Friday, December 22, 2023

Best of 2023

 My December column comes so late in the year I decided to make it a “Best of 2023 Edition.”

Here are my favorite lines from my 11 monthly Richmond Reports here in the Falls Church New Press.

In January, I wrote about having to participate in the opening days of the new legislative session remotely because I’d finally contracted COVID-19. My favorite line:

While I was out, I missed the kerfuffle that occurred outside my office in the Pocahontas Building over my Little Banned Book Library. 

Fortunately, it was just a kerfuffle and the library will return in 2024.

In February, I was already writing about the waning days of our short session. My favorite line described the developing budget impasse:

Unfortunately, the House budget, crafted by Republicans, falls short in meeting the needs of hardworking Virginians. At the heart of the budget are over $350 million in corporate tax breaks, which disproportionately benefit big businesses rather than the average Virginian.

By March the short session was over, and I dedicated this column to shouting out retiring legislators while predicting November’s election would focus a on a very small number of seats:

By packing us all into nice, geometrically pretty districts, we’ve created 46 or 47 safely Democratic districts where you can win without a single Republican or independent vote, and about 42 or 43 on the Republican side. This leaves maybe 10 -12 competitive seats up for grabs in November. 

In April, I reported on the retirement announcement of Kaye Kory, with whom I’d been drawn together in redistricting, and the results of our reconvened session, which ended without a budget deal. We’d also learned that Governor Youngkin had stopped restoring the voting rights of former felons who had completed their jail sentences, and I wrote:

I urge the Governor to return to the automatic restoration of voting rights, as it's a crucial step in promoting a more inclusive and just society.

In May, I took the gloves off with the Governor and his administration over another issue involving voting rights:

As the parent of two very young adults who are coming of age at a time when social media is often their primary source of news about current events, I’ve had to spend a lot of effort teaching my kids how to be smart and discerning consumers of quality information. How to tell facts from fiction and identify intentional disinformation campaigns.

Unfortunately, that skill set doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for employment in Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's Administration.

In June of 2023, Donald Trump was indicted and our Governor tweeted in support of the former President. I took him to task for it:

Youngkin couldn’t be more wrong about the nature of the charges against the former President. I wonder if he regrets his decision to tweet before the indictments were unsealed.

In July, we still didn’t have a state budget and I wrote about what that would mean to our local school systems here in Falls Church City and Fairfax:

Unfortunately, when the kids do go back to school in just a few short weeks, public school students here in Falls Church and Fairfax will be in classrooms staffed by teachers who are once again being asked to do more with less.


Because Governor Glenn Younkin’s Department of Education flunked math last semester and miscalculated the state’s share of education funding by about $201 million.

August’s column was written after Ohio proponents of abortion rights won the day passing a referendum to enshrine abortion access in their state constitution. I made this promise:

With control of both the House and Senate, we can pass a resolution to put a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would make access to abortion a constitutionally protected right in Virginia, just as it was at the federal level before the Dobb’s decision.  

By September we finally had a state budget:

The Governor’s agenda of giving big tax breaks to corporations at the expense of public education funding was soundly defeated as the conferees’ budget largely resembled the draft put forth by Senate Democrats at the end of February.

In October, I made some dire predictions about what would happen if Republicans gained majorities in both houses of the General Assembly giving the Governor’s party total control of state government:

Frankly, I’d rather not find out if these predictions come true.

Fortunately, last month I was able to report back that Virginians had given Democrats a majority in both houses. The takeaway:

This was a major rebuke to Governor Glenn Younkin and a setback for his presidential ambitions. Hopefully he’ll be humbled by the result and step back from some of the incendiary actions he took during his early years, with executive orders establishing a teacher snitch line, and attempting to limit teaching of history under the guise of a ban on divisive concepts in the class room.


Friday, November 17, 2023

2023 Election Results

Last week’s election brought a wave of change to the General Assembly. There are 34 new delegates-elect – 20 new Democrats and 14 new Republicans. With a new ruling Democratic majority of 51 to 49 in the House and 21 to 19 in the Senate.  

So, let me take this opportunity to thank those who helped make this happen – my constituents and supporters. With all the 13th District ballots counted, I earned 82% of the vote in Falls Church. It’s clear I wouldn’t be where I am without you and I can’t express how honored I am to continue representing the Little City and the new 13th District.  

With City Councilmember retirements, including my good friend Phil Duncan, this paved the way for some new members of the Falls Church City Council. Letty Hardi handily won re-election and will now be working with the newest councilmembers, Justine Underhill and Erin Flynn.  

On the School Board, Jerrod Anderson won reelection and we can welcome Bethany Henderson and Amie Murphy as the newest members. 

I also want to congratulate our new state senator, Saddam Salim. He and his campaign team worked diligently to earn the votes and support of our mutual constituents this past year. I look forward to working with him in the General Assembly for many years to come. 

And the winning doesn’t stop there. Congratulations to Andres Jiminez for winning the Mason District Supervisor race, Jimmy Bierman for the Dranesville District Supervisor race, and to Dalia Palchik for winning reelection as Providence District Supervisor.  

However, the biggest headline is that Democrats took control of the House of Delegates again with a slim majority of 51 to 49. And we maintained control of the state Senate.  

Overall, this year’s election proved the most expensive yet in Virginia. In the final stretch to ForElection Day, Democrats outraised Republicans, particularly in the House races - $14.2 million compared to $8.4 million.  

In this kind of divided government, where the election stakes were high and the resulting majority is narrow, we have to look for opportunities to be non-partisan. Because while Democratic control of the General Assembly means that we can stand against the most egregious right-wing legislation, it also means that getting the Governor to sign legislation that does reach his desk will be a challenge.  

So, in that vein, I’m focusing on the roots of my campaign promises – campaign finance reform. Every year that I have been in office, I have introduced a form of campaign finance legislation, whether it’s to require independent audits, banning personal use of campaign funds, or strengthening our campaign ethics laws. The only thing different in 2024 is that this issue is one that can work within the confines of the new makeup of the General Assembly and with our current Governor.

Friday, October 20, 2023

What A Virginia GOP Majority Looks Like

This is my last column before the November 7th general election, where all 140 members of the General Assembly are on the ballot across Virginia. In 2019, I used this column to try to help readers imagine how much better Virginia could be if we managed to take control of both the House and Senate with a Democratic Governor already two years into his term. 

A year later, I used this column to reflect on how much of what I’d predicted had come to pass.

We’d passed seven common sense gun violence prevention bills, expanded voter access to the polls, instituted meaningful criminal justice reform, repealed the death penalty, expanded anti-discrimination laws, passed the Equal Rights Amendment, and continued the minimum wage increase.

Although we lost our House majority by less than 300 total votes in 2021, with the Democrats holding the State Senate, the GOP failed in their efforts to roll back or repeal most of these laws over the last two years, but not for a lack of trying.

We know what can happen if we have the majority.

In 2023, this column is about what happens if the Virginia GOP takes control of the Senate and the House in addition to the top three state-wide offices.

Let's Travel to the 2024 Session

I can tell you it won’t be pretty. Everything that the Republicans have failed to do legislatively, they will do. There will be nothing to stop them.

The Governor has already said repeatedly that he will “gleefully” sign any abortion restriction bill that reaches his desk. I know Halloween is right around the corner, but don’t be tricked by the Governor’s efforts to mask his true intentions. Given the opportunity, the Virginia GOP would pass legislation banning abortion.

This is in spite of the fact that a recently released poll from Christopher Newport University found that more than 70% of Virginians think our abortion laws should stay the same or become less restrictive than they are now.

Speaking of masquerading as something you aren’t, we’ve watching the Governor funding a PR campaign to encourage Republican voters to set aside their concerns about early voting. At the same time, the Virginia House GOP passed bills that would have all but eliminated early voting, reduced the number of early voting days, banned ballot drop boxes, and require even more aggressive purging of voter rolls. They will certainly never pass a Constitutional Amendment on the Right to Vote and restoration of rights will become even less of a priority.

And all the budget surpluses accumulated under Democratic leadership? Look for sweeping corporate tax cuts. Every economic advantage that the Governor wanted for big corporations in the recent state budget, Republicans will push for at the expense of individual taxpayers.

Criminal justice reform and gun violence prevention programs will take a hard hit. They’ll put a stop to any true reform like earned sentence credits. Getting a concealed carry permit will get even easier as will purchasing any kind of firearm. Plus, you’ll see the end of “gun free” zones as firearms will be permitted anywhere.

While it’s possible they won’t come outright with a banned book list, they will institute tighter control over what our public schools and public libraries have access to, and what our kids can read.

And that’s not the only aspect of our kids’ education that will come under attack. We saw their response to COVID-19 protocols. There is already a teacher shortage and Republicans seeming distrust of teachers will only make this worse.

You should expect to see weakening of protections for the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination at schools or in employment under the guise of so-called “religious freedom” exceptions.

The Governor’s withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will have only been the first step in their plan to reduce environmental protections and to continue to deny the extent or even the existence of climate change.

Public employees will likely lose their right to form unions and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions.

Frankly, I’d rather not find out if these predictions come true. And I’d rather not be writing a March column that points to all the bad bills the Republicans passed during the 2024 Session that the Governor will gleefully sign into law.

This election is so important, and we owe it to ourselves, to those we love, and to our community to ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place to live, work, and raise a family.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The September Marathon

It’s been a busy few weeks since my big Labor Day BBQ and September shows no signs of slowing down. Between knocking doors here at home and in swing districts across Virginia, attending a Special Session in Richmond, and preparing for the imminent start of the early voting period, the fall is shaping up to be a marathon of activity as we sprint to the end of the year.

I know I’m mixing my running metaphors here, but stick with me. What I’m trying to say is it’s very busy!

The Budget Deal

On September 6th, the General Assembly returned to Richmond for a special session on the state budget. The Governor’s agenda of giving big tax breaks to corporations at the expense of public education funding was soundly defeated as the conferees’ budget largely resembled the draft put forth by Senate Democrats at the end of February. While it’s a shame we lost several months of important funding, here are a few highlights from a budget that prioritized education, mental health care, and putting money back in the wallets of hard-working Virginians.


For our teachers (and state employees), there is an additional 2% salary increase that will go into effect later this year. The budget also includes a $645.3 million increase in direct aid to schools with the City of Falls Church getting an additional $307,343. Plus, the Little City will receive $3 million for improvements to Oak Street Elementary School.

As part of a larger effort to increase access to mental healthcare (more below), $11.7 million is allocated for community and school-based children’s mental health services.

Mental Health & Healthcare

Overall, the budget has $155.6 million in new spending for mental health services:

·       $58 million to create crisis receiving centers and crisis stabilization units.

·       $10 million for 15 additional mobile crisis teams.

·       $34 million for permanent supportive housing and housing for individuals with serious mental illness.

·       $18.0 million for a targeted pay raise of an average of 5% for all CSB staff.

·       $10.0 million to contract for psychiatric emergency programs in hospitals.

·       $4.0 million for the Virginia Mental Health Access Program.

This allocation also includes 500 additional Developmental Disability waiver slots, which will go into effect in January 2024. Further, we were able to maintain budget language allowing state funds for abortions in certain fetal abnormality cases.


The Water Quality Improvement Fund will receive $644 million in the next fiscal year. The Department of Conservation & Recreation’s Agricultural Best Practices will get a total of $338.5 million to help curb pollution and adverse environmental impacts. We’re also investing $30 million in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, plus $17.0 million at the Department of Environmental Quality for local stormwater management projects.

Easing the Burden on Hardworking Virginians

Because of an oversight during the regular 2023 Session, there wasn’t a bill introduced for the annual back to school sales tax holiday that usually occurs in August every year. To remedy that, the budget reinstates the program for school supplies, hurricane preparedness, clothing and footwear and energy efficient appliances. This year, the sales tax holiday will be October 20th to 22nd.

Those that filed taxes this year will get a taxpayer relief check of either $200 or $400, for single and joint filers respectively. When you file your taxes next year, the Standard Deduction will increase to $8,500 for single filers and $17,000 for joint filers.

The budget includes an additional $15.3 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which goes a long way to help those in need.

Continuing to address the Virginia Employment Commission’s backlog of benefits appeals, there is $12.3 million provided for Call Center Support and other necessary administrative items.

The November Election is Coming

I’m sure you’ve seen emails and social media posts about how we are less than 60 days away from the November election. There is a big push to make sure that voters know their options and what’s at stake. So, here’s my early voting PSA:

Early voting begins September 22nd. Thanks to legislation passed while Democrats controlled the General Assembly, you can vote early in-person or absentee for any reason. The last day to register to vote in the November Election is Tuesday, October 16th. (However, you can register after this date, through Election Day, and vote using a provisional ballot.)

The deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you is Friday, October 27th at 5pm. Check out the City of Falls Church Elections Office webpage ( for more details about early voting and weekend voting dates.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Abortion on the Ballot

There were two big stories in the news last week about the state-by-state effort to protect abortion access and freedom to make medical decisions governing bodily autonomy.

In Ohio, voters soundly rejected a Republican-backed effort to change the rules to prevent voters from updating their state constitution to guarantee abortion access. This vote in a state with a Republican-controlled state legislature and a state that has become increasingly Republican in recent elections was seen as a sign of just how potent the issue of abortion access can be in state level elections - even elections held in odd years and at odd times.

Also last week, we learned a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates was caught on tape advocating for a “total ban” on abortions in Virginia. In recorded conversations obtained by the Washington Post, Republican John Stirrup, running in one of a handful of truly competitive seats this November in Prince William County said, “I am in favor of a complete ban,” and “I’d like to see, you know, a total ban.”

He's up against Democratic nominee Josh Thomas, a veteran of the Marine Corps and an abortion rights supporter who advocates for leaving Virginia’s abortion laws as they are today.

Stirrup is not the only Republican office-seeker or elected official in Virginia to be caught on tape expressing support for the most extreme abortion restrictions. Last year, unsuccessful congressional candidate Yesli Vega was recorded making controversial statements in questioning the need for rape exceptions to an abortion ban. Governor Glenn Youngkin himself whispered his desire to ban abortion to supporters in a caught-on-tape moment in 2021.

Then, after being sworn in, Youngkin was recorded telling the Family Foundation he’d sign the most restrictive abortion legislation they could get to his desk at what he thought was a closed event.

In Virginia, we can’t put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to protect abortion access without the help of the General Assembly, and that won’t happen if we elect state legislators who want a total ban on abortions.

That makes this fall’s election the closest thing we will get to a referendum on abortion access in Virginia.

If Democrats can regain control of the General Assembly, Virginia's abortion laws will stay as they are today, with residents of the Commonwealth remaining free to make their own medical decision in consultation with their medical providers. Virginia is the only state in the south to not have instituted abortion restrictions after the Dobb’s decision last summer. And this is only because Democrats currently hold the state Senate.

With control of both the House and Senate, we can pass a resolution to put a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would make access to abortion a constitutionally protected right in Virginia, just as it was at the federal level before the Dobb’s decision.

On the other hand, if Republicans are able to use Governor Youngkin’s vast financial resources to tip the balance in a handful of House and Senate seats, we face the possibility of a Republican trifecta. With no check on their power to rewrite Virginia law, there is no doubt such a result would pave the way for restrictive abortion laws that severely curtail access and wind back the clock on hard-fought advancements.

In the year plus since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, Republican-controlled legislatures have shown us repeatedly what they are capable of – from drastically reducing access to outright bans. So, when the Virginia GOP says it will support a total ban and Governor Youngkin says he’ll sign any abortion ban that reaches his desk, believe them.

Although Falls Church is very likely to elect candidates supportive of Virginia’s existing abortion laws, you can still impact the results statewide. Some of the handful of districts that are true toss-ups are within relatively easy driving distance of the Little City. And there are things you can do from the comfort of your own home to mobilize voters and let them know what’s at stake in these key districts.

For more information on how to actively participate in the most pivotal races of this election, I encourage you to contact my office. Together, we can make a difference and shape the outcome of these elections, ensuring that Virginia remains a beacon of progress and inclusivity.

Let us not underestimate the significance of the choices we make in the voting booth. Our decisions in this election will reverberate for years to come, setting the course for the future of Virginia and its commitment to abortion access. Stand up, be counted, and make your voice heard – for the sake of the future we want for our Commonwealth.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Virginia's Education Funding Gap

 The calendar still says it’s July, yet back to school sales and ads are starting to pop up all over the place. And it just feels a bit too soon.

Unfortunately, when the kids do go back to school in just a few short weeks, public school students here in Falls Church and Fairfax will have be in classrooms staffed by teachers who are once again being asked to do more with less.


Because Governor Glenn Younkin’s Department of Education flunked math last semester and miscalculated the state’s share of education funding by about $201 million. To make matters worse, instead of passing budget amendments that would have fixed the error and added about $1 billion in additional education funding during the 2023 Session as the state Senate proposed, the Governor and his allies in the GOP controlled House insisted on billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations.

So, we ended the session with no new budget bill and when legislative leaders attempted to regroup after the primaries, we found we were no further along than we were last February.  Word on the street is that the Governor has stopped working on the 2023 budget amendments and turned his attention to his 2024 biennial budget proposal.

No budget compromise means no fixing this education funding gap.

Because of VDOE’s error, Fairfax County Public Schools will receive about $18 million less than expected in state funding and Falls Church Public Schools about $144,000.

And that’s just the beginning of our education funding shortfall. A recent study of Virginia’s school funding formula concluded we already underfund our schools by about $6.6 billion.

JLARC Study on School Funding

In 2021, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) conducted a study to determine the true expenses of Virginia's education system and evaluate what it would actually cost to implement Virginia’s mandatory Standards of Quality (SOQ).

The SOQ is a state mandate intended to ensure every locality has a high-quality public education system.

Currently in Virginia, we try to estimate how many staff positions are necessary to do all the things the SOQ tells a school system they have to do.  Most states (42 out of 50) allocate funding on a per-student basis. JLARC looked at what would we be spending if we joined the vast majority of states in providing funding based on the number of kids enrolled in school, not the number of staff we thought we would need to teach those kids.

The answer is we are off by $6.6 billion.

In K-12, for instance, our current approach tells us we need 113,500 FTEs statewide while the actual data shows that 171,400 staff are currently employed to cover the responsibilities of educating our kids.

It also doesn’t account for certain costs incurred because of students with higher needs, such as at-risk kids, kids requiring special education, or kids learning English as a second language (ESL). Although funding for at-risk and ESL students has increased over the years, the funding for special education has been stagnant.

This means that the financial burden rests with the localities. And some are better able to cover the disparities than others.

JLARC Recommendations

As part of the study, JLARC recommended several short-term and long-term options to improve the funding formula and better meet our education systems’ needs. Some of the recommendations are as simple as discontinuing Great Recession-era cost reduction measures that are no longer needed.

Some of the recommendations will require a longer-term commitment to redirect funding allocations to where it is needed most and at the level that reflects actual costs. This includes establishing new staffing ratios, re-benchmarking staff salaries, replacing the cost of competing adjustments with a more accurate method, and adopting economies of scale to help smaller school divisions.

Every school district must have the funding and resources they need to be successful - addressing the basics of increasing teacher pay and creating a safe learning environment. Providing additional resources for “no loss” funding due to reduced enrollment, expanded broadband access, need-based direct aid for remediating lost learning time, increasing the per pupil amount for the Preschool Initiative, and extended special education eligibility are also integral aspects of our public education system.

However, we must redefine the SOQ with more support from the state so that it reflects the priorities of a 21st Century public education system. These SOQs are only effective if they accurately reflect the actual costs the school districts incur to meet these standards. Otherwise, we are failing in our obligation to provide our kids with a productive and effective learning environment.

Friday, June 16, 2023

A Two-Tiered Justice System

When news of the indictment of Donald Trump broke, before the indictment was unsealed, Virginia’s Governor Glenn Youngkin issued a tweet in which he decried the emergence of a “two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted” implying that the charges against Trump were politically motivated. 

Youngkin couldn’t be more wrong about the nature of the charges against the former President. I wonder if he regrets his decision to tweet before the indictments were unsealed. It is certainly plain for all of us to see now that the charges are based on meticulously researched, thoroughly documented evidence that all serious-minded legal experts agree put Trump in great peril.

If the Governor is genuinely concerned about a two-tiered justice system, about politically motivated investigations and weaponizing the grand jury system, he ought to look in the mirror, preferably while he’s standing next to his Attorney General and fellow extremist, Jason Miyares. 

Impacts on Public Education

Over the last year and a half, we have witnessed Attorney General Jason Miyares initiate investigations into two school districts in northern Virginia with duly elected school boards that are dominated by members endorsed by Democrats: Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) and Fairfax County Public School (FCPS). These so-called investigations (at least one on Governor Youngkin’s orders) were in response to issues raised by conservative activists and amplified by far-right media outlets.

In late December, criticism of the school system's handling of National Merit Scholarship commendations arose following an article written by a co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, claiming that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) intentionally delayed notifying commended students until after the early college application deadline, suggesting it was part of a "war on merit." The Coalition for TJ currently has an ongoing lawsuit against FCPS concerning revisions to the magnet school's admissions policies, which has been found meritless by an appeals court.

In response to the Attorney General’s politically motivated investigation, FCPS commissioned an independent investigation conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson that found no basis for the claims that notices of National Merit Scholarship commendations were intentionally withheld from students. The review confirmed that eight schools within FCPS did not notify students designated as "commended" however the investigation concluded that there was no evidence of intentional withholding or any policy decision by FCPS or the individual schools involved.

Superintendent Michelle Reid emphasized that there was no evidence to suggest deliberate withholding of notification or any inequity or racial bias in the actions taken by the schools regarding notifications or distribution of certificates.

The story is in the headlines again as the schools pour resources into attorney’s fees to defend against a subpoena of the Sands Anderson report to protect the privacy and safety of those teachers and administrators who cooperated with the independent investigation. 

A Two-Tiered System

My primary concern lies with the detrimental impact these attacks will have on our children's education. They create obstacles for our schools to attract and retain highly qualified teachers and hinder their ability to provide a top-notch education.

Youngkin and Miyares should redirect their focus toward real issues that demand attention, such as ensuring the safety of our communities from gun violence. Or maybe even just getting the Virginia Department of Education to review and renew teacher licenses in a timely manner – an issue that has caused a lot of problems for our already stressed education system. It is imperative that Republicans refrain from wielding their power to launch baseless assaults on elected school boards and our hard-working school administrators for their own personal political gain.

Now is the time for us to come together as a united community and rally behind our schools. We must guarantee that every child, irrespective of their background or geographical location, has access to a first-rate education.

But, just as with Trump’s unsealed indictment, the truth has come out about the real two-tiered justice system we have in Virginia. In almost every jurisdiction you don’t have to look far to find disproportionality in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in bringing charges, seeking jail time, and use of cash bail.

I’ll continue to support the good work begun by our progressive prosecutors to address that problem. The same prosecutors, like Falls Church’s own Parisa Deghani-Tafti who have been attacked by Youngkin and Miyares for doing the real work of criminal justice reform so that we have one system of justice regardless of race, income, or zip code.