Bibbs, Virginia Tech cruise past Houston Baptist

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Justin Bibbs scored 25 points to carry Virginia Tech to a 99-73 victory over Houston Baptist on Tuesday night.

The hot-shooting Bibbs connected on all seven of his first-half field-goal attempts and scored 16 points for the Hokies (3-1), who were actually in a battle for much of the first 20 minutes. But Bibbs hit 3-pointers to bookend a 10-2 run to end the half and gave the Hokies a 44-38 halftime advantage – and the lead for good.

Bibbs hit 11 of 13 from the field overall, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Ahmed Hill added 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers, as the Hokies shot 64 percent (32 of 50) from the field, including 16 3’s — just a game after canning 15 in a victory over Washington on Friday.

Ian Dubose led HBU (1-3) with 15 points.

TIP-INS

Houston Baptist: The Huskies, who lost five seniors off last season’s squad that finished 17-14 overall and 12-6 in the Southland Conference, are probably counting down the days toward the start of Southland action. They fell to 0-4 against Division I competition this season and still have road games against Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Vanderbilt before Christmas.

Virginia Tech: After missing the first two games of the season while serving a suspension handed out by head coach Buzz Williams, Bibbs continued his torrid shooting. He’s now shooting 73 percent (27 of 37) from the field. The Hokies have scored at least 99 points in four of their five games this season.

UP NEXT

Houston Baptist: The Huskies continue their season when they travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on Oklahoma State on Sunday.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies return to action Saturday when they host Morehead State.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Virginia Makes Every Voter Count

Virginia Makes Every Voter Count

Pablo Delcan

Those who still doubt that their vote can make a difference should take a look at last week’s elections in Virginia.

In House District 94, which includes Newport News, almost 24,000 people went to the polls; the Republican and Democratic candidates there are separated by just 10 votes. The race appears to be headed for a recount, as do those in two other districts where the margin of victory is in the dozens. With control of the Virginia House of Delegates in the balance, literally every vote counts.

That’s particularly exciting in Virginia, where more than 40,000 previously disenfranchised citizens were registered to vote this year, many for the first time.

Virginia was, until recently, one of four states — along with Kentucky, Iowa and Florida — that still impose a lifetime ban on voting by people with felony convictions. The only recourse is a personal reprieve from the governor, which happened last year when Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights of more than 168,000 Virginians with criminal records. One quarter of those — about 42,000 people — registered to vote in time for this year’s election.

Bringing so many people back into the electorate, or encouraging them to participate for the first time, is a good thing, period. It’s also yet another reminder of the pointless cruelty of felon disenfranchisement laws, which block more than six million Americans from voting — more than the population of 31 states.

Since African-Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, it’s no surprise that black citizens of voting age are shut out of the polls at four times the rate of nonblacks. Before Governor McAuliffe stepped in, more than one in five black Virginians were barred from voting.

Today’s defenders of felon voting bans would call this a coincidence, but it’s impossible to separate the bans from their racist roots. In Southern states, white political leaders used to make the connection explicit. As one said during Virginia’s constitutional convention in 1902, the intent was to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years, so that in no single county in the commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in government affairs.”

Especially in light of this history, it’s shameful that Republican lawmakers in Virginia fought to stop Mr. McAuliffe, suing him for overstepping his authority after he initially granted a blanket restoration to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed, albeit for dubious reasons, and required the governor to issue any restorations case by case, which he promptly and wisely did.

So why the Republican resistance to what is clearly the right move by Mr. McAuliffe? It’s a mix of self-interested politics and race. People coming out of prison are disproportionately black, and blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. But there’s no clear evidence of a partisan skew in voting by people coming out of prison. And even if there were a demonstrable Democratic bias, that would be no reason to deny someone the right to vote. (It’s worth pointing out that felon disenfranchisement was an issue in the Virginia governor’s race this year, and the candidate who campaigned on the horrors of restoring the vote to “violent felons and sex offenders” lost by 9 points.)

The bottom line is that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. By an overwhelming majority, Americans of all political stripes support voting by those who have paid their debt to society. In recent years both liberal and conservative states have made it easier to restore the right to vote, on the understanding that disenfranchising people with criminal records serves no purpose other than to keep them at the edges of society. In Virginia, it was a Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, who took the important first steps toward restoring voting rights on a large scale. Maine and Vermont allow people to vote while they are still incarcerated, and no one is contending that this has led either state to collapse into a lawless hellscape.

America has plenty of problems with its electoral system, but too many people voting is not one of them. Whoever wins the contested House races in Virginia, the fact that tens of thousands of new voters were able to participate is a win for everybody.

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How Republican losses in Virginia could mean real trouble for the GOP in 2018

How Republican losses in Virginia could mean real trouble for the GOP in 2018

Danica Roem, who beat GOP incumbent Robert G. Marshall in the race for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates, is greeted by supporters in Manassas on election night. Roem will be the first openly transgender state legislator in the United States. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via AP)

In 1897, an earthquake that hit 5.8 on the Richter scale shook Virginia and was felt across 12 other states. Six months later, William McKinley’s Republican Party experienced its own disaster in Virginia, losing 15 seats in the state House of Delegates.

Not until Tuesday night did another such earthquake strike a president’s party in Virginia elections. The figure below puts the Republican Party’s losses in historical perspective. What happened Tuesday was worse than normal.

Now the question is whether the GOP’s losses in the Virginia legislature should be a warning sign for Republicans next year. If past elections are any indication, the answer is yes.

All politics is not local

National politics has long dominated state legislative elections. That’s true in Virginia, too. The left panel in the graph below shows that presidential approval, as measured by the last national Gallup poll before an election, is strongly associated with seat changes for the president’s party in the House of Delegates. The right panel shows that this is true in state elections nationwide.

What is particularly worrisome for Republicans is that their Virginia losses were worse than what is predicted by presidential approval alone. In the left-hand graph above, the 2017 point is well below the line that captures this relationship. With Trump’s approval rating at 38 percent, Republicans should have lost two to four seats, not 15.

This simple analysis suggests that a 38 percent approval rating could translate in 2018 into Republicans losing about 300 state House seats. This is why the GOP’s losses in Virginia may hint at a larger earthquake.

Indeed, the fortunes of the president’s party in Virginia House elections are related to how the president’s party fared in midterm elections the next year. The graph below shows a clear correlation emerges in U.S. House and state House elections.

A 10-point change in seats in the House of Delegates is associated with a 4-5% seat change in midterm state House and U.S. House elections. The points labeled “2018” indicate the predicted loss in Republican seats, which would be almost as large as Democratic losses in 2010 and exceed Republicans losses after Watergate in 1974.

A key lesson for Democrats from Virginia is: Make sure Democratic candidates run. In 2017, Democrats ran for 88 of the 100 House of Delegate seats, compared with only 55 in 2015. Many Democratic candidates in 2017 likely hoped to ride an anti-Trump wave. Such strategic behavior is consistent with studies of U.S. House elections by Gary Jacobson and Sam Kernell and my own research on state legislative elections.

Since Tuesday’s election, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is already actively recruiting candidates to ensure Democrats are similarly positioned nationwide. Jessica Post of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (the national organization devoted to electing Democrats to state legislatures) says, “In 2018 we’ll continue working with state leaders to recruit smart, strong candidates in every district.”

If Democrats can do this, and if Trump’s approval rating continues to languish, Republicans may suffer just as much in the 2018 midterm election as they did on Tuesday.

Steven Rogers is assistant professor of political science at Saint Louis University.

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What you need to know about the Virginia governor’s race

What you need to know about the Virginia governor’s race

Voters head to the polls Tuesday in Virginia to decide their next governor in a race that has been closely watched as a bellwether for the political climate ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and a test of President Donald Trump’s influence in the only southern state he lost in the 2016 elections.

The race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie started out as a relatively tame political contest between two moderates, but has morphed into an intense battle over hot-button issues like illegal immigration, race relations and Confederate monuments.

Republicans have won just one out of the last four gubernatorial elections in Virginia since 2001 and national groups have poured money and resources into the state to boost Gillespie’s campaign. President Trump did not campaign with Gillespie, however Vice President Mike Pence did appear with the candidate last month at a rally in southern Virginia.

Northam has also attracted support from national Democrats and appeared on the campaign trail with both former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Democrats are eager to pull out a win in Virginia to show tangible political resistance to the Trump presidency.

Here’s a look at what you need to know about who is running and what matters ahead of Tuesday’s election:

Ralph Northam

Northam, Virginia’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor, grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and attended the Virginia Military Institute. He later served as an Army doctor and taught medicine and ethics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

He was elected as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2013, serving under current Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He faced a legitimate primary challenger in former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, but was able to win the nomination with help from McAuliffe and other Democratic groups in the state.

Ed Gillespie

Gillespie has been a staple in Republican Party politics for decades, serving as a former RNC Chairman and counselor to President George W. Bush. Gillespie has also worked as a lobbyist and political strategist. In 2000, he co-founded a consulting firm, Quinn, Gillespie & Associates.

Gillespie ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, and nearly unseated incumbent Mark Warner, a Democrat. Gillespie lost the election by less than one point in a result that caught many political observers off guard.

In the Republican primary, Gillespie was nearly beaten by Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, who ran as a more conservative and Trump-aligned alternative.

The Trump Question

While President Trump did not personally campaign for Gillespie, his presence has loomed large over the race throughout the fall.

The president did however endorse Gillespie over Twitter, praising his ads highlighting violence perpetrated by the MS-13 gang in Virginia.

Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2017

Gillespie approached questions about President Trump very cautiously throughout the campaign, but Northam, who called Trump a “narcissistic maniac” early in the campaign, has tried to tie Gillespie to him at every turn. The president’s approval rating in Virginia was measured at just 34 percent in a recent poll by Quinnipiac.

Northam has run ads in the final weeks of the campaign linking Gillespie to Trump, likely in the hopes that the unpopular president will be enough of a drag in certain areas of the state for Northam to pull out a win.

The Ad Wars

Most of the campaign’s most heated exchanges have come over the airways.

Gillespie has run ads throughout the state highlighting crimes committed by the violent MS-13 gang, accusing Northam of supporting policies that have allowed the gang to grow in the state. The Republican has also run ads highlighting Northam’s support for the automatic restoration of certain rights for criminals, saying the policy allows sex offenders to have their gun rights restored.

Gillespie has also tried to use the controversy over Confederate monuments to his advantage, running ads touting how the monuments will “stay up” if he is elected, while hitting Northam for saying he would take steps to remove some statues.

While Northam has largely attacked Gillespie over his lobbying career, a mailer sent out by the state’s Democratic Party linked Gillespie and Trump to the white nationalist protesters that caused chaos over the summer in Charlottesville, according to the Washington Post.

Just last week, an outside group called Latino Victory Fund ran an ad featuring a pickup truck donned with a Confederate flag and Gillespie bumper sticker menacing young, minority children. The Gillespie campaign called the ad “vile” and “an attack on all Virginians.”

The Northam campaign did not condemn the ad.

“It is not shocking that communities of color are scared of what his Trump-like policy positions mean for them," campaign spokesman Ofirah Yheskel and told ABC News in an email.

The group eventually pulled the ad off the air after eight people were killed in New York City after a deadly truck attack that targeted cyclists and pedestrians.

Looking to 2018

With the largely uncompetitive New Jersey gubernatorial race the only other statewide election tomorrow, Virginia will be looked at as the best political barometer leading up to the 2018 midterms.

Republicans have a much more favorable map when it comes to senate races, as Democrats are defending 23 seats held by incumbents, and two independent seats with members that caucus with them. Republicans by contrast are defending just eight seats.

The last year a Republican was elected governor of Virginia was 2009 when Bob McDonnell defeated Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

With the Trump’s effect on the 2018 midterms still largely a question mark, the Virginia race will give both parties an early look at how they approach key races across the country.

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President Trump’s claim that he ‘turned West Virginia around’ by cutting regulations on mining

President Trump’s claim that he ‘turned West Virginia around’ by cutting regulations on mining

President Trump has a habit of claim economic achievements that aren’t connected to his policies. This claim adds to that list. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“And I’ve turned West Virginia around, because of what I’ve done environmentally with coal. And I don’t know if you saw, but West Virginia is second to Texas in percentage increase of GDP.”
— President Trump, remarks during an interview on Fox News Radio, Oct. 17

“One thing that I am very proud of, the state of West Virginia. Last month, it was one of the highest percentage increases in GDP, the state of Texas beat it. And people are saying, wait a minute, West Virginia just came in second. Do you know what that is about? That is about cutting regulations and letting the people go and mine.”
— President Trump, remarks during an interview with Sean Hannity, Oct. 11

President Trump has repeatedly taken credit for economic improvements and business deals that have little to do with his policies. Regular readers may recall that we gave him Two Pinocchios for his claim that he personally added 1 million jobs, and Four Pinocchios for taking credit for Foxconn’s proposed plant in Wisconsin. Now Trump is at it again. He claims he has “turned West Virginia around” by cutting regulations and “letting people go mine.”

Since taking office, Trump has cut several Obama-era regulations on mining and energy production. And in the first quarter of 2017, West Virginia, a major energy-producing state, saw a 3 percent increase in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy.

So, is there a connection between Trump’s actions and West Virginia’s economy? Let’s take a look.

The Facts

Trump’s energy regulations

Trump claims he has cut more regulations than any other president in history, which we’ve pointed out is difficult to verify, but when it comes to the environment he seems to be hard at work toward this goal. Here are a few of the regulations he has attempted to undo:

In February, Congress voted to repeal the “stream protection rule,” which restricts mining companies from dumping wastewater and debris into nearby waterways. On Feb. 16, Trump signed the bill, officially ending the protections. In March 2017, the Interior Department planned to rescind a 2015 rule regulating fracking on public lands. On July 25, the Bureau of Land Management submitted its new proposal to the Federal Register. On March 28, Trump signed an executive order promoting energy independence and economic growth, instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to pursue repealing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from domestic electricity production. On Oct. 9, Scott Pruitt announced the EPA’s intention to repeal the plan, and on Oct. 16, the EPA published the full proposal for the repeal in the Federal Register. On April 28, Trump signed an executive order expanding offshore drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

In August 2017, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report on states’ GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017. Across the country, mining grew 21.6 percent, spurring growth in 48 of the 50 states. The BEA notes that the growth in mining was the leading contributor to growth in the three fastest-growing states — Texas, West Virginia, and New Mexico, which grew 3.9 percent, 3.0 percent, and 2.7 percent, respectively.

The fact that West Virginia saw a 3 percent increase after years of limited growth was not lost on Trump. In two interviews on Fox News programs, he touted the state’s economic growth, adding that it was a result of his elimination of regulatory policies on mining and coal. Is the credit deserved?

The short answer is, no.

For starters, the first quarter ended on March 31, 2017, just two months after Trump took office. And even though he wasted no time rolling back Obama-era protections, many of his newly loosened regulations on mining and coal haven’t gone into effect. The comment period on the administration’s proposal to open fracking on public lands closed Sept. 25, and the BLM now has to review the 459 public comments on the proposal as it drafts the final rule. Once the final rule is published in the register, it typically goes into effect within 30 days of publication.

Likewise, the administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan has yet to take effect. Pruitt claimed in October that he was ending the “war on coal,” by rescinding the Clean Power Plan, but the agency’s proposal is up for public comment until December. More importantly, the regulations proposed by the Obama administration have been on pause since February 2016, when the Supreme Court voted to stay the plan while it considers whether the administration exceeded its authority to regulate air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

When Trump signed the law repealing the “stream protection rule,” the provision had been in effect only since Jan. 19, 2017 — a mere 28 days. In a January 2017 impact analysis of the Obama-era rule, the Congressional Research Service estimated it would take up to 42 months for states to implement the federal rules. Repealing a law that wasn’t widely implemented would do little in the short term to increase growth in the industry.

And, finally, increased drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans has no bearing on West Virginia.

How West Virginia got to 3 percent

West Virginia is the second-largest coal producer in the country, and in 2016 it accounted for 11 percent of the total coal production in the United States. The state is also the ninth-largest producer of natural gas in the country, with an estimated 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas extracted in 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration. While most of the economic growth in West Virginia is due to growth in these two industries, the boost can be attributed to rising productivity and prices.

According to the BEA, in West Virginia, mining grew 26.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017, and “data from EIA shows gains in the extraction of coal, natural gas, and petroleum bolstered mining in the state.” The primary driver of the state’s increased coal production is a surge in Asia-Pacific metallurgical coal demand as well as a temporary boost in demand from Australia after Cyclone Debbie damaged the country’s rail infrastructure, according to a report on the state’s economic outlook by West Virginia University.

The increase in extraction coincided with an increase in the price of metallurgical coal and natural gas. In the first quarter of 2017, the price of metallurgical coal exports was $153 per short ton, up from $76 in the third quarter of 2016. For the first nine months of 2017, the price of natural gas was $3 per million British thermal units on average, up from a 2016 average of just under $2.50 per million BTUs.

Another factor boosting West Virginia’s GDP is the state’s declining unemployment rate. From 2015 to 2017, the unemployment rate declined by 1.7 percent. Whether increased employment leads to economic growth is debated by economists, but historically, GDP has fallen as unemployment rises and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the falling unemployment rate in West Virginia reflects the fact that thousands of people left the labor force altogether. Over the two-year period, the state’s unemployed population declined by roughly 13,500 people, but nearly 5,500 of those people simply stopped looking for work. Still, nearly 8,000 people went back to work in the state.

Even though Trump claims he has “turned West Virginia around,” the trends aren’t expected to last. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University estimated the state’s GDP growth to average 1.0 percent per year over the next five years and employment to grow 0.7 percent — well below national projections.

Additionally, the coal industry still has a way to go to recover from its losses. In 2008, the state produced nearly 158 million short tons of coal, and by 2016, that number had plummeted to 80 million, according to a report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

John Deskins, co-author of the report and director of the bureau, cautioned that while increased coal production is projected to remain stable, the state still has a long road to economic recovery.

“West Virginia has no short-term solution for its economic problems,” Deskins said. “We need industrial diversification and investment in human capital. But with the state’s poor education system and really bad drug epidemic, the human capital gains are a major challenge.”

The Fact Checker documented these findings to the White House, seeking a response. But the White House declined to comment.

Trump takes credit for West Virginia’s economic gains, but it’s undeserved. For one, when the first quarter ended on March 31, 2017, Trump was just two months into his presidency. While he was quick to do away with several regulations on energy production, many of the new policies have yet to take effect. The state’s recent growth is due to increased mining production and a rise in prices for coal and natural gas.

Taking credit for economic advances where no credit is due seems to be a habit for Trump. He should be more careful not to overstate the effect of his administration’s policies when praising economic gains across the country. For trying to capitalize on the hard work of West Virginians, Trump earns Four Pinocchios.

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Virginia appoints commissioners to new Metro safety organization

Virginia appoints commissioners to new Metro safety organization

Metro’s Gallery Place-Chinatown station (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has appointed the first two members of the Metro Safety Commission — the latest step in the lengthy process to turn the newly minted transit oversight agency into a reality.

The appointees are Greg Hull, former vice president at the American Public Transportation Association, and Mark V. Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The selections for the panel were announced Friday by McAuliffe’s office. The District and Maryland have yet to appoint their commissioners to the six-person panel.

The Metro Safety Commission was officially established by law in August, after the new safety oversight agency received approval from the D.C. Council, the Virginia and Maryland state legislatures, Congress and President Trump.

The panel is tasked with overseeing safety at Metro, performing inspections of the system, conducting investigations into dangerous practices or close-call incidents, and providing recommendations or mandates for safety improvements.

Once the organization is officially in operation, it will take over responsibilities from the Federal Transit Administration, which has spent the past two years closely monitoring safety at Metro after federal officials determined that the Tri-State Oversight Committee was under-resourced and ineffectual at catching critical safety issues.

In the meantime, the FTA has been withholding millions of dollars in federal grant money for public transportation projects throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia, part of an effort to pressure local leaders to take the steps necessary to fully launch the commission.

But even after all six commissioners are appointed — along with an executive director and a staff — there’s still more work that must be done before the Metro Safety Commission is given official approval by the FTA to take over oversight responsibilities. In a statement Friday, an FTA spokesman reiterated that the newly erected agency must go through every step of the process to become federally certified.

“As part of FTA’s review and prior to certification, the [Metro Safety Commission] must successfully complete transition activities, demonstrating its capability to perform all federally required safety oversight responsibilities,” the statement said. “Upon the successful completion of the transition, the FTA will certify the [commission] and relinquish temporary federal safety oversight of Metrorail.”

Until those steps are all completed, the region won’t be getting back its withheld funding.

[DMV Congress members to federal transportation officials: We’re fixing Metro. Now give us our money back.]

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Virginia schools chief to retire

Virginia schools chief to retire

Virginia’s top public schools official will retire at the end of the year, the Virginia Department of Education announced Monday.

Steven R. Staples, who was appointed as the state superintendent of public instruction by Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2014, is scheduled todepart at the end of the year. His retirement is effective Jan. 1.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity, and I will be forever grateful to so many for their advice, encouragement and support during my time in this post,” Staples, 63, told Virginia Department of Education staff in an email.

In a conference call Monday, Staples said he’s retiring to spend more time with family. He decided against requesting a reappointment from the next administration, he said, because he’s doubtful he could commit the time.

In a news release, the Virginia Department of Education credited Staples with helping reduce standardized testing and for supporting the state Board of Education’s efforts to redesign accreditation standards. Final approval from the board on the revised regulations is scheduled for November.

“I believe we have corrected an overemphasis on standardized testing while maintaining accountability for effective instruction and achievement,” Staples, who stepped into office as a vocal champion of testing reform, said in the release.

During Staples’ tenure, four-year high school graduation rates climbed above 90 percent.

He oversaw the state school system’s expansion into computer-adaptive testing, which customizes assessments for students. Under that form of testing, a student’s response to a question determines the difficulty of the next item, with a correct response leading to a more challenging question.

Under his guidance, schoolchildren were able to take tests on a greater variety of devices, including tablets.

State education officials and advocates, including Board of Education president Daniel Gecker, lauded Staples for his contributions. Gecker described the departing superintendent’s experience as an educator and administrator as invaluable — Staples was a teacher and principal before becoming superintendent of York County public schools in 1991.

“He helped the board understand how policy impacts practice and the importance of listening to all stakeholders,” Gecker said in the news release.

One of the toughest parts of the job, Staples said, was shepherding policy that would prove beneficial for students across the state.

“This job has given me a new perspective on the diversity across the state and trying to reconcile that diversity with state level policy that produces positive results for all,” he said.

In a statement, Chris Minnich, executive director for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said Staples displayed a commitment to bettering education for students from all walks of life.

“Steve Staples has championed the importance of continuous improvement for all schools, believing that even high-performing schools must continue to strive for excellence for all students,” he said.

Staples acknowledged much work remains as he prepares to leave office and cited teacher shortages and diversity in hiring as among the most critical issues facing the next state superintendent.

“Frankly, all of our work is for nothing if we can’t get qualified teachers in our classrooms,” he said.

Before serving as superintendent, Staples was the executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and a faculty member in the College of William & Mary’s School of Education. He began his teaching career in 1976 in Prince George County.

Staples received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from William & Mary and a doctorate from Virginia Tech, according to the state education department.

Staples doesn’t have specific plans for retirement but said it would be “difficult to get away from education, entirely.”

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Ed Gillespie’s lobbying career included work for firms with vast interests in Virginia

Ed Gillespie’s lobbying career included work for firms with vast interests in Virginia

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. (Steve Helber/AP)

As the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Virginia, Ed Gillespie has vowed to make health care more affordable and accessible, pledging at a recent debate to “incentivize greater competition in the insurance marketplace.”

But as a private consultant, Gillespie advised Anthem, the nation’s second-largest insurance company, as it pursued a merger last year with Cigna, the No. 3 insurer. Virginia insurance regulators said the merger would raise costs and reduce competition, and a federal judge cited the same concerns when she later blocked the deal.

Anthem is among four companies with extensive interests in Virginia that paid Gillespie between $50,000 and $250,000 last year for consulting services. Anthem, AT&T, Bank of America and Microsoft contract directly with the state government, do millions of dollars of business in Virginia, and lobby to influence state laws and policies. All but Anthem have hired Gillespie on and off for more than a decade, dating to his time as co-founder of one of the most successful lobbying firms in Washington.

If he is elected governor, Gillespie would face decisions in which the public’s interests may conflict with the interests of companies that have paid his firms millions of dollars collectively for lobbying and consulting services — and that could hire him again.

“That’s an issue for him to overcome, and it’s a nonpartisan concern for both liberals and conservatives,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group. “The concern is that politicians are more concerned about the payout on K Street that they may get when they leave office as opposed to the public’s interest when they are in office.”

Gillespie’s opponent in the race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, also has financial ties to several companies active in the state, through his stock portfolio. Virginia’s conflict-of-interest laws generally allow lawmakers and state officials to act on bills affecting companies in which they own stock.

Gillespie, who declined an interview with The Washington Post, closed his consulting firm, Ed Gillespie Strategies, shortly before launching his campaign in January. The Republican nominee has no current financial interests in the companies, such as stock holdings, and he and his wife would put their personal investments in a blind trust if elected, campaign spokesman David Abrams said.

“As governor, Ed will be an honest, ethical, principled, hard-working, faithful servant-leader worthy of Virginia,” Abrams said, repeating a phrase that Gillespie and his staff have used repeatedly throughout the campaign.

Abrams noted that Gillespie voluntarily released the names of the clients he advised last year. Virginia’s financial disclosure form requires only that candidates list the types of businesses and the range of compensation. “Ed went above and beyond,” Abrams said.

One year after President Trump won election, in part by railing against influence peddlers and vowing to upend the status quo, Gillespie is trying to ride the anti-establishment tide as well as a former Republican National Committee chairman can. His campaign biography omits his lobbying work and tells the up-from-the-bootstraps story of the son of an Irish immigrant grocery store owner who rose to become a top adviser to President George W. Bush.

When Gillespie was tapped to serve in the White House in 2007, his lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, represented more than 100 clients, including some of the nation’s biggest companies and trade groups, according to a financial disclosure form. The firm reported $17.2 million in revenue from federal lobbying in 2016, according to public records.

It was paid more than $3.2 million from 2001 to 2007 by three of the companies he consulted for last year — AT&T, Bank of America and Microsoft — according to public records. Gillespie also consulted for those companies before his 2014 Senate campaign, according to his federal candidate disclosure form.

A gubernatorial bid by a former lobbyist is not without precedent. Virginia’s current governor, Terry McAuliffe (D), was previously the managing partner of a law firm with a lobbying practice, although he did not personally lobby. Haley Barbour, a Republican who founded a major lobbying firm that employed Gillespie early in his lobbying career, served as governor of Mississippi from 2004 to 2012.

Gillespie, whose reputation as a Washington insider could be a liability in this election cycle, has proposed an ethics and campaign finance platform that includes provisions opposed by lawmakers in his own party. His plan would ban personal use of campaign funds, slow the “revolving door” by prohibiting former state employees from lobbying their prior agencies for two years, and require more frequent disclosures of conflicts of interest.

Critics, however, pointed to Gillespie’s own experience with the revolving door — he worked for then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) from 1985 to 1996 and did three stints in the Bush administration, and advised private clients as a lobbyist or consultant in between those jobs and after leaving the White House. Part of his firm’s pitch was that he could leverage his relationships with those in power.

In 2002, Quinn Gillespie posted notable press clippings on its website, including one that said Gillespie “advises the White House, which puts him in a perfect position to help his clients.” Also cited was this quote from a Washington Post story: “Ed Gillespie has emerged as a one-stop power broker. He advises top White House officials, works for GOP campaigns, lobbies for major corporations and opines on political talk shows.”

Gillespie’s private-sector work has fueled frequent Democratic attacks since early 2014, when he first sought to make the leap from political operative to elected official. Gillespie came close to unseating Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) that year.

“I served eight years in the U.S. Army, I showed up for this country,” Northam said at a debate Oct. 10. “You’ve been a K Street lobbyist in Washington. The only time you show up is when you get paid.”

Gillespie didn’t flinch. “I did show up for my clients, and I was effective,” he said.

In a reprise of a Warner attack ad, Northam dubs Gillespie “Enron Ed” in a television spot that tries to yoke him to the energy company that went bankrupt in 2001 amid a massive accounting fraud. Gillespie was among four lobbyists registered to represent the company that year, and he cut ties before the bankruptcy filing. He has said he had no knowledge of Enron’s accounting tactics.

Northam has stock holdings of between $5,001 and $50,000 each in AT&T, Bank of America and Dominion Energy, all of which do business in the state, according to his candidate financial disclosure form. Environmentalists have accused Northam of putting Domion’s interests ahead of those of his constituents. Northam has denied the claim and has pledged to put his investments in a blind trust if he is elected.

Gillespie also has faced criticism from a government watchdog group for declining to elaborate on the consulting work he did in 2016 with two conglomerates, DCI Group and Brunswick Group. Brunswick works in 14 countries and employs “experts in every industry,” according to its website, while DCI claims to be “widely acknowledged as the deepest and most sophisticated political network in the public affairs industry.” State law does not require Gillespie to disclose clients unless they do business in Virginia.

“What Gillespie has disclosed only takes you part of the way, even though it satisfies the law,” said Dale Eisman, a senior writer for the government watchdog group Common Cause who lives in Springfield, Va. “We still don’t know everyone whom he might be beholden to and what their connections are to Virginia.”

In voluntarily disclosing his clients from last year, Gillespie said he advised Anthem and AT&T on proposed mergers and helped Microsoft and Bank of America with “reputation management and communications strategy.”

All four companies or their top executives have contributed to the Gillespie campaign or to a committee he controls, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), and they have ongoing interests in the state. The governor can directly affect those vast interests when making policy, signing legislation and recruiting businesses to the state.

The proposed $54 billion merger last year of Anthem, the state’s largest insurer, and Cigna would have created the nation’s largest insurance company. Virginia insurance regulators opposed the merger, citing “the potential of harm to policyholders as well as the general public.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked the deal in February, saying that “it is likely to result in higher prices and that it will have other anticompetitive effects.”

In August, Anthem announced it would pull out of the Affordable Care Act’s exchange in Virginia amid uncertainty over the future of such marketplaces and pronouncements by President Trump that they were about to fail.

McAuliffe was involved in an effort to persuade Anthem to stay. When the company reversed its decision, he tweeted: “Just got a call from @AnthemInc. They are staying in Virginia!” Anthem said its decision to remain in parts of the state preserved insurance for up to 70,000 Virginians.

AT&T lobbied on six 2016 bills in Virginia — legislation related to cellular use while driving, telecommunications towers, taxes and workplace safety, according to VPAP. In July, Virginia became the first state to announce participation in a nationwide public safety broadband network, created by AT&T with partners, to allow public safety officials to communicate more reliably in a crisis.

Last month, McAuliffe attended an event celebrating an underwater data cable built in part by Microsoft that stretches from Virginia to Spain. Microsoft also operates a data center in Mecklenburg County that employs more than 250 people. The data center’s latest expansion received a $500,000 grant from a state business incentive program, McAuliffe announced.

Microsoft lobbied on Virginia bills related to tax breaks and high school graduation requirements last year, according to VPAP.

Bank of America also has a large presence in Virginia, with about 133 branches. It bills in Richmond last year that dealt with mortgage applications and credit unions, records show. Bank of America was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the government bailout that Gillespie helped push when he was in the White House after previously working as a lobbyist for the bank.

Given the myriad ways a governor can affect the fortunes of large companies doing business in the state, voters should consider Gillespie’s ties with his former clients, said Eisman of Common Cause.

“The candidate knows who helped him get there and helped him make his fortune,” he said. “Voters need to ask what steps the candidate would take to ensure his decisions in public office are based on the merits and not those past relationships.”

This is the second of two stories examining how Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates could face challenges leading the state because of their financial dealings with companies that have extensive interests there. Yesterday: Ralph Northam’s stock holdings.

Andrew Ba Tran and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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Vice Presidents Enter Fray In Final Weeks f Virginia’s Governor Race

Vice Presidents Enter Fray In Final Weeks f Virginia’s Governor Race

Vice President Mike Pence and gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, R-VA, wave during a campaign rally Saturday at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Abingdon, Va.

It was a north versus south battle of the vice presidents.

Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail Saturday on behalf of their respective party’s candidates in the heated gubernatorial contest in Virginia.

The race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam is one of two governor’s races in this off-off-year. (The other is in New Jersey.) It has gained national attention as a proxy referendum on the Trump administration in a state that is, for the most part, ideologically split along regional lines. Trump voters are concentrated in southern regions while democrats, who carried the state for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, are found in bigger numbers in the north.

Pence rallied a rowdy pro-Trump, anti-sanctuary city crowd at the state fair in Abingdon, Va., where he told about 400 people he had been sent on a mission from Trump.

He also had a message for any democrats who might be in the audience. Quoting a tweet by Trump from the earlier in the day, Pence said, "The democrats in the southwest part of Virginia have been abandoned by their party and Ed Gillespie will never let you down."

"The president and I need allies and partners in states like Virginia," he confided to those gathered, adding that Gillespie "is as good as they come."

He went on extolling Gillespie’s bona fides, including being the son of an Irish immigrant, a businessman, and a champion of coal mining. But he spent nearly as much time reviewing Trump’s "strong leadership."

And for Virginians whose economy relies heavily on government defense contracts, he reminded them that the president "signed the largest increase in defense spending in nearly ten years."

A spending bill signed by Trump in May increased defense spending by $15 billion, though it also kept funding intact for so-called "sanctuary cities," which Pence also railed against in his speech.

"Ralph Northam cast the tiebreaking vote against a bill in the state Senate against a bill to crack down on sanctuary cities," Pence said, while his supporters booed.

Biden on the stump

Biden, on the other hand, eschewed large crowds while garnering support for Lt. Governor Northam, who is up by seven points in the race, according to a new poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy.

The former vice president instead spoke on a panel focused on growing jobs and education opportunities in a state with only 3.8 percent unemployment.

In rallying tech and business leaders to support Northam, Biden said the federal government has left a leadership vacuum.

Under the Trump administration, Biden said, "states are going to have to step up in ways the federal government should be stepping up."

"The only hope for leadership we have is at the state level," he said, before quoting an unnamed person who said, the Trump administration is "unified by incoherence and incompetence."

Northam has several big-named Democratic players in his corner. He attended a fundraising event with former Secretary of State Clinton, and former President Obama plans to join in on the gubernatorial fray this week. He will appear with Northam at a rally on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Gillespie, who is relying on support from independent voters, had been reluctant to acknowledge Trump’s support until Saturday.

When the Republican nominee was asked by Virginia’s WVEC-TV if he would want the president to campaign alongside him, Gillespie deftly answered the question, responding, "I don’t talk about campaign strategy with anyone, let alone the media."

He met a similar question asking if he was pleased by the president’s Oct. 5 Twitter endorsement, saying, "I wasn’t surprised he endorsed me."

With the election just three weeks away the campaigns are expected to become more intense, especially as both sides strive to win over undecided voters, who at six percent of the electorate, could make or break the race.

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