Payoffs, paybacks, and suckups

If there is a theme emerging in what might charitably be called the governance style of our new all-Republican board of supervisors, it is not only paying off generous campaign contributors and getting back at perceived enemies, but also a desperate desire to catch the eye of the higher GOP powers-that-be with showy displays of fealty to the party’s ideological issues du jour.

The board had barely settled into their new seats in January before they were booting off of important commissions (especially those dealing with zoning, developer regulations, economic development, and water policy) anyone who had crossed them or their developer buddies in the past (Janet Clarke’s vendetta against Purcellville vineyard owner Steve Mackie was especially charming); killing (in the name of budget cutting, of course) programs that actually saved the county money but which had been supported by their nemeses (such as the illegal-sign cleanup program and the county government’s internal energy conservation program); and rewarding their friends—especially those commercial real estate developers who had dumped half a million bucks into their campaigns this time around—with special favors (allowing outdoor electronic signs, ordering up zoning amendments to permit big box stores in retail areas and gas stations and motels and cell towers in rural areas) and appointing them to key positions where they will get to rewrite the rules that apply to their own industry.

All of that I suppose was simply to be expected: what’s local politics for, in the GOP world view, but a chance to enrich your friends?

But several members of the board have also have been distinguishing themselves by their efforts to use even the most local decisions as opportunities to score ideological brownie points. This has definitely surprised the local chamber of commerce types who had thought they knew what they were buying, especially after their reconciliation this past year with Scott York, Loudoun’s former Republican former Independent now Republican again chairman of the board of supervisors.

The chamber in its perfectly ordinary “pro-business” manner has unsurprisingly been rock solid behind the extension of the Metrorail system to Loudoun, arguing that it will be unsurprisingly good for business.

The entire board, though, has been extremely coy about how it will vote this summer on Loudoun’s final decision on whether to “opt-out” of Metro.

There are surely valid arguments on both side of the issue from a local perspective—which is what you would think just might matter to our local officials. But it now turns out that the entire decision is apparently going to come down to a question not of whether rail will benefit Loudoun, not whether it is affordable, not what it will do to the quality of life here — but rather whether the Republican Party’s national effort to vilify organized labor can be given a boost in the process.

York, while claiming still to support the project, warned last week that the entire deal would be scuttled by the Loudoun board unless the project drops a long-approved preference for contractors that negotiate with their workers on collective bargaining agreements.

Not coincidentally, this is a pet issue of our very politically ambitious state attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who has declared he would like to add Metro to the long list of people he wants to file very attention-getting lawsuits against (and whose office last month suddenly reversed its own ruling of a week before and declared that it could sue Metro over its labor agreement). Cuccinelli last fall showed his complete impartiality in Loudoun’s local decision on the merits of the Phase Two extension of rail to Dulles and Loudoun, telling WMAL radio:

I hope [Loudoun voters] elect an entire board who’s committed to pulling out of Phase Two to kill it.

If Scott York loses the vote for Metrorail, he can at least console himself that it was all for the greater glory of the national and state Republican Party.

The grateful voters of Loudoun County perhaps will someday erect a statue in his memory, depicting Scott York valiantly holding a raised index finger in the air, testing which way the wind is blowing. These days, it’s apparently from Richmond.

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