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Missed Manners

Formal, even elaborate courtesy was once a hallmark of Virginia’s public life. It has apparently gone the way of many other fine traditions, and I mourn its passing.


I have been concerned by the budget crisis currently vexing Virginia. Gov. Mark Warner has proposed a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to close the yawning gap in our public finances. Although I’m a fiscal conservative, I wanted my representative to know that I wasn’t reflexively opposed to these possible tax hikes. In my message to Delegate Reid, I highlighted particularly my conviction that spending public money to preserve the quality and accessibility of Virginia’s colleges and universities ought to be a priority. No Virginian wishes to see our fine system decline the way California’s has.

Here, in its entirety, is the cold slap in the face I received in reply:

Dear Mr. Dolson:

Thank you for your interest in supplementing the Treasury of Virginia. As you may be aware, a couple of years ago we passed legislation sponsored by Delegate Kirk Cox which clarified that citizens may contribute funds in addition to their individual tax liability. If this option is of interest, send your check to:

Department of the Treasury
James Monroe Building
101 North 14th Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Thank you for your voluntary contribution to the Treasury of Virginia and for not obligating your neighbors who do not share your intentions.

John S. Reid

Where to begin? I have no idea what I did to merit the flippant, disdainful tone. Mr. Reid is — I checked again — my representative, everyone’s representative in Virginia’s 72nd House District. I was expressing my opinion on the construction of our common budget and the use of public funds. Isn’t that what a citizen is supposed to do?

Mr. Reid suggests, in his sarcastic fashion, that my neighbors wouldn’t wish to be saddled with higher taxes. Well, sure, if you couch it that way; higher taxes, in the abstract, are unappealing to most of us. I spent the past several days, though, discussing the question with my neighbors, members of my church, and colleagues at the large bank where I work.

You might expect bank executives, in particular, to be strong tax haters, and you would be dead right. But everyone I spoke to — even the bankers — acknowledged that we’re in a tight fiscal spot, that things cannot be fixed entirely by additional spending cuts, that prior cuts have already reached bone, and that we need to consider tightly-controlled tax increases to make our finances work for us all. I’m no pollster, but who are these closed-fisted neighbors Delegate Reid is talking about? Where are they? I can’t find them.

And besides, is this really any way for an elected representative to respond to a constituent? Even if I were to oppose the ban on adolescent nudist camps (House Bill 158) that Delegate Reid has made a cornerstone of his legislative agenda this session, an inconsiderate, bullying letter like this would not, I submit, ever be appropriate.

Formal, even elaborate courtesy was once a hallmark of Virginia’s public life. It has apparently gone the way of many other fine traditions, and I mourn its passing. For what it’s worth, though, the delegate and I are in fact on the same wavelength on the whole nude teen camp thing.

I hope that my delegate will see the error of his ways and extend an apology for this rough treatment. I daydream that my small participation in political life will nudge the tiller of state just enough to avoid a whirlpool of fiscal ruin. What I’d settle for, though, is that the tone and content of public debate of critical issues facing the commonwealth will rise above this petty level. For the sake of us all, it needs to. S

Drew Dolson is a local attorney.

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