Supreme Court "Hearings"

Yesterday’s “hearings” in the Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Senate Republicans, convinced me of four things:

  •  We don’t know for certain whether the allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh are true or false because we don’t have enough evidence to draw a conclusion, but…

  • Chuck Grassley and most Senate Republicans on the Committee won’t allow an FBI investigation that could gather and examine that evidence.  They are deliberately preventing a real examination of multiple allegations of sexual assault.

  • The extreme, angry indignation of these same Republican Senators – that Senate Democrats would have the audacity to raise questions about Mr Kavanaugh’s character and honesty – utterly contradicts the notion that this was in any way intended to be a ‘hearing’ in the first place.  Several Senate Republicans publicly stated, just hours earlier, that they saw nothing in Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony that did not seem credible. If her testimony was credible, then why is it such an affront to question Kavanaugh in an effort to determine what’s true?

  • Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans delayed hearings on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court choice for nearly a year.  They can delay a vote on Brett Kavanaugh for a few weeks or months while a thorough FBI investigation is conducted.


Of course it’s possible that Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth and Christine Blasey-Ford is either lying or simply wrong.  But she passed a polygraph.  She told friends about the assault beginning five years ago, long before he was being considered for the Supreme Court.  Now, three other women have made allegations, and at least one of them has submitted sworn testimony to the Judiciary Committee.  It seems to me incredibly unlikely that all four are either lying or mistaken. 

The American Bar Association, which earlier gave Kavanaugh high marks, is now calling for an FBI investigation.  Alan Dershowitz, the outspoken Conservative lawyer and pundit, is calling for the FBI to examine the charges.  Millions of American women, and men, are demanding a real investigation.  Rushing through a vote on someone who will likely serve on the highest court for the next 30+ years is foolish, irrational and an insult to women and basic principles of justice.

Reflection: Black Lung Rally

Imagine being sick, sometimes deathly sick; struggling to breath on your own, unable to walk to the kitchen for a cup of coffee without getting winded.  You’re not in your eighties, or your seventies. You’re not even old enough for Social Security.  Your deteriorating health is the result of what you did for a living for 30 years, mining coal.  You know that you’re very sick; and that it’s only going to get worse.  Several doctors and many tests done over more than a decade prove what you know to be true:  You’ve got black lung.  Now imagine that you’ve been fighting to get these black lung benefits for more than ten years, but you keep getting the run around, keep getting denied.  And you keep getting sicker.


Unfortunately, this scenario is not the exception to the rule, but the typical experience for thousands of coal miners in southwest Virginia and Appalachia.  We heard many of these stories at our 84th Town Hall meeting this past Saturday in Norton.  As a nation, we’ve largely looked the other way as more than 70,000 miners have died from black lung over the past few decades.  Seventy thousand.  The fruits of their labor built our steel, heated and cooled our buildings and kept the lights on. 


Nevertheless, in the midst of a black lung epidemic, miners continue to find themselves on the short end of the stick when they pursue their claims of black lung disability.  Even with the improvements to federal black lung laws made under the Obama administration, the number of miners who receive black lung benefits remains incredibly small, fewer than 2 out of every 10 who apply.  We need to change that.  We must change that.


In the meantime, a bad situation will only get worse, unless we pressure Congress to take action before year’s end.  Right now, several of the biggest coal companies in the country are trying to cut their contributions to the Black Lung Trust Fund in half, from $1.10 per ton of coal mined to about 50 cents.   This would dramatically shrink funds available to pay black lung claims at exactly the same time that black lung disease is sky rocketing throughout our coalfields.  We must ensure that Congress acts to stop this.  Please sign the petition below to help make this happen.  Thanks.

Reflection: Veterans Forum

We’ve completed 78 Town Hall meetings now, in a wide range of communities across the 9th District.  I’ve met and spoken with thousands of people I did not know and learned so much, both about the problems we face and the work people in our communities are doing to fix things. 

Of all these incredible gatherings, our recent Veterans Town Hall (September 6th in Christiansburg) was one of the best.  Though the group was small, my notepad quickly filled as men and women from different branches and different wars shared their stories, offered their assessment of the current situation for vets, and discussed some of the work they’re doing to create more and better opportunities for their fellow service members.  I heard about overprescribing pain pills leading to a battle against addiction; about outstanding care received for catastrophic injuries at Walter Reed Medical Center; about great care at VA hospitals, and about very inadequate care, especially when staff turns over; about how we ought to spend more time and resources to avoid armed conflict and create the conditions for peace; and about a range of efforts to help veterans transition to civilian life, to job opportunities, to their own farms and businesses. 

One thing I heard, repeated many times, was the sense of comradery that vets feel, the sense they had while in uniform “someone’s always got your back”, that you won’t be abandoned, that you’re in this together.  And that one of the hardest adjustments many face when their service is over it the lack of this care and connection in the civilian world.  It struck me as so unfortunate that people get more sense of brotherhood in a war zone than when back home in our nation. 

To all of the men and women who made our Veterans Town Hall so rich and full for me, I extend my deepest appreciation. And on today, 17 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, my heart goes out to the victims' families who surely still grieve; to the 1st responders who braved deadly conditions; & to those who strive to keep us safe, whether soldiers, diplomats or aid workers fostering understanding & peace.

Money, Elections and Politics

A lot of people feel like they have no voice in politics, that their concerns and priorities just don’t matter to politicians.  They’re not far off.  In 2014, Marten Gilens and Benjamin Page undertook an analysis of nearly 1,800 different national policy issues, going back a decade, to try to determine who had the most influence with our elected officials.  The results were shocking.  They found that “the priorities and preferences of ‘average citizens’ had little or no independent influence on the policies adopted” by Congress.  Little or no independent influence.  This was true even when Republican and Democratic voters were in basic agreement about an issue.  According to their study, the will of the majority of every day citizens impacted legislation only when it happened to coincide with what the preferences of the wealthy or big business.

Most folks probably don’t know about this particular study, but they know from experience that politics has been captured by the rich and the powerful.  That’s no doubt why affluent individuals tend to vote at a much higher rate than low income and working people.

It hasn’t always been this way.  So how did we get here?  How did politics become a tool for the powerful to increase their power?  No doubt there are many reasons for this, but I’ll offer three.  First, it’s who we’re electing to Congress:  Millionaires.  Starting in 2012, well over half of all members of the US House and the Senate were millionaires, compared with just 4% who are ‘working class’.   This is about equally true for Democrats and Republicans.  Let’s be clear.  I’m not saying that every wealthy person has the same values and political views, any more than that’s true among working and middle-class people.  But if most of our ‘representatives’ belong to the country club while most of us are parking their cars or delivering produce to the kitchen door (speaking from experience here), it’s no wonder that politics is not serving the needs of everyday people.

The second issue is money in politics.  Part of why so many members of Congress are rich is because it takes so doggone much money to run a competitive political campaign.  As someone who most definitely is not a millionaire, I can attest to how difficult it is to run for Congress, putting both my farm and business on hold for the better part of a year in order to campaign seven days a week.  If you decide to accept no corporate PAC money, but instead to raise funds from neighbors and other small donors, as I have, it is much more difficult and time-consuming to raise what you need.  That’s why most Congressional candidates do get money, directly or indirectly, from big donors, corporate PACs and Super PACs.  And once they do, they’re beholding to the few more than they are to us, the many.   And when I say, ‘the few’ I mean it:  By 2012, nearly half of all political contributions were given by the richest .01 % of Americans, that is the top 1 out of 10,000 people.

But the influence of money doesn’t stop when elections are over.  Far from it.  That’s when the lobbyists take control, representing those same elite interests that paid for most of the elections in the first place.  And that’s the third reason that everyday people have so little say in our political process.  Lobbyists not only impact which bills are passed and which are not; they often write the detailed legislation, ensuring that the law works well for the interests they represent.  How else could we have gotten campaign finance rules that allow the super-rich to contribute tens of millions of dollars in virtual secrecy, while you and I have to disclose our name, address, employer and occupation for any contribution of $200 or more?

No doubt, this is all pretty depressing.  But rather than despair and withdraw, we need to redouble our efforts to reduce the influence of Big Money in politics.  There are things that you and I can do:  First, support candidates who don’t take corporate donations and who won’t allow secret Super PAC money near their campaign.  I’m one of those candidates, but there are others, running for both state and federal offices.  You can learn where candidates get their funds from

Second, fight for publicly funded elections to level the playing field between wealthy donors and the rest of us.  Should I be elected, I’ll fight to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which will help candidates accepting only small donations, and help overcome the influence of deep-pocketed donors. Related to that, I’ll work with others to overturn or negate the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that unleashed gargantuan sums of secret, ‘dark money’ into our elections.

Last, we need legislation that closes the revolving door between elected officials and lobbyists so that congresspeople and their senior staff can no longer leave office to take a lucrative job with the very firms they, supposedly, had been monitoring and regulating.  When Justice Department lawyers prosecuting fraud by giant financial firms turn around to become lobbyists with the same Wall Street Banks, something is terribly wrong.

It’s a tough fight, but we must fight for that change, rather than giving up. We can make sure the government and politics serves everyday people if we work together. 


A High Court for the High and Mighty

Check out Anthony's Op-Ed in the Roanoke Times, written mainly in response to the Supreme Court rulings back in late June. Here's an excerpt; you can read the full piece here. 

For most of human history, the well-being of everyday people has held little to no importance for those in power. The rich and powerful have, to varying degrees, ruled primarily to ensure and expand their own wealth and power. That was true of the monarchies we rebelled against at the founding of this nation, and it is still all-too-common today.

That’s why the fundamental insight of democracy — or of a democratic republic in our case — was so revolutionary: that common folk, whatever their economic status, had just as much claim, just as much right to select their representatives and to shape the rules and policies that govern their lives. One person, one vote; equality under the law; Of the people, by the people, for the people.

Though they varied in their visions of how this egalitarianism should be achieved, the Founders ultimately created a constitution whose most basic purpose was to ensure and, over time, expand this democracy. Jefferson, Madison, Adams and the others were themselves elites, but they understood that unchecked economic power invariably led to overwhelmingly concentrated political power; and that the federal government must provide the ultimate check on elite power, or a monarchy of the rich would surely ensue.

Read the whole thing here.

Statement on Recent Immigration decisions by Trump Administration

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting on behalf of the Trump Administration, has made three new, unnecessary and cruel changes to how our immigration laws are interpreted and carried out.

First, his “zero tolerance” policy is taking children as young as infants and toddlers from their parents, breaking apart families already under great duress. In the six weeks since the policy was announced, nearly 2,000 children have been taken in this way. These are extremely poor families, many of them fleeing extreme violence. They do not pose a threat to us; they are the very people that our nation has so famously welcomed for most of our history.

The second and third changes made by the Administration occurred last week, when Jeff Sessions announced that being the victim of domestic violence or of gang violence would no longer provide justification for status as a refugee. This is particularly cruel, given that most of these victims are women or children. Sessions, who quoted a Bible verse to justify his policies, is making new rules far beyond anything required by law. These rules are tearing apart families and preventing some of the most vulnerable people in the world from being considered to be refugees.

None of this is required by the current law. The President’s claim that they are implementing “the Democrats’ law” is simply false.

An administration dominated by people who claim the Christian faith, who talk constantly about making America great, is instead projecting to the world a nation that is indifferent to suffering, willing to undermine families, and closed to people in great need. As an American, raised in the Christian faith, I am horrified by these actions. I urge people of good will to join the fight to undo these new immigration rules, and strive to be a nation that measures itself by what we “do to the least” among us.


With much gratitude, we're delighted to announce our win in Virginia's 9th Congressional District Primary on Tuesday, June 12.  I'm especially grateful to my wife, Laurel, who's put much of her life on hold for the campaign, and to my terrific staff, interns and volunteers!  And to the more than 800 people who have already contributed to our campaign.

When I entered the race last October, I pledged to hold 100 Town Hall meetings before the November election; we've completed 60 so far.  We set out to organize and build Volunteer Core Groups in every part of the district, to help us reach people where they live, and engage folks far beyond 'the choir'.  To date, we have 18 such core groups, spanning most of the district, which have mobilized hundreds of volunteers on a regular basis.  These volunteers have already knocked on countless doors, made thousands of phone calls, written scores of letters to the editor, and helped break down barriers within our communities.

We've completed step one with a resounding victory of nearly 80% of the vote.  Now we begin the process of winning back the fighting 9th.  We know we can do this, but only with your support and involvement.  

Watch the acceptance speech here:

Medicaid Expansion, At Last!

This week’s vote in the Virginia Senate to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion was long overdue.  We should not forget all the people who’ve unnecessarily gone without medicines and medical care for the past three years, because of the refusal of Republicans in our legislature to expand the program.  Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that, at last, the Commonwealth will be extending Medicaid to working families struggling just above the poverty line.  And hats off to the delegation from southwest Virginia, the majority of whom voted for working folks in Virginia!

In addition to enabling a few hundred thousand Virginians to receive quality medical care, Medicaid expansion will likely help stabilize rural hospitals and clinics in southwest Virginia.  Over the past few years, hospitals in Lee County and Patrick County have closed, while others are struggling to hang on.  We know from an analysis done by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School that states who expanded Medicaid had six times fewer hospital closures than those who refused it.  With Virginia now on the way to expanded Medicaid, rural hospitals and clinics should stabilize and once again be able to provide the critical services they do in the 9th District.

A Very Bad Farm Bill for Southwest Virginia Farmers

FB Post:  A Very Bad Farm Bill for Southwest Virginia FarmersLike many farmers in southwest Virginia, I know how challenging it can be to earn a good living from farming, while also providing healthy affordable foods to my neighbors and being a good steward of the land.  It takes a lot of trial and error, hard work and even a bit of luck to make these things happen. 

Federal farm policy, mostly in the form of the Farm Bill, can either help with these challenges or make them even more difficult.  The Farm Bill now before Congress does the latter.

Until fairly recently, small farmers have historically gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to national farm policy, which is heavily skewed towards very large and corporate farms, and to a handful of commodity crops.  That’s why I’ve championed changes to the Farm Bill over the past two decades designed to help level the playing field for small to mid-size farmers, for new and minority farmers, and for those attempting to use the best conservation and sustainability practices on their farms.  And indeed, slow but significant improvements have been made to this once-every-five-years federal legislation, including support for farmers markets, for lower income people to be able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, for farm entrepreneurship, for ‘working lands’ conservation that enables farmers to improve their stewardship while they continue to farm, and more.

We’ve seen the fruits of these sensible federal farm policies throughout the 9th District: New markets and marketing opportunities have helped provide alternatives to tobacco farmers;  young people have entered farming, with more education and support available to them; farm entrepreneurs have been able to expand production and improve their marketing; food stamps recipients and others on fixed-incomes are able to purchase healthy foods from their farmer-neighbors; and farmers have been able to fence their cattle out of streams, and adopt other conservation measures through cost sharing programs.

Unfortunately, the draft Farm Bill now being debated in Congress reverses much of the progress we’ve been making, once again highlighting Congressional Republicans’ undying preference for big corporations over family farms and small businesses.  The current draft reduces funding for many of the local food and entrepreneurship programs that have helped build markets and diversify farm enterprises; it also cuts funding for rural microenterprise, for new and beginning farmers and for farm-based energy efficiency and renewable energy.  It dramatically reduces funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program and others that are so popular among farmers; and it makes major cuts to food stamps, something that so many people in the 9th utilize during periods of unemployment or financial stress.  Worst of all, cuts to these programs that help small farmers and local consumers alike are used to increase payments to the biggest corporate farms, to target more resources to those who already have the most income and resources. 

We need a farm bill that enables small and mid-size farmers to prosper, one that promotes local enterprises and healthy communities.  That’s exactly the opposite of what this one does.



MVP: An Open Letter to Governor Northam

In the past couple weeks, we've been concentrating a lot of our time and efforts on the dreadful Mountain Valley Pipeline, including visits to Bent Mountain and standing in solidarity with Red Terry. This morning the Roanoke Times published Anthony's "Open Letter to Governor Northam," which calls on our Governor to take any and all necessary actions to halt the tree felling that's begun on Bent Mountain as the first stage of construction on the MVP. 

Here's an excerpt:

"These actions, occurring on both private and public lands in Giles, Craig, Montgomery and Roanoke counties, are already taking a major toll on the land, water and lives of people along the pipeline corridor. I’ve seen for myself some of the damage being done to the landscape. I’ve spoken with local residents who, incredibly, are now prohibited from even walking on large portions of their own land. This is not right.

Read the full letter here

The 100 Town Hall Pledge

Anthony Flaccavento is committed to making 100 Town Halls throughout the course of the Flaccavento for Congress campaign. Real representation means real understanding—and that means face-to-face meetings, honest dialogue, and quality conversations! In stark contrast to Morgan Griffith, the current representative for Virginia’s 9th, Anthony knows the issues and challenges that the people and the land throughout Southwest Virginia are faced with. The 100 Town Hall pledge will ensure that every area—not just the bigger towns or easier-to-reach cities—will have a voice in this year’s election.


Flaccavento for Congress considers a Town Hall meeting to be a public community forum that incorporates open discussion and Q&A time. Typically, a Town Hall meeting will kick off with an introductory speech from the candidate, then segue into an open dialogue, where attendees and community members are able to raise their questions/comments/concerns and get immediate, personalized responses from the candidate. These discussions tend to last for about an hour (minimum) and include some mingling time afterward (sometimes in the form of a community meal!).


You can keep track of Anthony’s Town Hall pledge at the bottom of our home page. Keep in mind that only past Town Halls show up--check our Calendar for upcoming!


Give us a shout at! We’ll be happy to work with your community organization to understand the needs of your area and set up an event near you.

International Womens Day

My mom, Ann DiBonaventura, was a musical prodigy, just like her three brothers. She began teaching piano to the youngest of her siblings, Anthony, when she was ten and he was three and a half years old. A couple of years later, my grandparents put these four kids on a train from West Virginia, where they had a barber shop, to New York City. All four got full scholarships to study at a music school and conservatory there.

My mom had a quite a career as a choral director, violinist, and piano, voice and violin teacher in Baltimore. But it all came much later in life, after she’d largely raised us four kids. Like so many other women in countless other occupations, she put her career aside to raise a family. Myself the youngest, I was about ten years old when she restarted her career. She gave up a lot because, well, that’s what women and moms did.

                                      Ann with her violin

                                     Ann with her violin

On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate my mother’s life, but just as much, my daughter, Maria, who like so many young women of the millennial era, is piecing together a living out of several different jobs. She has a masters degree; she’s smart, creative and professional; and she’s white. Even so, it’s relentlessly challenging to make her way in this world. But she is doing it, and doing it well.

Women still earn less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same jobs, with the same experience. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of workplace harassment and discrimination, and of domestic violence. Women still face ridiculous double standards when it comes to sex and morality. And yet, women – like young people – are fighting back. In the streets, in the workplace, in electoral politics, and more.

My mom’s been dead for over thirty years; her fight was a long time ago. Surely by now we should be much further along when it comes to women’s equality. Let’s insure that this moment of women fighting for what they deserve becomes a sustained movement for real change.

Leveling the playing field on Social Security

Not that long ago, being ‘conservative’ meant avoiding unnecessary risk, being frugal, putting things aside in the present in order to reduce your vulnerability later on in life.  Conservative political figures railed against short term fixes that they believed would only cost more or put us at risk in the long run.  My oh my, how times have changed.

Representative Tom Garrett (R, Virginia) has introduced the Student Security Act as his contribution to ‘fixing’ Social Security’s problems, while providing debt relief for young people burdened with student loans.  The legislation provides for a voluntary opportunity for people with student loans to get debt relief, by agreeing to delay their eligibility for starting Social Security, many years in the future.  It even has a formula:  For every $550 in debt relief, your eligible age is bumped back one month.  That means $6600 dollars in debt forgiveness will cost you one full year of delayed Social Security.  For those with $31,000 in student loan debt – the national average – complete debt relief today would mean delaying your Social Security eligibility by nearly five years.  How’s that for preparing for your retirement?

 This is a bad idea.  Though it’s voluntary, think of the pressure so many people would feel to get debt forgiveness today, compared with the far-off consequences of delayed retirement.   There are much better ways to deal with the $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan debt – which we’ll be discussing at our Millennial/Youth Summit on March 17th, and there are real fixes for Social Security’s pending problems, like the one we highlight here:

In the wake of Florida school shooting

Yet another mass shooting yesterday in Florida – the 18th school shooting in less than two months of the new year – claimed at least seventeen lives.  We don’t yet know much about the 19 yr old who committed this crime, nor the exact circumstances of how he got the weapon, an AR-15.

What we do know it this:  Our national policy on gun violence is to do nothing.  Nothing.

Mass killings happen in schools, in public spaces, in homes.  The causes and circumstances are varied and complex:  Domestic violence.  Mental illness.  Rage and retribution.  Terrorism.  Drugs and gangs.  And easy availability of weapons with massive firepower.  Together these factors account for most of our gun violence. 

Here are a few thoughts that guide me as I think of what to do:

  • There are many causes of gun violence - including mass shootings - making it clear that our solutions need to be comprehensive rather than simplistic.  Unfortunately, we’ve used the complexity of the issue as an excuse to do nothing.  The fact that the young man who committed the crime in Florida had passed a background check does not mean that background checks are pointless.  In fact we know that in other mass shootings, a comprehensive, interconnected background check system would have prevented the purchase of the weapon.
  • It’s also not the case, as many advocates of inaction claim, that this violence is the result of “evil in men’s hearts”.  With rare exceptions, the issue is not evil, it’s anger; or what was called, in the case of the Columbine shooters, “disproportionate rage”.   There’s not much we can do about ‘evil’, but there are steps we can take to either help people overcome their rage, or at least keep those filled with it from accessing weapons.  This is particularly pertinent when it comes to domestic violence.
  • The argument that we need more ‘good guys with guns to stop the bad guys with guns’ has at least two major flaws with it:  First, in spite of so many of us having and carrying guns, it is extraordinarily rare that someone has succeeded in stopping a mass shooting because they had a gun.  Secondly, the plain fact is that by most accounts, many of the people who commit crimes with guns would have been considered “good guys” right up until the day they started shooting.  It’s less about bad guys committing these crimes than it is about angry or disturbed people committing the crimes.  Again, there are steps we can take to treat people with these problems, and to keep guns out of their hands in the meantime.
  • Lastly, the argument that “this is the price we must pay to live in a free society” is a total cop out.  Just because mass shootings have become a feature of American life does not mean that we accept it.  Terrorism, or the threats of it, are also now a feature of modern life.  But we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fight it, and we forsake a number of freedoms, including portions of our privacy, in that fight.  I’m not arguing that everything we’re doing in the ‘war on terror’ is effective or appropriate.  I’m just saying that we’ve decided to fight back against that new reality, to invest in steps to make it less likely.  Far more people die in mass shootings each year than are killed by foreign or foreign-born terrorists, yet most Republicans and a few Democrats argue that there’s nothing to be done.

       I’m a gun owner who will fight to protect the basic gun ownership rights, whether for hunting, for recreations, for self-protection, or in my case, to keep the groundhog population under control.  But a full commitment to protecting fundamental gun rights is not in conflict with taking serious steps to reduce gun violence, steps that encompass improved mental health treatment, greater protection for domestic violence and reasonable steps that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them and limits on the excess power of some modern weapons.


What kind of name is 'Flaccavento' anyway?!

You guessed right folks, it’s Italian. My ancestors came over on the boat around the turn of the 20th century from Sicily, which you may know is an island off of Southern Italy in the Mediterranean Sea.  So in way, I’ve always been from the south!

I was born in New York, NY, the youngest of four. Both of my parents were born in the U.S.; it was their parents who immigrated here: my mom’s family to West Virginia, where my granddad set up a barber shop, while my father’s folks landed in the tenements of New York City, where lots of poor immigrants started their new lives.

My father, George, fought in World War II, briefly taught school and then went on to work for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  My mother, Anne, was a classical musician who taught piano, violin (which she called her ‘fiddle’) and voice out of our home. They raised my brother, sisters and me just outside of Baltimore Maryland, in a little house with a big yard out back. My brother and I used to play tackle football back there, but mostly what I remember about the back yard is the garden.

My dad always kept a garden, ever since I can remember.  I vividly recall holding the flashlight while he planted tomato plants at dusk, after work.  Every time I let the flashlight wander off-target, he was not a happy man.  When I was ten, I planted some corn seeds under a swing set, in ground so hard I had to break it with a chisel to get the seeds in.  When some plants actually emerged and grew a bit, my dad decided I had earned a plot in his garden.  The rest, as they say, is history. From a successful watermelon crop that next summer, to big gardens through college, to our small produce farm on old tobacco ground, I’ve been pretty much hooked ever since.

It was there in the garden where I learned that if you plant a seed, and you tend your land, something grows. That’s true of farming, and it’s true of people, communities and economies. And it’s a big part of why I’m running for Congress – to plant some new seeds, to tend them through hard work with all of you, and hopefully, to see great new things grow.

I’ve been in southwest Virginia for 32 years now, and in the Appalachian region for almost 40.  It’s home, it’s where Laurie and I met, and where we raised our kids.  And it’s the place where I’ve learned so much from neighbors, co-workers and colleagues.  I hope to take that experience to Congress.

My day in Drug Court

I’ve been talking with people around the district about “Drug Court”, the system that provides a hard-earned alternative to jail time for people who’ve been charged with non-violent crimes related to drug problems.  Drug courts have emerged in communities around the 9th district as an alternative means to help people with opioid or other addictions get off of drugs, find and keep a job and become productive members of their communities.

This past week I had the privilege of actually sitting in on the proceedings at the Giles County Courthouse.  It was incredible, at once both very practical and yet uplifting.

 The Giles County Courthouse

The Giles County Courthouse

In order to avoid incarceration, an individual must agree to a rigorous, four-stage process that takes place over 18 months to two years.  Led by Circuit Court Judge, Lee Harrell, a team of people that includes attorneys, mental health and rehab specialists, law enforcement and accountability officers, comes together to evaluate how each drug court participant is doing:  Are they staying clean?  Keeping or finding a job?  Showing up to work on time?  Doing their community service?  Fulfilling the other requirements set out by the court?  The participants must meet these objectives in order to remain in the program and avoid incarceration.  And for most, it isn’t easy.

What impressed me is that everyone on the team works to enable each participant to succeed, not to fail.  They do this by balancing strong expectations with the support services needed to meet them.  After the proceedings, the judge (a former prosecutor) said to me, “For the most part In the court system, our currency is misery.  But this is different.  It’s wonderful to be part of something that actually helps people get to a better life.”  I couldn’t agree more.

This holiday season, give more

When the kids were little and growing up, we did a Christmas tithing for the holidays. All year long we’d keep a big mason jar in the house, to which the kids would contribute a portion of their weekly allowance. I’d contribute to it too, and when Christmas rolled around we’d all sit down at the kitchen table, count the money we’d accumulated, and each choose a charitable organization to donate to. I remember Maria would often choose Hope House, a shelter for women and children in Scott County; Josh liked Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders. We’d pick a small mix of local and (inter)national charities, and then we’d match the amount given with the amount we were planning to spend on gifts for friends and family.

What charities do you hold close to your heart? What areas of the world or populations are you thinking about this holiday season? Below is a very short list of local and global charities. Please comment or email/message us with some that you’d like to see added to the list.

Even at times when we feel like we have so little, there’s always someone who has much less. From our family to yours, we invite you to press pause on your shopping list and extend the spirit of giving this Christmas.





GOP Tax plan does little for Southwest Virginia

I recently completed my 2018 health insurance application to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, a miserable plan with high deductibles and monthly premiums of nearly $900.  Paying so much for insurance I almost never use, I got to wondering:  How will Joseph Swedish, the CEO of Anthem, benefit from the GOP tax plan that Morgan Griffith and the GOP Congress just passed?  The answer is that his after-tax income will increase by about $429,000.  That’s based just on the drop in the top marginal income tax rate from 39.6% to 37%, and does not count other things in the bill that will help the rich.  He’ll be at least $429,000 richer, every year.  Of course, he’s not alone.  The richest Americans all get huge tax breaks from this bill.

My wife having taught in Washington County, Virginia schools for 31 years, I also got to wondering how teachers will fair under the Republican bill.   Just under one thousand people work for our local school system, mostly teachers, but also teaching assistants, guidance counselors, administrators and support staff.  Their total benefit, based on average salaries and the projected impact of the tax plan will be, at best, around $307,000.  For all one thousand of them.  So, one guy, who sits atop a huge company that’s making a fortune from everyday people who can barely afford health insurance, will get far more money from this plan than every Washington County public school employee combined.  

There are many more teachers and working folks than multi-millionaires in southwest Virginia, but Morgan Griffith voted for this giveaway to the rich anyway.  Does that seem right to you?

It’s true: Some folks will be getting a “giant tax cut”

Republicans in the Senate and the House have reached a compromise on their tax overhaul, one that’s almost certain to be supported by 9th District Congressman, Morgan Griffith.  There’s a lot to it, but for most working and middle-class folks in our region, the most important takeaway is probably this:

A school teacher, at best, might see an increase in her income (after taxes) of about $350 per year.  For a worker at the Volvo plant in Dublin, about $300.   A sheriff’s deputy, less than $250. 

The tax cut for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO, Joseph Swedish?  About $429,000 per year. 

Let that sink in: A deputy, a factory worker or a school teacher might see a bump in their annual wages equivalent to one car payment.  The increase going to the top dog at Anthem, on the other hand, will be more than most of us earn in a decade.

That gain for the very wealthy comes solely from the drop in the top marginal income tax rate from 39.6% to 37%.  It doesn’t include many other giveaways to the rich, including the ability to hide some income through ‘pass through’ businesses, or the huge drop in corporate tax rates that will dramatically increase before-tax income for many of the same people.

The GOP argues, of course, that corporate tax cuts will give workers a huge pay raise.  But as we show in our video, forty years of real world experience totally disproves this trickle down fantasy.  Besides, the actual tax rate that big companies pay has averaged less than 20% since 2000, enabling them to amass two trillion dollars in cash already.  But instead of investing that or passing along some of the profits to their workers, they’ve kept more and more of their profits to themselves, and wages for most of us have been stuck in the toilet.

President Trump promised a “giant tax cut for Christmas” for middle income people.  Instead, the very rich, like the CEO of Anthem--the guy who’s hiking our insurance premiums--are the only ones who’ll be getting that big Christmas gift.