For lawmakers, no clean slate on war memorial
RICHMOND, Va. — As deadlocked Virginia lawmakers go toe-to-toe in an epic budget battle that threatens to shut down the state government, they will wrangle over a smorgasbord of issues large and small.
The biggest and most contentious of those - expanding Medicaid health care coverage - will consume much of the oxygen in the room. But plenty more squabbles will be on the table.
For example, the dozen or so senior lawmakers charged with hashing out a new two-year state spending plan must try to resolve a spat over how to honor Virginia's war dead.
How did that happen? It's a long story - about five years and counting.
The names of nearly 12,000 Virginians killed in conflicts from World War II through the 1991 Persian Gulf War are engraved in glass and marble at the Virginia War Memorial on a hillside above the James River in Richmond.
About 300 Virginians have died on the battlefields of the "war on terror" since then, but none of those names has been added - even though there's a large blank slab of marble with plenty of room.
A Newport News man, Rick Schumann, has been lobbying since 2009 to get those veterans' names on the monument. His son, Marine Lance Cpl. Darrell Schumann, was one of them, killed in a helicopter crash in the Iraq desert in 2005.
Since 2010, Schumann's state senator, Democrat John Miller, has been carrying legislation to get the names inscribed on the wall, to no avail. As the state Senate cobbled together its version of the 2014-16 budget Thursday, Miller's frustration boiled over.
"Nothing has been done. And I don't know what else to do," he said in a floor speech.
Darrell Schumann and the other Virginia "war on terror" casualties are honored in a temporary indoor exhibit consisting of printed placards with photographs at the memorial.
But that exhibit is "in a room which is locked at night in the basement," Miller said, fuming. When he visited the memorial last summer, he said, "it was closed. The lights were off.... It was filled with tables and chairs and it looked like a break room."
The memorial board plans to replace the temporary exhibit with a permanent display as part of a $17.6 million expansion funded by the legislature last year.
But "there is space at the shrine today," Miller said. "There is a section of wall, Mr. President, that's as big as this Senate wall.
"The war memorial folks say 'wait a few more years' until another wall is opened.
"That is wrong. That is unacceptable.... These families should not have to wait any longer."
The Senate agreed, adopting a budget amendment offered by Miller directing that the "war on terror" names be engraved on the current shrine by Dec. 31.
The amendment drew support from Sen. Dick Black, a Loudoun County Republican awarded a Purple Heart for his military service and a member of the memorial board.
But the directive might not survive the coming wrangling with House budget writers.
One of the House negotiators, Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico County, also sits on the memorial board. He said Friday he is committed to the planned separate memorial and will oppose Miller's amendment in the budget talks.
"I applaud his advocacy," O'Bannon said. "But I don't think it's necessary."