FRIDAY, MARCH 09, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include overtime in the General Assembly to finalize a budget, a conflict over Medicaid expansion, a special committee for school safety, and a recap of Northam’s first Assembly session as governor.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good to see you, Craig.
CC: Jeff, we are nearing the end of the schedule for the 2018 General Assembly session, though the work is not yet done.
JS: Lurching towards adjournment, a scheduled adjournment on Saturday, but clearly the House and the Senate are heading into some form of overtime because the House and the Senate cannot agree on a budget. And as you and I have discussed many times over these many weeks, there are some very big differences between the Republicans who control the House and the Republicans who control the Senate over a Medicaid-financed expansion of Obamacare. The two bodies are looking at this through a political lens. The House Republicans figure if they look a little warmer and fuzzier on Medicaid expansion, they’ve been pushing it along with a work-for-benefits provision, that they will be viewed by voters as a little less hard-hearted and maybe that will improve their chances of holding their majority in the House next year, remembering of course that the House Republicans were adamantly opposed to an expansion and for four years opposed Terry McAuliffe on it. The Senate Republicans are this year adamantly opposed to an expansion. They are doing this as well because of concerns about 2019 when the Senate is up, and thinking, at least within the Senate Republican caucus, is that this will discourage challenges from the right, the idea of being “primaried” or maybe “conventioned” depending on how the process plays out. But what this means is that Governor Northam, a Democrat, who was elected promising to press for consensus in government, something that was absent during the, largely absent during the McAuliffe years, is going to have to come up with some sort of a plan and nudge these characters forward. We know that the Governor has met with some senior legislators, including Chris Jones, the Appropriations Committee Chairman in the House, as well as the Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox. The governor at this point isn’t saying exactly what he will do. We’ll probably be hearing more about that, most assuredly be hearing more about it on Friday, this morning. The bottom line though is that this is a family feud. We are looking at an extended session in some form, largely because Republicans don’t get along with Republicans.
CC: And Jeff, as the nation is embroiled in another debate on gun control following a deadly mass shooting at a high school in Florida, the House of Delegates controlled by Republicans who are hostile to gun control have announced the formation of a special committee on school safety, which noticeably not on the agenda are any gun control measures.
JS: Well, this select committee, this is a special distinction and apparently the first select committee according to the speaker in 150 years, this is clearly a response to the mass shooting in south Florida. The Democrats have been trying, without success, to jump-start some of these gun control bills, many of which were killed very quietly and very quickly early in the session. The twelve Republicans and ten Democrats who make up this so-called select committee are going to be looking at ways to strengthen school security, to somehow remind people that classrooms should be a safe place in which to learn. The speaker, Kirk Cox, is a retired high school government teacher. But no matter what the Republicans say, this is clearly a defensive response to rising concern about gun violence. And certainly the Parkland shooting has put this in very sharp focus, and we have seen in the Florida legislature of all places, a very strongly gun rights oriented legislature, some new crackdowns, including one that might allow teachers to carry guns in classrooms. I suspect there will be some discussion of that, maybe in this free-standing ad hoc group that David Toscano, the House Democratic Minority Leader, is planning to put together and in which he says there will most assuredly be a focus on firearms.
CC: And we’re in the 59th day of a 60 day session, and we’re starting to take stock of how things went, including for Governor Ralph Northam upon completion of his first session as governor, looking at his priorities and initiatives and how well he fared before his former colleagues.
JS: Well, still no luck yet on Medicaid expansion. This is his top priority. He has moved much further on this in two months than Terry McAuliffe did in four years, and that is a game that will play out in this extended overtime session, whatever one cares to call it. There were some flourishes of bipartisanship for which the governor, I suspect, will be doing some crowing. A deal with Republicans over elevating the felony threshold, the idea to keep fewer people in jail. Regulatory reform – I don’t know that that’s ever been a difficult sell with both sides have always been talking about reducing red tape. There was that re-re-re-reregulation of the electric utilities, largely negotiated by the administration, but one in which the governor suffered something of a loss, when the so called “double-dip” was eliminated. The governor also struck out on gun control, but I suspect he’s going to be trying again.
CC: And Jeff, just hours after we spoke last week a very controversial floor speech was given by second-term delegate Nick Freitas, which included many loaded terms that Democrats took offense to.
JS: I think one can more fully describe Delegate Freitas as a U.S. Senate candidate, in particular a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. And with this speech in which there were, one might say, numerous dog-whistle themes invoked – abortion, firearms – that what Mr. Freitas was trying to do and which he has apparently succeeded, is generate a lot of attention for his campaign. And he was resorting to tactics that one might more closely associate with Corey Stewart, who is largely presumed to be the early favorite for that nomination. Of course the seat is held by Democrat Tim Kaine, and the headwinds in the polls would suggest seem to be blowing against the Republicans. A new poll this week by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center shows that there might be another blue wave spoiling to hit Virginia. If only measured by their enthusiasm, Democrats are far more charged up about this year’s election for the Senate and for the U.S. House of Representatives than the Republicans.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: See you then.