OPINION: Gillespie: Challenging Virginia’s Kids to Greatness

I had the opportunity this morning to attend the Superintendent’s Business Breakfast, sponsored by SPARK – “Supporting Partnerships and Resources for Kids” – which is the Prince William County School’s Education Foundation. As a member of the business community here in Prince William, as well as a mom of three girls, two of whom are currently attending Prince William County Public Schools (Kindergarten and First Grade), I am honored to serve on both the SPARK Board and to serve as Treasurer of the Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William Coalition. Smart Beginnings works to provide resources for kindergarten readiness and preschool education for children 0-5 years of age in Prince William, Virginia. The SPARK Board provides, among many things, innovative grants to PWCS schools for excellent programs like robotics and STEM/STEAM initiatives, using dollars received from partnerships with the business community, through advertising and other support.

As a mom, as a part of the business community in Virginia, and a member of these two education-focused boards, I appreciate Gillespie’s education plans for Virginia. His detail-specific proposals to improve the education system for all Virginians stand in stark contrast with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam’s assertion that children from different backgrounds should be held to different standards. I was appalled when I read that in The Washington Post. To limit a child’s potential because of their zip code or home life is unacceptable, and it does a disservice to the incredible children and educators in our community, including Hamish Brewer, an award-winning principal who is bringing national attention and recognition to our County for the way he has worked to transform both Occoquan Elementary and now Fred Lynn Middle School. Mr. Brewer tells his middle schoolers in a video featured on FreeThink (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKt9CslbVsg) that “we are not here to be average, we are here to be amazing.”
“Poverty is not a learning disability,” Brewer told the Washington Post in an article from July 2017. He believes (and so do I) that we have to move away from archaic notions in education and “show that any student can learn, regardless of circumstances.”

After four years in a leadership position in our Commonwealth, Mr. Northam still has no plan. He had no answers when asked about the broken Standards of Learning (SOL) system. It is, indeed, as the Post stated, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” When we expect more of our kids, when we challenge them to excel above their circumstances and achieve their potential, they see themselves in a different way, and they grow. We see that change reflected in the work that Hamish Brewer has done in Prince William, and in the way he expects the best from “his kids.” We, in turn, should expect more from our elected leaders.

Ed Gillespie’s plans to cut the achievement gap in half in ten years and advance school readiness for at-risk children will ensure that all Virginian children will be held to the same standard, because he knows they must be prepared for the same standard. Every child, including my three young daughters, will be better prepared for the demands of the 21st century under an Ed Gillespie governorship.

Jenniffer González-Colón, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Samaritan’s Purse: Helping a PR in Crisis

Jenniffer González-Colón is Puerto Rico’s sole Representative to the U.S. Congress, and she is a Republican. She was elected November 2016, and became the first woman ever to hold the office. According to her website, Ms. Gonzalez-Colón received the most votes (over 718,000) out of any elected official on the Island in the past election.

Ms. González-Colón has an impressive history, first entering public office at the age of 25 as a state Representative, and then becoming the youngest member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. During her second term, she became Chair of the Puerto Rico House Government Affairs Committee, and at 33, she became Speaker of the House.  Now, during Puerto Rico’s powerlessness, she has an opportunity to put those skills to work in bringing recovery to the island.

During the crisis of Hurricane Maria, Jenniffer has been working tirelessly to inform FEMA of the necessary resources that PR will require in order to rebuild.  Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is crumbling, and the island had just declared bankruptcy in July.  Gonzalez-Colon has an uphill battle ahead of her in working to provide Puerto Ricans with relief and support, but she has some powerful and influential Puerto Rican voices here in the U.S. who can work with her to help rebuild. One of them, Lin-Manuel Miranda, best known as the creator of “Hamilton: An American Musical” on Broadway, is feverishly working to raise funds through the Hispanic Federation, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded by Lin’s father, Luis A. Miranda, Jr.

Although there may be priorities of the Hispanic Federation that do not squarely line up with the Republican platform, this moment of crisis for Puerto Rico is not a moment for partisan squabbling. I look forward to see the efforts and achievements of Ms. Gonzalez-Colon on behalf of PR, and I also appreciate and applaud the efforts of Lin-Manuel using his popularity and platform to bring attention to the dire circumstances of Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico’s economic crisis was already underway before the hurricane hit, and now the population is suffering incredibly.

As for me, I will be donating to the first charity that hit the ground in Puerto Rico with necessary supplies and generators: Samaritan’s Purse, an organization founded by Billy Graham and currently run by his son Franklin Graham.  There are many, many organizations that are working to provide relief and help in Puerto Rico, and we should work to focus our attention on helping our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico during this crisis.

First Amendment Protects Kneeling In Church and On Football Field

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, 1789.

I disagree wholeheartedly with what Colin Kaepernick and other football and baseball players are doing when they kneel or sit during the anthem. It is a disrespectful act. However, I will unceasingly defend their right to do it, because that right is protected under our first amendment.

Colin Kaepernick has a first amendment right to kneel. In fact, we all have a first amendment right to protest the actions of our government. And as the party of small government, Republicans should not be supporting the involvement of our government in discouraging protest, or regulating protest in any way. We are the party of fewer regulations.

During the Reagan Administration, the Supreme Court determined that acts of protest are protected under the first amendment, so long as there is no breach of the peace or imminent threat of lawless action. SCOTUS held in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) that laws against burning or otherwise desecrating the American flag were invalid as unconstitutional.

The Court specifically said: “Recognizing that the right to differ is the centerpiece of our First Amendment freedoms, a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol.”

So what kinds of speech are not protected under the first amendment? Speech that breaches the peace, speech that incites “imminent lawless action,” according to the test from Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). The kind of speech and action that happened in Charlottesville, for example.

Do I agree with Colin’s actions? No. Would I ever kneel or refuse to acknowledge and honor our National Anthem and flag? No. But I will always defend his right to do it, to say it, to disagree. If we lose our ability to peacefully disagree, we lose a fundamental right upon which many of our other freedoms are based. Remember, the first amendment also protects peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

Justice William Brennan, who wrote the majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson, said this: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurrence to the majority opinion, agreeing with the reasoning that although the act of flag burning was an act of disrespect, it was still a protected expression under the First Amendment, no matter how distasteful it was to him.

“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result,” Kennedy said. “And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.”

Kennedy went on to say: “Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”

Kaepernick’s actions are disrespectful to the Anthem and the flag. They certainly do not rise to the level of flag burning. Conservatives who are outraged by his conduct would do well to consider the rights they are arguing against, as the same constitutional amendment that protects our kneeling in church on Sunday mornings is the same constitutional amendment that protects Kaepernick’s kneeling on the football field on Sunday afternoons.

Hurricane Relief: FEMA is outshined by business owners HEB, Mattress Mack

LinkedIn ran an article recently on how a local grocery chain, HEB, is bringing relief to areas hit by Hurricane Harvey much faster and much more efficiently than FEMA or other governmental disaster relief agencies can get there.

I am impressed and yet not surprised at the ingenuity and decisiveness of Scott McClelland, the president of HEB’s Houston Division, in selecting only the bestselling products to stock, in foregoing shipments of floral for shipments of water, and in generally giving very efficient and effective instruction to his suppliers to keep his stores running and helping the people of Houston. No governmental agency, no matter the dollars, can ever top the ability of the small (and even larger) business owners in a community to rally around their businesses and families to serve in times of crisis. Mattress Mack opening his store for displaced residents is another example:

FEMA, and many other government agencies, would be well served to look at the example of McClellan’s efficient decision making in crafting their policies for disaster responsiveness. The federal government is a slow behemoth when it comes to responding, and as has been shown by Mattress Mack and HEB, responses can be achieved much more quickly and decisively.