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Posts about 2012 General Election


VA question 1: Bad for infrastructure, bad for communities

On Tuesday, Virginians will vote on a statewide ballot measure, Question 1, that would amend the Virginia Constitution to limit the government's ability to exercise eminent domain. As written, this amendment has severe unintended consequences, and readers should vote against Question 1 to prevent greater costs to all our infrastructure.

Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.

Greater Greater Washington has already endorsed a no vote on this amendment. The editors pointed out that this amendment is worded poorly, is unnecessary given laws that have already been enacted, and would make public projects prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, it would make public-private partnerships involving eminent domain almost impossible, hindering critical projects such as the Metrorail Silver Line, the new 495 HOT lanes, or many worthy economic development projects.

Eminent domain, the government's power to acquire private property for public use, is central to state and local government's ability to build infrastructure and facilities—things like transit, roads, parks, schools, and police precincts. In 2005, the US Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London also upheld a long-standing government practice: acquiring land and transferring it to a private developer for an economic redevelopment project. However, the Court also left states with the power to restrict this practice.

Since Kelo, a concerted, partisan response in many states has sought to severely limit the government's power to conduct its business through eminent domain, and to undermine urban planning in general. Question 1 is Virginia's version of this partisan effort, with Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli advocating in favor. While proponents frame it as a "property rights" issue, make no mistake: this amendment goes too far and tries to slip in significant roadblocks to all public projects that use eminent domain.

If the goal is to prevent the kind of eminent domain use in Kelo, then Question 1 isn't necessary. Virginia already enacted laws to address this in 2007. What this amendment does is open up a Pandora's Box of problems that proponents have failed to address. These problems are why the Virginia Municipal League, Virginia Association of Counties, and mayors across Virginia strongly believe Question 1 is a setback for building needed infrastructure and hinders the ability to create strong and vibrant communities.

First, Question 1 would interfere with innovative projects in transportation by limiting eminent domain in any setting that would be "for profit." Immediately, this language would obstruct and likely stop most transit-oriented development projects, redevelopment along transportation corridors, toll roads, or other projects that uses "public-private partnerships"—projects where the government and private sector collaborate. These types of projects have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in Virginia and nationwide. Nonetheless, Question 1 would prevent such projects.

This would thwart projects like Metro's Silver Line expansion to Dulles Airport where part of the financing comes from public-private partnerships. Other projects, like the 495 Express Lanes, would face challeges because they involve the government and private sector collaborating over toll revenues. In short, Question 1 unnecessarily interferes in government's ability to collaborate with the private sector to innovate and improve our transportation and public facilities.

Secondly, the broad wording of this amendment requires the state to compensate owners for "lost access" from a literal taking, or "damage" a project causes. This wording sets a dangerous path. It is a cousin of the argument that the government should compensate property owners for decreased property values that result from any government action, like building a affordable housing or high school in a neighborhood, even if there is no physical impact to the property.

A fast food restaurant owner might claim that a median (or transit line) prevents cars from turning directly into his or her drive-thru and thereby claim "lost access" compensation. Consider how the median and new Metro Rail line along Route 7 near Tysons Corner has reduced direct access to some of the surrounding shopping centers out of geographic necessity. Under this amendment, the property owners could potentially claim compensation because cars can't directly turn into their shopping centers like they used to.

The amendment is written vaguely enough that a court might agree with this hypothetical fast food restaurant owner. Some have argued that courts might reject this broad interpretation, but we do know that litigators will be pushing the limits of this new constitutional wording. Projects would get bogged down in more costly litigation until courts sort this out, and if the broader interpretation wins out, it would increase every project's costs into the future.

Finally, Question 1 also requires the government to compensate property owners not only for their property's value, but also for "lost profits." For example, farmers would not only get compensation for their land at market value, but also for profits they may (or may not) experience in the future from sales of their produce. While a noble goal, there is a fundamental math problem with this logic. The future profits of a piece of real estate, like a farm or factory, already factor into its market value: economists call it "capitalized value."

This is why a high-yielding farm sells for more than a low-yielding farm, all other things being equal. The existing norm of compensating at market value already addresses these potential profits, so requiring additional compensation is economic double-counting. Furthermore, profits are speculative, which is why the Virginia Supreme Court has rejected claims for lost profits and lost access for over 100 years.

Ultimately, Question 1 would limit public projects by increasing costs and encouraging frivolous litigation. In the end, we all pay for this when the cost of building public infrastructure increases drastically. This amendment goes beyond simply protecting private property rights. It would nearly kill, or at least severely inhibit, public-private partnerships to build infrastructure, thus requiring more government bonds and debt to build. It would also increase the cost that we Virginians pay for our transit, roads and other infrastructure.

Do not be fooled. A vote in favor of Question 1 is a bad deal for Virginia's infrastructure and the future of our communities. Please vote NO on Question 1 this Tuesday.


Endorsements for DC citywide races and ballot questions

While the Democratic primary most often determines office-holders in the District of Columbia, there is a serious race on the November ballot for a seat on the DC Council, alongside a number of other races.

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

In the District, we endorse David Grosso for Council at-large, Phil Mendelson for chairman, Nate Bennett-Fleming for shadow representative, and yes votes on the 3 charter amendments.

Greater Greater Washington makes endorsements through a poll of contributors, and we only weigh in when there is a clear consensus for one candidate or position as well as a clear feeling that making an endorsement is worthwhile. The contributors decided not to endorse in ward races, State Board of Education, or shadow senator this year.

Voters will also have the opportunity to choose ANC commissioners, a position which often carries significant influence over neighborhood affairs. There are many great candidates across the city, including Greater Greater Washington editor Jaime Fearer in Trinidad's district 5D07.

DC Council at-large: We recommend voting for David Grosso.

Congress' grant of home rule to the District included a provision that limited how many candidates can be members of the same party, which in practice means that one at-large seat every 2 years goes to one individual who is not formally affiliated with the Democratic Party. We hope voters choose David Grosso over incumbent Michael A. Brown.

More than anything, the DC Council needs stable, ethical leadership at this time. Mr. Grosso has embraced openness and transparency by disclosing any corporate interests that have donated to his campaign. By contrast, whether any laws were broken or not, Mr. Brown's record is marred by a series of personal missteps and questionably ethical political actions.

Michael Brown has been a staunch supporter of many important policies for affordable housing, workforce development and other poverty-related issues. However, when it comes to building healthy and walkable urban places, Mr. Brown simply does not seem to understand the issues beyond a narrow and out-of-date suburban mindset. He pushed for a Redskins training facility on Reservation 13, sent a letter echoing many alarmist and often false fears about the zoning update, wants to spend public money on municipal parking, and more.

Mary Brooks Beatty, the Republican candidate, has proven even worse, voicing the tired "war on cars" theme during a recent debate. After nominating an avowedly pro-urban candidate 4 years ago, it's too bad the DC GOP's standard-bearer is so out of touch with the changing District.

Mr. Grosso, meanwhile, supports better bicycle infrastructure, removing minimum parking requirements, and also wants to shore up funding for affordable housing. Tommy Wells, the DC Council's most ardent voice for smart growth, has thrown his weight behind Grosso, as has the DC chapter of the Sierra Club.

District voters have the opportunity to cast 2 votes. For Mr. Grosso to win, he will have to place in the top 2; most expect that Vincent Orange, the Democratic nominee, will gain the most votes, and that the 2nd will come down to Mr. Grosso or Mr. Brown.

There are also a number of other candidates running, several of whom have promise, such as AJ Cooper, our 2nd highest vote-getter in our contributor poll, but none received a clear consensus required for a formal endorsement. However, voters can certainly use a 2nd vote for one of these other candidates without fear of upsetting their top choice's chances to win.

DC Council chairman: We recommend voting for Phil Mendelson.

Mr. Mendelson is well suited to bring order and credibility to a damaged DC Council. His record of ethics is impeccable, and he is well-positioned to get the council working together collaboratively instead of fracturing into warring factions as it did under former Chairman Kwame Brown.

Some council staffers say that Mr. Mendelson will need to work on shifting his attention to the big picture issues rather than the narrow, often nitpicking hyper-attention to detail he has become known for. He also continues to lean toward sympathy with those who don't want to see the District change or grow much at all. Zoning is not the council's purview, and since becoming chairman he has stayed away from taking a position on such issues that won't come before that body. However, voters need to keep careful watch on this issue.

Shadow representative: We recommend voting for Nate Bennett-Fleming.

The shadow representative is an unpaid position whose purpose is to lobby for District voting rights. Current shadow representative Mike Panetta is not seeking reelection, and we hope District voters will choose Nate Bennett-Fleming.

Mr. Bennett-Fleming brings a youthful energy to District politics. He is able to work and talk with people from all over the city—rich and poor, young and old, black and white, advantaged and disadvantaged. The shadow representative is a relatively thankless position, but it needs someone with the vigor to stir things up and push for equal representation. Mr. Bennett-Fleming's political science background and law degree will also help him know what can work and what can't, instead of pushing for absolutely unworkable ideas.

Ballot questions: We recommend voting FOR all 3 charter amendments.

The proposed charter amendments will officially empower the DC Council to expel a member for gross misconduct, and disqualify any candidates with a felony conviction while in office from serving as councilmember or mayor.

Each of these takes a small step toward improving the laws around ethics in DC. They leave many ethics issues unresolved, and most DC leaders have been reluctant to take the stronger steps necessary to bring more substantial ethical reform to city politics, but these are a step in the right direction.

Update: The original version of the endorsement said that 2 charter amendments disqualify any candidate with a felony conviction from holding office. In fact, they only disqualify candidates who have gotten that felony conviction while in office, which makes the amendments even less meaningful as ethics reforms, but still worth voting for.

These are the official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors discussed endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong consensus in favor of endorsing for or against each issue or candidate.


Endorsements for Virginia local races and ballot questions

The major attention in Virginia this election cycle has focused on federal races, with high-stakes ad wars for both the Presidential and US Senate races. However, Virginia voters also have the opportunity to make some very important choices on local matters this November.

Photo by Frank Gruber on Flickr.

We suggest that voters reject statewide question 1 on eminent domain. We hope Alexandria residents will re-elect Mayor Bill Euille. In Arlington, we recommend that residents support all 4 bond measures and, despite some reservations, re-elect Libby Garvey to the County Board.

Question 1 (eminent domain): We recommend voting AGAINST Question 1.

This proposed amendment to Virginia's state constitution would enact new rules on local governments' eminent domain authority. Specifically, the amendment prohibits governments from using eminent domain for economic development, and broadly redefines takings law to require government compensation for any action that reduces access to private property.

The latter issue is particularly troublesome. As several editorials have noted, the amendment is worded so broadly that it might require local governments to give significant financial compensation to property owners for any number of mundane and necessary actions. For example, if a city in Virginia adds a median to a road in front of a business, even without actually taking any of the owners' property, they could have to to pay every property owner because the access is in some way reduced.

Residents had some concerns about the breadth of eminent domain after the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, but the Virginia legislature already addressed these issues with a 2007 law. The overly broad language in this amendment would put a stranglehold on local government in Virginia. Routine projects could become prohibitively expensive, and get mired in court for years at a time. We urge you to vote against the amendment.

Alexandria Mayor: We recommend voting for Bill Euille.

Alexandria voters face a stark choice, between one candidate who is strongly pro-smart growth, and another who would force growth out of Alexandria farther from the regional core.

Mr. Euille, the 3-term incumbent, has shepherded extensive community planning efforts for redevelopment in Potomac Yard, the Beauregard Corridor, and Alexandria Waterfront. He has also pursued a transit-friendly transportation agenda pushing BRT corridors and an infill Metro station, with a possible streetcar connection to Arlington.

The challenger, Andrew Macdonald, is a classic anti-growth candidate who proposes to rein back the density of redevelopment projects. He offers no explanation for how the city or region should accommodate growth, except to say "not here."

Arlington County Board: We recommend voting for Libby Garvey.

None of the three candidates for Arlington County Board have engendered our confidence, but the incumbent, Ms. Garvey, shows the most promise.

Transportation planning has been the dominant theme during this election. Unfortunately, Ms. Garvey and her challengers Matthew Wavro and Audrey Clement have all displayed little understanding of the subject. All oppose the Columbia Pike streetcar. Mr. Wavro is concerned that it will increase automobile congestion, Ms. Clement says money would be better spent on schools and libraries, and Ms. Garvey says BRT does the same thing at lower cost.

But transportation models do not suggest the streetcar will increase congestion, the streetcar's funding sources cannot be spent on schools and libraries because they're fully dedicated to transportation regardless of mode, and buses are profoundly different from streetcar service for many reasons.

Given their positions thus far, we do not offer a full endorsement to any of the candidates. However, we believe that Libby Garvey has the most open mind and is the least likely to damage Arlington's decades-long commitment to smart growth. We are hopeful that she will win reelection, and with more experience become as strong an advocate for progressive urbanism and transportation as Arlington's other County Board members.

Arlington County bond referenda: We recommend voting for FOR all 4.

Arlington is requesting authority to issue bonds for 4 purposes: Metro and transportation, parks and recreation, community infrastructure, and public schools. All 4 are worthy priorities for County funding.

The Metro and transportation bonds are of particular importance. They will fund continuing maintenance upgrades to Metrorail, Arlington's bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, and provide matching funds that are necessary to obtain some federal and state grants.

These are the official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors discussed endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong consensus in favor of endorsing for or against each issue or candidate.


Endorsements for Maryland ballot questions

This election, Maryland voters face several ballot questions, ranging from civil rights to gambling. These are important issues which will have consequences for the quality of life far beyond Election Day.

Photo by aka_lusi on Flickr.

Greater Greater Washington recommends Maryland voters support questions 3 (removing elected officials), 4 (Dream Act), and 6 (same-sex marriage), and reject the legislature's redistricting plan by voting against question 5.

We did not consider questions 1 or 2, which would require judges serving on the Orphans' Court in Prince George's (question 1) and Baltimore County (question 2) to be members of the Maryland Bar in good standing. We are also not endorsing a position on question 7 (gambling expansion) because our contributors were divided on the issue.

Question 3 (removing elected officials): We recommend voting FOR Question 3.

This question will amend the Maryland Constitution to make it easier to remove elected officials from office once they've been convicted of or plead guilty to certain crimes.

Two recent cases involving officials have resulted in situations that hurt government and left some residents without representation. When Leslie Johnson was convicted on corruption charges in Prince George's, she refused to resign, and Maryland's laws only allowed her ouster upon sentencing. For several months, her council district in Prince George's was effectively without representation.

This change may not stop corruption. But it will make it easier to recover when an elected official does wrong.

Question 4 (Dream Act): We recommend voting FOR Question 4.

Education is a fundamental building block of our democracy. Allowing undocumented immigrants who were brought as children to the United States to attend state universities as residents will create more opportunities for these young people to join our society.

The Dream Act will allow those undocumented immigrants who grow up in Maryland to attend a state university at the in-state tuition rate if they get good grades in high school and spend 2 years in a community college. Opening up this opportunity for our neighbors will grow the Maryland economy and will open up new paths for immigrants who had no say in where they grew up.

Question 5 (redistricting): We recommend voting AGAINST Question 5.

Marylanders are being asked to approve or disapprove a Congressional redistricting proposal. The legislative maps drawn by the Maryland legislature are horribly gerrymandered. For proof, take a look at Maryland's 3rd District, which Comedy Central named the "ugliest congressional district in the nation."

Maryland's 3rd Congressional District. Map from the Maryland Department of Planning.

The authors of this map create what would likely be a new Democratic seat by drawing oddly-shaped districts to divide more conservative voters. This kind of gerrymandering is bad when Republicans do it, and it's bad when Democrats do it.

To make matters worse, it also splits minority groups, making it harder for them to participate effectively in the democratic process. It splits communities, so that members of a single community have multiple disparate representatives who also serve voters of very distant communities with very different needs.

Question 6 (same-sex marriage): We strongly urge you to support marriage for all families by voting FOR Question 6.

In the legislative session earlier this year, the General Assembly courageously passed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in the Free State. While we oppose the idea that civil rights should be subject to a popular vote, opponents of gay marriage gathered enough signatures to put this issue on the ballot.

Gay couples deserve the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Maryland's expansion of marriage equality will not affect religious institutions, because protections were specifically written into the bill. Equality will mean stronger homes and stronger families for the 17,000 same-sex couples living in the state.

A vote upholding the law will also send a message to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens in the state that they are full members of society, too. Their fellow citizens support them and their right to love whomever they want.

Maryland's LGBT families share the same values as the straight couples in the state. They deserve the same legal recognition of their relationships from the state as well.

Question 7 (gambling expansion): Our contributors split evenly on this issue, and therefore we are not endorsing any position.

Replenishing the education trust fund could provide Maryland with the money it needs to move ahead with projects the Purple Line. However, gambling has adverse social consequences, and would be unlikely to promote sustainable economic development in Prince George's County. Voters should weigh these and others factors themselves in deciding how to vote.

These are the official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority in favor of endorsing for or against each issue.


Field for Ward 7 council race is set. Who will survive?

Ward 7 is shaping up to be a unique DC Council race this year. Unlike the other ward races, there are candidates other than Democrats in the running. Many believe this could actually make general election competitive, instead of the primary election being the only race that matters.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Incumbent Councilmember Yvette Alexander is running for a second full term, after being elected to her first full term in 2008. Alexander bested a field that included 3 other Democratic candidates that year, after having beat 17 other candidates the year before in a special election to secure the seat (with 34% of the vote).

Alexander is currently the chair of the Council's Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, which has oversight responsibility for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, as well as multiple professional boards and accountability agencies.

Incumbency grants Alexander a leg up for fundraising. She's managed to raise over $82,000 (PDF) as of the last filing date, far ahead of the rest of the field.

Second in money raised, and by many accounts a candidate who could be a strong challenger, Kevin B. Chavous has raised nearly $29,000 so far. He touts the endorsement of the Ward 7 Concerned Citizens Coalition on his website. This organization came together last year to find a candidate to run against Alexander.

With grassroots support and name recognition (Chavous' father was the Ward 7 councilmember for 3 terms from 1992-2004), Chavous appeared to be in good shape until a mid-December arrest on a charge of solicitation of a prostitute. Yesterday, he agreed to a deal that would lead to the charges being dropped, provided he completes community service within the next 4 months.

Some in the ward have said Chavous is too young, and doesn't appeal to older voters. In addition, being a "legacy" candidate could be a hindrance.

Tom Brown, who ran in the special election last year to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kwame Brown (and temporarily filled by Sekou Biddle), is running on a platform that focuses on job creation. Ward 7 residents I have spoken with believe he's a strong candidate, but has not done as good a job convincing voters he's a strong challenger as others. He has a background in job training, which is a key issue in the race. Brown has raised nearly $18,000 so far.

Bill Bennett is a pastor in Ward 7. His website remains a landing site with no information other than his name, currently. Bennett has gathered support from many churches in the ward and has raised $11,000 so far.

Of interest is the person listed as the contact for the Bennett campaign on the BOEE website: Willie Wilson. Wilson has a history as a long-time advocate for the poor in Ward 8, but also has been called out for controversial statements in recent years.

Dorothy Douglas, who also ran in last year's special election to replace Kwame Brown, is running again. Monica Johnson is the remaining Democratic candidate. Neither of the two appear to be gathering large amounts of support in the ward in the early going.

What makes the Ward 7 race interesting is the inclusion of non-Democrats in the race. There are two Republicans running for the seat, Don Folden and Ronald Moten. One of the two will have an additional 7 months to make his case to the people of Ward 7, facing off against whichever Democrat emerges from the 6-way primary scrum.

If media savviness and attention alone would dictate the winner of the Republican race, Ron Moten seems well-placed to win. Moten, one of the founders of Peaceaholics, a non-profit that worked with at-risk youth in the city, has been in the news since the organization came to prominence during the Fenty administration.

Moten's decision to run as a "Civil Rights Republican" appears to some as a way of simply avoiding the Democratic primary to live another day. While that may play into the political calculus, individuals I have spoken to in Ward 7 believe that Moten would have a good chance in the general election against any of the Democrats.

Last week, Ward 7 resident Dawn Matthews challenged Alexander's ballot petitions. Whether this will keep her off the ballot in April remains to be seen, but other incumbents have been able to survive being knocked off the ballot in the past and still win reelection via write-in (see Anthony Williams in 2002).

The main theme of the race seems to be the perception, fair or not, that Alexander has not done much for Ward 7. Economic development, and the related topic of employment, appear to be first on the mind of many voters. A splintered field works in the incumbent's favor, but the addition of a strong Republican challenger will make this a race worth watching, regardless of who emerges from the primary election on April 3.

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