Tonight, Major League Baseball holds its annual all-star game, pitting the best players from the American League against the best players from the National League. In the same spirit, we pause to recognize those who have starred in our community this year. On Monday, we named an all-star team of state legislators. Today, we recognize an all-star team of those who aren’t state legislators — some aren’t even politicians.
1. Gov. Ralph Northam. This will be our most controversial selection, so let’s deal with him first. His handling of the “blackface” scandal —whether that was him in the yearbook photo or not — was definitely a major league error. But not every baseball All-Star is a Gold Glover. Northam used his leverage to force the General Assembly to do something it’s only talked about for several decades — create a funding stream for I-81 improvements. That was an All-Star performance right there alone, errors notwithstanding.
2. Attorney General Mark Herring. Like Northam, Herring had a big error of his own. But he also scored some major hits. He won two big cases before the U.S. Supreme Court —one that upholds a reversal of a Republican-backed redistricting plan, the other that preserves the state’s right to ban uranium mining. For an attorney general, those are back-to-back grand slams.
3. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. We’ll say the same thing we did last year: As the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has been at the center of the Senate’s investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections — deserves credit for staying calm and doggedly pursuing the facts while others have raced to the nearest television camera to score political points. This is the kind of detail work that Warner was famous for as governor nearly two decades ago. This rarely wins headlines, but it does merit All-Star recognition.
4. U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen. President Trump has been under fire for not speaking out strongly enough for the rising number of domestic terrorism cases involving white supremacists. That hasn’t been the case with his appointee as chief prosecutor in western Virginia, who has been quite loud and clear on the subject. He’s made a national name for himself in the process. Earlier this year, he authored an op-ed in The New York Times in which he warned that “white supremacy and far-right extremism are among the greatest domestic-security threats facing the United States.” If Trump could summon up the courage to speak out against hate crimes the way his top federal prosecutor in this part of Virginia has, then the manifesto writer in New Zealand sure wouldn’t be citing Trump as an inspiration for mass murder.
5. Chris Tuck, Montgomery County supervisor. He’s retiring after two terms but his impact will be felt for years to come. Tuck, a Republican, has successfully pushed the divided Montgomery board to resolve two festering issues — what to do about the properties it owned in Blacksburg for the former Blacksburg High School and the old Blacksburg Middle School. He also has given voice to an intriguing idea that will take generations to accomplish – uniting all the trails from Galax to Botetourt County into a single greenway system. If that happens, generations hence will be in his debt.
6. Heywood Fralin, Roanoke businessman. His family last year gave $50 million to Virginia Tech to be used to attract top-ranked scientists to what was promptly re-named the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the research part of the Virginia Tech Carilion Academic Health Center — more commonly just called “the medical school.” It’s hard to underestimate the potential there; that’s effectively Roanoke’s Amazon. Fralin has done more than write checks, though. He’s been a champion for Virginia Western Community College, as well — particularly its campaign to raise $15 million for its educational foundation. This is big-picture stuff: The economy is demanding more workers with something more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a full four-year degree. That means we need to get a lot more students into community college, yet state support is declining, which makes it more difficult for some students to afford even a community college tuition. The future will belong to communities that can figure out how to fix that problem. The fund-raising drive that Fralin is heading may be one of the most important economic development initiatives underway in the Roanoke Valley.
7. Stephen Moret, president, Virginia Economic Development Partnership. He had barely arrived on the job — tasked with revamping an agency beset by scandal — when Amazon announced it was looking for a place to put a second headquarters. This may have been the biggest economic development sweepstakes in history, and at its outset, Virginia seemed poorly-positioned to win. The state did not have a history of offering the eye-popping incentives other states would, plus the most likely location, Northern Virginia, is kind of pricey. Yet look what happened. Moret crafted a bid that played down incentives and instead played up Virginia’s ability to create a pipeline of tech-savvy workers. Which brings us to . . .
8. Tim Sands, Virginia Tech president. Tech has been eyeing a new campus in Northern Virginia ever since Sands arrived four years ago. The commonwealth’s Amazon bid moved that off the drawing board into a key part of Virginia’s winning bid. “I’m personally confident we would not have won without [Tech’s] contribution,” Moret says. “It would be difficult to overstate their contribution to the project.” The Seattle Times, which knows a thing or two about Amazon, agrees. It said the new Tech campus was what put Virginia over the top.
9. Lora Callahan, dark sky advocate. Our final All-Star is neither a politician nor a public figure. Instead, she’s a Girl Scout — and a recent graduate of Brookville High School in Campbell County. For the past four years, she’s worked at turning James River State Park in Buckingham County into an official “dark sky park” — an internationally-recognized status for places with a clear view of the night sky. This started as a Girl Scout project when she was a freshman and involved years of working with park staffers to install new lighting and fill out reams of paperwork. This year, the International Dark-Sky Association officially announced James River as one of 66 dark sky parks in the world. It wouldn’t have happened with Callahan, who this fall enters Virginia Tech as an environmental sciences major. In her case, the “star” part of All-Star means the real thing.