My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

The Comstock Kerfuffle

This is a bad post.  I wouldn't read it.  Only reason it is up here is b/c I've wasted so much time on it.

I'm a local elected guy.  We're the bottom of the political food chain.  Most of us you wouldn't really even call politicians.  We might *also* be politicians but we're usually pretty bad at political strategy and anything Machiavellian is outta the question.  When someone comes along who is pretty good at politics at the local level they usually end up in the state house before too long.  Jackson Miller was on the Council for 2-ish (?) years before he was running for the HOD.  He's now in the GOP leadership.  Safe to say he's a politician and a pretty good one.  The impending retirement of Frank Wolf has created a big hole in our local elected ranks.  His one-time aide and current HOD member Barbara Comstock appears to be the front runner.  

I don't know much about her as her webpage contains no position information.  I hit her campaign up on Facebook about a month ago and was told that they were working on updating it.  I think they need a new webmaster.  All in all, it appears that she's avoiding having to establish those positions.  Her wikipedia page (which is pretty short) reads as though she was a republican operative for quite a while and doesn't have much private sector experience.  That's disappointing, if accurate.  Her delegate page has more info and seems to reflect more private sector experience but it's hard to untangle all of those "Government Relations" firms.  There is also more meat in the issues section.  That's good but they're mainly state issues and read like a McDonnel campaign brochure.  Given her extensive experience working as a republican operative I wonder about the issues on her delegate page.  In addition, she doesn't mention abortion on her delegate page but wikipedia indicates that she was or is on the Executive Committee of the Susan B. Anthony list.  An organization dedicated to the eradication of abortion.  I make no judgement but it seems like it would be worth a mention.  That's likely to be a big deal in a 10th district election.  Overall it just seems a hell of a lot less direct that I'd like to see.  Dunno, maybe I'm missing something.  Frank Wolf appears to have endorsed her so I'd like to know more about her federal positions….

However, if that's all just a little too complicated, the explosion in the blogosphere has been pretty surprising.  Most of this has happened since Bob Marshall has entered the race.  Greg over at Black Velvet has accused other bloggers over at Bearing Drift of being paid shills for the Comstock folks.  They, in turn, have accused Greg of being a paid blogger for Bob Marshall and right-wing candidates.  The truth appears difficult to figure out but it does seem clear that all parties invovled have done some paid work – but not necessarily blogging – for some of the parties involved.  I don't know, I think it'll all pass.

What all of this does illustrate is that there really is no substitute for an honest and healthy 4th estate.  At every level of government.  Indeed, there was a blog post over at Too Conservative not long ago lamenting the dearth of postings on previously very active political blogs.  I think that this and, to some extent, the blowup in the blogosphere, are a direct result of no local media.  Sure, some media are left-wing hacks and some are right-wing hacks but there is nobody doing the legwork that was done as recently as 4 years ago.  When I was first elected the WaPo had an office in Old Town.  That damn reporter of theirs was in every meeting and would spend the time necessary to assemble facts, connect dots and ask for positions from the electeds.  The MJM did the same for years.  Then it was shot in the head and tossed out back.  I can't remember the last time I had an actual reporter ask me a question about an issue.  Might be more than a year ago.  The WaPo closed their Manassas location years ago…

The end result of this is that "the blogs" end up serving as a sort of surrogate for investigative reporters.  They do most of the writing about most of the politics.  Based on what I read on most of them, it's evident that the amount of time they spend on collecting facts varies widely.  They also spend some amount of time reporting on each other.  Surely there are some bloggers who try to do the legwork but let's face it: understanding municipal finance and/or policy is tough.  It takes time and a fair amount of it.  In addition, if you've never tried to sort out a $50 million budget it ain't easy.  I was running my own business for years before I was elected but municipal finance is pretty convoluted.  It's a modified accrual basis of accounting.  You can certainly drop in and watch the budget presentation online and get the highlights: Is there going to be a tax increase or decrease?  What's changing?  That part is easy.  However, understanding the root causes of some of those outcomes might involve going to a fair number of committee meetings that may or may not be directly related to the budget.  

For instance: if the City Council gives no raises and allows no spending increases the City budget is going up by half a million bucks this year.  I can hear it now, "That's an outrage!"  "Fat-cat politicians lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars".  Not really.  The answer is actually a very fiscally responsible one: for years we've been paying for variations in the jail budget out of year end funds.  Year end funds exist because of salary savings, contract underruns, etc.  However, the variations in the jail budget have been consistently high the past few years for a simple reason: the city has more people in jail.  It's a byproduct of low-tolerance enforcement.  Our contract with the county dictates that we pay a higher share of costs when we have more than 11% (think that's it) of the jail population.  What that means is that we're having the pay the county an additional sum each year.  This has happened for several years in a row – which means that this has become more like an operating cost than a year-end expense.  The prudent thing is to put it in the operating budget….and you have an increase of $500,000.

Without someone pointing that out, it would have taken attendance at 3 seperate meetings for you to figure that out.  I don't say any of this to throw rocks at other bloggers, only to point out that it's a tough job that needs doing.


  1. actually, it is is a good post…always nice to read what is running around in the back of your mind 🙂

    By the way, with the Jail…if folks are jumping now, wait until the presentation by the consultants on the "Community-Based Corrections Plan".  The PWC BOCS are receiving it this coming Tuesday…talks about the next expansion for 204 beds (buiilding where the white cinder-block building is now and tying into Main Building) and the cute part is the Parking Deck.  Of course, that is if the General Assembly comes through in 2015 with the bucks!

  2. Andy,

    Thanks for this post. It was very educational.

  3. Andy, "Buckley Rule", as in William F. Buckley, is in effect. There are 6 announced candidates. How many of them even have a website?


  4. Andy, let me ammend my statement as all announced GOP candidates, with the exception of Marshall, have a functioning website. Still, the Buckley Rule governs.


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