Lt. Gov. Northam: The fierce urgency of now

Thanks to Ashley Bauman <> for this note from Lt Gov Northam.

By Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam

© February 25, 2014

Over the past few months, a lot has been said about the need to provide health care to the commonwealth’s most hard-working and vulnerable citizens.

As both a practicing physician and a policymaker, my support for Medicaid expansion is no secret. It is a simple fact that one’s quality of life significantly improves with access to affordable health care.

Imagine your child had a fever of 105 and was not able to be seen by a provider, or that you had to decide between paying rent and refilling a life-saving prescription. Hundreds of thousands of working Virginians make these choices on a daily basis.

I emphasize the word “working” because 70 percent of Virginians without insurance have at least one working member in their household. Closing the coverage gap is not a handout. It is intended for hard-working Virginians who don’t otherwise have access to health insurance.

As a physician, I am troubled by the fact that your economic status so greatly determines your ability to access and the quality of your health care. As a parent, I am heartbroken knowing that mothers and fathers throughout the state are making choices between putting food on the table for their kids and paying for their basic health care each month.

The children I see at my practice are fortunate, but there are too many others in similar situations who don’t have access to insurance through employers, cannot afford care out of pocket and don’t have access to charity care.

As a business owner, I cannot fathom giving $5 million, per day, to competing businesses. But in this case, that’s exactly what we are doing if we don’t expand Medicaid. We are sending Virginia’s tax dollars to our neighboring states so they can improve the health, well-being and productivity of their own students and workers.

Instead, we should be doing all we can to reinvest those tax dollars in our own communities. To be clear, these are tax dollars that the people of Virginia will continue to pay whether or not Virginia ever draws down our share from the federal government.

Meanwhile, our hospitals are struggling to close their financial gaps, when we could be creating tens of thousands of new jobs in the health care field. These are quality jobs that would help boost local economies and ultimately generate more revenue for the state.

Finally, as a veteran of the U.S. Army, I am incredibly frustrated that many of my fellow veterans fall into the coverage gap and don’t have access to affordable health care, despite their service to our great nation.

Contrary to popular belief, in Virginia there are more than 30,000 veterans who don’t have health insurance. These men and women risked their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq for our freedom, and now work in the private sector earning minimum wage, live under the poverty line and are not able to afford health care coverage for themselves or their families.

The least we can do for these brave individuals, many with serious medical conditions, is ensure that they and their families have access to affordable and quality health care.

If you refer to yourself as a patriot, profess to have good business sense, describe yourself as a well-intended person having compassion for your fellow man, or all of the above, I strongly encourage you to discuss favorably with your delegate and senator the benefits of expanding health care to the nearly 400,000 working Virginians currently in the coverage gap.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “of all the forms of injustice, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” In his speech at the March on Washington, he called on America to recognize “the fierce urgency of now.”

Now is the time for Virginia to put politics and partisanship aside and to responsibly provide coverage to those in need as soon as possible. The health of our neighbors, children, and veterans depends on it.

Ralph Northam is lieutenant governor of Virginia. He lives in Norfolk.

House Democratic Leader urges Cuccinelli to appoint separate counsel in Star Scientific Case

from Ashley Bauman
Democratic Party of Virginia

March 29, 2013, Charlottesville, VA — Today House Democratic Leader David Toscano sent the following letter to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli urging him to recuse himself and his office and appoint outside counsel in Virginia’s case against Star Scientific, a company in which Cuccinelli is invested and from whose CEO he has received $13,000 in gifts. Star Scientific owes Virginia $700,000 in taxes and sued the state in 2011 over the matter.

Last week an Associated Press report revealed that case has lain dormant since August of 2011 and questioned whether Cuccinelli’s apparent conflict of interest with the company has played a role in his office’s slow handling of the matter. Today Toscano called on Cuccinelli to do away with the perception of impropriety and recuse himself and his office from the case.

The text of the letter he sent is below:

Dear General Cuccinelli,

As you know, last week the Associated Press reported on a troubling issue regarding your office’s handling of a tax dispute with a company in which you are invested and with whose CEO you seem to be close friends. According to that report, Star Scientific may owe Virginia taxpayers as much as $700,000 and has sued the Commonwealth over that bill. The case to resolve that claim is being handled by your office, but it seems to have sat dormant since August of 2011.

The length of time that has passed without any action on a case at which hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake is cause for concern in and of itself, but this instance is particularly troubling due to your close personal relationship to this company and its CEO Jonnie Williams. As the Associated Press reported, Williams’ company is the only company in which you hold stock, and you received $13,000 in gifts from Williams in 2011, the same year that Williams sued the Commonwealth of Virginia and your office began to represent taxpayers in that case.

It should come as no surprise that many Virginians, myself included, view your office’s handling of a case against a company with which you have this type of relationship as an inexcusable conflict of interest. That is why I am writing today to urge you to recuse yourself and the Office of the Attorney General from any further proceedings involving Star Scientific and to appoint outside special counsel to represent Virginians in this matter.

Your office has publicly sought to downplay any discussion of a potential conflict of interest in the handling of this case. However, even if the abnormally slow response to this case has nothing to do with your relationship with Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams, appointing outside counsel to pursue this case will give Virginians the confidence they deserve that you and your staff are dedicated to protecting our Commonwealth’s sterling reputation for transparency and accountability.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter, I hope you will act swiftly to do away with even the appearance of impropriety so that this case can move forward and Virginia taxpayers can see this matter resolved properly.

Delegate David Toscano
House Democratic Leader

Update: The Washington Post published an article on this topic March 30th.

DPVA Chair Herring responds to Obama’s call for action

Middle class families, children and seniors will bear the brunt of these harmful but completely avoidable cuts to vital government initiatives.

By Ashley Bauman, DPVA

RICHMOND – This morning, President Obama discussed commonsense solutions to avoid the sequester and reduce our debt and deficit in a balanced manner. After the President’s press conference, Del. Charniele Herring, Democratic Party of Virginia Chair, released the following statement:

As President Obama said today, job number one for our representatives in Congress must be to grow the economy and create good middle class jobs. But if Republicans in Congress allow the sequester to happen, the drastic cuts will have a host of devastating effects on everything from the economy and military readiness to first responders, health care and education-just to name a few. Middle class families, children and seniors will bear the brunt of these harmful but completely avoidable cuts to vital government initiatives.

These deep, automatic spending cuts were meant to be so unattractive and unappealing that Congress would act to avoid them by passing a balanced plan to reduce the deficit. However, Republicans have repeatedly walked away from efforts to find a balanced approach, placing a higher priority on protecting tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy and corporations than on getting our fiscal house in order and growing our economy in a smart and balanced way. If Republicans allow the sequester to take place it will diminish our military’s ability to respond to threats across the world and weaken our border security. These cuts will cause longer lines at airports and could threaten flu vaccinations and medical screenings. It’s wrong to ask the middle class and seniors to bear the burden of devastating budget cuts while protecting the interests of the wealthy. It’s wrong to lay off teachers and first responders to protect tax loopholes that allow some CEO’s to pay a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries. These cuts are unfair, they are not smart, and they will increase unemployment and hurt our economy.

And we can’t, as many Republicans profess we can, simply cut our way to prosperity by cutting Medicare benefits and asking our senior citizens to pay more or laying off teachers and first responders. Republicans face a choice: will they compromise to protect vital investments in education, health care and the military that benefit the middle class and keep us safe, or will they put the entire economy in jeopardy just to protect special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations. It’s time for Republicans to put our economy and middle class families first by supporting the Democrats’ balanced plan that pairs more spending cuts with tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and makes sure billionaires won’t pay a lower rate than other middle-class Americans.

Medicaid Expansion: Statement from Brian Moran

Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman Brian Moran released the following statement on July 12, 2012, urging Governor Bob McDonnell to put politics aside and opt Virginia in to the Medicaid expansion program set forth by the Affordable Care Act:

“Right now thousands of Virginians are waiting to find out if their Governor will take advantage of available federal funding to ensure that they get access to health insurance they would otherwise lack, or if he will allow partisan politics to override their best interests.

“It is past time for Governor McDonnell and Republicans all over the country to accept that the Affordable Care Act is the law of our land, that it is already making it possible for millions of families to acquire health insurance and that repealing it or stonewalling its implementation will rob millions of their access to health insurance that should be a right in our nation, not a privilege for the few.

“Should he decide to stand in the way of this critical expansion, the Governor will send Virginians a clear message about his level of respect for the tax dollars they send to Washington. By refusing to claim Virginia’s fair share of federal assistance, the Governor could jeopardize many families’ access to affordable care.

“This is a historic moment for the Governor and our Commonwealth. We can either prove once again that we are above the reckless partisan obstructionism that is damaging other states on issues like these, or we can continue to allow radical elements of the Republican party define our public policy in ways that denigrate our reputation and leave Virginians waiting for leadership that puts their best interests first.

“On behalf of the Democratic Party of Virginia, I urge Governor McDonnell to take advantage of this opportunity to bring Virginia taxpayer dollars back to the Commonwealth and to ensure that thousands of families get access to affordable health care that is so essential to opportunity and economic success in our society. We simply cannot afford to let party politics override the common good on this critical issue.” ###

McDonnell’s “Pick Me” Tour of the Commonwealth

by Ashley Bauman

RICHMOND, VA — On the heels of Bob McDonnell’s “Pick Me” for V.P. tour across the Commonwealth Chairman Brian Moran released the following statement:

“Bob McDonnell has spent the last week campaigning across the state as part of his vain attempt to improve his ratings among Virginians and campaign for the GOP vice presidential nomination.

“People across Virginia and the nation have already seen that when Republicans are put in charge, they promote the same familiar and troubling economic scheme: more budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy; fewer rules for Wall Street–the same formula that benefited a few, but crashed our economy and punished the middle class. McDonnell and Romney also want to roll back the clock on women’s health, with McDonnell going so far as to push extreme measures like an invasive mandatory ultrasound law.

“The fact is that President Obama’s leadership has helped turn things around here in Virginia and across the country. While there’s still more work to do, the president is the only candidate who will continue investing in education, infrastructure and middle class families to keep us moving forward.”###