The Commonwealth of Virginia is an American state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. The state is named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the 'Virgin Queen' because she never married. The state is also known as the "Old Dominion" and sometimes "Mother of Presidents", because it is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents. The state is geographically shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. The capital of the commonwealth is Richmond, Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision.
The roots of modern Virginia trace back to the founding of the Virginia Colony in 1607 by the Virginia Company of London as the first permanent New World English colony. Slavery played significant roles in Virginia's early economy and politics. Virginia became one of the thirteen colonies in the American Revolution and subsequently joined the Confederacy in the American Civil War. Although traditionally conservative and historically part of the South, modern Virginia is a politically competitive state for both major national parties.
Virginia has an economy with several sectors, including agricultural production, military bases in Hampton Roads, and federal agencies, such as The Pentagon, in Northern Virginia. The Historic Triangle includes the popular heritage tourism destinations of Jamestown, Yorktown and the living museum of Colonial Williamsburg. The growth of the technology sector has made computer chips the state's leading export, with the industry based on the strength of Virginia's public schools and universities. Areas where the state has lagged behind include health care and environmental protection.
Virginia has an area of making it the thirty-fifth largest state. Virginia is bordered by Maryland and the District of Columbia to the north and east; the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south; by Kentucky to the west and by West Virginia to the north and west. Due to a peculiarity of Virginia's original charter, its boundary with Maryland does not extend past the low-water mark of the southern shore of the Potomac River, meaning Maryland and the District of Columbia contain the whole width of the river rather than splitting it between them and Virginia. The southern border is defined as the 36°30' parallel north, though surveyor error has led to historic deviations.
The Chesapeake Bay separates most of the contiguous portion of the Commonwealth from the two-county peninsula of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Many of Virginia's rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay, including the Potomac, Rappahannock, James, and York. Geographically and geologically, Virginia is divided into five regions from east to west: Tidewater, Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateau.
The Tidewater is a coastal plain between the Atlantic coast and the fall line. It includes the Eastern Shore and major estuaries which enter the Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont are a series of sedimentary and igneous rock-based foothills east of the mountains which were formed in the Mesozoic. The region includes the Southwest Mountains. The Blue Ridge are a physiographic province of the chain of Appalachian Mountains. The mountains are the highest points in the state, including Mount Rogers at . The Ridge and Valley region is west of the mountains, and includes the Great Appalachian Valley. The region is carbonate rock based, and includes Massanutten Mountain. The Appalachian Plateau is a region in the south-west corner of Virginia, below the Allegheny Plateau. In this region rivers flow northwest, with a dendritic drainage system, into the Ohio River basin.
The Virginia seismic zone has not had a history of regular activity. Earthquakes are rarely above 4.5 on the Richter magnitude scale because Virginia is located centrally on the North American Plate. The largest earthquake, at , was in 1897 in Blacksburg. Besides coal, resources such as slate, kyanite, and sand and gravel are mined, with an annual value over $2 billion.
Most of the state east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley, has a humid subtropical climate. In the mountainous areas west of the Blue Ridge, the climate becomes humid continental. The moderating influence of the ocean from the east, powered by the Gulf Stream, also creates the potential for hurricanes near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, making the coastal area vulnerable. Although Hurricane Gaston in 2004 inundated Richmond, hurricanes rarely threaten communities far inland.
Thunderstorms are a regular occurrence, and the state averages thirty-five to forty-five days of thunderstorm activity annually. Additionally, the western part of the state experiences more thunderstorms. The state averages eighty-five tornadoes per year, though most are F2 and lower on the Fujita scale. Cold air masses arriving over the mountains, especially in winter, can lead to significant snowfalls in those regions, such as the Blizzard of 1996. The interaction of these elements with the state's topography creates distinct micro-climates in the Shenandoah Valley, the mountainous southwest, and the coastal plains.
In recent years, the expansion of the southern suburbs of Washington into Northern Virginia has created an urban heat island due to the increased energy output of more densely used areas. In the American Lung Association's 2008 report, two counties received failing grades for air quality, with Fairfax County having the worst in the state due to automobile pollution. Coal supplies half of the state's electricity, with another third from two nuclear power plants.
Mammals include white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, bobcat, raccoon, skunk, opossum, groundhog, gray fox, and eastern cottontail rabbit. Though unsubstantiated, there have been some reported sightings of mountain lion in areas of the state. Birds include Virginia cardinal, barred owls, Carolina chickadees, Red-tailed Hawks, and wild turkeys. The Peregrine Falcon was reintroduced into Shenandoah National Park in the mid-1990s. Freshwater fish include brook trout, longnose and blacknose dace, and the bluehead chub.. Running brooks with rocky bottoms are often inhabited by a plentiful amount of crayfish. The Chesapeake Bay is home to many species, including blue crabs, clams, oysters, and rockfish, also known as striped bass.
Virginia has many National Park Service units, including one national park, the Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive. Almost forty percent of the park's area (79,579 acres/322 km²) has been designated as Wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Other parks in Virginia, such as Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest Park, are included in the many areas in the National Park System. Additionally, there are thirty-four Virginia state parks, run by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Forestry. The Chesapeake Bay, while not a national park, is protected by both state and federal legislation, and the jointly run Chesapeake Bay Program which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is protected by both Virginia and North Carolina.
Jamestown 2007 marked Virginia's quadricentennial year, celebrating four hundred years since the establishment of the Jamestown Colony. Over the centuries Virginia has been at the front of warfare from the American Revolution and the Civil War to the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. The far-reaching social changes of the mid- to late-20th century were expressed by broad-based celebrations marking contributions of three cultures to the state: Native American, European and African.
In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to explore and plant a colony north of Florida. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh explored the Atlantic coast of North America. Raleigh, or possibly the Queen herself, named the area "Virginia" after Queen Elizabeth, known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married. The name eventually applied to the whole coast from South Carolina to Maine, and included Bermuda. The London Virginia Company was incorporated as a joint stock company by the proprietary Charter of 1606, which granted land rights to this area. The Company financed the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Jamestown, named for King James I, was founded on May 13, 1607 by Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith. In 1609 many colonists died during the "starving time" after the loss of the Third Supply's flagship, the Sea Venture.
The House of Burgesses was established in 1619 as the colony's elected governance. During this early period Virginia's population grew with the introduction of settlers and servants into the burgeoning plantation economy. In 1619, African servants were first introduced, with slavery being codified in 1661. After 1618 the headright system led to more indentured servants from Europe. In this system, settlers received land for each servant they transported. Land from the Native Americans was appropriated by force and treaty, including the Treaty of 1677, which made the signatory tribes tributary states. The colonial capital was moved in 1699 to Williamsburg, where the College of William and Mary had been founded in 1693.
The House of Burgesses was temporarily dissolved in 1769 by the Royal governor Lord Botetourt, after Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee led speeches on the distresses of the British taxation without representation. In 1773, Henry and Lee formed a committee of correspondence, and in 1774 Virginia sent delegates to the Continental Congress. On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention declared independence from the British Empire. Shortly after, the Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason, a document that influenced the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Then on June 29, 1776, the convention enacted a constitution, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, that formally declared Virginia as an independent commonwealth.
During the American Revolutionary War, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of Governor Thomas Jefferson, fearing Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to British attack. In 1781, the combined action of Continental and French land and naval forces trapped the British on the Yorktown peninsula, where troops under George Washington and French Comte de Rochambeau defeated British General Cornwallis in the Battle of Yorktown. The British surrender on October 19, 1781 so shifted British public opinion that it led to the end of major hostilities and secured the independence of the colonies.
Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831 and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 showed deep social discontent over the issue of slavery in Virginia and its role in the plantation economy. Besides agriculture, slave labor was also increasingly used in mining, shipbuilding and other industries. By 1860, almost half a million people, roughly thirty-one percent of the total population of Virginia, were enslaved.
Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861 after the Battle of Fort Sumter. Virginia turned over its military and ratified the Confederate States of America (CSA) constitution in June 1861. The CSA then moved its capitol to Richmond. In 1863 forty-eight counties in the northwest of the state separated from Virginia to form the State of West Virginia. Virginia in the American Civil War saw more battles fought than anywhere else, including the Battles of Bull Run, the Seven Days Battles, the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the concluding Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. After the capture of Richmond, the Confederate capitol was moved to Danville, Virginia. With the work of the Committee of Nine during post-war Reconstruction, Virginia formally rejoined the Union on January 26, 1870, and adopted a constitution which should have provided for Negro suffrage, a system of free public schools, and guarantee civil and political rights.
However during the culmination of the Jim Crow era, legislators rewrote the Constitution of Virginia to include a poll tax and other measures on voter registration that effectively disfranchised African Americans, leading to underfunding for segregated schools and services, and a lack of representation. African Americans still created vibrant communities and made progress. The first black students attended the University of Virginia School of Law in 1950, and Virginia Tech in 1953. Protests in Farmville started by Barbara Rose Johns led to the lawsuit Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County by Richmond natives Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill. This case was decided with Brown v. Board of Education. Virginia however declared in 1958 that desegregated schools would not receive state funding, under the policy of "massive resistance" spearheaded by the powerful segregationist Senator Harry F. Byrd. In 1959 Prince Edward County closed their schools rather than integrate them.
The Civil Rights Movement gained many participants in the 1960s and achieved the moral force to gain national legislation for protection of suffrage and civil rights for African Americans. In 1971, state legislators rewrote the constitution, after goals such as legal integration and the repeal of Jim Crow laws had been achieved. In 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American elected as governor in the United States.
In 1926, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, began restoration of colonial era buildings in the historic district with financial backing of John D. Rockefeller Jr. resulting in Colonial Williamsburg. World War II and the Cold War led to massive expansion of government programs in the areas near Washington. The Pentagon in Northern Virginia, was targeted in the September 11, 2001 attacks. In that attack, one hundred and eighty-five people died. Tragedy again struck Virginia in 2007 when thirty-two students were murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre.
Virginia is divided into independent cities and counties, which function in the same manner. According to the US Census Bureau, independent cities are considered county-equivalent. As of 2006, thirty-nine of the forty-two independent cities in the United States are in Virginia. Incorporated towns are recognized as part of the ninety-five counties in Virginia, but are not independent. There are also hundreds of other unincorporated communities in Virginia. Virginia does not have any further political subdivisions, such as villages or townships.
Virginia has eleven Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond-Petersburg are the three most populated metropolitan areas of the state. Richmond is the capital of Virginia, and the its metropolitan area has a population of over people. Virginia Beach is the most populous city in the commonwealth, with Norfolk and Chesapeake second and third, respectively. Norfolk forms the urban core of this metropolitan area, which is home to over people and the world's largest naval base.
Although it is not incorporated as a city, Fairfax County is the most populous locality in Virginia, with over one million residents. Fairfax has a major urban business and shopping center in Tysons Corner, Virginia's largest office market. Neighboring Loudoun County, with the county seat at Leesburg, is the fastest-growing county in the United States. Arlington County, the smallest self-governing county in the United States by land area, is an urban community organized as a county. Roanoke, with a , is the largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in western Virginia. Suffolk, which includes a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp, is the largest city geographically.
As of 2006, Virginia had an estimated population which is an increase , or one percent, from the prior year and an increase , or eight percent, since the year 2000. This includes an increase from net migration of into the commonwealth. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of , and migration within the country produced a net increase of . The center of population of Virginia is located in Goochland County.
English was passed as the commonwealth's official language by statutes in 1981 and 1996, and by law in 2006, though the status is not mandated by the Constitution of Virginia. English is the only language spoken by , though it is spoken very well by an additional for a total of 94.3% of the Commonwealth which speaks English. Spanish has the most speakers of other languages, with . Asian and Pacific Islander languages, including Vietnamese and Filipino.
Because of more recent immigration in the late 20th century and early 21st century, there are rapidly growing populations of Hispanics, particularly Central Americans, and Asians. As of 2007, 6.6% of Virginians are Hispanic, 5.5% are Asian, and 1.8% are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The Hispanic population of the state tripled from 1990 to 2006, with two-thirds of Hispanics living in Northern Virginia. In contrast to Hispanics nationally, those in Virginia have higher median household incomes and educational attainment than the general United States or Virginia population.
Northern Virginia has the largest Vietnamese population on the East Coast, with slightly more than residents, whose major wave of immigration followed the Vietnam War. Due to their ties to the U.S. Navy, Hampton Roads has a sizable Filipino population, numbering about 45,000. Virginia also continues to be the home to eight federally recognized Native American tribes, with six other tribes recognized by the state.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington includes most of Northern Virginia's Catholic churches, while the Diocese of Richmond covers the rest. The Virginia Synod is responsible for the congregations of the Lutheran Church. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Southern Virginia, and Southwestern Virginia support the various Episcopal churches. In November 2006, fifteen conservative Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Virginia voted to split from the diocese and the larger Anglican Communion church over the issue of sexuality and the ordination of openly gay bishops and clergy. Virginia law allows parishioners to determine their church's affiliation. The resulting property law case is a test for Episcopal churches nationwide, as the diocese claims the church properties of those congregations that want to secede.
Among other religions, adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitute 0.75% of the population, while those of Buddhism and Hinduism each comprise one percent. While a small population in terms of the state overall, organized Jewish sites date to 1791. Muslims are a rapidly growing religious group, though have experienced certain prejudices. Megachurches in the state include Thomas Road Baptist Church, McLean Bible Church and Immanuel Bible Church.
Virginia's economy is well balanced with diverse sources of income, made up of 4.1 million civilian workers. In 2006, Forbes Magazine named Virginia the best state in the nation for business. The Gross Domestic Product of Virginia was $383 billion in 2007. As of 2000, Virginia had the highest number of counties and independent cities, fifteen, in the top one-hundred wealthiest jurisdictions in the United States based upon median income. As of 2007, seven Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the Richmond area. Virginia has seventeen total Fortune 500 companies, ranking the state tenth nationwide.
Virginia has the highest concentration of technology workers of any state. One-third of Virginia's jobs are in the service sector. Computer chips became the state's highest-grossing export in 2006, surpassing its traditional top exports of coal and tobacco, combined. Northern Virginia, once considered the state's dairy capital, now hosts software, communication technology, and consulting companies. The Dulles Technology Corridor near Dulles International Airport has a high concentration of Internet, communications and software engineering firms. Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Northern Virginia have the highest and second highest median household income, respectively, of all counties in the United States as of 2006.
In Southside Virginia from Hampton Roads to Richmond and to Lee County, the economy is based on military installations, and cattle, tobacco and peanut farming. About twenty percent of Virginian jobs are in agriculture, with , averaging . Tomatoes surpassed soy as the most profitable crop in Virginia in 2006, with peanuts and hay as other agricultural products. Oysters are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay economy, but declining populations due to disease, pollution, and overfishing have diminished catches. Wineries and vineyards in the Northern Neck and along the Blue Ridge Mountains also have begun to generate income and attract tourists.
Many of Northern Virginia's well-educated population work directly for Federal agencies. Many others work for government contractors, including defense and security contractors. Well-known government agencies headquartered in Northern Virginia include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The Hampton Roads area has the largest concentration of military bases and facilities of any metropolitan area in the world. The largest of the bases is Naval Station Norfolk. The state is second only to Alaska in per capita defense spending.
Virginia collects personal income tax in five income brackets, ranging from 3.0% to 5.75%. The sales and use tax rate is 5%. The tax rate on food is 2.5%. There is an additional 1% local tax, for a total of a 5% combined sales tax on most Virginia purchases and a combined tax rate of 2.5% on food. Virginia's property tax is set and collected at the local government level and varies throughout the commonwealth. Real estate is taxed at the local level based on one-hundred percent of fair market value. Tangible personal property also is taxed at the local level and is based on a percentage or percentages of original cost.
Virginia's historic culture was popularized and spread across America and the South by Washington, Jefferson, and Lee, and their homes represent Virginia as the birthplace of America and of the South. Modern Virginia culture has many heritages, and is largely part of the culture of the Southern United States. The Smithsonian Institution divides Virginia into nine cultural regions. The Piedmont region is one of the most famous for its dialect's strong influence on Southern American English. Various accents are also present including the Tidewater accent and the anachronistic Elizabethan of Tangier Island, as well as a more homogenized American English in urban areas with a great deal of transplants.
Besides the general cuisine of the Southern United States, Virginia maintains its own particular traditions. Virginia wine is made in many parts of the state. Smithfield ham, sometimes called Virginia ham, is a type of country ham which is protected by state law, and can only be produced in the town of Smithfield. Virginia furniture and architecture are typical of American colonial architecture. Thomas Jefferson and many of the state's early leaders favored the Neoclassical architecture style, leading to its use for important state buildings. The Pennsylvania Dutch and their style can also be found in parts of the state.
The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities works to improve commonwealth's civic, cultural, and intellectual life. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a state-funded museum with the largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia. The Chrysler Museum of Art is home to many pieces, stemming from the Chrysler family collection, including the final sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Other museums include the popular Science Museum of Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, the Frontier Culture Museum, and the Mariners' Museum. Besides these sites, many open air museums and battlefields are located in the state, such as Colonial Williamsburg, Richmond National Battlefield, and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is located in Vienna and is the only national park intended for use as a performing arts center. Wolf Trap hosts the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which produces an opera festival every summer. The Harrison Opera House in Norfolk is home to the official Virginia Opera. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra is based in Hampton Roads. The American Shakespeare Center is located in Staunton, and home to resident and touring theater troupes. Other notable theaters include the Ferguson Center for the Arts, the Barter Theatre, and the Landmark Theater.
Virginia has launched many award-winning traditional music artists as well as internationally successful popular music acts. Ralph Stanley, Patsy Cline, The Statler Brothers and The Carter Family are award winning Bluegrass and Country music musicians from Virginia, and Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey were both from Newport News. Hip hop and Rhythm and blues acts like Missy Elliott, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Chris Brown, and Clipse hail from the commonwealth. The Neptunes produced 43% of all songs on American radio in 2003. Singer-songwriters from Virginia include Jason Mraz and jam bands like the Pat McGee Band and Dave Matthews Band, who continue their strong charitable connection to Charlottesville, Virginia. Influential stage-rock group GWAR also began at Virginia Commonwealth University. Major performance venues in the state include The Birchmere, Norva Theatre, John Paul Jones Arena, Nissan Pavilion, the Patriot Center, and the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater.
Many counties and localities host county fairs and festivals. The Virginia State Fair is held at the Richmond International Raceway every September. Fairfax County sponsors Celebrate Fairfax! the second weekend after Memorial Day. In Virginia Beach, the end of September brings the Neptune Festival, celebrating the city, the waterfront, and regional artists. The Virginia Lake Festival is held during the third weekend in July in Clarksville.
On the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague the annual Pony Swim & Auction of feral Chincoteague ponies at the end of July is a unique local tradition expanded into a week-long carnival. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a six-day festival held annually in Winchester that includes parades and bluegrass concerts. From 2005 to 2007, Richmond was host of the National Folk Festival. The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival is held on a May weekend in Reston.
Two important film festivals, the Virginia Film Festival and the VCU French Film Festival, are held annually in Charlottesville and Richmond, respectively. Annual fan conventions in the commonwealth include Anime USA, the national anime convention held in Crystal City, Anime Mid-Atlantic held in various cities, Magfest music and gaming festival, and RavenCon science fiction convention in Richmond.
The Hampton Roads area is the forty-second largest media market in the United States as ranked by Nielsen Media Research, and the Richmond-Petersburg area is sixtieth and Roanoke-Lynchburg is sixty-eighth. There are twenty-one television stations in Virginia, representing each major U.S. network, part of forty-two stations which serve Virginia viewers. Over eight-hundred FCC-licensed FM radio stations broadcast in Virginia, with over three-hundred such AM stations. The nationally available Public Broadcasting Service, abbreviated as PBS, is headquartered in Arlington. The locally focused Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corporation, a non-profit corporation which owns public TV and radio stations, has offices around the state.
Major newspapers in the commonwealth include the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, The Roanoke Times and the Daily Press based in Newport News. The Times-Dispatch has a daily , slightly more than the Pilot , fiftieth and fifty-second in the nation respectively, while the Roanoke Times has about subscribers. Several Washington, D.C. papers are based in Northern Virginia, such as The Washington Examiner and The Politico. The nation's widest circulated paper, USA Today, is headquartered in McLean. The Arlington based Freedom Forum is an organization dedicated to free press and journalistic free speech. Besides traditional forms of media, Virginia is home to telecommunication companies such as Sprint Nextel and XO Communications. The Dulles Technology Corridor contains the pathways which carry over half of all internet traffic.
Public K-12 schools in Virginia are generally operated by the counties and cities, and not by the state. Virginia's educational system consistently ranks in the top ten states on the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, with Virginia students outperforming the average in all subject areas and grade levels tested. The 2008 Quality Counts report ranked Virginia's K-12 education fifth best in the country. All school divisions must adhere to educational standards set forth by the Virginia Department of Education, which maintains an assessment and accreditation regime known as the Standards of Learning to ensure accountability. In 2008, 81.3% of high school students graduated on-time after four years.
A total of 1,232,436 students were enrolled in Virgina public schools in September 2007. There are a total of and regional schools in the commonwealth, including three charter schools, and an additional and special education centers in 134 school divisions. Besides the general public schools in Virginia, there are Governor's Schools and selective magnet schools. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public school which requires an application, is ranked as the best public high school in the nation. The Governor's Schools are a collection of more than forty regional selective magnet high schools and summer programs intended for gifted students. The Virginia Council for Private Education oversees the regulation of private schools.
Individual Virginia public high schools are often well rated, with Langley High School ranked thirty-seventh best public high school in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report, Clarke County High School forty-eighth, and H-B Woodlawn in Arlington sixteenth according to The Washington Post Challenge Index. Northern Virginia schools also pay the test fees for students to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, and the city of Alexandria and Arlington County lead the nation in college course tests.
Two of the U.S. top ten public universities are located in Virginia, according to the U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings. The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, is ranked second, and the College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in America, is ranked sixth. James Madison University has been the number one public master's level university in The South since 1993. Virginia is also home to the Virginia Military Institute, the oldest state military college in the U.S. and a top ranked public liberal arts college. Virginia Commonwealth University is the largest university in Virginia with over , followed closely by George Mason University. Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are the land-grant universities of the state. Virginia also operates twenty-three community colleges on forty campuses serving over .
Unlike the nation-leading education system, Virginia has a mixed health record, and is ranked as the twenty-second overall healthiest state according to the 2007 United Health Foundation's Health Rankings. Virginia falls twenty-first highest among United States in the rate of premature deaths, 697 per 10,000. There are also racial health disparities, with African Americans experiencing sixty-three percent more premature deaths than whites. Additionally, 13.3% of Virginians lack any health insurance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2007 survey, 25.3% of Virginians are obese and another 36.6% are overweight, and only 78.4% of residents exercise regularly. Additionally, as of 2005, thirty percent of Virginia's ten- to seventeen-year-olds overweight or obese.
There are eighty-five hospitals in Virginia listed with the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Notable examples include Inova Fairfax Hospital, the largest hospital in the Washington Metropolitan Area, and the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), the medical school of Virginia Commonwealth University, which is home to the nation's oldest organ transplant program. The University of Virginia Medical Center, part of the University of Virginia Health System, has the eighth ranked endocrinology specialty in the nation, and the best in the South according to U.S.News & World Report. Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, part of the Hampton Roads based Sentara Health System, is also nationally ranked, and was the site of the first successful in-vitro fertilization birth. Virginia does have a high number of primary care physicians, with 123.7 per 100,000, which is the twelfth highest nationally.
As of 2007, the Virginia state government owns and operates 84.6% of roads in the state, instead of the local city or county authority. of the total are run by the Virginia Department of Transportation, making it the third largest state highway system in the United States. Virginia's road system is ranked as the eighteenth best in the nation. While the Washington Metropolitan Area has the second worst traffic in the nation, Virginia as a whole has the twenty-first lowest congestion. With low disbursements for both roads and bridges, and a low road fatality rate, Virginia has a good system with a tight budget. The average commute time is 22.2 minutes.
Virginia has five major airports: Washington Dulles International, Reagan Washington National, Richmond International, Norfolk International and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Sixty-six public airports serve the state's aviation needs. Northern Virginia company Space Adventures is currently the only company in the world offering space tourism. The state's main seaport is that of Hampton Roads, which is the largest port complex in America, and carries over fifty-million tons of cargo annually.
Virginia has Amtrak passenger rail service along several corridors, and Virginia Railway Express maintains two commuter lines into Washington, D.C. from Fredericksburg and Manassas. The Washington Metro rapid transit system currently serves Northern Virginia as far west as Fairfax County, although expansion plans call for Metro to reach Dulles Airport in Loudoun County by 2015. Commuter buses include the Fairfax Connector and the Shenandoah Valley Commuter Bus. The Virginia Department of Transportation operates several free ferries throughout Virginia, the most notable being the Jamestown-Scotland ferry which crosses the James River in Surry County.
In colonial Virginia, free men elected the lower house of the legislature, called the House of Burgesses, which together with the Governor's Council, made the "General Assembly." Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere. The modern government is ranked with an "A-", the highest grade in the nation, by the Pew Center on the States, an honor it shares with two others.
Virginia functions under the 1971 Constitution of Virginia, the commonwealth's seventh constitution, which provides for fewer elected officials than the previous constitution, with a strong legislature and a unified judicial system. Similar to the federal structure, the government is divided in three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislative branch is the General Assembly, a bicameral body whose one-hundred member House of Delegates and forty member Senate write the laws for the commonwealth. The Assembly is stronger than the executive, as incumbent governors cannot run for re-election, and the General Assembly selects judges and justices. The current governor is Tim Kaine. Other members of the executive branch include the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the General District Courts and the Circuit Courts.
The Code of Virginia is the statutory law, and consists of the codified legislation of the General Assembly. The Virginia State Police is the largest law enforcement agency in Virginia. The Virginia Capitol Police are the oldest police department in the United States. The Virginia National Guard consists of in the Virginia Army National Guard and in the Virginia Air National Guard. The "total crime risk" is twenty-nine percent lower than the national average. However in 2006, Virginia saw 341 race related hate crimes, the sixth-highest total nationwide. Since the 1982 resumption of capital punishment in Virginia, 101 people have been executed, second most in the nation.
In the last century Virginia has shifted from the largely rural, politically Southern and conservative state to a more urbanized, pluralistic political environment. Since the 1970s, Virginia has moved away from a racially divided single-party state. African Americans were effectively disfranchised until after passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Enfranchisement and immigration of other groups, especially Hispanics, have placed growing importance on minority voting. Regional differences play a large part in Virginia politics. Politically moderate urban and growing suburban areas, including Northern Virginia, are the Democratic Party base. Rural southern and eastern areas moved to support the Republican Party in response to their "southern strategy. Portions of Southwest Virginia influenced by unionized coal mines, college towns such as Charlottesville and Blacksburg, and southeastern counties in the Black Belt Region have remained more likely to vote Democratic.
While Virginia's Governor is a Democrat, the Lieutenant Governor is a Republican, and Republican Robert McDonnell became Attorney General by following a legally mandated recount of ballots for that race in 2005. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, Fairfax County in Northern Virginia voted for the Democrat for the first time in forty years, joining Democratic strongholds Alexandria and Arlington. In the 2007 state elections, the Democrats regained control of the State Senate, and narrowed the Republican majority in the House of Delegates to eight votes.
The upset election of Democrat Jim Webb as one of Virginia's two U.S. Senators in the 2006 Virginia Senate election may have demonstrated disaffection with the incumbent administration's performance. John Warner, a Republican, has long held Virginia's other seat in the U.S. Senate, but he has announced his intention not to seek reelection in 2008. Both of Virginia's Senators are former Secretaries of the Navy. Of the state's eleven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold eight and Democrats hold three. Though the state has voted for the Republican candidate in each presidential election since 1968, Virginia is now classified as a "swing state" for future presidential elections.
Virginia is by far the most populous U.S. state without a major professional sports league franchise. The reasons for this include the lack of any dominant city or market within the state and the proximity of teams in Washington, D.C. Virginia is home to many minor league clubs, especially in baseball and soccer, and the Washington Redskins have Redskins Park, their headquarters and training facility, in Ashburn, Virginia. Virginia has many professional caliber golf courses including the Greg Norman course at Lansdowne Resort and Upper Cascades, Kingsmill Resort, home of the Michelob ULTRA Open.
The Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles also have followings due to their proximity to the state, and both are broadcast in the state on MASN. When the New York Mets ended their long affiliation with the Norfolk Tides in 2007, the Orioles adopted the minor league club as their top level (AAA) minor league affiliate. Additionally, the Nationals, Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves also have Single-A and Rookie-level farm teams in Virginia. From 1966 until 2008, Atlanta's AAA franchise was the Richmond Braves. However, the capital is now one of the largest markets in the country without any form of professional baseball.
Virginia is home to two NASCAR tracks currently on the Sprint Cup schedule, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Norfolk born Joe Weatherly won the NASCAR Grand National in 1962 and 1963. Current Virginia drivers in the series include brothers Jeff Burton and Ward Burton, Ricky Rudd, Denny Hamlin, and Elliot Sadler. Former Cup tracks include South Boston Speedway, Langley Speedway, Southside Speedway, and Old Dominion Speedway.
Virginia does not allow state appropriated funds to be used for either operational or capital expenses for intercollegiate athletics. Despite this, both the University of Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies have been able to field competitive teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference and maintain modern facilities. The Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry is followed statewide. Several other universities compete in NCAA Division I, particularly in the Colonial Athletic Association. Three historically black schools compete in the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and two others compete in Division I MEAC. Several smaller schools compete in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the USA South Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III. The NCAA currently holds its Division III championships in football, men's basketball, volleyball and softball in Salem.
The state nickname is the oldest symbol, though it has never been made official by law. Virginia was given the title, "Dominion", by King Charles II of England at the time of The Restoration, because it had remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War, and the present moniker, "Old Dominion" is a reference to that title. The other nickname, "Mother of Presidents," is also historic, as eight Virginians have served as President of the United States, including four of the first five: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. Additionally, Virginian Sam Houston served as president of the Republic of Texas.
The majority of the symbols were made official in the late 20th century, though the state motto and seal have been official since Virginia declared its independence. Virginia currently has no state song. In 1940, Virginia made "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" the state song, but it was retired in 1997 and reclassified as the state song emeritus.
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