What the new Virginia legislature could do

So the state of Virginia is going to be run (House, Senate, and Governorship) by members of the Democratic Party for the first time in decades.

This means either that the go-to excuse of elected Democrats is going to become something other than “It’s the Republicans’ fault,” or that change is actually upon us.

Why not take this opportunity to consider what a changed government might look like?

The state of Virginia could, if it chose, take any number of progressive steps. It could create single-payer healthcare, tax wealth, make college free, make the minimum wage a living wage, end the death penalty, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, pass the national popular vote bill, replace three-quarters of the mandatory testing in schools with actual teaching, abolish the pledge of allegiance, pay teachers better, enforce the right to unionize, and so on.

Critically, Virginia could cease propping up the fossil fuel and big-agriculture industries. It could invest in and create incentives for clean energy and sustainable land use. It could forbid pipeline construction. We could have a Green New Deal in Virginia, funded out of a new state bank, or at least an excuse for why we don’t have it that’s different from the excuse coming out of Washington.

The state of Virginia could take a lead in converting from military to peaceful industries, a transition necessary environmentally, economically, and culturally, as well as to reduce the massive damage of wars and the risk of nuclear apocalypse. The state of Virginia could even put reasonable regulations on the sale and ownership of war weapons, require registrations and titles for guns, require a license based on a written and a shooting-range test, and/or require gun owners to carry liability insurance.

Virginia could halt ROTC, JROTC, and military recruitment programs and aptitude testing in schools.

Virginia could make election day a holiday, end gerrymandering, publicly finance elections, ban private campaign spending and contributions, institute the public counting of paper ballots with all relevant observers at every polling place, make voter registration automatic, break up media monopolies, establish the means to create and vote on public initiatives to determine state policy, and establish a basic income guarantee.

Virginia could join the world, despite the United States, and adopt the rights established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Our state could ban land mines, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and nuclear weapons, and establish the rights of migrant workers.

Legal defendants in Virginia could have a right to a videotape of all interrogations and to competent legal representation. There could be a ban on militarizing police and on the use of weaponized drones, as well as on the use in court of any evidence obtained by surveillance drones, as well as on the use of solitary confinement.

Virginia could move toward restorative justice, and away from mass incarceration. Virginia could legalize marijuana. Virginia could ban the testimony of jailhouse snitches.

Or, and this does seem likely, those of us who favor all of the above could consider ourselves lucky to get maybe some halfway version of one or two of those items.

So, why don’t we start with this. Why don’t we demand that at the very least the state of Virginia stop denying localities the right to govern themselves.

Only a select list of localities are permitted to ban guns from public events. Virginia could restore this right to every city and county. Is that too much to ask?

No laws regulate peace monuments, but localities are forbidden to move or remove any war monuments. Virginia could allow cities and counties to decide what monuments they want, or don’t want, and where they want them. Is that too radical?

You may say I’m a dreamer, but then what is all the fuss about the change in party majority about if it doesn’t change anything?

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