Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gerry Connolly Goes After Sarah Palin's for her Remarks About NoVA

As a lot of folks are tuned into the GOP Presidentlial debate tonight, I think it's kind of important to look at what one of the leaders of the Republican Party recenty said. Sarah Palin attacked Northern Virginians while speaking at a Tea Party rally in Iowa last week by referring to them as “unlike the rest of America" and suggesting that Northern Virginia residents are immune from the economic hardships of the recession because they live near the nation's capital. While George Allen continues to promote policies and an attitude similar to Palin, there are some leaders who have called out Palin and her cronies. Gerry Connolly, for instance, joined former Governor Tim Kaine in criticizing Sarah Palin for her offensive remarks about Northern Virginia.

“Once again, Sarah Palin has delivered a harmful and hateful message that has little basis in fact. If she thinks that Northern Virginia is immune from our current economic recession, I invite her to meet some of our residents who have lost their homes or seen their retirement funds depleted due to the economic policies of the Bush administration,” Connolly said.

“As the former Alaska governor and FOX News media star should know so well, Alaskans reap more federal largess than any other Americans, according to several studies and reports in the New York Times and USA Today. ‘Alaska is the top recipient of federal stimulus dollars per capita — with no close second,’ the Times reported; while USA Today also pointed out that Alaska was the biggest recipient of federal pork barrel spending from earmarks,” Connolly said.

“I would suggest that this is the pot calling the kettle black,” he said.

Of course, this isn't the first time that we've heard the Republicans show a lack of respect for NOVA. During the 2008 campaign, for instance, McCain's brother went on a tirade against the region and called it "community country." In other words, this seems to go beyond a simple statement from Sarah Palin but in fact represents a trend in the GOP. They clearly don't like Northern Virginia even though it's become a crucial area in presidential elections and is home to millions of crucial working class families.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Labor Day Weekend Discussion on the Minor League Umpires Union

I have to admit, I don't think it gets much better than taking in a doubleheader on a lazy Sunday afternoon. When it comes to doing so out in Woodbridge and the Potomac Nationals are playing, it also means that you get a really good seat for less than the cost of going to the movies. What made it even better yesterday, however, was the fact that I ran into a friend of mine Dan who I haven't seen in a couple months.

Just for the record, I met Dan through the work we've both done in the political world. It therefore shouldn't be too surprising when I tell you that he works for a labor union and was quick to point out a sign in the outfield that highlighted the minor league umpires union (the Association of Minor League Umpires). With yesterday being labor day, however, it also seemed fairly fitting that our conversation turned in the direction of a labor union.

Briefly setting aside the politics of labor unions, Dan pointed out that the AMLU joined forces with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) back in February of 2010. When they did so, they became known as AMLU/OPEIU guild 322. Why 322? Well, they picked that number to stand for 3 balls, 2 strikes, 2 outs. Of course, that’s the count where we can see a lot of excitement -- like Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off grand slam a few weeks ago against the Phillies.

Now some of you may wonder why a minor league umpire needs to have a union. In my opinion, it simply comes down to the fact that everyone deserves to have a well paying job. Now we’ve all probably heard about how little minor league players make when compared to the major league counterparts, but the umpires don’t get the relatively large signing bonuses that many players receive. They also make considerably less money and don’t have the added benefit of having a “host family” that helps them out like many minor league players do when they’re in the lower leagues.

With that being said, the average salary for Minor League umpires is about $15,000 in Class AAA, $12,000 in Class AA, $10,000 in full-season Class A and $5,550 in Rookie League. While they’re forced to spend basically the entire regular season on the road living out of their suitcase as they travel from hotel room to hotel room, they’re also given about $20 per day per diem (in other words, basically enough to get their meals at a fast food joint).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anywhere that you can cover all of your bills on a salary of $15,000 much less the salaries that they earn in the lower leagues. The amazing thing is that these salaries are actually higher than they were before the AMLU began working to protect the rights of umpires. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, however, if we legitimately want to see a day when good umpires are able to make a solid living wage while working in the minor leagues.

This is all also important to take into consideration because the umpires’ current collective bargaining agreement runs through the end of this season. Since the last time we saw negotiations (back in 2006) the talks resulted in a strike, it’ll be very interesting to see how things progress between the union and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (the company that manages minor league umpires).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dave Mills: McDonnell Needs to "put the McGimmicks aside and put Virginians first"

I wrote a post a couple days ago about how Dave Mills called out Bob McDonnell for spending too much time trying to advance his national profile and lobbying for the VP spot on the GOP ticket in 2012. Perhaps in response to comments in the blogosphere that the DPVA should be focusing on the misleading information that the McDonnell's been putting out about Virginia's budget, Dave is once again going after the governor. This time he released a statement that criticized him for using "McGimmicks" to make it it look like Virginia has a large budget surplus.
“Bob McDonnell continues to tout a 'surplus' built with unpaid bills, unmet obligations and fiscal gimmicks. No matter what he calls it, the balance he announced today isn't enough to pay our outstanding bills to the Virginia retirement system and make the investments we need in education, public safety, mental health, and other services that create opportunity for working Virginia families.

McDonnell's self-congratulation over his 'surplus' is similar to a family refusing to pay their mortgage for a year and then celebrating the balance in their savings account.

In his rush to appeal to the Republican presidential field the Governor has chosen boosting his image over being straight with Virginians. Its's time for him to put the McGimmicks aside and put Virginians first as they struggle with a tough economy and the loss of 14,000 jobs in the month of June alone. In short, working families need more Bob's for Jobs and less Bob's for Bob."
I agree with Dave here. Virginia needs a governor who is willing to bunker down and do the hard work necessary to get Virginia families back to work and our economy on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, I'm not too confident that we'll actually see him focusing in on the Commonwealth anytime soon. In the last week or so, for instance, I've heard from folks living in upstate New York and Philly about how McDonnell "seems eager" to be part of the national political scene.

The most noteworthy part of these conversations was that they weren't hearing about what he hopes to do as governor, but instead about how he might be able to bring some swing states into play if he's the VP candidate. I don't know about you, but when you combine that with how he's actively lobbying for the VP nomination, but I don't think it sounds like Bob McDonnell is really interested in remaining Virginia's governor.

Who will win: Professor Right or Professor Wrong

Great video from Move On.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dave Mills: We've suspected for awhile that it wasn’t Bob for Jobs but it was Bob for Bob

With Rick Perry launching his campaign for president, Bob McDonnell has now moved in to fill his position as Chair of the Republican Governors Association. The RGA chairmanship will give him opportunities to travel across the country and meet with a lot of big wigs in the GOP. It also means he can travel to some of the early primary states like New Hampshire. Despite promising Virginia voters during the 2009 campaign that he was “absolutely planning to serve four years,” it appears as though McDonnell is willing to use his new high profile position to help him gain the stature needed to abandon Virginians for a more powerful position -- the VP slot on the Republican ticket.

After McDonnell quit his job as Attorney General in order to run for governor, Virginians should take notice when he’s now actively campaigning for the VP nomination. He’s already quit on Virginia once when he saw an opportunity to move up politically, so it wouldn’t be something new if he did it again. It appears as though he doesn’t even feel the need to hide the fact that he’s going back on campaign promises because he told Politico in an interview that’s received a lot of attention that he’s “very interested” in the VP slot.

With that being said, I just got off a conference call with David Mills -- the executive director of the DPVA. He said that he’s “suspected for awhile that it wasn’t Bob for Jobs but it was Bob for Bob” and this latest development simply reinforces that concept. He continued by pointing out that we need a governor who will be focused in on the local economy during a time when Virginia is still recovering from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. In the month of June alone, for instance, Virginia lost 14,000 jobs but McDonnell is more focused on GOP national politics then keeping his commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As can be expected, he was asked about how this compared to the speculation that Tim Kaine was on the short list of potential VP’s for Obama. David quickly pointed out that one of the major differences is that McDonnell is actively campaigning for the job despite specifically stating that he would serve out his entire term. Kaine didn’t do that and kept his commitment to Virginia. “I think it’s safe to say [Kaine] didn’t actively lobby for the spot,” Mills said on the call. “The bottom line is that he kept his commitment to Virginia families.”

So the question now becomes, will Bob McDonnell keep his promises and try to be “Bob for jobs,” or is he already fully committed to being “Bob for Bob?”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Democratic Primary for Braddock District Supervisor is Getting Interesting

The Democratic primary for Braddock District Supervisor has become a very interesting to watch. There were rumors of several Democrats being interested in running for the seat, but it was Chris Wade who stepped up very early to challenge incumbent Republican John Cook. When it looked like none of the other rumored candidates were going to enter the race, Chris quickly received the support of some party insiders who wanted to make sure the Democrats had a good campaign infrastructure in place during the fall -- especially since Wade didn’t have very much name recognition (heck, even most folks who are extremely active in the community hadn’t heard of him because saying “he doesn’t have much civic engagement experience” is putting it nicely).

Concern about Wade’s candidacy really started being expressed by some Democratic activists when it became clear that he had been identifying himself as a strong supporter of the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008. Now as Lowell points out at Blue Virginia, switching parties is perfectly acceptable and one of the biggest successes for Virginia’s progressive blogs was when they helped draft Jim Webb (a former Republican) and gave him a big boast during his campaign for US Senate back in 2006. Jim Webb, however, had a history of standing up for populist ideas and speaking out against some of Bush’s military policies. Chris Wade, however, appears to be a very nice man but doesn’t bring a history of public service to the table and has failed to make it clear what Democratic values he holds dear.

So while Chris had gotten the early support of some activists, Janet Oleszek stepped up to the plate and decided that she would also be seeking the Democratic nomination. I got to know Janet during her time on the school board and her campaign for the state senate back in 2007. I went out canvassing and phone banking for her at least a dozen times as she was running against Ken Cuccinelli and was proud to do so because she has a history of standing up for the working class. As someone who has done a lot of organizing around education issues over the years, I also like the fact that she spent time on the school board and could therefore be an effective voice for the public school system if she was elected to the Board of Supervisors.

Based upon email threads and conversations I’ve had with folks about this race, a lot Democratic activists share these sentiments. Unfortunately for Janet, a lot of people had already committed to supporting Chris Wade's candidacy and are reluctant to go back on their word. Others like her political philosophy but have a lot of questions about tactics she used back in late 2009 when Democrats were deciding who would run to fill the seat Cuccinelli vacated when he became Attorney General. Those questions might not prevent them from voting for Janet on primary day, but they have unfortunately kept some people from volunteering for her (at least until after the primary is over).

Whatever you think about the motivations some people have for either continuing their early commitment to Chris Wade or deciding specifically to remain silent on the race, there’s no denying that this history means it’s worth paying attention when Janet Oleszek picks up a big endorsement like she did today from the Virginia Partisans.
Responding to the endorsement by the PAC Board, Terry Mansberger, LGBT Caucus Chair stated, "Janet has been a long time personal friend of mine and the LGBT community for many years and was a leading advocate for safe schools for all our kids as an At-Large County School Board Member. I'm thrilled to see the VA Partisans PAC return that support and look forward to Janet's strong progressive voice for full equality on the Board of Supervisors for Braddock District and our Fairfax area LGBT community!"

Mansberger went on to say, "While we are all focused on the State Senate this year, we must not forget the importance of these local races that also have a direct impact on the lives of our families. The fight for equality and protection from the extreme agenda of the Cuccinelli machine in Virginia begins here in Ken's back yard. It's time to take this seat back and send a message. . . the tea party is over in Fairfax."
It will be very interesting to see if this endorsement now gives some more party insiders and grassroots activists motivation to speak up in support of Janet’s campaign in the final two weeks before primary day. You can also see the full statement from the partisans blow “the fold.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gerry Connolly Sponsors Bill to Give Back-Pay to Furloughed FAA Employees

Most of the outrage over Congress going on recess before solving the situation with the FAA was the fact that thousands of people were being furloughed and Congress decided to go on vacation instead of passing legislation that would give them their jobs back. Fortunately there are some members of Congress who realize that action was wrong and are taking action to rectify the situation. Rep. Gerry Connolly is joining with Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and the Chairmen of the House Transportation and Homeland Security Committees in introducing legislation that would allow the employees who were impacted by Congress’s failure to act to receive the salary and related benefits they should have received during the 13 day partial FAA shutdown.

The “Furloughed FAA Employees Compensation Act” would use the federal Aviation Trust Fund to cover the costs of the back-pay and benefits for the 4,000 employees -- almost 1,000 of which work in the DC area.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, Gerry has made it clear that he appreciates the work that the folks at the FAA (and federal employees in general) are doing and the services that they provide the community. During his recent town hall, he even highlighted how some FAA airport safety inspectors used personal funds to continue to travel and do their jobs without pay. He continued to express that sentiment today in a statement about the legislation when he said “I applaud their dedication to public service, but it is shameful that they were required to reach into their own pockets to keep our airports safe.” He also added that “we need to make these federal employees whole and make sure that we prevent future political shenanigans in Congress that resulted in this shutdown.”

Since Gerry represents so many federal employees, it shouldn’t be too surprising that he’s making a point to make sure they’re treated fairly and this isn’t the first time he’s sought back pay for federal employees who were furloughed through no fault of their own. In March 2010, for example a Connolly bill passed Congress that awarded back pay to 1,922 employees of four DOT agencies who were furloughed when the Highway Trust Fund was allowed to lapse.

There’s clear precedent for compensating federal employees for such furloughs that goes back further than just the ones that Gerry has signed onto. A prime example is that here was one after 26-day government shutdown affecting 800,000 federal workers in late 1995 and early 1996 during the Clinton Administration. It’s worth noting that it was a Republican-controlled Congress that voted to compensate all of those employees. So with that in mind, Gerry said that “it was the right thing to do then, and it's the right thing to do now.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

David Englin Endorses Jaime Areizaga-Soto, Decries "Good Old Boy" Mentality

The Democratic Primary in the 31st State Senate District has been getting fairly heated. Some would even say that some of those involved in the race are getting rather petty. One example of the pettiness in the campaign is how Barbara Favola made a stink after one of the debates and refused to shake Jaime Areizaga-Soto’s hand, which is what most respectful candidates do even in the middle of the most heated campaigns (anybody remember Sarah Palin asking Biden if she could call him Joe while shaking his hand at the VP debate in 2008?). The pettiness by some of those in the Favola camp doesn’t end there. After having previously made public statements lavishing praise on Areizaga-Soto’s time in public supporters, one of Favola’s key supporter has now flip flopped on that statement because he’s making grounds on Favola. Despite those previous statements, this Favola supporter has now tried to belittle Jaime’s public service by implying that he was just an intern -- a statement obviously meant to imply he’s a liar that inflates his resume and doesn’t have the experience to serve.

This truly is a shame because a Democratic primary should be an opportunity to build up campaign infrastructures that could serve progressive candidates and causes in the future. Just look at what Jim Webb’s campaign did in Virginia back in 2006 (the Brigades formed from many of his supporters and is still influential in Northern Virginia). While I believe Jaime is the better candidate in this race, Favola does bring some positive traits to the table and obviously brings some of the more establishment types into the fold. I therefore believe we could have seen a positive discussion about the two candidates that really motivated various factions of the Democratic Party -- something we really need after two very tough years for Democrats in Virginia. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened and we now are looking at a lot of people who are simply frustrated with the behavior we’ve seen from certain people.

Delegate David Englin is one of those who has expressed frustration with the way things are going. In a statement endorsing Jaime Areizaga-Soto, David not only spoke about Jaime’s qualifications but lashed out at some of Favola’s biggest supporters by saying their behavior “smacks of an earlier era of ‘good old boy’ Virginia Democratic politics that most of us soundly rejected long ago.”
The most senior Democratic leaders in the Virginia Senate continue to attack and belittle Areizaga-Soto, who would be the first Latino elected to the Virginia Senate, because he has the nerve to seek his party's nomination against their hand-picked choice. They are so incensed by his candidacy that they have spent tens of thousands of dollars to attack him that could otherwise be used to defend their tenuous Democratic majority. This smacks of an earlier era of "good old boy" Virginia Democratic politics that most of us soundly rejected long ago. I have nothing against the other candidate in this race, Barbara Favola, with whom I have enjoyed working on Arlington County issues over the years. But the seat she and Areizaga-Soto seek belongs to the people of the 31st District, not to party bosses or the retiring incumbent to bequeath to the successor of their choice.
It’s worth looking at what David has to say here because he is a Member of the House of Delegates who has generally been highly respected by both the grassroots and the establishment. As a relatively young rising star in the Democratic Party, he also has a good chance of moving up in the party leadership. He therefore also has a lot to lose by speaking out so publicly while criticizing some of his colleagues in the General Assembly. As a result, his statement carries a lot more weight than some of the other folks who have been outspoken in their opposition to the behavior we’ve seen in this race.

I not only agree with David’s endorsement of Jaime Areizaga-Soto’s candidacy, but I strongly encourage everyone to take his statement to heart. When the evening August 23 rolls around, after all, we will have a Democratic nominee and we’ll need to rally behind our candidate. That will be a lot easier to do if we don’t have to get over folks putting pettiness and a “good old boy” type mentality ahead of progressive values in the final weeks of the primary.

You can check out David Englin’s full statement below “the fold.”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prince William Park Authority Authorizes $150,000 For Upgrades to Pfitzner Stadium

This is cross-posted over at Ballpark Banter. I wrote this for a baseball blog, so it obviously has an emphasis on the baseball aspects of the decision. I think it's worth discussing here, however, because of the decisions made by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the Park Authority Board to help in the funding of upgrades to the stadium. While this does mean more investment from the County, it could prove to be very beneficial to the County and local businesses if these upgrades mean more fans make their way out to the park. After all, those fans will be purchasing tickets (which will generate tax revenue) and will be spending money at gas stations and restaurants near the stadium.

When it was announced that Bryce Harper would skip playing High A ball with the Potomac Nationals and head straight to AA, there was a lot of speculation that this move was due to the poor field conditions at Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County. This wasn’t the first time Potomac got the short end of the stick in regards to the top Nats prospects as Stephen Strasburg never came to Woodbridge even though the original rumors were that he’d start his professional career with the P-Nats. It appears as though some action has been taken to start addressing concern about the field, however, as the Prince William Park Authority Board authorized $150,000 to make improvements to the field.

Some of the specific concerns are about the inability of the outfield to properly drain, which can lead to safety concerns for outfielders like Harper. The lack of drainage also causes a lot of games to be postponed due to rain that wouldn’t be postponed elsewhere. While this isn't as big of a concern as the safety issues, the unnecessary postponed games could put the development of crucial prospects behind schedule when they happen so often. When you combine this with the fact that the training facilities are so outdated that trainers have to go to the concession stand just to get ice for the players they’re treating, it’s really sad to see how poor the stadium has become over its 30 year history.

This isn't just local fans expressing frustration at missing out on top prospects as the drainage issues, poor training facilities, and other problems with the playing field are so bad that baseball officials sent a letter to Prince William County saying that the stadium absolutely had to be improved.

Fan frustration is an issue though as attendance at P-Nats games has been so low that there’s been talk about moving the team to a new stadium instead of investing the money in a 30 year old stadium. Part of the reason that the now go by the Potomac Nationals instead of the Prince William Nationals, for instance, is that the team’s owner, Art Silber, has been looking for ways to get private capital for a new park that could potentially bring in more fans. Part of his so far failed tactics to get a new stadium was to look at other areas in the region for the team to play. The switch to Potomac as the team's identifier instead of Prince William was made as a marketing decision several years ago in case an opportunity for a new stadium was found in Loudoun or Fairfax County.

There have also been a lot of rumors that the team was hesitant to invest in the stadium because it wanted to get so bad that the County was all but officially forced to put some public funding into it or risk losing the team (which is essentially what’s happening now). This not only impacted the quality of the playing field, but also meant the fan experience was negatively impacted by a small and severely outdated stadium.

A prime example of the poor conditions outside of the playing field can be seen in the stadium’s scoreboard. Up until about halfway through last season, the P-Nats had a scoreboard that was more outdated than those seen at most local high schools. It was so bad that when they posted the information about who was up to bat, there were so many lights out that it was sometimes difficult to make out the player’s number and batting average. Thankfully, they finally realized last year that enough fans were getting fed up with the conditions at Pfitzner Stadium that they bought a new scoreboard.

With the rumors about the moving, the letters of reprimand from baseball officials, and the frustrated fans, it’s good that Prince William County and the P-Nats have gotten the hint that action needs to be taken. Hopefully the team and county won’t stop at just bringing the playing field up to the bare minimal standards and adding a new scoreboard. If they make the stadium an attractive place to play and take in a game, after all, we could see the Nationals be willing to have their top prospects play in Woodbridge. This not only will help the P-Nats, but will improve the local economy as Nats fans from all over the DC area make the trip to Prince William County to see the future stars of the Washington Nationals.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Gerry Connolly Applauds FAA Deal, Calls Out GOP Leadership

During his telephone town hall last night, one of Gerry Connolly’s constituents said he was “appalled” that Congress went on recess before coming to an agreement on the FAA funding bill. Gerry quickly agreed that it was the wrong move and added that he had shared his concern with the leadership before they left. Considering how we’re in the middle of a debate surrounding how to reduce the deficit while also spurring job creation and economic growth, Gerry (like me and the town hall participant) thought it was wrong for Congress to leave for a month while 4,000 FAA employees and tens of thousands of construction workers were out of work and we were losing out $200 million a week in airline fees to the federal government.

Fortunately, it looks like the Senate has reached a deal that would allow a brief extension of funding while Congress works out the details of a long term deal. Gerry applauded the deal and said he hoped the Senate can use unanimous consent rules to pass the legislation. “Both bodies can wrangle over the contentious issues that are stalling the FAA bill when they return to Washington in September, but right now we need to pass some funding to put FAA airport safety inspectors and 70,000 other workers back to work,” he said. “These FAA workers and airport construction workers are not getting paid, their jobs aren’t getting done, and the taxpayers are being robbed of $30 million a day.”

Both during last night’s town hall and during his statement on the FAA compromise, Connolly praised the FAA airport safety inspectors who are using personal funds to continue to travel and do their jobs without pay. “I applaud their dedication to public service, but it is shameful that they are required to reach into their own pockets to keep our airports safe.” Interestingly, the dedication these safety inspectors

In my opinion, the action taken by the safety inspectors also shows how members of the general public realize that there are some programs like the FAA are truly worth a strong investment. The Republican leadership in Congress, however, doesn’t seem to be willing to listen to this concept as it was holding up the legislation to push for new restrictions on the right of airline workers to organize and to seek additional flight slots at Washington National Airport. Gerry also had some issues with the GOP leadership on this as he said “it’s ironic that the same crowd that preaches budget cutting was willing to let the federal government lose hundreds of millions of dollars and leave tens of thousands of airport workers without paychecks to advance their political agenda.”

UPDATE: The Senate did end up using the unanimous consent option today to pass the short term extension.