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Michael Lee Pope

Stories by Michael Lee

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Loan Sharks in the Water

Lawmakers crack down on predatory lending, although reform won’t happen for eight months.

The LoanMax on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria is open for business during the pandemic, and colorful signs in the windows announce in English and Spanish that the car-title lender remains open during a stay-at-home order — offering loans at 200 percent annual interest during a time when unemployment claims in Alexandria are skyrocketing. Those kinds of interest rates will be illegal under the Fairness in Lending Act, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last week after lawmakers signed off on some last-minute changes. But the ban on such high-interest lending won’t take effect until New Years Day 2021, which means high-interest lenders have eight months to engage in an unprecedented lending spree during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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Mounting Layoffs

Businesses notify state officials of 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia.

Businesses across Northern Virginia are flooding the Virginia Economic Commission with thousands of layoff notifications, an indication of how deep the region’s economic uncertainty is becoming as the COVID-19 crisis continues its devastating path. Since the beginning of March, the commission has received notification of about 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia. That’s more layoffs in one part of the state than all the other regions in Virginia combined.

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Banks to the Rescue

Small businesses wait for banks to get federal money from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Like many business owners across Northern Virginia, Cyrille Brenac is still waiting to hear back from his bank about his application to the Paycheck Protection Program. That’s the $350 billion program that was part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law designed to offer money to small businesses who can demonstrate they are keeping their employees. For Brenac, who lives in the Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington, the money would help him rehire about 50 employees of his two French restaurants he laid off when the economy abruptly shut down as the result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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Justice Delayed

When does a defendant no longer have the right to a speedy trial?

Judges across Northern Virginia are about to be presented with a difficult question: Does the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic trump a defendant’s right to a speedy trial?

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Are Hospitals in Northern Virginia Ready?

Projections show a critical lack of hospital beds and ICU beds.

Northern Virginia’s health care system could be overwhelmed by an influx of patients infected with the novel coronavirus, according to an assessment from the Harvard Global Health Institute. The projections show hospitals in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria could quickly fill their available beds with patients, forcing administrators to either expand capacity or make the kind of life-and-death decisions about care that Italy has been forced into by the crisis.

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Generational Divide

Senior conservative Democratic senators from Fairfax undermine labor agenda.

When Democrats won both chambers of the General Assembly in November, hopes were high that the new majorities in the House and Senate would move forward with a progressive agenda that had been rejected when Republicans were in power. Labor groups were particularly excited about the prospect of passing a $15 minimum wage, collective bargaining for public employees and a requirement that all employers offer five paid sick days. But the General Assembly session ended this week without fully accomplishing these goals.

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House Versus Senate

Conservative upper chamber undermines progressive House of Delegates.

Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly like to see themselves as adversaries. The real enemy, they like to say, is down the hall.

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Mapmaking Politics

Legislative Black Caucus leads effort to undermine redistricting amendment.

Virginia has a horrible history with racial gerrymandering. It started with the ratification of the Constitution, an effort led by Virginians who wanted to count slaves as three-fifths of a person so representation in the south wouldn’t suffer because so many of its inhabitants were non-voting enslaved people. It continued all the way to 2011, when the Republican leaders engaged in a scheme of packing black voters into House districts to dilute their influence elsewhere, a plan the United States Supreme Court later determined was unconstitutional. Now members of the Legislative Black Caucus are worried a proposed amendment might enshrine racial gerrymandering into the Virginia Constitution.

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Why a Regional Wage in Virginia?

Effort to raise minimum wage hits snag on Senate floor, leading to regional approach.

It’s shortly after 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) is working the Senate chamber to save the minimum wage increase. This particular Tuesday isn’t just any day of the week. It’s the final deadline for Senate bills to cross over to the House, so the pressure is building as the clock winds down. Senators are tired and cranky, and they will be working past midnight.

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Cracking Down on Predatory Student Lenders

Northern Virginia lawmakers hope to regulate student-loan servicing companies.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) have introduced a bill they call the Borrowers Bill of Rights, which would use the power of the State Corporation Commission to crack down on what they call the egregious practices of student loan servicing companies.

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Closing All the Loopholes

Democrats poised to impose new regulations on high-interest lenders.

The days of unregulated high-interest lending may be coming to a close in Virginia. Now that Democrats have seized control of the General Assembly, members of the Legislative Black Caucus say cracking down on predatory lending is one of their top priorities for the 2020 session.

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Opening the Floodgates

Northern Virginia Democrats struggle with power now that they have it.

When they were in the minority, Democrats were mostly united in their views about everything from gun control and reproductive rights to the Equal Rights Amendment. Now that they’ve seized power, though, members of the newly minted majority are hearing from opposite sides on everything from gerrymandering and labor rights.

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Republican Requiem

Democrats take General Assembly, sweep Fairfax School Board; Republicans hold Springfield.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Northern Virginia had its own breed of Republicanism. People like U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), U.S. Sen. John Warner and Del. Dave Albo (R-42). Now, after a series of stunning defeats since the election of Donald Trump to the White House, Northern Virginia Republicans are a dying breed, with moderates bowing out or being voted out.

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Generation Gap

Millennials and Gen X now outnumber older voters. So why do Baby Boomers dominate?

Millennials and Gen Xers now outnumber Baby Boomers and older voters in Virginia, according to data from the Census Bureau. But that doesn’t mean they have as much influence. Census numbers also show another trend: People over the age of 45 vote at much higher rates.

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Virginia Senate Minority Leader Faces Two Primary Challengers

Dick Saslaw hasn’t had a primary challenge since the 1970s; now he has two.

The last time Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw had a primary opponent, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts. This year, for the first time since 1979, Saslaw has primary opposition. Not just one opponent, but two.

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Boysko Wins Wexton Seat

Democrats enter the new year with a fresh victory and a full head of steam.

.Virginia’s 33rd state Senate District was once a solidly Republican seat, a place where conservative voters repeatedly rewarded Bill Mims for opposing same-sex marriage and championing homeschooling. But ever since Mims resigned to take a job in the McDonnell administration, the seat has been held by a succession of Democrats on their way to bigger and better things.

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Education Issues Take Center Stage

Constituents tell lawmakers to increase teacher pay; ERA, $15 minimum wage and more.

Teachers deserve a pay raise, and Virginia desperately needs to hire more school counselors. These were two of the most prevalent concerns voiced by constituents to members of the Fairfax County legislative delegation, the largest in the Virginia General Assembly.

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Democratic Insurgent Versus Republican Moderate

January special election to fill seat vacated by Jennifer Wexton features two familiar faces.

The first election of 2019 might end up being a harbinger of things to come for Republicans, who have seen their presence all but evaporate in Northern Virginia. It could also test the limits of the blue wave that washed over Virginia since Donald Trump was elected president.

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Democrats Seize Control of Northern Virginia

Region once had its own brand of Republicanism; now that seems almost extinct.

The loss of two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (D-10) means Republicans are down to one lone elected official in Northern Virginia, Del. Tim Hugo (R-40). The blue wave that started last year unseating Republicans like Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67) and Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) continued this year, when state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-10) was able to flip a seat that had been in Republican hands since a young military lawyer named Frank Wolf beat incumbent Democrat Joe Fisher back in 1980.

Senate Election is Blast from the Past

Kaine and Stewart both played key roles in 2016; now they’re at the top of the ballot this year.

Elections rarely get do-overs. Winners make victory speeches, and losers slink away to become consultants. But this year’s election for U.S. Senate features two key players in the 2016 presidential election that upended American politics.

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Virginia Voters Choose Firebrand

Corey Stewart to lead Republican ticket this fall.

Conservative firebrand Corey Stewart was denied an opportunity to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013. And then he came within striking distance of being the party’s standard-bearer in the gubernatorial campaign last year. Now, finally, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors has secured a spot at the top of the ticket, bringing his brand of anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate Trumpism to the race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

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Wexton to Take on Comstock

Moderate state senator did not get pulled to the left in primary.

State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33) made a name for herself in Northern Virginia as a tough-as-nails prosecutor, including one case that grabbed national headlines involving a woman who persuaded her boyfriend to kill her father with a samurai sword. During her campaign for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, she never lost that sense of law-and-order grit, refusing to be pulled to the left as other candidates were calling for President Trump to be impeached.

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Budget Brinkmanship in Virginia

Lawmakers poised to leave town without passing budget.

Budget showdowns are rare in Virginia, but not unprecedented. Back in 2004, Gov. Mark Warner clashed with Republicans over a sales tax increase. Then in 2014, Gov. Terry McAuliffe engaged in brinkmanship over expanding Medicaid. Now lawmakers are poised to end the session once again without passing a budget.

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Mixed Success on Menstrual Equity in Virginia

Increased availability behind bars, but no tax breaks during back-to-school week.

Several lawmakers from Northern Virginia arrived in Richmond this year hoping to push a cause known as menstrual equity — making sure that feminine hygiene products are affordable, safe and available. But success has been mixed.

Virginia Senate Might Torpedo Medicaid Expansion

Democrats still need to flip one more GOP senator to make it happen.

Usually it’s the state Senate that leads on progressive issues, and the House of Delegates kind of drags its feet. Not this year.

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Gun Debate on Lockdown in Virginia

Democrats unable to gain traction on reform, despite new numbers in House.

When lawmakers arrived in Richmond last month, Democrats were hopeful that they would be able to use their new numbers to gain some traction on the gun debate. Now that the session is half over and the nation is reeling from yet another mass shooting, very little of their agenda has been accomplished at the Capitol.

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View from Coffin Corner

Extreme position on House floor enjoys a storied history.

As a freshman delegate in 1978, Ken Plum was assigned a desk in the far corner on the Democratic side of the House of Delegates — seat 17. It wasn’t the best vantage point in the House because about a third of the Republican members were totally out of view. The senior members took the seats at the back of the chamber near the center, sticking Plum in the corner.

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Virginia Lawmakers Play Whack-A-Mole with Predatory Lenders

Senate panel takes action limiting one kind of high-interest loan, leaving loophole for another.

By this time next year, high-interest lenders may be prohibited from making consumer finance loans — at least ones they find profitable at 200 percent interest. So that loophole may be closed by the end of the General Assembly session. But it seems likely lawmakers will leave Richmond this year creating no restrictions on open-end lines of credit, raising concern among some that lawmakers are playing a game of whack-a-mole.

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Effort to Force Diversity at TJ School Fails

Lawmakers reject bill that would have required governor’s school to admit poor students.

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Naked Truth About Strip Searches at Traffic Stops

Northern Virginia Democrat advocates for strip searches to combat opioid crisis.

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Northern Virginia Lawmakers Push for Menstrual Equity

General Assembly to consider bills providing feminine hygiene products in schools and prisons.

For one Alexandria woman who was booked into the Fairfax County jail a few years ago, the stress of the criminal justice system wasn't just about prosecution and detention. It was also about shame. Deputies confiscated her underwear because it wasn't white, the only color inmates are allowed to wear at the Fairfax jail. So she started worrying about what would happen when she started menstruating.

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From Medicaid to Broadband, Northern Virginia Lawmakers Prepare for Raucous Session

Democrats plan to use new numbers to accomplish wide-ranging agenda.

This year’s General Assembly will be like no other. For starters, members walking the halls of the Capitol will look different. The crop of freshman includes the first transgender woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly, the first lesbian, the first Asian-American women and the first two Latinas. Gone are the 12 Republican members who were unseated, all white males. Also gone are the three members who got out before the bloodbath that flipped their seats from red to blue, also all white males. In their place is a diverse and young group of new members who are eager to make their mark on the commonwealth.

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Kathy Tran Takes Open Seat

First-time candidate swamps Republican to take seat held by longtime Del. Dave Albo (R-42).

Virginia’s first Asian-American female delegate will be representing a part of Northern Virginia that has seen a radical transformation during the time since its incumbent took office more than two decades ago. Democrat Kathy Tran swamped Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak with a runaway victory, 61 percent to 39 percent. She ended up with 7,000 more votes than the Republican in the GOP-held seat. Mancheno-Smoak’s appeal was limited to two precincts with $5 million homes.

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Northern Virginia Leads Blue Wave

Democrats sweep statewide races and come close to taking over House of Delegates.

Democrats swept all three statewide seats this week and picked up so many seats in the House of Delegates that control of the chamber is now in doubt. Voters rejected Republican arguments about sanctuary cities and Confederate memorials, divisive issues that had moderate Republicans trying to win over the most extreme elements of President Donald Trump’s coalition.

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Following the Money from High-Interest Lenders to Virginia Lawmakers

Campaign cash helps undermine efforts to create consumer protections.

Recent years have seen increased scrutiny of high-interest lenders, businesses that offer a variety of loans at interest rates that often exceed 300 percent. Now campaign finance disclosures show the industry is spreading its influence across the political spectrum with about $800,000 in political contributions this election cycle according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project.

On the Ballot

A look at statewide candidates and where they get their money.

Voters across Virginia will be headed to the polls Tuesday Nov. 7. Here’s a look at what’s on the ballot.

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Shifting Political Battlefield for Virginia General Assembly

Solid blue urban areas separated by political beltway from solid red exurbs.

Northern Virginia has more competitive seats than any other part of the commonwealth, a ring of districts that forms a beltway of sorts separating the inner solid blue in Arlington and Alexandria from the solid red in rural and exurban seats in Loudoun and Prince William. That puts Fairfax County squarely in the driver’s seat this November, when Democrats hope to pick up seats in an election that has balanced local issues like schools and roads with the ongoing reaction to President Donald Trump.

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House District 40 Shows Republicans Still Competitive in Clinton Districts

Democratic newcomer Donte Tanner faces uphill climb against incumbent Tim Hugo.

Democrats are energized, and they’re targeting Republican-held House districts that Hillary Clinton won last year. But House District 40 shows what an uphill climb this year will be for them.

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Senators Meet with Leaders of Industry

In joint appearance, Warner and Kaine talk business in Northern Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner says Gov. Terry McAuliffe should pick one region of the commonwealth to compete for landing a second Amazon headquarters in Virginia instead of trying to cheerlead for three different areas simultaneously. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner says the federal government should be allowed to negotiate drug prices through Medicare to bring down the cost of prescriptions. These are some of the revelations that Warner and Kaine dropped on industry leaders this week at a meeting of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

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A Tale of Two Immigrants

Candidates hoping to replace Dave Albo are both living the American Dream.

One is from Ecuador. The other is from Vietnam. Both are successful professional women hoping to fill the seat vacated by retiring Del. Dave Albo (R-42). But only one will prevail in November, creating one of the fiercest political contests on the ballot in Northern Virginia this year.

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Rorschach Politics

Candidates for governor present inkblots on everything from the economy to Confederate statues.

The campaign for governor is a bit like a Rorschach test as the candidates close in on the final stretch toward Election Day. Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie are presenting a series of inkblots to voters about everything from the health of the economy to the value of Confederate statues.

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Democratic-Endorsed School Board Candidate Wins

Keys-Gamarra overcomes Republican-advantage in low-turnout August.

Guardian ad litem and Fairfax County Planning Commission member Karen Keys-Gamarra swamped Republican Chris Grisafe and two other candidates in a special election this week, one that Democrats say is a sign of strength for their party heading into the fall.

Low-Turnout High-Stakes Special Election for School Board

Countywide at-large seat to be determined by Aug. 29 special election; early voting is underway.

Special Election for School Board

Low-Turnout High-Stakes Special Election for School Board

Countywide at-large seat to be determined by Aug. 29 special election; early voting is underway.

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Supreme Court of Virginia Sides with Car-Title Lenders

TitleMax, LoanMax and Fast Auto Loans will be able to keep details about their business secret.

How many cars did TitleMax repossess last year? What was the average loan amount for LoanMax? How many judgments did Fast Auto Loans obtain against people who were so hard up for cash that they handed over the title to their automobiles? That’s all information that these companies handed over to state regulators last year. But according to a new ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia, it’s also information that these companies can keep secret.

Virginia Republicans Play Establishment Card

Close primary campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor send GOP candidates to November ballot.

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Virginia Democrats Play the Long Game

Voters choose candidates who have been planning their campaign for years rather than upstarts newly energized against Trump.

Albo Retirement Prompts Hotly Contested Virginia House Race

Democrat Kathy Tran to face Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak.

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Three Republicans Vie for Virginia Lieutenant Governor Nomination

Two state senators and a delegate hope to snag bid to preside over Senate sessions.

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Three Democrats Vying for Virginia Lieutenant Governor

Two former prosecutors and veteran political operative on ballot.

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