Political commentary was never a consideration when Cobbledstones was born. The Old Cobbler figured there would be enough folks expressing their political opinions that someone else would cover whatever thoughts I might have. But events over the past week have made me wonder if some folks have maybe missed the point of what is happening here in Virginia.
One week ago, when Democratic Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced, for the second year in a row, that he was seeking a smoking ban in bars and restaurants across the Commonwealth, it could have been dismissed as another moment of political posturing except for the support he had from Republican House Speaker William J. Howell.
The idea of such a ban becoming reality in Virginia seemed as far fetched as the state of Massachusetts voting to sell Plymouth Rock for land development. No state in the union has had a longer and stronger tie to tobacco than Virginia. But a week after the governor’s announcement, as the majority of legislators seem to be stampeding to pass some version of a smoking ban while trampling dissenters underfoot, The Old Cobbler is beginning to suspect the issue is bigger than protecting non-smokers from second-hand smoke.
Let’s start with the venue that Governor Kaine picked to make his announcement. It was the Liberty Tavern in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. Like forty-nine other governors, he is watching with great anticipation as our federal lawmakers put together a care package that equals an average of 12-15 billion dollars per state.
But things will not be as simple as dividing the ultimate bottom line by fifty. Federal largesse does not work that way. The competition among states for those federal dollars will be as fierce as if SI swimsuit model Bar Refaeli announced that she was holding a national competition to find a new boyfriend.
So, why did Governor Kaine make his announcement in Arlington? Maybe he wanted to stand close enough to the White House to eliminate the can-you hear-me-now-question as he sent a message that he and Virginia supported in principle the new administration’s mantra of change.
What could be a more dramatic display of having the political backbone to bring about change than for the Virginia legislature to abandon a 400-year old love affair with tobacco? If the ban passes, will it make a difference in how much of the federal care package Virginia gets? That question will never be quantitatively answerable. At best, it will be fodder for political pundits to chew on. But one thing is a certainty. Passing a smoking ban certainly will not hurt Virginia in the eyes of Washington when it comes time to slice up the pie.