Send news tips, story ideas and advertising questions to news@emporianews.com.

Emporia News is best read in LANDSCAPE view on Mobile Devices. Please rotate your phone or tablet.

Current Weather Conditions

 
Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Community Calendar Sponsored By...

 

Fall 2019 Capital News Service

Republicans Say New House Leadership Lacks Regional Diversity

By Jason Boleman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Earlier this month Democrats elected a new House of Delegates leadership team as the party took control of the chamber for the first time since 1999. 

For outgoing House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the Democratic leadership team lacks diversity in one area: their home districts.

In a statement released Nov. 9, and retweeted by Republican leadership, Gilbert congratulated the new House leadership and said Republicans are looking forward to working with them, but also expressed concern with the party electing “an entire leadership team that is centered in the deepest parts of Northern Virginia.”

“The House of Delegates represents our entire commonwealth, and the varying and often conflicting interests of Northern Virginia, metro Richmond, Hampton Roads, and rural Virginia deserve a fair hearing in our legislative process,” Gilbert said. 

Among the new leadership is Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who is set to become the first female speaker in the chamber’s 400-year history.

Joining Filler-Corn in leadership positions are Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax. Herring will serve as House majority leader and Sullivan will serve as majority caucus chair in the upcoming General Assembly session. 

Under the current House District map, all three delegates are from northern Virginia. The outgoing leadership team represented central, western and northern areas of the state.

“It is a bit unusual to have an entire leadership team drawn from one region of the state,” said Bob Holsworth, political analyst and managing partner at the consulting firm DecideSmart, by email. 

Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said that regionalism has been “a fairly common theme here in the commonwealth.”

“As for whether the regional dominance translates into an actual resource or representation imbalance: not likely,” Bitecofer said. “But keep in mind, every time a resource gets distributed to NoVa the accusation will be leveled.”

Holly Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Filler-Corn, said the delegate does not have a response to Gilbert’s statement, instead choosing to focus on policy matters.

“Her decisions on leadership, including committee chairs, will speak for themselves,” Armstrong said. “The policy agenda will begin to take shape as the committee chair decisions are made and caucus members continue to discuss priorities.”

 On Thursday, Filler-Corn announced Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton and Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex would receive chair positions – respectively – to the Appropriations, Finance, Commerce and Labor, and Education committees.

With more chair decisions to be made, Bitecofer said she would not be surprised to see more regional diversity in the assignments.

“I expected that the fact that Democrats have chosen leaders from NoVa would be raised as concerns among the minority,” Bitecofer said. “This detail has not been overlooked, and I assume we'll see some nice committee chairs doled out to members representing other regions to offset that.”

Holsworth agreed that committee chairs will play a role in offsetting Gilbert’s concerns.

“Key committee chairs - who have greater power and leadership than some of the leaders - exhibit considerable diversity in terms of region,” Holsworth said.

The current House leadership team, which has been in place since 2018, includes Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, Gilbert and Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax. Republicans are still determining the new Republican minority leadership roles. Cox, outgoing speaker of the House, said he will not pursue a leadership position in the upcoming session. Hugo, the current majority caucus chair, lost his re-election bid to Democrat Dan Helmer. 

 Gilbert, House majority leader since 2018, and Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, are likely contenders for the minority leader position, according to the Washington Post. They are both influential figures in the Virginia House of Delegates Republican Caucus, Holsworth said. 

The last Democratic Speaker of the House was Tom Moss, a delegate from Norfolk who served as speaker from 1991 until the Republicans took control of the chamber in 2000. Moss’s House majority leader was Richard Cranwell, who represented Danville until leaving the House in 2001.

Democrats now hold a 55 to 45 majority over Republicans in the House, and a 21 to 19 majority in the Senate. No change in Senate leadership is expected, according to Senate Democrats. Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, will assume the majority leader position currently held by Thomas Norment, R-James City.

Virginia Republicans Mull Over New House Leadership

By Jeff Raines, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- After Democrats seized control of the General Assembly on Election Day and proceeded to vote on key leadership positions, Republicans began meeting behind closed doors and mulling over who will steer their party forward.

As the minority party, Republican power in the House has been severely reduced, according to Bob Holsworth, a political analyst and managing partner at DecideSmart.

“The new minority leader will be the spokesperson for the opposition and have the additional job of recruiting candidates who can help the GOP regain power in future elections,” Holsworth said in an email.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, House majority leader since 2018, and Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, are likely contenders for the minority leader position, according to the Washington Post. They are both influential figures in the Virginia House of Delegates Republican Caucus, Holsworth said. 

Gilbert has already served as majority leader and has not broken from more conservative values of the caucus, whereas Kilgore has supported Medicaid expansion. 

Holsworth said “it will be interesting to see whether Kilgore’s support for Medicaid expansion, a policy that provided significant benefits to his constituents, is seen as a negative by the majority of Republican members who opposed it.”

Del. Kirk Cox has served as speaker of the House since 2018 and prior to that served as House majority leader since 2010. He has held the House District 66 seat for 29 years, since 1990. 

The Republican Party is meeting to decide who will be the new minority leader in the House and will announce their decision aftward, which is a normal proceeding according to Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

“The question is, does the majority leader become the minority leader or does the caucus move in a different direction,” Farnsworth said.

Cox has announced he will not pursue a leadership position. He held onto his seat in slimmest margin he has ever won by in a hard fought Election Day victory against Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman.

 House District 66 was redistricted in 2018 and now leans Democratic by 32 percentage points, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Cox won with 51.7%, against Bynum-Coleman’s 47% of the vote -- or close to a 1,300 vote margin. The Independent candidate, Linnard Harris Sr., picked up a little over 1% of votes.

Cox and members of the caucus have not responded to multiple requests for comment on minority leadership proceedings, which Farnsworth said was common.

“Republicans on ballots tend to be more reticent in terms of dealing with the media,” he said. “But that reticence is certainly intensified in the age of Trump.”

Farnsworth offered insight into the proceedings. 

Party leaders tend to hold districts they will not lose in an election, Farnsworth said. “If you are representing a vulnerable district, you would be less interested in leadership responsibilities.”

Republicans are increasingly losing ground in urban and suburban districts. Moderate Republicans in these areas are the most likely to lose their seats, according to Farnsworth, and the party is becoming increasingly conservative as they lose ground to Democrats.

  The Republicans took over the House in the late 1990s and have held it since. Republicans and Democrats have grappled over the Senate and there hasn't been consistent Republican control. 

Democrats now hold a 55 to 45 majority over Republicans in the House, and a 21 to 19 majority in the Senate.

The key factor according to Farnsworth, is the consolidation of power in state government, with a Democratic governor leading Virginia. 

“The last time the Democrats controlled the Governor's office and the House and the Senate was 1994, the end of Douglas Wilder's term as governor,” he said. 

Democrats voted Eileen Filler-Corn the speaker of the House four days after the election. Del. Charniele Herring was tapped as majority leader, and Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan Jr. will serve as caucus chairman.

 Filler-Corn is the first female and Jewish speaker of the House and Herring is the first woman and African American to serve as majority leader.

No change in Senate leadership is expected, according to Senate Democrats. Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, will assume the majority leader position currently held by Thomas Norment, R-James City.

Virginians Are Recycling More of Their Trash

By Eric Everington, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia recycled almost half of its trash last year, setting a record despite China’s ban on importing plastic and other solid waste.

The statewide recycling rate in 2018 was 46% — up 3 percentage points from the previous year, according to data released this week by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The data showed that:

  • The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, which includes Richmond and surrounding localities, had the highest recycling rate in the commonwealth — 59%.
  • The Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority, which includes Hampton, Poquoson and Williamsburg and nearby counties, had the lowest rate — 29%.
  • The city of Newport News had the biggest improvement in recycling in recent years. Its rate jumped from 38% in 2016 to 57% last year.

The numbers represent the percentage of municipal solid waste that is sent for recycling. Local governments also get credit for activities such as programs to reduce the amount of trash generated.

Several factors affect an area’s recycling rate. They include population, population density, location of recycling facilities and funding.

By April 30 each year, the local governments and regional planning units that oversee recycling collect their data and submit a report to the Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ reviews the information and then calculates an overall recycling rate for the state.

“DEQ works with businesses and localities and environmental groups to promote environmental awareness through recycling,” said Leslie Beckwith, the agency’s director of financial responsibility and waste management programs.

The statewide recycling rate was 44% in 2015. It dropped to 43% in 2016 and 2017 before jumping to 46% last year.

The increase came despite an unstable market for various types of trash to be recycled — especially China’s decision to stop accepting solid waste.

“China’s revisions in recycling material acceptance is having a big impact on the recycling market,” Beckwith said.

As a result, DEQ has asked localities and planning units to identify any changes or challenges regarding their recycling efforts when they submit their 2019 reports.

One change is that many localities have dropped recycling glass because it is hard to find a market for that product. That is why DEQ is asking Virginians to minimize their use of glass.

“Citizens should try to generate less waste, like purchasing products with the least amount of packaging and those that are readily recyclable, such as aluminum cans vs. glass bottles,” said Anissa Rafeh, the department’s communications coordinator.

Glass can be problematic to recycle for several reasons, said Joe Romuno, director of national accounts for an environmental consulting firm called Great Forest Sustainability Solutions.

“Broken glass can contaminate other recyclables like paper and cardboard, lowering their value,” Romuno said. Moreover, broken glass can be a safety hazard to workers and can damage machines at recycling facilities.

Also, glass must be sorted by color in order to reprocess for recycling. “Glass is difficult to sort when broken, and if broken down too finely, it may become too difficult to reprocess,” Romuno said.

Four localities in Northern Virginia have teamed up to tackle the challenge of glass recycling.

The city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington Prince William have joined forces to collect source-separated glass in purple bins for better recovery. The glass is then crushed at Fairfax County’s Glass Processing Center to produce sand and gravel that can be used in construction and landscaping projects.

DEQ is also keeping an eye on new technologies to improve Virginia’s recycling efforts. For example, the agency was on hand when the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority announced it was deploying 2,000 recycling bins from an Israeli company called UBQ.

The bins are made with a thermoplastic created from household waste that would normally end up in a landfill, including banana peels, chicken bones, plastics and old pizza boxes.

Mail Often Arrives Late in Richmond Area, Data Shows

By Jaclyn Barton, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Rachel Westfall, who lives in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, says her mail service has always been hit or miss. But since April, there have been a lot more misses.

“My personal property tax check apparently never made it to City Hall, even though I mailed it at the beginning of April, two months before the due date,” Westfall said.

Her complaint is a common one in the Richmond area, which has some of the worst mail delivery in the country, according to data from the U.S. Postal Service. Last spring, less than 84% of the region’s first-class mail was delivered on time. Only two service areas in the U.S. had a worse on-time delivery rate.

According to the Postal Service, single-piece first-class mail service is the least expensive and fastest option for mailing items such as postcards, letters and large flat envelopes. Delivery time is measured from the collection box drop point to delivery.

Every quarter, the service posts on its website data showing what percentage of first-class mail arrives on time in each of its service districts.

One measure looks at mail that is supposed to arrive within three to five days. On that metric, the Richmond area has been below the national average since the summer of 2017.

For example, between April and June of this year, 86.5% of the mail nationwide arrived on time, the latest quarterly performance report shows. But for the Richmond area, the figure was 83.8%. Only two service areas in the U.S. — both in New York City — had on-time delivery rates lower than Richmond’s.

The Richmond area’s worst quarter in recent years was October through December of 2018, when less than 66% of the mail that was supposed to be delivered in three to five days arrived on time. That was a difficult quarter throughout the country for the Postal Service: The nationwide on-time delivery rate for that period was just over 72%.

The Postal Service also measures on-time delivery for mail that ought to arrive in two days. On that yardstick, too, the Richmond area is usually below the national average.

Between April and June, for example, about 92% of two-day mail in the Richmond area arrived on time, the Postal Service’s data showed. Nationwide, the figure was about 94%.

The Postal Service’s target is to deliver 96.5% of two-day mail and 95.3% of three- to five-day mail to arrive on time. The service set those targets in 2014 but has never met them.

The Postal Service’s media relations staff did not respond to several requests for comment about the performance data.

Mail delivery depends on several factors. Mistakes during sorting can occur at the post office by machines or clerks. Moreover, mail carriers may have more than 1,000 addresses per route.

On social networks such as Nextdoor.com, many Richmond-area residents have complained about poor mail service.

“We constantly get mail in our box with someone else’s address on it — several times a week. A few months ago, I even got some poor person’s medication delivered to me by mistake. I had to carry it several blocks to the proper recipient,” a resident of Richmond’s Highland Park neighborhood commented on Nextdoor.com.

Another said, “I have missing mail every month. This has been a problem for several years. I have called and wrote the Postal Service with no resolution. This has caused me anxiety.”

Such complaints became so prevalent that U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin of Richmond held a town hall meeting with his constituents about the issue last spring.

“The constituents of the 4th Congressional District deserve reliable and predictable mail delivery. They deserve the best quality service, and right now that is not happening,” McEachin said in a press release in April.

Westfall, a private music teacher in Richmond, said she tried reaching out to her local post office about her missing tax-payment check to City Hall. But she said she was unable to speak with someone who could resolve the issue.

Eventually, Westfall said, she was told to fill out a “missing mail” form on the Postal Service’s website. She said she experienced error messages and technical difficulties on the site and couldn’t find a technical support number to help her.

After resubmitting her request for three weeks, she received a confirmation email that her request had been submitted. Claims remain active for seven days and then are deleted.

Westfall’s lost check appeared at the end of July. She knew the check resurfaced only because she had put a stop payment on the missing check and was notified by her bank that someone had tried to process it.

Westfall said no one from the Postal Service ever contacted her about the missing mail.

Virginia Government Shifts With Democrats Dominating Election Day

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Democrats have taken control of the Virginia General Assembly, flipping both the Senate and House blue.

“Tonight, the ground has shifted in Virginia government,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press release late Tuesday. “The voters have spoken, and they have elected landmark Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.” 

Key House Victories

Democrats grabbed six additional seats, giving them a 55-45 lead in the House.

In House District 94, Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated Republican incumbent David Yancey in a rematch from 2017. Simonds garnered 58% of the votes for the district, while Yancey earned 40%, according to unofficial election results.

In House District 76, Democratic candidate Clint Jenkins defeated Republican incumbent Chris Jones. Jenkins tallied 56% of the vote, while Jones gathered 44%. 

Democrat Martha Mugler won House District 91, an open seat previously held by Republican Gordon Helsel since 2011. Mugler garnered 55% of the vote in the district and Republican Colleen Holcomb won 45% of the vote. 

   In House District 40, Republican incumbent Tim Hugo lost to Democratic challenger Dan Helmer. Helmer accumulated 53% of the vote to Hugo’s 47%.  

In House District 28, Democrat Joshua Cole defeated Republican Paul Milde in an open seat. Cole amassed 52% of the vote, while Milde won 48%. 

Democrat Nancy Guy won House District 83, defeating Republican incumbent Chris Stolle. Guy garnered 49.95% percent of the vote, while Stolle earned 49.87%.

Key Senate Victories

In the Senate, Democrats gained two seats previously held by Republicans. They will now lead the chamber 21-19. 

In Senate District 13, Democratic candidate John Bell defeated Republican candidate Geary Higgins. Bell garnered 55% of the vote in the district, while Higgins gathered 45%.

Democratic challenger Ghazala Hashmi defeated Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant to flip Senate District 10. It was a tight race throughout, but Hashmi garnered 54% of the vote in the District.

Though the Democrats celebrated many wins, they fell short of flipping some competitive districts. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, fought off Democratic challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman, despite redistricting which left House District 66 more Democratic. In a competitive race not called until well after midnight, Republican Siobhan Dunnavant maintained her seat in Senate District 12, in a tight race against Debra Rodman.

The last time Virginia Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governorship was in the mid-1990s. This trifecta could make it easier for the party to pass its agenda.

“Since I took office two years ago, we have made historic progress as a Commonwealth,” Northam said. “Tonight, Virginians made it clear they want us to continue building on that progress.”

Black Children More Likely to Live in ‘Concentrated Poverty’

By Emma Gauthier, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — African American children are more than seven times as likely as white children in Virginia to live in “concentrated poverty” — neighborhoods where at least 30% of the residents are poor, according to census data compiled by a children’s advocacy group.

Growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods is “one of the greatest risks to child development,” say officials at the nonprofit organization Voices for Virginia’s Children.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a report showing that 91,000 children in Virginia live in concentrated poverty. That figure includes 2% of white children in the commonwealth but 4% of Latino children and 15% of black children.

Overall, 5% of Virginia’s children live in concentrated poverty. That is below the national average of 12%. But while concentrated poverty rates have fallen in most states in recent years, Virginia hasn’t seen any improvement, the study said.

“Children deserve to grow up in neighborhoods where they have the opportunity to thrive. This report shows us that current policies in Virginia are not benefitting all children equitably, and informs where we need to focus our efforts,” said Margaret Nimmo Holland, executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children.

“One might think a strong economy would have a positive impact on all families, but we can see from the data that is not the case. Certain groups of children and their families are disproportionately left behind, so we need to target policies that will reach these children specifically.”

According to a news release issued by Voices for Virginia’s Children, children in high-poverty neighborhoods tend to lack access to healthy food and quality medical care, and they often face greater exposure to environmental hazards, such as poor air quality and toxins such as lead. When these children grow up, they are more likely to have lower incomes than children who have moved away from communities of concentrated poverty.

The report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation is titled “Children Living in High Poverty, Low-Opportunity Neighborhoods.” The report is part of a project called KIDS COUNT.

Children in concentrated poverty are a subset of all children living in poverty. In connection with the report, KIDS COUNT released data on the overall poverty rates for children in each state. The data was drawn from the American Community Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Virginia, 28% of African American children and 9% of white children live in poverty, the data showed. For children of all races, the state’s poverty rate is 14%.

Nationwide, 33% of African American children and 11% of white children live in poverty. For children of all races, the national poverty rate is 18%. The rate had been decreasing since 2014 but stalled from 2017 to 2018.

The poverty level is based on income and family size. The poverty threshold for a family of four was $24,858 in 2017, the most recent year in the KIDS COUNT data set.

The states with the highest overall child poverty rates in 2017 were Louisiana (28%) and Mississippi and New Mexico (both 27%). Then came the District of Columbia and West Virginia at 26%.

The states with the highest rates of African American children in poverty were Louisiana (47%) and Mississippi (42%). Then came Ohio at 42% and Alabama, Michigan and Nevada at 41%.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report said it is important to tackle the problem of concentrated poverty. The problem is especially prevalent in urban areas. About 23% of children in cities live in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared with 5% of children in suburban communities.

Getting children out of concentrated poverty pays off.

“Children under age 13 who moved from low-income neighborhoods to more affluent communities had higher incomes as adults compared to peers who remained in impoverished areas,” the report stated. It urged governments to:

  • End housing discrimination against people who have been incarcerated.
  • Support subsidies and other incentives for developers to expand the number of affordable housing units.
  • Provide incentives to large community institutions, such as hospitals and universities, that hire and purchase locally and contract with businesses owned by women and people of color.

Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, said public education also is part of the solution.

“Ensuring that children are in a safe community with access to a high-quality school — these are important goals to help children escape from poverty,” Tegeler said. “The educational disadvantage that is associated with high-poverty neighborhoods is possible to overcome, but very difficult.”

Tegeler said concentrated poverty resulted from “a long history of intentional segregation.” He blamed “municipal fragmentation” and the way land use, schools and taxation were used to separate communities by income.

Nationwide, 13 million children live in poverty, with 8.5 million in concentrated poverty.

“It’s important to recognize that children are only young once, and there’s only a few pressing years we have to really help children realize their potential,” Tegeler said.

Snap Out of It: Political Ads Appearing on Snapchat

 

 

 

By Emma North, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A candidate for sheriff in a rural Virginia county is trying to reach younger voters by advertising on a social media platform popular with their age group — Snapchat.

William Stowell is an independent running for sheriff in Tuesday’s election in Botetourt County, nestled in the mountains in western Virginia. Stowell’s campaign ads on Snapchat feature policies he thinks will appeal especially to younger voters, particularly his views on tobacco laws.

“If I’m elected, if you’re 18 to 20 years old, you can go in and buy cigarettes in this county, and nobody’s going to harass you or anything like that,” Stowell said.

Stowell not only has an unusual media campaign plan but also is an unusual candidate. He is a convicted felon (for a third offense of driving under the influence) whose rights were restored in 2017 by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Stowell said he began using Snapchat after issues with censorship on Instagram and Facebook. He has spent just $33 on Snapchat ads but has enjoyed a big return: about 511 impressions, or views, for every dollar spent.

This election cycle, Stowell is the only candidate running Snapchat ads in Virginia. However, political organizations, advocacy groups and marketing firms are advertising on the platform, trying to inform and/or influence Virginia voters.

According to the Snapchat Political Ads Library, such advertisements have received more than 7 million impressions in Virginia this year.

Snapchat began reporting its political ad history in September. The company’s website offers 2018 and 2019 political ad campaign data including money spent, impressions and start dates.

According to the website, “Snapchat empowers self-expression, including about politics. But political advertising that appears on Snapchat has to be transparent, lawful, and right for our users.”

Political ads on social media have triggered intense debate in recent weeks. It was triggered by Facebook‘s decision not to fact-check or remove political ads containing misinformation. On Wednesday, Twitter announced that it would ban all advertisements about political candidates, elections and controversial policy issues.

Snapchat’s policy is to review political ads on a case-by-case basis. The company said it would not allow “content that is misleading, deceptive, impersonates any person or entity, or otherwise misrepresents your affiliation with a person or entity.”

“We encourage political advertisers to be positive. But we don’t categorically ban ‘attack’ ads; expressing disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate or party is generally permissible if it meets our other guidelines,” the policy states. “That said, political ads must not include attacks relating to a candidate’s personal life.”

So far this year, Snapchat has carried about 1,200 political ads in the U.S., including 62 for Virginia political campaigns. Many of those campaigns started in September and closed immediately after the voter registration deadline on Oct. 15.

Snapchat reported that more than $30,000 was spent on political ads in Virginia in 2019. The largest spender is AcraMax Publishing Inc., which is based in Newport News and publishes news and feature stories online and in newsletters. AcraMax has spent almost $16,000 this year to share political ads on Snapchat.

Other large political ad spenders include Targeted Victory LLC.ACRONYMFP1 Strategies and Authentic Campaigns Inc. In addition, Donald J. Trump for President and the Trump MAGA Committee have purchased ads from a company called Realtime Media that has a P.O. Box in Arlington.

“ACRONYM is putting our money where our mouth is, literally, by being one of the only outside progressive groups advertising on Snapchat, and one of the only outside groups running digital ads supporting the impeachment inquiry,” said Tatenda Musapatike, senior director of campaigns for the organization, which was created after the 2016 presidential election.

In Virginia, ACRONYM has launched a voter registration and mobilization program called People’s Power Grab.

“To get young voters and voters of color registered and engaged in the run-up to the 2019 elections, People’s Power Grab is running Snapchat ads because they know that those two groups are spending a significant amount of their time on the platform,” Musapatike said.

Musapatike said her group has been able to track the success of the People’s Power Grab ad campaign by monitoring impressions and click-through rates.

“The higher those two stats are, the more confidence we have that our campaign is going to be successful in encouraging young adults in Virginia to vote this year,” Musapatike said.

According to the Snapchat Political Ads Library, ACRONYM ads have received about 383,000 impressions so far this year.

In terms of reaching an audience, Snapchat advertisements can range widely. AcraMax saw 275 impressions per dollar spent — but the Southern Environmental Law Center has done much better. The SELC spent $509 on Snapchat ads and had about 505 impressions for every dollar spent.

Claudine Ebeid McElwain, the program communications manager for the SELC, said Snapchat is one of many channels the center uses to engage Virginians on environmental issues like offshore drilling and threats to clean water. The SELC ads ran during the late spring and early summer.

Virginia College Students Weigh in Before Election Day

Capital News Service, By Emma North, with contributing writers

RICHMOND -- All 140 seats of the Virginia legislature are up for election on Tuesday and college students across the state have been busy registering voters, hosting town halls and canvassing for candidates. 

"College students are more likely to vote in 2019 than any other Virginia midterm because of the aggressive voter registration efforts at college campuses around the state this fall,” Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said in an email.

Many eyes are on the student vote this election. According to the United States Census Bureau, the largest percentage point increase in voter turnout for any age group in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections was among 18- to 29-year-olds, when voter turnout spiked from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018.

Students at four-year institutions in Virginia make up around 5% of Virginia’s voting age population, according to an analysis of data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. In certain key districts students make up a larger portion of the voting population. House District 12 covers part of the Virginia Tech campus and the entire Radford University campus. Radford students make up 19% of the district. 

"The impact of increased student voting also may shape races in districts without colleges and universities as some students choose to register to vote based on where they grew up, and others choose to register where they are going to school," Farnsworth said.

Grant Fox, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Democratic campaigns have worked closely with the party’s groups in university districts.

“Often the best voter registration and canvassing efforts on college campuses are run by students, and Democratic campaigns have been working with student organizers to register and mobilize young voters effectively," Fox said.

John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, said Republicans always try for the student vote. 

“Numerous campaigns have had internship programs and contacts with College Republican chapters,” Findlay said. 

CNS reporters compiled information about student voter engagement and policy concerns from 14 Virginia college campuses with enrollment over 4,500 people. Political groups and campaign campus organizers were contacted.

Several themes echoed across campuses: concerns about climate change, varying views on gun control and a strong push to register as many students as possible. 

Based on a CNS analysis of competitive races, redistricting changes and recent voting trends on Virginia Public Access Project, nine of these college campuses fall into competitive race districts. Candidates in some of these districts also weigh in on how they have focused on gaining student support. 

Findlay said student turnout could “definitely” affect House Districts 85, 93, 91 and 12 and Senate Districts 6 and 7. He also said turnout could affect SD 10 and HD 28, “although most students live outside those districts.”

Christopher Newport University

Senate District 1: Democratic incumbent Monty Mason, running unopposed

House of Delegates District 94: Republican incumbent David Yancey; Democrat Shelly Simonds; Libertarian Michael Bartley (competitive)

The rematch between incumbent Yancey and Simonds could be impacted by higher student voter turnout. In 2017, the seat was decided by a tiebreaker determined by a random drawing from a ceramic bowl. The undergraduate enrollment is almost 4,900. 

Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at CNU, said over email that student turnout can have an important impact on the outcome of elections big and small. She said the 18- to 24-year-old age group votes in exceedingly small numbers, as does the age cohort above them.

“This causes the population pyramid and the voting population pyramid to be inversed - and although younger Americans should make up the majority of voters they make up a small minority,” Bitecofer said. She added that even a small increase in turnout among college students can “have a profound impact.”

According to Bitecofer, a school the size of Virginia Commonwealth University can exert “great influence on the outcomes of these off off year elections which have low turnout overall.”

The challenge is a little harder for CNU because of the size of its student body, she said. “I think CNU is fairly reflective of other student bodies in that they care about issues like student loans and climate change,” Bitecofer said.

George Mason University

SD 34: Democratic incumbent Sen. Chap Petersen, running unopposed

HD 37: Democratic incumbent Del. David Bulova, running unopposed

There are over 26,000 undergraduate students at the university. The student-run George Mason Democrats organization provides voting education, hosts campus political events and canvasses dorm to dorm and house to house for get-out-the-vote efforts. Group member Erica Kelly expects a high voter turnout this off-election year. 

“Ever since we got our campus precinct, our numbers have gone up and up,” Kelly said. 

Registered GMU students can cast their ballot at the on-campus precinct in Murten Hall. The university registered 3,700 students to vote, according to Kelly. She expects around 2,000 will cast a ballot. George Mason Democrats will drive students to polling places on Election Day. They also helped register students for absentee voting. Fifty-three students voted absentee last year, Kelly said, but doesn’t have the numbers for this year. 

The GMU College Republicans group is also visible on campus. The group has thrown efforts into phone banking and canvassing for local races in Northern Virginia ahead of the election, since both House and Senate candidates are incumbents running unopposed.

James Madison University

SD 26: Republican incumbent Mark Obenshain; Democrat April Moore

HD 26: Republican incumbent Tony Wilt; Democrat Brent Finnegan

JMU has more than 19,000 undergraduate students. Both House and Senate districts skew Republican, though HD 26 leans slightly more Democratic after redistricting.

Dukes Vote, a student-led initiative supported by JMU’s Center for Civic Engagement, is leading the school’s get-out-the-vote efforts. 

Primarily focused on education and engagement, Dukes Vote said it has visited over 70 classes this fall to educate students about the voting process and offer voter registration. 

“We have a traveling candidate town hall,” said Carah Ong Whaley, associate director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “We bring the candidates from all sides of the aisle to campus and they go to three different residence halls in one night to engage with students directly.”

Environmental issues weigh the heaviest in the minds of students, said Reilly Flynn, a sophomore studying English at JMU and political director for the JMU College Democrats. 

“The climate crisis is very real and will be catastrophic,” Flynn said.

JMU College Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.

Liberty University

SD 23: Republican incumbent Stephen Newman, running unopposed

HD 23: Democrat David Zilles; Republican Wendell Walker

With an undergraduate enrollment of 45,935, Liberty University has a College Republicans group and a College Libertarians group. The university is a Christian academic community. Its founder, Jerry Falwell, endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and Ted Cruz announced his presidential campaign at Liberty, in 2015.

College Libertarians President Aaron Sobczak said that in previous years he had seen get-out-the-vote efforts from the school but nothing this year. He cited a pro-life stance on abortion and gun rights as the most important issues to students, but College Republicans Chairman Nathan Hines said the biggest issue for his group was convincing students to vote. 

"It’s something we’ve always struggled with, especially with this generation being a little more liberal," Hines said. "We just keep informing our students and our members of the issues at hand and the importance of getting involved."

University of Mary Washington 

SD 17: Republican incumbent Bryce Reeves; Democrat Amy Laufer.

HD 28: Democrat Joshua Cole; Republican Paul Milde III (competitive)

The total enrollment at the university is over 4,700. District 28, which encompasses parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg City (including UMW campus), is home to a particularly competitive race this election season between Democrat Cole and Republican Milde.

Farnsworth said most of the university’s students are keeping a close watch on the Cole-Milde race. 

“District 28 was home to one of the closest elections in the Commonwealth two years ago, and an influx of student voters may end up being decisive in that contest, settled in 2017 by less than 100 votes out of more than 23,000 cast,” Farnsworth said. “The vast majority of Mary Washington students who have registered in Fredericksburg as city residents will be voting in the Milde-Cole race.”

Get-out-the-vote efforts on Mary Washington’s campus have been particularly robust this year with registration drives helping to get more students signed up or aware of how to fill out an absentee ballot, he added.

“Students have organized ride-shares to take students to the polls in Fredericksburg city, and that will also help boost student turnout,” Farnsworth said.

Norfolk State University

SD 5: Democratic incumbent Lionell Spruill running unopposed

HD 89: Democratic incumbent Jerrauld Jones running unopposed

Over 5,000 students are enrolled at NSU, a historically black college. Old Dominion University, located a few miles away, shares the same House District. 

NSU is hosting actress Kerry Washington on Nov. 3 to discuss voting, activism and democracy. Norfolk State Young Democrats has also been campaigning for the competitive race in HD 81 between Republican incumbent Del. Barry Knight and Democratic challenger Lenard Myers, a CNU graduate. 

The group also took over the university’s Instagram account on National Voter Registration Day, to help pump student voter registration. The university’s College Republicans group has not been active on their Facebook page since 2013 and no Republican group is listed on the university website.

Old Dominion University

SD 6: Democratic incumbent Lynwood Lewis; Republican Elizabeth Lankford (competitive)

HD 89: Democratic incumbent Jerrauld Jones, running unopposed

The undergraduate enrollment at ODU is 19,372. Sydney Johnson, president of the ODU Democrats, said that for the past two weeks students canvassed across the campus to emphasize the importance of students voting, especially given the competitive Senate race between Lewis and Lankford.

“This year, we have a lot of students canvassing,” Johnson said. “We do our best to get everybody active. Everybody knows what their polling location is. We remind people to vote.”

According to Johnson, some of the key issues that matter to students are student debt, immigration and police brutality. Johnson said she feels frustrated when she hears students, especially African Americans, ask her why they should vote.

“You’re a black American and it matters,” Johnson said.

ODU Democrats also made sure that students who aren’t native to Norfolk register for absentee ballots.

“There’s a lot of students who do an absentee ballot,” Johnson said. “In fact, I know two of my best friends are voting absentee.”

Radford University 

SD 38: Republican incumbent A. Benton Chafin; Independent George McCall III

HD 12: Democratic incumbent Chris Hurst; Republican T. Forrest Hite (competitive)

Hurst is getting out the vote to Radford University's almost 8,000 undergraduate students and has registered around 1,000 students to vote between Radford and Virginia Tech universities, according to Geoffrey Preudhomme, former president of the Radford University Young Democrats. 

Hurst ran an effective campaign, reaching young voters at Virginia Tech and Radford. “He unlocked the student vote,” Preudhomme said. “That's the only reason he won was because of the surplus [of votes] from Radford and Virginia Tech put him over the edge.”

Radford University Young Democrats lobbied to move a polling location closer to campus and will give rides to the polls, Preudhomme said. Students are concerned with student debt, climate change, marijuana legalization, gun violence, and LGBTQ, racial and gender equality.

College Republicans at Radford University said they haven’t had as much traction, according to their president, Jeff Geisinger. 

“It's definitely been a struggle out here. So we haven't had the manpower to really participate in any door knocking or any registration, or anything for that matter,” Geisinger said. “We just have been trying to get people interested.”

According to Geisinger, the campus is very liberal. Conservative values such as the ability to openly carry firearms without government involvement, limited taxation and free market capitalism do not resonate with the student body, and Republicans on campus may not speak up, he said.

Regent University

SD 7: Democrat Del. Cheryl Turpin and Republican candidate Jen Kiggans (competitive)

HD 85: Democrat Alex Askew; Republican Rocky Holcomb (competitive)

Regent has an undergraduate enrollment of 4,646. Holcomb hopes to get his House seat back after losing it to Turpin in 2017. And Turpin hopes to secure the open Senate seat in District 7, which has voted blue since the 2016 presidential election when voters were split between Trump and Hillary Clinton. At Regent, student education is offered from a Christian perspective. According to Pew Research, in the 2018 midterms, most white evangelical Christians continued to support Republican candidates. The university provides voting registration information to students, along with the message: “Every vote counts!” Regent states on its website that it “neither supports nor opposes any candidate for public office.”

There is a Federalist Society on campus that hosts discussions surrounding national policy issues. The organization did not return a request for comment by time of publication. 

Findlay agreed that a strong student voter turnout from Regent could help Republican candidates and said it “could definitely help both SD 7 and HD 85.”

Virginia Commonwealth University 

SD 9: Democratic incumbent Jennifer McClellan; Libertarian Mark Lewis

SD 10: Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant; Democrat Ghazala Hashmi (competitive)

HD 68: Democratic incumbent Dawn Adams; Republican Garrison Coward

HD 71: Democratic incumbent Jeff Bourne; Libertarian Pete Wells

VCU has an undergraduate student enrollment of 24,058 according to U.S. News. VCU Votes Coalition will provide assistance to college students on Election Day. The coalition is formed by students and faculty who aim to promote voter engagement on campus. There is a polling location on campus at the Student Commons.

"We will be focused on helping students with their polling location, providing nonpartisan sample ballots and voting guides, and making sure they get to the polls,” said Madeline Doane, student leader of the program. 

The coalition’s get-out-the-votes effort began months ago. VCU Votes said it has helped over 2,500 students register during the fall semester.

Doane said VCU Votes visited over 40 classes typically taken by freshmen to provide students with nonpartisan information about the elections. The coalition registered 100 new voters through this classroom initiative.

VCU Votes also organized forums and roundtables with local candidates to inform students, including a forum with Hashmi on Oct. 25.

The VCU Young Democrats worked to engage students through weekly meetings where they discussed the most pressing issues to the members and the general community, according to Kaylin Cecchini, vice president of the group.

“We’ve seen this has been successful; working jointly with other organizations, candidates, and officials we’ve seen a huge increase in student voter enthusiasm,” Cecchini said. “Voting is essential to having your voice heard and represented in government, so we work very hard to get as many students active in the political process as we possibly can.”

College Republicans of VCU could not respond to questions regarding student engagement and preparation for Election Day but offered the following comment through social media: “We value everyone's opinion and believe their voice should be heard in every election.” 

Sturtevant did not return a request for comment. The Young Republican Federation of Virginia also did not respond.

Virginia State University 

SD 16: Democrat Joseph Morrissey; Independent Waylin Ross 

HD 66: Republican incumbent Kirk Cox; Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman (competitive)

The combined student population at this historically black college is approximately 4,600, according to the university. NextGen America has worked on the VSU campus since September, encouraging voter registration and “talking to students about the issues they care about,” Wafa May Elamin, NextGen Virginia organizer said.

On National Voter Registration Day, NextGen partnered with the Student Liaison Outreach Team, according to Elamin. The organization has also canvassed neighborhoods. Bynum-Coleman, Democratic candidate for HD 66, also joined the team. 

Elamin said they have information tables at the student center and maintain visibility on campus to connect with students. 

A big concern from students on campus is racial equity, according to Elamin. Other important issues include access to health care, being a part of low-income communities, and receiving quality education at their university.

“Those are a lot of the conversations that we’re having and they’re still continuing,” Elamin said.

 The polling place for students is at Ettrick Elementary School, which is a “20-minute walk off campus,” according to Elamin. NextGen will shuttle students to the polling place and back to campus every 30 minutes.

In office since 1989, Cox is in a competitive race against Bynum-Coleman. Fundraising in 2019 was neck-and-neck, with Bynum-Coleman raising over $1.4 million and Cox raising over $1.3 million. Redistricting shifted by 32 percentage points in favor of Democrats, according to VPAP. Morrissey is already considered the projected winner of SD 16, though he faces Independent Waylin Ross on the ballot. 

Democratic leadership, including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, have recently supported Morrissey.

Virginia Tech

SD 21: Democratic incumbent John Edwards; Independent Steve Nelson

HD 7: Republican incumbent Larry Rush; Democrat Rhonda Seltz

HD 12: Democratic incumbent Chris Hurst; T. Forrest Hite (competitive)

The undergraduate enrollment is almost 28,000. Virginia Tech’s campus is home to multiple political organizations including the Young Democrats, College Republicans, Green Party and Young Americans for Liberty.

The Young Democrats at Virginia Tech are usually “the ones that are typically standing outside and yelling at people to make sure people are registered,” said Virginia Tech political science student Annika Klingen. 

The College Republicans at Virginia Tech host get-out-the-vote call nights and attend town hall meetings. 

Klingen mentioned a couple important issues to students. 

“Climate change is the No. 1 biggest one on this campus,” she said. 

She also said that in the aftermath of protests over Virginia Tech’s handling of a Title IX case in April that women’s issues have become a prevalent topic on campus as well. 

Most on-campus students vote at Squires Student Center, while the military segment of the student population, the Corps of Cadets, and off-campus students vote at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church.

Hurst has campus organizers at Virginia Tech to help register voters and knock on doors. According to his campaign manager, Michelle Moffit, Hurst represents more students than anyone in the Virginia General Assembly. Moffit said they are “hyper-aware” of the student vote and that it is crucial to their district. 

Hurst’s opponent, Forrest Hite, did not respond to a request for comment.

College of William & Mary 

SD 1: Democratic incumbent T. Monty Mason, running unopposed

HD 93: Democratic incumbent Michael Mullin; Republican Heather Cordasco (competitive)

The college has an undergraduate enrollment of 6,377. Due to redistricting, the HD 93 race between Mullin and Cordasco is more competitive than in previous election cycles. Both the William and Mary Young Democrats and College Republicans have engaged in outreach events throughout campus.

The College Republicans have hosted monthly pizza socials and held meetings with candidates from nearby House districts. Per their Facebook page, the group has met with 91st District candidate Colleen Holcomb and 96th District candidate Amanda Batten this semester.

The Young Democrats recently held a tailgate event, which was attended by McAuliffe, Mason and Mullin. The group canvassed on weekends throughout the semester.

Mullin said that student outreach has been a major focus of his campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort.

“Lots of the issues we vote on in the General Assembly impact students’ lives,” Mullin said. “With so many important issues on the ballot, we feel confident they’ll turn out and vote next Tuesday.”

Mullin’s opponent, Cordasco, did not respond to a request for comment.

University of Virginia

SD 25: Democratic incumbent Creigh Deeds; Independent Elliot Harding

HD 57: Democrat Sally Hudson, running unopposed

There are 16,777 undergraduate students and 7,862 graduate students at U.Va, for a total of 24,639 on the grounds, according to the university. Both the University Democrats at UVA and College Republicans at UVA have been active in outreach to the student body. Both groups have also been vocal about the political impact of holding exams on Election Day, according to the university paper.

Though there is no competitive race in the district, groups have canvassed for other districts and emphasized the importance of voting. 

The College Republicans recently canvassed for Cox, Kiggans and Stolle. 

Along with stressing the importance of voter turnout, College Democrats said on Facebook that flipping the House and Senate blue will give Democrats “the ability to make real tangible change in Richmond and push for policy that we are passionate about, such as gun control, the ERA and LGBTQ rights, to name a couple things.”

Why is this election different?

This is the first state legislative election since the election of Trump, who lost Virginia to Clinton, and the beginning of increased Democratic resistance movements at all levels of government. 

“He has dominated the news cycle nearly every day of his presidency, and that intense media and public focus on politics has more people than ever paying attention to his actions,” Farnsworth said. 

This election, 85 of the 140 seats are contested by a major party compared to 49 seats contested by a major party in 2015. 

Historic fundraising totals also reflect the momentum Democrats are trying to gain in the legislature. House and Senate Democrats raised a combined $62 million during the current election cycle (2016-2019) while Republicans raised just shy of $48 million, according to VPAP. And Democrats have spent almost $24 million more to secure the House, compared to 2015.

Farnsworth said this year’s election is pivotal because Republicans hold a narrow majority in both chambers of the legislature. Republicans lead in the House 51-48, with one seat vacant. They lead in the Senate 20-19, with one seat vacant.

Taking a wider view, Democrats haven’t held both the General Assembly and the executive branch in a generation, according to political analyst  Bob Holsworth. Democrats last held the majority in the House in 1999 and Democrats had control of the Senate in 2007, but also briefly controlled the Senate after the 2013 elections and following special elections with a 20-20 split, Holsworth explained. Ralph Northam was lieutenant governor at the time, but control didn’t last after a Democratic senator resigned and they lost the special election, he said.

Republicans have not lost hope for holding the majority despite the gap in fundraising. 

“Money doesn't vote, the constituents do, and our polls show us that I am still ahead," said Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, in a previous CNS interview.

The National Rifle Association said they aren’t concerned by the cash injection on the other side of the gun lobby from Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown donated almost $1.5 million to Democrats this year, compared to the NRA’s $350,269 to Republicans. 

“I’ve been at this for nearly 30 years and I’ve seen time and again our voters swing key elections,” said Glen Caroline, head of the NRA’s Grassroots Programs and Campaign Field Operations Division, in a previous CNS interview. “I am aware of all the money our opponents are spending, but I’m not intimidated.”

The party with the majority will yield influence when the General Assembly takes up redistricting in 2021. Virginia usually redistricts every 10 years around the Census but in 2018, 25 House Districts in the central and southeastern part of the state were redistricted following a court order.

Students around Virginia have made it clear they plan to show up on Election Day.

“Young people tell pollsters they are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican by about a 60-40 margin, an engaged student population is more likely to help Democratic candidates,” Farnsworth said.

Election Day is Tuesday, and the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The newly elected legislators will assume office the second Wednesday in January following the election.

CNS staff Aliviah Jones, Christopher Brown, Imani Thaniel, Jason Boleman, Jeffrey Raines, Jimmy O’Keefe, Mario Sequeira Quesada, Morgan Edwards, Rodney Robinson, and Susan Shibut contributed to this report.

2018 Report Found Nearly 7,000 Absentee Ballots Mailed Too Late

By Aliviah Jones, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia voters have already returned more absentee ballots in 2019 than in the November 2015 election -- the last time all 140 seats in the General Assembly were up for reelection. In the last few elections there has been an uptick in absentee ballots, but not all returned ballots are counted.

A Virginia Department of Elections 2018 post-election report found that 6,771 absentee votes did not count in the 2018 election because they were returned to the registrar's office after Election Day. Eleven were returned late in person and 6,760 were mailed late.

The VDE lists 2018 official absentee ballot counts as 287,763.

The VDE said in the same report that they would “work with general registrars in an attempt to determine if there are patterns that exist preventing the timely return of ballots.”

Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, or Nov. 5, in order to count. The only exception, according to Andrea Gaines, VDE director of community relations and compliance support, is if voters are overseas or in the military.

The return date is listed on the absentee ballot application, but not the ballot itself, according to Gaines.
“There is no return date on the ballot itself,” she said. “When a voter receives an absentee ballot, they also receive instructions on how to properly cast that ballot in a manner in which it will be counted.” 

When asked how VDE worked with registrars to determine patterns preventing the timely return of ballots, per the 2018 report, Gaines said: "Our mission is to provide voters with the information and resources necessary to successfully cast their votes."

Zareen Farhad, a 19-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she is voting absentee this upcoming election because she can’t make it back to Northern Virginia. Farhad said she has voted absentee three times and that the instructions on the ballot are sufficient, but that the VDE website could clarify when the ballot is due.

“I think that the Virginia elections website could be a bit more clear about exactly how to vote absentee and when early in-person voting is,” Farhad said.

Grant Fox, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the organization recently hired a full-time voter protection director to make sure every vote counts and voters are aware of their rights. 

Republican and Democratic candidates have highlighted the option to vote absentee.
John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia said “we’re encouraged by the absentee numbers.” 

As of Monday, the unofficial return count for absentee ballots is 73,903, out of 123,459 absentee ballot applications, according to VDE. 

"Using absentee voting is a good indicator of potential turnout, and if you look at previous elections and compare it to today there has been an increase in this election and overall," said VDE commissioner Christopher Piper, in a previous CNS interview.

Stakes are high with all 140 legislative seats up for grabs for this first time since 2015, but also since Donald Trump was elected president. Several Senate districts held by Republicans have leaned blue in recent elections since then, and voters pushed Democrats into the House en masse in 2017. Republicans currently hold a slim majority in both chambers of the legislature.

According to an analysis posted by the Virginia Public Access Project, 54 House districts have already surpassed the number of absentee ballots returned in 2015. Of those, 22 are also key House races determined by a CNS analysis of competitive races, redistricting changes and recent voting trends on Virginia Public Access Project. The top five House districts that have seen over twice the number of return absentee ballots compared to 2015 are:

  • HD 76 – Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, facing Democratic challenger Clinton Jenkins.
  • HD 78 – Del. Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, running unopposed.
  • HD 77 – Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, running unopposed.
  • HD 9 – Democrat Martha Mulger and Republican Colleen Holcomb are running for an open seat in a Republican-held district where Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
  • HD 66 – Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights faces challengers Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman and Independent Linnard Harris Sr. 

Twenty-one Senate districts have also had a higher return in absentee ballots than in 2015. Three of the key senate races identified by CNS have had higher returns this year than 2015. 

Residents who wish to vote absentee must apply for a mailed absentee ballot by 5 p.m. Tuesday through the VDE online citizens portal or their local voter registration office. The deadline to return absentee ballots to registration officers is Election Day at 7 p.m.

Virginia DMV Increases Staffing As Real ID Deadline Approaches

By Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service

RICHMOND --  After noticing his driver’s license was set to expire, Loudoun County resident John Akins paid a visit to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Friday. This time he’ll obtain a Real ID-compliant driver’s license — a new requirement for many Americans. 

Virginians have until Oct. 1, 2020 to acquire a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or ID if they would like to travel by plane or access certain federal facilities. As the deadline approaches, the Virginia DMV has increased staffing at customer service centers .

“We’ve had more than 700,000 Virginians already receive a Real ID,” said Matthew Butner, a spokesman for the Virginia DMV. “The main driver I think is the air travel piece.” 

It is optional to acquire a Real ID, but federal agencies will not be able to accept non-Real ID licenses or IDs after next year’s deadline. Access to Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints will require either a Real ID or a passport for domestic and international flights. Some military bases already require a Real ID for access.

The Real ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, establishes minimum security standards for state-issued IDs, such as driver’s licenses. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the security standards required for the Real ID itself and the process of obtaining it include: “Information and security features that must be incorporated into each card; application information to establish the identity and immigration status of an applicant before a card can be issued; and physical security standards 

for facilities where driver's licenses and applicable identification cards are produced.”

Akins, a computer engineer, said he knew Real ID is intended to provide an increased level of security when traveling, but he noted that the look of his new driver’s license and the process for obtaining it wasn’t drastically different than the previous procedure.

“This process wasn't unlike any other time I've renewed my license, although obtaining a Real ID-compliant license required an in-person visit to the DMV,” Akins said. “I was surprised to see that the only discernible difference between my original driver's license and the Real ID license was a small solid black circle with a star in the center, in the upper right corner of the license.”

To meet demand for the new IDs, DMV has increased staffing at service centers. The organization also has expanded its mobile outreach program, which travels throughout the state providing Real IDs.

“We also have added DMV Connect teams, which are doing a ton of work for us,” Butner said. “These are two-to-three person teams, they have a laptop, a camera, and a signature pad and they can go out and do any DMV transaction other than testing and vital records.”

DMV Connect teams typically go to places that lack easy access to DMV customer service centers, such as rural areas. Recently, teams have been working in densely populated areas where customer service centers are already busy. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the state has been issuing Real IDs at all Virginia Department of Corrections facilities to formerly incarcerated people.

“We are fully committed to ensuring returning citizens have access to the support they need to successfully reintegrate into society,” Northam said in a press release. “Having identification that is Real ID-compliant will be a valuable tool in reducing recidivism and helping them start out on a positive path upon release.”

Butner encourages Virginians who still need to obtain a Real ID to do it sooner than later. 

“We are seeing increased wait times, and that's just simply due to the volume of customers that are taking advantage of Real ID,” he said. “It's only going to get more crowded as we head towards Oct. 1, 2020 … don’t wait until the last minute.” 

Obtaining a Real ID requires the following: 

  • One proof of identity and legal presence

  • Two proofs of Virginia residency

  • One proof of social security number

  • Current driver’s license, if seeking to obtain a Virginia driver’s license for the first time.

  • If proof documents contain different names (for example, if the last name on a birth certificate is different than the name on a payroll check stub), it's necessary to supply documents showing proof of the name change, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or a court order.

As Election Nears, Democrats Haul in the Cash -- Republicans Aren’t Daunted

 

By M. Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- In competitive General Assembly races, a majority of Democratic challengers and incumbents are outraising their opponents and hoping dollars convert to voters on Election Day.

Stakes are high with all 140 General Assembly seats up for re-election on Nov. 5 and a push to flip both chambers to a Democratic majority. A win for Democrats would mean the party  leads both the executive and legislative branches and could be better positioned to pass legislative agendas. 

Democrats raised $13.7 million total to Republicans $8.1 million total in five key Senate races and 26 in the House of Delegates determined by a CNS analysis of competitive races, redistricting changes and recent voting trends on Virginia Public Access Project.

In competitive House races, six Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbents in the past three months, based on new data released by VPAP. Only three Republican incumbents held a fundraising edge over Democratic challengers -- Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, and Del. Christopher Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Freitas did not register in time to have his name on the ballot, but pledged in August to mount a write-in campaign that could translate to a win in the Culpeper Republican stronghold.

Democratic challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman outraised Speaker of the House Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, by over $200,000 during the same period. Independent candidate Linnard Harris Sr. raised $2,167.

On the other side, with 11 Democratic incumbents seeking reelection, only two Republican challengers outraised their contenders. Ian Lovejoy is vying for Democratic Del. Lee Carter’s House District 50 seat. Lovejoy outraised Carter by over $70,000. Challenger H. Otto Wachsmann Jr. outraised Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, in the race for the seat of House District 75.

Carter said he wasn’t surprised, or unsettled, by his opponent’s cash advantage, "given the fact that Virginia has no limits on corporate contributions.” 

“In fact, I've been continually surprised by how weak his fundraising has been compared to other Republicans in the area, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of his money ... comes from the Republican Party or other Republican campaigns,” Carter said. “I've never taken a single dime from for-profit corporations or industry interest groups, and I never will.  That grassroots support is certainly reflected in our conversations with voters, and I'm very confident that I'll be able to win despite being outspent, just like I did in 2017."

A U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a redistricting map that favored Democrats and also left six Republicans in Democratic-leaning districts. Some Republican strongholds also began to fade blue when Donald Trump ran against Hillary Clinton, and in recent House and U.S. Senate elections.

There are five battleground races in the Senate, based on VPAP data. In Districts 10 and 12, Democratic challengers have outraised Republican incumbents.

 

Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, raised over $1.4 million in the last two filing periods. She outraised her opponent, incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, whose cash haul was $694,844 in the same period. The two candidates were the first to spend over $1 million in media ad-buys. District 10 challenger Ghazala Hashmi outraised first-term incumbent Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, by $487,951.

Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, the only Democratic incumbent in this group, holds an advantage of nearly $20,000 over his Republican challenger Elizabeth Lankford.

Republican Jen Kiggans and Democrat Cheryl Turpin are vying for the seat vacated by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. Turpin raised over $890,000 and Kiggans brought in just over $600,000.

Democratic candidates in these competitive Senate races accumulated just over $4.1 million in three months, compared to the $2.1 million raised by Republican candidates, according to campaign finance reports collected by VPAP.

Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, said the party has faced similar situations before. 

“Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump ... and yet Donald Trump was able to prevail,” he said. Ryer said the candidates’ message during an election is more important than money. “Every indication that we have is that most of the races are very close and that both State Senate and State House could go either way.”

Democrats see the uptick in fundraising as proof of the momentum they are gaining in Virginia. The party has also had a higher number of candidates run in the past two elections -- more than double the number in 2015.

“In 2017 Virginia really started a ‘blue wave,’ following Trump’s election,” said Kathryn Gilley, director of communications for the Virginia House Democrats. Gilley believes out-of-state money and interest is important for the future of Virginia. “People see that there is a possibility of flipping the chambers this year,” she said.

Across the state, Democrats have raised large amounts of cash in the past three months, even in districts that lean heavily Republican and don’t offer great odds of victory, in part due to a flood of donations Gilley referenced. But there are opportunities based on climbing voter turnout in off-year elections; heightened by the increasing popularity of absentee ballots. Still, the last time all seats were up for grabs in 2015, only 29% of registered voters turned up. 

“There is greater enthusiasm, right now, among Democratic-inclined voters than Republican-inclined voters,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. “The candidates that are better funded at this point have a better chance in using that money to turn out voters on election day.”

Kidd said out-of-state donations represent the attention these elections have around the country. “People are looking at Virginia as a bellwether to see where voters are and then look forward to next year in the presidential race,” he said.

Key races are identified in this story from VPAP’s competitive index of House and Senate races and also include districts that lean Democratic after House redistricting. Races with an Independent candidate were not included.

‘No pedestals, no weapons, no horses,’ -- Women’s Monument Unveiled on Capitol Square

By Susan Shibut, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Hundreds watched as the first seven statues of “Voices from the Garden: The Virginia Women’s Monument” were unveiled on the Capitol grounds this morning, on Indigenous Peoples Day. 

The monument is the nation’s first created to showcase remarkable women of Virginia.

Mary Margaret Whipple, vice chair of the Women’s Monument Commission, said the monument embodies the goals of the commission to honor real women in a way that is not mythic or symbolic. The Virginia General Assembly established the commission to determine and recommend an appropriate women’s monument for Capitol Square in 2010. 

“These women rose to the occasion and made significant achievements,” Whipple said. “They were from all walks of life. From different times and places. They were famous and obscure. Real women. Even imperfect women. Who have shaped the history of this commonwealth.” 

Clerk of the Senate Susan Clarke Schaar spoke about the decade-long process for the design and realization of the monument. She worked with professors and historians to design the structure. 

“No pedestals, no weapons, no horses,” Schaar said. “They wanted it to be approachable. They wanted it to be warm and welcoming. And they wanted to convey a sense of consensus building. And they wanted young women and young men to know that they could do anything they wanted to do with their lives.”

Gov. Ralph Northam said the monument is long overdue. 

“For far too long we have overlooked the transformative contributions of women and other underrepresented groups,” said Northam. “Until recently that has been the case on Capitol Square as well.”

Capitol Square is also home to the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, opened in 2008, and “Mantle,” a monument dedicated to Virginia’s Indian tribes in 2018. 

Artist Kehinde Wiley last month in Times Square unveiled “Rumors of War,” a statue of a young African American man on a horse in a pose modeled after Confederate monuments. The statue will be permanently moved to the entrance of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Arthur Ashe Boulevard in December.

2019 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America. It also marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in Virginia. 

Sen. Ryan McDougle, a Republican running for reelection in the 4th District, brought his daughter Reagan on stage with him. He said the monument was about inspiring the accomplishments of women yet to come. 

“It’s about Reagan, and all the girls here today, and all the girls that will come; whether they have those role models in their families or not, they will be able to see that women that have come before them have achieved tremendous things,” McDougle said.

When the monument is completed it will feature a dozen bronze statues on a granite plaza and an etched glass Wall of Honor inscribed with 230 names of notable Virginian women and room for more. For a future honoree to qualify for the wall, she must be a native Virginian or have lived mostly in Virginia and must be deceased for at least 10 years.

The granite wall features a quote excerpted from a 1912 address that Mary Johnston, a 20th century Virginian author, made to an all-male Richmond conference of state governors:

“It did not come up in a night, the Woman Movement, and it is in no danger of perishing from view. It is here to stay and grow … It is indestructible, it is moving on with an ever- increasing depth and velocity, and it is going to revolutionize the world.”

The seven completed statues are Anne Burras Laydon, a Jamestown colonist; Cockacoeske, Pamunkey chieftain; Mary Draper Ingles, a frontierswoman; Elizabeth Keckly, seamstress and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln; Laura Copenhaver, an entrepreneur in the textile industry; Virginia Randolph, an educator; and Adèle Clark, suffragist and artist. 

Five more statues will be added as they are funded and completed — Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, America’s inaugural first lady; Clementina Bird Rind, the first female printer in Virginia; Sally Louisa Tompkins, a hospital administrator; Maggie L. Walker, a civil rights leader and entrepreneur; and Sarah G. Boyd Jones, teacher and physician. 

The statues, which each required a $200,000 investment, were sculpted by New York-based Ivan Schwartz, who also crafted the Capitol’s Thomas Jefferson statue.

Schwartz spoke about the lack of statues to, for, or about women. According to the Washington Post, of the estimated 5,193 public statues depicting historic figures on display on street corners and parks throughout the United States, 394 are of women. 

“Women have been excised from the marble pedestal of history,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz has recently worked on other sculptures of notable women around the country. He mentioned projects highlighting Susan B. Anthony, Anne Frank and Harriet Tubman.

“I still make sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington,” Schwartz said. “I don’t turn my back on these good gentlemen. But their gentlemen’s club, which has occupied our national living room, our nation’s public spaces, has at last started to admit women, African Americans and Native Americans.”

Girl Scouts unveiled the structures, pulling back a blue cloth as the name of each statue was announced by Susan Allen, chair of the Virginia Capitol Foundation and former first lady of Virginia. The Girl Scouts represented councils from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Skyline and the Colonial Coast. 

Allen gave closing remarks, calling the occasion “a monumental day.”

“Let us recognize our diverse past, and those on whose shoulders we stand so proudly today and be inspired to work on for a better future for our daughters and the young leaders of tomorrow like these lovely young women here today,” Allen said.

Virginia Ranks Among States With Lowest Crime Rates

 

By Jaclyn Barton, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia had the fourth lowest violent crime rate and 13th lowest property crime rate in the United States last year, according to new data from the FBI.

The commonwealth had 200 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018, the data showed. Only Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire had a lower violent crime rate. Nationally, there were 369 violent offenses per 100,000 population.

Virginia had about 1,666 property crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. A dozen states — topped by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont — had lower property crime rates. Nationwide, the rate was 2,200 property crimes per 100,000 population.

From 2017 to 2018, the violent crime rate decreased 3% and the property crime rate fell 7% nationwide and in Virginia.

All of Virginia’s metropolitan areas had violent crime rates below the nationwide level, and most were below the national rate for property crimes.

The Winchester and Harrisonburg metro areas had the least violent crime — fewer than 140 offenses per 100,000 population.

The metro areas with the most violent crime were Roanoke (235 offenses per 100,000 residents), Richmond (239), Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (265) and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News (307).The Virginia metro areas with the least property crime were Harrisonburg (1,137 offenses per 100,000 population) and Lynchburg (1,350). The metro areas with the most property crime were Richmond (2,156 offenses per 100,000 residents), Roanoke (2,378) and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News (2,405).

Under the FBI’s definition, violent crimes include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

Although Virginia’s overall statewide and metro-area crimes rates generally were low, the data revealed some trouble spots — especially regarding homicides.

Nationwide, there were 5 murders for every 100,000 people last year. Virginia’s murder rate was 4.6 per 100,000 population.

Most Virginia metro areas had murder rates below the national average. For example, the Winchester area didn’t report any homicides last year; the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area had just one; and the Charlottesville area had three (for a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 population).

But the murder rates in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria and Lynchburg metro areas were at the national average of 5 killings per 100,000 residents. The murder rates exceeded the national level in Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News and the Roanoke metro areas (about 7 murders per 100,000 residents) and the Richmond area (almost 8 murders per 100,000 population).

Murder rates were well above the national average in several Virginia cities, the FBI data showed. The murder rate last year was 44 killings per 100,000 population in Petersburg, 27 in Danville, 23 in Richmond, 21 in Portsmouth and 15 in Norfolk.

Of the 490 U.S. cities with a population between 25,000 and 35,000, only three had a higher murder rate than Petersburg. (One of the three was Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in 2018.)

Of the 31 U.S. cities with a population between 200,000 and 250,000, only two (Birmingham, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana) had a murder rate higher than Richmond last year.

Among cities in Virginia, Portsmouth, Newport News, Richmond, Norfolk and Roanoke all had violent crime rates and property crime rates above the national average.

The Roanoke Police Department is active in community outreach programs created to reduce crime. They include neighborhood watch groups, a summer youth basketball league and programs to help students read and do their homework. Police officials attend as many as 30 community events each month.

“There is no way to determine causation factors for a potential decrease in crime. It could be a number of different reasons, and we cannot determine that any of our community outreach or crime prevention has impacted the crime rates,” said Caitlyn Cline, who does community outreach, public information and crime prevention for the Roanoke Police Department.

In 2018, Richmond reported 52 murders — more than any other city or county in Virginia. Still, that was a far cry from two decades ago.

“I don’t think Richmond or Virginia has a particularly high murder rate relative to places like Maryland and Baltimore,” said Patrick Lowery, assistant professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.

He said that in 1994, the number of murders in Richmond “peaked at 160. In 2014, we were down to 43, so that’s about four times less homicides relative to 10 or 15 years ago.”

Overall, violent crime in every major American city has decreased since the early 1990s. Lowery attributes that to many factors, such as community outreach programs and changing sentencing laws.

The FBI data release, from an annual report called Crime in the United States, represents statistics reported by about 16,700 law-enforcement agencies last year.

In June, the Virginia State Police issued a state-level report called Crime in Virginia. The State Police report covered additional crimes such as kidnapping and abduction.

A total of 1,696 kidnapping and abduction offenses were reported in 2018. That number was up 6% from 2017. Prince William County had the most kidnappings last year — 111.

“It’s not as if random people are getting snatched off the street,” said Sgt. Jonathan Perock, supervisor for the Prince William County Police Department. “The majority of the time, it’s a domestic incident in which both parties are known to one another.”

 

 

Schools With the Best and Worst Graduation Rates

By Sravan Gannavarapu, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Three small rural school districts had 100% graduation rates this year, and the Brunswick County, Manassas and Richmond school systems had the state’s lowest graduation rates, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Education.

Colonial Beach and Charles City, which each had fewer than 50 students in their 2019 graduation classes, and Highland County, which had just 14, graduated all of their seniors. Twenty-seven district had rates of at least 95%, including such larger school districts as York, Montgomery and Hanover counties.

The proportion of Virginia high school students graduating on time dipped from 91.6% in 2018 to 91.5% in 2019, the data showed.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said Virginia’s on-time graduation rate has risen by more than 10 percentage points in the decade since the department began reporting graduation rates that account for every student who enters the ninth grade.

“I believe this long-term, upward trend will continue as school divisions and the commonwealth adopt equitable policies and practices that provide instructional and support services tailored to the unique needs of every learner,” Lane said.

During the past school year, 74 of the state’s 131 districts had graduation rates above the statewide average. That was true of 197 of Virginia’s 327 high schools.

Eleven high schools — most of them with 50 or fewer students — had 100% graduation rates in 2019. Six of those schools achieved perfect rates the previous year as well: Chincoteague High in Accomack County; Highland High in Highland County; Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News; Open High and Franklin Military Academy in Richmond; and Chilhowie High in Smyth County.

Greensville County Public Schools, which covers both Greensville County and the City of Emporia had a dropout rate of 9.1% and a graduation rate of 86.6%.  The graduation rate for the previous year was 88.8% while the dropout rate was 8.6%.

Among high schools with at least 400 seniors, three had graduation rates of 99% or higher: Thomas Jefferson High for School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County; Cosby High in Chesterfield County; and Rock Ridge High in Loudoun County.

Analysis of the data also showed that:

  • The Lunenburg County, Colonial Beach and Charles City County school divisions registered the most improvement in their graduation rates in 2019. Each district’s rate jumped by more than 10 percentage points from 2018.
  • The Brunswick, Amherst and Sussex County school divisions saw the biggest drops in graduation rates — at least 7 percentage points.

Many of the students who did not graduate on time are still pursuing their high school diploma or a GED. Other students, however, have quit school and are considered dropouts.

Statewide, the dropout rate rose from 5.5 in 2018 to 5.6 this past year. The dropout rates varied among demographic and socioeconomic groups. The rate was:

  • 4% for female students and 7% for male students
  • 2% for Asian students, 3% for white students, 6% for African American students and 17% for Hispanic students
  • 8% for economically disadvantaged students, 9% for students with disabilities, 22% for homeless students and 26% for English language learners
  • The Richmond Public Schools had the highest dropout rate in 2019 — more than 24%.

“We are of course deeply disappointed by the latest graduation numbers, but as we shared last spring, we knew a decline was possible — if not likely — as we stopped a number of inappropriate adult practices that were artificially inflating our rate,” Jason Kamras, superintendent of the Richmond school district, said in a statement.

“We clearly have more work to do, but I’m confident we are now heading in the right direction.”

Chesterfield County, which had a dropout rate of 7%, planned to do a “complete audit” of every student who had quit school, said Superintendent Merv Daugherty.

“This involves making personal contacts with each family with a goal of having the student re-enroll,” Daugherty said. “Additional student support services are also being incorporated to work with students who may be vulnerable to dropping out.”

Virginia To Develop Four New Solar Energy Projects

By Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Permits were issued Thursday for the construction and operation of four new solar projects that are expected to offset carbon dioxide emissions in the state by 459 million pounds — the equivalent of driving more than 44,000 cars for a year.

“Virginia is adopting solar technology at record rates, and we are building an economy that is cleaner and greener as a result,” Gov. Ralph Northam stated in a press release announcing the permits, issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The four new solar projects will produce an additional 192 megawatts of electricity. On average, 1 megawatt of solar energy can provide 190 homes with electrical power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The newly announced solar projects will consist of the following:

  • Danville Farm, which is being developed in Pittsylvania County by Strata Solar Development and will generate 12 megawatts of electricity.

  • Dragonfly Solar, which is being developed in Campbell County by Apex Clean Energy Holdings and will generate 80 megawatts of electricity. 

  • Grasshopper Solar Project, which is being developed in Mecklenburg County by Dominion Energy Services and will generate 80 megawatts of electricity. 

  • Turner Solar, which is being developed in Henrico County by Cypress Creek Renewables and will generate 20 megawatts of electricity.

“Over the last five years, Virginia has seen a dramatic increase in installed solar developments,” DEQ Director David Paylor stated in a press release. “As of August this year, there are nearly a dozen small projects in Virginia producing 357 megawatts, enough to power more than 86,000 homes.”

Last month, Northam issued Executive Order 43, which calls for 100% of Virginia’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by 2050. The executive order also calls for 30% of the state’s electricity to be powered by renewable energy resources by 2030. In 2018, 7% of Virginia’s electricity was generated from renewable energy sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

“This Executive Order will help ensure that Virginia remains at the forefront of clean energy innovation, meets the urgency of the challenges brought on by climate change, and captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits of this energy growth in an equitable way that benefits all Virginians,” Northam stated in a press release when the executive order was issued. 

Solar energy developments can save taxpayers money. Partnering with Sun Tribe Solar, a Charlottesville-based company, Libbie Mill Library in Henrico County began installation of a rooftop solar system in September. The 122-kilowatt system is projected to save Henrico taxpayers $150,000 over the next 25 years. 

According to the governor’s executive order, at least 3,000 megawatts of electricity will be generated from solar and onshore wind sources by 2022. And by 2026, up to 2,500 megawatts of electricity will be generated by offshore wind sources. Currently, the state does not generate any large-scale electricity through wind farms, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  

Dominion Energy announced last month that it is building a 220-turbine wind farm off Virginia’s coastline. The project, projected to cost $7.8 billion, will be the largest offshore wind development in the U.S. Once the wind farm is complete, Dominion claims it will power 650,000 homes at peak wind. 

“Governor Ralph Northam has made it clear Virginia is committed to leading the way in offshore wind,” Mark Mitchell, vice president of generation construction for Dominion Energy, said in a press release. “We are rising to this challenge with this 2,600-megawatt commercial offshore wind development.”

DEQ is responsible for administering state and federal environmental policy in Virginia. The agency issues permits to regulate levels of pollution throughout the state.

Unemployment Drops in All Virginia Metro Areas

By Andrew Riddler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Staunton-Waynesboro area had the lowest unemployment rate in August of all metropolitan areas in Virginia — and one of the lowest in the country, according to data released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County was 2.5% in August. Of the approximately 390 metro areas in the U.S., only 21 had a lower unemployment rate.

All Virginia metro areas were below August’s national unemployment rate of 3.7%. Unemployment was below 3% in the Charlottesville, Winchester, Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Richmond and Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford metro areas. The rate was 3.1% in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News areas and 3.2% in the Lynchburg and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria areas.

All metro areas of Virginia saw their rates drop from August 2018 to this past August. The Harrisonburg area had the biggest decline — from 3.2% to 2.7%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the metro-level data for August on Wednesday. That was a follow-up to an announcement on Sept. 20 that the national unemployment was 3.7% and Virginia’s statewide unemployment rate was 2.8% in August.

Also on Wednesday, the Virginia Employment Commission released the August unemployment rates for the state’s cities and counties. The data showed that compared with the previous year, unemployment rates went down in 124 of the 133 localities.

Even so, 27 cities and counties had unemployment rates at or above the national average in August. The localities were largely in the southwestern and southern parts of Virginia.

The highest levels of unemployment in August were in Buchanan County (5.7%), Petersburg (5.4%) and Danville and Dickenson and Wise counties (all at 4.9%). Emporia, Lexington and Lee County all had unemployment rates above 4.5%.

Arlington County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 1.9%. The city of Fairfax was at 2%, and Alexandria and Falls Church were at 2.1%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday that the national unemployment rate had dropped even lower — to 3.5% — in September. “The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since May 1969 — over 50 years ago,” the White House said.

 

 

 

Virginia Attorney General Sparks Up Conversation on Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

By Jeff Raines, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Attorney General Mark Herring tweeted his support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia Tuesday night. 

“Virginians know we can do better. It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” Herring said in his retweet ofa studythat revealed more than half of Virginians agree with him. 

The study, published by the University of Mary Washington last month, showed that 61% of Virginians support legalization of recreational marijuana, while 34% oppose legalization. The remaining respondents said they were uncertain.

 This is a noticeable uptick from a UMW study conducted in 2017 that showed 39% of Virginians supported legalizing marijuana for personal use. The 2017 question was worded differently, asking if marijuana should be legalized in general, for personal or medical use, or remain illegal. A plurality said medical marijuana should be legal and the rest (17%) were opposed to legalization. 

Recreational use of marijuana is becoming an increasingly popular issue for Virginia politicians as they go into the November State Senate elections and the upcoming 2021 gubernatorial elections. 

Stephen Farnsworth, a UMW political science professor, said he believes legalization is several years away, but the timeline could change if a Democratic majority is elected in November. Eighty percent of the Commonwealth’s youth (25 and under) are in favor of recreational marijuana, Farnsworth said. “Winning the support of younger voters can be key.” 

Herring, a candidate in the 2021 gubernatorial elections, has long voiced his support for decriminalization of marijuana. 

Micheal Kelly, director of communications for Herring, said in an email the attorney general believes “Virginia needs to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, take action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use in Virginia.”

Almost all marijuana-related arrests last year (90%) were for possession alone, and arrests for marijuana possession have increased 115% from 2003 to 2017, according to a press release from the attorney general’s office. First time marijuana convictions in Virginia have risen 53% from 2008 to 2017, with enforcement costs estimated to be nearly $81 million a year.

General Assembly Candidates’ Environmental Report Cards Reveal Partisan Divides

 

By Emma North, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Sierra Club recently endorsed a number of candidates running on environmentally friendly platforms after its legislative scorecards — which give incumbents grades on their past environmental performance — presented a stark contrast between the priorities of the Democrat and Republican parties. 

Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, said that while she can’t know what drives the legislative decision making of others, she thinks environmental issues end up being addressed as partisan issues. 

“I think when most people talk about themselves and their families, it’s very nonpartisan,” Adams said. “When it gets into policy making it becomes more partisan and sadly that may just be because people aren’t remembering that it’s affecting their people and their family.”

General Assembly members could be tasked with passing legislation in the 2020 session that tackles issues such as coal ash management, clean energy mandates, climate change, Chesapeake Bay management and public land protection. For example, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, campaigns on prioritizing the disposal of coal ash outside of her district, while Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Faquier, has focused her environmental support on the preservation of agricultural land. 

Nine legislators received an A-plus on the Sierra Club’s legislative scorecard for the 2019 General Assembly session, four from Prince William County. The lawmakers that received perfect scores were: 

Senators:

  • Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William

  • Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake

Delegates: 

  • Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond 

  • Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William

  • Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas

  • Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William

  • Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico 

  • Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William

  • Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax

With the exception of Rodman who is now running for a seat in Senate District 12, all of these incumbents are running for reelection in November. 

Of the 140 incumbent General Assembly members, 15 scored a C grade. All but 14 Democrats scored a B or above and all of the Republicans scored a D or F except for Vogel, who earned a C. 

Vogel was recognized as a legislative hero by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. She represents District 27, which has a prominent agriculture industry and includes the counties of Frederick, Fauquier, Clarke, Stafford, Culpeper, Loudoun and the city of Winchester.

“I feel like I have to fight harder and do the right thing so that we have the opportunity to preserve agriculture and that means open space and that means good votes that usually skew more on ballots toward conservation votes,” Vogel said. 

The Republican Party of Virginia has a majority in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. The environment and clean energy are not included in the party’s priorities. 

“I wish I could have seen more of the candidates from both sides who are running for office talking about the environment,” said Guzman. “I believe that it should be part of the three main issues of your campaign if you are considering running for office.”

The legislative scorecard rated candidates based on how they voted on key bills, including HB 1934, which expanded the number of state agencies that can operate electric vehicle charging stations, and SB1456 and HB2329, which together would have removed barriers to generating solar energy.

“I think the environment is very important and as a legislator we have the responsibility to act today to secure the environment for future generations,” Guzman said. 

To help voters find candidates with environmentally conscious platforms the The Virginia LCV assembled a list of current endorsements to help voters find candidates with pro-environment platforms. Democrat Shelly Simonds is again challenging Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, for the House seat in District 94. Simonds said her campaign includes promoting clean energy, expanding urban farming and increasing public transportation for Newport News. 

All of the Virginia LCV endorsements for 2019 are Democratic candidates with the exception of Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. 

Adams said she is disappointed in how some legislators don’t act in favor of a healthy Virginia and thinks that solutions such as adding more greenery to urban areas shouldn’t deal with party lines. 

“I really do hope that there is some kind of global awakening,” Adams said. “We can't make the environment partisan.”

Dominion To Fund Electric School Buses in Virginia

By Susan Shibut and Jason Boleman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A greener commute could soon be in store for some students across Virginia.  

Richmond-based Dominion Energy is now accepting applications from public school districts interested in receiving electric school buses in a program aimed to reduce carbon emissions, lower transportation costs and strengthen Dominion’s electric grid. The program’s goal is to replace the existing 13,000 diesel school buses with electric models by 2030.

Upfront costs are about $120,000 higher than a comparable diesel bus, according to a report filed in July with the House Select Committee. Dominion will pay the cost difference for electric buses as well as the cost of new charging stations and infrastructure for selected schools.

The bus batteries can be tapped as an energy source and provide grid stability in times of high energy needs. During a power outage or emergency, for example, the buses could serve as mobile power stations. Schools will be selected for the program based on the locational benefit of their local power grid. 

According to Dominion, 1,050 buses would provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes. 

The new buses operate much more quietly than the current fleet, which could help facilitate communication between drivers and students. Each bus also is equipped with a seat belt for every student.

“Customers will benefit from the battery technology and vehicle-to-grid technology built into the bus system, which will enhance reliability and support renewable energy development,” said Dominion spokesperson Samantha Moore.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said that the school district is “incredibly excited” about the possibility of the initiative coming to Richmond. 

“We believe we’re the perfect school division to launch this initiative as we’ve already demonstrated a commitment to making RPS ‘greener,’” said Kamras.

Electric school buses would be another in a series of environmental initiatives for Richmond Public Schools. Solar panels installed in 10 schools are on track to be operative in late October and into November, and another recent initiative replaced styrofoam cafeteria trays with recyclable alternatives. 

Air quality inside the buses is six times better than in non-electric models, according to Dominion, and one bus would reduce carbon emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. Dominion estimates that a switch to electric buses will reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by 60%. 

“They have other benefits too you know, they clean the air, they’re quieter, they’re easier to maintain because they have fewer parts -- moving parts -- that need to be replaced than an internal combustion engine,” said Wendy Fewster, a LEED-certified RPS sustainability associate. 

The initiative was praised by environmental advocacy organization Environment Virginia, who encouraged school districts to apply for the initiative.

“Dominion’s announcement is an important part of addressing climate change and protecting the health of thousands of school children across the commonwealth,” said Elly Boehmer, director of Environment Virginia.

Dominion aims to have 50 electric school buses fully operational by the end of 2020. The company also wants to grow the program by 200 buses per year for the next five years, pending state approval. The costs for the initial 50 buses will be covered by Dominion’s base rate, with full program implementation expecting to cost less than $1 per month for the average Dominion Energy customer.

Applications for the program close Oct. 5.

Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Drops to 2.8%

 

By Andrew Riddler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia continues to have one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, state and federal officials said Friday.

The commonwealth’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 2.9 percent in July to 2.8 percent in August.

Virginia was tied with Utah and Colorado for the sixth-lowest unemployment rate last month. In July, Virginia and Colorado were tied for the seventh-lowest rate.

Virginia’s jobless rate continues to be much lower than the national average of 3.7 percent. Virginia has the third-lowest rate among states east of the Mississippi River, behind Vermont (2.1%) and New Hampshire (2.5%).

“The drop in Virginia’s unemployment rate is yet another sign that our economy remains strong and our efforts to create opportunity in every corner of the commonwealth are paying real dividends,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.

Timothy Aylor, an economist with the Virginia Employment Commission, also sees the falling rate as a strength for the state.

“Overall, as more people are able to find jobs and as people become more encouraged about the job market and re-enter it, I think that’s a good thing,” Aylor said. “It helps the state, and it helps the economy.”

Among the 18 states with the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Virginia has the largest labor force. Most of the 18 states have less than half of the labor force Virginia does. Aylor said this was a testament to the state’s economy.

“We have a highly skilled labor force. This is especially the case in some of the metro areas — Northern Virginia primarily,” Aylor said. “And this creates competition among employers as more employers take note of the quality of the workforce in the state.”

In Northern Virginia, unemployment is especially low — below the state average.

“For one reason or another, you can have a lower rate of people looking — you can have a lower rate of labor force participation — and that will kind of drive down the unemployment rate,” Aylor said.

“But that is not the case in an area like Alexandria or Arlington County in particular, where labor force participation rates are high and people are looking and finding work, and there is a lot of competition for it.”

Despite Virginia’s overall low rate, state officials affirmed their commitment to helping communities where unemployment is higher than average.

“We’re proud of this statewide unemployment rate,” said Brian Ball, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade. “But as some localities continue to struggle with a higher rate, the governor remains focused on bringing new investment and jobs to all regions of the commonwealth.”

Cheers! ABC Stores See Increase in Sales

By Pedro Coronado, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Let’s raise a toast to the top-selling liquor store in Central Virginia in 2018. The ABC outlet at 10 N. Thompson St. in Richmond, registered almost $8 million in gross sales and had the highest profit margin in the state.

Only two other ABC stores, both in Virginia Beach, had higher sales than the one on Thompson, just off Carytown — on the edge of the Fan district and 2 miles from the Virginia Commonwealth University campus.

Jean Louis, a regular customer at the Thompson Street store, says it usually features more liquor than nearby ABC outlets on Broad and West Main streets.

“I love how they always have more than one supply of luxurious bottles like Hennessy Richard,” Louis said.” Those kinds of bottles are usually rarely stocked in other stores, making them hard to find.”

During the 2018 fiscal year, the 370 stores operated by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority rang up sales of $978,751,341. Overall, the rate of return (the profit plus taxes collected, divided by gross sales) was 34.8%.

The stores with the highest gross sales were at:

  • 1612 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach — $9,333,007
  • 405 30th St., Virginia Beach — $8,701,621
  • 10 N. Thompson St., Richmond — $7,966,262

The stores with the highest rates of return were at:

  • 10 N. Thompson St., Richmond — 40.7%
  • 2901 Hermitage Rd., Richmond — 40.7%
  • 405 30th St., Virginia Beach — 40.2%

The Virginia ABC has four main sources of revenue: state-imposed taxes on beer and wine sales, sales of distilled spirits at the agency’s stores, violation penalties and license fees. After each fiscal year, the commission releases a report on its sales and other activities.

During the 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, ABC brought in even more money — more than $1 billion. Agency officials announced in August that they had another record-breaking milestone as revenues increased about $72 million over the previous year.

For 2019, the commission had about $197 million in store profits, $223 million in retail taxes and $80 million in wine and beer taxes. As a result, it pumped almost $500 million into the state government’s general fund, which supports education, health, transportation, public safety and other services.

The top five brands purchased in Virginia ABC stores last year remained Tito’s Handmade (domestic vodka), Hennessy VS (cognac), Jack Daniel’s 7 Black (Tennessee whiskey), Jim Beam (straight bourbon), and Fireball Cinnamon (imported cordial).

Another metric is the total gallons sold by the state’s ABC stores. In 2018, that number exceeded 12 million gallons, up about 3% from the previous year.

Revenues have risen as ABC amped up its marketing and merchandising.

“ABC’s revenue growth is primarily the result of adding stores around the state to improve customer convenience, a robust series of targeted seasonal promotional campaigns and changing consumer trends,” Travis Hill, the commission’s chief executive officer, said in announcing the 2019 revenue numbers.

“We opened seven new stores in the last fiscal year, which provided greater accessibility for customers and increased sales. Customers aren’t necessarily drinking more; they’re buying more premium products that have a higher per bottle price tag. Additionally, they’re choosing distilled spirits over other products.”

ABC stores are holding various promotions in September, which Gov. Ralph Northam has designated as Virginia Spirits Month. Thursday, for example, was Spirited Bourbon Day, with 20% discounts on select bourbons. Other events include wine tastings and samplings at distilleries.

(Editor's Note: According to data supplied by the Capital News Service, the Gross Sales for the Emporia ABC Store were $2,337,510 with a 33.5% Rate of Return)

Population Is Expected to Shrink in Rural Virginia

By Emma North, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — “More and more people are relocating to Highland County, Virginia, everyday!” the county’s website says.

Online, local officials offer resources and encouragement for people to relocate to Highland County, the most sparsely populated in Virginia. A brochure urges readers to consider Highland’s “elevated lifestyle.”

But Highland County faces an uphill battle in attracting new residents. Demographers at the University of Virginia predict that the county’s population, now about 2,260, will drop 17% over the next two decades.

Of the state’s 133 cities and counties, U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service projects that 53 will lose population by 2040. Most of those shrinking localities are in south, southwest and western Virginia.

“These areas are losing population every time the population is counted,” said Augie Wallmeyer, author of the book “Extremes of Virginia.”

“With a few minor exceptions, they just don’t have what it takes to retain people or attract new people.”

Many of the localities projected to lose population offer tranquility, clean air and beautiful views, but they lack job opportunities. Some also lack high-speed internet access that businesses need.

Wallmeyer said rural areas may lack sufficient health care and educational opportunities as well.

The state has implemented programs such as GO Virginia to encourage the growth of high-paying jobs throughout the commonwealth. Community colleges also are offering more job training programs. But Wallmeyer said there has been a lack of coordination among efforts to address problems in rural counties.

“Without coordination, you may find, for example, that GO Virginia might find a way to attract jobs to a county. But if the educational opportunities are very limited or if there is no good health care nearby or a terrible drug abuse problem or no amenities like Starbucks and that sort of thing, the effort fails,” Wallmeyer said.

The available workforce in rural counties becomes even smaller after factoring in age.

In an analysis of the data, Shonel Sen, a research and policy analyst for the Weldon Cooper Center’s Demographics Research Group, said that by next year, more than 30% of the residents in rural counties like Highland are expected to be over 65. That is double the statewide proportion of people over 65.

By 2040, people over 65 would make up more than 35% of the population of Highland and Lancaster counties, according to the center’s projections.

Having so many residents at retirement age subtracts from the available workforce. An aging population also creates a greater demand for health care, which many rural areas are struggling to provide.

The population trends affect not just the economy but also politics, Wallmeyer said. As rural counties shrink, so does their legislative representation. This makes it difficult to make their issues a priority at the state level.

“It bodes ill for people in those areas who think the political system can fix their problems,” Wallmeyer said.

The Demographics Research Group predicts that while parts of Virginia face drastic population losses, other parts will grapple with dramatic population gains. Overall, the state population will grow 14%, to almost 10 million, by 2040, the projections show.

Sen pointed out the “significant rural-urban divide” in Virginia. She noted that currently, 70% of the state’s residents live in the three largest metropolitan areas (Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Richmond area) and only 12% live in non-metro areas.

By 2040, the demographers predict, Loudoun County would grow 55%, to almost 670,000 residents — adding the equivalent of the current population of Richmond. Loudoun would rise from being the state’s fourth most populous locality to the second, behind only Fairfax County.

The data also project high growth in other localities in Northern Virginia (such as Prince William and Stafford counties) and between Richmond and Williamsburg (New Kent and James City counties).

At the same time, the number of residents likely will decrease in rural areas. For instance, the center predicts that Buchanan County will lose almost a third of its population, going from more than 21,000 residents to about 14,500. The group’s data suggest that the populations of Danville and Martinsville, as well as Accomack and Grayson counties, will decline by more than one-fifth.

Voter Registration Is Up More in Democratic Strongholds

By Kelly Booth, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Over the past four years, voter registration has grown faster in Virginia localities that tend to vote Democratic than in localities that usually go Republican. That could spell trouble for the GOP heading into November’s elections.

Between August 2015 and August 2019, voter registration increased 9% in the state’s Democratic strongholds but only 6% in Republican strongholds, according to an analysis of data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Democratic Party officials say they are pleased about the trend in a year when Virginians are electing state legislators but not a governor or U.S. senator.

“We always say slower turnout with Virginia’s off-year election and fully recognize that this is an off-off year election with no statewide race,” said Kathryn Gilley, communications director for the House Democratic Caucus. “That being said, the fact that there is so much new voter registration ... Virginians are really aware of the importance of this year.”

But Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, said an increase in registered voters in Democratic areas doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats will win at the polls. He said something similar happened in Florida in 2016 and 2018, with news stories and opinion surveys predicting victories for Democrats.

“Not only did they (Democrats) not prevail, but they lost both,” Ryer said. “One of the things I really like to point out to people is Republicans do much better at the polls than in the polls.”

Gilley said Democrats are still energized from the 2016 presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton carried Virginia but lost in the Electoral College to Donald Trump.

“Trump’s election has really highlighted the importance of state legislatures,” Gilley said.

Pro-Trump vs. Pro-Clinton localities

Statewide in 2016, 50% of Virginia voters cast their ballots for Clinton and 44% for Trump. (The remaining votes went to the Libertarian and other minor-party candidates.)

Trump carried 93 cities and counties in Virginia, mostly in the less populated southern and western parts of the state where population has been flat or declining. Clinton carried 40 localities, largely in Northern Virginia, the Richmond area and Hampton Roads — areas that are more densely populated and generally are growing in population.

Last week, the Virginia Department of Elections posted data on how many people were registered to vote in each locality as of August. Capital News Service compared those numbers with the corresponding data for August 2015, when Virginia was preparing for a similar election in which only legislative and local offices were up for grabs.

During the four-year period, voter registration increased 6.4%, to 2.68 million, in the 93 localities that voted for Trump. But the number of voters jumped 8.6%, to 2.91 million, in the 40 localities that backed Clinton.

The difference was even bigger in the communities that went heavily for one candidate or another:

·         Seventy-six localities cast at least 55% of their votes for Trump. In those cities and counties combined, voter registration went up 5.8% over the past four years.

·         Thirty localities cast at least 55% of their votes for Clinton. Taken as a whole, those areas have seen an 8.7% jump in registered voters since 2015.

For example, voter registration is up 16% in Richmond and 11% in Alexandria — cities that cast at least three-fourths of their votes for Clinton.

In contrast, voter registration declined slightly in most of the localities that cast at least three-fourths of their votes for Trump. For instance, the number of registered voters is down 5% in Buchanan County and 7% in Dickenson County.

Not every locality reflected the trend. Voter registration increased 15% or more in the Republican strongholds of New Kent, Louisa and Goochland counties, and it dropped in Greensville County and the cities of Williamsburg and Franklin, which tend to vote for Democrats.

 

But overall, the number of registered voters went up more in Democratic localities than Republican ones.

Will redrawn districts help Democrats?

Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, noted that voter registration increased after 11 Virginia House districts were redrawn this year. That happened after the courts found that the districts had been racially gerrymandered. The redrawn districts generally are more favorable to Democrats.

“When lines are drawn more favorably for one party or the other, that increases the quality of the candidates who are willing to run, increases the amount of money that donors are willing to spend, and those two things can increase voter interest,” said Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs.

“Expect higher turnout in some of those newly drawn districts because they’re more competitive than they used to be.”

All seats in the General Assembly are up for election on Nov. 5. Currently, Republicans hold a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate and a 51-49 edge in the House of Delegates.

Ryer noted that the Senate has had the same districts drawn by the Democrats since 2011.

“The Senate is operating under a Democratic gerrymander,” Ryer said. “Yet, despite the fact that the Democrats drew the lines, Republicans have been in the majority since those lines went into effect.”

Democrats are hoping to flip both chambers so that they control not only state government’s executive branch, with Ralph Northam’s election as governor in 2017, but also the legislative branch.

“If Democrats can pick up a few seats in either chamber, the legislature will shift. And if they pick up a couple of seats in both chambers, then Democrats will control the governor’s office as well as both chambers of the legislature — and we haven’t seen that in Virginia in 20 years,” Farnsworth said.

With control of the General Assembly at stake, Virginia’s legislative elections have attracted national attention.

“People really look to Virginia as an indicator for how the rest of the nation will vote, especially since we have become a purple (state) trending blue,” Gilley said.

“A lot of campaign operations and different groups almost use Virginia as like a test area for different tactics and strategies … National groups look at Virginia because we’ve got off-year elections, so they’ll implement strategies here to see if they want to use them in the regular-year election.”

Gilley said voters also were motivated by how close some elections have been in Virginia. In 2017, the race between Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds in the 94th House District in Newport News ended in a tie. The election was decided by a lottery: Yancey’s name was pulled from a bowl, allowing Republicans to maintain control of the House.

Gilley said that election “really highlighted how important every single vote is.”

As Vaping Illnesses Mount, Officials Warn of Dangers of E-cigarettes

 

By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — When cases of lung disease linked to vaping began popping up across the country this summer, the Virginia Poison Center began receiving calls from people who thought they might have become ill from using e-cigarettes.

“Nobody knows why there’s all of a sudden been a cluster,” said Dr. S. Rutherfoord Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center. “There is an inherent danger, and nobody really knows what that danger is. If you’re young and healthy, why risk it? Just stop.”

On Thursday, the Trump administration moved to ban flavored vapes in response to the spike in lung illnesses, the latest in a series of measures nationwide aimed at curbing e-cigarette use. This summer, a Virginia law went into effect that increased the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21, and Virginia Commonwealth University instituted a smoking ban on its Monroe Park Campus.

Virginia is one of dozens of states with reports of vaping-related illness. Nationwide, officials have linked 380 cases of lung disease and six deaths to e-cigarettes.

Altria Group, the Henrico-based conglomerate that produces and sells tobacco and related products, is a top investor in Juul Labs Inc., maker of the popular Juul e-cigarettes. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Juul about its marketing practices, “including those targeted at students, tribes, health insurers and employers.”

“We agree that urgent action is needed, and we look forward to reviewing the guidance,” Altria spokesman George Parman said in an email. “Reducing youth use of e-vapor products is a top priority for Altria.”

Vaping often has been cast as a safe alternative to cigarettes. But Rose, who is also a professor at the VCU School of Medicine, said that because the products are so new, there is a lack of data on the long-term use of vaping. As a result, it’s “premature” to say e-cigarettes are indeed safer, Rose said.

“When these things were touted as a safe alternative to cigarettes, that was really only based on the harmful effects of long-term cigarettes. It really wasn’t a comparison because there wasn’t any data,” Rose said. “There’s certainly no data for long-term use of these products; they haven’t been around long enough.”

Using vapes early on can lead young people to smoke cigarettes in the future, according to a 2015 study.

How prevalent is vaping in Virginia?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled data on e-cigarette use in 37 states and U.S. territories in 2017. The data showed that:

  • About 33% of Virginia high school students had used an electronic cigarette at some point. That compared with about 42% of high school students nationwide.
  • About 12% of high schoolers in Virginia were current vape users, just below the national average of 13%. (The CDC defines a current user as someone who has vaped at least once during the past 30 days.)
  • About 3% of the state’s high school students vaped frequently. That was on par with the national average. (A frequent user is someone who has used e-cigarettes at least 20 days during the past month.)
  • About 10% of Virginia’s young adults (ages 18-24) were current e-cigarette users. That also was about the national average.

“If somebody’s a teenager, a young person, you don’t want them to continue doing this for 20, 30 years,” Rose said. “There is an inherent danger, and nobody really knows what that danger is. If you’re young and healthy, why risk it?”

Last week, the FDA announced it had found a commonality — the presence of vitamin E acetate — among users who had fallen ill after vaping cannabis products. But Rose said it could take months or years to understand the cause of the outbreak, which he expects will grow before the situation improves.

The wide scope of products people are using — some of which contain nicotine or THC, and are purchased at stores or illicitly — makes it more challenging to narrow down an exact cause.

“There are a variety of products out there, people putting a variety of ingredients in those products,” Rose said. “So there’s not a lot of uniformity. There’s some common themes but not to all patients who have developed the problem.”

Some e-cigarette users are having second thoughts

VCU student Kevin McGarry has seen that variety firsthand. He said he started using a Juul over the summer, about a month or two after he stopped smoking cigarettes. He said he knew one person who modified a vape so that he could put “Juul juice” in it. That product has one of the highest nicotine concentrations of any e-cigarette, health officials say.

“There’s so many different things, all different kinds of new vapes coming out,” McGarry said, “new devices all the time.”

As a 20-year-old, McGarry said he’s found it more challenging to acquire Juul pods since the smoking age increased to 21 — but at the end of the day, “anyone who wants it could really get their hands on it.”

And data shows more people have picked up vaping in recent years. Nationally, the rate of current e-cigarette use among high school students increased to almost 21% in 2018, according to the CDC.

McGarry says he doesn’t plan to continue vaping for very long, and the recent outbreak of illnesses has a lot to do with that decision.

“Before all this came out, I was kind of comfortable thinking, ‘OK, yeah, I’m not smoking cigarettes anymore; this is a better alternative,’” McGarry said. “Seeing that these young kids are getting really sick just a few years into vaping, it’s really changed my mind.”

Subscribe to RSS - Fall 2019 Capital News Service

Emporia News

Stories on Emporianews.com are be searchable, using the box above. All new stories will be tagged with the date (format YYYY-M-D or 2013-1-1) and the names of persons, places, institutions, etc. mentioned in the article. This database feature will make it easier for those people wishing to find and re-read an article.  For anyone wishing to view previous day's pages, you may click on the "Previous Day's Pages" link in the menu at the top of the page, or search by date (YYYY-M-D format) using the box above.

Comment Policy:  When an article or poll is open for comments feel free to leave one.  Please remember to be respectful when you comment (no foul or hateful language, no racial slurs, etc) and keep our comments safe for work and children. Comments are moderated and comments that contain explicit or hateful words will be deleted.  IP addresses are tracked for comments. 

EmporiaNews.com serves Emporia and Greensville County, Virginia and the surrounding area
and is provided as a community service by the Advertisers and Sponsors.
All material on EmporiaNews.com is copyright 2005-2019
EmporiaNews.com is powered by Drupal and based on the ThemeBrain Sirate Theme.

Submit Your Story!

Emporia News welcomes your submissions!  You may submit articles, announcements, school or sports information or community calendar events via e-mail on news@emporianews.com. 

Contact us at news@emporianews.com
 
EmporiaNews.com is hosted as a community Service by Telpage.  Visit their website at www.telpage.net or call (434)634-5100 (NOTICE: Telpage cannot help you with questions about Emporia New nor does Teplage have any input the content of Emporia News.  Please use the e-mail address above if you have any questions, comments or concerns about the content on Emporia News.)