dies at a critical life-threatening moment. Should it be the woman and her doctor on a case by case basis with full medical knowledge? Or a bunch of politicians in Richmond guessing what the right result should be?
I trust Virginia women and their doctors to make the right call.
I ask you, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of my friends, Jim and Elizabeth. (I've known Jim for almost twenty years.) When Liz was 20-something in the 1970's, she was pregnant with a fetus with the congenital disorder trisomy 13. The baby was born with no functioning brain and missing several vital organs including no kidneys or functioning digestive or nervous system. The doctors said it would not live more than a few days because it was unable to digest food. Attempts to feed the infant caused it wracking pain and were entirely ineffective. But starving caused the infant pain as well. During those days, the infant slowly, painfully starved to death.
Should Virginia continue to make such a family's choice illegal? Would any anti-abortion proponents agree to give up their own entire family nest-egg to make sure another baby lives a few excruciatingly painful days before its unpreventable demise?
Will those who don't trust women with their own bodiesrespect life after birth?
My Work as Deputy Whip...
Taxing the Poor to Enrich the GILTI
Delegate Vivian Watts explaining the inequity in Hugo's HB2529.
The State of Redistricting
Racially gerrymandered (dark purple) districts in Virginia
Last week, Senator Emmett Hanger's constitutional amendment to change Virginia's process for redistricting, SJ274 (the OneVirginia2021 plan), failed to pass in the Senate.
But Senator George Barker's version, SJ306, passed the Senate unanimously. The amendment has been referred to the House Privileges and Elections committee. Senator Barker's amendment creates the Virginia Redistricting Commission, a 16-member Commission tasked with establishing districts for the United States House of Representatives and for the Senate and the House of Delegates of the General Assembly. The Commission consists of a bipartisan group of eight legislative members and eight citizen members.
This amendment may be further amended if it gets to the House floor, and I will read it carefully before voting on it. I strongly support a constitutional amendment to set up independent redistricting in a way that makes Virginia districts accurately reflect Virginia's polity.
We need to permanently end gerrymandering in Virginia.
The Fate of My Bills
My Bills Headed to the House Floor
Three of my bills this week have passed subcommittee and full committee. Two of them should be heard on the House Floor Monday and voted on Tuesday (the last day before Crossover). One has passed the Senate. All of them protect vulnerable people: victims of domestic abuse and people of all ages who contract infections and diseases in health-care facilities.
HB2642 would make it a felony to use cruelty toward animals to coerce, intimidate, or harass a household or family member. The bill passed through a Courts of Justice Subcommittee uncontested and out of the full Courts of Justice Committee last week. It will go to a vote on the Floor of the House of Delegates during Tuesday's "votearama."
Mandatory Reporting of Healthcare-Related Infections
Half and Half
Protect Children from Child Abuse? Yes
But From Domestic Violence? No
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Custody Matters
HB2650 Tyler's Law, a bill I named after Tyler Strong, a Virginia boy who suffered horrific abuse after a court ignored horrific evidence of domestic violence and child abuse to give his father custody over him, originally passed through a Courts of Justice Subcommittee on Monday afternoon by a 3-2 vote.
Many of you know and remember this bill, as it is one of only two that I have introduced every Session that I've served in the House. Virginia Law only currently protects children from violence occurring to family members or in the household.
Tyler's Law would have allowed courts to consider any domestic violence or child abuse committed by parents in determining the best interests of children in custody disputes. I don't believe someone who beats an intimate partner or a child outside the household should be able to exclude that evidence from a trial determining who is the better parent.
This bill came partly out of my own personal experience, when a Tennessee court found that the murder of my sister was not child abuse because she was not murdered in front of her children. That searing experience led me to draft my first law in Tennessee 20 years ago and was a big reason I sought elective office. I continue to insist domestic violence is child abuse. I don't think placing kids with parents who assault their intimate partners is usually in their best interest.
This has been a long, on-going four-year fight with the Virginia Family Law Bar who, for years, have steadfastly refused to hold perpetrators of domestic violence and child abuse to account. After all, abusers often have a lot more money to pay lawyers than their victims do, and their lobbyists were determined to kill my bill.
Even the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Alliance Against Domestic Violence sadly acquiesced to the wishes of this powerful, well-financed group of lawyers. Once supporters of my legislation, these latter two groups backed off in the face of maximum pressure. I had tried all year long to work with them to draft the bill, and the bill I presented was drafted with their concerns in mind and originally met their approval. I firmly believe that groups looking out for victims of domestic violence should support legal efforts to help survivors, rather than work to undermine the very people they are ostensibly trying to help.
So it was an uphill battle. And even though I prevailed originally in Subcommittee, the groups persuaded the Courts Chairman to send the bill back to the same Subcommittee with instructions to kill it.
when it passed the Subcommittee the first time.
In the second round of HB2650 in Subcommittee,
the Courts Chairman ordered members to kill the bill.
Half a Loaf is Better than None
Stopping Child Abuse,
But not Domestic Violence
But I do have some good news on this bill. Although I could not convince the leaders of the Virginia Family Law Bar to take domestic violence seriously, they did finally, after years of resistance, agree with me that someone guilty of child abuse is probably not a good parent. I talked with Senator Scott Surovell about introducing my bill on the Senate side with only child abuse mentioned and not domestic violence. He did so. And the bill (SB1757) has so far cleared the Senate. It will come to the House after Crossover.
Although I continue to insist that courts look at both domestic violence and child abuse when determining the best interests of children in custody disputes, I will be satisfied this year if only half my goal (protecting against child abuse) succeeds. And then I will come back next year to fight to protect children from perpetrators of domestic violence.
The same day the bill passed the Senate, I expressed my frustrations on the House Floor. Republican Glenn Davis had a bill that was sailing through on the uncontested calendar to let parents have equal time with their kids. I spoke against it to make the point that until we protect children from domestic violence and child abuse, we cannot blithely assume that they should spend equal time with both parents.
We should keep children away from parents who commit domestic violence. You can watch me make the point below on the House Floor:
Better Luck Next Year
Family Visits for Alzheimer's Patients
In the last two newsletters, I told you about HB2430, my bill to allow Alzheimer's and other mentally incapacitated people to have visits from family members and other loved ones, unless good cause is shown to prevent these visits. The bill would have prevented abusive guardians from withholding family contact for financial gain. And if you missed reading the details about this bill last week, please be aware that I keep all of my newsletters on my website at MarkforDelegate.com so I invite you to go there and take a look at last week's newsletter. The bill originally passed a Courts of Justice Subcommittee by a vote of 5-1.
GOP Opposes Fair Election Procedures
who controls the Virginia House of Delegates by picking names out of a bowl.
When the Republican name was picked, Democrats became a minority.
Bills They Refused to Hear
1. Electing the President by National Popular Vote
Banning LGBT Discrimination
Senators and Delegates.
on the day we finally achieved Marriage Equality nationwide.
Friends Don't Let Self-Respecting Rainbow Friends Vote Republican.
Just Two Days Until Crossover!
Not measured in sunlight, of course, but in time in the House Chamber!
At the last Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee before Crossover.
I'm not sure why I'm smiling. Maybe because my HB 2425 passed during this meeting.
Please stop by and place your residence on our map of the district!
(even if it's not in the 45th District!)
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District