CDN Editor: Three candidates are in the race for Virginia’s 27th District which includes Clarke County, Fauquier County, the City of Winchester, Frederick County, and a portion of Loudoun County, Stafford County and Culpeper County. This is the third of three articles in which the candidates respond to issues of specific interest to the residents of Clarke County, Virginia. This interview was conducted with Donald Marro via electronic mail.
CDN: Clarke County has long had the most active conservation easement programs in the area. Proponents of conservation easements say that easements reduce costly tax payer requirements to support residential sprawl. Opponents says that the program is simply a tax shelter for the wealthy that unfairly shifts the tax burden to small property owners and makes it difficult for new businesses to enter the county.
What grade do you give Clarke County’s conservation easement program and why?
Marro: The grade I’d award is high passing and I frankly can’t be more specific because I don’t know all details of the program, other than those summarized to me in a brief conversation with this paper’s publisher. Fauquier County has a similar program in which development rights are a by-right consequence of property ownership, and are purchased by the county to be retired. This is not, strictly speaking an easement as I understand easements, but it has the same effect.
I think this is enormously worthwhile.
I hasten to add I don’t think it’s worthwhile for the underlying reasons behind the trite slogan that “farmland lost, is farmland lost forever”, but I do think it is meaningful because family (not factory) farms are benign, and residential sprawl is an idea whose time has passed long ago.
Quite apart from being concentrators, once upon a time before there were roads and automobiles in great numbers, cities were magnets for ambition, new businesses and new technologies. The times have changed, and with that change comes the reality that significant oil consumption and dispersed services delivery (like medicine or education) isn’t a practical solution to 21st Century social needs. Cities should again be concentrators, and open space is to be preserved so cities may do so and restore the country to be the reprieve it intrinsically is. Even a poem is never as lovely as a tree, as Turner and Constable proved, whereas Hopper did cities quite well, delivering an allegorical sense of impersonality and boundless energy simultaneously in his work.
Open space preservation is like the pastoral painter, and the conservation programs like Clarke County’s are enormously useful for that reason; like parks in cities, as escapes and respites.
CDN: Clarke County’s affordable broadband access is largely limited only to its population centers. While options like satellite and WIFI exist, such service is expensive, slow and often unreliable making it difficult to operate rural-based businesses that require Internet access. Do you have plans to address this problem?
Marro: No. We live in a free enterprise economy where companies make decisions on whether the bottom lines are positively impacted by how they offer their services. Having said that, there is merit to the State Corporation Commission, as a condition of licensing, to require incremental coverage of rural areas for services by the licensed communications company monopolies.
But the corollary is the corporation that is being asked, essentially, to do the SCC a favor will surely call in that favor – this is the invidious origin of regulatory capture. This is bad policy.
And so the larger question arises why have development in open space areas? You want open spaces, you don’t need services different from those appropriately suited for open spaces, like satellite. Moreover, for the lesser developed world to acquire wall-to-wall communications, there will be improvements in any case, in satellite or other remote communications, in costs and reliability. Therefore, it isn’t in our best interests to put a burdensome requirement on companies that only comes back to haunt us in the quid pro quo the company then extracts from us later.
Better to have cities where people, businesses and technologies are concentrated and open space where they aren’t.
CDN: Clarke County’s education programs have seen significant cuts in funding from the Commonwealth. Elected school officials have said that there is a direct link between declining student performance and education program funding cuts. Has Virginia’s education funding dropped to the point where it is negatively impacting student learning? If so, what message are we sending to our next generation of Virginians?
Marro: I am quite far removed from believing homeschooling is a virtue, and as far removed from believing that the 19th Century barebones education model is the model to be followed today.
Yet I would contend that funding isn’t what matters as much as motivation. The Commonwealth does nothing when it tinkers with funding to alter the motivation to acquire a sound education. If you’ve got motivation, you’ll get a good education. People were self-taught in technology, in languages, in philosophy, in the natural sciences – you name it, they learned it. It’s a conceit to believe funding is the only variable for acquiring a meaningful education, you plainly must have motivation, and that comes from family or a desire to improve yourself, not from the state.
However, the state is a facilitator and must provide, no matter what, the funding level required as the framework that makes possible the delivery of a sound education to all those who want it, and the state must also ensure that its bureaucrats and teachers are competent, energized and accountable. And those who want a sound education should work really hard to get it, even if it means they’ll have to augment whatever the state provides with their own individual efforts.
I’m even in favor, if adequate funding were available, for some money to be spent wastefully in order to educate even those people who don’t want to be educated, but if funds are scarce, I have no interest in coddling people who are ungrateful simply because some feel we must spend a set amount of money regardless of what the results are. Let people fend for themselves to a certain degree and let the state provide the rest. That is the best education formula that I can think of.
CDN: The Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to implement new measures meant to protect the Chesapeake Bay. In Clarke County, these measures likely will place higher costs on local farmers. Similarly, Virginia Power has won approval to place a new power plant near Shenandoah National Park even though opponents argued that the power produced in the plant would largely be used in New York and New Jersey. How should local citizens view the costs and impacts associated with regional and national environmental issues like the Chesapeake Bay and acid rain mitigation?
Marro: I don’t understand the connection made by this question.
If Virginia Power is building a power plant near Shenandoah National Park for power to be used largely by New York and New Jersey, it’s unclear to me why this has a potential environmental impact on the Chesapeake Bay or acid rain. But if the plant produces acid rain, it doesn’t matter where it is, or whether the power is to be used by Virginians or the good citizens of Mandalay. Acid rain isn’t good for us or the planet, and so power plants must be clean, whatever the costs.
If they’re not, we pay a steeper price in adverse public health outcomes, a reduced food supply, and a less hospitable planet for the generations to come. That’s far too high a price to pay.
As for farmers, it isn’t clear why farmers are excused for the pollution their efforts at increasing yields produce. Genetically modified crops don’t require the nutrients, fertilizers and other chemicals that may otherwise be used to raise yield. But then too much food is produced each year anyway, not for exports or fuel but as spare tires around the waists of most Americans – obesity is an epidemic and comes from having, and being urged to consume, too much food.
We don’t have to grow so much as we do, or grow it the way we do. If we pollute when we produce power and pollute when we produce food, our technologies and culture have failed us.
CDN: With commercial development to the south in Warren County, commercial zoning to the west in Frederick County and the availability of a sewage treatment facility from the Virginia Corrections Department, many citizens see Double Toll Gate as a natural location for expanded commercial use. Yet the Clarke County Supervisors have decided that the cost of providing water and sewer to the area is simply too expensive for the County to underwrite.
Do you see a role for your office in facilitating inter-county discussions that could improve the economic health of the region?
Marro: No. The paradox is everyone speaks ever so gracefully out of both sides of their mouth: we don’t want government, but we do want government; we don’t want interference, but we do want interference; we don’t want sprawl, but we do want sprawl.
The fact to face is every region will not or need not be prosperous or commercial or vibrant, developed and growing. There’ll be quiet zones. Part of the appeal of a forest is that it’s a forest, and if you try to make a forest into a productive semiconductor plant, it isn’t a forest anymore.
We need to be content to have forests, and need to be content to have rural areas, and need to be content to have rural rustics – it’s their choice. There’s transportation to the city should anyone prefer to live there, but if they don’t, they will be rural rustics. End of story.
CDN: Of the candidates that you’ve heard so far, who do you believe has the best chance of winning the 2012 presidential race? Who do you support?
Marro: No answer.
I don’t know why this is a question to candidates for a 2011 Virginia Senate seat. It is axiomatic that support for a Presidential candidate isn’t a surrogate for the platform upon which a Virginia Senatorial candidate should run. Moreover, we don’t even have final candidates yet but a host of Republican challengers and a struggling Democratic incumbent. The election is some 14 months away, the Democratic and Republican candidates will be determined in due course, and at that point endorsements or preference expression may be appropriate, but not now.
It is even likely there’ll be a Third Party candidate advanced by the Tea Party or bankrolled by people who regard Barack Obama as not viable. When all these elements fall into place, I would be happy to answer this question, thoughtfully and with seriousness. But not now.
Statement from Donald Marro:
Politics in the 27th Senatorial District are probably not unlike those elsewhere in Virginia and in the United States. The contests are not substantive; they are to a very large degree aesthetic, politically correct exercises that have a distinctively ‘don’t bother me’ component.
It’s refreshing to see substantive (for the most part) questions posed by a media outlet intent on faithfully serving the electorate. It’s depressing to contemplate how few people may actually read these questions and make their decisions based on the answers. It’s even more depressing to think how few are those people who will read the questions and be energized or enthusiastic about the answers and the person delivering the answers to actually work on their behalf, or even vote. I hope I’m stunningly wrong about this.
If not, so is written the epitaph for participatory democracy.