Monday, February 8, 2016

HB815: What you need to know about the bill that mandates using the electric chair in Virginia

Written by Lee Carter, Vice Chairman of the Prince William County Young Democrats“Either way, Ricky Gray will die very quickly, with very little, if any, pain.” 

That’s what Jackson Miller, the Delegate from Manassas, said to the Associated Press about his bill to mandate the use of the electric chair in death penalty cases. 

Ask any electrician who’s suffered an electrical injury how much pain is involved.  Ask anyone who’s ever been hit with a taser if there was “very little, if any, pain.”  They will beg to differ - guaranteed.  The pain that an electrical injury inflicts is immeasurable, and that’s just what convicted inmates will experience if everything goes according to Delegate Miller’s plan.

The very first death by electric chair was a man named William Kemmler in 1890.  After the initial shock, Kemmler’s executioner pronounced him dead, but he noticed a small problem afterward – Kemmler was bleeding from a cut on his hand.  Obviously, dead men don’t bleed, so the warden ordered another shock.  Before the executioner could restart the current, Kemmler began to bleed from the mouth and he started to groan as he regained consciousness.  After the second shock was finished, the room was filled with the sound of sizzling meat, and the smell of burnt hair.  Kemmler had, quite literally, been cooked to death - and he felt the whole thing.

This sort of botched electrocution isn’t relegated to the 19th century either.  Right here in Virginia in 1982, Frank Coppola was shocked to death with two 55-second exposures to an electrical current.  The first failed to kill him, and while the second succeeded, it also set his leg and his head on fire.

Then there’s John Evans in Alabama in 1983.  This time it was the first shock that set the man on fire.  The fire was extinguished, and Evans was shocked again.  When the attending physicians found a heartbeat after the second shock, Evans’ attorney begged for an end to the execution attempt.  The attorney was denied, and Evans was shocked a third time.  At the end of the 14-minute ordeal, Evans’ body was left charred and smoldering in the chair like a Christmas ham left in the oven too long.

In 1984, the State of Georgia executed Alpha Otis Stephens.  He was shocked for two minutes straight, after which time they had to let the body cool for six minutes to avoid setting the still living man on fire.  A second shock finally finished the job.

In 1985, Indiana executed William Vandiver by electric chair.  That one took five shocks and 17 minutes, leaving the room thick with smoke and the smell of burnt flesh. "It did not go according to plan," said the doctor that declared Vandiver dead.

In 1999, Florida executed Allen Lee Davis by electric chair.  Davis bled so profusely after the first shock, that Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw remarked “the color photos of Davis depict a man who – for all appearances – was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida.”

Even without getting into the moral and ethical discussion of whether we should be executing prisoners in the first place, what’s obvious is that the electric chair is very much a cruel and unusual punishment.  And when the government of Virginia kills someone, they’re doing so because we consent – they do so on our behalf.  If we’re going to do this, we need to find a better, less painful way.

As Delegate Miller said, “The numerous victims of Ricky Gray didn’t get a choice on how they wanted to die.”

The people of Virginia are not Ricky Gray, Delegate.  We simply must not be.

The bill – HB815 – will mandate that the State must use the electric chair for carrying out the death penalty, if lethal injection drugs are not available. HB815 is expected to reach the floor of the General Assembly in Richmond sometime this week.

In recent years, the United States has had difficulty obtaining the drugs, because of moral objections from European sellers. But – there are options aside from the electric chair that are more humane and in line with the State’s role of carrying out the death penalty as a judicial function – not as cruel and unusual torture - that are not being brought to the table for discussion.

The Prince William County Young Democrats are following bills and issues in Richmond, and want to get the area’s young voters engaged in discussion about things that matter to them.


Friday, October 30, 2015

New ideas, an educator’s perspective, for Prince William County School Board

Local races don’t get the attention that they should. A lack of interest and lower voter turnout are the regular battle candidates face when they’re running on the local level.

Among these local races, school board is one that particularly seems to be cast as an afterthought. It shouldn’t be.

This year we have Ryan Sawyers running for the Chairman of the School Board, and the Prince William County Young Democrats have and will continue to support him in his campaign. But we would be remiss if we didn’t take time to express support and gratitude to another candidate running for the Potomac district School Board seat – Justin Wilk.

Justin was one of the founding co-chairs of the Prince William County Young Democrats several years ago, and has served our community well, working tirelessly to assist other Democratic candidates.

While the longtime incumbent in the seat, Betty Covington, has served the Potomac district well, it is time for a much needed change.

Justin was a teacher for several years as a Prince William County public school teacher, and now works as an educational consultant. His experience in the classroom, working with today’s kids and technology – and all of the challenges facing teachers and students in our county’s public school system – make him an asset on the School Board.

Currently his wife works as a teacher at Forest Park High School, and he has two young children who are future students of the school system. Who better to advocate for our county’s students than someone who works in education, and will see the impact daily in his own home?

It’s time that we bring some fresh ideas about technology in the classroom, reducing standardized tests, and increased attention on special education programs not only to the Potomac district, but to the entire School Board.

Local elections matter, and the Prince William County Young Democrats ask that you get out there on November 3rd and support Justin Wilk for School Board, and his fellow Democratic candidates. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ryan Sawyers: Business owner, sports coach and educator for School Board Chairman

We all know education is important. And while many people put it on their list of political priorities, not everyone is willing to step up and fight for what teachers and students need.

Prince William County will be electing a new Chairman of the School Board this year. This Chairman will build consensus among members of the board, manage a $1.3 billion dollar budget, and be an advocate for the entire education community. 

Wouldn’t you want someone that has demonstrated skills in this arena to sit down in the chairman’s seat?

This cycle there are three individuals running for the position, and the Prince William County Young Democrats are proud to support Democrat Ryan Sawyers for School Board Chairman.

Sawyers has been a big supporter of our group, and was out with us this past weekend, knocking doors for candidates on the Democratic ticket.

More on Sawyers’ background and experience:
Ryan is a small business owner, President of Bull Run Little League, a husband and father of two children. Ryan is the only candidate endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Teacher's Union.  He was inspired to run for the Chair of the School Board because we need to change the failing policies of the current Republican School Board. Prince William County now has the highest class sizes, the lowest paid teachers and the lowest funded schools in the Northern Virginia area. Ryan is the only candidate in the race with a degree in education and real teaching experience. Using his background in the classroom and his acquired business skills Ryan is the right candidate to turn PWC Schools around.  Our race that is comparable to a small Congressional race in size. We have 91 precincts and 7 magisterial districts. Prince William County is the second biggest county in Virginia and is a critical swing district in state wide elections. While the county went blue for President Obama and for Senator Mark Warner the county has never elected a Democratic School Board Chair. 

In addition to being the most qualified candidate for the job, Sawyers’ team have put together a poll coverage program to help boost awareness for voters on Election Day.

Here’s more on their program from campaign manager Nate Salzman:
Our poll coverage program will change that. In Virginia, local elections the candidates do not have their party affiliation on the ballot. This creates confusion at the polling place. In the last election 13% of people who took the time to vote choose not to vote for a School Board Chair candidate. We believe that is because they did not know either of the candidates. Our program will ensure that each voter will know Ryan Sawyers and his platform before they go to vote. 

This race is critical and we need your help to turn Prince William County blue. Please come out and make sure your vote ensures a quality education for the students of Prince William County!

Keeping Virginia’s 2nd House district blue

For the first time in a long time, in the last election cycle, Virginia’s 2nd House district went ‘blue’ for Michael Futrell, unseating incumbent Republican Mark Dudenhefer.

Dudenhefer is back, attempting to reclaim his former seat, after Futrell’s decision not to run for re-election.

We need to keep the 2nd district blue, and we need to support Democratic candidate Josh King.

Josh King knows quite a bit about public service.

King is a U.S. Army Combat veteran that served two tours in Iraq, and currently serves Fairfax County as a Deputy Sheriff.

More on the reasons King is running, from a statement he sent us:
He is running because his oldest daughter and six other autistic students spent the past school year without a teacher. He volunteers his time to help his fellow veterans reintegrate and receive the benefits they have earned as the Peer Support Training Coordinator at the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office. Josh and his wife, Candi, are the proud parents of three children, Josclyn, Candis, and Joshua. They reside in the River Oaks Community in Woodbridge and attend Antioch Baptist Church.
The Prince William County Young Democrats did a Day of Action two weeks ago for King and other Democratic candidates, and we need to keep that momentum going and GOTV, so that voters show up to the polls on November 3rd.

Republicans have the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, and it’s races like this that can help elect key Democrats that can enact change on the state level, and eventually push us to a Democratic House majority.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sara Townsend: A woman with new ideas for the 31st district

The demographic makeup of Northern Virginia is changing. Statistics show that now one in every four people living in the Northern Virginia area is a transplant from another state or country.

Living in the United States – a representative democracy – would lead us to believe that the rich diversity we have in our area would be reflected in our legislature. But that isn’t the case. In the Virginia legislature, women and minorities are vastly underrepresented and while white men only make up 31% of the U.S. population, they account for 65% of all elected officials.

Take Virginia’s 31st House district for example. 

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, the Republican incumbent for the district, has been in the seat since 2002. That’s 13 years in his seat, while the demographics in parts of his district are rapidly changing. In fact, some precincts in the 31st are now actually majority-minority areas.

It’s time to shake things up a bit.

Sara Townsend, a former teacher and PhD student at George Mason University, has stepped up to challenge the status quo in the 31st, and serve as a female delegate in Richmond – something that is sorely lacking.

The Prince William County Young Democrats just held an event this past weekend to knock doors for Sara, as one of the few young female candidates running in this election cycle.

We chatted with Sara to get her thoughts on why it’s important for young people to run for elected office:

I never thought I would run for political office. I grew up in a non-partisan household where I was taught to vote for the person, not the party. Although I regularly voted in the past, it wasn't until I saw our legislative system at work that I knew I had to become involved and run for office.
As a middle school teacher and then as a PhD student, I've seen how much our state government has affected our educational system. This became even more apparent when I attended some committee hearings in Richmond this past session and saw first-hand the dysfunction of our government. Additionally, many of our legislators were older and male. Those are the perspectives that are being most heard in our government. 
That’s why I stepped up to run for office this year. Becoming a candidate is not for everyone, but unless younger people get involved in the political process we’ll continue electing the same people and perspectives into office, and politicians will continue to ignore young people.
I've knocked thousands of doors, and am pleasantly surprised at how many voters, especially older ones, are encouraged by having a younger person run for office. Trust me- people are ready for new voices and ideas in government! 
Whether it’s volunteering, donating, or some other engagement, I have witnessed the potential impact our generation can make on our community. If we don't get involved and take action, then we don't have a right to complain about the current political climate. 

If you’re in the 31st district, make sure that you vote – whether in person on November 3, or by absentee ballot. Sara Townsend is giving the district a real shot at getting an honest and hardworking young female into Virginia’s legislature, and she needs our support.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The fight for the 13th district

If you're reading this, then chances are you're either already a Democrat, or you have liberal Democratic values. 

And while your eyes may be glazing over from the sheer volume of phone calls, doorbell rings, Facebook ads and commercials you're seeing about the upcoming Election Day on November 3, let's take a minute to talk about the Virginia's 13th district in the House of Delegates.

The long time incumbent for the seat is Delegate Bob Marshall. 

While that name may not bear any meaning for you, let's take a look at some of what he's done in his time as delegate:
The list goes on and on. 

But with a figure in the House of Delegates so firmly planted in the Stone Age, it's imperative now more than ever before to go out and support the Democratic challenger for Marshall's seat - Don Shaw.

Don Shaw has been a big supporter of the Prince William County Young Democrats. As a candidate, he better represents the 13th district; he is an Army and Air Force veteran, his wife has worked hard under the Obama administration, he has a daughter with a disability, and a son in the LGBT community (who is also a member of our Young Democrats group). 

Here is a statement Shaw wrote for us about himself as a candidate:

I am  a candidate for House of Delegates, Dirstict 13th and Gainesville resident. Over the course of my career, I earned a Bachelors degree in Russian and Political Science, a Master of Public Administration degree from Troy University, and a Master of Science in Information Management from Syracuse University.   
I am running because I am passionate about good government and effective governance, and I believe we must hold our elected officials accountable to their constituents, not special interests or their own personal, ideological agendas. This county needs effective solutions to transportation, our veterans need to be taken care of and our schools need the funding and teachers our children deserve. 

The Prince William County Young Democrats will be hosting a Day of Action in Manassas on October 25 for Shaw (as well as Jill McCabe and Ryan Sawyers) and we need your help. 

This isn't just another political race. 

This is the chance to make a huge step towards progress and equality, and to elect a representative that cares for all of the people in the 13th district. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Welcome to our website

We are the Prince William County Young Democrats - welcome to our site! 

Our group is a gathering of engaged individuals that are young (or young at heart!) ages 18 to 35 in Prince William County, Virginia. 

We work with the Prince William Democratic Committee and Democratic candidates in the county, as well as the Virginia Young Democrats, to promote issues important to young people, help elect Democratic candidates, and have a lot of fun.

Why should I join?

We're currently looking for new members to join our group. There are a million reasons to join the Prince William County Young Democrats, but first and foremost - join us if you want to help change your community. 

In the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Being involved in our group allows you to meet like-minded individuals, political candidates and other community organization leaders. Whether it's a phone bank, or a happy hour at a local bar, the Prince William County Young Democrats group aims to make change and have fun!

Please follow us on our social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and check back for articles and information about upcoming meetings and events.