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Gubernatorial candidates even in fundraising

Less than $150,000 separates Virginia’s two candidates for governor, according to campaign finance reports filed by Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and his Democratic challenger, Terry McAuliffe.

Based on the reports posted on the website of the Virginia Public Access Project, Cuccinelli ended the year with $1.2 million in his campaign war chest, while McAuliffe had a little more than $1 million.

The numbers take into consideration all money raised and spent from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2012. The candidates filed the reports Tuesday, and they were immediately posted by VPAP, a nonprofit organization that promotes public understanding of money’s role in Virginia politics.

Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the money race reflects the opinion polls: “Any polling that’s been done so far has shown the two candidates to be neck and neck, so I’d say that the race is very close.”

Skelley said money won’t be the only important factor in the race for governor. “I think a lot of what will affect this race is how national politics plays out,” he said. “Virginia has a long history of electing a governor of the opposite party of the party that controls the White House.”

Thomas Morris, president of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and the former secretary of education for Tim Kaine, said he would be surprised if one gubernatorial candidate pulled far ahead of the other in fundraising.

“McAuliffe obviously has the better-known reputation … He has been a fundraiser and head of the Democratic National Committee, so he’s had a lot of experience raising funds,” Morris said.

However, Morris believes the same goes for Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general.

“The Virginia Republican Party has no difficulty raising sufficient funds to support its nominee, as well. I expect both of them are going to be well financed by the time we get into the summer months when major expenditures begin to take place,” Morris said.

He sees one possible “wildcard” in the race for governor: if Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling were to run as an independent.

“That would be a major area of concern for Ken Cuccinelli,” Morris said. “If he (Bolling) were to run as an independent, that would change the dynamics, both in terms of the election and in terms of fundraising.”

Bolling raised about $750,000 toward a gubernatorial bid, but then decided not to seek the Republican nomination.

“I don’t know if Bolling could win, but he would certainly change the nature of the race,” Skelley said. “I think he would probably hurt Cuccinelli more.”

If Bolling opts not to run, he could give his money to legislative candidates he supports, Skelley said. “I doubt he’d give it to Cuccinnelli. He’s not a fan.”

— Katherine Johnson, Capital News Service

Survey from Students: No guns on campus

Eight out of 10 college students in Virginia are against allowing guns on campus, according to a statewide survey conducted by the advocacy group Virginia 21.

The organization, which represents young adults in Virginia, has been surveying college and university students about hot-button issues that might crop up during this year’s legislative session.

One such issue: whether guns should be permitted on campus. Some Second Amendment advocates say armed students could protect themselves against school shootings, such as the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Nearly 8,000 students took the Virginia 21 survey, and 83 percent of them said they do not want guns on school property, especially in dormitories. Seven percent of the respondents were unsure about the issue; the others supported the idea of letting guns on campus.

Tom Kramer, executive director for Virginia 21, said students’ main concern is dorm rooms.

“We don’t want guns in our dorm rooms. That’s one of the things we are most worried about. Could you imagine your roommate having a gun and you not knowing about it?” Kramer said.

At this point, no bills have been proposed in the 2013 General Assembly to allow guns on school property. However, such a proposal was filed this past year.

Kramer wants to make sure the measure doesn’t come up again. “If there is one, we are going to basically call all of our chapters up to kill the bill,” he said.

­— Steffanie Atkins, Capital News Service

Bills would let schools start before Labor Day

Lawmakers from across Virginia are pushing a half-dozen bills this legislative session to let public schools start classes before Labor Day.

Delegate Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, is among legislators sponsoring bills to repeal Virginia’s “King’s Dominion law,” which prevents local schools from opening before Labor Day unless they get special permission from the state.

Kory’s proposal, House Bill 1491, “makes local school boards responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening day of the school year.” Currently, school boards can start classes before Labor Day only if they show “good cause” (such as a history of snow-related school closings) and get a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

Kory, who has been a PTA leader in Northern Virginia and a member of the Fairfax County School Board, said schools should have the power to set their academic calendars.

“There are a lot of options and program decisions that school systems cannot take advantage of if they are forced to wait until after Labor Day to start their school year,” she said.

Schools must wait because of a law passed by the General Assembly in 1986. Nicknamed the “King’s Dominion law,” after the theme park in Hanover County, it was intended to help Virginia’s tourism industry.

Critics say the “King’s Dominion law” puts Virginia students at a disadvantage. For example, they might not have as much class time as students in other states to prepare for college entrance exams and other standardized tests.

There have been repeated attempts to repeal the current restrictions and give school boards the option of conducting classes before Labor Day. This past year, the General Assembly considered 13 bills to empower school divisions to choose their own opening dates – an idea backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell. However, none of the bills passed.

— Kristen Smith, Capital News Service

Voting bill fails on partisan vote in Senate

Democratic leaders are speaking out after a Republican-led Senate committee killed a bill that would allow for more convenient voting options, later hours at the polls and easier absentee voting.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, voted 8-5 to shelve the measure introduced by Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg.

Among other things, Senate Bill 1062 would have required the State Board of Elections to find ways to minimize the lines at polling places.

“This past November, Virginians waited up to five hours to vote at some polling locations across our state and that is completely unacceptable,” Herring said in a press release.

SB 1062 would have provided for polls to stay open until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Under current law, they close at 7 p.m.

The bill also would have authorized a pilot program to let U.S. military personnel abroad “vote absentee by secure electronic means or other new technologies.”

The eight Republicans on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee all voted to kill the proposal; the five Democrats on the panel all voted against that motion.

Steffanie Atkins, Capital News Service