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The Washington Post, 14 November 1999
Man of Old Virginia In Line to Lead House
By Craig Timberg
AMHERST, Va. -- The red-brick downtown here still has an appliance store and a neighborhood pharmacy. People leave their doors unlocked. And the parking meters on Main Street don't take quarters because a dime buys the maximum of two hours. Twelve minutes costs a penny.
It is from this town of 2,200, steeped in nostalgia and the values of a bygone era, that Virginia Republicans today plan to pluck their first-ever speaker of the House, Del. S. Vance Wilkins Jr., to lead them -- and the state -- into the future.
Wilkins, a self-described "country boy" with a hard-to-miss gap between his front teeth, is as unpolished as he is revered by his fellow Republicans for three decades of tenacious work building the party. But even his friends note the irony: The party he is credited with building completed its rise to power this month by winning elections in fast-growing, bustling suburban areas such as Northern Virginia, far removed from small, rural towns like this one, Wilkins's home for all but six of his 63 years.
The future Wilkins has been working toward throughout his public life would be, he said, much like the past he knew here in Central Virginia as a child. It was a place where he walked to school and worked as a paper boy, a place where neighbors relied on themselves and one another, not the government, to better their lives.
"It was like I'd like it to be again," Wilkins said. "Almost never locked the door; sometimes we hooked the screen. I went to town myself when I was six years old. Nobody thought anything of it. If I misbehaved, somebody would paddle my butt and send me home."
He added, "We've lost something, I can tell you."
The speakership is regarded by many as the second-most powerful job in Virginia state government, behind only the governorship. The speaker appoints delegates to committees, selects chairmen and routes bills through the labyrinth of lawmaking in Richmond. With each of those powers, Wilkins would be able to shape the agenda of the legislature and the state, helping some bills to become laws while consigning others to a quiet death.
Republicans said they are planning to nominate Wilkins today at their first caucus meeting since gaining a majority in the House of Delegates this month.
Some Democrats see this as the first good news they've had since the election. They hope that Wilkins's sharply conservative views and blunt talk will give them an ideal target, much as national Democrats made gains at the expense of Newt Gingrich when he rose to be speaker in a newly Republican Congress in 1995.
"The citizens of the commonwealth, especially the citizens of Northern Virginia, are going to be in for a shock when they realize who's in power," said Rodney Taylor, a Democratic activist from Amherst. "His ideology is certainly a throwback. But you have to remember that 25 years ago, he was saying more conservative things than anyone in Virginia. The commonwealth has come to him."
Wilkins pledges to be a fair and impartial speaker, and though Democrats have their doubts after decades of battling him, Republicans say Wilkins will be a pleasant surprise--smart and humble, ideological without being unreasonable.
On issues, Wilkins is stubbornly conservative. He favors paddling students who misbehave in school and opposes seat belt laws. He favors widespread government testing for the virus that causes AIDS and opposes borrowing money to build roads or transit systems. He opposes abortion--making an exception only to save the life of the mother, not in cases of rape or incest. And he vehemently opposes most forms of gun control and most ideas for restricting suburban growth, calling them an infringement on personal liberty.
On none of those issues is he likely to find agreement with most Republicans from Northern Virginia or the other suburbs that helped to bring his party to power.
But Republican lawmakers--many of whom Wilkins personally recruited to run for office--say Wilkins understands the urgency of not alienating the party's core of suburban voters, who care passionately about schools and easing traffic problems and are wary of aggressively conservative social agendas.
Last week, Wilkins disputed the suggestion that he would have trouble understanding suburban issues. "I realize the speaker's job is different than the delegate from Amherst's job," he said. "You have to change your perspective as you go into different jobs."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 29 November 1999
The Morning Mail
Cartoon didn't show what Catholic schools are about
From Journal Sentinel readers
A guest editorial cartoon on Nov. 22 that showed a nun striking a student and a caption concerning the lack of violence in parochial schools was very upsetting.
I have been a teacher in a Catholic school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese for 28 years. I attended a Catholic grade school, high school and colleges. In all those years, I can recall only one instance in which a nun struck a student.
This stereotype gives the wrong impression of our schools. What about the switches that were used by many teachers in public schools for many years?
Since 1988, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has had a very clear policy regarding corporal punishment. It states: "Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical punishment for an offense. School employees shall not administer, or provide support for, corporal punishment. This attitude that corporal punishment shall never be used follows naturally from belief in the worth and dignity of each individual and our belief in the school as a faith community where a climate of Christian love, mutual understanding, respect and trust prevail."
Maybe this is the reason our Catholic schools do not have the violence that currently seems to touch some public schools. I am not saying there is no violence in Catholic schools. There are hurtful words, angry actions and a lack of consideration, but there is also an environment of faith and Christian love that promotes respect and trust.
None of us is perfect. But each day as we pray and struggle with the violence of our world, we remember that Jesus is with us through it all.
Mary Cay Muckerheide
Don't treat violence with more violence
Chip Bok's cartoon saddened me (The Morning Mail, Nov. 22). Will nuns ever be able to shake the image of the ruler-brandishing palm-thwacker?
The message intended, of course, was that a good dose of parochial school discipline might be a deterrent to gun-toting students. A back-handed compliment, indeed. The irony of the cartoon is that violence is being met with violence.
The solution to school shootings is long-range and complex. It certainly does not lie in corporal punishment from nuns or anyone else. Children need caring, concern - and sometimes tough love - from little on up.
Sister Francele Sherburne
Discipline just what public schools need
The cartoon captioned "Why we haven't seen violence in parochial schools" by Chip Bok spoke volumes. The image of "Sister Mary Agony" and her ever-present ruler brought back many memories, all of them positive.
I wasn't afraid to go to school because I knew I was safe; Sister would see to that. Even Tommy, the 6-foot-tall eighth-grade quarterback, wouldn't act up in school; Sister wouldn't allow it. It was called discipline, and discipline demanded respect.
It worked then and would work now, if the "children first" advocates would remember that teaching discipline isn't a negative thing; it engenders respect. And respectful children aren't violent.
Could a little discipline be the cost-effective cure to much of the turmoil in today's public schools?
Roberta K. Owens
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