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Politicians Should Govern First and Play Politics Second (or Never)

by | Mar 2, 2022 | The SoapBox |

Time for another patented rant.

There have been a number of news stories dealing with Virginia politics and politicians that have raised my hackles lately.  [Ed. Note: the phrase “raise my hackles” refers to hairs or a ruff of fur on the back of an animal’s neck that raises when the animal is alerted to danger or is preparing to attack.  Humans have the same response, its just not particularly noticeable.]

The first involved Victoria Manning, a member of the Virginia Beach School Board and recently appointed member of Governor Glenn Younkin’s education working group.  Manning shared a Facebook post weighing in on the school division’s ESL program:

VB Schools has 300 additional ESL students in the past year. Most are from south america [sic]. Our ESL budget has increased over $1 million in 2 years. Continuing to educate South Americans is not sustainable.

Let’s start with the fact that ESL education is required by federal and state law and receives significant funding from both the federal and state governments. The $1,000,000 figure Manning cited was the total increase of ESL designated funds, but only $166,000 of that was from local support — meaning that 83% came from federal and state funding. Moreover, ESL spending accounts for less than 1% of Virginia Beach’s school budget, which for this year is expected to exceed $1 billion dollars, an overall increase of over 10% from last year, with the increase in ESL expenditures representing less than 1% of the increase, and, again, 83% of that was not local money — so Manning is complaining about 0.017% of the total budget.  Granted, when you’re talking a billion dollars, that’s still a lot of money which theoretically could be spent on other things.  Except, of course that if Virginia Beach decided to defy the law, it would lose almost 60 times the amount of local money that would be freed up in federal and state aid — because it would lose all of the ESL funding, not just the $834,000 of new funding.  While that money does go to support ESL programs and teachers, it also contributes to the overall budget in other ways.

Second, ESL students make up 3% of the district’s students, about 1,700 students. Manning refers to ESL students as coming mostly from “[S]outh [A]merica,” but what she meant was “countries south of the US border with Mexico,” as the ESL students are coming primarily from Mexico (which is in North America) and Central America (most of which is also geologically in North America), and the Caribbean — but, as the local chair of the Chamber of Commerce (a well-know leftist organization <– sarcasm, for those who can no longer tell) pointed out, the schools are not educating “South Americans,” but residents of Virginia Beach.

Another critic pointed out that many ESL students are not Spanish-speakers, but come from other non-English speaking countries as is common with many urban areas with large naval installations.  Indeed, the Virginia Beach Schools website says that there are over 70 different languages spoken by ESL students.

In response to the controversy, Manning shared a statement explaining that her words were twisted and she did not intend to cause any harm.  The primary harm she caused was being removed from the Governor’s working group.

The next story that set my neck hairs on end involved Governor Youngkin’s first veto. The bill would have authorized Arlington County to employ an independent policing auditor selected by the Board of Supervisors, rather than the County Manager. Arlington is, because of an historical oddity in its charter, the only County that requires state permission for its elected board to make direct hires of this nature. The County will still have an independent auditor, just one hired by the County Manager. The auditor will act under the direction of a civilian oversite board.  Youngkin said in his veto statement that

The best way to ensure that any bad actors within law enforcement are held accountable is to stand up for law enforcement, not tear them down or subject them to politically-motivated inquiries.

It seems that the only “political motivation” in this incident is the Republican Governor denying a Democrat-dominated county the same authority to oversee police as is afforded to every other City and County in the Commonwealth. Contrary to the implication of his statement, his veto does nothing to “stand up for law enforcement,” it simply denies the Board the direct authority to hire the independent auditor, but the job will still be filled.

Like so many actions by politicians, the Governor has used a nearly meaningless act to portray himself in a favorable light to his base. “I stand up for law enforcement!”,” he will proclaim. “I kept the anti-police Arlington Board of Supervisors from hiring a political witch hunter!” But the county manager, who is answerable to the Board, will still hire the auditor and still have a civilian board of “witch hunters” to review complaints against the County Police Department — a move which the department supports.

In a similar vein, since the “cross-over day,” the day when the Virginia General Assembly’s Senate and House are supposed to have completed work on bills introduced in their respective chambers and start working on the bills from the other chamber, there have been a slew of stories about the House (GOP-controlled) or the Senate (Democrat-controlled) “killing” some or another piece of legislation from the other chamber.  Invariably, these are bills that the sponsors knew with absolute certainty would fail in the other chamber because the issue was an issue which was favored by the extreme wing of the sponsor’s party (and often not even by a majority of his or her constituents).

Most, if not all, of these bills were introduced to fulfill a campaign promise.  None where the object of any effort to seek passage by the other body, and were mostly passed in the sponsor’s chambers on party-line votes.  In short, these bills had nothing to do with governing, and everything to do with politics and, more specifically, the ability to fundraise by demonizing the “obstruction” of the other party — “We must capture the Senate!” “Help me turn the House Blue again!”

How did this Commonwealth and the nation get to the point that compromise became an impossibility?  Many of the bills addressed issues of legitimate concern to many in the Commonwealth, but now no action will be taken because each part has taken an all or nothing approach to their agendas.

I am reminded of a story told about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil.  The two would frequently meet in Reagan’s private office in the Old EOB in the evening — this was in the days before the 24-hour news cycle, so “a lid” had already been called on the days news.  The President and Speaker would sit in arm chairs and “discuss” some issue then before the Congress until each was red-faced and exhausted.  Then one of them would tell an Irish joke, they would both laugh, and then decide what to do about the issue.

End of rant.