Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include continuing fallout from the protests in Charlottesville, a possible government shutdown, and plans for Virginia's budget surplus.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: And good morning to you, Craig.
CC: Jeff, last week we discussed the aftermath of the violent events in Charlottesville. We are continuing to discuss them this week. Yesterday Governor Terry McAuliffe created a commission led by Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran to study the Charlottesville calamity and how a repeat of it might be avoided.
JS: The McAuliffe administration has been drawing some criticism for not anticipating the violence in Charlottesville and not moving the state police into position, perhaps to prevent the may lay. The governor, however, is apparently not too happy with the city of Charlottesville, in particular, its mayor Mike Signer, and the city’s response before, during and after the violence. Now this commission, which the governor has announced, he actually indicated a week ago that he would form this commission, and this was done in league with an executive order by the governor closing the state-owned Lee monument here in Richmond up on Monument Avenue to demonstrators. The McAuliffe administration and the Stoney mayoralty here in Richmond were concerned that Richmond might see on Monument Avenue at the foot of General Lee violence akin to what was seen in Charlottesville. And remember, there was a Confederate heritage group that was planning a protest at the Lee statue in September. It was cancelled, largely because the organizers were worried about attracting the white nationalist, Klansman and neo-Nazis who were battling the counter-protestors up in Charlottesville. Now the executive order closing the Lee statue to demonstrators and the McAuliffe study commissioned have implications for the gubernatorial election, especially with Republicans apparently looking for an opportunity to change the subject from the bigotry that was on display to the absence of law and order.
CC: Jeff, last week Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam announced that he would support taking down Confederate statues. He got some criticism from the Republican Party of Virginia who later walked that back a bit.
JS: Yes, RPV, active on Twitter, posted a series of tweets, as you noted, that were taken down. They accused Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, of turning his back on his southern heritage, which Northam is a native Virginian. He was born and raised on the Eastern Shore. He was educated at VMI, where the Civil War figures prominently in its history and tradition. Northam’s family included slave owners and a Confederate soldier. This series of tweet attacks alarmed Ed Gillespie, and the state Republican Party took them down and apologized for these tweets, but the incident still called attention to the different positions of the candidates, and it’s now becoming somewhat nuanced. Northam and Gillespie both said this is a local option issue, that counties and cities should decide whether to preserve these statues or to take them down. Northam has shifted on it slightly, saying that, well, if it were up to him, he would take them down. Gillespie, on the other hand, would like to see these statues preserved, but like Mayor Stoney here in Richmond, he believes there should be additional signage that addresses the kind of, the grim side of the Civil War and its aftermath, most notably that the southern leaders who inspired many of these statues fought in defense of slavery, and that these southern leaders later became symbols of white supremacy and white resistance to desegregation.
CC: And as we often say, Virginia is frequently the beneficiary of federal spending. Now recent threats from President Donald Trump to close the federal government are having an impact on the gubernatorial race.
JS: Yes, and of course the president suggested in his appearance before that rally in Nevada that a shutdown would force Democrats to finance his wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. The idea is to trade votes and dollars for the Democrats’ projects. Now this is nothing more than political theater for a lot of people. For Virginians, it is deadly serious business, especially ahead of the state’s election. Remember in 2013, just before that year’s gubernatorial election, the federal government went dark because the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress couldn’t agree on spending, and Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for governor, took a pounding for this because, you know after all, the congressional republicans were perceived as the bad guys in all of this. And that shut down, which lasted about two weeks, however, was overshadowed by a bigger embarrassment for the Democrats, and that was that screwed up rollout of Obamacare. The republican vote rallied. Terry McAuliffe still won, albeit, barely. But the economic aftershocks of that shutdown continued for a couple of years. I mean more than a billion dollars was drained from the economy. That shrank tax collections and forced reductions in state spending and on all sorts of services, including schools. And no one wants to risk that again, especially Ed Gillespie. Trump’s threat over a federal shutdown is a reminder that hostility in Virginia, a Clinton-carried state, to Donald Trump is generating a huge headwind for Ed Gillespie.
CC: And Governor Terry McAuliffe, who’s long been concerned about cuts to federal spending, is asking that the legislature invest all $121 million of the state’s recent surplus into the rainy day fund.
JS: And this is clearly a subject on which the Democratic Governor and the Republican Legislature agree. Remember the governor also said he wants to try one more time, a fourth time, to expand Obamacare through a big drawdown from Washington of Medicaid dollars. That’s probably not going to go anywhere, and of course, he’s not going to be around to push for it. But back to the budget surplus - this money will go into the rainy day fund, the emergency account that the state maintains, and that account of course was a big cushion against the reductions in state spending forced by the reductions at the federal level which were triggered by the shutdown in 2013. But that rainy day fund is also a powerful sales point for the state with the credit rating agencies, such as Standard and Poors, and one reason Virginia has this AAA bond rating, the highest possible, is because of its long history of fiscal discipline, and a telling measure of that of course is the rainy day fund, which was created nearly 30 years ago. But that said, S&P for example, is still pretty bearish on the Virginia economy because of the uncertainty in Washington. And remember, federal spending, direct and indirect, accounts for about a quarter of the state’s economy, so there are widespread jitters in Virginia governmental circles these days, largely because of what is going on – or not – in Washington.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Good weekend to you.