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Summer's End

As summer 2015 ends, I want to give you an update on my activities as your Senator.  It has been a somewhat unusual few months, so I will divide the report into "personal", "professional", and "political" sections.

Personal.  The summer began with a totally unexpected diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer.  A screening mammogram revealed an 8mm malignancy.  Biopsies, a lumpectomy and several weeks of radiation followed. The radiation was completed last week.  The treatments have totally discombobulated my schedule and I have missed many events I otherwise would have liked to attend!  I am extremely grateful for the wonderful medical care I received from all the caring professionals at Kaiser Permanente. They assure me that my prognosis is excellent.

From this experience I have become even more aware of how important it is for everyone to have health insurance.  Not having to worry about paying for the expensive treatment has been a blessing.  I wish everyone were so fortunate. The cruelty of those who would deprive healthcare coverage to nearly 400,000 of their fellow Virginians is unfathomable to me.  This is especially true given that failure to expand Medicaid means turning back $5 million dollars of federal aid daily, damaging the viability of our hospitals, and spurning 30,000 well-paying healthcare jobs.

Professional.  In mid-August we had a totally unproductive special session.  The Governor called us into special session in response to a Court deadline to redraw unconstitutional congressional boundaries.  The session deteriorated when Republicans tried to remove a very qualified and respected Fairfax County judge from the Supreme Court.  Her offense?  The Governor hurt Republican feelings when he appointed her without calling them first.  Not kidding!  Meanwhile, the Republicans failed to introduce any redistricting bill.  Even the Republican standing committee chair said it was clear there would be deadlock.  So we went home.  Redistricting will be done by the courts and the Supreme Court Justice's future is uncertain.

Mine is a minority view but I believe the most important work of the legislature occurs when we are NOT in session.  From March to January various committees and commissions delve into specific policy issues.  We research options and attempt to reach consensus.  The partisan divide in these meetings is less than you may imagine. Working relationships develop and most of the compromises are reached before the session.  If we don't reach consensus before the session, those more interested in grandstanding than governing take the spotlight.

As a senior legislator and one known for being more interested in policy than politics, I serve on numerous commissions.  These include the Crime Commission, the Deeds Commission on Mental Health Services, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, and the Joint Subcommittee on Early Childhood Programs.  Also, I am one of two Senators appointed to the new Ethics Commission, which will have its first meeting in three weeks.

The Senate Finance Committee and its subcommittees meet constantly to dig deep into our fiscal situation and to gain understanding of our state agencies and services. Those of us who are budget conferees have heightened responsibilities.

Currently the Senate has a 21-19 Republican majority.  When we Democrats take the majority, I will become Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  Needless to say, I am burrowing even deeper into the budget!

Political.  This is an election year for the whole Senate and the whole House of Delegates. Democrats are determined to win a majority in the Senate. When we do, you will see a major change in priorities.  Expanding and improving education opportunities at all levels, promoting economic growth, providing healthcare for uninsured Virginians, combating climate change and protecting our environment, and upgrading our human services programs will be at the top of the list.

No one filed to run against me, so I am a shoo-in!  But I am not a passive bystander.  I am actively campaigning for other Democrats and donating funds to their campaigns.  So far I have contributed more than $68,000 to other campaigns.  My goal is to contribute a total of $100,000 to take back the Senate.   If you would like to support me in supporting others, please click here.  Every penny raised from now on will go to carefully targeted candidates.

Best Regards,

Senator Janet Howell