Quick notes from the May Lee Dems meeting:
A few changes on the way!
By Mary Anne Mulligan
So many people showed up in person at the April Lee Dems meeting that committee leadership hoped to continue future meetings in hybrid fashion. Sadly, it is not to be. With new omicron subvariants ticking Fairfax County back into dangerous territory, there were few in-person participants at the May 12 meeting — and a decision was made to hold the rest of our 2022 meetings on Zoom.
As our meetings seem to run long, there were no objections to beginning future sessions at 7 instead of 7:30 pm.
Another decision: No meeting in June! Why? The second Thursday is June 9, and that’s the night of the first televised January 6 Committee hearings. As staunch defenders of democracy, most of us will be glued to our television screens that night. Several other district committees have made the same decision.
Our work in June consists primarily of staffing our 8th Congressional District precincts on June 21 and having volunteers at our early voting site June 11–18. Precinct captains have been invited to a gathering on June 1, a chance for these leaders to meet one another and to explore ways to coordinate with the membership team, headed by Debbie Linick and Diego Scharifker.
Interested in becoming a precinct captain? There are still at least three positions available! Just let us know of your interest at email@example.com.
Ed Joseph, vice chair/precinct operations, spoke about the importance of leadership at the precinct level. A primary election, he said is a chance to have conversations with self-selected strong Democrats.
The June 21 primary is in the 8th Congressional District only. Voters will choose between Rep. Don Beyer and newcomer Victoria Virasingh of Arlington. Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th Congressional District does not face a primary challenge, so there will be no election in the 11th. Please note that, thanks to redistricting, many more people in Lee now live in the 11th CD. Visit iwillvote.com to check your registration status, congressional district, and state Senate and delegate districts.
Spring renewal: Lee Dems gather to meet & celebrate
By Janelle Hartman
The first in-person Lee Dems meeting in more than two years was marked by high spirits and an agenda to match, from a fresh take on Richmond from Del. Paul Krizek to growing excitement for Opening Day on April 30, as well as the inspiring results of a membership survey.
With 20 people at the Franconia Governmental Center and nearly as many on Zoom, the hybrid audience April 14 was the largest for a monthly meeting since at least 2019.
“It’s a sign of how motivated people are to elect Democrats and save democracy,” Chair Kathy Rhem said. “It’s also in line with responses to the membership survey. We’re scared, we’re angry, and we’re fighting back.”
Rhem had worried about the potential for technical glitches but said everything ran smoothly thanks to the efforts of Todd Smyth, vice chair for technology. “It turned out that a hybrid meeting was the perfect solution,” she said. “It offers flexibility for everyone and gives people with health concerns a safe way to remain engaged.”
One key piece of business was a call for help with Opening Day, the annual spring fundraiser that’s returning to a Lee backyard on April 30 after two years online. Scheduled ahead of the primary, the event draws elected officials and candidates for an afternoon of ballpark food, cold beer and festivities.
“It’s going to take the Lee District village to make it a success,” organizer Carol Marek said, saluting two “Home Run” sponsors in the room, Krizek and former FCDC Chair Dan Lagana, and encouraging others to join them.
There are two sign-up sheets: one for volunteers to set up, check guests in, work the grill, manage the raffle and clean up, among other needs; and another for donations of beverages, food and equipment. Please sign up to attend and help out!
“We’ve had our first meeting in person and now we’re going to have our first party,” Rhem said. “Help us hit it out of the park.”
Report from Richmond
Speaking earlier in the meeting, Krizek countered the divisive headlines out of Richmond with a more constructive way of viewing the 2022 legislative session and ongoing budget battle.
“You have divided government right now,” he said of the narrow GOP majority in the House and the Democrats’ one-seat margin in the Senate. “If a bill passes both bodies, by definition it’s a bipartisan bill. For the most part, we do work well together. It’s not like Congress.”
He said the greatest source of rancor is Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose 26 vetoes exceeded the tally for any first-year governor since Republican Jim Gilmore in 1998. All of the doomed bills were introduced by Democrats, but nearly all had overwhelming — some even unanimous — bipartisan support.
For example, lawmakers voted 87-9 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate to set a three-year statute of limitations on lawsuits to collect unpaid medical debt. Youngkin fretted about the bill “inadvertently capturing other forms of debt.” An editorial in Charlottesville’s The Daily Progress condemned his veto, saying “no humanitarian or political rationale exists for favoring debt collectors over the sick or injured.”
Of the 25 other bills Youngkin killed, nine were introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, who represents a chunk of eastern Lee District. Among them were bills to improve consumer data protection and require real estate agents to disclose any ownership interest in a transaction. Another would have repealed an antiquated law prescribing up to a year in jail for adult children who fail to financially support their elderly parents.
Shaking his head at Youngkin’s pettiness, Krizek noted that Ebbin has been one of the governor’s most outspoken critics. “I think the governor has very thin skin and he let it get to him and he vetoed the bills out of pique,” he said. “You’ve got to be tougher than that in politics.”
The state budget is still being hammered out, but Krizek said the parties’ gaps are narrowing. Citing pay raises for teachers, he said it’s “10% to 8%. We’re not too far apart.”
“It’s really down to a handful of delegates and senators who are the ones in the room,” he said, pointing out the Lee District’s large role in the small group with Del. Mark Sickles and Sen. George Barker as chief negotiators.
The Democrats’ fragile hold on the Senate is the only check on GOP power in Richmond, serving as leverage for bipartisanship and largely blocking Republicans from destroying the state’s unparalleled progress under Gov. Ralph Northam and the last legislative sessions’ blue trifecta.
“Virginia was last in teacher pay in the country, one of the last for worker protections, bottom third for ease of voting for elections, and we moved all those numbers up,” Krizek said. “Under Northam, we were the best state in the country twice in a row for businesses and for workers.”
The GOP’s attempted rollbacks made it through the House but hit a brick wall in the Senate. “Without the Senate, the last two years would have been erased and we’d really be in trouble,” Krizek said.
March meeting a crash course in ‘All Politics Is Local’
By Janelle Hartman
What began as a meeting with a light agenda March 10 turned into an honors class on the gravity of local elections, featuring Lee District’s own textbook example of a true public servant.
“There’s no better way to end a long day than at home with my friends in the Lee District,” Jeff McKay told a rapt audience of nearly 30 members gathered on Zoom.
McKay, who was elected chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2019 after a dozen years as Lee’s representative, shared county and political news and answered questions in trademark detail.
Throughout, he stressed the critical matters handled by people in local office and the escalating threats to reasoned decision-making from far-right candidates.
“Next year, you can bet the Republicans and the governor are going to put a lot of money into trying to attack school boards and boards of supervisors for literally doing the right work the past two years — fighting to save lives, believing in science, standing up for equity and inclusion, giving authority to our local school boards to protect our vulnerable children,” McKay said. “The strength of our local committees is going to be so important in those local elections.”
It was the same message that Lee Dems Chair Kathy Rhem delivered a day earlier when she was invited to speak to the Young Democrats of America chapter at Hayfield Secondary School.
“We had a great discussion about why it’s so important to vote in local elections, because local elections change so much,” Rhem said, marveling at the student activists’ depth of knowledge, energy, and resolve.
“It was an awesome opportunity for me,” she said. “I loved hearing the kids talk, hearing the things they thought were important. They were so engaged and intelligent.”
Rhem invited the students to join Lee Dems for Opening Day, the committee’s annual spring fundraiser being held April 30. McKay promised to be there, saying, “I can’t wait to see you all in person.”
Event details and tickets will be available soon. Meanwhile, organizers are trying to round up volunteers for food, festivities, setup and cleanup. If you can help, please contact Carol Marek via firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the Hayfield students — and Lee Dems, too — Rhem used Virginia’s past three legislative session to illustrate the real-life consequences of elections: two years of historic progress by a Democratic trifecta now under assault from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.
Only the Democrats’ slender 21–19 hold on the Senate has staved off some of the worst damage.
“We stopped the R’s from rolling back all the election access bills that Dems passed, like preserving six weeks of early voting, no-excuse early voting, mail-in voting, drop boxes, and same-day registration, which starts this year,” Rhem said, also citing the defeat of so-called “religious freedom” bills that would amount to legal discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Yet at the same time, vital legislation passed by Senate Democrats died in the GOP House. That includes campaign finance reform that would have tightened some of the loosest rules anywhere in the nation, allowing Virginia lawmakers to use donations for personal spending — even mortgages and vacations.
Normally, the next House of Delegates elections wouldn’t be held until 2023. But in the wake of redistricting, a pending lawsuit could result in all 100 seats being on the ballot this year. Republicans are opposed, and even among Democrats there is debate about the pros and cons.
If the lawsuit succeeds one thing is certain: the typically calmest year in Virginia’s unique annual election cycle will be a whirlwind, requiring all volunteer hands on deck to try to retake the House a year ahead of schedule.
Whether that happens or not, volunteers are urgently needed for the congressional midterms, with the primary set for June 21 and the general election Nov. 8.
For inspiration, Rhem shared the words of Glenn Kirschner, an attorney committed to the fight for justice who spoke recently at a Democratic fundraiser.
“He said, ‘Once you do something in the realm of political volunteering that you’ve never done before, it snowballs’ and he challenged people to do one thing they hadn’t done before.”
Rhem issued the same challenge to newcomers and veteran activists alike.
“Talking to friends and neighbors, volunteering on Election Day, writing postcards, canvasses to educate voters, phone banking,” she said. “There’s a million ways to make a difference.”
A wellspring of enthusiasm
Overwhelmed by national politics? There’s a grassroots antidote for that, as illustrated by February’s robust membership meeting.
Three dozen Lee Dems burst forth with energy, ideas, and inspiration for voter outreach, fundraising events, GOTV, and more, bolstered by vice chair reports showing how much is being accomplished already.
“I’m so happy to have people engaged and constructive, and so early in the year,” Chair Kathy Rhem said after helming her second monthly meeting. “Imagine what we can do with this momentum going forward.”
The Feb. 10 gathering was fully online but Rhem is hopeful that hybrid meetings can begin in March, giving members and guests the choice to attend by Zoom or in person at the Franconia Governmental Center.
For the first time in two years, in-person plans also are underway for the two traditional annual fundraisers, Opening Day in the spring and the summer Luau. Organizers and volunteers are needed for both events.
Thursday’s busy agenda was enriched by a Black History Month talk from the Rev. Harold Simms and a visit by Del. Mark Sickles with the latest news from the opposition in GOP-controlled Richmond.
Rev. Simms, a Lee Dem, shed light on a little-known chapter of Black history in America — the earliest origins of the civil rights movement through the creation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in the 1790s
He shared a seven-minute video telling the story of church founder Richard Allen, a slave who bought his freedom and headed north. The unyielding faith and determination of Allen and his flock “is proof that if we come together we can overcome any circumstance so that everyone enjoys not only equality but equity,” Simms said.
Later, Sickles joined for a legislative update and Q&A, breaking away for 25 minutes from a heavy and stressful workload at the Capitol. He pulled no punches with regard to the behavior of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the GOP’s slender but destructive General Assembly majorities after two years of progress by Democrats.
“It is so bad in comparison,” Sickles said. “We have had so many 52-48 votes. When we were in the majority, we used to get maybe three Republicans who would vote with us on moderate or social issues. Now very few bipartisan votes are about anything meaningful.”
His words underscored how much elections matter, and the difference that people like his motivated Lee Dem audience can make.
“It’s going to be an interesting few days here, and the next month getting our budget out and compromising with the Senate and seeing what the governor does,” Sickles said.
“What happens, we don’t really know. We’re just fighting for our values and hopefully we’ll come out victorious and win control back.”
Lee Dems is ready to soar in 2022. Bring your friends!
By Janelle Hartman
The newly elected leadership of the Lee District Democratic Committee had hoped to kick off a new era the old-fashioned way — an in-person meeting on Jan. 13 for the first time in 22 months, in addition to an online option.
The Omicron surge put the hybrid model on hold, limiting the 30 participants to Zoom. But there was nothing virtual about their resolve to fight back against a Republican-controlled Virginia and begin the hard work now of returning Democrats to power.
“I’m energized, I’m motivated, and I’m hopeful,” said Kathy Rhem, who was elected chair at December’s reorganization meeting.
Her enthusiasm was echoed by the night’s other speakers, including Debra Linick and Diego Scharifker, new members who are now vice chairs for membership and outreach.
“I’m extremely excited about this new responsibility,” Scharifker said. “We have established three starting goals: Recruiting more volunteers, increasing voter registration in high-density Latino population areas, and outreach through events.”
From growing the voter base, to events for fun and fundraising, precinct operations, communications, and more, the inaugural 2022 meeting made clear that there’s no end of opportunities to be involved — no matter how much or little time members can spare.
One especially busy person who pledged to be more active is Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who talked about redistricting, renaming the district, and other official business.
He also offered his full support to Rhem and the committee, saying he plans to attend more meetings and wants to help membership and revenues grow.
“It’s going to be a win-win for both of us,” Lusk said. “This is going to be a collective effort.”
Collaboration was the refrain throughout, as Rhem stressed grassroots values and urged everyone to speak up, ask questions and share ideas. Adjourning the meeting, she had one parting request: “I’m looking forward to a great year,” she said. ““I’ll always leave it with, ‘Bring your friends!’”