Monday was Martin Luther King Day and, as usual, we were visited by two very different groups at the Capitol. The first was a group of citizens who view themselves as champions of gun rights. They frequently appear with their orange buttons that recite their mantra, “Guns Save Lives,” and some even carry concealed weapons around the Capitol grounds. They are pushing bills that will extend the ability for people to carry concealed weapons into public buildings and places, from schools to airports. They are also working to defeat a series of gun safety bills, including universal background checks. They have much support within the House Republican Caucus.
We also welcomed advocates for public safety and gun safety measures. They rallied at the Capitol Square Bell Tower and included victims of gun violence, including Andrew Goddard, who still has bullets in his body from the attack at Virginia Tech in 2007, as well as other families who have lost loved ones due to gun violence. The Governor has proposed a series of public safety measures, including restoring the one-gun-a-month provisions passed during the Wilder administration and universal background checks at gun shows. These measures are likely to be short-lived in the House of Delegates, where Republicans typically defeat them.
I continue to focus on economic issues and education. In his State of the Commonwealth speech given January 14, 2015, the Governor stressed the importance of building a stronger, more diverse Virginia economy, and articulated an agenda to do so. The administration has brought $5.8 billion in capital investment to the Commonwealth in its first year in office, and is now seeking to take the next steps to create a Commonwealth that can attract the best and most innovative businesses. The keys to this effort include the following:
- New initiatives in workforce development that will increase funding for programs that work, and which recognize that it is not always necessary for Virginia citizens to obtain a college degree in order to obtain a good job that pays a living wage.
- Investment in infrastructure to support innovation. This includes having a transportation system that allows us to move people and goods to market, and broadband deployment throughout rural areas that do not have it at present.
- Utilizing the skills of Virginia veterans and incorporating them more fully into the Commonwealth’s economy.
- Strong support for education at all levels, from pre-K to K-12 to higher education. The Governor has indicated that he will not cut any funding for education, even in this difficult budget cycle.
- Building a quality, affordable health care system. The Governor’s budget includes funding to continue programs for pregnant women and the severely mentally ill, and he continues, as do I, to support the expansion of Medicaid.
- Welcoming people from diverse backgrounds to the Commonwealth and enabling them to have the right to succeed, regardless of race, ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. In doing this, we remain focused on the future and the importance of supporting diversity in building an economic engine based on the talent of our citizens.
You can find a list of my 2015 legislative agenda here.
In conclusion, let us reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., especially his support for expanding economic opportunity to all citizens, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin. I would encourage you all to read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which was written in response to clergymen in Birmingham who argued that King’s acts of civil disobedience were “unwise and untimely.” In this letter, we first heard the phrase “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King stated that we “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” He recognized clearly a concept that many of us have embraced in Virginia — that we are a Commonwealth and we rise and fall based on the opportunities our fellow citizens have to succeed.
Please feel free to contact me in Richmond. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.