Warner addresses regional concerns
Published 6:35 pm Friday, September 1, 2023
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) spoke with a gathering of people Thursday, Aug. 24, at The Village at Woods Edge in Franklin about recent legislative developments in Washington, D.C., that can make a difference in the area, and he also addressed questions about the recent purchase of the Camp Parkway Commerce Center by a company headquartered in China.
The Legislative Reception with Warner was held by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce along with its partners, Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. and The Village at Woods Edge.
“Thank you for having me tonight,” Warner said to all those in attendance, noting that he wanted to give a quick report on “the good, the bad and the ugly” of what is happening in D.C.
POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES IN THE SENATE
Chamber President Marshall Rabil introduced Warner in part by highlighting his ability to work with members outside of his own political party to get things accomplished, and Warner affirmed those comments.
“I do take a lot of pride trying to be bipartisan,” he said. “I don’t think either political party has a monopoly on the truth, on patriotism, on the facts.”
Warner underscored the importance of being productive in any endeavor, including governing.
“I often cite the fact that I work in a place where, not the majority, but a whole bunch of men and women I work with, some of them have been there forever, can tell you what they’ve been against, but never what they’re for,” he said.
He made clear that he thinks it is fine for people to disagree with each other.
“But whether we hire people at the local level, state level or federal level, we need to hire people that can figure out how to get to ‘yes,’” he said. “I’ve got one or two more years before I make the crossover from being more a business guy than being a politician, but I always think, I’ve built public companies, I was a venture capitalist. If all I did in my business was run down the competition and never put out a good product, I wouldn’t be in business very long. And unfortunately, that is sometimes part of the politics of what we deal with.”
But he noted that in the U.S. Senate, the vast majority of senators actually get along and work together.
He acknowledged that the last seven or eight months have not been particularly productive, but he said that the preceding 12 months or so were quite the opposite.
“I think there are three things that Congress has passed that are now law that actually can make a real difference in Franklin-Southampton, greater Hampton Roads, the commonwealth,” he said. “The first is infrastructure.”
INFRASTRUCTURE — BROADBAND ACCESS
Warner said that it has been his perspective that in a 21st century world, Americans should be able to live wherever they want to live.
“You shouldn’t have to leave your hometown to find a good, quality job,” he said.
But he noted that leaders in the U.S. have not previously done a very good job of helping create the broadband connections necessary to make this a reality.
“So I’ve been an advocate for broadband connectivity, for wireless since I’ve been in politics,” he said.
He mentioned the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant that is helping bring universal coverage to Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, and he indicated that more money has since been designated to help expand broadband coverage.
“If we don’t get broadband to everybody then it’ll be a failure of execution, and you ought to hold anybody from local to state to all of us accountable on that,” he said.
BRINGING CHIP MANUFACTURING BACK TO THE U.S.
Warner explained that his role as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence means that he spends a lot of time looking at China and Russia.
“In China we have a competitor,” he said. “China is a great nation. My beef is not with the Chinese people. China is a competitor, much more than the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a military threat and an ideological threat.”
He noted that China is competing with the U.S. on the technological front.
“National security, going forward, yes, it’s armaments and planes and tanks and chips, but it’s also who wins the battle for (artificial intelligence) A.I., quantum computing,” he said.
He referenced semiconductors and the chips that go in smartphones and cars.
“We went from the 1990s where America basically ran the whole semiconductor industry for the world to the point where today in America, we don’t make any of the advanced chips in the world,” he said. “Everything we buy for our airplanes, our satellites, our submarines that’s really cutting edge comes from Taiwan. We went from 40% production down to about 9% production on traditional chips.
“So John Cornyn, Republican senator from Texas, and I put together a plan to put $52 billion dollars both in terms of education and supply chain but also to try to bring some of these chip manufacturing facilities back to America,” he continued. “And Virginia is actually pretty well positioned.”
He mentioned facilities currently present in Virginia.
“Making sure we bring that manufacturing and the (research and development) R&D back here is something that I’m absolutely focused on,” he said.
DRUG PRICING NEGOTIATION AND ENERGY TRANSITION
Warner noted that he is a proud capitalist and believes that if a business person takes a risk in this country, they have a right to do well by it. But he indicated that his perspective on drug pricing has evolved.
“I didn’t have this position 20 years ago, but about 10, 15 years ago, I finally said, ‘Enough is enough’ in terms of Americans paying two or three times more for our drugs than any industrial country in the world,” he said. “We basically pay for the R&D for the whole world, and I think it’s time that we do what the Canadians do and the British do and the Japanese do and try to negotiate on drug prices.”
He said that he has a daughter who is a type 1 diabetic and has been a diabetic for 21 years.
“We’ve seen the price of insulin go up 4X,” he said. “My family’s been able to pay for it, but I can’t imagine families that have to make the choice about whether they’re going to get insulin or not.
“And so we did, in this law, say we’re going to bring insulin down to $35 a month, and we’ve started to say there ought to be at least 10 other drugs that we’re going to start negotiating the price on.”
He said that the other half of the bill he just referenced is focused around energy transition. He also noted that he is a big believer that the U.S. needs “all of the above” in energy.
“We’re not going to get off of fossil fuels tomorrow, but we’ve also got to recognize the climate is changing,” he said. “I think about how much money the Navy spends each year just to raise the piers at shipyards just because the sea level increases. And this bill that is now a law, it’s been a law for a year, has already moved about a trillion dollars of investment over the last year in terms of a new energy push.
“And one of the areas that I’m really focused on that I think has got to be a big piece of this that I want Virginia to be a leader on and that is the reestablishment of using nuclear power in our country — in particular, small, modular nukes,” he said.
He indicated that this is not only an energy issue but candidly asserted that it is a national security issue as well.
“Russia and China are going out, trying to sign up countries to sign 50-year contracts for them to use small, modular nukes,” he said. “Nobody’s got them yet. We’re all still in development. We’re in the process of developing three in America. Russia and China are signing up countries, and if you become dependent on another nation for your energy sources as we were on the Middle East for a while, that is not a good sign.”
He said the U.S. has enormous nuclear capabilities.
Before opening up the Legislative Reception to questions, Warner briefly covered a couple other topics.
“We still have enormous challenges around health care,” he said. “There’s no single, silver-bullet solution. I do think we need to continue to use telehealth.”
Among his comments on health care, he said he has a plan to allow tax-free down payment assistance so that hospital workers and health care providers could actually live in the communities they serve.
HOW TO KEEP PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY ALIVE
Warner shared a key reflection he had after consuming polling information that has been revealed with regard to the people of Russia.
“The thing that is the most disturbing to me about Russia is that 60% to 65% of the Russian people, disproportionately the young people, don’t believe there is anything they can do in their life that will change the system,” he said. “So what they have decided to do is they basically want to completely opt out of politics.”
Then his thoughts turned to the U.S. and its people.
“And the thing that concerns me maybe the most in this country is when I run into Americans, they can disagree with me, that’s the way our system ought to work, but if they say, ‘Hey, I don’t do politics. I don’t care about government. I don’t care what any of you do,’ nothing would be more deadly to our participatory democracy than people opting out,” he said. “And if we’re all blessed enough to be in this beautiful setting, I don’t care what the politics are — please, this is a system worth fighting for, this is a system worth standing up for. And as long as we stay engaged, there is nothing that this country can’t overcome.”
He concluded his remarks at the Legislative Reception by saying, “I believe the brightest days for Franklin-Southampton County, for Virginia, for our country are in front of us. And we just need to take the kind of energy that’s here tonight and put it toward a positive use.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the reception, Warner addressed such topics as whether to buy a gas, electric or hybrid vehicle; whether or not there is the potential for a cut-off in food assistance for public schools in connection with a change to Title IX; and advice for young people who are interested in learning how government works.
CONCERNS RELATED TO THE CAMP PARKWAY SALE
Warner also addressed two questions that touched on the sale of the Camp Parkway Commerce Center in Southampton County.
Three parcels totaling 435 acres located along Camp Parkway and on either side of Delaware Road were sold for $11.4 million on June 27 by VOS LLC to Southampton Lance LLC, a Delaware company that was formed June 26.
FSEDI President and CEO Karl T. Heck previously explained that Southampton Lance is essentially a land company set up by Lecangs, which is a logistics company and also a subsidiary of Loctek Ergonomic Tech, a company that is listed on the Shanghai stock exchange and that is listed online as being headquartered in China.
Multiple Southampton County supervisors have expressed concerns about the Camp Parkway sale due to the power exerted by the Chinese Communist Party upon operations within China and the proximity of the Camp Parkway Commerce Center to Naval Station Norfolk, which is the world’s largest naval station.
At the Legislative Reception, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County Chief Walt Brown said, “How is it on the human intel side of the house that we can identify those surrogates that are fronting for communist countries to come into this country via property etc.? Because we don’t know. We don’t know who the surrogates are until it’s too late.”
“Great question,” Warner replied. “And we have gotten better.”
He later added, “We’re actually taking certain states and trying to prohibit Chinese real estate purchases, particularly around military bases. Virginia’s taking some steps in that way, and I support them.”
He did encourage care, though, in maintaining important distinctions.
“I’m against the Communist Party, I’m not against the Chinese people,” he said.
Warner also noted that there are no rules in the U.S. on how it deals with foreign technology from countries like China and Russia.
“I know this will make our high school students probably mad at me, but I think there’s a national security risk with TikTok,” he said. “Not only the fact that they are sweeping up huge amounts of information, but we’ve got 150 million Americans on average spending 90 minutes a day on TikTok, and if you’re talking about a disinformation channel, they haven’t done it yet, but if any point they want to suddenly say Taiwan’s part of China or Putin’s right in Ukraine, the CCP can do that. So I think we just need to be much more wide-eyed.”
Next, an individual attending the Legislative Reception also addressed the Camp Parkway purchase when he said that people in the area were very concerned about it for multiple reasons and wanted to hear from Warner about what he might see as a possibility of curbing that kind of acquisition.
Warner said, “Actually, there is a specific answer on this. In the defense bill … there is a provision in there that prohibits Chinese acquisition of real estate. Now it’s got to pass the House, and it’s got to become law, and there needs to be due process. I don’t know if you can go back and unwind all of these. Are you going to go unwind the Smithfield transaction of eight or nine years ago?”
He said the bill he referenced will hopefully become law in about a month or so.
Warner also addressed other inequalities about the U.S.-China relationship.
“We have no ability to buy land in China,” he said, also noting that Google, for example, has no ability to be in China. “So at least we ought to have equality of treatment, and we don’t have that at this point.”
He also shared his significant disappointment with U.S. business leaders who have not been engaged when invited to sit down with the CIA, Cybersecurity and the FBI in a classified setting and hear about China.
“At first, pre-COVID, we got a lot of eyerolls,” he said. “And even as recently as a few months ago, I had a Fortune 50 CEO say, ‘Senator, you can’t really believe (Chinese President) Xi Jinping is going to take on Taiwan.’ And I go, ‘What world do you live in?’ And frankly, in a lot of ways, American business has not wanted to hear the story.
“Matter of fact — and I’d take my capitalism credentials anywhere — American private equity pre-COVID would not even meet with us to hear the story on China,” he said. “Because why? Because they were making so much money on Chinese investments.
“So we need to worry about the real estate, but we also need to call on American businesses not just to take advantage of our system and then say they’re going to turn a blind eye with it when they make investments in China,” he added. “It needs to go both ways.”
HOW TO HANDLE HOUSING PAYMENTS
Ward 3 Franklin City Councilman Dr. Linwood Johnson noted that measures taken to relieve individuals from having to make payments on mortgages and rental payments during the COVID-19 pandemic have since been lifted.
“What exactly do you see us doing with that?” Johnson asked Warner.
Warner said, “We had COVID, it was an extraordinary thing, but you’ve got to pay your bills. Now maybe there ought to be a time to phase back in, but if we look at all the money under Trump and under Biden that we spent with COVID relief and then these laws I talked about, about $6 trillion, $7 trillion, a lot of money, and most of it I’d vote for again, candidly, because we didn’t know where the end was.”
He noted that a lot of aid was given to small businesses.
“But the place we didn’t do anything on was housing, and we need the renewal of a new market tax credit, we need a renewal of a low-income tax credit, we need the historic tax credit, we also need, I think, ideas like I’ve got about incenting employers to give down-payment assistance that we can make a tax advantage,” he said.
“I actually think we need two other quick things on housing,” he added. “There’s a neighborhood assistance tax credit that Republicans started that I think we need to make law that would basically incent the revitalization of deteriorated housing.”
He also said the notion of manufactured housing has to be in the mix — smaller, manufactured housing.