Governor's August 4th Town Hall Meeting
Registration. When you get to the meeting venue, register promptly. There will be one general sign-in list, and a second one if you want to speak. On the latter you need to put your name and the topic you want to talk about. I had to ask about this second one. It is a smaller sheet and was controlled by the aide at the table rather than sitting out front where people were signing in.
Arrive early. I got to the meeting venue at 6 pm (session advertised to start at 7 pm). But 12 people had already signed up to speak, and I barely made it under the wire as #13 of 16. To be sure you get to speak, come 75 or 90 mins. early, and bring something to read or do in the interim.
Speaking. I was #13 on the list and I got to speak. Four people at a time were called to the front to speak, and they did this four times, so, at least at Roanoke, only 16 people were allowed to participate directly. Have no idea how many signed up after me, but the meeting room held about 100 people and I'm told there was an "overflow" room, too, also filled, but I have no idea how big it was. There is a red/yellow/green light that gives you 2 minutes. The Governor asked me a question, so I was able to take extra time. A number of speakers did, actually, but after about 3 mins., Eric Finkbinner, who was in charge, would interrupt and tell the speaker to wrap up. He had to tell one long-winded fellow, a beer distributor reading a prepared statement, to sit down.
Format. Seating in the Roanoke venue was very limited. Only about 100 seats in the BOS meeting room, and blocks of seats had been reserved for the press, for the Governor's retinue of a dozen or so, and for the Roanoke County BOS. People were standing in the aisles and rear, sitting on the floor, and filled another "overflow" room. The press set up bulky cameras right in front of people, blocking views. The Governor entered at 7:06 pm. There was polite applause, though some whoops of "Hey, Bob!" rang out. Only about half the crowd stood up. He was introduced, in this case, by state Sen. Ralph Smith, who also acknowledged fellow politicians in the crowd. Gov. McDonnell began at 7:10.
Governor's talk. He introduced all of his retinue, which included 3 cabinet secretaries, lots of "deputy" this and thats, head of the ABC, "energy guru" Maureen Madson, and Eric Finkbinner. He made a prepared talk of approximately 30 minutes duration, including powerpoint slides. He spent a lot of time on jobs, free enterprise and its role in job creation, getting people back to work, cutting spending, not raising taxes, and all the good work the General Assembly had done working to craft a budget compromise in difficult times. He talked about the Commission on Government Reform and the work they are doing to make government more efficient. The last 10 minutes were devoted to his intended privatization of the ABC stores. It will produce a one-time windfall of between $300 and $500 million dollars for transportation, he said. It sounded like they may intend to escrow this money and use it to pay bonded debt interest, thus leveraging it, because he said, "this money will have billions in impact over time." He urged citizens to send their ideas on government reform and ways to save money to www.reform.virginia
Citizen interest. Number one topic was transportation, completely apart from the ABC store wrinkle. Several people talked about the need to set reasonable priorities. McDonnell said "the $3.6 billion annual budget for transportation needs to be spent wisely." He mentioned the ongoing VDOT audits. "On I-81 we need to emphasize rail," he said; "you have horrible problems with trucks there." The second favorite topic was illegal immigration. One woman questioned why illegal immigrants get to participate in so many social benefit programs, one man noted the unwelcome competition for scarce jobs in dire economic times, and another speaker wanted the Governor to press the federal government to do a better sealing our borders. The third largest topic (here's a sleeper!) was posse comitatus. This got into the 10th Amendment, an attempt by DOD to take control of state national guard units away from governors, and McDonnell's service as one of 10 governors (5 R and 5 D) on a commission to try to resolve the issue with the federal government. I was amazed that people felt as strongly as they did about this and were so well informed. States' Rights are alive and well in the Old Dominion. One young man recited a history of posse comitatus going back to the original act in 1867. A few speakers did not fall into any of these 3 groups. One teacher decried cuts to K - 12 educational funding, and a woman made a passioned denunciation of wind turbines as a "tax scam, not green energy" and said they don't belong on the ridge lines of Southwest Virginia. McDonnell said in response that we "need to rely on all sources of energy to relieve our dependence on oil." A Tea Party representative criticized the Governor for limiting the private liquor stores to only 800 in his proposal, instead of allowing true free market competition.
VTRANS2035. I decided to use my 2 minutes to reinforce our recent comments. I said the first four chapters contained lots of good stuff that belong in a vision about Virginia's transportation future, written by a lot of good minds, then along comes Chapter 5, completely antithetical to the others, and looks like something VDOT slipped in to justify billions of dollar of new highway spending. There was a ripple of sympathetic applause when I criticized VDOT. I urged him and his administration to pay special attention to the comments from the period ending Friday. I mentioned that if we do suddenly have a new source of transportation funding in Virginia, it makes it doubly urgent that we have a better way to involve the public in determining priorities. "How would you do that?" he asked. I said that the most important thing is to involve the public early in weighing alternatives, not invite them to a workshop after all decisions are made. I said the VTRANS emphasis on game-changing events, detailed planning for Corridors of Statewide Significance, multimodal planning and funding, and better coordination of transportation and land use are all parts of a good vision for Virginia. But it needs to be more than a vision. And to get there we need to move off the idea that more highways are the answer to every problem of congestion and growth. Afterwards Senator Edwards asked me for a link to the VTRANS report and a copy of our comments. I said I will e-mail them.