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Margaret Carmel

Clinton, Trump Win in Virginia

By Diana DiGangi, James Miessler, Matt Chaney and Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trounced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary election on Tuesday, and billionaire businessman Donald Trump narrowly defeated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican contest.

With almost all precincts reporting, Clinton received more than 64 percent of the 780,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary. Sanders got 35 percent.

More than 1 million Virginians voted in the Republican primary. Trump got nearly 35 percent of the votes, followed by Rubio at almost 32 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at about 17 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at about 9 percent.

Interviews at polling places in Richmond underscored the issues and other factors that motivated voters to support or oppose certain candidates.

Young and old voters turned out in droves at the Randolph Community Center polling place (Precinct 504), about 10 minutes from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus. Several voters cited fear of a Trump nomination as their reason for coming out to vote.

“Honestly, as a woman, I’m terrified of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz becoming president,” said Kirsten Schlegel, a VCU senior who voted for Clinton. “I’m terrified of our rights being taken away.”

Paula Johnson voted for Clinton as well, and said it was important to her to “select someone who’s going to represent us well, like when it comes to picking the new Supreme Court justice.”

At the Dominion Place polling station (Precinct 206), also near the VCU campus, many young people supported Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist.

“It’s my first time being able to vote, and so I wanted to come out because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Brianna Frontuto, a VCU student, said. “I voted for Bernie Sanders because his policy platform lines up exactly with what I believe in. He’s defending students, and that’s hard to find in candidates.”

Among Republican voters at the Dominion Place, several young people came out in support of Rubio.

“Rubio is the only one I feel morally conscious to support,” Adam Stynchula said. “He’s a safe bet.”

Voters at the Tabernacle Baptist Church polling location (Precinct 208) voiced similar sentiments.

Chelsea, a woman in her 20s who declined to give her last name, said, “I voted for Marco Rubio because he’s a very optimistic candidate. He’s very articulate about a lot of values that I believe in and I hate Donald Trump. And so, I really wanted to get my voice out there for a positive candidate who has a real vision for America’s future.”

Some voters said they usually cast ballots in the Democratic primary, but they participated in this year’s Republican election because of their dislike for Trump.

“I normally vote Democratic, but I actually voted Republican in this because I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump is not on the ballot,” said a student named Jamie. “I just think it’s kind of tight this year with the way things are playing out ... At first I started out thinking, that’s kind of a joke, Donald Trump. But now it’s looking close.”

Statewide, however, Trump topped Rubio by winning Hampton Roads and the southern and southwestern parts of the state.

Virginia Republican leaders gathered in Old Town Alexandria just outside of the nation’s capital as the votes rolled in. As a battleground state that has voted blue in the last two election cycles, all eyes are on Virginia.

“Republicans cannot win the White House without winning Virginia,” said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. “We’re looking at how our candidates performed tonight to see how they turned out voters, what the enthusiasm is, and what their ground game looks like. We’re going to have to fight to win Virginia.”

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who made a stab at running for president himself, said this election will set the tone that the Republican Party will take moving forward.

“The leading candidates are going to have to demonstrate to the American people that they can govern,” Gilmore said. “Or maybe not. Maybe this year they’ll just have to demonstrate that they can be a voice for anger or resentment.”

Regardless of how they voted, many Virginians said it’s important for people to exercise their voice at the ballot box.

“Honestly, it’s just every vote counts,” VCU student Sean Barnett said at the Dominion Place polling station. “People think that because so many people are voting at one time that your vote is insignificant because it’s such a small percentage. If everyone’s thinking that, there’s a lot of people that aren’t getting their voice heard. It does seem insignificant, but it does count.”

At Tabernacle Baptist Church, Kyle, a doctor in her early 30s, said, “I don’t think you can complain unless you pick a choice.”

After casting his vote at Dominion Place, William Smith added, “It’s a privilege and a pleasure. I feel it’s my duty as an American.”


Chamber of Commerce Joins Suit Against EPA Rules

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Chamber of Commerce has joined 166 other business organizations in supporting a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s Clean Power Plan, which would require states to cut carbon emissions.

The move puts the chamber on the opposite side of the issue from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. He has joined 17 other states in filing a brief supporting the regulations.

Since its unveiling by President Barack Obama in August 2014, the Clean Power Plan has been a contentious issue across the nation. It aims to reduce carbon emissions in the United States by 30 percent by 2030, mostly by regulating coal-burning power plants.

Like many other business groups, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce worries that the regulations would hurt economic development, especially in rural areas.

The plan “threatens to drive jobs overseas and force businesses to close, causing harm to communities that provide the workforce for this industry,” the chamber said last week in a friend of the court brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

“Poor and rural communities will suffer disproportionately because they are served by smaller utilities that will be compelled to shut down or purchasing allowances and credits in renewable energy technologies, the costs of which will be borne by their relatively small base of ratepayers.”

In November, Herring filed a friend of the court brief in support of the regulations, which would be implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m proud to stand up for cleaner air and cleaner energy in Virginia,” Herring said. “Our pollution reduction goal is ambitious and achievable, and it gives us a real opportunity to improve the health of our people, our environment, and to grow jobs and businesses in our clean energy sector. We should seize this opportunity.”

Fighting climate change and sea level rise has been a priority of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration. Officials have been especially concerned about Hampton Roads, home to Norfolk Naval Base and Langley Air Force Base.

In the Virginia General Assembly, Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the Clean Power Plan, while Democrats generally support it. Voting along party lines, legislators passed a bill requiring the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to get the assembly’s approval on any state efforts to implement the federal rules. McAuliffe has until midnight Tuesday to sign or veto the legislation (Senate Bill 21).

Legislators representing Virginia’s coalfields fear that the plan would put many miners out of work. Another major concern is that the regulations would cause a spike in electricity rates. According to an independent study commissioned by National Economic Research Associates, the Clean Power Plan could push electricity prices up between 11 and 14 percent nationwide.

West Virginia and 28 other states have sued to block the plan. On Feb. 9, in an unprecedented move, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the regulations until the D.C. Court of Appeals rules later this year. The case is expected to return to the Supreme Court.

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Panel Kills Bill to Keep Officers’ Names Secret

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After nearly an hour of debate, a legislative panel killed a bill that would have exempted law enforcement officers’ names and training records from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

A subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee tabled Senate Bill 552 for the General Assembly’s current session. State officials plan to study the issue as part of a review of the state’s FOIA law.

FOIA allows any citizen to gain access to government documents, including names and salaries of public employees. Currently, personal information such as health records, home addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information is exempt.

SB 552, proposed by Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, would have exempted the names and other information about police officers as well. Cosgrove said his measure sought to protect law enforcement officers.

“Once this information is received by a media outlet, a lawyer or anybody, there’s no controlling that information anymore,” Cosgrove told the subcommittee. “Anybody can FOIA information. It can even be the council of MS-13,” or Mara Salvatrucha, a notorious criminal gang.

Speaking on the behalf of the Virginia Press Association, attorney Craig T. Merritt stressed the importance of transparency and emphasized the safeguards in existing law to protect police officers.

“The express purpose of this bill is to take away names produced in bulk – to take away the ability for the public to associate with individual officers with the information that you can get everybody else,” Merritt said. “If you take all of the names out of the database, you can’t tell what a particular officer’s position is or what they’re being paid.”

Current Virginia law already exempts the identities of undercover officers, mobile phone numbers and tactical plans from FOIA.

Several high-ranking law enforcement administrators and officers came to speak in support of the bill. Kevin Carroll, president of the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police of Virginia, expressed concerns about someone using FOIA to get a database of officers’ names digitally in bulk and then posting it on the Internet.

“I agree the public has a right to know who their police officers are,” Carroll said. “My concern goes beyond Chesterfield County. This is the World Wide Web when this stuff gets posted.”

Carroll described several unsolved shooting deaths of off-duty police officers – all assumed to be in retaliation for arresting or testifying against gang members. But Merritt said FOIA wasn’t involved in such incidents.

“One thing we know for sure is, it could not have been because of a FOIA request, because had there been a FOIA request, there would have been a record,” Merritt said. “The idea that people would use FOIA to accomplish that outcome and identify themselves doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

M. Wayne Huggins of the Virginia State Police Association cited the need to protect law enforcement officers from new threats, both international and domestic.

“I never thought I would see the day when a terrorist attack in Paris, France, would cause police officers in Virginia to be threatened,” Huggins said. “I also never thought I would see the day when American citizens marched in the street chanting for dead cops.”

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Home-schoolers Ask Governor to ‘Let Us Play’

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Supporters of home-schooled students playing sports in public schools unleashed their secret weapon at the Virginia Capital on Wednesday – home-schoolers themselves.

Home-schooling advocates and their children gathered in the state Capitol to hear remarks from Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg, the sponsors of legislation commonly called the “Tebow bill.”

Afterward, the home-schoolers and parents signed a large card urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to sign the legislation into law. The group presented the message to the front gate guard at the Governor’s Mansion.

The legislation is named after star quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for a public high school in Florida while being home-schooled. The General Assembly has passed two identical bills that would allow home-schooled students in Virginia to participate in interscholastic sports and other programs at their local public school:

·         Senate Bill 612, proposed by Garrett, passed the Senate 22-17 on Feb. 2 and then the House 58-40 on Feb. 19. McAuliffe must decide whether to sign, veto or amend the bill by Monday.

·         House Bill 131, introduced by Bell. It cleared the House 58-41 on Jan. 27 and the Senate 23-17 on Monday. McAuliffe’s deadline to act on the measure is next Thursday.

The bills would prohibit Virginia public schools from joining interscholastic organizations that ban home-schoolers from participating. This would put pressure on the Virginia High School League to allow home-schooled students. The legislation does not require local school boards to let home-schooled students participate in sports or other activities.

Moreover, the legislation states, “Reasonable fees may be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment.”

Republicans favor the Tebow bill concept, while Democrats generally oppose it. McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year.

Public school teachers oppose the Tebow bill on grounds that students who do not attend a school should not represent that school on the athletic field. They say there is no way to verify whether home-schoolers have the grades and meet other criteria required of regular school students.

Garrett said home-schoolers in Virginia deserve the right to participate in school activities.

“There are home-schoolers in science labs,” he said. “There are home-schoolers on stages. There are home-schoolers in college credit courses. Why aren’t there home-schoolers on our playing fields?”

Bell added, “For 21 years, we have brought the Tebow bill here to Virginia. There is now only one man who is stopping this from becoming law in Virginia, and that is Gov. McAuliffe.”

The governor has not indicated what action he might take on the legislation. Home-schooling parents like Polly Seymour from Fluvanna said it was important to come and let their voices be heard.

“I have a younger son coming up who is excited about sports,” Seymour said. “I’m hoping that by the time he gets to high school, he’ll be able to play in the public schools. Sports is very important in our family, and opportunities to play disappear as they get older.”


10 Communities Get ‘Main Street’ Grants

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Before the rise of chain discount stories and online shopping, all across the country Main Street was the place where a town’s residents would come together. Now, many of these once-cherished areas have fallen by the wayside as stores and restaurants turned to shuttered storefronts and empty office buildings.

To help revitalize these downtowns, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday awarded $150,000 in community development grants to 10 towns and small cities around the state as part the Virginia Main Street program. They can use the money to renovate buildings, revitalize historic neighborhoods and attract businesses to aging downtowns.

“Main Street communities play an important role in building a new Virginia economy by energizing our downtowns, providing access to capital and creating very unique places for entrepreneurs to work and grow their businesses,” McAuliffe said.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development administers the Virginia Main Street funding. Grant recipients can use the money in different ways.

The city of Hopewell and the towns of Altavista, Blackstone and Saint Paul were awarded financial feasibility grants, which help communities conduct engineering studies and construction evaluations to repurpose specific buildings. (Hopewell will receive $15,000; Altavista and Blackstone, $10,000 each; and Saint Paul, $2,500.)

The cities of Bristol and Staunton and the towns of Bedford, Culpeper, Luray and Marion were awarded downtown investment grants. These funds help communities implement a long-term strategy for growing downtown business districts. (Staunton will get $25,000; Bedford, Bristol and Marion, $20,000 each; Luray, $15,000; and Culpeper, $12,500.)

As a past recipient of a downtown investment grant, the Hopewell Downtown Partnership used $100,000 to help new businesses launch in the downtown business district.

“We were able to launch four new businesses: a restaurant, pizzeria, fitness center and a candy store,” said Evan Kaufman, the executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership. ”We’ve taken an area that used to see a 50 percent vacancy rate, and now we’re turning it around through a combination of historical renovation, façade improvements and planning new events and festivals.”

Hopewell will use its financial feasibility grant to repurpose an empty city office building into a maker space – a workshop where residents can come and design prototypes for new business ideas.

“It’s like a gym, but for people who like to work with their hands. It offers them a place to work with tools and make things,” Kaufman explained. “We want to put a new use to a historic building that’s been vacant to bring a new vitality to the district.”

Staunton will use its grant for business retention. The city will put the money toward improving the connections between downtown businesses and the surrounding communities, said Julie Markowitz, executive director of the Staunton Downtown Development Association.

“The whole idea is to connect and reconnect the community with downtown,” Markowitz said. “We’re going to be implementing a campaign called ‘Shop Staunton’ and launching our downtown discount card.”

Staunton will also launch an event called “Staunton Stories” where residents bring in items and tell stories about their communities. The items and stories will be digitized and displayed in a downtown exhibit in June.

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Bill Would Remove Sales Tax on Tampons

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s sales tax covers almost everything you buy, from athletic socks to zippers. But it doesn’t apply to medicine, contact lenses and certain other personal health items. Now, the General Assembly is considering adding feminine hygiene products to the list of exemptions.

Del. Mark Keam, D-Vienna, introduced House Bill 952, which seeks to remove the sales tax on tampons and sanitary napkins in Virginia. Currently these items are taxed at the standard rate, like most other items: 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, and 5.3 percent in the rest of the state.

“I think that most people, Republican and Democrats, would agree that this is an unfair tax,” Keam said Wednesday in an interview in his office at Capital Square. “It’s not equitable for women to have to pay a tax on something that guys don’t have to spend money on.”

Virginia is one of 40 states that tax tampons and sanitary napkins. Of the 10 states that don’t tax these products, five deliberately changed their laws specifically to end the policy. The other five do not have a sales tax at all.

“I believe this is such an essential product for women that in the code of Virginia, we have a discriminatory impact on one gender and not on the other,” Keam said. “From a policy perspective, I don’t think it makes sense for us to treat women differently from men in terms of what they have to buy as an essential product.”

The tax on tampons by many states has generated controversy and discussion on the Internet recently. President Obama weighed in on the issue in an interview with YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen for the news organization AJ+.

Obama said he has no idea why states would tax feminine hygiene products. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

Keam’s bill would add feminine hygiene products to the list of miscellaneous sales tax exemptions in Virginia. The list currently includes such things as firewood, eyeglasses and hearing aids.

“My goal is to make this a parity issue, and not turn it into a partisan fight over who supports women more,” Keam said. “I want to make this about making our tax law equitable for everyone.”

HB 952 has been sent to the House Finance Committee. Keam, who is a member of the committee, said the panel is awaiting the results of the economic impact study on the bill. The study would estimate how much revenue the state would lose by exempting tampons and sanitary napkins from the state’s sales tax.

Despite the fact that Keam is a man, he believes changing the policy is something all Virginians should care about: “I like nontraditional messengers. I want men to say, ‘This isn’t just a women’s issue, but we as men should have responsibility for policy making that deals with these issues as well.’”


Governor’s Star ‘TURN’ Reflects Support for Hollywood

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The governor’s schedule doesn’t leave much room for watching television, but Terry McAuliffe makes time for AMC’s Revolutionary War series “TURN: Washington’s Spies.” While it piques the governor’s interest because of his interest in the time period, he has doggedly followed and promoted the series because it’s filmed in Richmond.

Nearing the end of filming for the third season, McAuliffe put his public speaking skills to the test in a brief cameo as Gen. Robert Lawson for the show. Dressed in period costume, he only delivered one line and a dark look at Benedict Arnold, but his appearance underscored his support for both the show and the filmmaking industry in Virginia.

To make Virginia a destination for shooting movies and television shows (and to enjoy the tourism buzz they generate), the state government provides grants for productions that film in the state. State Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, is a long-time supporter of the tax credit program. He said it is an important way to grow the state’s economy.

“We need to start looking at film like any other manufacturing industry that we’re trying to attract to Virginia,” Kilgore said.

While Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” created the most buzz with the use of the Virginia State Capitol as a set for Civil War-era Washington, D.C., other productions have brought the magic of the movies to Virginia.

Over the course of two seasons of “TURN,” the show has received $13 million in grants and tax rebates from Virginia. According to a study by Mangum Economics, “TURN” generates $8 for the Virginia economy for every dollar spent on rebates for filming. Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, says film production benefits all aspects of the local economy – not just the movie industry.

“When a movie company comes to town, they touch all parts of the economy,” said Edmunds. “It’s not just the jobs of the people who work on the film, but what they buy while they are there.”

Starting with Louisiana in 1992, 39 states now have film tax credit programs. Louisiana has offered unlimited funds for productions, with a 35 percent reimbursement rate (the highest in the country).

While some states are pressing for more funding, others have elected to cut back. Due to steep declines in oil and gas revenue, Alaska chose to discontinue its program. Massachusetts also has debated whether to cut its incentives.

Virginia’s program is growing, but it is still modest compared with other states. Virginia reimburses productions 15-20 percent of their costs. In return, the state requires production companies to create promotional materials for the state. Virginia currently budgets $2.4 million a year for its program – but that would rise to $3 million annually under the new budget proposed by McAuliffe and being considered by the General Assembly.

In a political climate where the two parties often disagree, the issue of subsidizing the film industry in Virginia has bipartisan support.

“Virginia is getting the most bang for its buck out of this policy,” Kilgore said. “For every dollar we spend, we get so much more back because these companies are marketing Virginia.”

In addition to all of the materials purchased and people hired during the shoot, the tourism impact cannot be ignored. In exchange for the grant money, Virginia requires the company that receives the money to produce Virginia tourism commercials featuring the show or film shot here.

“Before and after each episode of ‘TURN,’ a Virginia tourism commercial airs urging viewers to visit our state,” Edmunds explained. “The amount of money in the grant is much less than the price of a commercial production, without the added benefit of the shoot, making it pay for itself.”

Besides “TURN” and “Lincoln,” the new PBS-produced Civil War drama “Mercy Street” was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg. With several million viewers, the state is hoping the show becomes as popular as the PBS drama “Downton Abbey.”

Other period pieces shot in the state include the miniseries “John Adams” and the 1970s-era romantic comedy film “Big Stone Gap,” filmed in Southwest Virginia.

“Here in Virginia we’ve got a great story to tell,” Kilgore said. “Because of our wide variety of climates, there’s plenty of great places to film movies.”


Go Global, Governor Tells Business Leaders

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe emphasized the importance of reaching out to global markets and expanding Virginia’s economy in a speech Wednesday to a group of business representatives graduating from the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade program in downtown Richmond.

“Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside the United States of America, so we are going where the customers are,” McAuliffe said, echoing a theme from his State of the Commonwealth address last week. “With our great Virginia businesses, I know we can do business in any country on the globe.”

The VALET program aims to do just that. Sponsored by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, it is a two-year training program to assist Virginia businesses in reaching international markets.

Global trade is crucial because Virginia's economy has been highly dependent on federal government spending. As the No. 1 recipient of grants from the U.S. Department of Defense, Virginia was hit especially hard by the government's sequestration cuts following the recession in 2008. Despite the return of funding, McAuliffe stressed the need to diversify Virginia’s economy to prepare for the future.

“Our whole goal is to build the new economy on trade. Our economy has weathered the first round of sequestration, but it’s coming back when the extension runs out,” McAuliffe said.

The Democratic governor also said he hoped for bipartisanship in working with the General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans.

“I do not get involved in these petty, partisan, political battles that really don’t help grow the economy,” he said. “I do not have time for it. I am really focused on taking our economy to the next level.”

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Founded by Slaves, Church Lets Freedom Ring

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

On a Sunday morning in the late 1700s, a Williamsburg plantation owner was walking his lands when he heard the sounds of worship coming from a nearby arbor: A group of slaves was holding a Baptist service. The landowner was so moved by their songs and prayers that he decided to give them use of a carriage house in which to gather.

Now, this congregation is celebrating its 240th anniversary. Known today as First Baptist Church, it is one of the oldest black congregations in the United States and an important part of American history.

First Baptist has been a symbolof African American resilience and deep faith. For February – Black History Month – the church is partnering with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to share its story with the world.

In particular, First Baptist invites members of the community to ring its newly restored church bell. The church had acquired the massive steel bell in the late 19th century, but it has been inoperable since the days of racial segregation. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has returned the bell to working condition so it can be rung every day in February.

“Bells call people to faith. They send folks forth to do good work in the world,” said Reginald Davis, the pastor of First Baptist Church. “But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who prayed in our church, also said that freedom rings. A silent bell represents unfinished work of freedom and equality. This bell, in this sacred and historic church, will be silent no more.”

Davis has led the congregation for the past 12 years. He says the history of First Baptist Church is an essential part of U.S. history.

“We want the American people to know that black history is American history,” Davis said. “You just cannot tease out one part of history and leave the other part out.”

First Baptist Church of Williamsburg had humble beginnings. It started as a group of slaves and free blacks in 1776. Five years later, after the previous preacher left, a slave named Gowan Pamphlet stepped up and began delivering Baptist sermons.

Religion was central to the slave community, said James Ingram, who portrays Pamphlet at the Colonial Williamsburg Museum.

“They realized that the religious teaching of the Bible was different than what they had been told,” Ingram said. “It was through the stories in the Bible that literally became the medicine that could heal their wounded souls.”

The Church of England and other white religious institutions preached that the Bible condoned slavery. But black preachers taught that in their humanity, blacks were equal to – and deserved the same rights as – whites.

“The lashings, beatings and the crucifixion of Jesus were especially important,” Ingram said. “They related to that because that’s what’s happening in their lives every single day.”

Black Baptist congregations were viewed with extra suspicion because they were associated with slave rebellions. According to Linda Rowe, a Colonial Williamsburg historian who has done extensive research on the religious life of colonists, the congregation spent a significant time meeting in wooded areas instead of inside a building.

“In the early 1800s, Gowan Pamphlet’s congregation was still meeting in a secluded area on the outskirts of Williamsburg,” Rowe said. “A local citizen heard the congregation singing and praying. This moved him to offer them a meeting place downtown.”

As the congregation grew, it gathered the resources to build a brick church in 1856. The women’s auxiliary of First Baptist raised the money to purchase a church bell for ringing during services and other special events.

In 1956, First Baptist moved to its current location at 727 Scotland St. But for the past 60 years, the church bell has been inoperable.

“There was a crack in the yoke from which it was suspended and possibly some issues with where it was mounted,” Rowe said. “The rope to pull it was in an out-of-the-way place, so it gradually fell out of disuse.”

Last year, First Baptist reached out to Colonial Williamsburg to restore the bell and highlight the church’s history. The result is the Let Freedom Ring project, in which citizens are invited to proclaim their belief in freedom and equality by ringing the restored bell.

First Baptist Church and Colonial Williamsburg have created a website –– for the project. There, visitors can reserve a time to go to the church and ring the historic bell. (Spots are available on weekdays and Saturdays from Feb. 1 through 29.)

After making a reservation to ring the bell, participants are urged to spread the word on social media. Recent tweets include:

·         #WhyIWillRingfor Rosa Parks. It takes courage to change. America needs change.

·         #WhyIWillRing– for our first black@PotusPresident Obama. It took too long to have one but we finally did it.

·         #WhyIWillRingbecause I HAVE A DREAM too!

During its history, First Baptist Church has hosted such civil rights icons as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. The Let Freedom Ring Project allows visitors and community members to recommit to black history and American values, Davis said.

“We invite people from every faith, racial group, economic group, educational group to come here and make that commitment again,” Davis said. “I believe our issues can be solved, but we have to make a commitment as a nation that we’re going to correct the wrongs.”


McAuliffe Emphasizes Cooperation with Lawmakers

By Margaret Carmel and James Miessler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe is urging the General Assembly to join him in a bipartisan effort to create jobs in the commonwealth.

“If we work together during the next 60 days, we can expand economic opportunities for everyone in the Commonwealth,” McAuliffe said in his State of the Commonwealth Address on the first night of the 2016 legislative session. “We will show that we in Virginia don’t back down from a challenge.”

With the relationship between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led General Assembly as contentious as ever, McAuliffe touted economic growth and investment across all sectors.

McAuliffe just returned from a trip to Cuba, where he brokered a trade deal. (In the middle of Wednesday night’s speech, he gave Republican House Speaker William Howell of Stafford a Cuban cigar.) The governor also noted other international trade agreements, such as Virginia apples being sold to India and poultry being shipped to Oman.

Continuing the theme of the need for bipartisan job creation, McAuliffe called attention to the state’s efforts to boost solar power and other alternative energy sources. Such moves will attract companies and offer manufacturing opportunities, he said.

Also in his speech, McAuliffe directly challenged Republican lawmakers by again prodding them to expand Medicaid, the health care program for low-income residents. He said even conservative states such as Utah and Louisiana have elected to do so under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“I am convinced that we can find a bipartisan, Virginia solution that totally protects our commonwealth’s finances while taking advantage of this historic opportunity to make our state a better place to live,” McAuliffe said.

Following a national trend to roll back the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the governor also advocated limiting standardized testing in schools while maintaining quality education.

“You cannot build an economy for 2050 with a 1950s approach to education,” he said.

In the Republican response to governor’s speech, Del. Rob Bell of Albemarle and Sen. Frank Ruff of Mecklenburg said the GOP would use its majority in the House and Senate to challenge McAuliffe on key issues.

Ruff said Republicans will fight McAuliffe’s efforts to expand Medicaid as part of President Obama’s new health care law.

“One area where we will not be in agreement with Gov. McAuliffe is Obamacare,” Ruff said. “While the governor’s budget again includes the federal program’s Medicaid expansion scheme, we believe this initiative threatens critically important priorities like education.”

Medicaid costs are rising even without expansion, Ruff said.

“Even without the optional federal expansion, mandated spending on Medicaid will take an even higher share of state spending in the new budget,” he said. “Expanding the program further would not be prudent, and would only increase the funding pressures on other state core services.”

Bell addressed Republican grievances over executive actions taken by McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring. In recent months, the governor banned firearms from state buildings, and Herring declared that Virginia would no longer honor concealed handgun permits from 25 states that he said do not meet the commonwealth’s standards.

“Our system of government is founded on the constitutional principles of a separation of powers,” Bell said. “As has become all too common in Washington, here in Richmond we have seen Gov. McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring use executive actions and appointments to circumvent these constitutional limitations and undermine the balance envisioned by our founders.”

The Republican response to McAuliffe’s speech included areas of agreement with the governor.

Ruff said Republicans want to prepare Virginians for the changing economy and create an environment that will draw employers.

“To better prepare our workforce for the demands of a rapidly changing economy, the budget we approve will include initiatives to encourage more Virginians to complete educational programs that lead to certification in high-demand fields,” he said.

“By investing in workforce training targeted to growing industries, we can make Virginia even more attractive to employers.”

The senator acknowledged common interests the Republicans share with McAuliffe.

“As a member of one of the two legislative committees that will consider the governor’s proposed budget, I know we will find common ground with him on efforts to increase funding for our public schools, for mental health care, for public safety, and for our veterans.”

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