Government by spite

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2004

For much of the past couple weeks, I’ve been railing against the influence of special interests and the money and gifts they lavish on lawmakers.

So it was fate, I suppose, that made it necessary for me to spend an evening and day in the General Assembly building.

I was excited about the opportunity, and while driving to Richmond on Monday afternoon I decided to try to go in with an open mind. I realized that my cynicism was borne merely of things I’d read or heard on television. I had no firsthand knowledge that such was the case.

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That evening, I visited the offices of Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, probably one of most respected, and influential, members of the House of Delegates.

I was there to speak to him about a bill that impacted newspapers due to come before a committee he headed Tuesday morning. Jones was nothing but accommodating, hospitable and appeared to be genuinely concerned about my issue. He has that wonderful ability to make people feel like they are important.

The committee meeting was at 7 the next morning and I went back to my hotel that night feeling much better about the state of our democracy. It didn’t last.

Newspapers have been under attack at this year’s session. There are several bills that are designed solely to punish newspapers. The assaults range from bills stripping them of certain tax advantages with which they are endowed courtesy of the First Amendment, to ones that help government avoid accountability to the press and the people at whose pleasure they serve.

That there are anti-newspaper bills is nothing new. There have always been ignorant, small-minded and arrogant politicians who think they are accountable to nobody. Mercifully, however, they have always been outnumbered by intelligent, responsible grownups, like Jones, who understand that open government and accountability are central to participatory democracy and are willing to defend the people’s precious freedoms.

That appears to no longer be the case. The anti-newspaper bills swirling around the General Assembly this year have been introduced out of spite by the new crop of young, Internet-savvy, anti-tax, non-newspaper reading (perhaps semi-literate, albeit with great hair) lawmakers who are getting back at newspapers for having the audacity to suggest, that perhaps they should consider fulfilling their obligations to provide funding for basic services – Interstate 64 between Suffolk and Richmond is as potholed as any of the worst roads I’ve driven in West Virginia or Arkansas, an embarrassment – and do something to alleviate the state’s budget crisis.

These new lawmakers – I’ve dubbed them the Taxaphobic, Wasteful, Irresponsible, Republican, Peanutbrains (TWIRPS) – aren’t like their predecessors of earlier generations, who suffered through the Depression and war and realized what was important, who were unshakable in their principles, principles forged in the fires of their defining experiences.

This new generation of leaders(?) is a product of the selfish 1980s, MTV and the Internet. They’ve never known a stock market under 10,000, have never had to sacrifice and apparently lack the intellectual capacity to grasp that our freedoms and rights guaranteed by the founding fathers are the only barriers that separate us from the Saddam Husseins and Kim Jung Ils of the world.

As such, these little TWIRPS have no appreciation for how truly precarious our democracy and economic well-being are and how it can all be flushed down the toilet through a few ill-informed decisions or irresponsible tax slashing and pork-barrel spending.

They govern out of spite – spite for the press, spite for our freedoms, spite for their responsibilities, such as funding education, and spite for you.

I attended a press conference Wednesday at which Superintendent of Schools Dr. Milton Liverman unveiled his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, one that calls for the citizens of Suffolk to cough up an additional $6 million because the little TWIRPS in Richmond refuse to fulfill their responsibility to fund education or to give localities the tools they need fend for themselves.

Just the day before, the Senate Local Government Committee, bowing to the feet of their real estate and development masters, denied Suffolk’s request to be allowed to address the problem.

Liverman and I had both attended the Senate hearing. During the press conference, he lamented the lack of help and talked about the possibility of a budget impasse, and that if a budget is not enacted by July, &uot;everything will shut down.&uot; He didn’t think that likely.

I think he’s kidding himself. The little TWIRPS would do it in a minute and not think twice about it.

So despite my admiration for Jones, I remain cynical, but at least now, thanks to my visit to the General Assembly, I feel I have a valid reason to be.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at