State Computers Crash; Basic Services Halted
Jeff Schapiro offers his weekly analysis of Virginia political news.
Jeff Shapiro joins us now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch for his weekly analysis of Virginia political news here on WCVE News. Hello there, Jeff.
Shapiro: How are you, Wayne?
I am well. Hope you are.
Shapiro: Ambulatory. Thank you.
The computers are out at 26 state agencies, a reminder of how dependent on computers we are. Much of state government is at a virtual standstill, so far as providing certain basic services to citizens. What's the latest on that and what are the implications for the further privitization of government functions, which some advocate?
Shapiro: Maybe the question is how dependent Virginia is upon Northrop Grumman, that big company it hired in 2005 to provide computer services for a vast swatch of Virginia bureacracy. Sam Nixon, who heads the state's computer agency, who's saying that these things happen. But one wonders why does it have to happen to this privitization project and why does it have to happen now? The company and the state have a new contract. It means an additional 236 million dollars to Northrop Grumman; the company is promising to improve service. This incident would seem to suggest that that is not the case. And then, of course, with this governor, Bob McDonnell, talking about outsourcing, privitizing more and more state services, of course, this raises another flag, perhaps for ABC privitization. In other words, getting the state out of the liquor business. Though there is a real apples and oranges comparison here. NG is providing a computer service, communications service. In the case of dismantling the liquor monoply, you're talking about pulling the plug on a retail and wholesale system, something that the private sector has done reasonably well, one might argue, for some time.
To quote John Ogle, "Computers are our friends." Governor McDonnell continues his town hall meetings. What's he learning so far?
Shapiro: Well, this switch, this supposed switch to private liquor sales continues to dominate these town hall-type meetings--the latest up in Fredericksburg. What's interesting, of course, is that more and more people are speaking their minds about privitization. And some of the things they're saying, presumably are not welcome to the governor. A Republican legislator, Bobby Orrock, a Democratic legislator, Albert Barrow, showed up at that hearing the other day and attacked privitization as a kin to selling the family milk cow. Also, over the past week religious groups started massing against this proposal. The beer and wine distributors, a pretty influential group, politically that is, they're on the brink of opposing it. The small retailers are against it because they're worrying that the licenses are going to go only to these big box retailers. Now the governor says he's going to address all these concerns when he rolls out his plan in detail in September--September 8, to be precise.
We have two and a half minutes. Population shifts are likely to cause substantial redrawing of congressional district lines next year, we hear. But, we're no closer than ever to impartial, non-partisan redistricting procedure.
Shapiro: Yes. The governor met privately a couple of weeks back with some business and community leaders, Republicans and Democrats, who were trying to hold him to his promise to somehow drain politics from redistricting. The governor apparently was somewhat eliptical in his response. Of course, he had promised as a candidate to do something about partisan jerrymandering. However, this week we were reminded just how complex and high the stakes are. The research arm of the Virginia General Assembly rolled out the first authoritative glimpse of congressional redistricting, among other things; and these population shifts over the past decade mean some potentially dramatic changes in a number of congressional districts, including the third, which embraces part of the Richmond area.
About a minute and a half to go now. Attorney General Cuccinelli seems to be turning out an opinion on a conservative social issue almost every day in response to questions from Delegate Robert Marshall. He's had a couple more this week.
Shapiro: Yes. Two more and I guess one might use that Reagan addage, "There he goes again." One opinion, Cuccinelli says the state has the power to regulate abortion clinics even if the General Assembly has refused to do so. Seventeen of 21 abortion clinics across the state say they may have to close because of the cost of meeting these standards. Tammy Smith, my colleague, points out that two of them are here in the Richmond area. This is clearly another reminder of who really seems to be speaking for the Republican Party. Say, Ken Cuccinelli, rather than Bob McDonnell. He is giving a clear voice to the Party's most conservative elements.
Jeff, as you pointed on NPR's 'Tell Me More' this week, Cuccinnelli says the state, through the Board of Health, can regulate abortion clinics. But that doesn't necessarily mean it will.
Shapiro: That is correct. The wild card here is that there are about 11 members of the Board of Health. They are Kaine appointees, they serve six terms. The question now is how much pressure, if at all, will Governor McDonnell put on the Board of Health to take these steps and there's a clear likelihood of some type of legal action should the governor choose to do so.
Thanks, Jeff Shapiro at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.