Virginia Democrats: “Who Needs Property Rights?”

First the national Democratic Party leadership abandoned any pretext of standing for mainstream values when it dropped references to God from the party platform. Now the Virginia Democratic establishment is doing the same by opposing the protection of our private property rights. The Democratic Party walked back excluding God from the platform; don’t be surprised if they try to back away from this crazy position, too.

Of course, I don’t think the national Democrats experienced a true change of heart—remember that embarrassing moment when the delegates clearly refused to back down but party bosses ignored the vote because it looked bad? Similarly, even if the Virginia Democrats do shelve their opposition to property rights, it would probably be safe to chalk it up to pure damage control.

Still, damage control is what they ought to be doing right now, because the position the Democratic Party of Virginia has staked out is an astonishing one – a position many of their own would find shocking. Here’s where things stand.

When Virginians go to the polls this November, they will have the opportunity to weigh in on a vitally important issue: whether or not the Constitution of Virginia should protect the right of private property and stand as a bulwark against eminent domain abuse.

Some—mostly on the left—have opposed the Virginia Property Rights Amendment, calling it unnecessary. They’ve said that eminent domain abuse doesn’t exist in Virginia, that an Amendment is superfluous. As the Amendment’s Senate patron, I’ve always pointed to cases of clear abuse, some ongoing, and to attempts by some Democrats to chip away at the laws we have protecting the rights of private property owners.

But now I can just point to a resolution adopted by the Democratic Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee (their governing body). You want to know why we need the Virginia Property Rights Amendment? Look no farther than the astonishing reasons the state Democratic Party cites for opposing it:

They oppose it because it “will lock into the Virginia Constitution a prohibition on using eminent domain to advance private enterprise, job creation, tax revenue generation, or economic development.”

In other words, they oppose it because it actually defines public use – because it makes clear what was once taken for granted, that condemning your property to hand it over to a private developer is not a legitimate public use. They actually want to preserve government’s ability to continue to engage in abusive eminent domain practices.

In recent years, “public use” has been turned into an ill-defined notion of “public purpose,” where a “public purpose” is whatever a local government wants it to be. And the Democratic Party of Virginia wants to keep it that way.

And they go on. They also oppose the Amendment because they say it will “add to the complexity and expense of governmental entities seeking to utilize eminent domain for the benefit of taxpayers, even when property is taken for unquestioned public purposes.”

Let’s unpack that statement. Firstly, what do you think of that telling “even” – as if takings for “unquestioned public purposes” (not even “public use”!) are just one sort of legitimate taking? And what sort of complexity are we talking about here, the “complexity” of distinguishing between true public uses (roads, schools, utilities, etc.) and impermissible takings (e.g., handing over the property to a private developer)? This isn’t rocket science.

And “expense” – what expense, exactly? They’re referring to the requirement that property owners must receive fair compensation. Does this come with a price tag? Sure. But let’s call it what it is: just compensation. We all want to save money, but presumably not by shortchanging property owners.

Our friends in the Democratic Party aren’t quite done. Here’s the final reason cited for their opposition: “Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli strongly supports the amendment.” Listen, I get that the Democratic establishment doesn’t like our Attorney General, but it’s hard to come up with a more petty reason than that to oppose a constitutional amendment that protects the rights of all Virginians.

They will be happy to know, however, that one of their own candidates for Attorney General, Senator Mark Herring, is opposed to enshrining property rights in the Constitution of Virginia. Or at least, he is now, voting against the Amendment on second passage earlier this year – after supporting it once its first year passage became a fait accompli in 2011. He supported it before he opposed it. Sound familiar?

Make no mistake about it: Virginia Democrats are gearing up to oppose the Property Rights Amendment. If we let this opportunity to restore property rights slip through our fingers, we may not get a chance again for a very long time. We have to win this one.

That’s where you come in. Please share this note with friends and family to make sure they know how important it is to take a stand for property rights this November. Ask your City Council or Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution in support of the Virginia Property Rights Amendment. Get your local party committee to indicate support for the Amendment on their sample ballots. And most of all, remember to vote for property rights in November!

Posted September 28th, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Request an Absentee Ballot

Four years ago, we learned the hard way that in elections, you can’t take anything for granted. This time around, it’s clear that Virginia is one of the most important battleground states and that the margin could be razor-thin.

There’s a lot riding on your vote. So if you’re not going to be able to vote in person on Election Day, it’s crucial that you vote absentee.

Virginia law provides for absentee balloting for a wide variety of reasons, including if you are –

  • Traveling for business or pleasure on Election Day;
  • A student attending classes outside your home locality (or their spouse);
  • Working / commuting more than eleven hours per day outside your locality;
  • An active member of the U.S. military (or their spouse resident with them);
  • Unable to make it to the polls due to disability, illness, or pregnancy;
  • An election worker or the designated representative of a political party;
  • A first responder, including members of law enforcement and emergency services; or
  • Temporarily resident outside of the United States, among other reasons.

If you qualify to vote absentee, please click here to request an absentee ballot. The State Board of Elections has begun processing absentee ballots, so now is a good time to request your ballot – and to make sure that you have the opportunity to vote in this critically important election.

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, George Allen, and Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation are all counting on us to get to the polls. If you can’t make it in person, I sincerely hope that you’ll take just a moment to request your absentee ballot today.

But I hope you won’t stop there. The first priority is to vote. The second priority is to help identify and persuade other voters, so please consider volunteering at your local Victory Center (click here to find yours). Right now, several polls show Republicans trailing in Virginia. Let’s prove those polls wrong. We can do it – but only if we all do our part!

Posted September 21st, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Reflections on Constitution Day

Over two centuries removed from the event, constitutional government seems inevitable. How could we have anything else? Yet Hamilton was right when he observed in the Federalist Papers, prior to ratification, that “the establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety.”

At a distance, history can seem tidy—as if the events of Lexington and Concord led inexorably to ratification of the Constitution. Yet history is littered with the wreckage of failed revolutions.

The American revolutionaries could easily have been “numbered among the melancholy victims of misguided councils,” in Madison’s words, but “[h]appily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe.”

The Constitution would be some time in coming, the nation first coming together under the Articles of Confederation. Yet the Constitution is the founders’ true legacy, an enduring testament to their vision and the charter of our great nation. It embodies the hopes and dreams of generations past and generations to come through a framework of liberty that remains the envy of the world.

Sadly, the Constitution is often venerated in the abstract but ignored in the particulars. To borrow a phrase, the U.S. Constitution has been praised, paraphrased, repeated, discussed, apotheosized, even on occasions read—and perhaps too infrequently, or laxly, applied.

Thankfully, appreciation of the Constitution is experiencing a revival. Increasingly, there is a desire to return to constitutional principles and a commitment to hold the line on the crucial system of checks and balances established in our nation’s foundational document.

The Constitution endures because it stands above the squabbles and disagreements of any one era. It is not a convenient charter, to the chagrin of those in the mood for rapid change (both good and bad) – but it is an essential document, a bulwark of freedom and a framework for government that insists upon a system of checks and balances carefully calibrated to uphold liberty and order.

For all our nation’s imperfections, for all the ways our government falls short of the ideal, our remains a system defined by the preservation of civil liberties, of peaceful political transitions, and of the impartial rule of law – the inheritance of the Philadelphia Convention, which disbanded 225 years ago today.

The battle was not over that day, of course: the difficult process of ratification lay ahead, and the constitution’s legitimacy remained to be tested. But in a sense, the battle is never over: it would be two more years before ratification of the Bill of Rights, and nearly eight decades before the Constitution’s dark internal contradiction on slavery would be resolved.

And debates raged on, with often dramatically different interpretations of the Constitution driving political discourse. They continue to this day, for the fight for liberty is unending, and demands unyielding resolve. Yet the vision of James Madison and his colleagues still endures—will always endure so long as there are good people to defend it.

On Constitution Day, our thoughts turn to our great heritage of liberty, and the legacy of the framers who helped secure the blessings of liberty for posterity. I hope we will all likewise resolve to secure these blessings for the generations yet to come.

Posted September 17th, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Some days forever echo in our memory; some days come to define entire generations. There are some days for which time stands still, for which the past is never dead, and not even past.

September 11th is such a day.

The passage of time separates us from the raw emotion of the event; the elapsing years bind up the wounds. But history is a pattern of timeless moments, so still we remember. We must remember. We will always remember.

Eleven years ago today, we watched in shock as the Twin Towers crumbled and a dark veil of dust descended upon Manhattan. The hole in the New York City skyline mirrored the raw hole in our nation’s soul.

We watched, shaken, as our enemies brought war to us. As a nation, we dropped to our knees that day. For a few fleeting moments, all of our differences vanished as we came together in prayer and in mourning.

And then, as a nation, we got off our knees and set to work, steeled in our resolve. Because that’s the story of America. We stand tall.

We are a changed nation because of September 11th. But I am the proudest of the ways in which we haven’t changed. As a nation and a people, did not yield, we did not cower, and we did not give up on what makes America great—nor what makes her good.

In that dark hour, America’s goodness shown through, “a beam in darkness: let it grow.” The dying sun gave way to the flickering light of untold memorial candles, illuminating the soul of a nation.

On that crisp autumn morning eleven years ago, we were reminded in sorrow of the grave threats posed to our nation, and we took great comfort in the assurance that the men and women of our military know no equal, and that, in dedication, they have no peer.

Since that day, we have required much of them. Many have sacrificed – far too many have given their lives – in service to country, and today, it is fitting that we remember them along with those who lost their lives in the attacks eleven years ago.

We owe it to their memory to remain true to the promise of America, to continue to stand for the principles that set us apart as that shining city on a hill—to make liberty our byword. We don’t always live up to this obligation, as individuals or a nation, but I hope that as we reflect upon this tragic anniversary, we will make this our pledge in solemn tribute: that we will stand fast in liberty. There can be no more enduring memorial.

Posted September 11th, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Don’t Miss These Convention Highlights!

Last night, Governor Romney delivered a powerful speech on restoring America’s greatness – on helping this country to grow and prosper again.

It was the culmination of three days of great speeches. I hope you had a chance to hear not only Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but also great leaders like Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Condoleezza Rice, and our own Bob McDonnell. And if not, now’s your chance!

Here are some of the best speeches of the convention, which you can view online at your convenience:

The Nominees

Governor Mitt Romney

Congressman Paul Ryan

More videos follow, but a moment’s word, if I may. Many of you receiving this are Republicans, but not all. I’m grateful to the Democrats and independents who correspond with me and who read these emails. I know that an update about the Republican National Convention may not be of particular interest to my liberal friends, but this election is everyone’s concern – and the stakes are high.

For some, President Obama’s candidacy back in 2008 never had any appeal. But for many millions of Americans, Barack Obama’s candidacy was invigorating. To those who supported Obama in 2012, I would echo the question posed by Governor Romney last night, when he said -

Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.

President Obama’s policies have failed. It’s time to set a new course, to elect a President who knows how to get America back to work.

The Virginians

Governor Bob McDonnell

Delegate Barbara Comstock

What an honor for Virginia – Governor Bob McDonnell as Platform Committee Chair and Delegate Barbara Comstock as a permanent co-chair of the Convention!

The Next First Lady

Ann Romney

The Man Who Nominated Obama in 2008

Former Congressman Artur Davis

Four years ago, he nominated Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention back in those heady days of “hope and change” – and now, this newly minted Virginian is really hoping for a change!

Republican All-Stars

Governor Chris Christie

Senator Marco Rubio

The Hon. Condoleezza Rice

Governor Bob McDonnell

Did I list Governor McDonnell twice? Well, he deserves it! What a great lineup. What a great convention!

Convention euphoria wears off – but the reason we’re fighting doesn’t. The next President of the United States put it best: “Now is the time to restore the promise of America.”

Are you in?

Posted August 31st, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Federal Court Rebukes Obama and the EPA

President Obama’s EPA has struck out — again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about President Obama’s aggressive opposition to the coal industry, opposition that has routinely gone beyond what the law allows. It’s happened again-but this time he was challenged in court by fifteen states, including Virginia, and the court told Obama “no.”

Last year, President Obama’s EPA quietly adopted a rule requiring states to take preventative action (up to and including shutting down power plants) practically any time emissions in an upwind state measurably crossed into a downwind state — a massive expansion of federal authority not authorized by legislation. What’s worse, the administration’s initial set of targets suggest that they planned to use the rule as a pretext to require emissions reductions that aren’t affecting downwind states.

The Obama administration decided to require by fiat what the law did not authorize. Sound familiar?

It should. Not only was there the Obama administration’s single-handed revision of education policies in contravention of federal statute or, more recently, the waiving of statutorily required work participation requirements for welfare recipients. There’s also a whole slew of cases in which Obama’s EPA exceeded its authority and got slapped down. In fact, this is the sixth time, but who’s counting? Or, more to the point, who knows how many times they’ve flown under the radar and gotten away with it.

We all want clean air, and clearly the government has a legitimate role to play in the issue. This administration’s policies, however, go far beyond reasonable environmental protection. They’re anti-energy, and particularly anti-coal, policies, plain and simple. In this case, the Obama administration unilaterally imposed new emissions caps for 27 states, going after coal-fired power plants with a particular vengeance.

Virginia’s coal producers are squarely in President Obama’s sights, and these sorts of policies have a ripple effect that hurts not only the coal industry, but railroads, ports, and ultimately the consumers themselves.

Fortunately, a federal circuit court intervened, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit pointing out the obvious: “Absent a claim of constitutional authority (and there is none here), executive agencies may exercise only the authority conferred by statute, and agencies may not transgress statutory limits on that authority.” The court is absolutely right, but this is so blindingly obvious that it never should have been necessary for a court to issue such a rebuke to the President.

The EPA’s unlawful power grab was stopped in its tracks-this time. But what about next time, especially if it’s in a court filled with Obama appointees? You want a good case for the Romney-Ryan ticket? Here’s one: a President Romney won’t tie our fragile economy up in knots with needless regulations to begin with, let alone in contravention of the law!

Coal-fired plants account for 49% of Virginia’s energy, and by one estimate, more than 31,000 Virginians owe their jobs to coal. And coal isn’t just important to Virginia: at 90% of the U.S. domestic energy reserve, coal is a national issue.

It’s not, however, an issue President Obama wants to debate; perhaps it’s not a policy he thinks he can defend. His preferred approach is to load down the industry with costly regulations and needless red tape, and to do it all without congressional approval. That’s not going to fly with Virginians.

Virginians–the people who will ultimately have to suffer the rate increases to pay for the replacement of coal-fired plants. Virginians–some of whom will lose their jobs when ill-conceived EPA policies force layoffs in the coal industry, with the railroads, and at our ports.

Virginians have seen electric increases of 35% since 2005, on average, and some families have to choose between food and heat. President Obama’s misguided EPA policies are piling on, driving up the cost of electricity, and all for a politically-motivated feel-good goal that has a negligible impact on the environment.

Coal is getting cleaner: emissions are down 60% over the past four decades even as the amount of coal used by utilities has almost tripled — meaning that we’re now about 85% better at reducing emissions. And I believe that there’s more progress to be made. But simply shuttering power plants is not progress; it’s environmental luddism, and it’s hitting people in the pocketbook.

I’ll be in Bristol tomorrow, meeting with regular Virginians, people who can’t afford these failed liberal policies. And I’ll have a message for them: the author of these anti-jobs power grabs needs to get a pink slip of his own come November.

Posted August 22nd, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

The End of Welfare Reform As We Know It?

It was one of the most successful government reform measures in recent memory-so, perhaps unsurprisingly, President Obama is out to gut it.

I’m speaking of the welfare reform measures passed in 1996 which put countless Americans back to work, making welfare about seeing people through a rough patch and getting them back on track, not providing them with a free ticket for life. But now, the cornerstone of reform is under attack.

I know something about welfare reform. Before there was a federal welfare reform bill, there was the groundbreaking Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW), and I served on the commission that outlined the proposal.

By the early ’90s, the failure of the welfare system was plain for all to see-clear enough that in 1992, Bill Clinton famously vowed to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Around the same time, several states were signaling their intention to address the major flaws in their welfare programs, and in 1993, George Allen campaigned on the belief that “our obligation as a society is to provide a hand up to those in need, rather than a handout.”

In time it became apparent that Clinton had only minor cosmetic changes in mind, and it took intense pressure from a new Republican House majority (beating back an initial veto) to pass really meaningful welfare reform. By then, Virginia had already passed Governor Allen’s VIEW legislation, which came to serve as a partial template for federal law.

Welfare reform did a lot of things, but this was foremost: it required recipients to search for jobs, make themselves more employable, and actually go to work when the opportunity arose. Work participation rates rose sharply. Even the name of the new program — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — signaled a new direction. Until now.

Last Friday, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a guidance document telling states that the Secretary was prepared to waive the all-important work participation requirement, accepting “alternative” standards. In other words, the President is prepared to waive the entire underpinning of welfare reform — to waive the vital link between benefits and a concerted effort to get off welfare and back to work. I call that runing up the white flag, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

What sort of alternative benchmarks might we see? That’s anyone’s guess, but you would be shocked to see some of the things that states have tried to call “work participation” in the past. Things like exercise, journaling, attending parent-teacher meetings, motivational reading, and helping friends run errands.

Fortunately, Virginia’s list of work activities is more responsible, but under the new waivers, who knows what some states might get away with? Obama has unilaterally excised the underpinnings of welfare reform, to be replaced by who-knows-what.

It’s a shocking arrogation of power. The only waiver the Administration is authorized to make deals with details of state reporting requirements, but through a chain of convoluted logic, the Obama administration has concluded that they can also waive any requirements that states have to report on.

President Obama is rewriting the law on his own initiative, Congress notwithstanding, and as in the past, the silence from congressional Democrats is deafening. We know where George Allen stands; after all, he brought welfare reform to Virginia, and his plan helped to shape the federal bill that is now being gutted by the President. But where do our U.S. Senators stand? Where does Tim Kaine stand?

President Obama’s unilateral gutting of welfare reform ought to make you angry. Hard-working families struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t have to foot the bill for this unwinding of welfare reform. And those on welfare deserve better, too: they deserve programs that are structured around getting them back on their feet, not leaving them in limbo.

I believe in giving people a hand up — helping people get back on their feet. And so do the American people: a recent poll shows 83% support for work requirements. Unfortunately, Obama has a different vision, one in which welfare becomes an end rather than a means. Welfare is supposed to be temporary; the goal is self-sufficiency. Are we really helping by relieving people of the obligation to work? Do we really want to ratchet down the emphasis on helping people to get off welfare and earn a living?

In the early ’90s, Virginia led the way on welfare reform. If the Obama administration continues down this path, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Virginians go to the polls with a message for Obama: “Welfare reform? We really meant it.”

Posted July 24th, 2012   No Comments         Read More »

Virginia Property Rights Amendment Update

This morning, I joined Governor Bob McDonnell for an eminent domain reform signing ceremony, where the Governor signed into law the bills putting the Virginia Property Rights Amendment on the ballot this fall.

For the past seven years I’ve fought for Virginians’ property rights. After the Supreme Court decided the infamous Kelo case in 2005, I partnered with then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli to pass statutory changes to protect property rights here in Virginia.

But statutes don’t have the permanence of a constitutional amendment, and something as important as property rights belongs in the Constitution of Virginia, which is why I patroned the Virginia Property Rights Amendment. It has taken seven years since the Kelo decision, but that amendment finally passed and will go before the voters this November.

The Property Rights Amendment will secure property rights against the whims of state and local governments, ensuring that private property can only be taken for legitimate public uses — not for shopping centers or transfer to another private property owner in the name of economic development. And it will guarantee that when the government does take property, it actually provides “just compensation,” taking into account lost profits and loss access.

You and I both know that it’s just plain wrong for government to tell property owners that they are going to take their property and then transfer it to someone else who they believe has a “better” way to use it. If I want to continue to farm my property, my county shouldn’t be able to take it and convey it to a shopping center developer just because that will generate more tax revenue. The Property Rights Amendment will stop these practices, but it will not prevent the taking or condemnation of property for real public uses like schools and roads.

(For more information about the amendment and the lost profits and access definitions bill, please click here.)

I was honored to stand with our Governor today as we take another step closer to enshrining the Virginia Property Rights Amendment in our constitution. But I’m really looking forward to Election Day, when each of us will have the opportunity to cast our vote to ratify the amendment!

Posted July 16th, 2012   No Comments         Read More »
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