Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - March 23, 2019

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Richmond Office:
Pocahontas Building
900 East Main Street, Suite E208
Richmond, VA 23219

Alexandria Office:
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314

Did you catch the news on Friday?

No. Not that news.

Yes, Friday, the Mueller Report came out and was promptly hidden from public view.

And yes, I, along with every other patriotic American in the nation, will be demanding that the public know the full extent of any and all misdeeds of the Trump Crime Syndicate.

If I were on the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives, I'd be preparing subpoenas right now. In bulk. But I'm not. So I can't do too much about that. 

I'm not talking about that news. 

       I'm talking about this news.

Did you miss it?

While I can't release the Mueller report, what I can do hits a lot closer to home. Your home. On a highway that every one of you in the 45th District knows well. On a road that many of you use on a daily basis. On a street with an odious name.

Jefferson Davis Highway runs through the heart of my district,
But its name does not reflect the hearts of the people of Arlington and Alexandria.

Yeah. That one. We call it Route One. 
But its real name is plastered on street signs all along the highway.

In Arlington County, one of the most diverse and progressive localities in the nation, we are saddled with a primary highway that honors a racist traitor and slaveowner who led the fight to take up arms against our nation in order to preserve the brutal system of slavery. 

In that brutal Civil War, more Americans died than in all of our other wars combined.

We still live with the terrible legacy of that ruthless and once-legal system of terror that represents America's greatest shame.

Why is Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi Senator and President of the Confederate States of America -- who was indicted for treason against the United States but pardoned and never tried -- honored on the primary highway that cuts through the heart of parts of Arlington I'm proud to represent?

It's not like Davis had any significant ties to the Northern Virginia, much less a reason to be honored in Arlington.

The reason is because, in 1922, the Virginia General Assembly responded to a request by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to build a Southern transcontinental highway "in honor of the only President of the Confederates [sic] States of America." The Legislature designated the entirety of Highway One in Virginia, from DC to the North Carolina border -- then known as River Road or Richmond Highway or one of at least a dozen other names -- as the Jefferson Davis highway. 

Many other states did the same. Although the transcontinental dream of the Confederate sympathizers was never fully realized, highways from Virginia to California were renamed to honor this American traitor.

Other than Confederate leaders, I'm not aware of any other roads named after American traitors. I typed "Benedict Arnold" in Google maps and could not find a single Benedict Arnold Street, much less a Benedict Arnold Highway. And Arnold successfully led American troops into battle, before selling his country out to the redcoats.

In 1922, Jim Crow was alive and well, the KKK was at its greatest membership peak, and segregation and lynchings were rampant throughout the South (and in some Northern locales as well). 

But why, almost 100 years later, is "Jeff Davis" (as shown on a sign in my district in the picture on the left) still with us today?

Because a misreading of Virginia law suggested that Arlington County had no right to request a change in its road signs.

Earlier legal advice, given in an informal, unofficial letter written by a member of the Attorney General's office with no force of law, suggested that cities like Alexandria could rename their primary highways, but counties like Arlington could not. News stories reflected that analysis, saying that changing the name without General Assembly approval would be "somewhere between difficult and impossible for Arlington leaders."

But I had long thought that legal analysis was incorrect. 

While there are important legal distinctions between counties and cities in Virginia, I knew that Fairfax County (a county!) had never changed the name of Route One. 

In Fairfax, the road was known as Richmond Highway long before 1922 and remains that name today. In fact, Route One currently goes by 18 different names, as more than a dozen localities openly flout the 1922 law. In Arlington and Alexandria, from before 1922 until 1953, the highway was known as River Road. Unfortunately, in 1953, these two jurisdictions, in the midst of fights over desegregation, took a giant leap backward to promote the rebel leader who had led the fight for slavery and  against the USA some ninety years earlier.

But now it's 2019. It is not 1865, nor 1922, nor even 1953. We live in a post-Charlottesville time. And the vast majority of Northern Virginia no longer wants to honor the Confederacy or the racist legacy of Jefferson Davis. The City of Alexandria, to its credit, changed the last name last year to match Fairfax's name of Richmond Highway. And the Arlington County Board expressed a strong wish to do the same -- but only if they could be certain they could legally do so.

This is where I stepped in.

Well aware of Arlington's concerns but believing I was correct as a matter of law, I did some careful legal research and noticed a loophole in footnote 12 of the original opinion, having to do with a law passed in 2012 that had not been considered in the earlier analysis. I tracked down that law, which had been moved to another section of the code, and the original bills that comprised that law. And there it was in black and white: the 2012 bills had removed restrictions on the authority of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to rename highways formerly designated by the General Assembly.

Eureka!  (Who said legal research can't be exciting? I know I'm a nerd, but I admit my heart was pounding a bit when I made the discovery.)

I presented my findings to the Attorney General and formally requested an advisory opinion on the legal questions involved. I then worked with his staff and provided them my legal research showing that Arlington did not have to seek the approval of the Virginia Legislature to change the name of the highway. They just had to ask the CTB, whose members are appointed by the Governor of Virginia.     A sign I hope to see no more in my District

Yesterday, I'm proud to report that in a letter to me, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion certifying my analysis as accurate. The Attorney confirmed my long-held view that Arlington and the CTB do in fact have authority to change the name without any further General Assembly approval. 

Now things can move along much more quickly. And Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, to his credit, told the Washington Post just that.

Indeed, the Arlington County Board could pass such a resolution as early as its next meeting on April 23. The measure would then go before the Commonwealth Transportation Board, whose members are appointed by the Governor of Virginia. If all goes well, Arlington street signs could be changed as early as this summer.

I'll keep you informed and invite you to the sign-changing ceremony.

So why would I take on a task considered by all the experts to be "between difficult and impossible"?

Well, why not?

I have a long history of taking on tasks most folks called impossible.

And sometimes, I win.

When I sought justice for my sister after ten years of injustice, I was told it was impossible.

When I started advocating for marriage equality, I was told it was impossible.

When I pushed to open up the Virginia General Assembly to full transparency with cameras in the committee rooms, I was told it was impossible.

Many people thought expanding Medicaid with a Republican majority was impossible too. 

And medical marijuana, 24/7 free emergency care for sexual assault survivors in Northern Virginia, dedicated Metro funding...none of this was easy.

But working creatively and collaboratively, I'm proud we've been able to achieve so much in just my four years in office.

And we've only just begun.

I believe the only way to fail in life is to give up. 

We haven't failed on gun safety, raising the minimum wage, paid family medical leave, Rainbow civil rights, protecting against climate change, criminal justice reform, equal pay for equal work, ending the electoral college, and the like.

We just haven't succeeded yet.

And this is where you come in.

The only sure way to win on all the progressive values that we share is to give Democrats a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate.

I will keep trying to find creative ways to get in side windows, but with your help, we can walk right through the unlocked front door.

Join Mission 51, the campaign for a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, today, by contributing what you can before the big March 31st filing deadline.

My campaign coffers are virtually empty, because every penny I raised in 2017, I gave away to elect our wonderful new Freshman Class. I contributed the most of any Democratic legislator outside of leadership.

And this year, I have a Republican opponent. (OK, I buried the lede. But I figured after such a long email, only my really strong supporters would read this far anyway. I'll be telling you more about him and my November race in a subsequent email.)

That means I need a little bit of campaign funds for myself. I will still give the vast majority of it away to Mission 51. For example, I won't hire a campaign manager or field staff, because I trust my communities to stand by my side. But I do have to put out a mail piece or two to remind folks to vote in 2019, as I may have the only contested race on the ballot in Alexandria or Arlington.

So, I really do need your support this time, both for myself and for the progressive incumbents and challengers I hope to help fund.

A Democratic majority would allow us to easily do things we don't dream of doing while in the minority. We wouldn't have to crawl through windows any more to get small wins. We could walk right through large unlocked doors of opportunity.

We can increase access to high quality healthcare, affordable housing, and good public education for all Virginians. 

We can pass criminal justice reform measures to fight mass incarceration.

We can strengthen voting rights and make Virginia a true democracy. 

Yes we can.

But we need you to be a part of the fight.

We need you to step up. 

I need you to join me, so we can attempt the impossible together.

And win.

Please help by clicking the button above.

We currently have 49 Democrats in the House of Delegates. We only need 2 more to bring Virginia its first ever progressive majority in 400 years.

Join the fight for justice today by contributing what you can.

It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District