Thursday, November 9, 2017

When we vote, We win

I was always the crazy one
Who broke into the stadium . . .

How do you like me now
How do you like me now
Now that I'm on my way
Do you still think I'm crazy standing here today?

~Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?”

All the votes have been cast, most of the ballots counted, and in addition to a Democratic sweep of all three statewide offices, as it currently stands the Virginia House of Delegates will have 49 Democrats and 48 Republicans next year, with three races still too close to call. Although the outcome of the state sponsored recounts is not certain, Democrats are favored to win one and Republicans appear poised to hold off challengers in the other two.

That would result in a House of Delegates evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, 50-50. This has only happened once before in recent memory, after the 1999 elections. During my four years in the House of Delegates, Republican have held a 2-1 margin with Democrats having no more than 34 seats.

What a difference a year makes.

Things look much brighter today than they did in November of 2016, as we all wondered how bad a President Trump could be, and whether Democrats could ever win anything ever again. Many of us took solace in the fact that Hillary Clinton carried Virginia.

Most everyone agrees that Virginia is no longer a "purple" state up for grabs by either party. No, after this week we're as blue as the ocean.

How did it happen? What drove it? Well, in addition to wanting to send a message to Donald Trump, Virginians decided to embrace our diversity. As a result, the House of Delegates will look a lot more like Virginia in 2018.

All fifteen of the seats we have flipped or may flip are seats that were held by white men. Eleven of those were won by women. That will bring the total number of women in the General Assembly to twenty-six. We’ve also elected our first transgender delegate, our first two Latina delegates, our first lesbian delegate, and our first Asian American woman delegate.

Now, about those recounts.

In the 28th House District in Stafford there is an 84 vote margin and in the 40th House District in Fairfax a 115 vote margin. In the 94th House District race in Newport News, we trail by only TEN (10) votes. Never let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count.

As I said before, one likely scenario is a 50-50 split. That said, there are other possibilities.

Even if the Republicans retain control of the House, they will be spread pretty thin. They’ve lost chairs for four committees: Militia, Police, & Public Safety, Science & Technology, Transportation, and Courts of Justice. Their near supermajority of delegates will have dwindled to at most a single vote. With such a small majority, they will have to relearn how to work with Democrats. It won’t be easy to steamroll the things that they don’t like anymore.

If the Democrats win complete control of the House, it will be the first time since 1999. It also means that one third of our caucus will be brand new. We’ll go from being the opposition party playing defense against the worst legislative proposals to the party that governs.

A 50-50 split in the House also has huge implications for the upcoming 2018 Session and beyond. It will be a cage match, figuring out power-sharing, electing a Speaker we can all agree on, and possibly even a new Clerk of the House.

All these scenarios mean change is coming to the General Assembly. That change should be good for Falls Church and the values of our community. It will mean you have a Delegate who can't be ignored, not anymore. A Delegate who will finally get on some good committees, and may even chair one of them. There is a lot still to unfold, but all of it is good - much better than a year ago. That's for sure.

Thank you to all of you that voted, that encouraged your friends and neighbors to vote. Thank you to those that volunteered their time to work on a campaign. And a special thanks to Win Virginia, Code Blue, Indivisible Virginia, Network NoVA - to all the groups that never wavered in their determination and enthusiasm to make sure that we elected more Democrats across the state. 

You proved it - When we vote, we win!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Government that works for you

I'm on my way I'm making it, huh!
I've got to make it show yeah, hey!
So much larger than life
I'm gonna watch it growing...

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out

~Peter Gabriel, "Big Time"

Something is in the air these days.

Most years there are only a few issues people want to talk to me about on the campaign trail. What's going on in their kid's schools, what can I do to make their commute a little easier, and are we doing enough to keep their families safe. Education, transportation, public safety.

Some folks are particularly passionate about common sense gun safety laws, protecting a woman’s right to control her own medical decisions without interference from politicians, and most of my constituents are confident that the science that tells us man-made climate change is wreaking havoc with our environment.

In addition to the issues that affect them and their families directly, my constituents have always been concerned about the plight of the less fortunate. I've always had plenty of support for my efforts to shore up the holes in the social safety net and make sure the most vulnerable among us are protected.

This year, though, the term "economic insecurity" has become a new buzzword. Many people think it explains our recent Presidential election, and the strong feelings of many that the current system is in need of a major disruptor-in-chief to shake things up.

What are Democrats and folks like you, Delegate Simon, going to do about that? That’s the tough question I’ve been hearing most lately.

The truth is there is a lot that I and my Democratic colleagues have been doing - or trying to do. We recognize that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is corrosive to our form of participatory democracy.

A Living Wage, Paid Sick Days, & Student Loan Debt

Virginians working hard at a full time job ought to earn a living wage - to make enough to meet their basic human needs. While this may not be something that folks reading this e-mail have to worry about personally - we understand that all of us are better off when everyone who works a full-time job can find decent housing, can afford to feed their kids nutritious food, and can even afford to put money aside for major purchases like cars and homes. And no one should be one illness away from losing their job, or one serious medical issue away from bankruptcy.

That's why I was the first person in Virginia to propose minimum wage legislation that would eventually get us to a $15.00 an hour wage.

That's why I am the small business owner and entrepreneur that also supports mandatory sick days for all Virginia employers.

And that's why I support allowing those saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt and unconscionably high interest rates to have the opportunity to refinance that debt with a state backed loan, to lower their interest rates and payments, and fully participate in the Virginia economy.

The growing gap between rich and poor, between haves and have nots, has many causes. There is no one solution that will bring our economy back into balance. State government and the Virginia General Assembly can do many things to make life better for working class Virginians, and all Virginians for that matter.

We can require employers to pay higher wages, we can repeal laws that prevent us from having stronger unions and we can pass better consumer protection laws for student borrowers and all consumers.

When I was kid I was always taught if I worked hard, played by the rules, and got good grades I'd get a good education. That would be enough to help me find a good job. From there I’d be able to make a comfortable living while I raised my own family.

For too many people that promise isn't being kept. I hope you will vote November 7, 2017 to send me back to Richmond where I'll continue working, harder than ever, and with an even greater sense of urgency, to make good on that promise for all of us.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Government you can trust

Free thinkin', hoodwinkin', unblinkin' man 
Start trouble, burst bubbles, join my caravan 
Someone's got to talk about accountability 
Someone's got to raise some hell, I guess it could be me

~Jimmy Buffett, "Cultural Infidel"

One of the foremost issues of our time is the rapid erosion of faith and trust in our fundamental American institutions. We are hearing from more and more Virginians that the system is rigged for the benefit of wealthy and powerful interests, and that there is no meaningful opportunity for an individual to be a change agent with the hope of improving their own lot in life.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to solving this problem, but I do know that in Virginia, the General Assembly is a good place to start. Here in the Commonwealth we have lots of room for improvement.

In Virginia it’s too easy to feel like your vote for Delegate doesn’t count, because a district was drawn so safely that the incumbent only has to answer to a few members of the local party committee to stay “safe” in the seat.

It’s easy to feel like your letters, phone calls, and postcards don’t matter nearly as much as the tens of thousands of dollars pouring into the campaign accounts of incumbent legislators in a state where we don’t have limits on campaign contributions. Anyone, any corporation, company, or legal entity can contribute any amount of money and recipients are free to spend the money on themselves and their families.

It’s easy to feel like the whole system is corrupt when you read about elected officials driving around in Ferrari’s wearing, Rolex watches, and flying on private planes to Augusta for the Master’s – all on someone else's dime- someone who wants to curry favor for their client or their company.

I ran for office to continue the good works of my predecessor, Jim Scott, and to also have the opportunity to work to improve people’s lives. This can be done most effectively when we trust the government to do its job. One way to ensure that trust is to have free and fair elections by unrigging the political system that depends on gerrymandering and campaign finance rules that give out-sized influence to map-makers and mega-contributors.

Campaign Finance Reform

For my part, I pride myself on earning more support from small individual donors than from corporations or PACs.

Since 2014, I've introduced legislation every year to address the most obvious (and, in my view, embarrassing) issue - candidates legally converting campaign contributions to personal use. And every year there is a new justification for not passing it - the language is too broad, the language is too narrow, or do we really need this?

I’ve also introduced legislation to prohibit all corporations from contributing to state political campaigns.

Election Reform

More recently we’ve come to learn that foreign powers are working hard to erode our confidence in the integrity not just of the electoral process, but the process of counting our cast ballots as well.

That’s only the latest assault, though, on our election system. For years certain communities have had their vote systematically suppressed through unnecessary laws requiring unexpired government issued photo ID at the polls with no discretion for election chiefs to simply say – I know that person, they are my neighbor.

We have limited the ability to vote early in Virginia, and have artificial and arbitrary deadlines to register to vote. I am an advocate for no excuse absentee voting, vote by mail pilot programs, increasing the time frame for absentee voting, automatic voter registration, and same day registration.

Your continued support means a lot to me. It’s imperative that we have faith in the institutions of a Government that is of the people, by the people and for the people. Should I win my reelection on November 7th, you can trust that I will continue to work for you and your families, our community - for all of us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bound to get together

We were victims of the night
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light
Oh we were bound to get together Bound to get together

~Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance"

After last week's e-newsletter about what we can do about gun violence prevention, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about other bipartisan efforts I've worked on. With Election Day only a month away, it's important that we look ahead.

So, starting this week and going until the election on November 7th, I'll be devoting my almost weekly e-newsletter to reminding you about some of the things I've been up to for the last four years and what I've planned for the next two - should I be re-elected.

Bound to Work Together

My original campaign slogan was "Working Harder, Working Together." I'd like to think that I've delivered on both of those campaign promises during my first two terms as Delegate.

Each Session, there are about 3,000 bills and resolutions that are introduced to be considered during our 45 or 60 day sessions. Starting with the 2014 Session, I have co-patroned 622 pieces of legislation, 422 of which were passed by both the House and the Senate.

In 2014, I introduced HB 49, which prohibited the sharing or selling of pictures of another person without their consent. During the legislative process, my bill was incorporated into HB 326, introduced by a more senior Republican who happened to be the chair of subcommittee that would have to advance the bill. We continued to work together on it as it moved through the committee process. Eventually, the bill made it to the full House for a vote where it passed 99 to 1, then passed the Senate, and was signed into law by the Governor.

In 2015, I had three Republicans co-patron my fair housing legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2016, I worked with three prominent Republicans as chief co-patrons on bills we shared. I worked with a now GOP Congressman on our fair housing bill - a version which passed the Senate in bi-partisan fashion in both 2016 and 2017. With a few pick-ups this November, I'm confident it will pass the House as well in 2018.

I worked with a former GOP Lt. Governor candidate as chief co-patron of our bill to allow students to refinance their federal student loans. That bill was carried over for study by SCHEV and continues to enjoy broad bi-partisan support as we continue to work out the mechanics and details of how to administer and fund the program.

I even chief co-patroned with the House Majority Whip on a bill that made Virginia the first state in the country to pass legislation to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports websites. Working for Us

In this age where much of politics has gotten so tribal, it's not always easy to work across party lines. I've deliberately left the names of my colleagues out of this to try to minimize any grief they may get from their own political base during an election year.

Sometimes working for us means standing strong and playing defense against legislation that is harmful to our shared vision for Virginia. And sometimes it means working with folks who you don't often have much in common with to get things through a legislature where you are outnumbered 2 to 1.

I'm working hard to make sure that your voices are heard in Richmond.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I won't back down

Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No, I'll stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground

~Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "I Won't Back Down"
(October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017)

It’s getting hard to plan ahead. Several weeks ago I mapped out an e-mail plan for the last few weeks for the campaign that was supposed to start yesterday morning.

Week 1 was going to be about how "Working for Us" sometimes means working together with the majority party in Richmond, sometimes without receiving top-billing for all the hard work.

When I woke up, though, and saw the horrible news alerts pinging my phone, my heart sank. I decided to wait to send my first e-mail.

Then I decided that now is the right time to have a political discussion about common sense gun violence prevention measures we can and should be taking to keep our families and community safe. I mean, the NRA is all set to flood political campaigns with contributions and their own political ads (like the $750,000 TV ads in Virginia they have now scheduled for October 10th). Let’s air both sides of the story.

When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough

Talking to family, friends, and constituents about this, I often hear the same questions. What can we do? What can be done?

Some of you know that I've introduced legislation over the years to help curb the proliferation of guns in our community. None of these bills ever made it out of subcommittee, but they have stimulated discussions, some of which have led to actual policy changes, even here in Virginia.

HB 48/HB 2328 - My very first bill would have prohibited anyone who is convicted of domestic violence from possessing, transporting, or carrying a firearm following a conviction. HB 2328 would require the individual to turn their firearms in to local law enforcement. A version of these two policies passed in 2016, as part of a compromise regarding concealed carry reciprocity.

HB 1142/HB 2359 - Twice I’ve introduced bills that would actually require concealed carry permit holders to demonstrate competence with a handgun. Under current law, you can take an online course that requires no interaction with an instructor or even a demonstration of handling the firearm. Can you imagine licensing drivers of cars without making them take behind the wheel training and passing a road test?

HB 1671/HB 1685 - Twice I’ve carried bills for Governor McAuliffe to reinstate Virginia’s effective one handgun per month purchase policy. This policy was repealed in 2012 after decades of success in preventing "straw man" purchases in Virginia that were later linked to crimes in other states.

HB 149/HB 425 - Would have been Virginia’s version of No Fly No Buy. Individuals who are on the federal Terrorist Screening Database would have been disqualified from obtaining a concealed handgun permit and purchasing a handgun.

HB 423/HB424 - In response to the opening of a gun store next to a local elementary school in McLean, would have prevented individuals from possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school or at least allow localities to adopt ordinances prohibiting firearms within a school zone at their option.

HB 1313 - Would have simply allowed an individual requesting a protective order to request that order include language requiring their stalker or abuser to surrender any firearms to law enforcement.

HB 1683 - Prohibits the carrying of a loaded shotgun or rifle in places open to the public in certain cities and counties.

HB 1684 - Restricts access to firearms for those under 14. Firearms must be reasonably secured or individual is guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

HB 2466 - Requires all dealers who sell or transfer any handgun to also have personalized handguns available for sale i.e. smart gun technology.

I know many of us feel helpless in the face of all the bad news that seems to be overwhelming our newsfeeds. In Virginia we aren’t - in just over a month we have a chance to make our voices heard by voting. We can send a message that we won’t accept regular mass shootings, inept government response to crises, and divisive debates about who is a true patriot to become the new normal - not here in Virginia.

We have an opportunity to vote out the author of the bill that repealed Virginia’s effective, common sense one handgun a month purchase limit. We have the opportunity to vote out legislators who blocked legislation to ban high capacity ammunition clips, and limit where you can open carry machine guns. So, please be sure to register to vote and then either vote early or on November 7th. We can do this together.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Being an Elected Official

Virginia has a part time legislature, with the House of Delegates and State Senate in session only in January and February, and every other year the first week of March. At least that’s the theory.

There is certainly enough going on to keep me busy 40 hours a week or more being your Delegate and representative in Richmond.

Last weekend was a great example. Instead of my usual Saturday morning trip to the Falls Church farmer’s market, I started out at the Annual Taste of Falls Church and Fall Festival. I was humbled by the number of constituents who approached me and told me they recognized me from my newsletter, or from reading the Falls Church News Press, or following me on Facebook and Twitter.

I was so happy to visit with my friends working the booth at Virginia 2021, a group that advocates for fair and non-partisan redistricting in Virginia. I saw my friends from the League of Women Voters registering and sharing information about the Fall Ballot. I saw familiar faces advocating for common sense action to reduce gun violence, and stopped to chat at the AAUW booth to talk about Student Loan Debt, one of the issues I’m most passionate about.

I got so busy meeting, greeting and chatting with constituents I barely had time to eat.

About half way through the day, I headed over to the Eden Center for another festival, celebrating the Lunar New Year with merchants and members of the Vietnamese community. I ran into the Mayor and introduced my son to bubble tea, and got to speak with many new American residents of the 53rd House district.

Later I returned with my son to close out the Taste of Falls Church before taking him to Flag Football tryouts at George Mason High School where I got reacquainted with the football parents from last season.

Sunday was another full day, as I attended one of a series of neighborhood meet and greets hosted by a constituent in the Pine Spring neighborhood. We chatted about Air BNB ordinances, school funding to help speed along the renovation of Falls Church High School, requiring Virginia employers to have fair leave policies, and even how to get permit parking districts expanded. The things that affect neighbors on a daily basis.

From there I headed to an event for NARAL Virginia. And then on to Gerry Connolly’s half way to St. Patty’s event in the 11th Congressional District one of two in my House of Delegates Districts.

As day turned to evening I headed over to McLean High School (where my daughter goes and I graduated) for a town hall with 8th District Congressman Don Beyer. I was so impressed with Congressman Beyer’s answer to questions on health care for all, net neutrality, improving guest worker visa application processes, and more.

I think maybe you all are starting to get the idea. Being a member of the House of Delegates is about much more than spending a few weeks each winter in Richmond. It’s about more than keeping track of how many bills passed vs. how many failed.

Don’t get me wrong, the time we spend in Richmond is incredibly important. We cast thousands of votes each session on the floor and in committee on an incredible range of issues.

How am I supposed to know how to cast those votes if I don’t know my district? I cast those votes on behalf of you, my constituents, my fellow Virginians.

I’m not complaining. This is a typical weekend in the life of a Delegate. Holding this office and representing all the people of my district, which includes Merrifield and the City of Falls Church, and much of the rest of Falls Church, is a responsibility I take seriously.

Being an elected official is about listening and being active in the community at all levels – city, county, and state. I truly enjoy the opportunity to meet constituents, to hear concerns, and to work to make our community and the Commonwealth the best place to live, work, and raise a family. This is why I keep a full calendar. This is why I’m running for re-election in November.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hate has no place here

The Simon family is on our annual beach vacation this week.

Before I left for vacation, I had my Falls Church News-Press column all ready to go: a back to school column on education issues, student debt and Fairfax County’s school board special election on August 29 (absentee voting is underway, and don’t forget to vote Tuesday after next!).

Every year since I started my own business, we’ve rented a house in Rehoboth or Lewes Delaware, because it’s the beach closest to home. Midweek or middle of the night I can usually make the trip in about two hours forty minutes. As a small business owner, I needed to be able to buzz back to Falls Church on short notice to deal with an emergency, or to handle a case for a really important client.

The business has grown since then, to the point that I can take a week off without interruption. I have very capable partners and associates who can handle just about anything, and the phone in my pocket is more powerful than the laptop I used to tote around back then. Legislative work is rarely an emergency this time of year, so I don’t worry about it too much.

Then Saturday came. On the drive east I couldn’t tear myself away from my Twitter feed. It was full of news and images from Charlottesville. (I had Rachel drive.)

The first clue that this would be no ordinary demonstration came Friday night, when a group of tiki torch-bearing marchers paraded through the university town chanting white supremacist slogans.

On Saturday, a coalition of neo-Nazi white supremacists and neo-confederates gathered in Charlottesville under the guise of a “Unite the Right” rally, ostensibly organized to protest the potential removal of a confederate monument. Counter demonstrations were also planned.

By now you’ve probably all read the news accounts of the violent clashes that seemed to continue to escalate all morning, until a white supremacist from Ohio drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Virginia State Police Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates also died when their helicopter crashed while they were attempting to monitor the rallies from the air.

I was glad to see Virginia Republican leaders, unlike the President, have condemned the overt displays of racism and white supremacy on display in Charlottesville last weekend. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. These demonstrators obviously got the idea somewhere that such displays are now acceptable. They feel comfortable enough to chant “Jews will not replace us” unmasked in front of video cameras.

It is time that the same leaders who denounced the waving of Nazi swastika flags recognize the racism inherent in many of the policies and proposals we’ve seen during the first months of the Trump administration. Policies we’ve seen advocated for in Virginia for years before that.

The president’s Muslim travel ban. Proposals to monitor and track immigrants who settle in Virginia. Virginia’s voter suppression laws (passed under the guise of voter fraud prevention) that disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color. Redistricting bills that courts have found were drawn to deliberately limit African Americans’ voice in Congress and the state legislature.

In the past few days, I have received over 1,000 emails from every corner of Virginia, unequivocally condemning these hateful acts and calling for legislation to track hate crimes and a state task force designed to promote policies welcoming everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status or citizenship. I know my Republican colleagues are getting the same emails. I hope they are listening.

Since my very first session, I’ve introduced or sponsored legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to promote fair housing, uphold marriage equality, and prohibit discrimination based on religious beliefs. To make voting easier for everyone. To reform Virginia’s criminal justice system to end practices that resulted in the labeling of one in four African American men in Virginia felons depriving them of their civil rights.

These are the issues I am passionate about because it is the right thing to do and because I believe these are the issues that you, my constituents, want me to be passionate about. As your Delegate I’ll continue to work for what’s right, to work for you, to work for all of us.