News Politics Shad Plank: Congressional fund-raising; General Assembly box scores

The Daily Press
Dave Ress
April 20, 2018

Elaine Luria got a late start in her bid for Congress, but of all the candidates seeking to unseat Virginia’s incumbents in the House of Representatives she was the busiest so far this year in the critical work of fundraising.

However, the $373,375 she raised though March 31 still leaves her war chest a long way behind incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia, in the race to represent the sprawling Eastern Shore-to-Williamsburg 2nd Congressional District, the latest campaign finance reports of the Federal Elections Commission show.

After the spending needed to get a campaign going, Luria was left with a balance of $291,175 as of March 31. Taylor has $842,961 after raising $536,535 in the first three months of the year.

Luria, a Navy veteran and business owner from Norfolk, got a big leg up from ACT Blue, a national political action committee that promotes Democratic candidates. It gave a total of $172,978 during the quarter, acting as a conduit for Democrats from around the nation.

It’s yet another sign that there is significant interest outside Hampton Roads in swinging the 2nd district, which went 48 percent to 45 percent for Donald Trump in 2016 but 51 percent for Democrat Ralph Northam in last year’s gubernatorial race.

One big question is the level of local interest. Taylor netted $153,167 from people living in the district, Shad Plank’s review of the FEC filings show, Luria’s total was $47,408.

The other Democratic hopeful in the race, Virginia Beach teacher Karen Mallard, raised $24,717 so far this year, and now reports a total balance in her campaign fund of $14,099.

Taylor faces a Republican challenger, former James City County Board of Supervisor Mary Jones. She raised $31,661 in the first three months of the year, and has $22,986 on hand.

Luria and Mallard are seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 12 primary, while Taylor faces Jones in the GOP primary that day.

In the 1st District, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, raised $248,581 and has more than $1 million on hand. Democratic hopefuls have raised far less: John Suddarth raised $36,114; Vangie WIlliams, $26,245 and Edwin Santana raised $12,901.

In the 3rd District, where Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, is so far the only candidate registered with the FEC, he reported raising $66,285 in the quarter.

The big money is still focused on Northern Virginia’s 10th district, where Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, is seen by many analysts as among the most vulnerable GOP members of Congress. She raised $810,386 in the quarter and now has $1.8 million in her campaign fund. All in all, the six Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to challenge her raised more than $1.2 million in the quarter. Comstock also faces a challenge from the right, now that conservative activist Shak Hill, who raised $75,230, is seeking the GOP nomination.

Money flows are also suggesting two other GOP strongholds are targeted by Democrats this year. In the Piedmon region’s 5th District, where incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, raised $125,924 in the quarter, four Democratic challenges raised a combined total of $472,205. In central Virginia’s 7th District, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Henrico, raised $248,461 and his two challengers raised $569.488.

Money isn’t votes, of course. But money woos votes. And money — especially how much and where it comes from — can be an early signal of how campaigns are organizing themselves.

Box scores

Want to get bills passed through the Virginia General Assembly?

If you’re after big numbers, seniority, a committee chairmanship and expertise in the often arcane legal issues that come before the Courts of Justice Committee all help. Just ask state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, sponsor of 22 successful bills this year. That’s the most of any legislator.

It adds up to a pretty impressive batting average of 69 percent of the 32 bills Obenshain sponsored, double the average calculated by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Expertise also paid off for Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna. Out of his heavy 25-bill workload, he won support for 17 measures, largely dealing with dredging the small waterways his watermen constituents rely upon for access to the Chesapeake, regulation of medications (Hodges is a pharmacist), and drainage and groundwater issues — a top concern in his low-lying coastal district. Hodges’ misses mainly involved his challenges to the powerful health insurance lobby and its arrangements with pharmacy benefit managers that he argues are unfair to patients and community pharmacists.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment’s 60 percent success rate came despite the impasse over the two budget bills he sponsored, the heaviest lift of any General Assembly. Some of Norment’s measures — a tweak to state ethics law to speed reporting of conflicts of interest forms, some bridge and highway designation items — were far from controversial. But Norment. R-James City County, moved a sales tax surcharge for the Historic Triangle through, always a tough sell for the legislature’s tax skeptics. He struck out with a bill to give first-time offenders charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession a chance to wipe their records clean.

Seniority isn’t always a factor, though. Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, had success with half of her bills, helped by her passionate advocacy on foster care and adoption issues. Five of her proposals were enacted.

State Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, ran into some unexpected opposition for a bill on irrigation wells, as well as the usual challenges that so far haven’t discouraged him from pushing to broaden access to a special tax credit for community non-profits or to give James City County the power to ban people from keeping junk cars on their property. Once again, neither he nor his former colleagues on the House Courts of Justice Committee could figure out a way to tackle complex computer trespass and hacking issues without getting in the way of some fairly standard e-commerce and online communications practices. Even so, the General Assembly liked 11 of his 24 bills, giving him a success rate of 46 percent, well above the legislature’s 34 percent average.

Del. Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson, won support for two of his five bills, dealing with mental health awareness training for firefighters and the other with the display of used cars. He didn’t have luck with a measure that would allow watermen to cut through oyster sanctuaries when they have dredges on their boats or with the unexpectedly fraught area of language development goals for pupils who are deaf or have impaired hearing.

That last was an issue for Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, too. Her measure intended to make it a state goal that children who are deaf or hard of hearing be linguistically ready for kindergarten and literate in English by grade 3 was one of nine bills she sponsored that didn’t gain traction. Pogge won support for thee of her 12 measures.

State Sen.Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, also had a 3-for-12 record. Once again, she faced the opposition of the 8-7 Republican majority in the Senate Education and Health committee to her continuing effort to allow women to refuse the current requirement for a fetal transabdominal ultrasound before having an abortion. But her repeated advocacy for no-excuse absentee voting will be part of a special joint committee’s mandate to review election law. Her effort to allow localities to ban disposal plastic shopping bags — which get into the waterways, are harmful to marine life and are a major litter problem in her home town — is slated to come back before the General Assembly next year.

Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, took on an astoundingly heavy 44-bill load this year, his first as chair of the House Transportation Committee. He won support for 12 — a 27 percent success rate — including a bill for a tax credit for employers who offer training or internships for middle school and high school students.

Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, won support for four his his 22 proposals, including one to make it harder for pimps to get bail and another to help people pay court fines by doing community service. Mullin played a central role in major new legislation opening public access to court records. His bill on the subject was merged into the legislation that passed, and so wasn’t counted as a win under the definitions used in the VPAP tally — which is one reason why simply looking at bill pass-fail data doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Del, Marcia Price, D-Newport News, won support for three of her 13 measures, including a new student loan ombudsman office.

Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, won support for two of her 12 proposals, including one that opens more options for juvenile justice officials to deal with truants.

There was one legislator who batted 1.000, by the way. Del. Thomas Wright, R-Lunenburg, got the General Assembly’s nod for all three of his bills. Seniority (17 years), expertise (one of his bills on groundwater permit reflected his chairmanship of the State Water Council) and time to focus on a limited number of proposals can pay off, evidently.

At least for a box score.

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