There are many different rankings of the states on various measures of performance, such as business economics and employment, educational access and outcomes, public health and overall effectiveness of government. Ballotpedia, a non-partisan online site that covers state government politics, compiles 19 of these measures into a single “State Quality of Life Index.” Over the past 20 years or so the Commonwealth of Virginia has consistently been rated in the top 10, reaching number one in 2006. Virginia politicians can reasonably claim some of the credit, but the enormous attraction of human capital to the capitol and tidewater regions, along with massive injection of Federal Government spending has been at least as important as the quality of governance.
All but four of the past 20 years have been characterized by politically divided government. Three of the past four governors have been Democrats, while Republicans have controlled at least one body of in the legislature. As a progressive, assessing Virginia’s performance, I believe that we have consistently short-changed the large majority of our citizens by failing to invest public resources adequately in healthcare, transportation, K-12 and higher education and other key functions of government. But, I have accepted that principled Republicans who have similar aspirations for serving our citizens can reach different conclusions as to how the desired outcomes can best be achieved.
Unfortunately, my confidence in the shared motives and principled decision-making of many of the members of the General Assembly is diminishing. What can possibly explain the rejection over the past two legislative sessions of, literally, billions of dollars in Federal funds under the ACA to support Medicaid expansion that would cover 400,000 uninsured Virginians? State’s rights? Fear of raising the expectations of the working poor? Maybe, I thought, the majority party in the General Assembly expects a better option from Washington.
Hardly! Since Jan. 20, on my bad days, I find myself overwhelmed by the political complexity we progressives are facing in what promises to be the most disgraceful presidency since Warren Harding. This complexity, in a way, is like an iceberg, in that the obvious chaos visible in Washington conceals a connected mass of “deconstructive” impulses at the state and local government level across the nation. The absolute shamelessness of the current “leader of the free world” is appalling, to be sure. The real threat to our democracy and our prosperity is the President’s impulse to follow the fringe elements on the right down one discredited rabbit hole (supply side economics) after another (a border wall!). Pitifully, the rank and file in Washington and in the states seems to feel they have to discount this aberrant presidential behavior, because this new guy is “shaking things up,” which is what their constituents want. This blatant hypocrisy is accentuated by the rejection of this argument by millions of principled Republicans (e.g. George Will, Kathleen Parker, Susan Collins, etc.)
Now the House has passed “Repeal and Replace.” This is a travesty. The ACHA neither repeals nor replaces the ACA. The House bill is no more than a very expensive “Brochure Bill” that will be deployed in hundreds of political commercials by members of both parties (probably more Democrats than Republicans!) in every Federal and State election between now and 2020.
Virginia’s election this year will be a bellwether for the nation. Virginians have the opportunity to raise issues that are vitally important both to Virginia and the nation, setting forth political, economic and moral arguments for Democratic positions on health care, economic justice, education funding, infrastructure investment and the environment. Currently, Democrats are outnumbered in the House of Delegates by 66 to 34. However, it is important to note that there are 17 Republican-held seats in Districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Surely, the case can be made by Democratic candidates that these constituencies will not be well-represented by Republicans whose views are aligned with the President. I have no doubt there will be Republican candidates who resist using the president’s name throughout the upcoming election cycle. So be it.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]