1. Tobacco Friendly No More
“Tobacco-Friendly Virginia.” How many times have we read this phrase and never given it a second thought? After this week, it is a label that will never be applied again. The General Assembly passed a smoking ban in restaurants by over 60% majorities in both chambers. Just a couple of years after Philip Morris USA moved their headquarters from New York City to Richmond. And despite the pleas of many bar and restaurant owners to let the market determine their practices. The bottom line is really quite simple: the majority of the public (especially in metropolitan areas) want the restaurants they patronize to be smoke-free and don’t want to have to guess about whether they are or are not. The Assembly did their bidding.
2. We Haven’t Heard the End of It
One reason House Speaker Bill Howell supported the smoking ban was to remove it as an issue for the 2009 Assembly elections. And he took a lot of grief from members of his own caucus for doing so, some of whom were opposed to the bill on philosophical grounds and others who couldn’t stomach giving Tim Kaine a big victory just a few weeks after Barack Obama named him the Democrats’ Partisan-in-Chief. But we haven’t heard the end of the smoking ban. Democrats will surely try to use Bob McDonnell’s opposition to it in the gubernatorial race in their effort to paint the former AG as out-of-touch with popular currents in Virginia.
3. Will McDonnell and/or Bolling Follow Jindal’s Lead?
Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, is really going to do it. He will tell President Obama “thanks, but no thanks” to part of the stimulus package that was to be directed to Louisiana. Jindal claims that the strings attached to obtaining stimulus funding for expanding unemployment insurance will cost Louisiana millions in the long run, so he is telling the President that Louisiana will take a pass on part of the money. Jindal’s move is likely to compel all the other GOP Governors who are actually thinking of running for President in 2012 to follow suit. So what if you’re running for statewide office in 2009 in Virginia? Will Bob McDonnell or Bill Bolling follow Jindal’s lead or do they think we should take every penny we can get our hands on? I might be wrong here, but I think that the Louisiana Governor may well have introduced a new dimension to the 2009 statewide races in Virginia.
4. GOP Attorney General Face Off
The Roanoke City and Salem Republicans put on a first-class debate this week between John Brownlee, Ken Cuccinelli and Dave Foster, the three contestants for the Republican nomination for Attorney General. I was impressed with all three. Foster was smart and engaging. Cuccinelli exhibited a thoughtful and wide-ranging grasp of the issues facing the Commonwealth. And John Brownlee demonstrated that he could use his background as a prosecutor and his skill in the courtroom to be a very formidable statewide candidate. The conventional wisdom in GOP circles is that a convention favors Cuccinelli, but that he will need to win on the first ballot. If Brownlee and Foster can bring enough delegates to Richmond combined to prevent a Cuccinelli first ballot victory, the chances of one of them obtaining the nomination rise exponentially.
5. Bad News on the Media Watch
Major Virginia media companies, Media General and the Virginian Pilot, announced a new round of layoffs, furloughs, discontinuance of certain publications and other cost cutting measures at their newspapers this week. This is on top of previous cost cutting actions taken just a few months prior. All across the nation the survival of daily newspapers has become an open question as their business model seems increasingly obsolete. Here’s the cruel irony: we’re obviously in “The Information Age,” yet many of the traditional “information” companies are teetering on the edge.
6. CrackBerry Crackdown
Senate Transportation this week voted to crack down on crackberry addicts, voting to levy a fine on individuals caught “texting while driving. ” I’m not sure that we actually need a new category or a new violation- a plain old “Reckless Driving” would be fine with me. I just wonder when the insurance companies are going to start offering a seven step program for those addicted to the practice.
7. What Will the Stimulus Provide for K-12 Education?
Governor Kaine made clear this week that the federal stimulus package is likely to prevent further cuts in Medicaid services (at least for the 12-24 months that the money will be available). House and Senate budget writers will start to indicate how the dollars will impact other areas of the state budget. Given all the cuts being made in local K-12 budgets across the Commonwealth, everyone will be waiting to see what impact the stimulus money will have on public school funding in the Commonwealth. his remains the $64,000 question (or, given the costs these days, the $1 billion question).