Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Senator Mark Warner Visits Ashland, Virginia

I had a morning meeting today scheduled with Tom Wulf, president of the Ashland Main Street Association in Ashland, Virginia. Tom sent out a message yesterday that Senator Mark Warner would be in town, as he had a 12:45 speaking engagement at Randolph-Macon College (which is in the heart of Ashland). The Senator was going to be stopping by Ashland Coffee and Tea at noonish, which was also where Tom an I were having our 10:30 meeting. So I thought "Great, I'll meet with Tom, then hang around to meet the Senator."

As it is, reality is a little bit messier than plans for reality tend to be; so as it happened I was walking through town after my meeting with Tom, and I saw the Senator's entourage crossing the streets. I decided to play tag-a-long, and joined up with the group.

Senator Warner seemed to be genuinely enjoying his visit and getting away from the bustle in DC. He did a lot of meets and greets, did some shopping, presented a certificate to Cross Brothers grocery store in honor of their 100th anniversary, and made his way back to Ashland Coffee and Tea.

Cross Brothers Grocery. 100 years and counting. That's 1912 folks!

The Senator took a little time at the coffee shop to chat with folks and take a couple of questions. I don't pride myself on being a journalist, but I did take some notes; so to the best of my recollection, this is some of what was said:

He confided that he had never had a job before where he felt like he did more each week, but by the end of the week there was less tangible evidence for that work. "Do more and get less done" was how he put it.

His main concern was to address the deficit, which he said is tied to restoring confidence to Americans. At this point I don't recall if reducing the deficit is supposed to restore confidence, or that it will take restoring confidence to reduce the deficit. But in either case, they go hand in hand, and one feeds the other in a symbiotic kind of way. (My words, not his).

Interestingly, he said that over the past couple of years, Fortune 1000 companies have done quite well, and they are sitting on 2 Trillion dollars in their balance sheets. In order for things to re-invigorate, they need to re-invest that money.

Each day the deficit is not reduced, it costs Americans 4.5 billion dollars.

Federal spending is currently 25% of GDP, while taxes are only 15%. In order for the economy to be self sustaining, both numbers should be at 20%. (Or in any case, equal. In the past, 20% has been a stable number). As he put it, if you are spending a quarter, but only making 15 cents, you can't sustain that for very long.

Rosanne Shalf, local author of Ashland, Ashland: The Story of a Turn of the Century Railroad Town, inquired what had become of the Gang of Six.

Ashland, Ashland, by Rosanne Groat Shalf

Senator Warner joked that it was now the Hoard of Forty-Five, but was serious in saying that their work continues. As to whatever happened to the Supercommittee, the Senator expressed his frustration that there was not enough time and trust for it to survive. He indicated that it requires a great deal of courage and trust to make big political changes.

He also playfully indicated that Doctors were to blame for the deficit, but then put in the context of greater longevity. As he said "When I was a kid, there were sixteen workers for every recipient of Social Security. Now there are three".

Hanover County Democratic Committee (HDC) chairman Gordon Silver asked if it wasn't true that while the deficit is very large, the total assets of the United States were not magnitudes larger. He compared it to someone who might be paying a couple of thousand dollars for a mortgage loan, yet have hundreds of thousands in equity in their home. Senator Warner agreed that the U.S. has tremendous assets, but that does not relieve the 4.5 billion dollars daily that we are going into debt. As he put it "4.5 billion dollars a day is a lot of money. Even for Ashland".

He indicated that 80% of economic growth is from startup businesses, and that there is a world wide competition for ideas and talent. We have been decreasing infrastructure spending over the past 35 years.

I found the Senator to be warm, with an expressed affection for Ashland. His humor was not dismissive or insulting, and he had a poetic way of looking at things. In his words, everyone has to "give some skin" to "get our swagger back".

I'm sure in years to come I will count my meeting with him as one of life's highlights.


  1. Thanks for the post, Arthur. I think it's great that Sen. Warner not only paid a visit to the Center of the Universe, but he also presented a personal, leather-bound letter of congratulations to Cross Brothers in honor of their 100th anniversary!

  2. Tom, thanks for letting me know about it. I'm glad I was able to tag along and take notes.

  3. Cross Brothers is my favorite place to grab those last minute things when I am in the Ashland area. What history! This is one of my favorite "Haunts"
    when I am in the area.

    Dave Powers "The Magician"

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