The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, June 17, 2005

Democratic hopefuls lay out their agenda; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Two members of Virginia’s 2005 Democratic ticket laid out part of their visions for port security and economic development on Thursday.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, the party’s nominee for attorney general, told reporters on a conference call that security for Virginia’s ports would be a top priority during his tenure in office.

In particular, Deeds said he would set up a “Port Security Working Group” to lobby Congress for Virginia’s “fair share” of homeland security funding, to help pay for such things as advanced X-ray equipment to screen incoming cargo.

“Hampton Roads is home to the largest intermodal port facility on the East Coast, as well as strategic U.S. military installations,” Deeds said.

Billions of dollars worth of products move through the port each year, but the ports don’t have the kind of equipment they need to ensure that terrorists cannot attack the sites. A “dirty bomb” or other attack that puts the ports out of business even temporarily would be disastrous.

“Yet we don’t have the state-of-the-art, mobile X-ray container equipment other ports do and we don’t receive enough federal funds to meet the federal security mandates,” he said.

Port security is an area of federal responsibility, he said, and Virginia has to work harder to get more money from the government to protect its intermodal transit facilities.

And if the federal government doesn’t come through, taxpayers in the commonwealth may be asked to pick up the tab, he said.

“I’m not certain how much money we’re looking at,” Deeds said. “But I can tell you this, that public safety and security will be my top priority.”

The Virginia Port Authority, which owns ports in Hampton Roads and the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, has “done a good job” with the federal money they’ve received, and 2 to 3 percent of cargo coming in is screened, Deeds said.

But “it strikes me that the maritime industry is the only industry in Virginia and the country that’s been forced to subsidize [their own] homeland security,” he said. “It’s not being passed on to the railroad companies, it’s not being passed on to the trucking companies.”

Deeds’ opponent in November, Del. Bob McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach, has said he’d support turning the Secure Virginia Panel, created by former Gov. Jim Gilmore in response to Sept. 11, 2001, into a permanent body backed by legislation.

The Republican has also said he’d hand out federal homeland security money in the commonwealth based on the threat faced by potential targets, not their vulnerability, as much as would be allowed by Virginia law.

Meanwhile, the man on the top of the Democratic ticket, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, was busy laying out his plans for supporting economic growth through tourism.

Virginia’s state parks and Civil War battlefields should be promoted as destinations for those visiting Virginia, along with destinations for the arts, Kaine said on a separate conference call.

Kaine said he supports funding for artistic attractions like the Richmond’s Performing Arts Center, the Wolf Trap Center in Northern Virginia, Roanoke’s Center in the Square and the Shenandoah Shakespeare Company in Staunton.