FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, SARAYA WINTERSMITH – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Saraya Wintersmith for this week’s political analysis. Topics include: Governor-Elect Ralph Northam beginning to piece together an administration, recounts that could rock the balance of power in the House of Delegates getting underway, and out-going Governor Terry McAuliffe’s role in the company Green Tech Automotive now coming back to haunt him.
SW: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Saraya Wintersmith. Joining me now is everyone’s favorite political columnist from the Richmond Times Dispatch, also WCVE political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good morning, Saraya. You are too kind.
SW: Governor-Elect Ralph Northam has now named two members of his cabinet.
JS: It is a game of inches, Saraya. These two cabinet secretaries are, one, Aubrey Lane, who was Transportation Secretary in the McAuliffe administration. He’s going to serve as Finance Secretary, if you will, the keeper of the budget. The second cabinet secretary is Carlos Hopkins. He will be the Secretary of Veteran and Military Affairs. He’s currently holding that position. He was appointed to it by Governor McAuliffe. There’s one other appointment that is expected, and there will be many more, but it is early days. The chatter is that Brian Coy, who is Governor McAuliffe’s Communications Director, will remain in that position for Governor Northam. All of this will offer a measure of continuity from the McAuliffe administration to the Northam administration. It is early days, and there will be numerous examples of Governor Northam installing his own people. Now there seems to be a lot of speculation that Northam might reach to the Republican caucus of the House or the Senate bringing in Republicans to serve either in his cabinet or as agency directors. Whether this has anything to do with good government is debatable. Remember there’s only a single seat that separates the parties in the Senate, and at least at this point, only two that separate the parties in the House. So if there were, underscore were, appointments of Republican legislators to the Northam staff, it would clearly have the effect of destabilizing these very tenuous Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But to this point, Northam met Thursday with political and government reporters and was asked if he has solicited Republicans for his government, and he says, “No, not at this time.”
SW: And speaking of the Republican’s tenuous hold, the state Board of Elections voted to certify all the results of the November 7 election, and that means recounts that could tip the 51-49 balance in the House of Delegates are now starting.
JS: Ralph Northam had something to say about these recounts on Thursday. He said if there is a chance, he believes, for Democrats to pick up a seat it would be down on the peninsula in Newport News. There the Republican incumbent is ahead only by ten votes. Now of course if a single seat flips, that means the House is divided 50-50, and then all bets are off for who becomes Speaker, how the committees are organized, how the House does its business if you will, does the people’s business. But we still have some miles to go before that happens. But if there is an evenly tied House, it will be the second since 1998. That would probably mean Kirk Cox’s dreams of the speakership will become a nightmare. Of course he is the House Republican Majority Leader. He has been openly and very publicly described as the Speaker-in-waiting, when in an evenly divided House it’s difficult to imagine that he would become the big man in charge.
SW: And Jeff, we have the benefit of your first-hand knowledge. You were around the last time the speakership morphed into a different sort of position.
JS: Well, in 1998 when the House was first split 50-50, the Democrats had a very narrow window in which they had a three seat advantage because Republican victories and special elections had not been certified by the Board of Elections. So those new members had not been seated. So for, as I said, several days, the Democrats had an arithmetic majority and they used that to ram through the election of a democratic Speaker. That gave the Democrats an important ministerial advantage over the next two years. And of course by 2000 the Republicans had an outright majority in the House of Delegates. They were the first in over a century. What the speakership will look like if the House ties again no one really knows. There are lots of names tossed around, you know, as possible Speakers if it’s not a Kirk Cox or David Toscano, who’s the House Democratic Minority Leader. But it’s also conceivable that in that 50-50 House, the Speaker could be reduced largely to a ceremonial role, just kind of calling on members and keeping floor debates going. With the real nitty gritty work of the speakership, controlling appointments to committees and controlling the flow of business, perhaps decided by a committee, the Rules Committee, which is responsible for the business of the body. So we are really heading into terra incognito.
SW: And then finally this week, we also learned that outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe has an affiliation with an electric car company that’s not helping his image at the moment.
JS: Governor McAuliffe was the chairman of a committee called Green Tech that was going to build electric cars in Mississippi. And let’s put it this way, as a business venture it was a non-starter. He is being sued in state court in Fairfax County by 32 Chinese nationals who invested in this program. And they say that this was nothing more than a big fraud perpetuated by, allegedly perpetuated by McAuliffe and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother, Tony. And these investors are seeking nearly 18 million dollars in damages. The timing of this could not be worse for Terry McAuliffe. He’s made no secret of his interest in the presidency. The interest in a McAuliffe candidacy for the White House in 2020 has gotten a big lift by the Democrats’ big victories here in Virginia. And the last thing Terry McAuliffe wants to talk about again is, you know, his image as the insider who made a big fortune at the intersection of commerce and politics. And maybe this is one of those talking points that might have some people believing that if there is a McAuliffe candidacy for national office in 2020, it means yet another round of the Clinton wars.
SW: Our time is up. Jeff Schapiro, always a pleasure speaking with you.
JS: Good to see you, Saraya. Have a wonderful weekend.
SW: You as well.