Recently a fellow by the name of Mark asked me if I could tell him a bit about life and politics here in Virginia. So, for the out-of-staters and the recently relocated, here are my impressions. To begin, I need to inform you that I don’t have a whole lot of experience living in other states. There are only three other states in which I have spent any appreciable time: Tennessee, South Carolina, and California. Therefore I won’t be comparing Virginia to any particular state. With that note out of the way, let’s begin.
As of this point I have lived in a handful of locations in the state: Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and to a much lesser extent Virginia Beach. Geologically speaking, these cities and counties encompass a geographic majority of the state’s regions: the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Piedmont, and the Tidewater. So if you enjoy the sun and surf of the beach, the gentle rolling topography, or the tranquility of the mountains, Virginia has all three and more. Although much of the state is still fairly rural, if you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big city areas such as Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax or the Hampton Roads area should be your destination. Unlike any other state, cities and counties in this state are politically separate entities. Virginia has 39 cities and 95 counties. Cities in Virginia are not necessarily a reflection of a large and concentrated population as cities range from Norton with a population of 3,904 in 2000 to Virginia Beach with an estimated 440,415 in 2008.
Politically and culturally speaking, Virginia is still one of the more conservative states in the Union. Although it is true that President Obama won the state, prior to his victory, no Democratic candidate for president has won here since Lyndon Johnson back in 1964. Recently the Democratic Party has enjoyed a string of successes in statewide politics with the election of two Democratic Senators, two successive Governors, present control of the Virginia Senate, and two new members of the House of Representatives. However, in order to achieve these victories, they have run candidates who are (or pretend to be) far less liberal than the national party. For example, our senior Senator Jim Webb supports the second amendment right of gun ownership, supports making English the national language, and was against the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. When it comes to the culture, most businesses (at least outside the major cities) are either closed on Sunday or operate on abbreviated hours. In addition, many citizens attend some sort weekly religious services.
Unlike most states, both Virginia and New Jersey have elections every year. In even years we elect officials to go to Washington, in the odd years we elect them to go to Richmond. In addition, some localities hold their city or county elections at yet another time. For example, until recently, the city of Harrisonburg held their elections for city council in the spring. One can find some sort of election or campaign just about any month of the year. This year we are electing every member of the House of Delegates, Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. Like every other state, with the notable exception of Nebraska, Virginia has a bicameral legislature, which is called the General Assembly. The lower house is the House of Delegates, consisting of 100 members, and the upper house is the Senate, consisting of 40. The Governor is a bit weaker than the executives of other states as he is barred by the Constitution from seeking successive reelection. Our government is less involved and mettlesome than Washington in that our legislature meets only on a part-time basis (typically 30 or 60 days per year).
Recent legislation by the state has been a mixed bag. While George Allen (R) was Governor, he succeeded in reforming parole and mandating parental notification for teen abortions. Jim Gilmore (R) won as Governor on the pledge of elimination of the car tax (which, unfortunately, has not be completely eliminated). In 2003, a number of Republican lawmakers allied themselves with then Governor Mark Warner (D) to raise taxes. As a result, Republicans lost control of the Senate in the next election, 2007, a body they controlled since 1999. Back in 2006, Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman and forbids same-sex civil unions. Recently Senator Obenshain unsuccessfully attempted to wrest control of liquor sales away from the state. In Virginia, presently all liquor sales must be done through state-run ABC stores. Although typically a tobacco (and business) friendly state, smoking will soon be banned in all restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, as I’ve mentioned in the past, any one worth its salt will serve a good sweet tea.
I could write on for pages and more pages, but I’ve observed that most of the state’s values and traditions remain relatively the same from year to year, to borrow a quote from Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring movie “with change coming slowly, if it comes at all”.