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Not a Money Problem 

This ugly spectacle stains the image projected by the commonwealth to all those who visit Mr. Jefferson's historic Capitol.

Virginians have spent millions of dollars throughout the years maintaining the natural beauty of these grounds, now the potential scene of ruts and tire tracks on a rainy, muddy day. It is as arrogant, as self-indulgent, as elitist, as disrespectful to the values of Virginia as anything the General Assembly and its leadership has done in recent years. This ugly spectacle stains the image projected by the commonwealth to all those who visit Mr. Jefferson's historic Capitol, a scene playing out in full view of not only them, but right before the eyes of the governor, the lieutenant governor and the Warner cabinet.

Moreover, at the same time, despite pleas from the Richmond Free Press that "the people who are going to get hurt the most by the budget cuts — the poor" are being left to twist in the wind, our elected politicians have decided they must be allowed to spend tens of millions of new dollars on concrete to fix up the Capitol Square they are now abusing.

Some of us, who appreciate the temporary nature of the public trust given to each generation to preserve the heritage of our land and historic sites for our children and our children's children, have called upon the General Assembly to stop turning Mr. Jefferson's handiwork into a parking lot.

State law, specifically Section  2.2-1172 (B) of the Code of Virginia, provides that during "sessions of the General Assembly, parking in the Capitol Square shall be subject to rules and regulations adopted jointly by the Speaker of the House of Delegates and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules." Accordingly, Speaker William Howell, R-Fredricksburg, and Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee Sen. "Bo" Trumbo, R-Fincastle, have been asked to use their power to stop this shameful misuse of our historic State Capitol grounds.

Yet, neither such belated action, nor any amount of new building money alone is going to fix the real hole at the State Capitol, for there is a larger issue, a far larger issue at work. America and the World will soon mark the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown, an epic event in history. Our state Capitol grounds will be the center of attention for hundreds of thousands of tourists and the world's media.

Admittedly, Jefferson's Capitol, home to the oldest legislature in the New World, needs substantial maintenance. But no amount of construction money will fix the biggest eyesore: There is not a single statute in the Capitol Square featuring an African-American or female Virginian. The last new statute erected on the grounds was the likeness of former Gov. and Sen. Harry F. Byrd, the foremost segregationist in Virginia's political history. Harry and his Byrd machine ruled with an iron grip for half a century. He got his statue. But now, the time has come to put some balance in the scales of political justice. We can no longer turn our heads and pretend that we don't see.

Imagine: four centuries since Jamestown, the whole world watching and not a single statute on our Capitol grounds showing that we get it. There is no reason for our elected officials to allow us to be held-up to such international ridicule.

But sadly, in a state where the placing of the likeliness of Abe Lincoln and his son on federal land still creates a furor, the idea of finally erecting a statute in Capitol Square to honor the women and African-American heroes who helped build Virginia is apparently too controversial for our leaders to contemplate.

But the progress made on our land, since that first harsh winter at Jamestown, cannot be measured in bricks, mortar or the convenience of a new parking garage. The New World gave birth to a concept of individual freedom that electrified the minds of people everywhere.

It started in Virginia. It is our revolution. Lets make sure the whole world can see how much pride we take in those Virginians who sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, so much to force the conscience of society to acknowledge the truth in Mr. Jefferson's observation that all of us are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. S

© 2003. Paul Goldman. All Rights Reserved



Paul Goldman was chief political strategist for Warner and Wilder's winning campaigns.



Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly
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