Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign

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Schuyler VanValkenburg
addresses supporters Feb. 22.
Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run.

In college, he described himself as apolitical. However, VanValkenburg described the “elephant in the room,” saying that Donald Trump’s presidential win was really the “gasoline” that fueled his political fire.

A self-proclaimed “Constitution nerd,” VanValkenburg said he hopes to organize Henrico Democrats, in a county that went blue in the 2016 presidential election, and create a General Assembly that follows the ethos the country was founded on – “ life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

“How do you actually pursue happiness?” VanValkenburg asked. “You have to have the access to be healthy, you have to have the opportunity to work at a job that can provide meaning and stability, you have to have access to education for mobility and self confidence.”

At a young age, VanValkenburg watched his father grow ill, lose his autonomy and ultimately lose his ability to be a parent. During his childhood in his industrial upstate New York hometown, just outside of Albany, VanValkenburg was unaware to the hardships and difficulties around him because his mother — an educator and rigid Republican — was a “superwoman.”

That relationship with his mother, he said, “is evidence that people with different political agendas may not be as different as they may think,” VanValkenburg said at his campaign kickoff event on Wednesday in Lakeside at the Final Gravity brewery.

“At the root of it all we all to some extent go by the American creed that fear doesn’t win, dividing doesn’t win and people want to be their better angels.”

In another anecdote, VanValkenburg discussed his first day out canvassing. The first door he knocked opened to a man with strong fundamentalist Christian beliefs who extolled his passionate beliefs for 20 minutes — but VanValkenburg said with a smile, “although he probably won’t vote for me, he signed my petition.”

Sara and Mark Hudson, two supporters at the kickoff event, discussed their frustration with current local and national politics.

Sara Hudson, a pre-K teacher, said she is “disgusted by adults in politics who act in ways that I would reprimand my children for… It’s sad that we teach our kids that everyone is valid and deserves love and respect, yet adults can act in ways that are so uncaring and unforgiving.”

Mark Hudson, a Republican, was at the kickoff in support of VanValkenburg, because he is frustrated with current representation and proud that someone finally has “stepped up.”

“He’s lovely, down to earth and most importantly, approachable,” said Lisa Rogerson, a VanValkenburg supporter.

VanValkenburg hopes to focus his efforts on education reform and limit the gerrymandering that he believes has occurred in the General Assembly. He said he wants to better represent the “purple” district of Henrico, referring to its increasingly Democratic leanings.

“We need someone who is intelligent and actually represents the people,” added Theresa Kennedy, a fellow supporter. “He knows what it’s like to pay bills, raise kids and knows what keeps the rest of us up at night.”

Both VanValkenburg and his supporters hope to start a movement for Democrats from the bottom up, focusing on local and state elections in order to stir democratic support at the national level in 2020.

“I’m an honest broker who listens, but willing to say I am not always right, let’s look at both sides of the issue,” VanValkenburg said. “They’ll know where I stand. That’s my appeal.”

Margaret Graham, the legislative assistant to Massie, said that Massie is “focused on state business… He will begin his campaign-related activities by mid-March.”

Construction begins on JA Finance Park at Libbie Mill

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(Photo by Patty Kruszewski, Henrico Citizen)
School and business leaders from around the region, including (pictured, from left) Simon Hodges of Dominion Resources, Daphne Swanso(president of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia) and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas, gathered at Libbie Mill Library Feb. 23 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park construction kickoff.

Once the new site of Finance Park at Libbie Mill is completed, JA of Central Virginia is expected to double in size. The Finance Park financial literacy program – previously housed in a trailer that traveled to schools – allows students the chance to apply classroom lessons to real life through role-playing and immersion in hypothetical situations, such as budgeting for a family.

Assembly poised to OK state budget on Friday

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Finishing a day early, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a budget Wednesday that includes employee pay raises and more money for K-12 education and mental health.

The negotiators presented their budget to their fellow lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review, which could be completed by Friday night with a chance to adjourn their 2017 session before Saturday’s target date.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “This conference report responsibly addresses the challenges facing the commonwealth, prioritizes funding for our schools and public safety professionals, and is fiscally conservative.”

The budget was approved early for the third consecutive year, which is a stark contrast to the U.S. Congress, which has been notoriously slow at approving federal spending plans.

“While Washington drowns in debts and is mired in gridlock, the Republican-led General Assembly has produced a conservative budget ahead of schedule for the third time in a row,” said Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta County, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We continue to chart a prudent fiscal course for Virginia. The investments in education, health care and public safety will improve the lives of our citizens and make Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The new budget allocates $83.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and college faculty, in contrast to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal for a one-time, 1.5 percent bonus to employees. The budget also sets aside funds to implement House Speaker William Howell’s Commission on State Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform.

This means $200,000 will be set aside for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to complete a total compensation study of all state employees, and $140,000 for state agencies to incorporate succession planning and re-hiring in their strategic plans.

This year’s agreed-upon budget exceeds the governor’s investment in K-12 education by approximately $18 million, as well as investing $15 billion for direct aid to public education.

Before the 2010 budget, 35 percent of lottery proceeds were given to local schools. This year’s budget re-establishes that practice, and lottery proceeds will send $191.3 million back to localities to help with public education.

The budget also helps higher education by reducing the governor’s cuts by $20 million. This is part of the General Assembly’s continued effort to make higher education more affordable. The budget will also restore full funding to the Virginia Tech Extension Service, as well as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. In addition, there will be no reductions in funding to Norfolk State University and Virginia State University.

In the health sector, the conference budget invests $32.2 million to build a stronger healthcare safety net, including funding for substance abuse treatment. It also increases eligibility for the Governor's Access Plan, which is a program that helps provide behavioral health for Virginia's uninsured adults.

The conference budget does not include the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which might not end up having much of an impact anyway if the Trump administration’s proposal to replace Medicaid with federal block grants to each state is adopted.

The budget also restores the Stanley amendment, which doesn’t let the governor expand Medicaid without approval from the General Assembly.

The conference budget was created to decrease general-fund spending by 5 percent over 10 years when adjusted for population and inflation.

Section of Charles City Road to close beginning Feb. 26

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A section of Charles City Road, from Lewis Road to South Airport Drive, will be closed beginning Sunday, Feb. 26 as part of a project to widen and improve the road.

The Henrico County Department of Public Works expects the closure to last for a few weeks.

Westbound traffic on Charles City will be detoured around the work zone by way of South Airport, Seven Hills Boulevard and Laburnum Avenue. Eastbound traffic will be redirected onto Lewis, Norman Road and South Airport.

The work is part of a $3.5 million project to widen Charles City between Miller and Lisle roads to a four-lane divided road, with curb and gutter, drainage improvements, turning lanes and an upgraded crossing of the CSX railroad.

ACLU urges McAuliffe to veto anti-immigration bills

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Clare Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday to veto Republican-backed legislation banning local governments in Virginia from designating themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. They also said they plan to fight federal and state policies that they believe violate immigrants’ rights.

At a news conference, representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and other civil rights organizations criticized anti-immigrant measures passed by the General Assembly. They also condemned the recent spike in deportation raids on immigrant communities in Virginia by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

“We’re here this morning to talk about actions to be taken at the state level that must be understood in this larger context,” said Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

Gastañaga began the news conference by discussing bills that her group has asked McAuliffe to veto. They include HB 2000, which the Republican-controlled Senate passed on a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Charles R. Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would ban any local government in the state from declaring itself as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, meaning that local officials promise not to cooperate with ICE in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats have also spoken out against the bill, saying it undermines trust-building efforts between communities and local police.

“Whether it is intentional or not, this is a messaging bill sending a message to immigrants, whether they are here legally or not, that they are not welcome,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellen, D-Richmond. “American citizens are being swept up in ICE raids along with undocumented immigrants. We are better than this as a commonwealth.”

Republicans have supported legislation to crack down on sanctuary cities.

Ed Gillespie, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, issued a statement in support of Poindexter’s bill. He called the ban on sanctuary cities a common-sense approach to immigration policy.

“Local governments should not be able to ignore federal immigration laws,” Gillespie said. “As governor, I would support and sign Delegate Poindexter’s HB 2000 because it is a reasonable measure to keep Virginians safe and enforce the law.”

The ACLU also urged McAuliffe to veto:

• HB 2002, also sponsored by Poindexter. It would require refugee resettlement agencies in Virginia to file annual reports containing personal details about the refugees, including their age, gender, country of origin and where they were resettled.

• HB 1468, which would allow local sheriffs and jail officials to hold undocumented immigrants for ICE for an additional 48 hours after they are set to be released. Sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Manassas, the measure was passed by the General Assembly after a mostly party-line vote in the House of Delegates.

“Supporters of bills such as these that target immigrants point to instances in other parts of the country in which undocumented immigrants were released from custody by local law enforcement and went on to commit crimes in the community,” Gastañaga wrote in a letter to McAuliffe.

Gastañaga’s letter also asked the governor to agree not to sign a 278(g) agreement, which would volunteer state police in apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants. She said the state’s immigration laws already mandate jails and prisons to check the immigration status of everyone taken into custody.

Two days ago, McAuliffe responded to Gastañaga’s letter and agreed that the use of 287(g) agreements would negatively impact public safety and health.

“I have seen no evidence that entering into 278(g) agreements will enhance Virginia’s public safety,” McAuliffe wrote. “I will not endorse the use of these agreements in the absence of any evidence that they will make our communities safer.”

Several speakers from human rights organizations were present at the news conference, including Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. According to Nguyen, the three bills that the ACLU wants McAuliffe to veto are merely “message bills” that will encourage immigrant families to “move further into the shadows.”

“They have no clear definition of a sanctuary city, and there are no sanctuary cities in the commonwealth,” Nguyen said. “These bills just incite fear and a sense of unwelcomeness in the immigrant communities.”

Michelle LaRue, Virginia director of CASA, an advocacy organization for low-income immigrant communities, also spoke. LaRue, herself a refugee from Guatemala after escaping the country’s civil war, said the legislation would make undocumented immigrants more afraid than they already are to report crimes, either as victims or as witnesses.

“These bills are affecting safety at large,” LaRue said. “Parents are having their kids, even kindergarteners, walk to the bus stops themselves in fear of not going outside, or having the children run errands for them … Many times, it’s in neighborhoods where it’s not safe to do so.”

McAuliffe has promised to veto any Republican-backed anti-sanctuary legislation. The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, told The Associated Press earlier this month that McAuliffe would veto any measure forcing localities to enforce federal immigration laws. Coy said the governor views the bills as “attempts to divide and demonize people.”

“Throughout my administration, I have advocated to make Virginia a more welcoming and diverse home for all of its residents,” McAuliffe wrote in his letter to Gastañaga. “My administration has advanced this goal without jeopardizing the safety of our citizens.”
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Business in brief

Greg Cuenin, of Midlothian, recently joined MetLife Bank as a reverse mortgage consultant for the Richmond region. Prior to joining MetLife Bank, Cuenin worked as an area director at MetLife Home Loans for 13 years. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a B.A. in Education and is currently president of the Richmond Mortgage Bankers Association. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond will celebrate the 80th birthday of legendary composer Philip Glass at 7:30 p.m. in Camp Concert Hall, Booker Hall of Music. “The Complete Piano Études” features Glass who will be joined by world-renowned pianists Maki Namekawa, Aaron Diehl, Timo Andres, and Lisa Kaplan. To expand his repertoire and to hone his skills on the piano, Glass composed 20 Оtudes with a broad range of dynamics and tempo. A pre-show Artistic Viewpoint Discussion with Glass, led by Lisa Kaplan, will start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $50. For details, call 289-8980 or visit http://www.modlin.richmond.edu. Full text

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