CNBC again names Virginia best in the nation for business

By Associated Press | Published Jul. 14, 2021 6:25 a.m.

By SARAH RANKIN

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Business news network CNBC named Virginia this year’s “Top State for Business” on Tuesday, welcome news for Democrats who control state government and are defending their record during a critical election year.

With previous wins in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2019, Virginia surpassed Texas for most years at the top of the ranking since CNBC debuted it in 2007, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a news release. CNBC did not publish the rankings in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I could not be prouder of what this says about the inclusive, common-sense policies that we have put in place and how they encourage business investment,” Northam said, speaking at a news conference at the Port of Virginia with other Democratic elected officials.

The network’s methodology scores the states in ten categories including infrastructure, workforce and education, “weighted based on how frequently the states cite them in their economic development marketing pitches.” In a new category called “Life, Health and Inclusion,” Virginia earned points for voting rights and anti-discrimination laws, areas that have seen sweeping change since Democrats took full control of state government in 2019.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Business news network CNBC named Virginia this year’s “Top State for Business” on Tuesday, welcome news for Democrats who control state government and are defending their record during a critical election year.

With previous wins in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2019, Virginia surpassed Texas for most years at the top of the ranking since CNBC debuted it in 2007, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a news release. CNBC did not publish the rankings in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I could not be prouder of what this says about the inclusive, common-sense policies that we have put in place and how they encourage business investment,” Northam said, speaking at a news conference at the Port of Virginia with other Democratic elected officials.

The network’s methodology scores the states in ten categories including infrastructure, workforce and education, “weighted based on how frequently the states cite them in their economic development marketing pitches.” In a new category called “Life, Health and Inclusion,” Virginia earned points for voting rights and anti-discrimination laws, areas that have seen sweeping change since Democrats took full control of state government in 2019.

The two have offered starkly different perspectives on the state of Virginia’s economy, with Youngkin often arguing that Democrats have driven Virginia into “a ditch” and that the commonwealth hasn’t recovered from the pandemic as well as some of its peer states.

In a statement, Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking emphasized Virginia’s two lowest rankings in the methodology, saying: “Virginia may be #1 for political correctness, pushing critical race theory in schools, and not requiring a photo ID to vote under Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, but Virginia ranks among the worst states when it comes to things that actually determine the success of small businesses and opportunities for workers.”

McAuliffe, who was previously in office from 2014 to 2018, said in a statement that Youngkin’s “right-wing agenda” would put all of Virginia’s “progress at risk.”

“His focus on divisive social crusades, Trumpian conspiracy theories, and threats to defund our schools would jeopardize our economic progress and take our Commonwealth back,” McAuliffe said.

Northam, who cannot seek a second consecutive term under state law, said in an interview that Youngkin’s repeated assertion that Democrats have driven Virginia into a ditch show he’s either out of touch with reality or being untruthful.

“What I would encourage him to say is, ‘Congratulations, Virginia, for a job well done,’” Northam said.

Control of the House of Delegates is also up for grabs in November, with all 100 seats on the ballot.

Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday they remained concerned about the impact of Democrats’ policies, including a major clean energy bill, on Virginia’s economy in the long term.

“Our ranking from CNBC reflects where Virginia has been, not necessarily where it’s going,” Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment said in a statement.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Charlottesville set to remove Lee statue that sparked rally

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By SARAH RANKIN

By Associated Press | Published Jul. 10, 2021 8:50 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that became a rallying point for white supremacists and helped inspire their infamous 2017 rally in Charlottesville will be hoisted off its pedestal this weekend and sent to storage, officials announced Friday.

The Lee statue and another Confederate tribute nearby are both scheduled to be removed Saturday, nearly four years after violence erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally. The chaos left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sparked a national debate over racial equity, further inflamed by former President Donald Trump’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides.”

A coalition of activists issued a statement Friday celebrating the announcement. Because of litigation and changes to a state law dealing with war memorials, the city had been unable to act until now.

As long as the statues “remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for,” the coalition called Take ’Em Down Cville said.

Preparations around the parks where the statues stand were to begin Friday and included the installation of protective fencing, the news release said. Designated public viewing areas for the removals will be established.

Only the statues of Lee and Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson will be removed for now, the city said. The stone bases of the monuments will be left in place temporarily and removed later.

The statues are perched in places of relative prominence in Charlottesville, a small, picturesque city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and home to the University of Virginia. Commissioned by a UVA graduate and erected in the 1920s, when Jim Crow laws were eroding the rights of Black citizens, the statues are just blocks apart from each other.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in February 2017 to take down the Lee statue amid mounting public pressure, including a petition started by a Black high school student, Zyahna Bryant.

A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city’s plans on hold, and white supremacists seized on the issue.

First, they rallied by torchlight at the statue in May 2017, then a small group of Klansmen gathered in July, far outnumbered by peaceful protesters.

The issue reached a crescendo in August, when white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally gathered in the city to defend the Lee statue and seize on the issue for publicity, meeting in what was the largest such gathering of extremists in at least a decade.

They brawled in the streets near the statue with anti-racist counterprotesters as police largely stood by and watched. The scenes of intense violence shocked the nation. A short time later, an avowed white supremacist and admirer of Adolf Hitler intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing Heyer and leaving others with life-altering injuries.

Trump’s suggestion at a later news conference that there had been “very fine people, on both sides” led to a crush of criticism from Republicans, Democrats and business leaders.

Charlottesville continued to fight in court for the removal of the Lee statue and additionally voted to remove the Jackson figure. But a circuit court judge prevented the city from even shrouding the statues with tarps.

After Democrats took control of the General Assembly in the 2019 elections, the monument-protection law was rewritten in 2020. Since then, local governments across the state have removed statues that stood for a century or more.

Charlottesville, however, waited for the resolution of the lawsuit, which came in April, when the state’s highest court sided with the city.

Since that ruling, the city government has been working its way through the requirements of the new law, like holding a public hearing and offering the statue to a museum or historical society for possible relocation. The offer period for Charlottesville’s statues ended Thursday.

Ten responses have been received so far, Friday’s news release said, and the city remains open to “additional expressions of interest.” Under the new law, the city has the final say in the statues’ disposition.

Both will be stored in a secure location on city property until the City Council makes a final decision, the news release said.

In the aftermath of the rally, Charlottesville residents unleashed a torrent of pain, anger and frustration at city and state officials, laying bare deeper issues about race and economic inequality. Activists have since pushed the city to address its legacies of racism and slavery and its dearth of affordable housing and police accountability, among other issues.

Kristin Szakos, who was a City Council member at the time of the rally, said in an interview earlier this week that there was a determination to make sure the lessons of 2017 were learned.

“It really brought up a lot of awareness of white supremacy that is not just from visitors from Idaho, but also from structures in our own culture and in our own institutions that we have to deal with. And that those are more important than just chasing Nazis out of our town,” she said.

Szakos, no longer in office, said the city has made some progress toward that work and that the statue removals will be another step in the right direction.

City officials have said they plan to redesign the park spaces where the statues are located “in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville.”

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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VA. families with young children are assured quality child care

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Virginia families with young children will have improved access to quality affordable child care.

Gov. Northam signed a house bill extending the Child Care Subsidy Program.

The bill establishes a new short term eligibility category for parents seeking assistance for child care while looking for employment through Jul. 31.

Visit ChildCareVA.com for additional information and to apply.

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Virginia removes segregationist’s statue from Capitol Square

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By Associated Press | Published Jul. 8, 2021 7:10 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Workers removed a statue of Harry F. Byrd Sr., a former Virginia governor, U.S. senator and staunch segregationist, from the state’s Capitol Square on Wednesday morning.

A crane hoisted the larger-than-life statue off its pedestal and workers then strapped it to a truck to be hauled into storage until lawmakers determine its final disposition.

Byrd, a Democrat, ran the state’s most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was considered the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to public school integration.

Lawmakers voted to remove the statue earlier this year, a decision that came amid a yearslong movement in history-rich Virginia to rethink who is honored in the state’s public spaces.

The statue erected in 1976 was located a stone’s throw from the Capitol in Richmond. A nearby plaque said the statue was dedicated in appreciation of Byrd’s “devotion throughout a long public career to governmental restraint and programs in the best interest of all the people of Virginia.”

Byrd’s son, the late Harry Byrd Jr., a Democrat-turned-independent who began his career as a segregationist, succeeded his father in the Senate, serving until 1983.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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VA.’s Unemployment rate drops below the nation’s

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Virginia unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent in May.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate of 5.8 percent.

Virginia had the third lowest seasonal adjusted unemployment rate among southern states.

Governor Northam noted that more people are working in Virginia with the recovery outpacing the rest of the country.

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Virginia hopes to remove time capsule along with Lee statue

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By Associated Press | Published Jun. 23, 2021 7:30 a.m.

By SARAH RANKIN and DENISE LAVOIE

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — If a court clears the way, the state of Virginia expects to remove not just a soaring statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue but also a little-known piece of history tucked inside the massive sculpture’s base: a 134-year-old time capsule.

Historical records and recent imaging tests suggest the presence of the time capsule, which some have speculated might contain a rare, valuable and historically significant photo of deceased President Abraham Lincoln.

“Anyone who has an interest in Civil War history or Richmond history would be very intrigued by this item,” said Dale Brumfield, a local historian and author who has conducted extensive research on the aged copper receptacle and rumored photo.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s office shared details of the time capsule removal project and the state’s plans to replace it with a new one with The Associated Press ahead of a formal announcement scheduled for later Tuesday.

The removal work is contingent on the resolution of two still-pending lawsuits seeking to keep the monument in place.

The bronze equestrian statue of Lee was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Monument Avenue and the only one that belonged to the state. Like many other cities across the South, Richmond removed the figures on its monuments last summer amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and criticism that the statues are symbols of white supremacy that should not occupy public places.

A newspaper article from 1887 suggests that what is inside the Lee monument capsule is mostly memorabilia, including a U.S. silver dollar and a collection of Confederate buttons.

One line from that article has generated buzz, however: a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.” The newspaper identified the donor of that item as “Miss Pattie Leake,” who was a school principal from a prominent local family, according to Brumfield.

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, said he believes it’s highly doubtful that the picture is an actual photograph of Lincoln in his coffin because the only known photo of Lincoln in death was taken by photographer Jeremiah Gurney in City Hall in New York on April 24, 1865.

More likely, Holzer said, it could be a popular Currier & Ives lithographic print of Lincoln lying in state in New York or a sketch done by an artist who may have witnessed Lincoln’s body during a two-week tour the president’s body was taken on before his burial in Springfield, Illinois.

Brumfield, who wrote about the time capsule and possible Lincoln photo in a 2017 article for Richmond magazine, said he believes the image was included as a reflection of Richmond’s role as the capital of the Confederacy during most of the Civil War.

“I think it just gives a big middle finger to Lincoln, the Union and what it stood for,” Brumfield said.

Brumfield said he found another newspaper article from the same time period that described a cornerstone-laying ceremony on Oct. 27, 1887, attended by about 25,000 people. The article said 60 donated artifacts, including the Lincoln picture, were sealed in the copper box and placed inside the cornerstone.

What kind of shape might the contents of the time capsule be in?

“We have no idea,” said Julie Langan, director of the Department of Historic Resources.

Even if the capsule hasn’t sustained water damage, Langan said paper products from the time would have had a high acid content and would be expected to be extremely fragile. Plans call for law enforcement to take immediate possession of the time capsule and bring it to the state’s conservation lab, where it will be opened in the presence of expert staff ready to triage the objects as needed.

The state’s plans also call for replacing the time capsule with a new one to reflect the Virginia of 2021. A website was set up to collect submissions.

The Lee statue, which weighs an estimated 12 tons (11 metric tons) and stands 21 feet tall (6.4 meters) on a pedestal nearly twice that height, became the epicenter of racial injustice protests last summer after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Northam announced then that he intended to remove the monument, but he has been fighting in court ever since.

For the time being, the governor plans to leave in place the statue’s enormous pedestal, now covered with anti-police and anti-racism graffiti. Some racial justice advocates see it as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd’s killing and don’t want it moved.

Richmond officials, meanwhile, are advancing plans to remove the pedestals and other remnants of the four other Monument Avenue tributes and at least temporarily pave over or relandscape the sites. Northam has tapped the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community-driven redesign process for the whole of Monument Avenue, but that process is expected to be a long one and is not yet underway.

The nation’s current reckoning with racial injustice, sparked by the death of Floyd and other Black men at the hands of police, has remade the public history landscape in many Southern cities. Officials in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, recently voted unanimously to remove two statues of Confederate generals, including one that was the focus of a violent white nationalist rally in 2017.

In Tennessee, officials have decided to relocate the remains of Confederate army general, former slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from a downtown park in Memphis to a Confederate museum in the city of Columbia. Georgia and other states have relocated monuments as well.

Richmond’s proposal to remove the pedestals of its former Confederate monuments has been welcomed by some who say every piece of the monuments represents a tribute to white supremacy that should be wiped away. But others, including many speakers in a contentious, lengthy public meeting Monday, have voiced concerns about dismantling heavy, valuable and, in some cases, artistically significant pieces.

“If we pretend that this didn’t happen, that these statues weren’t there by repaving over the scar, we are walking away and sweeping this under the rug,” said Sarah Shields Driggs, a Richmond resident and architectural historian who co-authored a book about Monument Avenue. “If we leave the pedestals there, even if just for a few years, we have the opportunity to reimagine, to readdress and possibly to start to correct our mistakes.”

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Gov. Northam announced a milestone in vaccination

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 70 percent of adults 18 and over in Virginia have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Gov. Northam that makes Virginia only one of 16 states in the nation to meet or beat the goal set by the president.

Over 8.8 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Virginia.

With that over 60 percent of Virginia’s population are fully vaccinated.

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Virginia marijuana legalization timetable has many confused

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By Associated Press | Published Jun. 19, 2021 11:00 a.m.

By DENISE LAVOIE

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s road to legalizing simple possession of marijuana has had some twists and turns, so it’s not surprising that advocacy groups have been flooded with calls from people trying to understand exactly what will be allowed under state law as of July 1.

Legislators initially voted in February to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until 2024, when retail sales would begin. An outcry ensued over the three-year wait before ending pot possession penalties, so in April they voted to move up legalization to this July 1.

Adding to the confusion: lawmakers included a “reenactment clause,” which means the General Assembly will have to vote again next year on major portions of the law, mainly to establish a regulatory framework for the legal marijuana marketplace.

The process has resulted in some contradictions that may not get resolved until years after legalization begins.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, one of the lead sponsors, said people need to understand the law’s limits for now. Possession of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) with no intent to distribute will become legal for adults, 21 and older. Adults will also be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants per household. But not much else will change.

“People still need to be careful — this is not an official open marijuana market,” Ebbin said.

Virginia is joining 17 other states with laws allowing adults to possess and consume marijuana. In each one, laws have legalized simple possession before establishing a legal marketplace for buying and selling marijuana, said Jenn Michelle Pedini, the development director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Under Virginia’s law, buying and selling marijuana will remain illegal until Jan. 1, 2024, when retail sales are expected to begin. Smoking marijuana in public also remains against the law.

Pedini, who is also the executive director of Virginia NORML, said the organization fields questions every day from people who are surprised to learn that selling pot won’t be allowed for another three years.

“The only legal sale of cannabis in Virginia is through the medical (marijuana) program,” Pedini said.

Virginia NORML has a page on its website to answer frequently asked questions and clear up confusion. The state also launched a website to answer questions about the new law.

Although people can legally cultivate marijuana plants beginning July 1, it will still be illegal for anyone to buy cannabis seeds or cuttings needed to grow those plants. That’s one of the contradictions bothering Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle, who voted against the legislation.

“The biggest inconsistency is you cannot legally buy marijuana for recreational use in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McDougle said.

“Under federal rules you can’t transport it (into Virginia), but if you have it, you can possess up to one ounce of it in Virginia. How you get that is the inconsistency. You can’t legally get it, but you can possess it,” he said.

In the original bill, both possession and sales of marijuana would have been legalized in 2024. But many social justice advocates pushed to immediately end the disparate treatment of people of color under existing marijuana laws.

The General Assembly’s research and watchdog agency found that from 2010-2019, Black Virginians were 3.5 times more likely than white Virginians to be arrested for marijuana possession, and 3.9 times more likely to be convicted, even though both populations used marijuana at similar rates.

“We want to do this the right way, and what that means is ending the disparate enforcement, which is going to make a huge change in the lives of thousands of Virginians,” said Alena Yarmosky, Gov. Ralph Northam’s spokeswoman. She said the administration also recognizes the “reality” that “people have marijuana now,” even though it is illegal in Virginia.

According to New Frontier Data’s U.S. Cannabis Report, Virginia had the fourth-largest illicit market last year, encompassing about $1.8 billion, or 3%, of an estimated $60 billion in total illicit sales nationwide.

“Because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and because Virginia needs time to stand-up the regulatory structure for safe sales, it will not be legal to sell seeds or other marijuana until 2024,” Yarmosky said.

People will be allowed to share small amounts of seeds with one another, but they can’t sell them.

“The primary objective of legalization is to reduce criminalization and then to regulate safe legal access, so we’re checking one box, but we’re not checking the other this year,” Pedini said.

Pedini said may states have expedited adult access to marijuana through their medical marijuana dispensaries, something advocates hope Virginia lawmakers will vote to do in 2022. “Most people aren’t going to grow cannabis, but most people who will want to participate in the adult use market will prefer to do so through a legal avenue,” Pedini said.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Monday at 8:30 a.m. we talk to Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis on the issue and other new laws that go into effect July 1.

Clarke County Government observes Juneteenth

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Berryville, Boyce and Clarke County Government offices, circuit, General District, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.

As well as the Clarke County Animal Shelter along with Parks and Recreation Administrative offices will all be closed on Friday.

The Clarke County Library will be open on Friday but will close on Sat. Jun. 19.

This is in honor of Juneteenth, the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865.

Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Texas to announce the end of the war and the enslaved were now free in the United States on Jun. 19, 1865.

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This is Virginia Agriculture week

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The week of Jun. 13 through Jun. 18 has been designated Virginia Agriculture Week by Gov. Northam.

The Governor and First Lady will visit sights throughout the Commonwealth to highlight the economic impact the agriculture industry, farmers and agribusinesses has on the state.

Virginians are encouraged to thank a farmer and to buy local.

Look for the Grown in Virginia or Virginia’s Finest logos or visit VirginiaGrown.com to find locally grown and Virginia produced products.

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