Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The King's Speech" and Colin Firth

A few facts first: 1) I love biographies and historical movies; 2) I don't see movies in the theater very often, preferring to wait until they have come out on DVD; 3) I often make it a point to see anything that features Colin Firth.

The King's Speech fulfilled (1), (3), and made me do (2). And for those reasons, I will be doing something tonight I've not done for years ... watching the Oscars to see how The King's Speech fares. It's been nominated for 12 Oscars including best picture, best actor, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, and best director.

The controversy that surrounded American divorcee Mrs. Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII who abdicated the British throne to marry her was worldwide news at the time. I've read biographies and history of that episode, and I'm intrigued reading about the reluctant king, King George VI, who was not raised to be king but found himself in a situation where his services were called upon to lead his country into World War II. By his side along the way was the man who became his lifelong friend and speech therapist, Lionel Logue. All these years later the story of the King and the speech therapist hit the big screen to fantastic reviews and the world has learned a bit of history that had been tucked away for decades....

Update: Oscars went to The King's Speech for best picture, best actor (Colin Firth), and best director as well as best original screenplay. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gov. McDonnell announces additional appointments to administration

RICHMOND - Governor Bob McDonnell today announced additional appointments to his administration on the Virginia Parole Board. In addition, he announced an appointment to the Virginia Racing Commission.

Bios for today’s appointments can be found below. Further announcements regarding additional appointments in the McDonnell Administration will continue to be made in the months ahead.

Virginia Parole Board
Bill Muse, Chairman
Bill Muse is a Richmond native and currently serves as a Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Correctional Litigation Section. He joined the Attorney General's Office in 1985 after twelve years of private practice in the Richmond area. Bill is an experienced litigator in all aspects of correctional law, including parole issues, and his duties in the Attorney General's Office involve representing and advising the Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice and their policy boards on a wide range of issues.

Bill is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Richmond Law School. He is an active member of Crestwood Presbyterian Church and has served for many years on the board of the Regional Drug-Free Alliance.

Karen Brown, Vice-Chairman
Karen D. Brown graduated from Hampton University in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. She later attended George Mason University School of Law where she received her Juris Doctorate in 1991 and was admitted to the bar that same year. Ms. Brown began her legal career as a judicial law clerk at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. As a prosecutor for sixteen years, she served in the Newport News and Chesapeake Offices of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. In that capacity, she prosecuted cases in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations, General District and Circuit Courts with a concentration on child abuse and sexual assault cases. Ms. Brown is also a victim of crime as her brother was murdered in the city of Newport News in October 1993.

Rita Angelone, Part-Time
Rita Angelone was the Resource Development Coordinator for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and spent several years as Grants Program Administrator for the Foundation. She also served as a Grant Monitor for Domestic Violence grants at the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Prior to that, Rita worked in several areas in the field of Corrections and as a Regional Supervisor for Workers Compensation. Rita holds a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Studies and a minor in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma.

Minor Stone, Part-Time
Minor Stone spent 29 years in law enforcement as a police officer and supervisor. Mr. Stone was promoted to Police Platoon Sergeant supervising a port police patrol unit in 1984. Mr. Stone retired from State service in 2006. He owns and operates a tourism related business in Virginia Beach.

Trudy Harris Part-Time Investigator
Trudy Harris is a graduate of George Mason University with a Bachelor of Science in Administration of Justice. She is retired from the Virginia State Police. During her career with Virginia State Police she served as a Trooper in Northern Virginia and on the Executive Protective Detail. She was promoted to Special Agent in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation where she conducted investigations into violations of criminal law. She is an adjunct instructor at Piedmont Virginia Community College in the Police Science Program.

Board Appointments
Virginia Racing Commission
· J. Sargeant Reynolds, Jr. of Richmond, Principal with Reynolds Development

And then there were 10,000 Facebook supporters ... George Allen weekly update

Weekly update from George Allen....

Dear Fellow Patriot,

This week was a busy and successful one for our campaign. On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending an open house with over 140 Northern Virginia Tea Party Patriots. It was clear they are frustrated that Washington has been ignoring “We the People.” We had a great discussion about the Constitution, energy, foreign policy and the economy. I look forward to continuing that informative conversation with Virginians throughout the state.

I also had the chance to participate in events for two wonderful organizations that provide support and guidance to Virginians throughout the Commonwealth. It was an honor for Susan and me to be invited to join in the Gloucester Institute’s “Return to Sunday Dinner.” We had a great talk with smart, well grounded students and future leaders. We were also glad to be able to enjoy a great cause, ThanksUSA, a charitable organization started by two young girls that provides scholarships for military spouses and children.

Susan and I truly enjoy traveling around the Commonwealth. It allows us to not only listen to the concerns of Virginians but also to personally see first hand the so many remarkable initiatives by Virginians to better people’s lives and opportunities. I encourage you to join us and our grassroots insurgency by volunteering, following us on Twitter, joining us on Facebook, or becoming an online captain.

With your continued help, advice and support, we will fight for the issues that matter most to the families of Virginia and get our country back on the right track.
Stay strong for freedom!
GFA signature
George Allen

P.S. The George Allen Facebook page has over 10,000 fans – help us continue to spread our positive message by encouraging your friends to sign up at!

Putting an end to the spending spree

By Congressman Bob Goodlatte
R - VA 6th District

Today, Washington spends $7 million every minute of every hour of every day and to finance this spending addiction the government must borrow over 40 cents of every dollar spent. This has resulted in our national debt exceeding $14 trillion which is over $45,000 for every man, woman and child in America. It’s this kind of out-of-control spending, skyrocketing deficits, and massive growth in government programs that have increased economic uncertainty and prolonged our unemployment crisis.

Last week, the House of Representatives took its first major step in getting Washington’s fiscal house back in order by passing a bill which cuts over $100 billion in spending over the next seven months. This represents the largest discretionary spending cut in history. The legislation, which passed with my strong support, is needed to continue operation of the federal government through the end of this fiscal year. The continuing resolution reflects Washington’s need to make tough decisions about spending priorities, cutting wasteful programs, and respecting taxpayers’ wallets.

The over $100 billion in cuts to the federal budget represent tough choices, but we must take these necessary actions in order to protect the future of our country. Many federal programs have received funding increases over the last several years that outpaced both inflation and the growth of the American family budget. A thorough and careful review of all our federal agencies and programs must be done to root out any waste, fraud and abuse. We made a good start on that process with this bill. It is essential that the federal government work to both eliminate every cent of waste and squeeze every cent of value out of each dollar our citizens entrust to it. It is the only way to restore confidence in America’s economic future.

Specifically the legislation will reduce domestic discretionary spending by $84 billion over the next seven months and it will reduce security related funding by $16 billion over the same time period. It does not, however, make any cuts to the vital funding for our men and women in uniform. Additionally, we voted to eliminate any unobligated “stimulus” funding which will save the taxpayers as much as $2 billion.

As elected officials and stewards of the taxpayers’ money, we have a responsibility to put together a sustainable federal budget and stick to it. I have consistently supported measures to rein in the federal budget and curb spending by voting for the tightest budgets and spending bills possible. I will continue working hard to bring fiscal responsibility back to Washington by supporting legislation which tightens the budget and reduces wasteful spending. The passage of this continuing resolution is critical to ending the spending spree in Washington and getting our economy moving in the right direction. Ultimately, we must make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget and pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, helping to assure that future governments live within their means.

To contact me about this or any other matter, please visit my website at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iwo Jima, the USS Wisconsin, and my dad

Check out my post at the Washington Examiner about the battle for Iwo Jima that took place sixty-six years ago this month. My dad, a World War II veteran, now deceased, played a role in that battle. From my post:
My father, now deceased, was a 20-year-old seaman manning the big 16" guns on the USS Wisconsin, affectionately known as the Gray Lady. It was part of the 5th Fleet of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater that supported landing operations for those fighting on Iwo Jima. The Wisconsin used adverse weather conditions to achieve complete surprise in the days leading up to Iwo Jima. Preparing for the battle, it attacked the Japanese capital as a strategic cover for the invasion of Iwo Jima and disrupted its air force and destroyed industrial plants. It remained a forceful part of the battle through March and earned a Battle Star, its third, for the operations. An old water-damaged framed print of the USS Wisconsin that belonged to my dad, complete with stars and combat record, hangs in my living room as a reminder of my own military hero.
Please ... thank a World War II veteran before it's too late.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Battle for Iwo Jima on this date in 1945 ... World War II

From Don Williams, chairman of the Chesterfield County (Va) Republican Committee, is a reminder of the importance of today in history....

"Amid those who would retreat into isolation ... I prefer to commemorate the bravery of those who fight to secure our freedoms. On this date in 1945, 5 Marines and a Navy Corpsman raised the American Flag atop Mount Suribachi in the Battle for Iwo Jima. We are fortunate this event is depicted in the historic Rosenthal photograph. It is an icon of freedom for all. Thank a WWII Veteran today before its too late."

From my Washington Examiner post on Wednesday:

Many recognize the Joe Rosenthal photo that captured the moment when five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima.
Few remember the bloody battle by land and by sea nor the number of lives lost before and after that February day when the flag was raised during a battle that raged until March 25, 1945, and helped lead to the end of World War II. With the current unrest in the Middle East, it is important to remember this past history.
Read the entire post at the Washington Examiner. May we never forget...

February ... Virginia Home Education Month

Thank you, Gov. Bob McDonnell, for proclaiming February 2011 as Virginia Home Education Month.

General Assembly bills of interest to home schoolers ... how did they do?

Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) followed the 2011 General Assembly and reported on eight bills that would benefit home schoolers in the Commonwealth. Out of those eight, two passed and six failed. Below is the recap by HEAV on how the bills fared....

With only one week left in this short legislative session, most of the bills we tracked and lobbied for have already passed or failed. Below is a summary of their status. Our bill reader, Caroline Barnes, read through thousands of bills, and these were the ones of particular interest to home educators. Thank you for all of your prayers throughout the legislative session!

Driver Education in Planning District 8
HB 2439, sponsored by Mark D. Sickles (D-Franconia) and introduced by VaHomeschoolers, will make available to private and homeschooled students and their parents in Planning District 8 the viewing of a 90-minute parent/student driver-education film required to obtain a driver's license in Planning District 8 only. Although the law requires both parents and students to view a 90-minute film, some schools have not allowed homeschoolers to have access to the film.

During the House subcommittee hearing, HEAV's lobbyist, Bob Shanks, gave testimony in support of the bill. He related a story of a homeschool parent who was referred by the Department of Education to HEAV for help. Shanks pointed out the negative impact the school's refusal to allow access to the film had on a homeschooler seeking his driver's license. Because the homeschooled student and his parent were not allowed to view the film at the local high school in their district at the scheduled time, the homeschooler could not get his driver's license. This prevented him from beginning an EMT job for which he had already been hired. With supporting testimony from VaHomeschoolers and HEAV, the bill passed the House in a block vote and was reported from Senate Education and Health committee 15-Y, 0-N. PASSED  

Immunization Exemptions for Home-Instructed Children
HB 2291, sponsored by Mark D. Sickles (D-Franconia), allows a licensed nurse practitioner, in addition to a licensed physician, to provide written certification that an immunization may be detrimental to a homeschool child's health.  
Passed both the House and Senate unanimously. PASSED

Repeal of the HPV Immunization
HB 1419, sponsored by Kathy J. Byron (R-Lynchburg), eliminates the requirement for the human papillomavirus vaccination (HPV) for female children.
Passed the House; passed by indefinitely in Senate Education and Health. FAILED

Tax Credits for Donations to Nonprofit Organizations Providing Scholarships
HB 2314, sponsored by James P. "Jimmie" Massie, III (R-Richmond), establishes a tax credit for corporations donating money to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to students who are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. The scholarship funds must be used for qualified students to attend non-public elementary or secondary schools. This does not include homeschools.
Passed the House; passed by indefinitely in SenateFinance. FAILED

SB 1194, sponsored by Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), is a companion bill to HB 2314, the tax credit bill described above.
Left in Senate Finance. FAILED

Educational Best Interests of a Child in a Court Dispute
SB 994, sponsored by Richard H. Stuart (R-Montross), provides that when a court has jurisdiction to resolve a dispute between parents as to how a child shall be educated, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is in the child's best interests to remain in the last educational setting to which both parents agreed.  
Passed by indefinitely in Senate Courts of Justice. FAILED

Virginia State Virtual School
HB 2311, sponsored by Richard P. Bell (R-Staunton), establishes "Virginia State Virtual School" as a policy agency in the executive branch of government. Its purpose is to govern the online educational programs and services offered to students enrolled in the Virginia State Virtual School. HEAV carefully watched this bill and its progress in order to protect the rights of homeschoolers.
Stricken from the docket by House Education. FAILED 

Sports Access
HB 2395, sponsored by Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville) allows non-public school students to participate in public school interscholastic programs. The House Education Committee voted to schedule a joint House-Senate study of sports access to be conducted this summer. The purpose of the study is to see how other states handle sports access.
Passed by with a letter in House Education. FAILED

From Richmond ... understanding the vote

By Del. Dickie Bell
R-20th House District

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding House Bill 1447, a bill that recently passed in the General Assembly this week. I would like to help clarify some of this confusion, and help some of you understand my vote.

House Bill 1447 would allow income tax credits for individuals and businesses for qualified research and development expenses. This bill will also help foster job growth in the research field.

There were some concerns by pro-life constituents and organizations that this may allow tax credits for companies that study and perform research on embryonic stem cells. Many pro-lifers, myself included, chose to vote for House Bill 1447, due in large part to the fact that there was language in the legislation that specifically excluded embryonic stem cell research.

Although it was a tough vote, I chose to vote in favor of this bill due to the fact that it will create jobs for the citizens of the Commonwealth, without providing tax incentives for embryo destruction.

Please see below for an article that the Virginian-Pilot ran on this story. To view the story online please go to

If you have any questions on this, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Valley icy February day ... a walk in the winter woods

The woods behind our house lead up to the small mountain ridge and have a stream, rock outcroppings, underbrush, trees, and lots of animal tracks. Today there were dozens of deer tracks but we also have wild turkeys, black bears, coyotes, and the little fellas such as raccoons and opossums.
Even though the temperatures was 26 degrees in the woods, the ground was soft enough to see deer tracks such as this one.
Overgrown weeds that normally bend away were ice-covered and creaked as I waded through them, following this deer highway deeper into the woods. I shivering in the icy wind as my cold fingers worked the camera.
The tree shapes are interesting especially with the icy white background ...
... and this old tree with the knot hole probably housed a creature or two.
The gray, overcast sky made everything appear shrouded ...
... and as I turned to head back home, this deer highway led the way. The woods are quiet in the winter weather ... a place to think and feel the cold on your face and be away from everything. That's the beauty of western Augusta County ... that's the beauty of the mountains ... that's the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know,
 His house is in the village though.
 He will not see me stopping here,
 To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 My little horse must think it queer,
 To stop without a farmhouse near,
 Between the woods and frozen lake,
 The darkest evening of the year.

 He gives his harness bells a shake,
 To ask if there is some mistake.
 The only other sound's the sweep,
 Of easy wind and downy flake.

 The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
 But I have promises to keep,
 And miles to go before I sleep,
 And miles to go before I sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
22 February 2011

Valley icy February day ... photos in the yard

Icicles were everywhere including the deck railing.
Trees were icicle-lined from overnight precipitation. Daytime temps briefly rose to 30 and then dropped.
Our vehicles had a coating of ice covered with snow ...
... while trees and bushes were white with an icy glaze.
The trees including those in the woods remained ice-covered all day.
Icicles on fences, benches, trees, boxwoods....
Even the clothesline was covered with icicles.
It was a nice treat that caused two-hour delays for Augusta County schools but otherwise didn't do too much to stop travel.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
22 February 2011

Forest fire updates ... Tuesday

- Shenandoah County fire: Now extinguished
- Western Virginia: Light snow, rain help quell wildfires
- Ivy brush fire under control

Eminent domain reform and more from Richmond

By Sen. Mark Obenshain
With only days remaining before the General Assembly goes home, things are happening very fast, some big issues remain very much in play. In fact, the Senate may have cast one of the most significant votes of the year - a historic vote on eminent domain reform. Here, I will address a few issues, including the budget, abortion clinic safety, eminent domain reform, and gambling.

The Kelo House
The little pink house that started it all
(the "Kelo house")
Eminent Domain Reform
It was almost anticlimactic: after years of efforts and weeks of scrambling to find a way to get the resolution through this year, the Senate just approved a constitutional amendment on eminent domain reform by a 35-5 vote!

The first order effect of the Kelo case was to deprive a woman in New London, Connecticut of her family home so that the local government could turn around and sell it to a developer. The City claimed that it would result in more jobs and tax dollars. (In fact, neither has occurred since the project was never built.) The second order effect, however, was to spark a wave of new property rights protections in states across the nation - a wave on which Virginia missed out.

Today, we belatedly took the first (and hardest) step toward doing something about that, when the Senate approved a constitutional amendment on eminent domain reform patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth). I worked closely with Delegate Joannou in working to find a way to get HJ 693 through the Senate after Joannou, in an incredible performance, maneuvered it through the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections (P&E). The P&E Committee,which hears all proposed constitutional amendments, had always killed such proposals in the past, including my own SJ 307.

It took a lot of effort, a few late night sessions, and the support and assistance of property rights advocates across the Commonwealth, but I'm delighted to be able to declare victory today - not for myself, and not even for Johnny (though he deserves enormous credit for getting this done!), but for all property owners in Virginia. There's work left to do, the greatest remaining hurdle being that the General Assembly will have to adopt the resolution a second time next session, but this is a huge step forward, and puts us comfortably on the path of finally making "public use" mean precisely that. We've crossed the Rubicon.

And everyone wanted in on it. Narrower language died in subcommittee, and my motion to bring it to the floor died on a party line, 18-22 vote. HJ 693 reported out of committee on a narrow 8-7 vote, but once the outcome looked certain, the vote on passage was 31-8. And even that wasn't the end of it, as we then reconsidered the vote on passage and did it again. This time it was 35-5, with all but one of the seven who voted against the bill in committee supporting it on the floor.

It's true that the bill was amended on the floor, but I guarantee you that that wasn't what drove that many members to have a change of heart - not when the amended version still went at least as far as SJ 307, which Senate Democrats refused to even give a hearing in full committee!

Clinic Safety
The other day, the House adopted an amendment to a Senate bill on regulatory standards for health service providers - amendments requiring abortion clinics to meet the same requirements as clinics offering other outpatient surgical procedures. This really shouldn't be controversial: all the amendment does is apply the same regulations to all similarly-situated outpatient surgical facilities, regardless of political considerations.

Unfortunately, some have opposed any changes to state regulations on abortion, regardless of what those changes entail, and have thus allowed abortion clinics to fall behind on basic health safety regulations. I am unabashedly pro-life, but this amendment really isn't even about abortion. It's about safety, and I hope that my colleagues, wherever they stand on the abortion issue, will come together in supporting this sensible measure to safeguard the life and health of the mother.

Illegal Gambling
Tomorrow, the House takes up my bill (SB 1195) cracking down on gambling operators who have attempted to exploit a perceived loophole in Virginia's gambling laws. The language of the bill has changed a lot over the past few weeks as I worked with Delegates Glenn Oder and Clay Athey to find the best possible solution, but the intent is the same: putting an end to the so-called "sweepstakes stores" proliferating in our communities.

These so-called 'sweepstakes stores' try to get around our laws by bundling an insignificant product with their games. People are spending a small fortune on a few minutes of internet access or a cheap phone card so that they can play slots or video poker. It's a clear end-run on our gambling laws, and my bill, and Glenn's companion bill (HB 1584) will put an end to it.

My bill is up tomorrow before the House, and I am very optimistic about its prospects. I look forward to seeing it passed into law.

Budget Update
Our economy is beginning to grow again, and revenues are increasing, but money is still tight here in Richmond, and important services are still waiting in line for funding. So you can imagine my dismay with proposals in the Senate budget to provide more than $320 million for construction and renovations in the General Assembly complex - a steep price for facilities that are fully utilized only two months a year. This proposal is unlikely to survive the budget talks, but it really illustrates the audacity, tone-deafness, and  misplaced priorities of some in Richmond.

Misplaced priorities have, at times, come to characterize Senate budgets, though I'm pleased to report that we're definitely making progress from year to year.

Earlier last week, the two chambers designated conferees to work on reconciling the House and Senate budgets. Two of the Shenandoah Valley's own, my friends Delegates Steve Landes and Beverly Sherwood, are among the House conferees. The Senate conferees are Democrats Chuck Colgan, Dick Saslaw, Janet Howell, and Edd Houck, along with Republicans Tommy Norment, William Wampler, and Walter Stosch. These seven Senators, and their counterparts from the House, will be meeting in coming days to issue a "conference report," the consolidated budget both chambers vote upon.

Virginia's constitution requires a balanced budget, but there are a number of ways to achieve balance. Both budgets include issuing bonds and other debt instruments - and to some degree, that's okay - but as things now stand, the House budget does a better job of balancing the accounts without kicking costs down the road.

Fundamentally, we need to be looking for structural spending reductions. I sometimes liken our budgets to a balloon: we let some air out in the lean years, cutting five or ten percent across the board, then re-inflate it once revenues pick up again, when we should be looking at permanent changes to its shape and size. We need to change the way government operates; when revenues are back where they were before the recession, we shouldn't view the intervening years as a mere policy interruption. The budget should look different than it did before. We can address some of these issues this year, and next year - a budget year - we must take them up in earnest.

It is my hope that the conferees will find a way to resolve the differences between the House and Senate positions. Allow me to outline, as briefly as possible, what some of those are (here's a one-page bullet point summary, if you're interested):

  • The House would accelerate by $42 million the Governor's proposal to begin restoring the deferred payments to the Virginia Retirement System, while the Senate reduces those repayments by $54 million
  • The Senate proposes depositing $20 million in the nearly broke Rainy Day Fund, compared to the $64 million deposit proposed by the House
  • The Senate adds $100.6 million in K-12 education and roughly $100 million in additional health care expenditures beyond the Governor's recommendation
  • Both the House and Senate budget reject the Governor's proposal to require state employees to make a 5% contribution to their retirement while simultaneously receiving a 3% raise, the Senate zeroing out the proposal and the House increasing the raise to 5%
  • The House "unwinds" the accelerated sales tax - prepayments required of companies to provide a one-time revenue boost - while the Senate leaves it in place  
All in all, the House does a better job of achieving structural balance, though the shorter-term focus of the Senate budget offers a superficially appealing opportunity to restore more funding to education and public health. It should, of course, be noted that both budgets include significant restorations in these areas, though the Senate budget goes farther than the positions adopted by the House and Governor McDonnell.

Meanwhile, although it isn't part of the budget, both chambers approved issuing about $3 billion in bonds to finance the Governor's transportation plan. All states issue bonds for many capital improvement projects, and Virginia is one of the most conservative in its approach to bonding (with about $12 billion in outstanding bonds at present), giving us some room to work with - but also setting a standard we don't want to erode.  (Remember, unlike the federal government, Virginia doesn't print money to cover its spending habit - it operates with a cap under which it can borrow no more than it can service with 5% of its revenues.)

That we can move forward with transportation improvements without raising taxes is very heartening. Still, this was something many of us wrestled with, and as Virginia moves forward with the plan, we will all need to work hard to ensure that we keep our fiscal house in order.

The next time you hear from me, we should have a budget conference report in our hands. Until then, I want to thank all those of you who visited me in Richmond last week, including members of the JMU Student Government Association; a large group of eager young Future Farmers of America; students (and cadets) and administrators from JMU, BRCC, and VMI; and the Warren County Teen Republicans, who spent a day in Richmond observing the workings of the General Assembly, though, given their private meeting with the Governor, their time spent visiting with me probably wasn't the highlight of their trip.

As always, I enjoy hearing from constituents and friends from across the Commonwealth, so feel free to call (Richmond number 804.698.7526 through the end of session) or email ( with any ideas, questions, or concerns.
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator

P.S. I encourage you to review my one-page budget summary for a quick overview of the key issues facing the General Assembly as the budget goes to conference.

Gov. Bob McDonnell to headline 2011 Shad Planking

Governor Bob McDonnell to speak
at 63rd Annual Shad Planking!
The Honorable Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia will be the guest speaker for the 63rd annual Shad Planking.

The Shad Planking, sponsored by the Wakefield Ruritan Club, is one of the most famous political gatherings in Virginia. The 63rd annual Shad Planking will be held on April 20, 2011, beginning at 2 p.m.

Governor McDonnell accepted the Wakefield Ruritan Club’s invitation this week to speak at the Shad Planking. McDonnell has attended the Shad Planking twice before; first as Attorney General in 2006 and again during his gubernatorial campaign in 2009.

McDonnell has dedicated his life to public service. After serving 21 years in the U.S. Army, both active duty and reserve, he retired as a Lt. Colonel in 1997. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991 and served 14 years representing the City of Virginia Beach. In 2005, McDonnell was elected as the 44th Attorney General of Virginia. During his tenure as Attorney General, 92 of his 105 legislative proposals were passed into law. He was inaugurated in 2010 as the 71st Governor of the Commonwealth.

McDonnell is a graduate of University of Notre Dame, Boston University, and Regent University. He and his wife, Maureen, have been married for 34 years and have five children.

Shad Planking Chairman Robert W. Bain said, “Governor McDonnell has been a long-time supporter of the Wakefield Ruritan Club’s Shad Planking and has drawn significant crowds at his previous appearances. We look forward to having him deliver the keynote address this year.”

The Shad Planking is an annual event known for drawing politically minded people as well as those wishing to seek public office in the Commonwealth.

The event will begin at 2 p.m. and ends at 6:30 p.m., rain or shine. The formal program will begin at 4 p.m. and the meal will be served when ready.  The menu this year will feature the Wakefield Ruritans’ trademark planked shad cooked over an open fire. The Virginia Diner will again provide its famous cole slaw and corn muffins.  In addition, there will be shad roe and fish filets fried to golden brown, sweet pickles, iced tea and plenty of other favorite beverages.

This year’s event promises to continue the long-standing traditions of Shad Planking. The Shad Planking traces its origin to the early 1930s when a group of friends gathered together at Wrenn’s Mill in Isle Of Wight County during the spring running of the shad in the James River.  They planked the shad after the tradition of native Virginia Indians and they talked politics after the tradition of their fathers before them. As the tradition grew, the Wakefield Ruritan Club assumed sponsorship of the event in 1949.

Generations of Virginia politicians have attended and addressed the Shad Planking gathering.  Such legendary figures in Virginia politics as Harry Byrd, Senior and Junior, Mills Godwin, John Warner, John Hager, Doug Wilder, Mary Sue Terry, Jerry Baliles, Mark Warner and many others have generously given of their time and talent to support this event.

The gathering is truly a unique assembly of the many and varying views of the people and politics of Virginia.  It has come to be an important event in the political life of the Commonwealth.  The Wakefield Ruritan Club donates all earnings from this event to local community service organizations such as Wakefield Youth Baseball League, fire departments and rescue squads.

Tickets are available through the Virginia Diner in Wakefield, Virginia by calling 1-800-935-4004 or through Wakefield Ruritan Club by mail at P.O. Box 148, Wakefield, VA, 23888.  Credit cards are accepted at the Diner and on the Shad Planking website.  Ticket prices are $20 prior to April 1 and $25 thereafter.

Further information can be obtained by contacting Robert Bain at 757-641-8060 or by email to Also, you can visit the Wakefield Ruritan Club Shad Planking website.

Congratulations, Virginia? Year-round schools are a step closer to reality

Some people love it ... others hate it. One thing is for sure ... it certainly livens up a conversation when folks bring up year-round schools, and today news was received from sponsor Valley Del. Steve Landes' office (R-25th House District) that HB 2076 had passed both legislative bodies in Richmond:
A House Bill and a House Joint Resolution sponsored by Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, which will create the Office of the Inspector General and a study to examine the efficacy of year-round schooling have both passed the Senate.

“I was pleased to see the bipartisan and bicameral support of these two pieces of legislation,” Landes said. “House Bill 2076 creates a new watchdog agency that will be able to investigate complaints of government waste and inefficiencies. House Joint Resolution 646, meanwhile, will begin to provide information for the General Assembly to help regain our competitive edge for our education system.”

House Bill 2076, Office of the Inspector General, establishes the Office of the Inspector General to be headed by a State Inspector General to investigate complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse, corruption, or mistreatment of citizens of the Commonwealth by a state agency or public officers and employees. The bill also authorizes the State Inspector General to examine the management and operation of state agencies and provides a record exemption under the Freedom of Information Act for certain documents of the Office. The bill consolidates the existing offices of Inspector General of the Departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Transportation into this new office.

This new office will increase oversight of state government and make it easier to fulfill its watchdog duty to protect the public.

House Joint Resolution 646 directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission
to conduct a two year study on the efficacy of year-round schools. The study will review different systems locally, nationally and abroad that have already implemented and alternative educational technique noting both the advantages and disadvantages of each system. The study will also evaluate essential factors that must be considered before implementing year-round schools statewide, including, but not limited to, instructional costs, transportation and special education services, and the need for additional classroom teachers, staff, and support services.

This study should bring out the pros as well as the cons of implementing year-round school with input from educators, parents, administrators, and legislators.
I wrote about this subject for the Washington Examiner, exploring the pros and cons of year-round schools. In "Year-round schools coming to Virginia?" I noted that President Barack Obama's education czar Arne Duncan is pushing the idea. Read the article for pros and cons and why some school systems that went with year-round schools in the past reverted back to a traditional school year.

Cross-posted at Virginia Virtucon

The Ten Commandments

Just think how the world could be if we all made these commandments of morality the tenets of our lives. I am posting them here in honor of Giles County, Virginia, because they had the courage to display the Ten Commandments in their schools until forced this week to remove them. Pass them on and live them every day....

And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."

The Ten Commandments
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

See also "I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing" on the Write Side of My Brain.

University of Virginia ranked best public college value

The numbers are out and the University of Virginia topped the Princeton Review's list of best public college values with College of William and Mary, James Madison University, Virginia Tech, and University of Richmond also selected as best value colleges.

A statement from Governor Bob McDonnell congratulated Virginia's colleges:
RICHMOND – Governor Bob McDonnell issued the following statement in recognition of five Virginia institutions of higher education being ranked by the Princeton Review as “Best Values.”

“Making college more affordable and expanding the number of degrees issued by Virginia universities to residents of the Commonwealth is vital to preparing them for the top jobs of the future,” said Governor McDonnell. “We are working very closely with our institutions of higher education to meet the goals I outlined in my legislative package in January.”

“This national recognition of these outstanding universities and their efforts to make higher education more accessible and affordable is a great building block toward making Virginia one of the most highly educated states in the nation. Having five colleges and universities named to this prestigious list reinforces that the Commonwealth is a national leader for higher education.”

In the public university category, the University of Virginia was ranked the nation’s best value college, while the College of William and Mary ranked number 7. James Madison University and Virginia Tech were listed in the nation’s top 50 (Princeton Review only ranked the top-10 colleges. Others were included alphabetically).

The University of Richmond was ranked in the top 50 Best Value Colleges private universities category.

Governor McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment will resume meetings this spring to continue its work to strengthen the Commonwealth’s economic opportunities for our citizens and increase access and affordability to postsecondary education. Future meeting dates and information can be found on the Secretary of Education’s website at

Visit the Princeton Review’s or USA Today’s websites to access the complete lists of the 50 private and 50 public “Best Value Colleges”. USA Today’s website, ( features a database that allows users to view in-depth details about the schools including information about the criteria used to select these lists and the Princeton Review’s analysis of why each school was chosen as a Best Value College.

Leader Cantor calls on Senate Leader Reid, Senate Democrats to take shutdown threat off table

U.S. House of Representatives.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) today issued the following statement:

"Just a few months ago, the people sent a very clear message that the status quo in Washington was unacceptable, that they wanted a Congress that would focus on jobs, grow our economy, and get our fiscal house in order. House Republicans are doing all of the things that we promised and were elected to do, with one main goal - getting people working again.

"While House Republicans are hard at work passing measures to cut spending, grow the economy, and keep the government operating, Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid has yet to offer a plan and instead almost seems as though he’s hoping for a government shutdown to occur for political gain. Let me be clear, a government shutdown is not an acceptable outcome, and I call upon Leader Reid to commit to a good faith effort to work with us and take that threat off the table.

The federal government borrows forty cents of every dollar that it spends, and surely Leader Reid and Senator Schumer understand that the status quo is not a serious position or plan. We should be able to come together and find areas to cut spending and save money to keep the government functioning and take the first steps toward getting our fiscal house in order."

Going out in the icy wonderland ...

 Icy woods behind our house.

... for a walk in the winter woods that are beckoning to me from the house. The temperature is 25 degrees with overcast skies so it's still cold and frozen. Hope to have photos up later today....

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
22 February 2011

Eric Cantor's breakfast ... photos

 U.S. Senate candidate George Allen was a hit with those attending Eric Cantor's breakfast Friday as he posed for photos and talked with those in the crowd. After breakfast, he was surrounded by dozens and dozens of folks eager to talk with the once and maybe future senator.
 Jim Hoeft with Bearing Drift covered the breakfast along with other bloggers.
 Bloggers Row had a great view overlooking the ballroom.
 Over 1,500 supporters maxed out the ballroom facility at the Richmond Convention Center.
 AFP Virginia Director Ben Marchi.
 Page County Republican Committee Chairman Jon Comer.
 Former Richmond GOP Chair Cortland Putbrese. He was also former chairman of the RPV New Media Committee.
 Majority Leader Eric Cantor addressed the capacity crowd.

 (left to right) Marissa Pugmire, Jim Hoeft, Jason Kenney. Marissa is political director for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Jim runs Bearing Drift, and Jason writes for J's Notes, BD, and Virginia Virtucon.
Cortland Putbrese and Third District Republican Committee Chairman Mike Wade.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
18 February 2011

Washington Examiner Tuesday headlines

Byron York - In Wisconsin, the gap widens between GOP and Dems

At the heart of all this, Republicans and Democrats are realizing there might be a gap between them that is bigger than they realized. To Republicans, the budget fight has involved the widespread shirking of responsibilities: teachers walking out on students, legislators running away from their offices, even doctors abandoning medical standards to make excuses for perfectly healthy teacher/protesters. To Democrats, the fight has touched a core issue; anything is justified to preserve union benefits.

Sara Carter - Jubilation turns to fear in Tripoli as military turns on protesters

The ugly turn of events in Libya indicated that the cost of the tide of revolution sweeping the Islamic world may be higher than it appeared after relatively bloodless coups in Tunisia and Egypt.

Timothy P. Carney - Paul Krugman epitomizes the current liberal divorce from reality

One reason liberals get so excited about the protests and teacher strikes in Wisconsin is that they see this as a battle to preserve the power of the working man -- a noble cause and one many liberals take very seriously. Read More

Mark Tapscott - Wisconsin confrontation could be fatal flaw in Obama's 2012 re-election strategy

One reason why Obama Democrats are now backing away from their earlier enthusiam for the public employee union protestors chanting in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, against Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the newly-elected GOP majorities in the state senate and house may be their realization that they're on the losing side. Read More

Timothy P. Carney - Scott Walker or Chris Christie for President? No way

Many conservatives are understandably fond of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who are fighting the good fight in the face of powerful entrenched special interests. Partly because any successful and conservative governor is considered a candidate for President, and partly because the current 2012 field is considered lacking, conservatives are already dreaming about Walker or Christie running for President. Read More

Byron York - New poll: Public sides with Wisconsin governor over union

A new national poll just released by pollster Scott Rasmussen shows that 48 percent of those surveyed support Wisconsin Republican Gov. Read More
David Freddoso - Wisconsin Senate can and will still pass other bills in Dems' absence
Wisconsin's Senate needs a supermajority quorum to pass budget bills, and that's why the flight of 14 Democrats to Illinois has stalled the process. Read More

Mark Tapscott - Union protestors shout down Fox News report on doctors handing out fake excuse notes to Wisconsin teachers

Here's what "democracy" looks like to union protestors in Wisconsin - Screaming, shouting and silencing a fellow citizen trying to participate in a news organization's attempt to provide the general public with facts about doctors handing out fraudulent medical absence excuse notes. Check out the video of the incident below:   Read More

Old Man Winter returns to Shenandoah Valley

Icy woods this morning behind our house.

I woke this morning to find an icy-snowy wonderland of whiteness outside with the temperature sitting at 24 degrees and Augusta County schools on a two-hour delay. Little frozen icicles are hanging from everything -- limbs, bushes, vehicles, bird feeder -- and the skies are overcast and gray.

After a brief tease of spring temperatures over the weekend, it's not disappointing to have another blast of winter since we are, after all, still in February and, hopefully, it offered a little relief for fires that are still burning in parts of the Valley. Be careful out there ... it's still winter....

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
22 February 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

State Senate kills transportation bills for NoVa

David Sherfinski at the Washington Examiner reports that the Virginia State Senate was busy Monday:

A pair of bills aimed at tackling Northern Virginia's road congestion were killed by a Senate committee Monday, as well as one that would have given Gov. Bob McDonnell a long-coveted seat on Metro's board of directors. 
Proposals that would direct the Virginia Department of Transportation to use computer models to determine which Northern Virginia transportation projects would provide the most congestion relief, as well as divert available money to those projects, were rejected by the commonwealth's Senate Finance Committee.
This is the last week of Virginia's General Assembly as lawmakers work to finish their work in Richmond.

Another news story wonders about McDonnell as VP

Gov. Bob McDonnell can't seem to escape the questions about national office. He's been a great conservative leader for Virginia ... will we be sharing him with the nation one of these days?

Breaking ... New Zealand 6.3 earthquake

Fox News is just now breaking news that there's been a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and reports sounds as if it may be serious. Stay tuned....

Gov. McDonnell at Richmond Bloggers Day

Jim Young of Skeptical Observer, Gov. McDonnell, Steve Rossie with Family Foundation.

Gov. McDonnell with Brian Schoeneman from Bearing Drift and Nova Common Sense.

Bearing Drift's Jim Hoeft talks with Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Jean Ann Bolling, Gov. McDonnell, Bob Kirchman, Jason Bibeau.

David Karaffa and Gov. McDonnell.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
16 February 2011

More bloggers at Richmond Bloggers Day

Rick Sincere and David Shephard of the Virginia Gentleman.

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
16 February 2011

Bob Holsworth at Richmond Bloggers Day

Dr. Bob Holsworth addresses bloggers at Bill Bolling's 4th Annual Bloggers Day.
Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
16 February 2011

The Governor and David

SWAC blogger David Karaffa and Governor Bob McDonnell

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
16 February 2011

Virginia capital square ... miscellaneous photos

 George Washington statue in Capitol.

 Executive Mansion ... longest continuously used governor's house in the country.
 Virginia State Capitol
Stairway in Governor's Mansion

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
16 February 2011