Sunday, March 13, 2011
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Del. Ward Armstrong says he is focusing on redistricting now, but he also has his eyes a bid for statewide office.
“Maybe governor. I’m also interested in the work of the attorney general,” Armstrong said Saturday when asked what office he might run for. “We’ll see.”
Armstrong, a Collinsville Democrat and House minority leader, said job creation is the most critical issue locally and in the state, and transportation and higher education are two areas that can put people to work.
Locally, that means making the New College Institute permanent, in partnership with a public university, and building Interstate 73, he said.
At the state level, 55,000 more slots for college students need to be created, but little is happening to accomplish that, Armstrong said. He also criticized Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan, passed by the General Assembly this year, for creating debt and taking money from core state services, including education and public safety.
If transportation and higher educations were improved, jobs would be created, he said.
“It may take being in the governor’s house to accomplish that,” Armstrong said. “I’ve felt a little constrained in the House.”
He also noted that with unemployment at nearly 20 percent in Martinsville and 14-15 percent in Henry County, “we’ve got to do something different with economic development to turn things around. We’ve got to find some employer to turn the area around.”
Doing that is difficult, he acknowledged, but “somebody has to step up” and try.
He added that several names of Democrats have been mentioned for the governor’s race, including Terry McAuliffe, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2009 Democratic primary for governor.
The next gubernatorial election will be in 2014, and Armstrong said he “probably has until the end of the year to decide” if he will run for statewide office.
For now, he added, he is “focusing on redistricting,” which the General Assembly will take up April 4. By law, the state’s districts must be redrawn after each census is completed every 10 years.
“The House Republicans will try to strengthen their numbers and get rid of people who are pesky” and speak out — people like him, Armstrong said.
“I expect my district to change substantially,” he said. “I don’t know where my district will be, but I’m going to run.”
Armstrong said 80,000 is the target population for districts in the state, so Martinsville and Henry County would make an almost-perfect district.
“The General Assembly ought to keep communities of interest together to form a district,” he said, and they should be competitive. Having an “incumbent assured of re-election is wrong.”
Armstrong made his comments during and after Saturday’s Piedmont Democratic Women’s Club legislative breakfast at the Lynwood Golf & Country Club. More than 100 people attended the club’s 25th anniversary breakfast and heard Armstrong and state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds recap the 2011 assembly session.
“The session had ups and downs, but in the end,” there were significant accomplishments, Reynolds said.
They included $80 million added to the budget for public schools, $110 million added for health and human services and $15 million more for public services, despite efforts by either the House or Gov. McDonnell to cut funds in those areas, Reynolds said.
Legislation was passed to eliminate sweepstakes cafes, and some progress was made on transportation, with $100 million included in a bill for work on U.S. 58, the senator said.
However, he added later, the governor and executive branch still have to approve those projects. He said McDonnell has made it clear that the U.S. 58 projects are ready and needed, but Reynolds said residents still should support them at the Commonwealth Transportation Board hearing in Salem. That hearing has not been scheduled yet, he said.
Reynolds and Armstrong both bemoaned that their efforts to stem Appalachian Power Co. rate increases were unsuccessful.
Armstrong blamed that on the thousands of dollars utilities donate to legislators. “Follow the money,” he advised.
He also criticized efforts to allow telecommunications companies to deny someone a land line — traditional telephone service — if they have an alternative, such as a cell phone.
“The General Assembly is too anti-consumer and not enough for the average person,” Armstrong said.
He thanked Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins for the work by she and her husband, Jeff, on a bill that would allow a judge to require someone who violated a protective order to wear a GPS tracking device so police and a possible victim would be alerted if the perpetrator left the area he or she was restricted to.
The bill is called the Linda Bostwick Act after a woman who was killed at her workplace in Collinsville by her estranged husband. She worked for Jeff Adkins, and the couple researched the bill and worked with Armstrong and Reynolds to get it passed, Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the House has become “partisan, rancorous and silly.” He illustrated that by relating how, when he spoke against the House budget proposal during the floor debate, Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico County, suggested an amendment to strip “every dime from the New College Institute” in retaliation.
When Armstrong complained that would remove one of this area’s key sources of hope in the future, he said Janis responded that “we all have priorities.”
Armstrong said the Republicans quickly met and passed by the amendment, realizing it would have been a political and policy mistake.
Club President Wanda Green presented Armstrong and Reynolds with plaques thanking them for their service and donations to their fall campaigns.
She also recognized club secretary Barbara Cousin, corresponding secretary Lorene Martin and scholarship chairman Helen Howell.
The club presented the Mary Sue Terry Scholarship to Joshua Sebastian Hairston, a senior at Bassett High School who plans to attend Radford University in the fall and major in interdisciplinary studies. He also is active in sports and volunteerism.