Virginia’s lawmakers will descend on Richmond in the New Year, gathering to tackle some of the state’s biggest challenges like education and healthcare.
But for 10% of Virginians those challenges are starker, and steeper. Now one former lobbyist is hoping to call attention to parts of the state that he says, continually go unnoticed by lawmakers. Mallory Noe-Payne has more.
For decades, Augie Wallmeyer lobbied Virginia’s General Assembly for power companies. But since retiring, he’s decided to take up another cause: advocating for what he calls the “extremes” of Virginia.
“The areas that I’ve called the extremes include southwest Virginia, southside Virginia, and the Eastern Shore,” says Wallmeyer.
While those places are geographically remote, they’re removed from the rest of the state in other ways too.
“They’re areas where joblessness is very high, where healthcare is very poor, where incomes are about 59% of the average for the rest of the state," Wallmeyer explains. "They’re areas where the poverty rate is 67% higher than the rest of Virginia.”
Particularly disturbing -- the suicide rate is 19% higher than the rest of Virginia and opioid death rates are 56% higher.
Wallmeyer set out to gather data like that and pass it along. His audience? Virginia’s lawmakers.
“Maybe they had been to a music festival in Southside, maybe they had been to the Pork Festival, maybe they had been fishing on the Eastern Shore," Wallmeyer says. "But they really didn’t know these areas and hadn’t been there for any great period of time.”
In interviewing people in the “extremes,” he says the idea that lawmakers don’t know them resonated.
“They don’t think that Richmond understands them, understands their problems, and their aspirations, and their concerns.”
The "extremes" account for only 10% of the state’s population.
Even still, helping them out isn’t just important morally, says Wallmeyer, but also financially. He crunched the numbers, and if you live in a wealthy part of the state like Northern Virginia, more taxpayer money flows out per-person, than comes in.
“If you’re in Northern Virginia it’s in your financial best interest to do what you can to help the people who live in the extremes areas so they are less dependent on your tax dollars," Wallmeyer says. “It’s time for Virginia to recognize that these are systemic, long-term, deep-rooted problems. And that they need long-lasting solutions.”
Long lasting solutions like investing in workforce education through the community college system, and making sure state police are well funded enough to tackle the opioid crisis.
Wallmeyer doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, but he thinks there are people out there who do.
“From think tanks, non governmental organizations, global consulting firms. People who have experience with these types of problems in other places and have them come in and take a look at Virginia’s situation and propose some of these long lasting permanent solutions that we’re seeking," says Wallmeyer.
This legislative session Wallmeyer will be watching closely, to see if lawmakers are listening.
You can find more information on Augie Wallmeyer's book, 'The Extremes of Virginia' here.