Column a misguided interpretation of business friendliness

Editor:

Everyone misses the mark once in a while. And so it is with the usually splendid column, “From Under the Elm.”  The column is ordinarily an erudite blend of insight and information, logic and lyrical prose. But not always, as revealed by the July 19 edition.

Let me say at the outset that I am writing not about the merits or demerits of the proposed Sheetz store. Instead, I am writing about the lengths that the column goes to in an effort to justify the store.

Central to the column’s argument is the assertion that to not approve the store is to send a signal to prospective new businesses that the county is not “business friendly.”

It is a fascinating and disturbingly misguided interpretation of business friendliness.

I am a businessperson. I have 45 years of experience, some of it at the highest levels of large corporations, privately and publicly held. I have opened new operations in places as far flung as Kansas City, Mo.; Boston, Mass.; Austin, Texas; and Raleigh, N.C.

Not a single time would my colleagues or I have been influenced by whether or not a locality approved a zoning request for a convenience store. It would not have been a blip on the radar of our due diligence.

What WOULD and DID influence our decisions were things like the financial strength of the locality; its school system; its workforce training programs; its broadband and wireless infrastructure; its business tax policies; and its governmental approachability and administrative efficiency.

Many issues must be considered in evaluating the Sheetz rezoning. Absent from those issues is whether or not a denial of the request will be a deterrent to new business coming to the county.

Let’s let our planners and supervisors evaluate the proposal unencumbered by false arguments of the kind put forth in the column.

And while we’re at it, let’s build a truly business-friendly community by focusing on the things that matter, as listed above.

Steve Clinton

Daleville

 

Appreciates support for LBHS golf tournament

Editor:

The Lord Botetourt High School golf team held their 13th Annual Golf Tournament at Botetourt Golf and Swim Club on July 14.

We would like to thank all of the people and companies that made our tournament a success.

Special thanks for the hole sponsors that have supported us for all 13 years.

They are Lanford Brothers, Grand Rental of Vinton, Bank of Botetourt and The Bank of Fincastle.

Our hole sponsors were: Sean Eschenbach, DDS, Affordable Mini Storage, Down Home Pharmacy, Applied Industrial Technologies, Dairy Queen – Orange Avenue, Kennard-Pace Co., Mac and Bob’s, John Alderson Agency, the Pennington Family, Linda Harman, Teresa Walker and John Martin, Old Dominion Auto Salvage, Lesley Owens – State Farm, Advanced Transportation and Logistics, Crouch Insurance Services, Awful Arthur’s, Blue Ridge Auto Sales, Affordable Asphalt Sealing, Harbor Inn Seafood, Roanoke Valley Cleaning Team (RVCT), Applebee’s of Salem, Applebee’s of Bonsack, The Learning Barn, Jersey Lily’s – Orange Avenue, Martin’s Bar and Grill, Lentini’s Restaurant, and Dr. Mac Scothorn.

Pepsi and Food Lion of Blue Ridge donated soft drinks and water for our tournament.

A big thanks for our four tournament sponsors: Arkay Packaging, Roanoke Valley Orthodontics, Spencer, Hager and Mosdell, CPAs, and Waterworks of Roanoke.

Many of the local restaurants and businesses donated gift cards for prizes.

Almost all of the area golf courses donated rounds of golf for prizes. Much thanks to Dylan Wright, Chris Pittman, Renee Jennings, and the staff of Botetourt Golf and Swim Club for all of their assistance.

A special thanks to Don Hines for organizing the tournament and making it successful.

Thanks to Deb Rasnick for running the registration table and organizing all of the prizes.

Thanks to all of the parents who made all of the desserts and came and helped out.

Everyone who played had a beautiful day at Botetourt Golf and Swim Club. Everyone also received an additional round of golf, a nice door prize and dinner. We hope to see everyone again next year!

Todd Smith

Tim Rasnick

LBHS Golf Coaches

 

Voters should ask local legislators should stop taking industry cash

Editor:

It’s a little mystery that Fincastle-area voters have almost figured out, but not quite. Why are the realtors, the health industry, the beer wholesalers and bankers, coal operators and electric utilities shoving all that cash into the Virginia legislature?

“Puzzles plus money produce the view that the money explains the puzzles,” legal scholar Lawrence Lessig has written. “In a line: We don’t trust our government.”

If he’s talking about you, you have lots of company. Three-quarters of American voters – nearly equal numbers in both parties – are convinced that Congress is for sale. Given its record, the Virginia legislature can’t make a credible claim to higher public confidence, either.

William Black, a former bank regulator, summarizes the ordinary citizen’s street-level, tragic view when he writes that “a campaign contribution always generates the best return on investment.” But your government’s yours, not Dominion Energy’s. It’s not for the benefit of the roster of corporate high-rollers that have given large amounts to this area’s lawmakers – although we keep electing them.

So the missing puzzle piece is this: if they’re making monkeys of us and we know it, what can we do about it? And you can find the answer in Roanoke.

Start here: 45 House of Delegates candidates so far, mostly Democrats, have signed a pledge that they’ll refuse to accept campaign cash from Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy, the two state-regulated electric power monopolies. Among them is Djuna Osborne, a candidate for delegate in this area’s District 17. Arlington’s Rip Sullivan (D-48) has also refused to take Dominion money.

But Roanoke’s Sam Rasoul, a 35-year-old management consultant who has served in the House of Delegates since 2014, has gone even further. He has announced that he’ll refuse campaign donations not only from Dominion and Appalachian, but any “gifts” above $5,000 from anyone. In fact, he will take no more campaign cash at all from special-interest PACS and corporations.

Rasoul’s a Democrat, but “…it is conservatives who should be leading the fight for campaign-finance reform,” Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School has written. “Why should conservative voters care? First, big money in politics encourages big government. . . . When politicians are dependent on campaign money from contractors and lobbyists, they’re incapable of holding spending programs to account.”

So whether you’re conservative, green, libertarian or liberal, here’s the question: can your legislator explain why it’s okay to accept “donations” from the two power companies and still cast votes on legislation that affects not only their profits, but also our electric bills and, crucially, our environment? For that matter, why is it legitimate to take money from any corporate interests who also have legislative needs that should not pre-empt the public interest?

The non-profit, non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project provides local data. Fincastle-area Delegate Terry Austin (R-19) has received $3,000 from Dominion Energy, and Delegate Christopher Head (R-17), $9,000. Dominion has donated $20,000 to State Senator Steve Newman (R-23). They have, of course, also taken donations from other corporate interests.

Meanwhile, those same public servants who take Dominion’s money have voted on countless Dominion-related bills, listened to the pitches of the sturdy corps of Dominion lobbyists. Overall, the legislature has handed the company a lengthening series of legislative home runs worth hundreds of millions of dollars – perhaps a billion or two by some estimates. And they routinely vote on legislation affecting the bankers, realtors, beer wholesalers, the health industry and their other benefactors.

Don’t accept their easy answer: “I need the money to get elected.” Realistically: they don’t need Dominion Energy money. And they should fight to transition our politics away from the other corporate payouts. Vermont, Connecticut and conservative Arizona have figured that out, with voluntary donation limits and public financing for candidates. Is your state senator or delegate pushing, noisily, for that? Why not? Never too late to start.

This isn’t a partisan issue. In fact, Dominion has given more than $7.5 million to legislators of both parties since 2006 – nearly $900,000 in 2016-17 alone. It is Virginia’s top corporate donor. Its biggest recipient is a Democrat, though the Republicans have taken in more Dominion donations, over all.

These are odd bedfellows for the Dems. Dominion is a member of the destructive ultra-radical American Legislative Exchange Council. That’s a polluter’s fan club, bankrolled by the Koch brothers, who’ve made most of their tens of billions in the fossil fuel industry. ALEC promotes climate-science denial and efforts to block clean energy to state legislators around the nation.

So ask each of your legislators and candidates: Will you pledge to reject that kind of campaign cash from now on, or fight to make public financing a major issue?

Can you at least decline donations from the state-regulated utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power? If you think it’s okay to accept their money, then will you pledge to abstain from voting on legislation involving those interests?

And get ‘em on the record. We’d all like to know.

Stephen Nash

Virginia Public

Access Project